Interview: Nicholas Brendon on Morningside Monster, Buffy, Kitchen Confidential & more

It’s funny what a difference a week makes.

On October 16, I was a happy-go-lucky guy, excited about the prospect of finally getting to chat with Nicholas Brendon, late of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who’d done some work in the indie film Attack of the Morningside Monster, a project which – in the interest of full disclosure – a friend of mine had been a part of bringing to fruition. Not that my friend’s connection had anything to do with my wanting to talk to Brendon: some of my fondest memories from the early days of my marriage involve my wife and I falling in love with the awesomeness of Buffy and Angel, so I’ve been a fan of the guy and his work for quite some time.

Unfortunately, that happy-go-luckiness transitioned into a bit of anxiety when Brendon found himself in the midst of an unfortunate incident, one for which he has since apologized. I honestly thought the interview was going to be canceled as a result, but, no, it remained on track, and I wasn’t told that any topic was off the table, so I was ready to roll when he called…and yet I was anxious because I knew that I had to at least ask about what had happened, because, well, how do you not? So I did, and he responded, we each appreciated the other’s position, and all was well. Still, if you sense a certain stiltedness to the conversation on both our parts, now you know you’re not imagining it, and I’ll just close this intro by saying that I hope one day to get another shot at chatting with Brendon, preferably in an elephant-free room.

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Q: Well, first of all, let’s start off by discussing the project that brought us here today: Attack of the Morningside Monster.

Nicholas Brendon: Yeah! What do you want to know about it?

Q: Let’s start off with how you found your way into it. Did they approach you with the pitch?

NB: Yeah, we got the script, and it was really nice. It was a nice, campy little movie, so I was, like, “Yeah, I’ll do it!”

Q: How would you describe your character, Mark Matthews?

NB: He’s a sweet guy with a lot of love in his heart. And, uh, a lot of heart in his belly. [Laughs.] He feeds you heart, is what I’m saying.

Q: You get a chance to do some light comedic stuff at the beginning, but it would be fair to say that things turn a bit darker and more dramatic before it’s over.

NB: Uh, yeah. Yeah, it does. [Laughs.] You could definitely say that.

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Q: There’s also some touching stuff in the material with you and your onscreen wife, Amber Chaney.

NB: Yeah, she was great. She was wonderful. I mean, she really looked like she was sick in some of those scenes. [Laughs.] I mean, wow!

Q: It must be nice to have the chance to mix it up like that within a single project.

NB: Yeah, it’s cool. I mean, I like playing “softer side of Sears” and doing the lighter situations and stuff, but it’s nice to… [Hesitates.] I never do mean. Not totally mean. I always do it with a little spice of light. A little wry smile from time to time goes a long way.

Q: The film takes place in Morningside, New Jersey, but you actually filmed it in Georgia, right?

NB: We did, yeah. A small town in Georgia. You know, Anywhere, USA. But a nice place.

Q: Had you spent much time in Georgia prior to that?

NB: Not really. I mean, I’ve been there for Dragon-Con three or four times, and then I was there this time around. And my twin brother (Kelly Donovan) actually lives around there, and he’s a set decorator, so he’s just kind of doing movie after movie after movie.

Q: How do you enjoy the experience of doing indie films?

NB: Well, you know, it’s a lot of work, because you have to do a lot in a little time. But I probably enjoy that more, because there’s nothing that more mind-numbing than the hurry-up-and-wait aspect of Hollywood. You know, where lighting takes two hours, you work five minutes, and then you go take a nap while they’re setting up for the next set. But for this one, it was, like, “Okay, here we go!” There’s no time for nappy-poo. You’re always on to the next thing.

Q: In addition to being in the cast, you’re also a co-producer on the film. Exactly what does being a co-producer mean?

NB: Uh, it means money on the back end. [Laughs.]

Q: In addition to the new film, I also wanted to do a bit of flashing back. If IMDb can be trusted, it looks like your very first film was also a horror film.

NB: Children of the Corn III.

Q: Indeed. How did you score the role of Basketball Player One?

NB: I don’t know. [Laughs.] I have no clue. I mean, I had a friend who was a producer on it, so I was kind of a glorified extra, and then they gave me a line, and then I played basketball with my shirt off. But what’s funny is that the star of that movie, the kid with long hair (Daniel Cerny), he was the person that I tested against for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was he and I in the final phase of that. It was kind of weird. I was, like, “Hey!” And he’s, like, “Uh, you were in that movie?” I’m, like, “Not really. Well, good luck to you!”

Q: So how did you find your way into acting in the first place?

NB: My mom was an agent, and I had a really bad stutter as a kid, and when I quit playing baseball, I just kind of wanted to combat my stutter. That, and I liked attention on me, I suppose. [Laughs.]

Q: Did you start in theater, or did you go straight in front of the camera?

NB: No, in fact, the first real job I really had was Buffy. So I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what camera left, camera right, or a mark was. I had to learn all that, so Sarah (Michelle Gellar) helped me out a lot.

Q: So what was the audition situation like for Buffy?

NB: That was four auditions. But my first audition was on a Thursday, and by that next Monday I had the part, so it was a fairly quick process. I think they were shooting in, like, five days.

Q: I’m sure you still managed to pack plenty of stress into those days.

NB: Oh, my God, are you kidding me? It was, like, brown water coming out of my ass. [Laughs.]

Q: Not to mention the fact that it was a relatively high-profile project for someone who’s really only just started his career.

NB: Well, it became a high-profile project. I don’t think many people had any faith in it initially. Had it been high-profile from the start, they probably wouldn’t have let me anywhere near that project!

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Q: How much of Xander was on the page when you got there, and how much of the character was adapted as a result of you getting the part?

NB: Well, I mean, they used our personalities in it, but there was no improv there. Not with Joss. You have to say every single word. So I was trained to say every word that was on the page.

Q: So he was always set to be a wisecracking sort of character?

NB: [Snorts.] Oh, yeah. “Sardonic,” I believe, was the word used.

Q: Is there a favorite aspect of Xander that you enjoyed playing, maybe something that might not have been as obvious to viewers?

NB: Just the wisecracks. I mean, I loved his one-liners.

Q: Was it ever weird for you when you had to go in a more dramatic direction, or did you see it as a challenge?

NB: No, because that’s how Joss does it. There are many layers to the characters, and we kind of knew that from day one. But then he’d always come out of it with a joke.

Q: How did you enjoy the experience of doing Psycho Beach Party?

NB: That was lovely! I mean, talk about campy. [Laughs.] Also, Robert Lee King, our director, and the D.P., they actually got lights that they used in the 1960s Beach Blanket Bingo movies. So they were, like, seriously old-school lights. And they were hot as hell. Hot, hot, hot. So I think they tried to make it as authentic as possible. And (screenwriter) Charles Busch is amazing.

Q: It’s also amazing to look back at that cast and see how many stars – or future stars – were in it.

NB: Oh, yeah, like Amy (Adams). And Lauren (Ambrose) was wonderful, too.

Q: Was the fact that Thomas Gibson was in the film connected at all to your getting Criminal Minds, or was it coincidental?

NB: Nope, nothing to do with it.

Q: And on that note, how’s that gig been for you?

NB: It’s been a nice experience. I’ve been on there for seven years now. It’s been pretty wonderful.

Q:  It’s not a full-time gig, of course, but he continues to recur regularly.

NB: Oh, absolutely. I love that character. He’s actually very Xander Harris-like, which is kind of nice.

Q: Has there ever been any talk of trying to bring him on more than he’s been on?

NB: Well, yeah, but…at this point, I’m just, like, whenever they call, I say, “I’ll be there!”

Q: Your last full-time TV gig was on FOX’s Kitchen Confidential, which was also your first time in the cast of a sitcom.

NB: Yeah, that was… [Hesitates.] Well, it was my first sitcom that was picked up. But that was kind of heartbreaking, because it shouldn’t have been canceled. So that was kind of a rough one. I loved loved loved the cast, and I wanted us to do more. But they just didn’t give it a shot. And that was sad for me. I kind of lost a little bit of faith in Hollywood after that one.

Q: I actually just talked to John Cho a few days ago.

NB: Johnny! [Laughs.]

Q: You guys seemed to have a great camaraderie on that show, from what I could tell. The whole cast did.

NB: Oh, my God, yeah. It was wonderful. So many strong personalities. Like, with me and Johnny and John Francis Daley, and then Owain (Yeoman) and Bradley (Cooper). Yeah, it was a bunch of dudes with very, very strong personalities. Like, it was exhausting, because most of our energy was kind of riffing off each other when the cameras weren’t rolling, so by the time you got home, you were just, like, pooped. [Laughs.] Just pooped.

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Q: Was Anthony Bourdain on set at all?

NB: No. We actually…we were going to have a party, they flew us out to Les Halles in New York, and he was going to be there, but he flaked. He was embarrassed by the show. I was, like, “Anthony Bourdain, you should be embarrassed by you.” And by the way, that’s everything personal there. [Laughs.]

Q: You said a moment ago about Kitchen Confidential being your first sitcom that was picked up. What was the sitcom that wasn’t picked up? Was it Celeste in the City? Because I was looking at your IMDb page, and the way they list things, it’s always a little hard to tell what’s a pilot and what’s a TV movie.

NB: No, no, no, I did a show called The Pool at Maddy Breaker’s for FOX. Celeste in the City was just a movie of the week. [Goes into his character from the movie.] And I played Dana, this very effeminate gay guy, and he was wonderful!

Q: You also did a few episodes of Hollywood Heights, a series which I think relatively few people are aware of.

NB: Yeah, you know, that was just kind of crazy because…well, it’s one of those cases like I was talking about earlier. When you finally get to do the work, you’re, like, “Wow, man, that’s quick!” Boom, boom, boom, done. But on that one I was waiting around for, like, probably four or five hours in my room, and then once we were actually shooting, it lasted for maybe 15 minutes, and then I was gone.

Q: You had a mini-Buffy reunion with Charisma Carpenter in the ABC Family film Relative Chaos.

NB: Yes! Me, Charisma, and Terry Bradshaw. [Laughs.] He’s so funny. That guy’s a trip.

Q: How was it to reunite with her?

NB: Oh, I love CC. We’ve always had an amazing working relationship and a great friendship, so it was kind of nice. It just felt like old times.

Q: Do you have a preference as far as feature films and TV movies versus the weekly-series grind?

NB: I mean, I like weekly series just because I like the family aspect to it, you know? One of the great things about Buffy is that for eight years, pretty much, it was all of us going through relationships and breakups and new relationships, sharing Christmases… I just enjoy that family camaraderie and unity.

Q: As far as the Buffy comic goes, I understand you actually attended a writer’s summit not too long ago.

NB: Yeah, I’ve been writing the comic books this year.

Q: How was that, to adapt your character’s sensibilities  to a comic book?

NB: Easy. I mean, you know, I’m just kind of coming up with the words and the ideas instead of saying them. But also when I’m writing, I’ll say the lines first. Certain writers will just write it on the page, but I’ll say the line first, and then I’ll be, like, “Okay, let’s do it that way. “ That’s just how I do it. Some writers will come up with these real tongue-twister lines, and I’m, like, “Nah.” I try to make it as simple as possible.

Q: What did you think when you first heard they were going to be continuing the series in comic book form?

NB: Well, I knew that they would. We actually did an animated series that was never picked up, which is kind of crazy. But Joss is a huge comic book nerd.

Q: Do you think they’ll ever try to do anything live-action with the series again?

NB: I mean, crazier things have happened, you know? [Laughs.]

Q: So do you, uh, want to talk at all about what happened at the hotel?

NB: Nope!

Q: [Laughs.] Fair enough. So everything you said in your statement stands?

NB: Yep. Everything’s there. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Q: And otherwise everything’s well?

NB: It’s fantastic.

Q: And you’ve actually got a web series in the works, right?

NB: Yeah! It’s called The Real Housewives of Horror. And I’m also on Faking It, on MTV. I did the last episode of the second season, and then I’m going to go back next season.

Q: Do you find that the younger actors are fawning over you because they’re Buffy fans?

NB: Well, it’s so funny: for anybody who’s 30 or younger, it’s Buffy, and anybody who’s 60 or over, it’s gonna be Criminal Minds. [Laughs.] I always know right away.

Q: Well, there’s a couple of demographics covered, anyway.

NB: Yeah, I’ve done those, so now I just need to get that 30-to-60 demo…which I guess would be, what, The Big Bang Theory? If I can get on there, then I’ll have it all covered.

Q: It’s possible that Kitchen Confidential is helping you a bit on that front. I think a lot of folks have rediscovered the show after the fact.

NB: You know, it’s funny: I only ever watched the episodes that were on TV, because I was so heartbroken when it was canceled, so I haven’t seen the last nine episodes of the show.

Q: I’ve got the complete-series set. They’re all pretty darned good.

NB: I hear the set’s great.

Q: It is. I was psyched that they took the time to issue it.

NB: Yeah, ‘cause I think people really wanted to see it. Especially with what happened to Coop and stuff. He kind of blew up, you know? [Hesitates.] Have you heard of this Bradley Cooper guy?

Q: I’ve heard good things. And by the way, I usually ask people to name their favorite project they’ve worked on that didn’t get the love they thought it deserved, but I’m thinking that’s probably Kitchen Confidential.

NB: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s it. Like I said, I lost some faith there. That was a hard one. I was really devastated. Obviously any actor loves to work, but it was just such an amazing show, with amazing people behind it and in front of the camera, too.

Q: Well, I think that’s about it, man. I appreciate you taking the time to chat.

NB: All right, brother. Thank you so much. And, you know, I appreciate you asking about what happened. [Laughs.] You wouldn’t be doing your job if you didn’t. But I just said everything I wanted to say in that statement.

Q: It’s all good. I’m not usually the guy who asks those questions anyway. I was never going to just hammer you about it.

NB: I appreciate that. Also, I probably would’ve just hung up on you if you had done that. [Laughs.]

Q: As well you should have. That would’ve been completely warranted.

NB: [Laughs.] Well, you’re the first interview I’ve done since then, and you’re the only one I’m doing today, so…well done, sir. I appreciate it.

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2 Responses to Interview: Nicholas Brendon on Morningside Monster, Buffy, Kitchen Confidential & more

  1. Michael Harper says:

    Nicely done, as always, good sir!

  2. Barsha Knight says:

    Great interview :)

    Nicky’s a good man :)

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