Facts Behind the Iconic Teen Drama “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

If you were around in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, you definitely heard of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The show was the brainchild of Joss Whedon, who was an extremely committed director of the show. Instead of seeing the blonde girl scared of a monster, he envisioned a strong protagonist able to kick the monster’s butt. Buffy was famously played by actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the show became iconic.

Nichola Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Charisma Carpenter, and Alyson Hannigan posing in a promotional shot for Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Nichola Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Charisma Carpenter, and Alyson Hannigan. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox

The teen drama was a huge success among high school kids, but I bet you didn’t know inmates also enjoyed “Buffy.” Despite the show’s immense popularity, it’s been over two decades since the show first aired, and there is still a lot you probably don’t know. From the casting and makeup to set design and vampire slaying, here are some behind the scenes secrets of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

There also might be a reboot in development…

It was a Movie First

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” made its debut on the big screen. The movie leads included Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry, and Pee-Wee Herman, but it turned out to be a disappointment and not what Whedon originally envisioned. Thankfully, he had a second chance years later when he was approached about turning it into a TV show.

Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry, and Rutger Hauer standing around a party

Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry, and Rutger Hauer in the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1992. Photo by Moviestore Collection / Shutterstock

Warner Brothers planned on calling the show “Slayer,” but Joss Whedon wouldn’t get on board. His argument was that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” sounded silly, and nobody would be able to take it seriously. That way, it would fly under the radar and shock viewers when they saw how serious and emotional the show could really be.

The Witch Switch

As you probably already know, Sarah Michelle Gellar was the star of the show, but she almost wasn’t. Before accepting the role of Buffy, the young star was up for the lead in “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” another sassy blonde who has magical powers. She ended up taking the role of Buffy, and Sabrina went to Melissa Joan Hart. It looks like things worked out how they were supposed to.

Sarah Michelle Gellar posing on a large rock. / Melisa Joan Hart as Sabrina standing with her cat, Salem

Photo by James Sorenson, 20th Century Fox Tv, Kobal, Shutterstock / Abc, Viacom, Kobal, Shutterstock

During her time on the show, Gellar made a conscious effort to stay away from the public eye to be a good role model. She didn’t want young fans who looked up to her, to see her drinking alcohol or smoking a cigarette.

Schooled

The roles of Buffy and Xander were originally offered to Katie Holmes and Ryan Reynolds. Holmes turned down the part because she wanted to go to high school, and Reynolds rejected the role because he didn’t want to go back into high school. The Irony. Reynolds explained that he “had just come out of high school, and it was f***ing awful.”

Charisma Carpenter and Sarah Michelle Gellar tied up to a large chair.

Photo by Richard Cartwright / 20th Century Fox TV / Kobal / Shutterstock

Sunnydale High cheerleader, Cordelia Chase, was beautifully portrayed by Charisma Carpenter, but the actress was originally up to play Buffy, and Gellar was supposed to play Cordelia. However, producers insisted that Gellar get the lead role of Buffy because she was already a star from her earlier work.

Casting Fun

At first, Carpenter wasn’t sure if she wanted the role of Cordelia because she had just played that type of character on Aaron Spelling’s “Malibu Shores.” Reportedly, her agent told her that she was at risk of becoming a typecast actress since people didn’t know who she was yet. Good thing she didn’t listen because it ended up being the role of a lifetime.

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head holding a flashing looking up at something

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox

The first character to be cast was Anthony Stewart Head, who played Rupert Giles. According to Whedon, the actor made the character sexy. It makes perfect sense; throwing a heartthrob into a teenage show is never a bad idea. It’s how you get high school girls to tune in!

Finding an Angel

The character Angel is described as “the most gorgeous, mysterious, fantastic, incredible man on the face of the earth,” so it wasn’t easy to cast him. Whedon and the casting director saw various actors who simply couldn’t live up to that description. That doesn’t shock me. I mean, they are real people, and we all have our flaws…

David Boreanaz and Sarah Michelle Gellar standing at alter in front of a Priest

David Boreanaz and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox

Well, almost all of us. The casting director had a friend who explained that he saw some guy walking his dog on his street that could be perfect for the role. That’s when they brought in David Boreanaz, and every female in the room melted. At that point, it was an easy decision.

Bleach Blonde Country Boy

British Vampire Spike, was played by James Marsters, but the actor wasn’t even British. Marsters is actually from California and initially auditioned with a Texas accent. Producers later decided that making the character from London would be more exciting. Anthony Stewart Head ended up working with Marsters as his accent coach.

James Marsters as Spike with bleach blonde hair

James Marsters as Spike. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox

To achieve and maintain Spike’s signature platinum blonde hair, Marsters had to bleach his hair every eight days for six years. That is absolutely insane. I know many actors need to alter their appearance or die their hair to look like the character they are playing, but bleaching so often can be really bad for you. I’m surprised he has any hair left.

Working Within a Budget

When “Buffy” first started, the show didn’t have the biggest budget. They actually shot in a huge warehouse in Santa Monica, instead of using a soundstage. They had just one hallway, which they used over and over again. It was “really kind of sad,” according to Whedon.

Tori Spelling, Jennie Garth, Christine Elise, and Gabrielle Carteris sitting on the lawn of Torrance High School during a scene in Beverly Hills 90210

Tori Spelling, Jennie Garth, Christine Elise, and Gabrielle Carteris filming at Torrance High School. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Spelling Television, Fox

The outside of the warehouse doubled as the entrance to The Bronze, the only club in Sunnydale. They only shot the exterior twice because it was annoying to film outdoors at night. The fictional Sunnydale High was filmed at Torrance High School in Los Angeles. The school was used for exterior shots on “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Not Another Teen Movie,” “She’s All That,” and so much more.

The Memorable Theme Song

Whedon wasn’t satisfied with the first version of the theme song. That’s when he decided to turn it into a fun contest for local indie bands. He thought it would be cool that a story with a scary origin developed into rock n’ roll, depicting exactly what the show was about. Nerf Herder, a Santa Barbara band, won the contest.

James Marsters, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Joss Whedon behind the scenes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

James Marsters, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Joss Whedon behind the scenes. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox

It was a pretty cool way for the band to get their name out there. In the episode “Empty Places,” Nerf Herder was featured as the musical guest. It was also the last band that played at The Bronze, Sunnydale’s favorite hangout spot. Their appearance gave the band more opportunities.

The Vampire Look

Whedon intended for the vampires to look like ordinary people who only turned into monsters at feeding time. It helped increase the sense of paranoia. But it was significant that they turned into monsters because if a teenage girl stabbed regular looking people, it wouldn’t be a good fit for TV.

David Boreanaz, Alyson Hannigan, and Sarah Michelle Gellar with Alyson in vampire make up

David Boreanaz, Alyson Hannigan, and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Photo by Richard Cartwright / 20th Century Fox Tv / Kobal / Shutterstock

It took an hour and twenty minutes to put on the vampire makeup every time. Needless to say, it was super annoying. Removing it wasn’t a walk in the park either. Apparently, it was a painstaking process. The cast needed to remove it delicately unless they wanted to rip off their entire face with it. At least all the effort paid off, and the vampires looked great!

Stay Away From Garlic!

The creators of the show took on a rather traditional vampire take, but they still chose what they would include. For example, in Buffyworld, vampires didn’t turn into bats that fly (with Dracula as one notable exception). Still, they didn’t have reflections, could only enter houses if they were invited, and were vulnerable to crosses, sunlight, garlic, fire, and holy water.

Charisma Carpenter, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Seth Green, and Alyson Hannigan standing defensively with Gellar holding a stake

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The way to kill them was by a stake through the heart or beheading. When the vampires died on the show, they just simply turned into dust. The primary reason that choice was made so that every episode didn’t waste time getting rid of bodies at the end. That’s a pretty good reason if you ask me.

What an Awkward “Sitch”

Another thing “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was famous for was its witty dialogue known as “Buffyspeak,” and the inspiration was California Valley girls. Gellar wasn’t necessarily a pro at this language, though. At her audition, she asked what “What’s the sitch?” meant. She didn’t know it meant situation, which is pretty funny looking back.

Sarah Michelle Gellar behind the scenes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a camera held up

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The library is where most of the exposition, delivered beautifully by Anthony Stewart Head, for the monsters took place. The cast and crew got so sick of being in there and despised filming those scenes. Obviously not because of Head; libraries are just considered boring places in general. I personally don’t have a problem being around books; it’s the monsters that scare me!

Pickle Breath

Julie Benz, beautifully portrayed Darla, was the vampire sired by Angel. She was meant to die in episode two after being covered by holy water. However, Whedon decided to keep her around because he thought Buffy and Angel’s romance would be more exciting as a love triangle. I guess ancient Gypsy soul curses weren’t stimulating enough.

Julie Penz with J Patrick Lawlor standing to her left

J Patrick Lawlor and Julie Penz. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox

Speaking of Buffy and Angel’s relationship, Geller and Boreanaz would eat disgusting smelling food like pickles and tuna fish just to mess with each other. The co-stars must have been really comfortable with each other. I would die if someone tried to mess with me like that! If you’re kissing me, it better smell minty fresh!

Creating New Words

Writer David Greenwalt coined the term “phlebotinum”- a plot moving device in each episode. Apparently, they were all trying to figure out what Buffy would be doing, and the writer yelled, “For God’s sake, don’t touch the phlebotinum in Jar C.” Nobody had a clue what he was talking about, but it was one of those things that ended up sticking.

Sarah Michelle Gellar with her on-screen mother, Kristine Sutherland and John Ritter, who are at the table eating dinner

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“The Body” was the most critically acclaimed episode of the popular show. In that episode, Buffy’s mom Joyce dies of natural causes. Whedon explained that Joyce was the most difficult character for him to kill. Wow! Considering the number of characters he killed off, that is quite the compliment.

Ratted Out

When it came to casting their villains, “Buffy” double-dipped a couple of times. For example, Brian Thompson was the actor who played vampire Luke as well as the Judge. Camden Toy portrayed a skin eating demon named Gnarl, a gentleman in “Hush,” and super vampire Turok-Han.

Brian Thompson and Sarah Michelle Gellar

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The star of the show, Sarah Michelle Gellar, had a pretty busy schedule. During season two, she had the opportunity to host “Saturday Night Live” and needed to take some time off of the show. The creative writers decided to turn Buffy into a rat, so they could continue shooting without the actress. Well, that’s one way to do it!

Perfect Attendance

Despite being turned into a rat for a few scenes, Gellar appeared on every episode of the show. She and Hannigan were the only two “Buffy” stars to do so. Nicholas Brendan almost made the cut, but he was left out of one episode. Good for them! To be fair, I would also have a perfect attendance for $100,000 an episode.

Sarah Michelle Gellar walking around a building dressed in tight all black clothes

Photo by 20th Century Fox Television / Kobal / Shutterstock

In season one of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” several scenes were shot in an actual graveyard. This meant staying up all night until sunrise. For season two, they decided to make their lives much easier. They simply built their own graveyard in the parking lot. That seems pretty convenient.

Taking on a Challenge

Whedon was praised for his dialogue, but he was worried that he was starting to rely on them as a resource. That’s when he decided to challenge himself by writing an episode that was mostly silent, “Hush.” The episode was a fan favorite and praised by critics. It looks like the director had nothing to worry about after all.

Doug Jones and Camden Toy as The Gentlemen in the episode Hush

Source: Flickr

Some of the creepiest villains that Whedon created were the gentlemen from “Hush.” Supposedly, they came to him in a dream. He immediately drew a picture of them and then gave his illustrations to makeup and special effects people, and shaped a generation of traumatized kids.

No Spoilers

During a dream sequence in season three with fellow slayer Faith, Buffy was told a riddle that predicted the mystery sister, Dawn, and her own death. Whedon explained to Gellar what it meant, so the actress knew her character was going to die three years before it happened. Three years is a long time to keep a secret; I probably would have blabbed.

Michelle Trachtenberg and Sarah Michelle Gellar standing in a dimly lit entranceway to a home

Michelle Trachtenberg and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox

Many viewers were confused by a sister suddenly appearing. Whedon explained the reason he brought in a sister seemingly out of thin air. It was to give Buffy an emotional, intense, and significant relationship that wasn’t romantic. That’s an interesting take and brings more dimension to her character.

Gay Rights Activist

From the beginning, Whedon knew that he wanted either Willow or Xander to come out as gay, but he didn’t know which one to pick. When he finally decided on Willow, she became one of the very first lesbian characters on screen. The ‘90s were a strange time. Almost every show in 2020 features a gay or lesbian character.

Alyson Hannigan and Lyari Limon sitting close together locking eyes on the couch

Photo by 20th Century Fox Television / Kobal / Shutterstock

But as we mentioned, this was the ‘90s. The studio was giving Whedon a hard time about the Willow and Tara romance and even asked him to cut the kiss scene. This was the first and only time that the director ever threatened to leave the show. Good thing they had a progressive producer. Things have certainly changed.

So Much Love on Set

Alyson Hannigan, the actress who played Willow, married Alexis Denisof, the guy who played Faith’s British watcher Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. The love birds shared the screen once again in “How I Met Your Mother.” Hannigan played Lily Aldrin while Denisof portrayed Sandy Rivers, the Philandering Newscaster.

Alyson Hannigan and Alexis Denisof holding her baby bump and smiling

Alyson Hannigan and Alexis Denisof. Photo by Picture Perfect / Shutterstock

Due to all the emotional pain, he put her character through on-screen, Whedon gave Sarah Michelle Gellar the nickname “Jimmy Stewart” because “he was the greatest American in pain in the history of the film.” Fun fact: The character of Dracula was almost played by Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar’s real-life hubby.

Gellar Didn’t Want to be in the Musical Episode

“Buffy” was an exciting show to work on, but the musical episode was particularly terrifying for Sarah Michelle Gellar. She explained, “I’m a perfectionist, I come from a long line of lots of preparation, and certainly that was a bit the case with this. If I had my druthers, we would have gotten it about two years ago and been in classes for a year and a half, maybe six weeks of rehearsals? Instead of four days.”

James Marsters, Emma Caulfield, Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, and Alyson Hannigan in the musical episode

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At a 2008 event, the star revealed that she was “begging” show writers to leave her out of that episode. She explained how she wanted them to turn her into a rat, as they did during her appearance on “SNL”: “I begged for Buffy the rat. I kept thinking, ‘Bring the rat back.’”

Fans in Jail

“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” was popular among high school teenagers, but that wasn’t the only group that enjoyed the show. Reportedly, Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots started watching the show in prison and became a huge fan. Gellar was later featured in the band’s music video for “Sour Girl,” and she had her own theory about why.

Scott Weiland performing

Scott Weiland. Source: Shutterstock

The actress thinks that the reason “Buffy” was such a hit among prison inmates is that “Hot chicks doing battle. It’s like acceptable porn.” I mean, it makes sense. Plus, it’s an entertaining show, what’s not to like? Especially when you are behind bars with nothing else to do.

It’s Britney Bitch

An extremely famous pop star almost made a guest appearance on an episode of “Buffy.” Britney Spears, who was massively famous at the time, wanted to be cast as April the Robot. The episode was called “I Was Made to Love You,” where Warren creates a robotic girlfriend, and Spears was supposed to play her.

Britney Spears in Australia in front of the Sydney Opera House

Britney Spears 2001. Photo by James D Morgan / Shutterstock

She would have been great for the part. Especially back then, Britney had a perfectly sculpted body, stunning blonde hair, and a flawless face. The role of a robotic girlfriend would have been perfect for the singer. Unfortunately, the appearances didn’t work out in the end due to busy, conflicting work schedules. She was offered other minor roles, but they didn’t work out for the same reasons.

Season One’s Big Villain

Underneath all the scary makeup, the season one villain is none other than actor Mark Metcalf. If you are wondering why he looks so familiar is because he played Doug Neidermeyer in “Animal House” and The Maestro in “Seinfeld.” Other than his popular appearances, he has also shown up in various other movies and TV shows.

Mark Metcalf in Buffy the Vampire Slayer standing in a dark cave-like room with candles lit around him

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Whedon explained, “Most of the guys we read came in and gave us villain, villain, villain in a very unimaginative way. Mark’s not that character, he’s just sly. He undercut all the villainousness with real charm.” If you’re ever auditioning for the role of a villain, that’s how you do it.

Buffy’s Family

If you are a fan of the show, you know that the most important things to Buffy are her family and friends. That’s why it may come as a surprise to find out that Whedon’s initial vision didn’t include Buffy’s family. The reasoning behind this was that Buffy would have to continuously explain where she has been to her parents.

Kristine Sutherland and Sarah Michelle Gellar posing in the living room

Kristine Sutherland and Sarah Michelle Gellar, on-screen mother and daughter. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox

The director wanted the show to focus more on the action and drama. However, after some persuasion, Whedon caved and gave Buffy a single mother, Joyce. Later, the character even got a sister, Dawn. Even though these two characters weren’t part of the original plan, they ended up contributing a lot to the storyline.

Canceled

Gellar revealed that season six was the most difficult episode for her to film. She explained that she came across many situations where she felt like Buffy wouldn’t have done things that the script demanded. The actress said, “It was a tough time, and I think that’s what came through in the end, and that was great.”

Joss Whedon behind the scenes watching Sarah Michelle Gellar on smalls screens

Joss Whedon behind the scenes watching Sarah Michelle Gellar. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox

During an “Entertainment Weekly” cover story, Gellar revealed that after seven seasons, “Buffy” was going to end. The unfortunate part is that this was the first time the rest of the cast heard about it. Ouch, what a terrible way to find out you’re losing your job.

The Story Lives on…

Seven scripts were written for a cartoon version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and a cast of voice actors was even signed. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find a network that wanted to take on the show. Joss Whedon didn’t get it and said it’s “incomprehensible” to him.

Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon. Photo by 20th Century Fox Television / Kobal / Shutterstock

Even though the television show came to an end, the story continued through comic books where Dawn turned into a giant, Dracula returns, and there is a reunion with Angel. The comic was created by many of the show’s original show writers. Even James Marsters joined in the fun, bringing an original story about Spike, his vampire character.

Season Five Finale

Nowadays, we see plenty of canceled TV shows reviving on new platforms. Even shows that haven’t been canceled can now have long hiatuses between seasons; we see it all the time. When a show ends, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. Although this idea is common now, it was unconventional during season six of “Buffy.”

Sarah Michelle Gellar

Photo by Andrew Macpherson / 20th Century Fox Tv / Kobal / Shutterstock

Season five of the show ended with Buffy’s death and was supposed to be the conclusion of the show. But then Whedon was approached by UPN and a pretty big paycheck to bring back to show and help liven up their struggling network. Therefore, the final season of “Buffy” was relatively unplanned.

High Ratings

Warner Brothers isn’t really a network known for its high ratings. However, shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” helped the network get recognition. In season one of “Buffy,” 3.7 million viewers watched on average. And that was just during the first season of the show.

Katie Holmes and James Van Der Beek dancing together in Dawson’s Creek 1998

Katie Holmes and James Van Der Beek in Dawson’s Creek 1998. Photo by Fred Norris / Warner Bros Tv / Kobal / Shutterstock

It reached an average of 5.2 viewers per episode during seasons two, three, and four. As soon as the series switched the UPN network for season 6, ratings slipped a little. They had about 4.5 million viewers, which is obviously lower, but the show remained popular. Still, switching networks gave the fans 44 more episodes of the show.

Reboot

Speaking of reboots, there has been talks about reviving “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” In July 2018, the studio announced that 20th Century Fox has been coming up with reboot ideas. They stated that they plan on making the series feel “richly diverse.” Fox explained that it would be “like the original, some aspects of the series could be seen as metaphors for issues facing us all today.”

Michelle Trachtenberg, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Nicholas Brendon behind the scenes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Michelle Trachtenberg, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Nicholas Brendon behind the scenes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox

News of the series reboot was an exciting surprise for “Buffy” fans everywhere. We don’t know exactly how the plot will work, but sentimental millennials are looking forward to watching it. Unfortunately, like most TV shows, it has been put on hold due to the current pandemic.