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Tom Lenk - Atnzone.com

By Tara DiLullo

Tuesday 25 February 2003, by Webmaster

As one third of the "Evil Troika" plaguing heroine Buffy Summers in the sixth season of the UPN series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," actor Tom Lenk (27) made a memorable mark in the Buffyverse playing Andrew the uber-geek proficient in demonology. Together with characters Warren (Adam Busch) and Jonathan (Danny Strong), they wreaked havoc on Sunnydale becoming the first official human "Big Bad" villains in the shows history. Committing chaos, crime and eventually murder, the trio was a strange amalgam of funny and true evil. After their leader Warren was flayed alive by Wicca Willow Rosenberg (Aly Hannigan) at the end of the season, Andrew and Jonathan high-tailed it out of town, south to Mexico and were expected to never be heard from again.

For some fans, that was great news. The controversial nerds were either loved or hated by the fan base. Some adored their comedic riffs on everything sci-fi and geek-based while others were irritated by the exact same thing. But as it often happens in Joss Whedon’s universe, characters both dead and alive have a tendency to return and such is the case for Andrew. As the only living member left of the Trio, Andrew (or "What’s his name?" as he was commonly referred to by both fans and characters within the show) has gradually evolved to a new status in this seventh, and most likely last season of the much-loved series.

While he may have been a "villain" in theory last season, Andrew was really the personification of the casebook "follower" - a square peg desperate to belong and be loved. Andrew returned to Sunnydale this year with the weak intent of trying to continue his evil ways - this time guided by the current season’s Big Bad, "The First Evil." He did murder Jonathan but since then has been a repentant "captive" and ally of Buffy and her gang ("The Scoobies"). In episode after episode, Lenk has been a consistent scene-stealer playing Andrew as the appealing comedic relief amongst the drama. With his na´ve countenance and awkwardly endearing line delivery, Lenk as Andrew has been able to not only become a standout in the season but he’s also won over the hearts of many of the once critical fans.

A veteran of stage (Grease), screen (Boogie Nights) and TV (Judging Amy), Tom is a man in constant motion. He and I spoke by phone two weeks ago just as he finished shooting the sixteenth Buffy episode of the season, one that centers on his character Andrew. Enthusiastic, easy-going and funny in his own right, Tom shared with me his adventures this season on Buffy, his theater roots and the positives of distraction.

Was acting always an aspiration for you?

Yeah, I started out performing music. My family is musically inclined. My dad is a music teacher and both my brother and I played instruments. I was always performing in this choir or doing this play or that play. I was also a major TV couch potato. [Laughs]

I watched way too much TV when I should have been outside playing. But I was always thinking ’I could be better than those stupid kids in those commercials!’ so that’s totally what I wanted to be doing.

Was it an easy decision for you to become a professional actor because it can be scary deciding to choose a profession in the arts?

It sort of boiled down to in high school applying for colleges to study music or drama because I was doing everything. I ran my high schools drama club. We didn’t have a drama class so I was directing the school play. At the same time, I was running the ever so popular marching band and I was on the speech team. I sang the national anthem at football games. I was just out of control. [Laughs] I ended up deciding to study music and I did that for two years on a scholarship [at Moorepark College.] Towards the end of that, I was still do everything and I finally decided that my career as an opera singer was not going to be really happening. If I couldn’t take it serious, I don’t think anyone else would be able to either. [Laughs] So, I decided to concentrate on theater and I ended up going to study theater at U.C.L.A. but I was distracted again because they have this amazing musical theater teacher in the music department. So I was majoring in theater and only performing in the music department so I was again dabbling in two areas.

I was totally prepared to go to New York and do that whole thing. A good portion of my friends that I went to school with are there doing that but I got distracted again with TV, which is fine by me. I’ve always done it all. I don’t think I’d have it any other way because it always comes in handy. My friends and I have our own theater company and so we throw stuff together where I’ll write a show and I’m in the show and I paint the sets. [Laughs]

Do you think that flexibility has helped you especially considering you’ve been working consistently in the business?

Well, I think so. It shows that I have a lot of adaptability. It’s helped to be able to throw myself into something like if that means lying in a commercial audition and saying you know how to ski when you really don’t; then having to learn how to ski but then having a stunt double there when you got on set so you never really needed to learn. [Laughs] Or like my first TV job when all I’d ever done my whole life is theater and I have no idea what to do because the on-camera acting teacher at U.C.L.A. told me to come back when I learn to act. [Laughs]

Ouch!

Obviously, she was wrong. [Laughs] So, yeah - I just make it up as I go along. My early years of struggling and booking little jobs here and there was definitely the best acting school.

You’ve dabbled in so many different mediums of performing is there one in particular you seek out?

I sort of sadly have been put into musical theater retirement. It’s weird because I used to be so confident in it because I was doing it everyday. It’s sort of like a muscle, if you don’t use it - it gets out of shape. I had all the confidence in my skills in that area. I used to be like a shark in the water with it, ’Get out of my way’ confident but it’s not like that anymore. I had to drop out of a musical theater production here in L.A. because I ended up getting my own play produced. I guess I made that theater director, who produces most of the musical theater in town, really mad because he said it was ’very unprofessional for me to leave a production.’ Now, I don’t get call backs for the fun theater stuff in town because I made him mad. The funny part is, I literally got Buffy two days after I quit so I couldn’t have done [the play] anyway. It’s sad I haven’t been able to do any musical theater but at some point, I’d love to be in New York and do a show.

Courtesy: UPN

Is that an ultimate goal - to be New York theater-bound?

No, I definitely have made a home here in L.A. I grew up in Southern California and my friends are here. New York is great if you have something to take you there but it’s so hard to start from scratch when all my contacts are TV people in L.A. I’m not a Matthew Broderick yet and I’m not going to be headlining a show anytime soon. I’m happy being here and doing this because you know, you think something is your one true love but that changes. What I’ve found is, what I guess I’m good at, is doing this TV thing and trying to be funny. I’m sure at some point I’d love to go to New York and do a show; we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, my friends and I put together various theater productions, which are side projects. And writing is something I love.

Have you had time to pursue your writing despite your busy schedule?

Yeah, I’ve actually been so behind schedule on a project we are doing which was supposed to be ready last fall and now we’ve promised it will be finished in April. We’ll see; that’s all fun stuff to do on the side.

So, you were a quasi-villain last season but there’s a change going on with Andrew this season. Have you been enjoying the evolution?

I definitely have! I never really thought he was that bad to start with so I’ve always held sympathy for Andrew. It’s been nice that [Buffy] has untied him.

You don’t have to sit in that same chair anymore!

Yeah but I am still wearing the same shirt although that does change soon. It’s one of those things that never gets explained like, ’Does the shirt get washed? What’s happening? Is it really smelly?’ [Laughs]

But I love the direction it’s been going in and the comedy they have been writing for me. A lot of the stuff is sci-fi references but a lot of it is what I love - the character in situations that he is really uncomfortable with like that butcher shop scene [Episode 9, "Never Leave Me"] was one of my favorites this year. Putting him in awkward, fish out of water scenes are fun to play. I also like that he sort of got his wish from episode seven ("Conversations with Dead People") this year, to join Buffy’s gang and possibly hang at her house, which he is!

Which is pretty crazy considering where Andrew was last season and this year you’re a quasi-Scooby.

It’s really bizarre! I had no idea it was going to go this direction or that it was going to be me. I was convinced I was the least important of [The Nerd Trio] and would be the first to go. I’m sad that my cohorts are not around as much but they do pop-up here and there. I miss them but it’s certainly fun for me to get to be part of the Scoobies and the fact that they’ve been nice enough to write me such great stuff. All the writers are just so cool!

Another perk is that the episode airing on February 25th called "Storyteller" is centered on your character, Andrew.

Yeah! It’s a total gimmick episode, not a typical Buffy episode at all. I was so flattered and excited! Actually, first I was excited, then I was scared and then I was nervous and then I was happy - all rolled into one. I get a little crazy when I try to dissect everything and find the funny in this and the funny in that and for the past two weeks, I’ve sort of been a nervous wreck. You get a great opportunity like this and you don’t want to mess it up. I’ve been trying my hardest to do what the character would do and keep it funny and not try too hard. I was just like, ’I’m not sure if Andrew or I’m funny in large doses.’ [Laughs] This episode will be the test because I’ve been the "One-liner King." I think the fans will like it although I do encounter those who are very vocal about their dislike.

Which brings about the question that last year, some fans weren’t so pleased with the Nerd Trio. What are you hearing from fans about Andrew now?

Most of the feedback that I get from people is usually really nice. Every once in awhile, though…I was at a party last night and I met this guy who I knew from the gym. We were talking and he said he saw me on TV. He said ’Yeah, I love the show, it’s great but I definitely don’t like your character.’ I was like ’Ohhh?’ Then he said, ’Your acting is fine, I just don’t like your character at all. I find him really obnoxious.’ So, then I’m like, ’Wow, that’s great…that’s really awkward.’ [Laughs] People are very opinionated about the show but I’m just delivering the goods not the one coming up with it. [Laughs]

Was it always part of Joss’ master plan for you to return this season? Did you know it would be a two-season gig?

Last year we knew we would be working on the show the whole season. This year, we just came back for episode seven fairly last minute. We were all on a plane as [Mutant Enemy] was calling us to come back for more episodes. We had to catch a plane back from London and re-work our schedules. We had heard rumors and Joss had told us that he couldn’t wait to have the Trio back this year but for whatever reason, they like to keep things to themselves. I didn’t know it would be extended and after people started getting killed, I assumed I would be next. And of course, everyone kept saying, ’That’s the best thing that can happen to you on Buffy!’ I was like ’Whatever, dying, schmying - I’d like to be alive.’ We’ll see. I’m sure I can still meet an untimely death. My poor little feelings would be hurt but I’ll be fine. [Laughs]

As you mentioned, you are continuing to work with Adam and Danny on a limited basis this season but there’s a different dynamic this season with you working with a new team - the principals of the show. How’s that working out?

This show is so much fun to work on - we have such a blast. I’m such good friends with [Danny and Adam] now; they’ve become like my closest friends. It’s been sort of sad to lose them because when we do our scenes together, it’s so easy because we’ve worked so much together. I think our timing works well and we all have the same work ethic.

This year has been fun because everyone on the show - the whole Scooby gang - is so nice and sweet. It’s been fun getting to know them. I laugh and have fun everyday that I’m there. It’s such a fun set to be on and I’ve certainly worked on things where that wasn’t the case. [Laughs]

Courtesy: UPN

How is the mood on the set considering this is looking to be the last year of Buffy?

I think if it does end, [the cast] will be happy with that because they certainly had a great run. They’ve been doing the show for seven years and I’m sure it’s time to move on and try something new. That’s a pretty long run for a show and there’s only so far you can go with the character arcs before it gets too over the top. But everyone is in great spirits.

Tom, now’s the time to start pitching to Joss, "Andrew the Vampire Slayer." [Laughs] They’ve made that joke already especially since the Andrew episode was shot last week [ed. - the first week of February].

I was so shocked about ["Storyteller"] because in the episode before that ("Get It Done"), I wasn’t in it very much so I thought ’Oh, maybe they are mad at me.’ Then I got the ultimate reward the next week! I was reading the script [for "Storyteller"], which was real last minute; I got the script the night before I had to be up early to film it. I was skimming to my stuff and it was just amazing.

You missed out on the famed musical episode so did they let you sing in this episode considering your background?

I don’t necessarily sing and I can’t give anything away…but I don’t sing in the traditional sense. There are dream sequences, flashbacks, Andrew talks to the camera a lot because he is documenting Buffy’s household. It’s very different and very cool and also scary when you have this camera lens right next to your face! Lord knows, most people look a lot prettier on film than they do on video so I’m a little bit scared. [Laughs]

It was a great two weeks. The director we had for the episode, Marita Grabiak, was a joy to work with. She has directed for Angel ("Fredless," "The House Always Wins") but never for Buffy so it was a really fun one for her to come in on. It was a completely different tone for her and she had some really specific ideas, which I really liked.

You’ve been able to play Andrew as both kind of evil and pretty good. Is he worthy of redemption in your eyes considering his previously wicked ways?

Well, to answer that from the selfish Tom Lenk perspective, I think he needs to be redeemed so I can stick around. [Laughs] I think other people have done worse things on the show. Faith accidentally killed the Mayor’s assistant who was played by my friend Jack Plotnick. I would think they would find it in their hearts to forgive Andrew and let him seek redemption. I don’t think he is that bad of a kid. He faltered off the path but I think with the right kind of help he could get back on it.

If you could pick a dream role or a project, what would it be? I want to work on a Christopher Guest (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) movie! That would be my dream come true. I have to say, I have a few Waiting for Guffman moments in "Storyteller." A lot of my inspiration for the episode came from that movie.

That’s my very favorite movie of all time. This episode is full of my own personal references to so many things and I don’t think many people will get them but I know they are there.

With all your work on Buffy are you finding time for other projects?

I don’t have much time for anything other than this right now. It’s a little overwhelming, so this is it. I’m putting all my energies into the show but I was working on a spin-off to my play from last year (Save Me from My Sister) with my writing partner. We’ve been distracted so that’s pushed to the bottom of the pile. I was also working with a producer from my play last year on a TV sitcom I pitched. I’ve never done that whole thing before so we are slowly but surely learning that whole part of the business, which is very strange and frustrating. So, I have a lot of non-acting projects that I work on in my trailer.