Juliet Landau, who played the ultimate vampire villain Drusilla in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and subsequently Angel, is keeping the vampire theme alive in her feature film directorial debut with A Place Among The Dead, but in a way you may not expect.
“I wanted to make a movie about the repercussions of growing up under this sway of narcissism and evil,” Landau told Yahoo Canada. “I thought that the vampire was the perfect metaphor for the ultimate narcissist.”
A Place Among the Dead is a scripted film but explores the cultural obsession with vampires in a kind of mockumentary format. Landau describes it as “a meld of fact, fiction, and the fantastical.”
“I wanted to use the genre, first of all, to make an entertaining movie, but also to lull the audience into a sense of safety to explore radical ideas,” she said.
Landau not only directed the film but is playing a role as well, an alter ego of herself. Several other vampire-related stars are featured in the film, also playing alter egos of themselves, including Joss Whedon (the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), Gary Oldman (1992’s Bram Stoker's Dracula), Anne Rice (author of “The Vampire Chronicles” adapted in two films, Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned).
“The character definitely goes on an enormous arc and the lines of reality get blurred,” she explains. “I play myself and...I'm interviewing Joss...and things get a little bit more and more out of control as everything unravels in the course of the film.”
“We wanted to include people who had done projects or created projects, or been involved with the vampire universe, and I was so fortunate to have these incredible people come on board,” Landau said. “They really believed in the message of the movie and the vision that I had for it.”
Just before COVID-19 measures started being implemented around the world, Landau was able to hold some sneak peaks of the film, which set the film’s anticipated release off to a great start.
“People stayed for two hours afterwards, unprovoked to not only talk about the movie, they began sharing intensely personal stories,” Landau shared.
“Narcissism, obviously right now, and evil is abundant in our society, and if you come from that, if you've been reared under that, it's a conversation that we haven’t as a society really been allowed to talk about. That's one of the things that I'm looking forward to is the dialogue that it's opening up.”
Landau still has love for the Buffyverse
The level of engagement with A Place Among the Dead isn’t surprising coming from an actor who was in one of the most iconic television series’ in history, with some of the most devoted fans who are committed to the Buffyverse. Landau praised the “wonderful” fans of the show that not only continue to watch the series years later, but continue to follow the show’s stars to this day.
“I think that the writing is so brilliant on Buffy and everything has a deeper meaning,” Landau said when reflecting on why the show became such a hit. “Everything's rooted. The whole metaphor there is high school as a nightmare, which I think pretty much everybody on the planet can relate to.”
“It takes that paradigm to the absolute extreme,...your mother's nightmare boyfriend is literally a demon.”
Although this is her first feature directorial debut, Landau was able to work with some of Hollywood’s greatest directors before taking on the role herself, not only while playing Drusilla but also in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood and The Grifters with Stephen Frears.
“The common thread with all those amazing directors is that they create an environment that is open and collaborative, that they have a really clear vision but there's a freedom as well, so it's kind of a focused fun,” she explained. “I really wanted to try to create that same kind of atmosphere.”
For A Place Among the Dead, the cast was able to have a rehearsal period so, as Landau described, everyone came to the set having already lived as the characters.
“With the interview sections, which we scripted, that was really a cool process because we were capturing the essence, and the quality and the voice of each person,...and trying to make it seem as unscripted and as spontaneous as possible,” she said.
The film is being distributed by Modern Films, a female-led film production and distribution operation, which is a theme that extended into the execution of A Plan Among the Dead as well.
“We didn't necessarily search out women, but so many women ended up being just the perfect fit,” Landau said. “We have a tremendous amount of female actors, our makeup and hair department, our costume designer, our production designer,...our composer.”
The release plan for the film also includes a number of virtual Q&A events, Buffy-centric “Halloween Among The Dead” on Oct. 30 with Harry Groener (Mayor Richard Wilkins on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and his wife Dawn Didawick, who are also in the film, in addition to an Oct. 31 event at Tomorrow’s Ghost “Virtual Halloween” festival with David J from the band Bauhaus.
This is all before the film’s PVOD release on Nov. 9.
“Hopefully everybody takes something different, the great movies that I love people interpret in different ways, but I feel like it's an alternative narrative about this subject that hasn't really been tackled before,” Landau said.