Vampire Pop

By the time the partners had hired a line producer, location manager, and casting agent Johanna Ray, the person who found the kids for both "Twin Peaks" and "Beverly Hills, 90210," they had already spent over half a million dollars out of pocket. Casting agent Ray brought in Kristy Swanson, who had Mannequin Two: On the Move and Hot Shots! on her resume. After three auditions, Swanson got the role. Says director Kuzui, "The day I met Kristy, I understood that Buffy wasn't just pop and silly. She could also be really cool and tough. It was Kristy's idea that, while other girls wear sandals, Buffy wears dark Doc Martens--as a way of saying somehow she always knew that she was born to be a slayer. When people see her in this movie, they'll see: This is a star."

Next came Perry, who had been slipped the script just about the time Kuzui had finished rewriting it. "I got a call saying, 'Hey, do you want Luke Perry in your movie?' and I went: 'Not like that I don't,'" recalls Kuzui, who was sent a closetful of Perry press--which she never looked at. "I'd only seen him two or three times, and I didn't care about watching his TV show. I thought it would be better for him if I were fresh and unaware of Dylan. So, I arranged to meet him for lunch and asked, 'Is there any place you feel comfortable?' and he said, 'Anything you want is fine with me.' I called friends for suggestions about where I could meet him and they're like, 'Luuuuuuuke Perry,' but I'm like: 'I'd rather die than be caught in public anywhere with Luke Perry.' I decided on the Mondrian, a low-key place, and on the way I thought I'd buy People magazine, figuring I'd have something to read if he was late. I've since learned that there are weeks of Luke-mania, then there are regular weeks. He was on People's cover. I just stood there going, 'Oh, shit,' and the last thing I wanted to do was walk into the dining room with a copy of a magazine with him on the cover."

During the lunch, Kuzui says, "I made him audition and explain why he wanted to do the part so badly." She recalls, "I liked him a lot and he had good ideas about the character. I told him I would think about it and he walked me out to my car very sweetly and solicitously and said, 'I really want this part,' like he really, really wanted it. I knew I wanted to work with him."

Still, there were stalls. Perry wanted to make certain that the cast was weighty enough so that the movie wouldn't be sold on his name. But perhaps the biggest complicating factor was whether or not Perry would get a studio green light on The Lane Frost Story, his true story pet project, in which he wanted to co-star with Robin Wright, about a world champion bull-rider dealt freak success and an early death. Neither the bosses at Fox, with whom he has a two-movie deal, nor any of the studio bosses to whom he tells me he went personally, would go for it.

"I learned I'm not bankable at the box office," he says. "I'm no one's first choice for a part. I'm behind 15 other guys, if I'm thought of at all. I died when this project went into turnaround. You can only hear 'No' about your child so many times, and I want to give birth to this. It killed me even more than auditioning twice for Coppola for The Godfather, Part III and not getting that. What he [Coppola] didn't know was that there was no feeling in my fucking right finger, because if he had asked me to cut it off and leave it on his desk, I would have, just to be on his set."

In the meantime, Hauer officially committed for the part of Lothos, King of the Undead, and Donald Sutherland signed to play Merrick, a spiritual being who trains Buffy in the art of slaying vampires. With this, they next brought Buffy to Fox Senior Vice-President of Acquisitions and Production John Ruscin and Senior Vice-President of Production Susan Cartsonis. Although the studio had earlier turned down the package, screenwriter Whedon says, "Now that it had Luke Perry, the script was brilliant. I'd like to think they actually read the script before they got so excited about it."

But the Kuzuis--one studio executive calls them "the flying Kuzuis"are in themselves a formidable team. "Fran and Kaz go into meetings with the big guys," says a film executive who has known the couple for years, "and you watch these guys practically rubbing their palms together going, 'Oh, boy. A foreigner and a woman we'll take them to the cleaners.' Fran and Kaz walk out of those meetings having blown the big guns right out of the water." When the ripples died down, Fox had committed to half the budget, now $9 million, in exchange for domestic rights. There was one major caveat: Buffy had to be in theaters for school vacation time, which only gave the moviemakers five weeks for preproduction and six weeks to shoot the film. When Kaz Kuzui was unable to secure Japanese money fast enough, Fox decided to pick up worldwide rights in order to get the movie made faster. "It got bigger and bigger in terms of what I was able to do," says director Kuzui, "but it has the spirit of naivete, of coming, spiritually, from a very different place, as an independent movie."

The last bit of casting to fall into place was the part of Hauer's sidekick. Hauer was very anxious to work again with Joan Chen--with whom he'd made The Blood of Heroes--but she pulled out and Fran Kuzui had a brainstorm. "I'm not an intellectual in my filmmaking," she explains. "I thought putting together Rutger with Paul Reubens would be like a Ronnie Cutrone painting, you know? Like the kind of graffiti art called 'attrition' that mixes together disparate images from pop culture and cartoons to create something else. I told Paul up front, 'I'm awestruck at the opportunity to work with someone so conceptually heavy-duty.' I mean, this man created a major pop icon. My offer to him was that he could create his character. He did, and, like Pee-wee Herman, it's indescribable and hilarious."

The company did six weeks of night shooting in and around Los Angeles. According to observers, director Kuzui and the kids pretty much got on like blazes. Some of the grownups were another matter. "Donald Sutherland and Rutger Hauer were very difficult," co-producer Kuzui asserts, "because they thought it was very serious and became very insecure. They tried to make their roles more complex, more emotional. Rutger tried to be the vampire Lestat from Interview With the Vampire. He's very good, but he depends on a lot of acting gimmicks. Fran said, 'Depend on your talent.' "

The relationship between Swanson and Hauer, the slayer and her demon foe, had its ups and downs. "Our relationship was hot and cold," Swanson says, going out of her way to praise Hauer, but noting, "he was really trying to screw with me, to get some sort of rise out of me, I guess. He likes to mess with everyone. He'd stare at me with his Rutger Hauer look and it frustrated him because I'd just laugh and say, 'You're not scaring me.' He'd ask me a million questions, like, 'Tell me, Kristy, how does Buffy see Lothos? What does Lothos mean to you?' Finally, I said, 'Look, what does that matter? You take care of your character, I'll take care of mine and we'll just leave it at that.' Later, I felt like such a jerk, because he said, 'You don't understand. Whatever Lothos is to Buffy, that's what I want to be, so you decide who I am.' And I went, 'Whoaaa, that's really cool.' "

Things heated up during the filming of a dream sequence in which Swanson ties back her hair with a red ribbon--a symbol of the vampire's control over her--and moves to her bed where Lothos lies in wait. "I heard the wardrobe people saying, 'Rutger, you've got to put your pants on,' " recalls Swanson. "And then I heard him saying, 'I'm not! I'm not! I want to do the scene like this, in my robe and that's it--naked!' My makeup artist and I are looking at each other, going, 'Holy shit.' So, we get to the set and Rutger lays on the bed in a black robe that falls open and he's only wearing black underwear. I'm going, 'How am I going to deal with this?' I did one rehearsal like that and he said to me, 'Kristy, this is your dream, so if there's anything I can do to make it better ...' and I said, 'For starters, you can put your pants on.' And in this tiny voice, he says, 'Why?' and I said, 'Come on, Rutger,' and he goes, 'But I waaaaaaant to.' And he put his pants on, but it was so wild and funny."

Hauer apparently tried to shake down his director, too. But Kuzui had her own strategy for dealing with him. "He got frustrated with me," Kuzui explains, "because he wanted me to tell him what to do. My way of working is to give actors a framework in which to make choices. He's used to making action movies, but I asked him to react a lot and he got confused. He's about to direct something himself, and once in a while I would say, 'Imagine you're the director here.' "

Hauer, looking huge, dour and hilarious in his trailer, admits, "It is very different for me to come into something like this because it's a supporting role--supporting a lot of young actors." He lets the "young" hang in the air for just the right number of beats and continues, "You don't work all the time, you don't participate, you don't know what's going on or even what kind of film it is. So, you have to stand on the sidelines and not get too involved because it's not your film. My thinking was: Vampires have been around for 12 centuries and have all the time in the world. So I wanted to be really slow, deliberate while the kids were really fast. I tried it, but I knew it would be a disaster because the kids aren't very on the ball. When you're young at acting, you're not very fast." Meanwhile, does Hauer think the movie stands a chance of being any good? He shrugs, leans back in his chair and, after a moment, says, sighing, "I know only that Buffy is pretty strong and Donald was great."

Great or not, Sutherland, too, came in for knocks from some of his co-workers. "He tested Fran, maybe he didn't even trust her," Kaz Kuzui says, "but Fran is very strong." Screenwriter Whedon, who maintained a constant presence on the set, called the actor "a major pain." A particular bone of contention was Sutherland's insistence that his character not die in the movie. "He was an enormous pain in the ass," Fran Kuzui says, "and so am I. I don't think I'll ever learn from any actor as much as he taught me.

He made wonderful, idiosyncratic choices for his character--like rolling around on the ground and flipping in the air, yet never losing his hat, while, at home, he never takes off his shoes. But about his not wanting to die, this is my second movie and it's, like, his seventieth or eightieth. Joss and I worked hard to figure out what bothered him about his character dying, but he didn't have an intellectual reason. I said, 'You know this character better than anyone and if you can find a way to make this happen, I have to listen.'"

I asked Perry how he felt about working with these ultra-experienced heavy weights. He says that although he wound up getting a bear hug and a ring from Sutherland, "I didn't know from one day to the next whether he hated or loved me." And he adds, "Your press, your charisma don't mean shit when the cameras roll and you're playing a scene with Rutger, Donald or Paul. Especially coming off a hot Fox TV show, I'm very clear on the fact that I can't let myself be just another pretty face. I'd like to think I met the occasion."

Paul Reubens, whose Buffy grooming--stringy hair and a goatee--makes him a dead ringer for Nicolas Cage, emerged as the people's choice on the set. Late in the shooting, when crew members spotted him strolling onto the set in red sunglasses and jeans, they'd loudly announce, Elvis-style, "Mr. Reubens is in the building." On the final, hectic day of shooting, Reubens distributed his own call sheet--which specified locations, scenes, cast and crew members whose services were required for that day. His parody version reads: "Parting of the Red Sea. One hundred thousand extras. If time permits. Reminder: if time permits."

Indeed, time permitted only so much. "Our schedule prevented me from getting my star vampire cameos," says director Kuzui, "but I did get in Miss Kitty, who was in Tokyo Pop, as a transvestite vampire." Overall, Kuzui claims she learned a lot making Buffy. "I realized that, being a woman, I feared certain things--how the crew would treat me, dealing with actors-- when it was actually me who was throwing up the impediments. I remember just after the movie was green-lighted, I was getting into a plane to fly back from Hawaii and, when I looked into the cockpit and saw a woman pilot, I actually had a moment of not knowing whether I wanted to stay on the plane. It's the same thing for women directors. I've been completely in love with my husband for 15 years, and if I didn't have Kaz, I don't think I would have the courage it takes to allow yourself to be incredibly vulnerable, which is something you risk when you direct."

As for Luke Perry, now back to work as the young Dylan, he makes no claims that Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be anything more than a rollicking night at the movies. But will it give his career the goose it needs to pave the way to more nights at the movies? "One of my favorite actors is Wings Hauser," Perry says by way of an answer.

"Wings is a stud. He excites me as an actor. I could ramble all day on how cool he is and how much I want to work with him. I tried to get them to hire him to play my father on the show, but he was booked. Studios choose not to make movies with him. People tell me, 'Luke, it will kill you at the box office' to work with him, but he makes movies, good, bad, whatever he wants to do. Do I want to perpetuate my image and keep the money coming in and keep famous? I'd rather be a good actor who works."


Stephen Rebello interviewed Sigourney Weaver for our June cover story.

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  • Lara says:

    This a great comedy vampire-themed movies and is a must see

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  • Allan says:

    The movie was a bad joke. If you like badly made cult movies watch it. If you want to watch something worth watching, watch the TV series.