“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” went off the air 14 years ago, and Juliet Landau is still asked about it constantly.
But what’s a decade or two to somebody who has been around for 150 years?
On the hit show, which ran from 1997-2003, Landau played Drusilla (or "Dru" to fans), a vampire villainess who had been a creature of the night since she was “turned” in 1860s London.
Like Drusilla, “Buffy” has been eternal. The show still airs in syndication, new stories are being told in graphic novels, and Entertainment Weekly recently reunited the cast for a 20th anniversary cover story. At conventions like Madison’s Wizard World Comic Con, where Landau will appear this weekend, fans who watched the show when they were in their teens and 20s are just as enthused as they were in the 1990s.
Some bring their own teenage kids, a new generation of fans, along with them. Landau credits the show’s multigenerational appeal to sharp writing and a resonant message.
“Joss (Whedon) created a universe that was incredibly intelligent,” Landau said in a phone interview. “He once said, ‘I tell people that 'Buffy' was about high school as a nightmare.’ Everybody can relate to that experience. I think it’s a show that you can watch and rewatch and find new things.”
Landau thinks fans particularly relate to the characters as outsiders, outcasts of their high school who band together to support each other and fight evil. The parallels to the struggles that ordinary mortal teens face are evident. Landau said that in the episode where Buffy reveals she is a slayer, Whedon wrote the scene as if she was coming out as gay.
“A lot of people feel like outsiders,” Landau said. “We’re all pretty much outsiders.”
Landau’s interest in vampires, and vampires as a metaphor for everyday life, extends into a massive documentary project she and her husband Dev Weekes are putting the finishing touches on. Originally conceived as a film, “A Place Among the Undead” is now a six-part documentary series looking at vampires in fiction.
The documentary includes interviews with Whedon, novelist Anne Rice, actors Gary Oldman, Willem Dafoe and Robert Patrick, and a whole host of others. Landau said she hasn’t found a distributor yet, but thinks it would be ideal for a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon.
No matter what sort of vampire they’ve played, from Oldman’s sexy “Dracula” to Dafoe’s gargoyle-like Nosferatu in “Shadow of the Vampire,” the actors all had a common take on playing vampires.
“It’s one of their favorites,” Landau said. “No matter what other roles they’ve done. You think of Gary Oldman and you think Dracula. There’s something about it that goes on this deeper level that resonates with people.”
One of the threads running through the documentary series is how different artists have used vampirism as a metaphor for the human condition. Charlaine Harris’ series of books that inspired the HBO show “True Blood” used vampirism as a metaphor for how gay people are treated. The “Underworld” series of films use a war between vampires and werewolves as a metaphor for interracial dating.
“It covers such a wide berth as metaphor,” Landau said. “It’s infinitely fascinating and gives us a prism to look at so many different parts of society.”
One of the interviewees in the series is director Tim Burton, with whom Landau worked on the 1994 movie “Ed Wood,” about the notorious B-movie director. Landau’s father, the late Martin Landau, won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Bela Lugosi in the film.
Although the film wasn’t a huge hit for Burton compared to “Batman” or “Alice in Wonderland,” it remains close to both his and Juliet Landau’s heart.
“It was kind of a labor of love for him,” Landau said. “It was his love letter to filmmaking.”