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.
We’ve had a lot of fun with Danny Strong over the years. Every time the talented writer and actor comes out with a new project, we say something along the lines of “Danny Strong to write Hunger Games: Mockingjay in yet another attempt to get us to stop calling him ‘Jonathan from Buffy.’” We then follow it up with a picture from the episode “Superstar” and give him a little “Nice try, Jonathan” for good measure. But frankly, these days the guy is everywhere. He wrote The Butler. He created Empire, for god’s sake. So we’re thinking we might just refer to him as “Jonathan from Buffy” only on alternate Thursdays or something. Anyway, the least morally compromised member of season six’s villainous Trio spoke with us in honor of the show’s 20th anniversary this week.
1. On average, how much time per week do you spend being recognized for, thinking about, or talking about Buffy?
Danny Strong: It varies. I would say I get maybe an hour a week getting recognized from Buffy. And the rest of them, not much.
The A.V. Club: You’re a little busy these days.
DS: Well, it’s been a while. It’s been a while.
DS: My fondest memory of filming was working with Tom Lenk and Adam Busch for season six, because whenever we would work, we would always be together, because we had so many scenes together. So two days out of the shoot, it was our TV show, and they were just the best guys, and we had so much fun. It was a very exciting time.
AVC: For all three of you guys, was that your first regular appearance on a big show?
DS: Yeah. Well, not for Adam Busch—he was on the show The Mystery Files Of Shelby Woo as a teenager. Remember that show?
AVC: Oh, that’s right.
DS: But for me and Tom Lenk, definitely. So here’s my other favorite memory: It was early in my run on the show, and I was walking by Charisma Carpenter, and, I don’t know why, but she spanked me. And then I turned to her, and I said, “Do it again.” And then her eyes lit up, and she spanks me again. And that’s my story.
AVC: And that’s when you knew you were on the right show?
DS: [Laughs.] That’s when I knew I had picked the right career choice.
AVC: Did you know in advance that it was coming?
DS: No, I didn’t know anything about it. I think it was season five—no, it was season four. It was the season where I wasn’t on it very much. So I wasn’t keyed in to what was going on with the show. I was just watching it. And then this episode came on, and I just thought, “That is absolutely brilliant.” Least favorite…
AVC: I was going to propose maybe the one where you die, just for obvious reasons, but maybe you have a different one.
DS: Yeah, I would like to propose that as well. That’s a great one; I wouldn’t have been able to come up with one. Yeah, the one where I died, because I think it was a tragedy for television and for America and for parts of Eastern Europe.
AVC: Way to get in the “parts of Eastern Europe”—they went nuts for the show.
DS: Exactly. Exactly.
DS: I think—and it was actually my first encounter with Buffy—was auditioning for the pilot presentation for the part of Xander. And to this day, I say I was robbed. I think I would have made a great Xander.
AVC: Did you try to explain to Nicholas Brendon that clearly you would have been the superior Xander?
DS: I text him every day and let him know. He stopped responding in 1998. Whatever.
AVC: As long as you keep the mission alive. That’s the important part.
DS: The most underrated character. That’s a good question. It’s hard to say, because the characters who were underrated, people were attached to those characters, too. It was as if everyone had their day in court. I don’t know. Throw some characters out for me. Help me out with this one.
AVC: Okay, let’s see. You’ve got some of the less heralded villains, like, maybe Glory? You’ve got some of the other supporting characters—
DS: Glory was so beloved in her own way. Because I went and did these conventions for four years, so I would see even the smallest characters be treated like rock stars. So it was always—everyone was so beloved. [Pauses.] The most underrated character. This is so tough!
AVC: Maybe—as you mentioned, you went to the conventions—is there maybe one of the more minor characters that you always were pleased to see sort of a beloved reaction to at the conventions?
DS: Yeah, Robin Sachs was so great. [He played Ethan Rayne, an old antagonist of Rupert Giles.—ed.] That guy was one of the funniest people I’d ever met and such a lovely guy. And everyone loves him at the conventions. How about Robin?
AVC: That’s a good one, because it was just that handful of episodes in those first couple of seasons, but he’s such a memorable guy that I think everybody still knows exactly who you’re talking about when you bring him up.
DS: Yeah, exactly.
AVC: This one seems deliberately provocative for a member of the Trio.
DS: [Laughs.] I love the sixth season so much. It was one of the best experiences I ever had as an actor.
AVC: For whatever reason—I think because it went so dark that season—with a lot of the fan base it tends to be considered a more uneven season.
DS: Yeah, I disagree. I thought season six was fantastic. I thought it played like gangbusters. When it was airing, it played great. I disagree with the perception that that was an off season. I thought it was terrific. I thought Dark Willow was killer. I thought the final two episodes—you know, Willow gone mad—was awesome Buffy.
AVC: You can’t really get to the emotional highs of that ending unless you have that sort of dark, depressing middle section where everybody is losing their way.
DS: I thought it was genius.
DS: I liked her right away. I thought the negative fan reaction was just because it was so out of left field, and it was creating this new character. You know, to have this sort of deep relationship character come out of left field, I understand why that threw people, but I really liked it and I adored Michelle [Trachtenberg].
AVC: She was introduced the season before your big arc. Did you guys get some chances to work together during season six?
DS: Yeah, a little bit, and I just adored her.
DS: Who was the best Big Bad? I mean, was Spike considered a big bad? Because he was, wasn’t he, for a few seasons?
AVC: Season two—he, Drusilla, and Angelus were sort of the three.
DS: I think Spike is one of the great Buffy characters and, in my opinion, one of the great television characters of that decade. I thought that performance was astounding, and I remember thinking—every year he got, not every year, but, in the back end, when the character became a series regular—James got robbed because he wasn’t getting nominated for anything. Even though the show was so off the radar for Emmy nominations. But I just thought he was fantastic. The First, too, I thought was an awesome Big Bad. I just thought that was really clever and cool.
AVC: That also gave you a chance to come back after you had died, and it sort of allowed this character—who had always been the quiet, marginalized guy—to come back and actually be a part of this massive villain.
DS: Joss [Whedon] told me he thought that was my best work on the series, playing the embodiment of all evil.
AVC: Well, if you’re going to go out with something, why not go out with the embodiment of all evil?
DS: [Laughs.] Exactly. It’s probably the closest to my real personality.
AVC: I knew that was coming. Team Spike all the way?
DS: Hands down. Team Spike.
AVC: Even if you were asked which of the two Buffy should end up with, you’d go with Spike over Angel?
DS: Spike! Spike was the coolest.
DS: I wish he’d become part of the Scooby Gang. That was all I wanted since the pilot presentation, was to be part of the Scooby Gang. And it never happened. Woe is me.
AVC: I think you’re probably right there along with every single person who watched the show in wishing that was the case.
DS: Yes, but I was a lot closer than those people. And I never got there.
DS: I think just how hard it is to be a teenager, to be in high school, and then going to college. Just adolescence entirely. I think it made you feel as if the problems you had, a lot of other people experienced, too. And so to see this television action hero go through the banalities of teenage and college life and transition into their early 20s and all those challenges, I think was able to give comfort to people in a way that I think art is supposed to do. Reflect upon who you are and give insight into what it is to be human.
AVC: Did it strike you guys as you were filming that it had a timeless quality to it and was getting at something that was going to endure past the cultural era in which you were filming?
DS: It didn’t hit me until, I think, around season six, when the conventions started. And when we would go to these conventions, there would be anywhere from a thousand to tens of thousands of people, depending on what convention you went to, there to see you. And it was just amazing to think this might be enduring the way that Star Trek is enduring. And, so far, it feels like that’s been the case.
AVC: It seems like you guys are very much on pace to be a Star Trek-level show.
DS: I would love that. I just think that would be the absolute coolest if, in 20 years, people are still watching the show and loving it.
AVC: Yeah, if you were able to do the sort of Tim Allen in Galaxy Quest moment where you come out and it’s still, “Never give up, never surrender.”
DS: Yes, absolutely. I’ll wear my striped shirt and bring my magic bone.
DS: This is bullshit! I was told there would be 11 questions. This is outrageous! All right, go on.
AVC: From James Marsters: “By season six, weren’t our humongous trailers just a little too big for comfort?”
DS: Well, for him, maybe. I never got the humongous trailer.
AVC: Were you sharing a trailer?
DS: Well, you don’t share a trailer, but you just get smaller trailers depending on your status on the show. So my trailers were never–I never had the big trailers. I envied and coveted the big trailers.
AVC: Did you still try and personalize your trailer in your own way, especially during that sixth season when you were there pretty much every episode?
DS: No, because I wasn’t there enough to do that. I never had my own trailer; they would always lead me to a different trailer depending on what was happening that episode. So I never had my personalized trailer. Because we did—I think I did 11 of the 22 on that season. And it would be two days an episode, so it would have been too much to give me my own trailer.