A blast from my Buffy past — (archiving some of the interviews I did back in my Buffy the Vampire Slayer Days)
You don’t see them every week, but they’re a big part Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They’re called re-occurring characters; cast members that aren’t part of the regular team, but appear on an every-so-often basis to add a bit of spice! I’d like to introduce you to two of Sunnydale’s finest; Robia LaMorte (Jenny Calendar) and Robin Sachs (Ethan Rayne).
Robia joined the cast in the first season episode, I Robot You Jane. She was hired to play Ms. Calendar, the computer teacher. (Her first name remained a mystery until several episodes later). In the episode, a demon has infected the internet and although Giles is proficient in binding rituals and exorcism, his computer knowledge is nil. So to his rescue comes Ms. Calendar, a confessed Techno Pagan and verbal foil for our dear librarian.
“She’s a very cool lady to play,” says Robia. “She’s sassy, very sarcastic, flirty and sexy. There’s a nice ‘Moonlighting’ kind of banter between her and Giles.”
Some of the best dialogue in the episode comes from the books vs. computers fight that plays out between the two ending with Giles’ soliloquy on the ‘smell of an old book’.
Though they seem a pair of unmatched bookends, it soon became clear that there was an attraction between the two and apparently series creator Joss Whedon noticed it also. While originally hired for only the one episode, the chemistry on camera made Joss write Robia in as a semi-regular, with a leaning toward the romance between Jenny and Giles.
“As Jenny, I’m attracted to Giles’ intelligence. I love that Old World charm,” says Robia. “He’s so east-coasty tweed, and warm with good morals. And I love that I can get under his skin.” And that she does. The question of where she ‘dangles’ her corkscrew earring is one of the first of many lines designed to make Giles squirm.
Much to most people’s surprise, Robia is only in her late twenties. “Everyone on the show is basically the same age as I am,” she says. “Except Sarah (Buffy) is younger but she doesn’t seem it, she’s such a pro. And Tony’s (Giles) the old guy. We like to call him mature and he appreciates that.”
Prior to becoming an actress, Robia’s claim to fame was as a dancer and part of the entourage for Prince, while she was only 21. “I auditioned for one of his music videos as half of a set of twins. Lori, the other girl and rehearsed for three weeks and spent a lot of time with Prince and there was this nice chemistry. He was working on an idea for the Diamond and Pearl album and decided that I’ll be diamond and Lori will be pearl. Suddenly, it wasn’t one video, we were making dozens, we did the album cover and toured the world.” After the excitement of the tour, Robia retired feeling that as a dancer she had already reached the pinnacle of her career. “I thought, there’s no place to go from here. So I decided to try acting.”
After roles in Earth Girls are Easy and Spawn, Robia landed the role of Jenny Calendar. As part of the wild roller coaster of a series, Robia was never sure what would happen next. One of the most gruesome parts of her job was having to sit for a make-up mold for her demon transformation in The Dark Age.
“They mold your entire head,” described Robia. “They put this stuff all over your eyes and ears and all you have are two little nose holes to breathe out of. You lose all your senses and it’s pretty intense. Things start to go through your head, of seeing yourself jumping out of the chair and ripping the thing off. It made me very aware of how quickly the thoughts in your head want to tell you freaky things.”
The only thing worse than the makeup mold, was shooting the final scene in the season two opener, When She Was Bad. In the episode, the vampire followers are set to revive their dead master with the slaughter of those humans that witnessed his death Giles, Willow, Cordelia and Ms. Calendar. The four are hung upside down by their heels in anticipation of having their throats slit.
“It was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do for the show. Worse than the mold. Torture,” says Robia. “We were all big babies and usually this group is pretty good, no attitude, no drama, but we were all complaining. They had us in a harness but still it felt like we were being completely suspended by the ropes around our feet. We really weren’t up there very long before the stunt people took over but it was one of those situations where you can see yourself freaking out. You’re hanging upside down saying to yourself, if I have to do this for five more minutes I’m going to make them pull me down. But you don’t want to be the one to spoil the shot.”
Unbeknownst to Robia at the time, Jenny was soon to fall victim to the old Bonanza law; fall in love with a Cartwright, buy a tombstone. Her happy romance with Giles was cut short by demon possession, followed by the truth that she was a gypsy sent to Sunnydale to watch over Angel. In the episode, entitled “Passion”, Jenny attempts to make amends by finding a way to turn Angel back to his more Angelic self. In a very sweet moment, she agrees to meet Giles at his home, but that evening she is killed by Angel. As a fitting bit of theater, Angel leaves Jenny’s body in Giles’ bed along with the remains of a dozen roses, a bottle of champagne and opera on the stereo. Jenny went out in style.
Although there was a rumor of a resurrection for Jenny, it seems unlikely atthis time. The actress herself told a fan that her only return may be in ghostly flashback form. But fans, fear not, unlike most TV shows, on Buffy, dead doesn’t always mean gone.
On the other side of the coin from Ms. Calendar is the delightfully evil Ethan Rayne, played by British actor Robin Sachs. With only two appearances so far, fans are looking forward to more of Ethan in Buffy’s upcoming third season.
“Ethan is sort of Giles’ nemesis. He knew Rupert (Giles) way back in England,” explains Robin. Joss Whedon introduced us to the character in Halloween, and true to the master’s form, he left us with more questions than answers. Ethan’s idea of Trick or Treat, is to cast a spell over the costumes in his shop so that the wearer becomes what ever he is dressed as. This is nearly fatal for Buffy, since she is attired as a helpless Victorian lady. The trick for the audience is when mild mannered Rupert Giles treats Ethan to one heck of a beating. Rayne hints at Giles’ dark past when he calls him ‘Ripper’ and speaks of his sniveling school boy ‘act’. While Robin is laudably ‘kickable’ in the episode, he really shines in his second appearance in “The Dark Age”.
“It would seem that Rupert and Ethan were members of a collegiate cult that summoned up one particular form of devil, Eyghon. In this episode, the demon has started to pursue anyone who wears the tattoo and is killing them all one by one.” Ethan will stop at nothing to protect his own life, including putting Giles’ precious Jenny and Buffy in harms way. With all this hiding behind women’s skirts, one would think that Ethan was all bad, but Robin doesn’t see him that way.
“No, he definitely isn’t all bad,” says Robin his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I think he was hurt very badly by his mother. Then again, I don’t know that he has any truly redeeming qualities other than being able to run away very fast when trouble turns up in his direction.”
Ethan may run fast, but it’s his quick quips that will get you everytime. “The character is written very well,” says Robin, giving most of the credit to Joss and company. “It’s amazing, you don’t have to play with the words at all, it’s that well written.”
And Robin does know something about well written, in England he’s played roles in Upstairs Downstairs and Brideshead Revisited, and although his part is small, he is included in the cast of Jurassic Park, the Lost World. Robin also has a long list of TV guest credits under his name including, Walker; Texas Ranger, Baywatch Nights, FX the Series, Pacific Blue and a reoccurring role on Babylon Five.
On Babylon Five, Robin actually repeats as two different characters. While both Bab Five and Buffy are similar in their cult status, and ‘off lot’ production style. There is one great difference for Robin. On Babylon Five, he is constantly under a load of makeup.
“I really don’t mind the latex thing,” he joked. “But it does get awfully hotunder there and no one including your mother really knows who you are.”
Robin came to the United States to try out for pilot season in 1991. “I sort of wanted to come over here ever since I was 18. I wanted to buy a rag top with one of my oldest friends, drive from New York to California and meet all those blondes.” It never happened. “I don’t regret not doing it though. I had a very nice career going in England, but then in the ’90s a whole confluence of events pointed toward my coming here. So here I am. As soon as I set foot in Los Angeles, I knew I had come home. I knew this was the place for me. And it has proven to be that and getting better all the time.”
So Robin keeps working in TV and films, and although nothing is set in stone, he expects to be back on Buffy soon. “I think the idea is that when something happens and it’s not explainable by vampires and what have you, then Ethan is probably the cause of it.”
Like all of Buffy’s actors, guests and regulars, Robin praised the relaxed atmosphere and welcome feeling on the set. “It all comes down from Joss,” he said. “Anything that’s that much fun all the way down the line has to come down from the top.”
Whether it be the small screen or a major motion picture, Robin just enjoys the work. “I deem myself very lucky to be able to earn my money doing something I really enjoy. Not everybody can say that.”
Certainly, Robin and Robia both can.
Previously published at Mania.com in 1998.