Exclusive: ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s James Marsters Talks Vampires & Success of Series

“Slayers: A Buffyverse Story” Series Stars James Marsters on Official New York Comic Con Panel at Javits Center on October 13, 2023 in New York City. And as Spike on Buffy
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Audible; 20th Century Fox

It was the ultimate ’90s love triangle: Buffy, a vampire slayer, pursued by two vampires that she should have been slaying but instead got romantically involved with: Angel, the dark, handsome (and annoyingly sullen) first love, and Spike, the Billy Idol lookalike who comes to Sunnydale to wreak havoc and kill the slayer but who ultimately falls in love with her. Played by James Marsters, who would continue in his role on the spinoff Angel as well, Spike was the epitome of a cool and dangerous-but-lovelorn villain who Buffy could never really take seriously.

What does Marsters think of the show, all these years later? We recently had the chance to sit down and talk all things Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So, in the most important love triangle question of all-time: Are you Team Angel or Team Spike?

(Answering with Spike’s British accent:) If Buffy and Angel do the deal, Angel goes evil. He starts ripping people to pieces. Buffy hates that behavior. It don’t work. It’s not going to work. So she’s mine. Suck it, Angel.

What about you, as James?

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, (from top): Sarah Michelle Gellar, James Marsters, 1997-2003.

20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everette Collection

I think that Angel deserved her but couldn’t be with her because of the curse. And I think that Spike could have her but didn’t deserve her. Once he admits that he is indeed beneath her that he has done horrible, horrible things, and he has got a lot of growing to do, then redemption is possible. But redemption is not possible until he gets there. He’s going to go out into the world and figure out what to do with his soul of his. He’s going to grow up, and as soon as he thinks he deserves her, he’s coming back for her and they’re definitely ending up together.

As someone who once had a poster of David Boreanaz as Angel on her wall during high school, as an adult I’ve come to like him less and less. For a teenage girl, an older guy with a tortured soul and odd sleep habits might be appealing, but realistically, that would be a tiresome relationship.

Oh yeah. He felt  so bad about everything he did in his whole life. I mean, that’s an impossible role to play. I felt sorry for David. Come on, man. Have fun.

I’ve had the idea for about two decades now that vampires are metaphors for depressed men. Since you’re the first almost-vampire I’ve ever talked to, I’m wondering if you agree.

I look at it as a metaphor for hunger. Psychological, sexual, physical, all forms of hunger where we are so hungry that we’re willing to hurt somebody to feed ourselves. Why do we prey on each other? It’s when we think that we need that thing, we have to have that thing. We’re hungry for it. And we probably can give it to ourselves.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, James Marsters, (Season 4), 1997-2003.

20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy: Everett Collection.

Wow, that’s a great answer. And way better than mine. I’m gonna have to change my theory now.

I’ve had a little time to think about it. The whole time I shot Buffy, I was on a starvation diet from the time I got the role to the time that the role was done.

Was that required of you?

No. I just realized when I was thinking about going into the role that the only actors who really scored with vampire roles were just rail thin. I got too far into it. I realized at the end of season five or six that I’d gone too far and I needed to eat. And so I started eating ribs in the summer and I went a little too far the other way.

Why do you think this show is still so beloved?

It has a really good central message of don’t give up. Life is not perfect. It hurts, but it’s worth it. And so try to help out, try to get out there and don’t give up and help other people try to have a place in the world. That’s just a profoundly useful message. And it’s combined with a really fun world that beckons the audience to come back into it even after they know what the dialogue is and what the plot points are. It’s a world that you kind of want to just go back into. And also, there are a lot of jokes. It’s a good balance of light and dark. There’s some dark stuff going on, but there’s also a lot of lightness, and it kind of signals to the audience you’re going to be okay.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, James Marsters, (2000), 1997-2003.

James Minchin/TV Guide/20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection

What was your favorite episode?

“The Body.”

I just love that it proved what a strong show dramatically it is. It proved that it didn’t actually didn’t need vampires. It didn’t need special effects. It didn’t need stunts. It didn’t need even jokes. It didn’t need sparkling. It just could treat the subject matter as a drama about a young woman whose mother dies.

I thought you were going to say “Once More, With Feeling.”

That’s also my favorite. I don’t have to have one!

That’s true. It’s definitely my favorite episode.

When we got the script, we all thought that the show was jumping the shark. We thought the producers had gone insane. No one had done a musical. What the hell is going on around here? A lot of the cast had a really good argument to say that ‘you hired me to be a dramatic/comedic actor. That’s what I’m good at. That’s what I trained for. That’s what I have experience of doing. Don’t make me do something in front of millions of people that I’m just not trained for.’

Sarah asked to juggle chainsaws rather than have to sing. Tony Head [who plays Giles] and I, we were comfortable singing. Tony has done musical theater. I was in a band, so I was cool with singing. I just thought that the music sucked.


I was wrong. I know that now. The music is amazing. But the problem was that Joss gave us a cassette of him singing the songs.

As a singer, he’s a really good writer, and as a musician, he’s a really good writer. He was just kind of scratching it out on piano and singing these songs, and it didn’t serve the songs very well. It just sounded cheesy as hell. At some point we realized we weren’t going to get out of it. It was going to happen. We all collectively decided to go down swinging and try our best anyway. I think for a show whose theme is don’t give up even when things are challenging, that we actually lived up to the theme if only for one episode. And it ended up being amazing.

What are you up to now?

I have a show on Amazon Prime called Casa Grande, which is an update of Upstairs, Downstairs. It’s about rich people who live in a manor and the servants who take care of them and there’s a cultural gulf between them that is almost not traversable. And in the middle of that is a Romeo and Juliet story of a woman from the rancher’s family with a boy who works the fields. I’m really proud of it. I play a jerk.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, (from left): James Marsters, Sarah Michelle Gellar, 'Out of My Mind', (Season 5, aired Oct. 17, 2000), 1997-2003.

20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection

Have you been typecast that way because of Buffy?

Yeah, but I’m not like the jerk that everyone’s supposed to hate. I’m often a likable jerk. I feel like I’m adjacent to a Han Solo kind of thing. Like the guy who tells everyone to screw off and leaves and then when the chips are down, he flies in and saves everybody. And that’s the best role. I’d rather play Han than Luke.

Oh, and I’m doing a podcast. Every actor is doing a podcast, but mine is actually really great. It’s called Schmactors, which tries to answer the question: are actors just a bunch of privileged entitled jokes or do they have any interesting ideas in their head? Or is it maybe a little of both?

Did you find an answer to this question?

Well, that’s up to the audience.

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October 2020

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