Will ‘Buffy’ Role Slay ‘Em? : Mission Viejo’s Kristy Swanson Is No Stranger to Outrageous Parts


Kristy Swanson’s last few movie roles have taken her on a twisted trip through Fantasyland.

In last year’s “Mannequin Two: On the Move,” she was the department store mannequin that comes to life, while in this year’s favorably reviewed but little-seen “Highway to Hell,” she was kidnaped and taken to Hades. Also last year, in the slapstick farce “Hot Shots,” Swanson played a combat pilot whose colleagues somehow fail to notice she’s a woman.

Her latest project finds her on what could be her most outrageous turf yet. In “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” opening countywide today, she plays a quintessentially mall-crazed Southern California high school senior who takes on a new extracurricular activity: driving wooden stakes through the hearts of the “undead.”


“The most important things in life to (Buffy) are what’s the best car to drive, food to eat, movie to see, clothes to wear,” Swanson said. “It’s all basically materialistic. She really has no form of morals or values in her life.”

The movie’s take on mall culture shouldn’t be too alien to Swanson, 22, who grew up in Mission Viejo. Buffy’s life takes a bizarre twist, though, when she meets an odd stranger played by Donald Sutherland. He has come to reveal her destiny, and to train her for it. Buffy, it seems, was born to be a vampire slayer.

There’s a bit of a hitch when he finds that she doesn’t have the Mark of the Coven, an identifying birthmark on her shoulder. Her reply: “Oh please, that big hairy mole? I had it removed.”

And so it goes, as Buffy tries to juggle cheerleading practice and saving Los Angeles from a vampire invasion. “The movie is very campy,” Swanson said. “It’s just purely entertaining craziness, you know.”

Amid the big-budget, big-hype summer releases, the modestly budgeted “Buffy” is hoping to carve out a niche among young moviegoers through heavy advertising--posters and billboards are everywhere --and some intriguing casting.

In addition to Sutherland, Swanson’s allies include a rebellious loner played by TV heartthrob Luke Perry of “Beverly Hills 90210" fame. On the dark side are the vampire king Lothos, played by Rutger Hauer, and his assistant, Amilyn, a role taken by Paul Reubens in a break from his Pee-wee Herman persona.

Orange County notes: In addition to Swanson, there’s a fellow high schooler named Andy played by Andrew Lowery, of the local band Standard Fruit. And Swanson’s dad, Bob, has a brief scene as a basketball referee. He and Swanson’s mom, Rosemary, still live in Mission Viejo, while Kristy now lives in Los Angeles.

Holed up for a day of interviews in a room at the Westwood Marquis, dressed in a white linen suit and with her hair bobbed, Swanson seemed removed from the cheerleader character she plays in the movie. In most slasher films, which “Buffy” gently spoofs, Swanson’s creamy blondness would mark her as an obvious victim. One of the things she likes about her role is that it puts a spin on horror movie expectations.

“I think that kids are going to be amazed with the fact that Buffy’s the heroine and Pike (played by Perry) is the damsel,” Swanson said. “Usually it’s the guy who’s slaying the vampires or fighting the bad guys. I think the girls are really going to like that (Buffy is the heroine), and I hope it scares the boys.”

Swanson’s parents are both PE teachers by profession (although Mom is now a career adviser at El Toro High School). Although Kristy was an ice skater as a youngster and sang with her dad in a church choir, her sudden interest in show biz came as a surprise to the family.

“When I was around 9 years old, I was watching TV one day,” Swanson said. “I was looking at this commercial, with a kid in the bathtub playing with a rubber ducky or something, and I said, ‘Where do those kids come from? How come they get to be on TV? I could do that stuff.’ ”

Her parents put her off, waiting for the phase to pass, but she wore them down. “My parents were like the kind of people who read the Enquirer and believed everything it said. They knew nothing about the business,” she said. “They were terrified. I bugged them so much about it, finally they said, ‘We’ll just do it to amuse her, just to get her off our back.’ ”

Kristy’s father corroborates the story. “We thought: we don’t know anything about this,” he said in a telephone interview. Finally, they got in touch with an agent through a young commercial actress in Kristy’s school. One day after she interviewed, the agent sent her on her first audition.

She landed the part, a doll house commercial, and went on to win two of the next three commercial jobs she sought, a phenomenal success rate in the competitive child acting business.

Swanson had a steady career in commercials, surviving a dip at age 12 (“They were really going for this apple pie kind of look--red hair and freckles”) before landing her first TV series, “Dreamfinders” on the Disney Channel, at age 13. Studying at home with a tutor, she graduated from high school at age 15, the same year she starred opposite Art Carney in a TV movie: “Miracle of the Heart: A Boys Town Story.”

Her TV experience includes an eight-episode stint on “Knot’s Landing” in 1987 and a season on Aaron Spelling’s series about student nurses, “Nightingales.” Her early movie career included small roles in a couple of John Hughes films, along with major roles in Wes Craven’s “Deadly Friend” and “Flowers in the Attic.”

“I’ve been fortunate enough in my career that I haven’t been typecast at all,” said Swanson, who described her roles as everything from the sweet girl-next-door type to “bitches.”

“Buffy” is the highest profile role to date. “I’ve done 10 films now, seven in which I’ve starred,” Swanson said. “As far as the publicity and hype and all that kind of recognition, this is the biggest.”

Show business seems to be catching in the Swanson family. Kristy’s brother Rob is in the nice-guy heavy metal band Lixx Array, while Dad thinks he might try to land some commercial parts once he retires from teaching in four years.

“I’d like to do that, I think,” Bob Swanson said. He calls Kristy’s role in “Buffy” her “graduation” in the film business, and he and Rosemary cut short a vacation in Cancun to catch Wednesday’s screening in Westwood. “Plus the fact that I’m in it too,” he said.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” opens today at theaters throughout Orange County. See the Orange C ounty Movie Guide, F30, for screening times.