One of the most endearing aspects of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was her friendship to social awkward goof, Xander Harris. He truly did goof up a lot during the show, but it was hard to hate him. Even when the character was at his most annoying, it was hard for audiences not to have a soft spot for him, and with good reason. Played by Nicholas Brendon in nearly every episode of the show (he only missed the episode “Conversations with Dead People”), audiences spent 143 episodes of their time with Xander. They watched him grow, they watched him mature — well, somewhat mature — into an adult with responsibilities, and they watched him remain unapologetically loyal and protective of his friends.
Even when that amount of overwhelming responsibility left him often left him heartbroken, physically broken, mentally drained, and without an eye, he still could not help but stick to his friends like glue, and we admire that. For all of the wonderful things there are to rave about him, there are also a number of things that leave us shocked about him. Things that pertain to what we have seen from him on camera, and the BTS tidbits surrounding his character off camera. Here are some examples.
15. HE CAME UP WITH THE SHAWARMA LINE FROM THE AVENGERS
Not a lot of people realize this, but the script for Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie is littered with references to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For example, the Budapest reference between Hawkeye and Black Widow originated in a season one exchange between Angel and Darla from the episode “Angel.” Even more shocking, there’s a line near the end where Tony Stark suggests to his teammates that they go get some shawarma. Oddly enough, this line is a call back to when Joss Whedon first met Nicholas Brendon during his audition for Xander.
After the audition, a fluttered Brendon asks Whedon and the casting agents, “Anybody feel like shawarma? I feel like some shawarma.” Whedon describes that ad-lib as the moment he knew Brendon would be the perfect Xander. The word “shawarma” changed Brendon’s life forever, so he used the same line after Tony’s near death experience.
14. HE WAS ALMOST PLAYED BY RYAN REYNOLDS
In the late ’90s, Ryan Reynolds was on the steady rise in his career as a teen heartthrob. After co-starring alongside Melissa Joan Hart in the 1996 tv movie Sabrina the Teenage Witch (which also served as a pilot for the show of the same name), Reynolds was offered the role of Xander Harris for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He was quick to pass on it because, as he once explained in an interview, he “didn’t want to play a guy in high school. I had just come out of high school and it was BLEEPING awful!”
It seems to all have worked out for the best because shortly afterwards, Reynolds received the breakout role that put him on the map as Van Wilder. And Nicholas Brendon turned out to be the perfect Xander.
13. HIS NAME IS A CALLBACK TO THE ORIGINAL MOVIE
To many fans, the name Xander always seemed like a perfect name for the character since the name originates from the Greek translations of “to defend” and “man warrior.” While he does tend to protect and defend his friends a lot, the name for the character has a much deeper meaning than a lot of people may think.
The name was chosen for the character because the name Xander is similar to “zander”, which is a fish that is similar to pike fish. This may seem irrelevant at first glance, but it is a direct reference to Pike, Buffy’s boyfriend/sidekick (played by Rick Perry) from the non-canon 1992 film, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Therefore, this is an extremely subtle callback to the original movie that started it all.
12. HE’S BASED ON JOSS WHEDON HIMSELF
Joss Whedon cherishes an extreme closeness to all of the characters he wrote for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but he especially feels a deep connection with Xander Harris. In fact, Whedon has expressed on numerous occasion that he deeply relates to the character and that Xander is actually based on Whedon himself.
During the audio commentary for the episode “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” Whedon had this to say: “Xander, I’ve always identified as the figure I most was like, ’cause he did have that inability to sort of…talk to the girl and come through in the big moment. And he does make an idiot of himself a lot. Of course, he’s a lot prettier and more muscular than anybody who acts like that should should be, but this is television. So get over it.”
11. HE DATED DAWN IN THE COMICS
Xander’s relationship with Dawn in the comic books is really gross when we remember how their relationship played out over the course of the actual show. There was once a time when Dawn had a crush on Xander when she was a child, but Xander did not in any way whatsoever reciprocate these feelings because he saw her as a little sister. Well, little sister’s all grown up now, so they start boinking after randomly deciding to confess their feelings to each other. Gross.
Things get even grosser when Buffy confesses her own feelings to Xander after watching him kiss her sister, even though the two swore way back in season one to be just friends. This whole thing’s just a mess. Thankfully, Dawn and Xander forget their love for each other when magic vanishes from the world at the end of season eight.
10. HE WAS ALMOST KILLED OFF IN SEASON FIVE
For as many near death experiences that Xander went through over the course of the entire series, there were a couple instances where he actually almost was killed off by the writers. In one instance, during season five, writers flirted with the idea of making Xander Glory’s alter ego, revealing that Glory’s memory glitch spell had been affecting the entire audience this whole time, much like how it affected the characters in the wake of Dawn’s presence.
Had this happened, we likely would have seen Xander die along with Glory. Or, least likely, Glory and Xander would have split from each other in two separate bodies. Ultimately, these discussions never amounted to anything more than discussions and Ben turned out to be Glory’s alter ego.
9. DANNY STRONG ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR XANDER
The character of Jonathan was always portrayed as a character who is just as nerdy (if not more) as Xander. With this in mind, it makes sense when we find out that the actor who played Jonathan, Danny Strong, had originally auditioned for the role of Xander Harris. Although the role ultimately went to Nicholas Brendon, Joss Whedon was so impressed with Danny Strong that he offered Strong the part of Jonathan Levinson.
He accepted and appeared in the show’s pilot episode. Although he wouldn’t play Jonathan again until season two, Strong would appear in a total of 30 episodes over the course of the show, the second most out of anyone not apart of the main cast. Strong probably expected a lot less upon losing that Xander audition.
8. HE HAS A TWIN IN REAL LIFE
The season five episode “The Replacement” sees a demon split Xander into two halves, with his clone seemingly being a much better version of Xander. Given the impressive capabilities of technology at the time, it would seem as though the show’s creators used CGI to create a whole new Xander, but actually, that isn’t any kind of special effect. Nicholas Brendon actually has a real life twin — Kelly Donovan — who came onboard to play his on-screen clone.
In fact, he has played Xander before in more than just that one episode. Well, kind of. While him and his brother didn’t switch roles every now and again as if they were Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen on the set of Full House, Kelly did on occasion work as Brendon’s stunt double.
7. HE’S A SERVANT TO DRACULA IN THE COMICS
The first time that Buffy butts heads with Dracula is during the season five premiere. In that episode, Dracula briefly turns Xander into his manservant before being on his merry way. Apparently, Xander and Dracula continued to keep in touch through letters and in the comic book continuation, the two reunited. Following the destruction of Sunnydale and the death of Anya at the end of season seven, Xander took a trip to Africa and, eventually, Transylvania where he resumed his duties as Dracula’s servant for several months in his castle.
Buffy showed up to rescue Xander, but under his master’s trance, Xander tried to fight her off. Ultimately, Dracula realized that Xander belonged with his friends and let him go. The two parted ways as friends.
6. NICHOLAS BRENDON ASKED TO MOVE TO ANGEL
When the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired, audiences expected it to be the final time we would ever see or hear from any of the characters in the main cast, particularly the Scoobies. While that did turn out to be the case (until the comic book continuation, of course), we almost nearly got one of the Scoobies heading over to Buffy’s sister show, Angel.
After the seventh season wrapped up, Nicholas Brendon asked Joss Whedon if his character, Xander, could head over to Los Angeles and join the cast of Angel. Whedon never gave the idea much thought because he didn’t think Xander fit into Angel’s life or his grittier L.A. lifestyle. Instead, Whedon thought that Spike would fit much closer align with the show’s tone and he was the one to join Angel’s fifth season.
5. HE PITCHED A XANDER/BUFFY RELATIONSHIP
During the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander expressed signs that he had a crush on Buffy, but ultimately, the two agreed to just be friends and that’s how they remained for the entirety of the show. Although, there was a big chance that Xander and Buffy would have hooked up in season seven had Joss Whedon agreed with Nicholas Brendon and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s pitch to allow the friends to become lovers.
After Xander’s falling out with Anya and Spike’s attempted attack on Buffy, both actors thought a relationship between the two would make sense. Whedon disagreed in Buffy/Xander having anything more than unrequited love for each other, especially since the fan response to Spike/Buffy made him want to continue that relationship instead.
4. NICHOLAS BRENDON GOT JENNY CALENDAR’S NAME CHANGED
Well, not directly, nor intentionally. Jenny Calendar’s name being changed due to Nicholas Brendon’s own actual real name was more of a creative decision made by Joss Whedon for the sake of a last minute oversight. See, originally, the season two character of Jenny Calendar was named Nikki Calendar. While filming scenes on the set, everybody called Nicholas Brendon “Nicky.” Understandably, this would easily cause some confusion.
Whenever someone would say “Nikki,” there would be confusion as to whether that someone would be calling for Robia LaMorte’s character, or Nicholas Brendon. When Joss Whedon realized that on-set confusion would be afoot, he re-named Robia LaMorte’s character from Nikki Calendar to Jenny Calendar. Everything else about the character remained the same, but the name had to be changed.
3. PRODUCERS TOLD NICHOLAS BRENDON TO STOP WORKING OUT
In both movies and TV shows, actors are expected to take the necessary steps to make sure their body type fits the character they play. As with any acting role, the television execs behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer expect their actors to look the part. Which is why Nicholas Brendon was told first hand by producers that he needed to stop working out while filming, because they did not want Xander to look “too buffed.”
While Brendon never looked huge enough to ever be acquainted to being “buff,” there were some shirtless scenes that he filmed over the course of the show — specifically during the “Go Fish” episode of season two — that Nicholas Brendon did look a little muscular. A little too muscular, in fact, to be believed as a scrawny, socially inept nerd on the Scoobie team.
2. HE WAS ALMOST KILLED OFF IN SEASON SEVEN
In season seven, the writers strongly considered killing off Xander in the episode “Dirty Girls.” The scenario would have seen Caleb kill him off and for the rest of the season, The First would have appeared in the form of Xander. Having the season’s Big Bad take the shape, form, and likeness of a much more evil version of Xander after we grew to love him as a member of the Scoobies would have certainly raised the stakes even higher than they already were, especially during the final battle in the finale.
However, Joss Whedon came to his senses and decided not to go this route because it would have given the main characters insufficient time to grieve. The characters would have no time to mourn a longtime character before jumping back into battle.
1. HE WAS ALMOST MADE GAY INSTEAD OF WILLOW
When Joss Whedon first created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he knew that he wanted one of Buffy’s best friends to be gay, but he wasn’t sure who between Xander and Willow. To cover his bases, Whedon foreshadowed both of their possible coming outs, with the instance featuring Xander in the episode “Phases” during his multiple exchanges with closeted football jock, Larry.
It appears that had Seth Green not abruptly decided to leave — drastically altering storyline plans for Oz and Willow — Xander would have been the one to come out the closet. After all, story wise, Xander is noticeably directionless for the better part of season four. Maybe that’s because Whedon had nothing for him to do once his plans for Xander to come out as gay backfired.
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