Buffy The Vampire Slayer's James Marsters Pulled Out All The Stops To Keep Spike Alive

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" featured a cast of unforgettable characters. The seminal series, which just turned 25 years old, preferred to work in shades of grey rather than the simple binary of good vs. evil. All of the show's characters were flawed, complicated people, even the titular heroine. In fact, a fan-favorite character started out as a Big Bad who wasn't meant to last nearly as long as he did, let alone evolve into a character worth rooting for — though if we're all being honest, plenty of us were rooting for him even when he was a straight-up villain.

Also known as William the Bloody, Spike was introduced in season 2, episode 3, "School Hard." Brilliantly played by James Marsters, Spike rolled into Sunnydale with his girlfriend Drusilla (the equally excellent Juliet Landau) in the hopes of wreaking havoc in the Hellmouth town. Of course, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) wasn't having any of it, and sent him packing on more than one occasion. However, the vampire was never supposed to be around that long in the first place.

Spike is hardly the only character series creator Joss Whedon planned to kill off early on. Several others, including Faith (Eliza Dushku), Anya (Emma Caulfield), and even Angel (David Boreanaz), all survived past their initial expiration dates, with the latter even starring in his own spin-off. However, Spike's longevity might be even more impressive considering the fact that Whedon apparently wasn't too happy about the character's popularity (via "Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum"). So, how did an actor hired for a few episodes manage to stick around for practically the entire series?

The other vampire with a soul

Marsters was originally hired for just five episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He was intended to be one of Angelus' first victims after he lost his soul, leading to Buffy's former beau terrorizing Sunnydale with Drusilla. Things began to change when Spike quickly emerged as a fan-favorite, which is ultimately what wound up granting him a stay of execution. It can be difficult to predict which characters the audience will connect with, but there were no plans for Spike to be beloved by anyone. Despite that, Marsters has previously stated that he played Spike from the onset as though he had a soul, which likely added a depth to the character that resonated with fans. When asked about this, he told Observer:

"I was pulling out all the stops in order to not get killed off. Joss said, 'You are a soulless vampire. Vampires on this show are a metaphor for all the trials of being a teenager. I'm not interested in vampires that we feel for. That's why you guys are ugly and horrific when you bite someone and I don't want that to be a sensual moment. So you have no soul, that's your character.'"

This makes sense considering the only vampire who was even remotely close to being a three-dimensional character on the show prior to Spike and Dru was Angel — though he was much more fleshed out in his own series. However, Marsters had other ideas, pretty much undercutting Whedon's instructions from the start. He continued:

"I said, 'Yes, sir. No problem dude.' He turns his back and I'm like, 'No way in Hell.' If you play it like that, the audience has nothing to grab onto and there's no reason not to kill you off. I always say when you are doing anything in art, you got to find the love. It could be love denied, love twisted, it doesn't have to be sweet, but you have to find the love. Then you find the gold in the mountain, and then you have the rocket fuel and you can go anywhere."

Marsters even spoke specifically about a line from the season 2 episode "Innocence," in which Drusilla is telling him that she's naming all the stars. Spike responds by saying, "You can't see the stars, love. That's the ceiling. Also it's day." The line was meant to be delivered in a way that would make Spike seem unkind, but that wasn't Masters' interpretation. He explained:

"That line is actually the one I had to deal with the most. I decided to rest my chin on my hand like, 'You are so weird and that's what I love about you. My favorite thing about is [sic] you is that you are seeing the stars, but it's the ceiling. I just fell in love with you again.' But back then he was supposed to be kind of a jerk boyfriend, because he was going to get killed by Angel and she was going to take up with Angel, so Spike was being set up so the audience was not going to feel so bad when he got killed off."

Fans fell hard for Spike

While all of the recurring characters on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" evolved quite a bit by the series' end, Spike's arc still stands out as one of the show's most compelling. His character development is even more impressive when you consider that he was meant to be a villain who was offed after a handful of episodes. He wasn't even planned as season 2's Big Bad. When looking back on Marsters' performance, it's easy to see that the actor portrayed the vampire with far more heart than the typical bloodsucker. This was even written into the script when the Judge notes that Spike and Dru "stink of humanity" in the season 2 episode "Surprise." Their deep connection is one of the things that made fans root for them, despite the fact that they were undeniably villains. As Marsters said, it gave viewers something to connect with. Had he played Spike the way the vampire was written (and intended), fans likely would've had a far less favorable reaction to him.

When Spike secretly teams up with Buffy in the season 2 finale, it's an exciting moment — not just because viewers were rooting for Buffy to emerge victorious, but also because no one wanted the villainous vampire couple to be killed off. In fact, I was so in love with Spike and Dru together that it took me quite a while to come around the romance between Spike and Buffy. When Drusilla returned in the season 5 episode "Crush" only to be rejected by Spike, he broke my heart right along with hers.

Spike sped away from Sunnydale at the end of season 2, returning once for season 3, and Marsters was a series regular by the fourth year. He would remain so until the end of the show's run, with Spike even regaining his soul at the end of season 6. The vampire would also manage to cheat death yet again: After Spike sacrifices himself in the series finale "Chosen," he was quickly resurrected over on "Angel" for what sadly turned out to be that show's final season. 

Marsters left an indelible mark on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." It's difficult to imagine what the series would look like had he been killed off in season 2 as originally intended. He gave us an incredible portrayal of a character that fans truly grew to love, even though that wasn't the intention of the show's creator.