(Originally published in OC WEEKLY, 15 April 2004)
In Bandwagon, one of the standout pictures in this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival, former Buffy the Vampire Slayer regular Emma Caulfield portrays herself as a self-absorbed starlet who distracts herself from her career’s downward spiral by throwing her energy into various causes, chief among them trying to make a star of Tubie (writer/director Karri Bowman), a fumbly aspiring actress who may or may not be retarded. It’s a scathingly hilarious mockumentary guaranteed to piss a lot of people off, and in it, Caulfield demonstrates more bravery than in all the seasons she spent lopping the heads off vampires.
OC Weekly: What was the genesis of this project?
Emma Caulfield: I’d been friends with Karri Bowman for years; she’s an actress I met through a mutual friend. She’d been doing this character, Tubie, since she was, like, 14 years old. You could never figure out if Tubie was retarded or what was going on, and I thought she was hilarious but also really endearing. We’d sit around in my living room for hours, and she’d do Tubie, and I’d do Emma Caulfield, asshole celebrity, and they’d interact. At some point, I said, “You know, we should do a Tubie movie.” So, Karri got together with a friend, and they hammered out a script, and then we also improvised some things around that.
How much does the Emma in the film reflect the real you? You’re politically conservative in real life, and I wondered if the film’s Emma is meant as a conservative caricature of do-gooder, Hollywood lefties. I know you really do endorse animal rights, so obviously you have some things in common with her.
Well, let me tell you my take on the Emma in the film: she’s not very bright. She’s well-intentioned, very passionate and self-righteous, but she’s easily distracted when a new cause comes along. In some ways, she reminds me of the character I played on Buffy because she’s extremely focused and she doesn’t always consider the consequences of what she does. Anybody who knows me would tell you that the Emma of the film is not me. Well, she’s what I could become if the worst part of me went unchecked. She’s what I easily could be, but I’m not.
In this movie, you allow yourself to look like this self-absorbed, pushy, desperate woman whose career is falling apart. Weren’t you worried that this could backfire on you professionally and cost you work?
I was. But I wanted to do this film more than I was worried. I’ve been working in Hollywood long enough and I know enough people that I hoped people in the industry would know that the Emma in the film is not me. I wanted Emma to be always right on this precipice between big things happening for her and absolute disaster. I don’t think I’m really on that precipice, but . . . it’s fun to pretend. I hoped the people I respect in Hollywood would recognize that this is my take on the industry, where it seems like everybody’s out for everybody. It’s just a joke; it’s not the real me.
Have you gotten any flack from advocates for the retarded because of this film?
No . . . but nobody’s really seen the film yet! There have been some angry people on the film’s message board: “Emma Caulfield is making fun of the retarded!” “My cousin is mentally challenged! How dare she?!” “Emma played a demon on Buffy. . . . Is she a demon in real life?” But these are people who haven’t seen the film. Hopefully when they see it, they’ll see it’s not attacking retarded people. But I did want to challenge people and make them think. I mean, really, if somebody’s funny, whether they’re retarded or whatever, why isn’t it okay to laugh?
Of course, the people at my agency were very concerned when I decided to do this film. They told me we couldn’t go ahead until we got the mentally challenged groups to sign off on it, and I told them, “No, I don’t want them to sign off on it! That’s not what this movie’s about—it could ruin it.” I mean, I look at what’s been happening with free speech in this country, at the way Howard Stern is being treated by the FCC, for instance, and it appalls me. I wanted us to make a really strong statement against this whole repressive climate.
I wondered if, on some level, this movie was your attempt to throw off any of that teen-role-model stuff left over from Buffy. I can imagine some young Buffy fans being really outraged by this.
So can I. I’m big on irony—maybe that’s something I got from working with [Buffy creator] Joss Whedon. . . . So when Buffy ended, I wanted to do something risky. I didn’t set out to offend people really, but hopefully, they’ll see a new side of me. I’m very grateful to the fans. They’re loyal people, and when you do something new, there’s already a lot of people with some interest in it. That’s a great thing.
Can I ask you a question? What did you think of the Emma Caulfield you saw in Bandwagon?
Of your performance? Or the character?
Well . . . the Emma in the film was very complex. She was kind of dumb and self-serving, but at the same time, you couldn’t help but root for her. She did mean well. And I was honestly impressed by the bravery of your performance. You went to such dark places, and you let yourself look so awful.
Yay! [Laughs] That’s pretty much what I was going for.
Really, you should be proud of this thing. Since Bandwagon could be kind of a tricky sell, I wondered if there was anything you wanted to say to people to get them to come out and see it?
[Long pause] I would say that whether they love or hate the film, they won’t be bored. I’m prepared for some people to hate the film, or maybe they’ll love it and hate it, and I welcome that. It’ll make you think. It’s like watching a train wreck . . . but in a good way!