Buffy's Juliet Landau on Drusilla and Spike's "enduring" love and vampires as the ultimate metaphor

Laura Jane Turner
·9-min read
Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

From Digital Spy

If you stop and think about it, there is a whole brood of actors who have made careers out of vampire roles. Clearly, there's something enthralling about having the opportunity to immerse yourself in that fictional world – being young, beautiful and powerful forever sure has its appeal.

It's something that Juliet Landau – probably best known for her turn as Drusilla in Buffy the Vampire Slayer – acknowledges, also revealing the other side of the coin: when speaking with people, it is always those particular projects that garner the most attention and questions.

"What's interesting about the vampire is that it can be used to reflect so many different aspects of our natures," she tells Digital Spy. "For Buffy, the metaphor was 'high school is a nightmare'. For Charlaine Harris with the Sookie Stackhouse novels, which True Blood is based on, she was looking at homosexuality. Anne Rice wrote 'Interview With the Vampire' just after her daughter died of leukaemia. So she created a child vampire who lives forever, and leukaemia is a blood disease... So it's interesting when you start to scratch the surface."

Photo credit: Courtesy of Modern Films
Photo credit: Courtesy of Modern Films

This was a theme running through Landau's latest project, also her directorial debut, A Place Among the Dead. Not only does the film interrogate our cultural obsession with vampires, but it is also a powerful and unsettling exploration of "growing up under the sway of narcissism".

"The vampire is the perfect metaphor for the ultimate narcissist," she explains. "In our film you're never really sure if the character is a vampire or if he is a serial killer who emulates a vampire and kills in that style… But regardless, the traits are the same.

"A vampire is a being that drains time, energy, life force, saps all for its own survival [and] has no regard for its prey. It often mesmerises or has people in its thrall – narcissists are very often charismatic. You know, we're really looking at that whole idea... from the consistent, systematic snuffing of spirit, light and liveliness to the heinous snuffing of life."

For Juliet, A Place Among the Dead is a "searingly personal" project. She co-produced and co-wrote it with her husband, Deverill Weekes, as well as starring as the fictional lead Jules.

Juliet points out that "there is a yearning" for the subject matter and the conversation that the film evokes. After all, we've likely all encountered a narcissist, and that experience can leave its mark long after they're out of your life.

The movie's worldwide premiere has been followed by virtual interactive events with fans, where they can watch along together online and then discuss it over Zoom straight after. Juliet details that these conversations could sometimes last "for hours", with viewers opening up about their own personal experiences with narcissists – some only coming to the realisation that they have been affected by one after watching the film.

"That's one of the things when you're in the orbit of a narcissist, is that it's very destabilising and it's very confusing and you often start to feel like you're losing parts of yourself bit, by bit, by bit," she says.

Describing the process as "incredibly rewarding", Juliet adds: "It's always helpful to shine a light. All great art I think does that, it reflects on experiences that people can relate to and that we can hopefully resonate with and think about our own lives."

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

While both vampire-inspired, A Place Among the Dead is dimensions away from Landau's iconic role in '90s cult classic Buffy – but, naturally, our conversation soon takes the trip down memory lane to arrive smack bang on that Hellmouth in Sunnydale.

Despite thinking this might be a painfully predictable segue, she assures me that she likes to talk about her time on the show and that it's still "a nice thing to be asked" about.

"It's very lucky to be a part of a show that touches people to the degree that it has," Juliet says sincerely.

Drusilla and Spike came crashing (quite literally; the town's sign was the first victim to befall the Bonnie and Clyde-esque duo) into season two, taking The Master's place as the Big Bad.

Their on-screen chemistry has always been undeniable, and it's something that Juliet reveals was instantaneous. "What's interesting is that I was cast and then paired with the five final choices for Spike. The moment that James Marsters came in, we had a beautiful acting chemistry."

This working relationship had a direct influence on the moulding of those characters. As Buffy fans will recall, 'School Hard' marked Spike and Dru's first appearance. And, it turns out, an iconic scene from that debut actually stemmed from a natural moment which "happened organically" between the pair during their initial audition.

"The moment where we're talking to the Anointed One but we're looking at one another like we might kiss, and our heads rest, and then eventually we sort of turn out and look back at the Anointed One – that happened in a moment-to-moment way," Juliet recalls. "And so when we got together, once [James] was cast, to rehearse before shooting the first day, we said 'oh my gosh… that felt like it was working well, let's find that again and bring that when we're shooting.'"

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

We of course know that it made the final episode, and it also played a huge role in the teasers for the entire season. "What was fun is when [they] started airing promos they used that very moment… and the voiceover said 'evil has a few new faces'."

The pair found "genuine" interactions like this "all throughout" the show, she says – something that will no doubt delight those that shipped Spike and Dru's relationship until the bitter end.

Noting the "collaborative experience" on set and influence that Landau was able to have over her character, we posed the question of whether there was an intentionally queer subtext to Drusilla when it came to how she first approached the role.

While Juliet was open to the idea and said she had "love" for the concept, she also went on to say that it wasn't something she had been conscious of – at least to begin with.

"I think some of that got revealed a little bit later, as far as I knew, because there was an episode of Angel where Julie Benz's character Darla and I had had a threesome with The Immortal. And it was funny, as we were reading that script I said to Julia 'I never knew that', and then she said, 'Oh, I always knew that we had that stuff going on'."

"So I do think that was an element of the character, but I think my awareness of it developed a little bit later," she said, before agreeing that this "absolutely" made it more organic to the character.

Photo credit: Fox
Photo credit: Fox

One trait that Landau did personally inject into Drusilla was her signature sulky whimpering – although, for a moment, Juliet thought this might be left on the cutting room floor.

"I had done an episode where I did the Drusilla cry… the monosyllabic sound that she would make," she says.

After watching the footage back later she thought it had worked well, but it didn't end up making it into the final edit of the episode.

"So I had the assumption that it wasn't something that Joss [Whedon] responded to," she explains. "Then we went to the table read for the next episode and it was all of the cast, we were sitting around and reading through the episode for the first time seeing those pages, and all of a sudden the text said 'Drusilla makes that sound she makes when she might cry' and I thought 'Oh, oh my god, oh that's that sound…'"

Buffy is the kind of comfort-watch that audiences will go back to over and over again and, Juliet says, "what's amazing right now is that it has been trending again during lockdown."

Along with this comes resurfaced debates and discussion. Speaking of which, there's recently been a resurgence of the age-old question: who should Buffy Summers have ended up with?

We've known for a while that show creator Joss Whedon is Team Spike (although he did later backtrack a bit), Sarah Michelle Gellar came down on the side of Angel and Alyson Hannigan recently through her hat into the ring to argue that Buffy should have dated Willow.

Unsurprisingly, David Boreanaz has fought hard for Buffy and Angel's relationship – and, it turns out, Juliet is just as committed to her on-screen partnership.

Photo credit: MICHAEL YARISH
Photo credit: MICHAEL YARISH

"I always felt that Spike and Dru had a really enduring relationship that might circle back around," she says. "I mean they were together for 200 years and how many people can say that? None. I always thought that in a funny way Spike and Dru had a very healthy, loving relationship. They of course were these diabolical characters that drank the blood of people and did these evil actions but in terms of their connection there was something very pure in it."

Although Juliet had, of course, already seen each and every episode of Buffy and Angel, it wasn't until a little more recently that she sat down with her husband to watch them in the correct chronological order, to take in the overall story.

"He actually laughed at me because there was a certain point where I was sitting on the couch and I went 'ugh', and he said 'what?', and I said:

'I just don't understand what he sees in that cheerleader!'"

"It was actually about Sarah," Juliet clarifies (for a second, we wondered if Harmony had been the cheerleader). "Although looking at it objectively I think it was a beautiful storyline."

"But from Dru's perspective, probably not…"

For information on where to watch A Place Among the Dead, head here.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons 1-7 are currently available on All 4 and Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

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