Camden Toy as one of the monsters in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

Camden Toy as one of the monsters in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Joss Whedon’s groundbreaking BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, we interviewed actor Camden Toy, who played three different terrifying characters on that series, and a more comedic one in the final series of the BUFFY spin-off ANGEL.

In Part 1 of our exclusive interview, Toy talked about playing one of the silent, gliding Gentlemen in BUFFY’s near-wordless “Hush” episode. In Part 2, Toy talks his other two BUFFY roles, the sing-songy skin-eating demon Gnarl in the episode “Same Time, Same Place,” and the primal Ubervamp in multiple Season 7 episodes, his work on ANGEL and a recent episode of SHAMELESS, and the fan convention scene

ASSIGNMENT X: After you did “Hush” in Season 4, they brought you back in BUFFY Season 7 to play Gnarl …

CAMDEN TOY: Yeah. I stayed in touch with the casting people, and for whatever reason, they didn’t bring me in for anything. And [then] I got a call from [casting director] Loni Hamerman in Season 7 for that role. And she’s like, “Hey, I haven’t talked to you in awhile,” and I was like, “Yeah, it’s been awhile” [laughs]. Things had kind of slowed down in my acting career, so I actually went back to one of my earlier careers, which was as a film editor. I was a film editor for many years right out of high school, cutting documentaries and National Geographic documentaries. I even had the pleasure of working with Thelma Schoonmaker for about a year, who had cut all of Scorsese’s films. I was very, very lucky. I was this wet behind the ears nineteen-year-old, just in awe. Even then, she was sort of a superstar [laughs], because she had cut WOODSTOCK, and we were all like, “Wow.” So I returned to that.” And I had cut a number of shorts and feature films. And I was in the middle of cutting a feature film with Kim Chan called ZEN NOIR, which I recommend everybody check it out, because it’s a very unusual film.

Loni said, “Well, we’re having trouble casting this role” – which is kind of my career, in a way [laughs] – it’s like, “Oh, we’re having trouble casting this role, okay.” I can say this now, because of course it’s been years, but Jane Espenson, who wrote it, was kind of thinking of Gnarl as almost a Gollum-like character, so she was thinking maybe a character actor, maybe a small person, a small woman, whatever. They’re thinking “small actor.” She said, “We’re having trouble casting it.” So I guess what happened was, everybody they had in wasn’t finding the essence of that role. “Our memory is that you’re fairly thin.” “Yeah, but I’m not super-super-thin. I’m not fat, but I’m not thin.” “And our memory is that you’re not so tall.” [laughs] “Yeah, but I’m not short, either. I’m five-nine.” I’m average height.

“Well, would you mind coming in and reading?” “Yeah, sure.” And of course, television shows often, once you’re on a show, they’re a little embarrassed to ask you to read again. And I’m like, “I understand. The Gentleman was a totally silent role [laughs] – you have no idea what I’m going to do with dialogue.” “Oh, I’m so glad you understand.” So I went and got the script on Friday, and they gave me three or four pages. I was just bowled over with this role. I was just, “Wow.” And I just played with it all weekend long. And I’m a great believer as an actor in really just letting the role tell you what it needs, really following the dialogue, following the writing, and really letting it speak to you. Because there are all these gems that will come up if you’re open to it. And that’s kind of what happened. I’d go, “Oh, he’s taunting her here. Oh, what if I do it like a sing-songy little kid would – ‘No one comes to save you …’ Oh, yeah, that’s good.” So there are little things I kept discovering like that, all throughout. So I went in and read for it and when I got the call later that day, it wasn’t even the next day, they didn’t even say, “Hi, you got the role,” they said, “We need to get you into makeup immediately.” Because they were casting me so late.

AX: Do you know if they completely reconceived the makeup, or if Gnarl was just a taller version of what they had in mind to begin with?

TOY: They had the design in drawings, so the actual design was kept, but it was done on my body. And since there was a body suit, they did have to take a mold of my entire body, my hands, my feet, my teeth, my head, my face. It took a good part of a day to do it, but I don’t think the design was altered. In the episode, I make myself very small. I’m a bit of a shape-shifter, I’m a very physical performer, and that’s why often it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around the different characters I’ve played on the show, because physically they’re so different.

AX: And later that season, you were the Ubervamp, the first of the feared ancient vampires, for multiple episodes.

TOY: Yeah. That one happened kind of serendipitously. Because I think originally they were thinking, “Well, we could just put a stunt guy in that. He’s a killing machine, why would you need an actor?” And from what I’ve heard through the grapevine, I think it was [executive producer] Marti Noxon that went, “You know, we really need an actor to bring this to life, an actor like Camden Toy.” And I think at that point, [special effects makeup designer] Rob Hall was like, “Well, you know, we have all of his molds, so we could actually start to sculpt now.” “Okay, cool.” It was really sweet of her to think of me for that. And then I worked with Ryan Lockman, my stunt double. He and I, we used to be known on the set as [German accent] “the Uber brothers,” He and I, John Medlen, who was the stunt coordinator at that time, would get together every few days and continue to choreograph these scenes. And they were really generous in allowing me, the actor, to give feedback into the stunts and how the character moved and how he fought. I just didn’t want him to be a typical chop-and-kick vampire. I really conceived of him almost like the Tasmanian Devil, where when he was moving, and we tried to think of swiping motions and spinning, so a lot more spinning, a lot more swiping, a lot more aerial-type stuff. So we really tried to keep track of all that, we tried to create a different vampire. Because the Ubervamp had never been introduced before. And Ryan has this amazing martial arts background. I have studied over half a dozen different martial arts, but I’m not really what I’d call a martial artist. Let me put it this way – it’s like if you’ve taken ballet classes, that doesn’t make you a ballet dancer. But I understand the movements, I can execute them, I studied Chinese kempo for a year or two when I was in my twenties, and that was one of the ones I used probably the most, because Chinese kempo uses a lot of spinning techniques. And they would come to me, and they’d go, “Can you do a one-handed flip into a spinning hook kick?” And I’d be like, “Um, I’ll give it a shot.” [laughs] And I usually was able to do it. So yeah. I was very lucky. But it was the role that probably pushed me to my physical limits, because I was probably the oldest person in the cast at that point, and I’m doing all this physical activity.

AX: Then the following year, you were in the final season of ANGEL as the Nosferatu-looking elderly vampire, the Prince of Lies in the episode “Why We Fight” …

TOY: Steve DeKnight and Drew Goddard wrote that episode, and the term “Prince of Lies” was a character they came up with, I think, a couple of seasons before that, and for whatever reason, they weren’t able to use it, and in that season, they were, “Hey, can we use that name?” And [the producers] were like, “Okay.” That was a funny episode, because again, they were having trouble casting it, as so much of my career is. I believe I was suggested by Rob Hall at Almost Human, again, who did the special effects makeup. He said, “Guys, the days are ticking away, and I need to start doing the design on this sculpt.” Because they’re actually sculpting on the person’s face that they’re going to use. He said, “I’ve got Camden Toy’s mold. He’d be perfect for this role.” The show runners at that time, Jeff Bell, and Ben Edlund, were like, “Oh, we love Camden, he’s so creepy. But can he do comedy?” Because the Prince of Lies is creepy, but he’s really the comic relief for the episode. Their concern was, they’re going to get me in this makeup, they’re going to get me on set, and I’m not going to fully understand the role. When I heard that, I said “I’d be happy to come in and read for it.” So again, I went in and read for it, and they were like, “Oh, okay, I guess he does understand that, okay.” [laughs]

AX: You’ve done a lot of comedy on television and streaming video, and last year, you were on SHAMELESS. Who did you play?

TOY: It’s part of the season where Frank [played by William H. Macy] is being chased by criminals and they’re going to kill him, so he jumps in the car with his ex, played by Sherilyn Fenn. They’re heading out to a commune. She’s an old ex-hippie, and I play Pan, one of the commune characters. It’s a really small role, but it was a really fun role. There’s a scene where Frank is with Sherilyn Fenn, they go to her tent for the night, and then I and this other guy around my age – two old guys, right? – I think he refers to us later as “Ben and Jerry,” we’re sitting there, sipping tea, and Frank’s like, “These guys don’t live with you, do they?” And she was like, “Oh, no, Frank. They’re just here for the sex.” He’s like, “What?” She says, “Well, if you want to stay, you can, but you don’t have to.” [laughs] And then she comes over and we start canoodling, and the other guy starts canoodling, and it becomes this threesome, and the look on Bill Macy’s face is priceless, because Frank’s just aghast [laughs].

Sherilyn Fenn was great to work with, she was so much fun. Bill Macy was also a lot of fun. That’s a show that’s been going on for awhile. And shows that have been going on for awhile, the regulars, usually during those long waiting periods between takes, they’ll go off to their trailers. He never did that. He would just sit down in the chairs beside us and go, “Hey, how’s it going?” He loves playing his ukulele. He’s got this beautiful wooden handmade ukulele. I was like, “Wow, that’s so unusual.” He said, “Here, you want to try it?” He hands me this ukulele and I’m playing this ukulele going, “Wow, this is beautiful.” So So that was, I thought, a really generous and lovely thing.

AX: When did you start doing the BUFFY and ANGEL convention scene?

TOY: Oh, good Lord. I think it was shortly before I did the ANGEL episode, so I guess some time in 2003. I didn’t even know about them until a friend of my girlfriend was like, “Well, you know, there are conventions.” I was like, “What?” [laughs] “Yeah, I can introduce you to this guy that books them.” “Okay.” I really didn’t fully understand. Of course, at that time, there were plenty of BUFFY and ANGEL conventions. Now there are very few that are purely [those shows]. WhedonCon, that’s an unusual convention – it’s purely Joss Whedon’s work. But when I first started doing it, there were a number of them for a year. They were never huge conventions, they were never like ComicCon, where there were hundreds of thousands of people. They were very intimate, and everybody that was there was familiar with who you were and what you did. So those were really fun conventions, particularly when I first started doing it.

AX: You just appeared at the second annual WhedonCon, which is a convention in the Los Angeles area dedicated to the works of Joss Whedon, including BUFFY and ANGEL. It’s fan-run and not-for-profit, meaning that they give any profits to charities. Did you have a good time there?

TOY: Yeah, I did. Of course, it was a first-year con last year, and certainly first-year cons are not without their growing pains. But those were minimal, I thought. I thought whatever problems that did come up, the staff handled them extremely professionally, which is not always the case when you have a convention run by fans. So I think it’s a well-run convention. The fans are all there to have fun. It was incredible. I think one of my most fun times was they did a whole Prom dance. I ended up putting on my tux and tails and dancing with different people, and then a friend of mine and I, you know how you hold your hands up and you create a tunnel for people to go through. It was all really well-organized.

This year, they added something that I thought was really smart, these meet and greets, and a game night, where several of us [were] with the fans, playing games. There [was] also an English high tea, which I love. Not enough people do that. Every time I go to England, I always make sure every day I’m having cream tea. [laughs] I can’t help myself. And if you look at the guest lineup, the fact that they got [ANGEL and FIREFLY writer/director/producer] Tim Minear [who is now part of AMERICAN HORROR STORY and FEUD] and [BUFFY and ANGEL and THE TICK writer/director/producer] David Fury, lovely, wonderful people, but they don’t do conventions very often, because honestly, writers/directors/producers, they just don’t do conventions often. They’re not asked to, they’re often too busy to, so the fact that they’re willing to put aside some time to come and spend time with the fans I think is just wonderful. I adore them both.

AX: When you started doing conventions, did you have an idea of, “And lo, twenty years later, there will still be these BUFFY conventions, several times a year …”?

TOY: No idea, no. It’s kind of shocking. I think most shows, once they go off the air, they have a pretty short shelf life. So the fact that it continued, and it continued … I think what’s amazing about the show is that whoever was into it as a child continues to this day to be into it, but then also shares it with their children, or their spouses, or their family, so it’s not unusual at a convention for me to be sitting at a table and for three, sometimes four generations of people to be standing there from one family, going, “We love your work, you’re so creepy!” [laughs] I think what’s happening is that new fans are constantly being created, because the old fans are so mesmerized by the show, still. And so they should, because it really is an incredible show.

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Article: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: Actor Camden Toy Pt. 2 – exclusive interview

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