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Michelle Trachtenberg - Interviewed at the Buffy soundstage August 23rd 2001
Tell us how you came to join the show.
I had known Sarah since we worked together on All My Children. We worked together for about two and half years, and we had kept in touch through the years when she moved to Hollywood and began building her career from that point.
I had actually started watching [Buffy] because of Sarah, because I was a fan of her movies. I kept on watching the show because it was, well, it's silly hearing from a cast member that they think their show's brilliant, but it really is. We have a great team of writers, we have a wonderful ensemble cast, and it's really a great team effort on all parts.
I kept in touch with Sarah through the years, and because Buffy had become my real favourite show, I had always tried to think of ways for me to guest star on the show, and I heard about the call one day. Sarah was always very supportive.
The funny thing is that our creator and executive producer Joss Whedon had been creating Dawn for about two and a half years, and there had been previous mentions of her all through the seasons of Buffy. Actually, I believe in the third season, one of the characters says, "Three hundred and something", which is the number of days from that point that I would appear on the show. Which is awesome.
Tell us a little about Dawn's development.
I was introduced to the show like, "Boom, here I am!" Take it or leave it, and I hope you take it.
Dawn was introduced as Buffy's sister, and she's just a regular teenage girl, she has her opinions on the world and all that. I never like to think ahead to the end of the season, "Oh, will I be coming back," because if you're thinking too much about the technicalities of what you do, you can't really put all the creative ingredients into what you're doing now. That was a big thing for me especially playing Dawn, because I didn't know that much about her at all.
My meeting with Joss at the beginning of the season was kind of like, "Alright, welcome to the cast, you're a teenager, you're a Key, have fun." So I had to take from areas that really weren't giving much to come up with a character.
What really helped and was very lucky was the fact that I was such a huge fan of the show that I understood how things were going to play out. Not that I knew what was going to happen during the course of the season, but I could guess.
It was really interesting to see all the hardships Dawn goes through, because even though she has this secret, she still has to play out her life like a regular teenage girl. She has to go to school, she has to do her chores and homework, she has to keep her room clean.
Maintaining the myth
Does the amount of continuity in Buffy ever cause problems?
Actually, one of my favourite things to do whenever I'm on the set, whenever I'm reading a script is to go through each and every part, no matter what it is, every single detail I pay attention to, every single word, because each and everything is very important.
I love finding little references to the past seasons in the script, because I know exactly what they're talking about. I'm like, "Oh, I understand why, all those seasons back, that person decided to move to this town, it's because of what's happening now."
Continuity-wise, we have pretty good continuity girls, and our scripts advisors are always watching out for silly things like, in one scene, I was turned around this way and my hair was here, then when I turned around [it was wrong]. Things like that they catch right away, they're really really great about that.
I'm usually the one who leaves a water bottle on set, because it gets thirsty under those bright lights.
Have you felt any real-life crushes on the male cast members?
It's really difficult for me to say, because I work with Nick and James every day, and they're both really really great, but it's kind of like having a crush on your brother.
You get used to seeing them every day, they make fun of you like a little sister, and so you make fun of them like a big brother, and you have fun with each other on the set, just hanging out, so crushes just don't come into play.
I mean, they're both very attractive, don't get me wrong, but, it's all weird.
What's your favourite Buffy episode?
People are going to say, "Well of course she'd pick that episode," but I loved [Hush]. Any episode that Joss has written and directed has truly had a great impact on the viewers, and Hush, which he got an Emmy nomination for, was an absolutely incredible episode. To have an entire show being practically silent except for about six minutes was incredible.
I love the episode where Faith and Buffy switch places [too]. They do this whole shape-shifter changer thing and switch roles, and both actors got to experience what the other one was like. That was fun. Or the episode where [Buffy] killed Angel, that was all very sad.
How do you deal with school when you're filming?
I have to always have a teacher on set. Education's very important to me. I believe that, god forbid, if this acting thing doesn't work out for me, I have to have a solid background behind me, and I've been raised believing that education is very enriching and very important, and that's the moral that I've applied to my life.
I want to go to university one day, I want to got to college and I want to major in the behind-the-camera stuff. I want to learn how to make movies, because I already know what to do if I'm in a movie, and I want to know what to do if I'm trying to make one.
Every time that you guys don't see me, I'm running up to school to finish tests, I'm doing all the homework, I'm doing everything my friends do in class. In a way it's almost harder, because I don't have the classroom experience.
Do you use your time on set to learn about the technical side of things?
I just learnt the other day how to focus a camera. It's just awesome, you have to do this whole tape-measure thing, then you measure the lights, then you adjust your camera and then you have to set up your shot, and it's all very exciting.
I try to learn as much as I possibly can because I know that one day that is my goal, to actually write and direct, and the fact that I have already thirteen years of experience has to give me something. I would hope that people when I'm older don't think, "Oh, she's a new little director," but it'll be like, "This may be her first actual film that she herself is directing, but she's had twenty-five years of experience."