Coherence: Nicholas Brendon on Schrodinger’s Cat and Buffy
The cast of Coherence collaborated in one of my favorite movies of the year which blew me away at Fantastic Fest. Director James Ward Byrkit told me how he crafted the sci-fi mind bender, by giving his actors notes and letting them improvise and figure out the plot. So really I have the cast to thank for taking me on this journey.
The film is about a group of friends having a dinner party when they experience a case of quantum decoherence. Look it up, or don’t if you want to remain spoiler-free. One of those friends is played by “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” star Nicholas Brendon who plays, of all things, a former TV actor from The WB show “Roswell.” I got to speak with Brendan by phone.
Coherence opens June 20 in NY and LA and VOD August 5.
CraveOnline: Of all of the TV shows Mike could have been on, why “Roswell?”
Nicholas Brendon: I’ve known Jim for like 10 years, so I think it was our little inside joke, like the fact that I’m a recovering alcoholic. It’s kind of like paying homage and also giving the audience a little wink, we’re also in on the joke.
Is recovering alcoholic a personal homage also?
Did you know the “Roswell” cast when you were on the WB with “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?”
Yes, because we would do photo shoots and stuff together. Jason Behr was actually on an episode of “Buffy” right before he did “Roswell.” Wasn’t Katherine Heigl on that show? I tried to steer clear of her. She’s got teeth. [Laughs] Whenever we would do functions together, we actually hung out a lot. They were all awesome.
What was it about Katherine Heigl back in the day?
It’s funny, I knew Katherine because I used to date Marley Shelton and Marley was up for My Father the Hero. It was Marley’s part and then it was Katherine’s part so I knew of Katherine because Marley couldn’t do it for a particular reason. I just kind of knew of her through my girlfriend at the time.
I understand the way Coherence was done was that everyone got notecards about their characters and the scenes. What was on your notecards?
I can’t remember now, but every day we had five different things that we had to convey, which is really kind of crazy. I guess was easy because it was all shot in chronological order as well, which is the first time I’ve ever done that. I don’t remember specifically what was on them, but I do know that Jim, and then Alex [Manugian], the other writer, had to make sure that we were all on point. So it was just a matter of getting that information out.
How long did it take you to figure out what was going on in the plot?
I never really knew because the first time I saw the movie, Jim had just gotten it done and we had a screening at a small industry theater. Since there was no script, I had no idea how it ended. So I still never really knew. When I saw the movie, I’m like, “Oh shit, this is awesome!” I was a fan of the movie because since there was no script, I didn’t know how it ended because I wasn’t in that scene. To be quite honest with you, I never really knew what was going on fully until I saw the movie done.
At a certain point, the characters figure out what the phenomenon is. Were you ahead of them or was that live in the improv?
Yeah, it was live in the improv. I honestly still to this day, I’m not really sure what Schrodinger’s Cat is because in my mind, in my very narrow view of thinking, that cat’s either fucking dead or it’s alive. It’s not both. It’s never both. It’s just going to be alive or dead. The fact that there’s a play on that play, I’m like, “All right, you guys lost me.” There’s a point in the movie where I’m like, “Hold on, let me get this straight. The cat’s in the box. He’s both alive and he’s dead.” Since my mind just doesn’t particularly think that way, that was the only thing that was scripted. I’m like, “Jim, I know this is important. Write out what you want me to say, because I’m still not really quite sure what’s going on right now.” It’s alive or its dead.
Once the audience catches on and many of them know you have a twin brother, we probably expect to see him show up at some point. Does he get approval when there are films that need two of you?
Luckily, there’ve been two times where there’ve been two of me, and I’m not quite sure how many actors can lay claim to that. So on “Buffy” he was there and we did it, and in Coherence he was available and was there. Obviously Kelly loves me a lot so if ever we need him, he’ll show up.
“Buffy” also dealt with very complex mythology, so with Coherence could you understand making a very high concept story human?
Oh yeah. We definitely became aware of it, I’d say, by probably halfway through season two. It wasn’t just “Beverly Hills 90210” and it wasn’t just about monsters. It was very analogous to life demons. We just gave them legs and teeth and fangs. I do have a problem, actors like to hear themselves talk so when they pontificate too much about the deep meaning, I just really want to kind of put a fist in my mouth and make myself vomit. Joss is great at giving life to our inner demons and our turmoils. He gave them a body so that we can equate that to what was going on.
Did you see any similarity in Coherence, using this very specific scientific phenomenon to explore these characters?
Not towards “Buffy.” I equate Coherence more to an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone,” not the UPN’s “Twilight Zone” or the movie Twilight Zone. To me it was an episode of that, which leads to the question: how great was that fucking show? You know what I mean? It was wonderful.
Would you want to work in this style again?
Do you know what James has planned next?
Well, he’s writing a movie right now I think for Sony but we’ll all do this again in some way, shape or form. It was a lot of work, more on James’s end and the editor’s end. Since we didn’t have a script, they had to go through 100s of hours of footage of us just improv’ing. Since we didn’t really know what was going on, we were latching onto anything and talking about that. Once the editor looked at James and said about me, “Good God, this guy swings at everything.” I’m a talker. So the amount of work that they had to do to get a movie out of the footage is just astronomically challenging and they did it.
When I think about other shows you’ve done, if you’d had the cast of “Kitchen Confidential” today, it surely would’ve made it, right?
Oh my God, when that show got cancelled, I took a two year sabbatical. I was still going on auditions but it was so unfair how they did it. It was the first time that I had seen Hollywood politics at work and I really didn’t care for it. So I took a sabbatical without letting anybody know. I was still going on auditions. To this day, David [Boreanaz] got “Bones,” Aly[son Hannigan] got “How I Met Your Mother” and I got “Kitchen Confidential” all in that same year, and we were all shooting within three stages of each other on Fox. I was truly heartbroken. I love that show so much. I loved the 13 episodes that we did, the camaraderie that we had. I’m sure Coops is cool with it, but I had such a great time. A couple years later I was told what had happened, why it was cancelled which made me even hate the business of show.
Is that public? Has it been reported?
Is there any hint you can give?
No, no, no but it was very political.
It had fans and I think Bradley Cooper is very fond of the show.
Oh yeah, we had a blast. We all had a love for each other. We were together for like four months and it was such an amazing time. Coop had just had Wedding Crashers come out so we were all so supportive and loving of each other. I was upset that I wasn’t able to have these people in my life more.
When you look back at “Buffy,” do you remember individual episodes or more of a big picture of the seven year experience?
Amalgamation of it? No. The first year was very magical just because I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to be an actor. All these trucks were here and I had a trailer, and people doing my hair and my makeup. Then obviously there are many, the episode called “Hush,” the episode called “The Body,” there was “Once More With Feeling.” There are a lot of individual episodes that were above and beyond. “Hush” and “The Body” to me, and “Once More With Feeling” are probably three of the best hours of television out there ever.
Were “Hush” and “The Body” very collaborative episodes, taking the whole cast to make “Hush” work and everybody reacting to “The Body?”
Everything was collaborative but any episode that Joss wrote and directed, I loved it when he wrote and directed. He was the only person, because I am Xander and Xander is me, Joss would just give me a line and I’m like, “Okay, cool, I’ve got it.” I trusted him implicitly. I didn’t have to stress, he didn’t have to stress. He knew when he was going to cut out of a scene because in his head he was already editing it. It was wonderful so anything Joss did was completely the control that he had and the micromanagement which I love because I just so trusted him.
Also one of the things on “Buffy,” since it was the first thing I ever did, we could not miss an “uh,” a “the,” a “then.” Our emotions could be perfect and [he] said, “I put that word there for a reason.” So I was trained to know every single word and to say every single word as it was written on paper. Now, on “Criminal Minds,” if we get around what our dialogue is, then we’re moving on. There was never any improv. We were given the scripts as the writers had written them and we were expected to know every single line.
That’s probably the first time I’ve heard micromanagement described in a positive way but it totally makes sense.
It was. Typically if someone’s micromanaging, you think that you can do that micromanager’s job bette than that micromanager can. I knew there was no fucking way. Joss was my God. He was my master. In that regard, I wanted and needed a master.
Besides those big three episodes, were there any other favorites?
I love, love, love “Three’s Company” so when John [Ritter] did an episode of “Buffy,” then we did a table read and John pulled me aside and said, “I just want you to know, I think you’re the star of the show.” I’m like oh my God, John Ritter. You’re the star of my show. I was really taken aback and then we became fairly good friends. He would come to my house and we would watch episodes together. Then I was in London and my mom called and said, “Did you hear about John?” I’m like, “John who?” “She’s like, “John Ritter, he died.” I started bawling and I’m like, “Ma, I need to call you back.” It’s crazy.
That was really sad and shocking.
Well, more shocking is how much my mom loves to give bad news. I think that was more shocking than John dying. “Mom, you do realize you’re talking about a friend of mine, right?”
What else is coming up for you?
Well, right now I’m doing the big circuit for Coherence. I’m going to shoot a short next month. I might be doing another movie, we’re just trying to figure that out and I’m just going to still go around the country and meet fans at different conventions and stuff. I’m known for my hugs. By the way, I hug everybody. I hug men and women so they didn’t come off as creepy, and I do make every man hug. He’s like, “No, we’ll do the handshake.” I’m like, “No, this is a handshake free zone, buddy. We’re going to hug.”
I would totally hug if we met in person.
And we will and I will hug you. You’re in 818. I’ll just find you. I’ve got your name now, I’ll find you. I’ll be waiting in the bushes in front of your house, “Heyyyy Fred.”