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BUFFY Writer Douglas Petrie
This good guy likes writing about bad girls.
By Denise Dumars
February 16, 2000
'She's a new girl. This is Faith in the year 2000,' Douglas Petrie says of his upcoming episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, entitled 'This Year's Girl.' He adds with a laugh, 'It's also the name of an old Elvis Costello song I like a lot.'
Douglas Petrie sounds boyish and charming. He hides his upper-crust, East Coast past well and could pass for a Valley boy. But there's something else going on inside the former Long Island native and College of William and Mary graduate. After all, the BUFFY character he most identifies with is slayer-gone-bad Faith. For example, no one would guess from his hard-edged BUFFY episodes, including the Faith-heavy 'Revelations,' 'Bad Girls,' and 'Enemies,' that he started out his screenwriting career in children's entertainment.
'HARRIET THE SPY was one of my favorite books as a kid,' he says. 'It's really kind of a dark book. I was proud to work on the script, and I felt I brought it to the screen in the best way I could, but Nickelodeon was maybe not the best production company for it, as they're all about the light. I wish it could have been darker.' His work with Nickelodeon also brought him to series television, and he wrote for their show CLARISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL.
'I never wanted to write for TV,' he says, still marveling at ending up on one of the most popular TV shows currently in production. 'BUFFY changed my mind about all that, which is a testament to Joss Whedon. I auditioned for BUFFY by turning in an X-FILES script and
a SIMPSONS script,' he states, adding that Joss Whedon is 'the best boss I've ever had.'
Petrie explains his interest in Faith. 'The thing about Faith is that she desperately wants to be someone. She's really envious of Buffy. She has all this pain and denial inside; she's really stuck, in her own mind, in the role of victim. That's how she justifies her actions. I see Faith as Buffy's dark sister. There's even a line I have her say when Buffy stabs her with her own knife: 'Look at you, all dressed up in big sister's clothes.' That about says it. She wants to be Buffy's best friend, her sister. But she can't be. She's lost. She's doomed herself by her own actions.'
In the upcoming two-parter--Petrie wrote the first installment, 'This Year's Girl,' with Whedon writing and directing the second--Faith comes out of her coma. 'She will be dealt with by the legal system,' Petrie says, reminding us that after all, Faith is a murderess. 'Whether she decides to own up to what she's done, or run away, is up to her. She could get away, since she's a slayer.'
Petrie refuses to divulge any secrets. What he does tell is that Faith will jump to the ANGEL series for a couple of episodes, 'to take care of the unfinished business she has with Angel.'
Petrie enjoys talking about his episode, 'Enemies,' in which Angel goes bad and he and Faith have a rather torrid scene before tying up Buffy and torturing her. 'Did they have sex? You could interpret it that way,' Petrie says. 'And Buffy's pretty upset about it. She decides after that, that she and Angel need some space in their relationship,' he says. 'Of course, I love the last line of that show, which Joss rewrote from my original and made better. 'I'm the best actor in town,' Buffy says after it is revealed that this was all a set-up by Angel and Buffy to get information on the Mayor's Ascension from Faith. 'Second best,' Angel says. We're left wondering just how much of what went on was acting on Angel's part.' Petrie goes on to say that 'Enemies' was the most popular episode he wrote; it's the one he's gotten the most feedback on from fans.
Petrie also wrote episode 48''Bad Girls' was fun,' he says. 'Faith said to Buffy, 'Come out and play,' but Faith played too rough. In this episode she staked a mortal, and that was the turning point for her character.' Petrie continues his outlook on the character of Faith: 'Once she killed a human being, it got easier for her. She doesn't care. But she is, of course, human--there was a scene I wanted to write for her. In the scene, she knows she's going to die, that the Ascension will be foiled--and so she calls her mother, one last time. Her mother says, 'I'm watching TV right now--can you call back later?' That scene would have explained a lot about Faith.'
Petrie says that, believe it or not, Captain Ahab of MOBY DICK is his inspiration for the Faith character. 'There's a scene in MOBY DICK where Captain Ahab is far out at sea and gets a whiff of New England air. For a moment--just a moment--he remembers what it was like to be a real person instead of this obsessed creature he has become. For an instant he's that down-east New Englander, and it's terribly sad. Then he goes back to being the single-minded monster he has become.
'I was thrilled to get episode 41,' he says of his first writing assignment for the series. 'It was the Faith-heavy episode 'Revelations.' In it, Buffy and Faith have their first fight. They're like Betty and Veronica--if Veronica was really cool and Betty could kick your ass. Serena Scott Thomas was great in that episode--she played Gwendolyn Post, Faith's supposed new Watcher, who is like a surrogate mother for Faith. One thing I liked was when Post comes to Faith's crummy hotel room. Faith starts to apologize for it, and Post says, 'No, it's Spartan; you're a warrior.' If Post had really been a Watcher, Faith's life would have been very different.'
Petrie continues to explain why he likes Faith. 'In some ways, she's really, really cool. She has so much pride, yet there's still that pain. In a way, it's made her stronger. She's also incredibly self-destructive and self-loathing. In some ways, Buffy is the stronger of the two. And I always wrote Faith as drinking and smoking, but we can't do that on the show. Faith would like you to believe that she's a total nihilist. But deep down, she isn't.'
Will he reveal more about 'This Year's Girl'? 'My favorite phrase is, 'stay tuned,'' he says, but he does divulge a little bit more information. 'While she's in a coma, Faith has all these dreams. In the dreams, Buffy is the villain, and Faith is the victim. Faith continually sees herself as a victim, and that's part of her problem. The Mayor may make an appearance in her dreams--he was her father figure, and in real life he's now dead. Everyone who has loved Faith has left her, in one way or another. The dreams tell her that it's time to wake up. And when she does, Buffy is very much in danger.'
Petrie also talks about the general direction the show is taking, especially in relation to the X-FILES-like Initiative, a new monster-hunting para-military group introduced this season. 'Riley, of the Initiative, is a secret agent. So in some ways, I've gotten to write that James Bond-type story I always fantasized about doing. Riley is a good guy caught in a bad situation. We're building to a climax with the Initiative. The climax will end this season.'
Other characters will find their lives changed as well. 'Willow is just so good that she's a doormat,' Petrie says. 'Then she got a little bit of 'bad Willow' and was less of a doormat. Now she'll be faced with another turning point in her life. I pitched a story about a bad Buffy. But that's what Faith is, really.'
Looking back on the earlier phase of his career, Petrie explains that he started out as an actor, then switched to writing in college. 'They had a great program at William and Mary. You could write a one-act play one semester, and have it produced the next. So I wrote tons of one-act plays. It's where I learned the writing skills.'
Petrie was also part of an innovative theatre troupe called the Cornerstone Theatre Company, which began at Harvard. The company traveled the country, putting on classic plays rewritten to take place in the city in which they were performed. 'I was the worst stage manager ever,' he says. 'I built sets that fell down. I'm amazed nobody got killed, and I'm amazed that they didn't fire me. They decided it would be safer to let me write,' he laughs.
'One of the reasons I'm here,' he says of his job at BUFFY, 'is that I get paid for being smart. Our show is smart; our dialogue is smart. This is the best working environment I've ever been in. I can't praise Joss Whedon too highly.'
He also worked for VH1 before coming to Nickelodeon, and then to BUFFY. But what does he really want to do? 'I'd still like to be in movies,' he says. 'I still want to direct. That's my ultimate goal.'
And as Doug Petrie would say, let's stay tuned, and see what happens.