The Wizard of Oz
Seth Green is having a pretty good year. He helped Buffy the Vampire Slayer take on The Judge, he's successfully wooing Willow away from her crush on Xander - OK, so he had that little werewolf problem. On the big screen, he's playing a recent graduate and a National Security Agency investigator, and has just been cast as the lead in a new teen horror flick. At 24, he's ideally situated: still able to play teenagers, but starting to get the serious adult roles he desires.
Green, who made his debut at age eight and has been working in the industry ever since, hesitated when Buffy's producers approached him about becoming a series regular, but decided that Oz's potential outweighed the potential drawbacks of being committed to an ongoing series. "I weighed my options as to what else I could be doing, and decided that this was the best show I could be on right now, the best character I could be playing, the best potential," he says, taking a break for an interview while filming one of the season's final episodes. "I have a big crush on [executive producer] Joss Whedon, I just think he's the coolest man. I was familiar with his work, and as soon as I met him I caught his energy and excitement and saw how passionate he was about the show, how much he invests into the characters and the story, I really wanted to be a part of it."
Green had at one time been interested in occultism, but by the time he took the part on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, his belief in vampires had waned. "I was heavily into that kind of mythology, but it just got spoiled for me by Anne Rice, and reported appearances by people on the Jerry Springer show and the Jenny Jones show - people dressed in Marilyn Manson t-shirts, fourteen year olds with black nail polish saying, 'I'm a vampire!'" he snorts. "It kind of takes away from the seriousness, which is why I'm glad there's a show like Buffy, because it handles all that stuff in a way that people can be scared of."
Like Oz, Green describes himself as a "calm, introspective, observational kind of person." He liked the simplicity with which Oz reacted when he discovered that there were vampires in Sunnydale: "It was just, 'Oh, that explains a lot.' I loved that." Green doesn't share his character's musical talent - "I can strum the guitar on the show, and I know that to the left of the neck are the low notes and to the right of the neck are the high notes, I can make my fingers look like they're making chords, but I can't play any of the shit that Oz plays" - but he does share the high school senior's reticence to make judgements until he knows exactly what he's getting into. "The thing I love about Oz is that he doesn't say anything unless it's important, so when he has something to say, it's really thought out. Smart."
Green's toughest performance on Buffy this season was in "Phases," the episode in which Oz discovered that he was a werewolf. "That was a tough week, there was a lot going on," admits the actor. "I just tried to find the reality of it and make it good, I just wanted to portray what I thought was the truth - god, I sound like a pretentious bastard right now!" he groans. There were parallels drawn in the script between werewolves and burgeoning teen sexuality, but Green says he didn't think about it that heavily. "It was fun, I had a really good time, and everybody was nice and respectful during my half-naked scenes. I was glad to get to do stuff like that," he adds.
The actor particularly appreciates Oz's wise-beyond-his-years qualities because he's "a little bit" tired of playing so-called typical teenagers. He muses, "I don't want to be ridiculous about it - Scott Wolfe is, what, 28, and he just entered his first year of college on Party of Five?" Green says that the acting challenges of playing a teenager actually grow as he matures. "I have to remember what it was like to be that age, like, being a virgin and having a first kiss, just the awkward shyness that comes with certain ages and certain personalities."
In his upcoming film Can't Hardly Wait, scheduled for release the second week in June to coincide with this spring's spate of high school graduations, Green plays a recent graduate who "is just very uncomfortable with himself, has no success with women, and is a big showboat because he's scared of just being a normal person - I had to try to remember all that, and I hope it comes through." The title is the name of a Replacements song - "they wanted a 'Say Anything' kind of title, to capture the mood, but it was originally called The Party, it's a party movie about six people on graduation night." The film follows the six major characters and everybody else at one party which Green describes as "just nuts."
"I'm really excited about that movie, I had a great, great time filming it, and I hope hope hope that people like it," he notes of Can't Hardly Wait Green also has a role in the political action thriller Enemy of the State, in which Will Smith plays an agent being hunted by the NSA, for whom Green's character works. "Tony Scott found out that all the people in the NSA are recruited at a young age, like straight out of college, so he got a bunch of young kids, me and Jamie Kennedy and Jack Black, in a van, and then there's all these other guys in the field, like Scott Caan and Ian Hart. We're the guys with the headsets, so every time you see an action sequence, we're the people calling up the geographic surveys and the heat maps, and we're saying, 'He's on the fifth floor!' It's really cool, we're all through the movie."
Like the Lone Gunmen on The X-Files, a series on which Green appeared in an early episode? "Not even that quirky - we're just basically yelling all the time, 'Give me the map! Rotate it two paces east!' and so on. It's a very small role - I don't want to mislead anyone, I'm just very excited to be a part of it because I'm a huge Tony Scott fan."
TriStar's Idle Hands, which is still in pre-production, is a teen horror-comedy which the studio describes as a "slacker slasher." All Green will confirm is that his character's name is Mick. Whether he lives or dies is undetermined, but teen horror movies being a predictable genre, there's probably an opportunity for sequel appearances either way.
A veteran of Stephen King'sIt, SeaQuest DSV, and Austin Powers, Green says the preponderance of genre films on his resume were more accidents of casting than something he pursued. "It's all character for me," he notes. "I read a lot of King growing up, I think he's a very talented horror writer, and I see a lot of horror films - I love to see movies, so pretty much any movie that comes out I want to see. I've got pretty extensive knowledge of horror and sci-fi films, suspense and whatnot, I do love that stuff."
Green worked with Buffy co-star Alyson Hannigan in the science fiction comedy My Stepmother Is an Alien, and the two remained friendly during the intervening years. "We had a funny relationship - we would not see each other for a year, and then we'd get in touch and hang out really intensely for about three weeks, and then that would sort of peter off. But I hold her in a very high regard, I enjoy her company, I think she's very, very talented so I was very happy [to work with her again]." Green enjoys the company of many of his castmates, laughing that Sarah Michelle Gellar isn't hard on the eyes either. "When I think of Buffy, all I think is swimsuit!" he jokes. "When I first came to the show, Alyson showed me a picture of her and Sarah, like, heads on top of the bodies of two hard-core sex stars. Funny, but shoddily done. I would appreciate a little higher-quality graphic artists getting into the mix."
The two-parter "Surprise" and "Innocence," in which Buffy lost her virginity and Angel turned to evil, were Green's favorite episodes. "It was so well handled, and it was such a message, really: have sex and your boyfriend will turn into an evil, murdering vampire, and he won't call! I love that episode with the whole rocket launcher and everything." The highlight for the actor, however, was the scene in which his Oz explains to Hannigan's Willow why he won't kiss her, refusing to use their first kiss as a ploy to make Xander jealous and show up Cordelia. "That scene sums up the character for me in a nutshell, because it says, not only am I paying attention to myself and to you, but I'm paying attention to what everyone else is doing, and why. It was just so smartly written, and that's what I want to maintain. That is the character right there."
Though he can't discuss whether Willow will end up with Oz or Xander, Green doesn't sound concerned about losing the girl. "I don't want to make any grand speculations, but I think Oz sees what's standing in the way, and it's worth it to let that come through naturally because he knows what she is." He's not certain how many appearances he'll make next season, but doesn't particularly want to show up in evry episode. "I'd like to see elaboration in certain areas, but the mystery of it is what keeps it exciting right now - nobody knows what this guy's about, which is why people are so interested. As soon as they know, they'll be like, 'All right, who's the new guy?' I hope I keep doing what I'm doing, pretty much, because I'm very pleased with it."
In terms of the violence on Buffy, "It's so sanitized, really, there's almost no blood, and it's intended for mature viewers - it doesn't bother me," he says, reacting strongly to the popular accusation that television promotes violence. "Adults in the '50s were watching incredibly violent cartoons and were growing up in wartime, and nobody was blaming anything on television then," he points out. "A lot of politicians see things that they don't like on TV, and they want to find ways to get it off because they're basically controlling, impotent people who want to exercise some sort of power over something. So they say that Married with Children is promoting poor family values. Yeah - I'm sure Married with Children is responsible for the high divorce rate in the late '80s. It's just ridiculous."
Green admits that he got professionalized at a young age, but says that didn't make him cynical about the industry: "I'm cynical about the world in general," he declares. He thinks the roles for young lods have improved dramatically, and that young actors and actresses are more aware and better trained than his own peers were. Following his first movie, The Hotel New Hampshire, Green played a big role in Woody Allen's Radio Days. "I was pretty young and I really don't remember too much about it, except that Woody Allen was real nice and kind of let me be a kid - there was one point where we were running around with waterguns and stuff, and he allowed that to happen. He wasn't, like 'Be an adult!' He was also not unreceptive."
Green credits his mother for working hard to make sure that opportunities were available to him once she realized that her young son was serious about acting. "I did correspondence schooling and was tutored on sets and stuff, but for the most part people still think that I'm the guy they went to school with - I was out of actual school for awhile when I was working, and I really don't have any quality knowledge of geography or American history, dates and things are very confusing to me. But quite frankly if you asked me what I was doing last week, I couldn't remember either," he admits. Still, he never wavered in his desire to be an actor. "It is that kind of dedication that has made me a success," he says in a phony British announcer's voice.
His training has been mostly on-the-job; while he took an on-camera training class when I first started working, Green says that was the last class he attended regularly. "I have audited a few classes out here, but you need to really agree with the person teaching, and I haven't encountered any - I haven't really actively pursued it either. I assume that if I were going to take on Shakespeare or something like that, I would approach it the same way I take on anything: just try to find the heart and truth of it, and then maybe enhance the theatrics of it. I really love acting. I would like to continue to do things that I haven't done, like this movie I'm about to start working on I'm really excited about because the character has so many layers to him."
Green describes that film, the independent movie Stonebrook, as similar to The Sting and Usual Suspects, with a multifaceted character unlike any he's played before. "I don't want to present it as the be-all and end-all of movies or anything, but it is a very cool script with a great role for me, similar to certain facets that I've played before, and different because it's a mature role that is many different things at once," he explains.
It has occurred to Green to write scripts for himself, but his long-term intention is to become a producer as well. "I've got two friends and our intention is to produce stuff, to give people the opportunity to say what they've got to say, especially with the success of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. That's the way to do it - you write your own ticket and then you can write your own ticket." In ten years, Green says, "I want to be in New York! I love the city. It's gorgeous out here, it's impossible to deny how pretty it is, but the traffic's just ridiculous, and the people - it gets to be a chore. I would like to be in the same place that Danny DeVito or Kevin Spacey or people of that caliber are in, where they're well-known in the industry, they are constantly getting good roles. I would like to be producing and still acting, and modestly successful at both."
For the present, however, he's pretty happy where he is, with his friends in the cast and the crew which he describes as "so great." Green even has a budding fan club, started by a girl who contacted him about helping her set up a web site devoted to him. "I personally tend to avoid things like that, just because I feel like I'm personally supporting my own ego a little too heavily, and I'd just assume not do that," he says wryly. "But it's cool."