Wish You’d Been There: Whedonopolis.com Visits Grand Slam Sci-Fi Summit, Part 1

If you’ve never been to Grand Slam Sci-Fi Summit, it’s a great convention, with plenty of people and guests from the most varied sci-fi show (which this year included, among others, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, Heroes and Star Trek, to mention but a few), plenty of shopping opportunities and very elaborate costumes. So this is a report of what happened with our favorite actors this past Saturday and Sunday.

 

James Marsters Panel – Saturday

It’d been a while since James had done a convention like this in the US (not counting the one his team organized last year at the Queen Mary). He was genuinely moved by the reception he got, and immediately told us about his expectations for that night’s concert and how he was bringing a friend with him "to make me look good." He was very excited about the show, and went straight into questions, not before telling the first girl up with a question, "Kiss the mike, baby, cos they wanna hear you."

Two microphones were set up on both sides of the stage, and the fans would walk up to ask their questions alternately. The first question was whether he was annoyed when people interpret his songs differently than what he’d intended, and the answer was that not at all, because that’s what you hope for. ." He wondered why he’d agreed to explain the story behind the songs because you don’t see any musicians go on TV and get asked, ‘Tell us what this song is about,’ and give a straight answer. They kinda mumble and go, ‘Well, this song is…’ mumble, mumble. "It’s too embarrassing, and that’s why you write songs about it. They deal with things that I’m too embarrassed to even talk to my friends about." He’d practiced every song he knew when he was told he had to fill 90 minutes, so it’d be mostly music and little explaining. He says that it’s really simple what’s behind the songs, the usual heartbreak, "I thought she was cute," etc. and he truly hopes we make his songs our own.

The next question was about the play he’ll be doing in San Francisco this summer. He told us it’s called "The Little Dog Laughed," and it’s only now finishing its run on Broadway where it was a hit. He’s one of the leads, and the same actress who’s doing in on Broadway right now plays the other lead. He’ll move all his loved ones to him, as it’ll mean six days a week of work. [spoiler warning] The play is about a gay movie star that falls in love. [/spoiler warning] He remembered once playing a gay character in Chicago (because he loves freaking people out), in a play set in 1944 London, as the Nazis are trying to bomb out London only to get shot down. The people are having lots of picnics at the time, and watch the planes go down. James played an artist who was totally out, who met another guy who was not totally out, and as they start talking, the guy begins to admit he’s gay himself. At the end of the play, James took all his clothes off and laid down on the stage, and nothing happened. It was a play called "Just Friends." "So again, I get to take all my clothes off in this one." This last statement drew major cheers among the female conventioneers. "It’s all for art," James quipped.

The next question was a two-parter – James was asked about covering James Taylor’s songs when he started out playing his guitar in bars, specifically when the first time had been and what JT songs he’d covered. James couldn’t remember the first place, it was a bar in Modesto, California (where he’s from), but he admitted to covering lesser-known James Taylor tunes, like some included in the album "One Man Dog", which he loved at the time. The second part was about a couple of original songs ("100 Acre of Wood" and "Birth of the Blues") he doesn’t play anymore and the reason for that. James said he’d play "Birth" at the concert that night, and had to be reminded about the other one (which he’d played the first time he had a solo gig at 14 Below, in Santa Monica). James couldn’t even remember the song, but said it’d be a great name for a band, "because of all the double entendre."

James was asked then whether he was worried about going back to the stage. He said he wasn’t; what he’s afraid of is going back to TV after his theatre stint. All the stuff he learned for the stage is so well ingrained, it’s like riding a bicycle, but it’s very hard to let go of them, as they’re all tricks. In a theater piece, it’s easy to make it look like things are happening for the first time when it’s been carefully planned, whereas in film work you have to show up ready to surprise yourself, without that much planning ahead. "I’m gonna be so happy going back to the skating rink I grew up on! So I’m not really that scared. Maybe I should be…"

 

The next person up is a completely star-struck fan, who had no clue he was not British from watching him on "Buffy" and "Angel." Gotcha!" was James’ reply before she could ask her question, which was whether the original idea was for Spike to be British, or from some other part of the world. James said the original idea "was for Spike to be a Sid Vicious-type vampire guy, so when I went to audition I did it in a British accent, and then they asked me to do it with another accent-I think they were trying to trip me up or something, so I pulled a Southern accent that is not used by White people anymore. Because a vampire, (switching to a Southern accent) he would have learned it a long time ago, during the War of Independence, you know? (Resumes normal accent) And they thought that was cute, because it was sexy but it wasn’t quite right for the punk-rock concept, so it was pretty much a British accent. And this was just a few days before shooting the episode, and they couldn’t find who they wanted so anybody who could do that? And they couldn’t find a taller guy who could do the accent…" The fan followed up with a question about James producing "Macbeth" any time soon. James said when he first move to Los Angeles, he’d toyed with the idea of producing it but didn’t find anything he liked so the idea got put in the back burner, but now some friends are telling him he should produce it, as there’s a good market for theater here and it’d be worth his time. He mentions maybe doing it in Chicago, to the dismayed reaction of the L.A. audience. "I’d like to do it as a movie, but I’m just… you know… how do you get $15 million? Do you know how to get $15 million? As it turns out, I don’t know how to do that. But luckily, I have like 10 years left to play "Macbeth" so I can get maybe a million this year…"

The next fan pointed to James that "if you asked all of your fans to send you $5 each, I’d bet you’ll get it done." James thought it was a cool concept, "because I was talking to the producer of "Snakes on a Plane" and I sold him on the idea. He said, ‘Get me that script!’ because it’s a horror film and he wants to do some horror films that are different. " The fan proceeded to ask him about his new film, "P.S. I Love You," and a very pivotal scene between James’ character and Hilary Swank’s charact
er that was very emotional which she wondered whether it’d be in the movie at all. James said he did film it, but it got cut out because the way it’d been written didn’t mesh well with the rest of the scenes in the film. It had been specially written by the author who had lost someone close to him and had a specific view of that. "It just popped out and it was his downfall." He then went on to praise his cast mates in the film, as they include Lisa Kudrow, Kathy Bates, Gerard Butler (currently the lead in "300"), "Harry Connick Jr. is in it, (goofy voice) me… (Normal voice) And it just proves once again that if you work with people who are really good and at the top of their game, they’re really nice and they don’t whine." He told us a story about everybody in the movie working 16-hour days while being horribly sick, nobody more than Kathy, and they’re in hour 16 and going (finally) for their close-ups. "She turns around, looks at everybody and goes, ‘All right, this separates the men from the boys. You guys ready? Let’s go!’ I just went, "I love that woman! I love her!" Because that’s what I say to younger actors all the time. I said it on "Buffy," I don’t know, once a week. Because it’d happen. "This is what separates the men from the boys. You ready?" Yeah, I love Kathy… yeah…"

The next question wanted to find out the most ridiculous thing James had been asked to do in character in any show, and why. James got embarrassed for a moment…

 

"That is a tall order, that one… Intimate that I’d slept with Angel was kinda harsh…" (Cheers and hollering) "That’s not what I thought those two-I knew that my character was infatuated with Angel, but to take it to that level, I just… I don’t know. In "Angel," I was supposed to wear a dress! I’m getting fit for that, I’m walking through the set and I’m told, ‘There’s no time for that." But it’s just a dress! What actor hasn’t worn a dress? (Laughs) I had to lick Sarah Michelle Gellar, which I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t… I still couldn’t do it in my mind! It took me-she was like, "What, you can rape me but you can’t lick me?!" I’m like, "That doesn’t help, Sarah. That doesn’t help."

Next, James was asked about the creative energy he has, and how active his imagination is. "You’re all naked right now…" was the answer before the person had finished asking the question. He says he tries to hold on to it, as he gets older; a good test is to see whether you can play with kids when you hang out with them (obviously referring to his own children). It gets harder and harder as you get older, but you need to hang on to that in order to be an actor. He’s very free with that right now. When he was younger, he was very annoying to many people "but in a good way." He admitted to having a lot of energy, and a lot of people who are very successful have a lot of energy. "And you just keep working… I’m annoying still; I can tell I’ve annoyed you…"

James was asked if he had any advice for beginner actors. "Yes." He paused for a while and then added, "Be yourself, because every human being is interesting enough and beautiful enough to be stared at for long periods of time, which is what you’re allowing the audience to do. It’s a gift you’re giving them; you’re allowing them to stare at you for as long as they want which we don’t allow people to do to us in normal life. And what we find as an audience when people allow us to stare at them, and if they’re brave enough to be themselves, we find that they’re beautiful, even if they’re going through pain, even if they’re showing what they think is their ugly side-If they expose their humanness, we all come to the conclusion that they’re beautiful, and we feel a little more like them and we feel less alone. So don’t try to go for the most intelligent acting choice, because that stuff is not as important as just believing in yourself. And just know that you are good enough and you don’t need any director’s ideas to be good enough." At this point, the audience gave James a huge hand.

James then talked about his guest spot in the new TNT series "Saving Grace," premiering this June and starring Holly Hunter. He called her "fabulous," and mentioned he messed up the first day because he was having so much fun acting with her, he forgot to do what he was supposed to do in their first scene together, even though he’d studied very hard and was ready to go for it. (Embarrassed) "We had to do it again…" He was nervous about working with her, "so she came up to me and told me, ‘Don’t be afraid; I think you’re a great actor. I’ve been following you for years!’ That just freaked me out, right there!" He added that everybody was super nice. He only had two days on the set, and that’s where he lost the guitar he’d planned to use for his show that night. "So tonight you’ll meet Malcolm, my Gibson, that’s been freshly fixed up."

The next question was whether he liked acting more than music, or vice versa. The question made him ponder for a few seconds while humming on the mike, but he said that, if he were to be honest, it had to be acting "because I’m pretty good at music, but I have a fearlessness about acting that makes me comfortable when I attempt it. I’m always a little terrified when I do music, which is kinda good but it takes some of the fun away… I think I made a good decision; I’m better at acting. But music is so fun! Because when you write your own stuff, you can say things you wouldn’t tell anybody. It’s amazing! They’re pretty equal, and I’m just amazed to have people willing to listen to my stuff. Performance artists are the luckiest, but we have to wait until people want to come to be with us, and sometimes that’s waiting a long time. But I hold that all art is reminding us that we’re not alone; that if an artist is trying to express himself and you look at that expression, be it a painting or a sculpture, and it impacts you, you go, ‘Wow! I’m feeling what this guy is feeling!’ But in performance art, that expression is done publicly. If I say something funny in a play, you laugh at the same time as everybody else does. Or if you’re watching a horror movie with other people, and everybody goes (gasp) at the same time, just that, in and of itself, is the message: You are not alone."

The next fan up first said to James he looked very handsome in person and up close. James cracked some joke about being tired, but ultimately thanked her "because I’m learning to take compliments." Her question was about what James feels at events like this, when he’s asked a question by a girl and the moment he opens his mouth to answer, the woman in question is reduced to a pile of goo that spouts gibberish. "I think that’s delicious, are you kiddin’ me? I think that’s just fabulous!" He then told us a story about meeting his hero, Leonard Nimoy, when he was campaigning for George McGovern during his presidential bid. He went up to the microphone to ask Nimoy a question, "and I was just reduced to jell-o. And he didn’t like my question, because he was trying to talk politics, so he replied, ‘They glued them on with glue, kid.’ So I know what it feels like. I used to come to these things when I was younger, man! Spock ears glued on, big ‘fro, yeah! Getting my freak on!"

 

James was asked about when his next CD will come out (it’s been a couple years since "Civilized Man" was released.) James replied he needs to do that, as he has the material ready. He needs to call the producer he wants for the album, "and risk rejection and go do that. I suspect that I’m gonna be recording… after the play. It would have been the summer, because it’s usually less busy, and that’s when I record, but I got the play, so I think it’s gonna be… September, if I don’t find other work. But I gotta do it pretty soon; otherwise, you’ll find somebody else to listen to." The second part of the question was about his preparation for a live performance, because he’s always so nervous before them. "Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. What do you do about nervousness? Rehearse, so you don’t have to think, "Did I mess up there? I don’t think so. I haven’t messed up for three days. And just practice. Practice, practice, practice… And soak your fingers in rubbing alcohol."

Last year, when I met Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor in "Smallville") I told him it’d been wrong of them to have Lex wear a leather duster in the same show where you have the god of leather dusters. Michael agreed with me, so I relayed this little story to James and asked him about his experience in "Smallville." James replied that the actors in "Smallville" are just fabulous. About Michael Rosenbaum, he called him "an E-Ticket ride. You hang with Michael, you gotta get on, and be prepared to go ‘whoa!’ He’s never contrary; he’s never a pain in the ass or anything like that. He just takes the stage; it’s like ‘all eyes on Michael’. And it’s just cold; it’s cold on the set to have someone stirred up like that and getting people woken up and thinking, because the set is grueling and it can put you to sleep after 14 hours, but man, I love working with Michael! We were always laughing, it was always active, because he’s so smart and so active. Tom is fabulous; he’s a bit smarter than you might expect-that’s the Superman dude – Tom’s a little dirtier than you might expect, but just as decent as his character, actually. He’s a great lead for the show, really a great leader and a very decent person, so the quality of the set is really good. My only frustration was that I couldn’t find out what my character was doing! At first, they kinda told me what my game plan was, because I had a character that didn’t reveal itself to anybody, and the script didn’t reveal it to the audience, so unless the producers told me what I was up to, I was completely in the dark. In the middle of the season, I remember going, "Why do I get Lex to Honduras? What am I doing here?" And they went, "Er… we’ll call the office to find that out for you." And I couldn’t find out. I didn’t find out until I was injecting Lex with the serum. "I don’t even know why I’m injecting you with this…" "Oh, you’re injecting him with the superpowers of this Zoid guy!" "Oh! Okay!" So yeah, I was very frustrated about that, because when you’re an actor, it’s all about being active. An actor is not a talker; he’s not a thinker necessarily. He’s a doer; you go and you try to get what you want actively. You act, right? And then bad acting, on the other hand, is just posing, like you’re just posing like you know you want, or you are that character, and it’s all fake. And I hate that! And I felt like if I didn’t know why I was luring him to Honduras, I was posing like I did know and I was suddenly the kind of actor that I detest. And it drove me insane!" He then proceeded to recommend "Smallville" as a very good show worth watching.

James then moved on to talk about Spike’s arc on "Buffy" and "Angel," saying he was proud about the way the character grew throughout the years to be so cool, and then it got to the point where they went back through the years to find out Spike before he was a vampire, only to discover he was so uncool. "’Yeah, Spike was cool before he was a vampire,’ is what I thought, and it was so opposite that, and I felt like I fought for that character. I thought nobody else would dig him in the whole world but I was going to stay with it and fight for it, you know? And so that was cool. I hate to admit it, but I am more proud of the stuff that came later, because it was more complicated and it was harder to do as an actor, but it was frankly more fun to be a jerk." (Massive laughs and cheers) "It’s fun to be a jerk when you’re at the beginning of being a jerk, before it comes back to bite you, right? So playing the early Spike, I was being a jerk and the episode would end before you’d see the ramifications of that. So it was the best of everything, but it was a big lie. It was all terrifying, frankly. I never knew what they were going to ask me to do show to show. Usually in a TV show, you know what you’re going to be asked to do, cos it’s kinda repetitious from week to week, and that’s kind of the problem, but there’s something nice and safe about it. And then in a movie, you know before you sign on where you’re gonna go, and so there’s a safety there. You don’t wanna go there, you just don’t sign on. But on "Buffy," you were signed on for seven years, and you didn’t know where you were gonna go! It freaked a lot of us out! We had no idea who’s gonna wear the tutu this week. (Laughs)

The next question was about where to find his solo CD for sale, as the fan asking had bought the soundtrack to the musical episode of "Buffy" just for the one song James sings in it. "Maybe I gotta do a new album!" The fan said it’s only possible to find the CD on eBay. James then said if he had his computer with him, he’d burn her a copy, "which you’re not supposed to do, but… I’m sorry about that; obviously, I’d love for you to be able to buy one. Let me get to the studio, cos I think the next one is gonna be the one. I think I finally know what my sound is: My sound is simple, my sound is acoustic." When the fan mentioned she was attending that night’s concert, James decided to warn us it was going to be a little bit more country than it used to "but it’s going to be good! I do a lot of folk and a lot of blues, and what we’ve been doing with Steven (his guest musician for the concert) sounded really nice. I like it; it’s sweet. Yeah…"

 

He then got asked about Spike’s relationship with Illyria on "Angel," when she kept mentioning she’d like to keep Spike as a pet, and whether he’d liked that. "I don’t know that I’d want to be anyone’s pet… I like to be equal, but I was digging Illyria. She (Amy Acker) was all worried, ‘They’re gonna make me blue! I’m gonna be a Smurf!’ Another case of not knowing what to do, and so she was really vulnerable at that time, but she was also kicking butt in the role, and she looked hot! So she was fabulous. Amy was great, and all the cameramen were going, "Oh, my God!" The fan followed her question up with the old, "Who’d win in a fight, astronauts or cavemen?" question. "Cavemen, definitely! Astronauts, they’d pick the short guy to fit into the capsule! They don’t pick Dennis Rodman to be in the astronaut program cos that’s just not right, and so they’d pick the shortest of us guys for that. Have you seen the History Channel, man? They were talking about the Neanderthal man, and they were intelligent. You could hit them with a big stone, and they just wouldn’t break! You could break their rib, and they’d keep fighting you. So cavemen, yeah! In chess, definitely astronauts."

The next question was what song he’d pick to be the t
heme song of his life and why. The question stumped James, as he feared he’d had too much self-pity in him to tell us what it’d be, but ultimately he chose Bruce Springsteen’s "No Surrender" because it means never give up, just keep going despite the mistakes you make.

James got asked, in view of his recent film work and TV guest spots, whether he’d like to go on to series TV. "I’d love to go back to series TV. If the writing is good, it’s a really exciting thing to do and I’d never realized that before I came to L.A. When you have 22 hours a week to explore your characters, if the writer is really exploring the character in a way that is really new and dangerous, and they’re expressing themselves, it’s like the ultimate miniseries. So yeah, I have hopes of getting into a good drama." As a side note, he was asked about the bracelet he wears very often in his left wrist, and its origin. He didn’t remember how he got it, "but it doesn’t bother me. I don’t like it when bracelets bother me, and this one’s just round-y."

The next fan asked about the jump on to the moving coffin Spike does in the musical episode of "Buffy," and whether it was actually James doing that, as she’d heard. "No. What happens? Yes, Spike jumps on the coffin, the coffin gets raised and then it gets dumped? Yeah, that was all Steve Tartaglia, yeah. Basically, if my feet were on the ground, it’s probably me. But if my feet were off the ground, whether because I’m flying through the air about to hurt myself, or because I’m doing triple leg combinations and getting really fancy? If one foot’s on the ground, it’s maybe me. But if both feet are off the ground going (makes swooshing noises), that’s Steve." He went on to add that he was there for the shooting of the entire coffin scene. Then he got asked about an incident involving flatulence on part of Steve in that scene. "You guys listen to that crap a lot!" The fan says she knows one of the men involved in moving the coffin, and that it had been actually his fault. "I was standing on the side, man. I don’t know; I didn’t smell anything!" James proceeds to sing the praises of Steve Tartaglia, his stunt double, whom he calls "a godsend" that came to them straight out of Hong Kong as the premier Caucasian actor there, "where they don’t know the meaning of the word ‘safety’. He was so good, frankly, he made me wanna throw up."

Then James got asked about actors who have a problem watching themselves on TV, and whether he was like that. "Actually, I don’t have a problem with watching myself on TV. I didn’t have a problem with Spike, because in general I thought it worked out pretty well. I was like, ‘Yeah, that came out pretty good. Good!" He admitted it’s a little harder if he thinks the role is not going well, or in similar situations to that. "Generally, when you watch yourself, you say, "yeah, that is me" when everybody else thinks it’s more interesting. The only problem I had was, I wrote one of the comic books early on, and I wrote what I thought was a twisted romance for Drusilla and Spike, and they drew really grotesque characters, and I had to go to Juliet Landau, who played Drusilla, and explain to her what I’d created. And she was mad! Because they messed up my story. I thought I’d written a really fun, twisted romance, but romance needs two leads where the women want the man, and the men wanna be the man, you know what I mean? That’s what the genre is, and I got angry and I called Dark Horse, and they said, "Well, James, at the end of the day we wanted to treat some of the "Buffy" characters in this Gothic style, and we wanted one of the cast members to write it, and you were the only one that didn’t have the legal protection to stop us." (The audience at this point gasped and groaned in horror and disbelief.) "’Would you like to write another comic book?’ And they do write a lot of other really good stuff, but… (Overly dramatic) I was betrayed! And now the problem is that, when they draw Spike, they draw him so damn pretty, and they say, ‘Oh, James is really particular about this!’ I honestly didn’t care about what they did to me; it was what they did to Juliet, because I had to kiss her, you know… (Goofy voice) ‘Ooh, I’m your man! I’m making fun of you all over the world!’"

The next question was whether James would be interested in doing a guest spot in "Supernatural." He said yes, that it is a good show and mentioned his manager had contacted them once in this regards, and that the show had seemed really interested in having him… and they never heard from them again.

The next fan asked James whether he’d ever played a straight comedic role, because he thought James’d been brilliant in the funnier moments of "Buffy" and "Angel." He has played some before, like a character that was a take on Mr. Lyons, (adopting the character’s accent) "very funny, who did pratfalls and all. (Normal voice) What else? I played– one time, in repertoire; I’d play Macbeth three nights a week, and then two nights a week I’d play… what the heck is it called? In "Twelfth Night…" Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek, who was like a wussy lord who is convinced by Sir Toby Belch that he can get married to his hot niece, and he’s totally running this rich guy for his money, but he’s yellow-faced. I played it like Andy Warhol; I had the white wig on, no top lip. Nobody knew that it was me; nobody knew I was Macbeth. I love comedy; comedy is great! It’s just hard."

 

The next girl that came up said hi to James and then apologized for "turning into one of the goo girls" to which he replied, "Oh, please do so!" to much merriment. She said she basically loved him, and James quipped, "You’re doing wonders for my self-esteem right now!" She finally managed to ask him if he had a favorite episode of "Buffy" and the reason why, and asked him to feel free to reply in the Spike accent "cos I would die." (In the Spike accent) "No, I don’t do that. I can’t; you’d have to pay me, luv. As for favorites, probably the musical…" (Major cheering) "(in the same Spike accent) Because after the musical, we did "Tabula Rasa" and we thought it was a boring episode. There was no music. ‘Where’s the playback?’" (Normal accent) "So, yean, probably the musical, and we all thought in the back of our minds that we were gonna go over the biggest train wreck and that it was gonna be the biggest embarrassment to everybody. And that’s really why it’s my favorite, because Tony Head and I were pretty comfortable, because we were already singers, but everybody else, and Sarah included, they weren’t singers, and they didn’t audition for a musical TV show and they weren’t comfortable being made to sing as if they deserved to be listened to professionally, you know? The tension level the first day on the set was like, "We’re all gonna die!" And everybody committed, and did their very best, and did their homework, and did that and I’m proud of everybody for that, and I love everybody even more after that."

The next question was if with his background in theater and since he sings he’d ever consider doing a musical. His answer was yes, "because there are a lot of musicals that are worthy of doing these days. I grew up in a town where they kept doing, like "Carousel," and I kinda said, ‘I’m not going to do that!’ But really, since the late ’70s-80s-90s, there’s been some wonderful musicals and yeah, I think that would be wonderful, cos there comes a point in musicals where the characters just can’t talk anymore and only song i
s gonna get them where they need to go again, and when someone who knows musicals understands that, there’s nothing else like it. It’s amazing!"

 

Unfortunately, someone always has to bring up the attempted rape scene (from "Buffy" S6 "Seeing Red"), and it happened again at this panel. James is still very sore about the subject, as evidenced by this answer: "That was the lowest part of my entire acting career. I can’t watch rape scenes, like if I come across one on TV; I have to turn the channel. I’ve kicked a TV over it; it was a cheap one, but I actually broke a TV… Because you’re flipping through, and nobody warns you. And it’s right there! I don’t accept roles that do that, and I just find it, to myself, such a painful subject. So when I got that script, I went into a deep spiral. Nobody really checked with me to see what it would do to me, unfortunately. They were all concerned that Sarah felt safe, and no one really kind of-Unfortunately, I was going down in such a dark spiral that I didn’t reach out to anybody, and so filming that… I think I went a little crazy and I think it took me about four months to get back out of that. It actually sent me to therapy, that scene. Yeah… And I would say to all you producers out there: You make an actor go some place, when he’s contractually obligated to do anything you tell him to do, if you ask him to do something very, very dramatic, just check with him. See what is going on. Yeah… I remember coming to set and saying, "Sometimes you guys don’t understand what you’re asking me to do. You write something that you think is really great, and you don’t understand what’s happening. But Sarah and I came together, and she was joking by the end of the day. That was the irony; she was joking around and I was (shuddering noises)." Here’s hoping James never has to answer this question anymore, because it obviously still affects him. The next fan asked him to talk about recording the fourth book in the "Dresden Files" series, "Storm Front". "I had to do more English accents for that book than ever, God!" He explained to the uninitiated what the Dresden Files audio books were, and called Harry "a sort of Sam Spade wizard." The many accents were required this time around because Harry goes before the White Council of Wizards and there are like 12 voices described as "a booming English accent". (In a booming voice) "And how many of those can you do? (Normal voice) At one point, I just threw up the pages and went, ‘F**k it, I can’t do it!’ But I just love these books, they play out so well and I was just reading them for my own entertainment, so when I got asked to tape them, they said, ‘Are you familiar with the material?’ ‘Yeah, I’ve read them all!’"

James then got asked whether he still keeps in touch with the other "Buffy" cast members. He said he really doesn’t; that sometimes he meets them at events like conventions, or he may run into Alexis Denisof at an audition, because they often go up for the same parts. "In general, I feel like I’ve been through a war with these people… It’s true! I haven’t been to a real war, and so it’s not fair for me to compare it, but I always said, when we were on the set, that we were at war against time, and that time was gonna win, every day. The enemy is going to take something from us every day, and we had to have a kind of camaraderie kinda like it would be in the military. So I’ve seen the best and the worst of all those people, and I love them all. You can’t hate anybody, and it’s so pressurized… I like to meet whole people, cos you can’t hide. It’s so intense you can’t hide. But also, like a war, I guess I don’t hang out with them because there is a lot of painful memories, because we’d work 12-15 hours a day, which is a lot longer than other TV shows, by the way. We worked a whole lot more than other TV shows, and we were always trying to find more elements, more special effects, more things to put on that brain because it was never good enough. We were always pushing for more, and I feel privileged to have gone through it with them, but at the same time, even watching it sometimes I get some painful memories. It was the best experience of my life, but it was not easy. And I’m proud of it, yeah."

Next up was the question about Spike and Buffy, and whether it would have worked out for them. James pondered and went… "Yeah… yeah… I think blowing it like he did sent him off to find his soul, and I think that ultimately they would have worked it out, but maybe it’s just too hard to come back from that, you know? See, I planted the seed on Joss, because I take credit for pairing Buffy and Spike. Because I came on to the series, and my question was, "How are they going to make Spike to stop trying to kill Buffy? Because I’d been trying to do that, and I can’t kill her because it’s her show, and if I fail to kill her repeatedly, I’m pathetic! So you gotta figure out how to make this guy stop, and they came up with the chip, which means I’m forced to stop because I get an electric shock if I try to kill anybody. It was funny a couple of times… but I think it’s always more interesting to see a character decide to change rather than be forced to change, and so I thought it’d be funny if Spike fell in love with Buffy and she never reciprocated at all and she tortured him over it all the time, and he tried to be good, in a funny way, and he would fail. Every time. I thought, ‘That, you could run with for years! That’d be great!’ So Joss doesn’t really take ideas from actors, he just goes, "mm-hmm" and that’s it, which is good when you have a vision, but I used to work with a lot of writers before in theatre, and when they couldn’t really… "collaborate" with me, I would plant a seed, and then it could be their idea. So I just told him I had a little thing for Sarah…" (Cheers, laughter and applause) "And I said, ‘I’ll wait for about a year, and I bet it’ll come out.’ And it did. Unfortunately, he told Sarah… She comes up to me on set, she’s like, (adopting girly posture and accent), ‘Don’t even try to deny it! I know, Joss told me. You’re in love with me.’ So I’m new to the show, and I’m caught, because Sarah is hot, don’t get me wrong, but I always saw her like my kid sister who drives me crazy, but I love her anyway, you know? And so I kind of lied, but I couldn’t! I couldn’t tell her, I couldn’t expose that I’d lied to Joss about that when I planted the seed and I also didn’t want to tell her, "Yeah, I like you" when I did not, because there’s no way out of there. So I just sat there and stared at her. And I felt so bad! Years later, when I told Joss that I knew he’d told her that, he went (gasp, covering his mouth) ‘I don’t remember that! I don’t remember that!’ It was so like high school, I couldn’t even tell you!"

The final question for today’s panel was about what James felt when he got called back to reprise the role of Spike on "Angel" after the character redeemed himself and went out in a blaze of glory at the end of "Buffy." James thought it was great, because he’d just taken on his niece as a guardian, and he’d been through his career enough to know not all fat times last, and that therefore you should save your money. "So I’d saved all my money, and I lived in a very tiny apartment and I was good forever! ‘I’m not spending very much money; I’m good.’ And then I took my niece on, and needed a house, needed a nanny, a lot, a lot, a lot, and so I was happy to be working. I was just fine! I was excited about working with David, cos we always got along so well, and the whole cast was just fabulou
s. The only problem was that they leaked the information to the audience that I was coming on "Angel" before I’d died on "Buffy," and it was supposed to be this big, sad thing; everybody was supposed to be heartbroken, but everybody knew I was going to be resurrected, so…" The fan then asked, "Was it hard to keep playing the character that basically had reached its climax?" which was taken in the wrong direction by James with no words, just a facial expression and a mischievous smile at first, to much laughter from the audience. "No, it wasn’t hard on me! No, I was interested in the character after he’d gotten a soul. How do you reconcile that? That seemed to be like a whole new character, a whole new to sport that, so I told Dave, "You know, we play our cards right, we could be doing this for 15 years. It’d be the "Gunsmoke" of the Millennium, man…" And I told him that at the end of a 15-hour day, and he said, (angrily) "Shut the hell up!"

At this point, James was told his time was up, so we told us he’d see us at the autograph line, and later on at the photo ops.

Everything was highly organized, with people being very respectful of others and of James. At the photo ops, we were helped by the amazing photographer, Christopher Schmelke, with brilliant results. After the photo ops, it was the concert, but that’s a different part of the evening that will be reported separately.

Article pictures courtesy of Albert Ortega.

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