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Adam Busch knows that Buffy fans think Warren’s terrible

Photos: Netflix / Alberto E. Rodriguez
Photos: Netflix / Alberto E. Rodriguez

In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee. For The A.V. Club’s Buffy Week we devised a set of Buffy-themed queries to throw at the show’s cast members.

Because he played Warren, the leader of the Trio and the murderer of Tara (Amber Benson), Adam Busch’s interactions with Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans can be tense. Warren was easily one of the show’s most despicable characters: a human with a deep hatred for women. Since his Buffy days, Busch has starred on the TBS sitcom Men At Work and done a stint on USA’s Colony. As for his relationship with Benson, well, they’ve had further filmmaking adventures together post-Buffy and even dated for a period.

1. On average, how much time per week do you spend being recognized for, thinking of, or talking about Buffy?

Adam Busch: It’s interesting because I’ve been working since I was a kid. I started at Nickelodeon, and people always think they know me or they recognize me. It’s often not, “Oh, that’s Warren from Buffy.” It’s usually like, “Did we go to college together?” or, “Do I know you?” And I’ll say no. Then what happens is they realize what it is they know me from, and immediately, their face goes from excitement to anger and rage and a loathing. [That] has been, for me, an interesting experience because usually being recognized comes with some form of flattery [or] excitement, and people are very comfortable expressing their anger at me for what Warren did to Tara. It does happen a lot. Whatever I’m working on, there will always be some question about, “Do I feel bad for killing Tara?”

I think it’s just because of the personal relationship that people have with the show that I feel like those lines are blurred when they see my face, and there’s no hesitation to just let me know how they feel or say something like, “Oh, you’re awful,” or, “You’re terrible.” It’s caused me to put a bit of a guard up.

2. What is your fondest memory of filming?

AB: I really liked working with Jeff Kober, who played Rack, the demon who sold drugs. He was just such an incredible actor, and the scenes we did together felt like a play. We would do it a million different ways. I mean, the whole experience. I know that’s such a cheesy answer. But I got to do more on that show than anyone ever gets to do in a career. To get to go from a good guy to a bad guy, to do comedy, to do serious, to do science fantasy, and then something grounded in a topic that’s even more relevant now than it was then. [That] is why I think their hatred of Warren is justified.

There was a period there where it felt like a movie, and it felt like I couldn’t tell if I was changing what I was doing to adapt to the writers or if they were writing to me. It felt very personal. Going down that journey and trying to always find some sense of humanity there. I feel like the things that Warren had to deal with are universal. He just handled them so wrong every time.

3. What’s your personal favorite—and least favorite—Buffy episode?

AB: My favorite is “Hush,” hands down. That was the episode I could just watch over and over again. Doug Jones and the way he held his body and just that whole episode, I thought was so brilliant. It was like a play. And I like when things are like a play.

AVC: Do you have a least favorite?

AB: To be controversial, I’ll say the musical because we weren’t in it. It was shot at the time that we were shooting. It was this week break we had to take, and I remember Danny [Strong], Tom [Lenk], and I were pitching to Marti Noxon this evil Trio boy band and singing for her. She was like, “That’s great.” And then nothing ever happened. We really wanted to be in the musical, really really bad.

AVC: So it’s more out of personal—

AB: Jealousy because everyone was having so much fun and singing and dancing, and we weren’t in it because they had been working on it for so many months before we were even there that wasn’t part of the storyline. Oh—maybe, I’ll say, Amber [Benson] and I only had one scene together. Even her death scene was shot on different days at different times. So we never interacted very much except on 9/11, when I was flying back from New York and I landed at 9 a.m. in L.A. to work, and everything was happening and a lot of the actors couldn’t work. Half the crew couldn’t. No one knew what to do. So half of us were just going through the motions of having a day. That was the one bit of a scene that Amber and I were like, “We could do that.” I remember we shot and we’d stand around video village, where there was a TV that had the news on, and we’d all just stare at the news. And then we’d remember what we were doing and go back to filming, and then they just ended the day because it was too much. So I’ll say whatever episode that was.

4. If you could have played any other character on Buffy, who would it have been?

AB: I wanted to be Spike so bad. Outside of Jeff, those were my favorite scenes, working with Jim [Marsters], because he, like me, takes it so seriously, maybe even too seriously. That’s the kind of science fiction I like, and that’s what Joss does so well. It doesn’t matter how fantastical the scenario. It’s always grounded in, like, “You’re just a hurt nerd who can’t get a girl,” or, “You’re just an upset teenager who’s had too much.” [James] was so like that, and we both rarely got the chance to work together, but when we did, it felt really important. I remember one scene where he’s laying on a table and I’m trying to do something to him. And I’m standing and he’s laying on the table, and each time they yell “Action!” he would just go [Makes gasping noise.]. And then when it was over, he’d go, “Ah.” “What are you doing? Do you have indigestion?” And he’s like, “Vampires don’t breathe, mate.”

5. Who’s the most underrated character on the show?

AB: Who is Joel Grey? Who did he play?

AVC: Doc. You obviously loved working with Rack as well, who is a sort of underrated character.

AB: Oh, yeah, I can totally go with that because he is very much a catalyst for a lot of things that happened. He doesn’t judge. He’s almost a priest who lets you do what you want. “You want this? Fine. But I should warn you. But I’m going to give it to you.”

6. The sixth season is pretty controversial among fans. How do you feel about it?

AB: What controversy specifically?

AVC: The fan reaction against it being darker. It’s sort of either you love it or you hate it among fans.

AB: For me, I know if I’m going to see a movie or watch a television show, I don’t like reading reviews, and I don’t like hearing what people think. Because I know—like the last episode of The Sopranos—if people either love or hate it, I’m going to have a very strong feeling, and I’m probably going to love it. I like things that are controversial and different, and I specifically like things that are dark. The second season of The Wire is very controversial because it changes, and people hate that because they’re like, “This is not the show I signed up for.” And to me, it’s my favorite. We want to encourage the people whose work we like to take risks, and you’re not always going to like the risks that they take, but we need to support them when they do it because it’s those risks that got the show made to begin with. So I’m going to stand behind season six. Is that where I come back as a ghost?

AVC: No, season six is the Trio season.

AB: I think people think it’s controversial because it’s maybe very much like Stardust Memories, the Woody Allen film where they feel he’s taking the piss out of his fans. Maybe there were people who were like, “Is that supposed to be us? Is that what they think of us?” What’s so sad to me about that is that the writers were writing themselves. They were taking Dungeons & Dragons from their office and putting it down on the floor. They were, as far as I can tell—Drew Greenberg and all of them—were writing if not themselves then the people they know and the things they knew from feeling like an outsider. And that is what you want them to do.

They just took different people’s perspectives on the same story. “What if Buffy wasn’t so beautiful? What if she wasn’t so charming and appealing? What if she hated herself more like they did? What if she was filled with a self-loathing and insecurity that wasn’t justified? Maybe this is how she’d handle things. Maybe she’d be less of a hero. Maybe if she was not as good a friend because she didn’t have as many good friends like Warren was, then maybe they’d react differently.” But that metaphor for school being a Hellmouth. And for puberty and teenagers and growing into adulthood, being this demonic Hellmouth was always there, so I liked it.

7. When Dawn appeared in the fifth season, some fans were taken aback. How do you feel about her?

AB: I think it’s great. I don’t think any controversy is justified. I’m fascinated with brothers and sisters and mothers and daughters, and that’s what happens when you get to that age. If you’re not turning around even as a senior in high school and looking at the freshmen and doing a little passing on some information—that’s part of growing up, and it’s a necessary and essential part of growing up. And I think the fact that she’s a key to all of that, would be like, “Be nicer to your sister,” is on point. Any controversy just means people give a shit, which is great. It’s not going to be this show you would write; otherwise, you would have written it.

8. Who was the best Big Bad?

AB: Is Warren considered a Big Bad?

AVC: Yeah.

AB: Then I’ll say Warren because, to me, that’s the most frightening. A demon that’s evil for the sake of being evil because he was made that way is frightening, because you know it’s not going to stop. But the fact that it could just be that nerd you’ve been ignoring for the last couple years or could be that girl or guy you turned down to go to the prom and you think everything’s fine but it’s not, and how unchecked his feelings are and how unchecked he is as a person. To me, that’s frightening. Of all these demons, some of the most awful things that were ever done on that show where the least humanity [was] shown was from a human being, was from someone that’s arguably one of us. I like that a lot. I find that’s the most frightening, and I think it’s very prophetic when you look at Gamergate, and you look at Trump and all this stuff and how necessary it is to not be tolerant and to stop it when you see it, and the difference between locker-room talk and consent, which still since then has not been clarified clearly.

9. Angel or Spike?

AB: Oh, Spike for days.

AVC: You loved working with James Marsters, but are there any other personal reasons you choose Spike 100 percent over Angel?

AB: Angel is an angel. He’s the idealized version of a partner that will come and save you and better you, and Spike was just the flip side—that thing that’s a part of her but that he can’t control and that she’s attracted to but it’s dangerous, and together, they would make the perfect human or the perfect person.

10. What do you wish your character had done that you didn’t get to do?

AB: Learn something. He does things that are unforgivable, but if you could learn something from it and share it, then at least there’s progress, or at least maybe somebody watching or even one of the gang could learn something about that. Or he could have, even before he gets his just deserts. With every instance, he really was clearly given these moments to make the right decision to do the right thing or to stop. Warren and Andrew and Jonathan were good friends, and they should have been able to keep each other in check. He could have relied on the friendship more and listened to them. He might have learned something, and he’s clearly powerful and capable of power, and that power could have used it for good instead of just the worst humanity you have to offer.

11. What lessons can Buffy still teach us in 2017?

AB: If you were abandoned, you don’t abandon somebody else. That’s a reason to stay and give people even more of a chance or to be even more tolerant because you know of the horror that exists. If you have horror happen to you, it doesn’t mean you have to teach everyone else a lesson. If you’re going to teach them a lesson, then a lesson to be kind. You should be even kinder because you know it’s out there.

Outside of Warren and the current Gamergate climate and all that stuff I would say, don’t underestimate anybody for good or for bad. Don’t underestimate their capacity for good or their capacity for evil. And when somebody tells you something, you should listen to them. Let’s not underestimate each other in any way. The heroism that Buffy was capable of and horror that Warren was capable of, they were both underestimated, and they shouldn’t be. Because they knew, and we should listen to people when they talk. Let’s not underestimate each other.

Bonus 12th Question from Tom Lenk: Was it hard coming to work every day knowing how much you wanted to sleep with me?

AB: Yes, it was, and like most of the cast and crew, I got it out of my system early on.