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.
Tom Lenk’s portrayal of Andrew Wells on Buffy The Vampire Slayer was so lovable it was easy to forget that the character committed horrible crimes. One of the nerdy Trio in the sixth season, he ended the series fighting alongside the heroine to save the world. Since Buffy, Lenk has become a Joss Whedon regular, showing up in The Cabin In The Woods and Much Ado About Nothing. However, these days he’s winning acclaim for his Instagram account, in which he makes his own versions of red-carpet outfits using the likes of household and other repurposed items. Last month, his “#LenkLewkForLess” posts were written up in The New York Times.
1. On average, how much time a week do you spend being recognized for, thinking of, or talking about Buffy?
Tom Lenk: Let’s skip that one and come back.
TL: The whole experience was just a joy, and I wish I could have appreciated it more in the moment because I spent a good portion of it just being terrified that I was going to be killed off at any moment. That being said, I think Alyson Hannigan had made a big deal about how I didn’t have a chair. In Hollywood, you get one of those director’s chairs with your name on it when you’ve been there for a while or if you’re a regular. I still was sitting in that chair that just said “cast.” Alyson, I guess she told the prop guy he had to get me one. Then the little back to the chair came, and it had my name on it. It was a very sweet moment because a cast member made that happen. It made me feel very welcome. You know, I was friends with everyone by that point. It was just a sweet moment.
AVC: Was that in the seventh season or in the sixth?
TL: I think that was in the seventh.
TL: Obviously “Storyteller” is my favorite. Perhaps it’s one of the greatest episodes in television history, mostly thanks to writer Jane Espenson. My least favorite—I’m trying to think. Was there one I didn’t like to film because it was not fun?
AVC: We can always come back to it. “Storyteller” must have been pretty special for you to film. Are there any particular memories you have from the filming of that episode?
TL: I wanted to make a moment out of every single little thing. The whole “Vam-PYRE” thing, which people seemed to enjoy. In subsequent scripts it was then typed out “Vam-PYRE.” I had worked as a stage manager right before getting cast on Buffy. We had guest performers every week. Harry Groener, [who played The Mayor], I think he came and guested in it. The cast members would list the people’s credits, and they got into a thing putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable. Anyways, [the cast member] said, “Credits including Buffy The Vam-PYRE Slayer.” That stuck with me. That was one of my things that I added, was “the slayer of the vam-PYREs.” I just like getting some little details in there. That was a fun moment.
AVC: What show were you working on as a stage manager?
TL: It was called the The Grave White Way. It was about Broadway actors who had come back from the dead.
TL: Oh my god. Please put this. This might be the most common question at a convention. It gets asked the most, and there’s no acceptable answer other than Buffy. Having been asked this at multiple conventions, what I’ve discovered from the fans is that there is no acceptable answer other than Buffy, because when you say something else, there’s too much pandemonium in the audience. So I’ve learned just to say Buffy.
AVC: Okay, but given that there’s going to be no pandemonium, is there somebody else you would have answered?
TL: There will be pandemonium. I can feel it from your readers already brewing.
AVC: What does your heart say?
TL: My heart says, “Do what the people want.”
TL: Obviously me. By “me,” I mean Andrew. Also, we should have listened to what the people wanted, which was an Andrew spin-off at the time. But we don’t always get what we want.
TL: I liked being in it. I don’t know. Why would I not like it? It was my first time having an amazing full-time job in television. I hadn’t been watching Buffy regularly prior to that. I had done one episode as a different character, but I was not as invested in the characters as maybe some of the diehard fans were. I did not participate in the controversy, per se, because I was just excited to be there. I think what you’re discovering from asking me these questions is that my enjoyment of the show is not from going back and rewatching episodes per se. I think I watched them when they were on TV and then occasionally when I’ve had to put them on my reel. But I personally don’t enjoy watching myself, so that’s why I don’t go back and revisit. The seasons and the arcs don’t exist in my head in a linear timeline the way they do I think for people who are big fans of the show. My memories of it are mostly faint memories of actually filming it and what I was going through in my life at the time while I was filming it, peppered with a little bit of the plot line and the characters. I more strongly relate to the actors that I was working with. They became friends. In my mind, it’s like, “Oh, those are my friends.” As opposed to, “Those are my friends, actors playing a part.” As opposed to, “That’s Buffy or that’s Willow.”
TL: Well, I don’t know. It’s a show revolving around magic, number one. Number two, it’s not real. That plot’s not actually happening to you, the viewer. It’s a story being told. Therefore, if it was controversial because people were angry that, all of a sudden, there was a new character by use of magic, then perhaps that was the feeling that you were supposed to have. It’s your experience as a viewer to decide how it makes you feel. So if it made you angry, then great. Are you supposed to be happy all the time? Are any of us happy all the time? Isn’t that one of the big themes of the show? Therefore perhaps that’s what they wanted you to feel.
TL: Obviously the trio of comedic and very handsome nerds.
AVC: Was it more fun for you playing a villain in the sixth season than playing someone who was fighting against the Big Bad in the seventh?
TL: I think the character was so fun to play for me because, regardless of what he was doing, he was never very good at it, which to me is such a fun thing to do. Obviously I haven’t gotten to play a character like that since. I mean, I have, just not on TV. I’ve played other delicious, delightful characters, but that was such a rare experience. I think because, in much of my work as a sidekick performer, most sidekicks that I’ve gone on to play since and what you see on TV, they’re these ancillary characters that you never learn anything about. They’re just like, “Hey, girlfriend.” I’ll even name names. The character I played on Witches Of East End, who was just like, “Hey, girlfriend. Tell me about your problems. Oh, that’s cool. Wow, those earrings are cute.” You don’t learn anything about them. The joy for me was the writing was so rich and fun as an actor because it wasn’t just funny lines. You were also learning backstory on the character. Each episode, you learn a little something more about a character that’s dropped in. I think that’s all because the writers were so good at what they did. When you get that opportunity as an actor, saying every line is so much fun because there’s so much to do with it. You don’t get that opportunity as a character actor, who’s a supporting player. That’s how it works in Hollywood.
TL: What about them?
AVC: Which one do you pick?
TL: For what purpose?
AVC: It could be which character you like better or which one belongs with Buffy.
TL: This is such a vague question. You can’t just “Angel or Spike.” This is a trick question. I see what you’re doing.
AVC: It’s not a trick question. People have very, very strong opinions on which one. Most of them revolve around who should Buffy end up with.
TL: Oh, who did she end up with?
AVC: Well, Spike.
TL: Is this like a “marry, fuck, kill” situation?
AVC: It can be.
TL: I’d say marry no one, fuck Spike, and kill Angel.
TL: A love-interest situation. Active onscreen shenanigans.
TL: Right before the Women’s March, I was making posters for friends who were traveling to D.C. They were like, “What should some sayings be?” I’m like, “I’m pretty sure if I Google ‘empowering Buffy quotes,’ I’ll find 50 amazing quotes for your poster. Turns out my friend, Louis [Peitzman], had done a post for BuzzFeed. It wasn’t like, “Here are 12 quotes for your Women’s March posters,” but it could have been renamed that and reposted because every quote was so amazing and so deep and so applicable to exactly where we are right now, which is shocking, that these quotes are how-old and still apply today.
Number eight: “I’m beyond tired. I’m beyond scared. I’m standing on the mouth of hell and it’s going to swallow me whole and it’ll choke on me. We’re not ready? They’re not ready.” Did Joss Whedon and his team of writers have a time machine? Did they see what was happening in the future and then come back and write it? Number nine is one that I posted. “There’s only one thing on this earth more powerful than evil and that’s us.” I can’t remember which episode this is from, but I think this may have been also talking to the potential slayers. I think that theme of how all the potential women were being awakened by this force and knowing their true power—it is unbelievable how poignant that is right now. It’s just exactly what is happening right now. Of any of the good things that have come out of this tumultuous time period in our political history, I think that seeing what women have come together to do is wonderful, inspiring, and amazing.
AVC: Let’s go back to those two that we didn’t get. The first one is, how much time per week do you spend being recognized for, thinking about or talking about Buffy? Just generally, how much does Buffy still influence your day-to-day life? Do you get recognized for it a lot? Does it come up a lot?
TL: I don’t get recognized too much, which is cool because, you know, I don’t want people to be overwhelmed. Actually, now I get recognized from my important work on Instagram. That’s what’s happening right now. It’s interesting to be recognized for something completely different by a whole new audience. I’d say there’s a total of five minutes a week getting recognized, having a thought about it, or seeing how it’s affected someone.
AVC: Do you have a least favorite episode?
TL: I’m trying to think if there’s one that was my least favorite to film. Oh, there was an episode in which my foot was on fire, and they actually set it on fire. The crew person, special effects, that did the fire wasn’t highly invested in putting the fire out in between takes, and I do remember at one point, Adam Busch was just, like, putting out the fire. Also, I remember seeing that crew person smoking a cigarette within an, I’d say, unsafe distance from the fuel truck outside that had a sign on it like, “No smoking within 100 feet” or whatever. That I’d say was my least favorite to film. I don’t remember what happens in that episode, but I do remember not enjoying the process of being set on fire.