Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Interview: Juliet Landau

New Orleans APATU photo 8Actress, director and producer Juliet Landau – best known for her role as Drusilla in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel – is creating the ultimate vampire insider documentary, A Place Among the Undead. The film gathers the Who’s Who of the genre, never seen before together in one movie. The project has grown so vast that Juliet has decided to go to Indiegogo to bring it to life and spoke with Paul Simpson about the film…

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You’ve had an involvement with vampires for years – but when did your passion for all things vampiric begin? Prior to playing Dru?

It really started with working with Joss Whedon, getting to play Drusilla, which was such an incredible experience. Through the years after that, whenever I’ve hung out with creatives, directors, writers, actors who have lived in the vampire universe, I have the best conversations, and I’ve always thought “I wish people could see this”. It’s stuff that’s never been shown before; there’s a real camaraderie and an insider’s view into the vampire phenomenon. The idea has been percolating and percolating and finally my husband and I started it.

It’s been about a year and a half of working on it. We started self-funding, and it’s just grown beyond our wildest expectations. It’s grown bigger and bigger and we’ve got so many phenomenal people who are already involved and so many more who want to be included, so we have launched our Indiegogo campaign which is currently running.

Landau undead badgeHow much involvement will those who support the campaign have in the final product – presumably it depends on the level that they pledge?

Very much so, that’s the thing that’s been so much fun about this. We really want to make the film that fans want to see. That is why we went this way.

We met with a number of production companies who want to invest but at one such meeting that we had, the guy was like, “You have all these hip, supercool people, high on the star meter, so why don’t you just cut out the Hammer interviewees?” I was like, “You can’t make the definitive vampire documentary and not include Hammer”. We really want producing partners who not only like what we’re doing but also love and understand it.

The thing that’s been so much fun about the campaign is it’s been so interactive. We’ve been saying, we’re thinking of using this colour red on the campaign artwork, what do you think? There’s all sorts of tiers in terms of people being able to come and be on set, and different things.

You have tried to appeal to many different sorts of fans – how long did it take to come up with those pledges?

It’s quite a lot of work! It’s interesting: we’re doing two feature length documentaries, A Place Among the Dead, which covers crime and reality, when people take the fantasy of vampirism too far, and A Place Among the Undead which is the project that’s on Indiegogo which covers every aspect of vampires in myth and culture. It’s movies, TV, art, literature, comics, music, video games, YA literature. And then we’re doing the crowdfunding campaign! It’s almost like having three different full time jobs at once, coming up with it all.

But it’s been really fun doing that: some of the stuff we’ve had they’ve named themselves. People said we needed a more vampire-y name so they named themselves Landau’s Legion (which is a bit embarrassing that I have a legion!), but we said “We’re thinking of this perk name, and this, which would you prefer? Would you want this or that?” It’s been really interactive but coming up with that and getting to bounce ideas with people who really know what they want has been a joy.

If everything really came together, what end result would you like?

A couple of things. We currently have so many people who want to be involved with the project, that potentially, depending on how much money we raise, it could develop into a multiple-part TV series, because the subject matter is vast and has been investigated in so many different ways. The other idea is creating two features, and again we’re talking to a number of distribution companies.

I can certainly see it working well on the film circuit. What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned from the chats you’ve had on camera with the interviewees?

Joss and GaryI think what’s been amazing about this experience is that the interviewees have been so relaxed and conversational. Every single interviewee has shared stuff that I’ve never seen before. Before talking to everybody I did loads of research: I got really into it. I read all of Ann Rice’s books, all Charlaine Harris’s books. I watched interviews with them and we really have captured stuff that I’ve never seen from everybody. I think it’s the best interview that Willem Dafoe has ever given. He is so much fun, he is so relaxed, he shares tons of stories. The same with Charlaine Harris – every time I see her footage, I have this big smile on my face. The same with Gary Oldman – this side of him that’s so fun. People are so used to seeing him in these very intense roles often, and it is this funny playful child like side emerges a lot of time in the interview so it’s hard to pick one.

Other things that have been fascinating, and I think really informed the structure of the piece, is that each of the creators who have worked in the vampire universe have used the metaphor of vampirism in such a wide variety of ways to reflect the human condition. So with Joss Whedon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he was exploring the metaphor of high school as a nightmare most people can relate to that. Most people had a terrible time at school; he himself says whenever he says that nobody ever has a follow-up question to that. When you talk to Anne Rice she wrote Interview with the Vampire when her daughter had died, and she created a child character – Claudia – a vampire who lives forever. Her daughter died of leukaemia, which is a blood disease, and she says it’s all about loss and grieving. You talk to Kevin Grevioux who invented Underworld and he says it was his experiences with interracial dating, so he created two species which don’t get along, one of them being vampires. You talk to Tim Burton and he says he always loved the Dark Shadows TV show but in his movie what he wanted to investigate was family dysfunction. Talk to Joss about Angel and he says it was largely exploring addiction,.

That has been so fascinating and the film itself, A Place Among the Undead, transcends the traditional idea of the documentary: it has interlinking narrative films inspired by the conversation and each of those explores one of the metaphors that the creators discuss.

Juliet beret 4Are you creating pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and you’ll pull it all together in the final edit, or are you filtering the questions you ask to get the film you want?

I think it’s a little bit of both. We have a really clear arc and structure for it, but as with all documentaries, and really all films, so much gets shaped in the editing bay once you start looking at the footage and it tells you what it needs to be. I think it’s really important to be open to that so that it evolves and can be even better than your original idea. It’s like with all creative processes: as an actor you come in with an idea, and then it evolves to a different level and surprises you and that’s where the real rich things can happen.

What’s been interesting is as you watch it, we talk about something and we think we should bring this into the next interview. That’s been happening as we’ve been wending our way through the footage.

Can you go back to people?

People have been really open. Gary we’ve interviewed twice – he ended up doing some tintype photography for us. He has a camera from 1853 and basically he loves doing photography. He loves the project and asked if we wanted him to do some of the photography – “I’d love to do portraits of the interviewees”. We’d love that! One of the perks ($200 plus shipping) is the photography book which includes these one of a kind portraits that Gary has taken: he’s done Joss Whedon, Robert Patrick, myself, and a number of the other interviewees. It’s a huge camera and he goes under the black cloth and he exposes the plates then has to go and develop it one by one.

The funny thing with Gary is he’s such a perfectionist: we did portraits of me and he said he wanted to do another shoot. I thought they were beautiful, but he had another idea, so we did them again. And then he said he wanted to do another shoot, although I thought they were gorgeous – but he was right. It was the last batch that we did that – they were exquisite and so much fun.

It sounds like you’re having a ball!

Joss and Juliet 2It’s been fantastic, and we’ve been charmed. Willem Dafoe was in town for one day, and I wrote his publicist and said we saw he was in town and would love to chat with him. He said he’d love to do it; it’s been kind of serendipitous in that way. I wrote Tim Burton, who was a few days away from releasing Big Eyes, and he said come and hang out, so we got on a plane to London and did it. I wrote Joss because I thought he was still in London shooting Avengers 2 and he said he was actually in Los Angeles so could we do it there? He was two weeks away from handing in his cut of Avengers 2! He kept coming in and adding more stuff. I think it was a respite for him – he was talking about one of the universes that he’s created and completely burst into the world. The thing that’s so tremendous about working with Joss is that he has such a complete vision of the world that he’s creating and as an actor it gives you such freedom, because you can go really far because things are rooted. I don’t think Joss ever sleeps – even then he was involved in every wardrobe choice, every set piece, every colour palette, cinematography, writing, and meanwhile doing Toy Story… His attention to detail is extraordinary!

If you could choose any role in a vampire story, what would it be?

Druspike2I feel extremely fortunate to have played Drusilla and for me, it was an actor’s dream role because of the complexities and dimensions of the character. Often when you get to play a villain,. It can be one or two dimensional but Joss created a character that had so many different elements going on, and her history was so present in every pore of her being. For me it was just a creative joy.

 

To support the campaign and discover more about the perks, check out Juliet’s Indiegogo page here.

Thanks to Chloe Parker at Cherish PR for her help in setting up this interview with the vampire!

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