Confessions of a G-List Celebrity From a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Actor (Part One)

By September 28, 2015
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Photo credit via Karolina King Photography

Hello. My name is James C. Leary and chances are, if you are not a fan of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (specifically seasons 6 and 7), were part of my college improv troupe, or gave me a hand job in the back seat of a 1983 Oldsmobile Delta in the summer of 1990 then you have no freaking clue who the hell I am.

I am what I like to call a G-List Celebrity and I arrived in the City of Angels in the summer of 1998.

I was 24 years old, fresh off a successful two years in Chicago studying improv with the likes of Eric Stonestreet and Seth Myers (buckle up, ’cause I’m gonna’ drop a ton of names); full of hope, wide-eyed naiveté, and visions of Tinsel Town Stardom dancing in my brain. Twelve years later I fled the city with an 1100 square foot, half a million dollar house in foreclosure, a crumbling marriage, and a healthy addiction to copious amounts of alcohol. But fear not, this is not a tale of woe (well, maybe parts of it will be) but one of perseverance, what NOT to do, some of the crazy shit I saw (and did) and maybe, if I’m lucky, a smidge of redemption and catharsis.

Sound like fun? Great! Off we go…

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Where to begin? There are so many tales to tell. Like the time I saw Sean Young hop on a vanity, hike up her floral dress and pee in the bathroom sink at a wrap party, or the time I went to a “Gentleman’s Club” outside the Detroit airport (called the Landing Strip) with Lorenzo Llamas, his second ex-wife (who showed me HER boobs at said club – they were nice), his third ex-wife and Vicky from the Love Boat, or the time I got shit-faced on High ABV Canadian beer and somehow ended up naked on a couch between Darth Maul and the Soup Nazi…

Wait. I got ahead of myself…

Most stories start at the beginning, but I’m a child of the 70’s who came of ‘cinematic age’ during the reign of the mighty Quentin Tarantino, so this story is going to bounce all over the fucking place during the upcoming weeks. For this first post though, I think we should start at the end…

Itching. I remember itching. My hands. My lower back. My belly. They all itched like crazy, which is what, I guess, brought me back to some form of consciousness. My first thought was – “why do I taste dirt?” followed quickly by “why is my pillow made of grass?” As I slowly peeled my eyes open, the lids scraping across my dried out eyeballs like coarse sandpaper, I realized I was lying in a field.

Funny, cause I don’t normally sleep in fields.

The itching soon took a back burner to the sudden flood of “Where the FUCK am I?” I slowly got to my knees and looked around. It was still dark, but the sky was getting that pre-dawn purple hue it gets about a half an hour before the sun comes up. I was in a small field next to where they were building a brand new Top Golf – about 300 yards from my office and about three quarters of a mile from my small apartment. I dusted off the dirt and grass as best I could, blearily glanced at my watch (which read 5:30 in the a.m.), and started the long, hot walk to my apartment. Hot because it was August in Texas and even at 5:30 in the morning, it was still 90 damn degrees and humid as hell. My only thought was “get home – get home – get home – get home – get home.” I didn’t want to think about how I got in the field (later, I would piece together, much later, that I had gone to the hotel bar across from my office after work and proceeded to drink myself stupid for the next 7 hours until they asked me to leave); which is when I decided I could “walk” home. The “walk” was only about a mile and half away (I should be totally fine… drunk logic at its finest). I also didn’t want to think about why my hand and stomach burned and itched – or think about the steely spike of a hang-over headache slowly inching its pointed tip into my brain. No, I just had to get home to a bed, which, as far as I can recall, I did. I woke up 5 hours later, completely disoriented with the hang over spike buried to the hilt in my head, a mouth as dry as the Sahara, and a rush of total panic – WHAT THE FUCK DID I DO LAST NIGHT?!

Thankfully, nothing too bad (not like the time I got arrested for a DUI for falling asleep at a stop light… at 3:30… in the afternoon… on a Thursday), I had just passed out in a field, gotten attacked by fire ants and almost lost a backpack with my son’s new computer in it. You know, no big deal.

Later that afternoon I remember sitting in my living room trying to muscle down a few beers to quiet my thudding head, rolling stomach, and utterly, completely, totally, unequivocally demoralized soul. I didn’t want the fucking beers. They tasted like shit and I was having a hard time not throwing them right back up. But… I also couldn’t imagine NOT drinking them. I was terrified. I wanted to stop but didn’t know how. Things went on like that for another few weeks until after a particularly awful pre-divorce hearing – I went on a final bender, called someone to stay with me, and had what I hope will forever be my last drink on August 30th, 2013.

Now, I start with this to give some context to my state of mind. That was the culmination of practically a decade of slow burning self-loathing, doubt, fear, sadness and anger that got its start while I was struggling to be a working actor in Hollywood (I’m not saying Hollywood made me an alcoholic – it’s not as simple as that – but it certainly didn’t fucking help). I was 24 years old when I got to La La Land and surprisingly I did a few things right… and then a whole hell of a lot wrong… that ultimately led to me being 39 years old face down in an Austin, Texas field covered in ant bites. It took a long while to get from A to B and it wasn’t until I was a good year sober that I was able to start looking at things objectively. Hence… this column.

So… let’s go to the beginning now.

In the late summer of 2001 I got booked for a five line part on the cult smash TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was HUGE for me. I was a very big fan of the show. I loved it and had been trying hard for 3 years to get on it. I had met the casting associate at a casting workshop (we’ll go over those in another post – basically it’s where you pay to audition – I had, and still have, mixed feelings about them. They are technically illegal. But without them, I NEVER would have gotten the audition for Buffy) and she called me to read for producers for the character of “Loose Skinned Demon” for the fifth episode of season six.

I was STOKED.

James BuffyHaving been a fan of the show, I knew the tone and decided to play it for as much humor as I could – forgetting the fact that I was supposed to be a demon and… I got the part. I was in heaven. In my head, this was it. My big Hollywood break. This was going to launch my career in full force. No more commercials or Spanish Language sit-coms for me (again, a tale for another post). I showed up on set at 6am, spent 4 hours in makeup and almost bounded on to set I was so giddy. And the day was awesome. I got to work with Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters. I saw Emma Caulfield (who I had a huge crush on) and stood next to Anthony Stewart Head while stuffing my latex covered pie-hole full of Red Vines and pineapple. James and I had a talk about acting, realizing we’d both spent time in the Chicago theater scene, and at the end of the day when I was saying my goodbyes and it-was-great-working-with-you’s, James said “Oh, trust me, you’re funny. You’ll be back.” I thought yeah, he says that to everyone, went home, had victory-on-being-a-working-actor sex with my wife and figured that was that.

Well, much to my surprise I got a call from my agent a few months later after the episode aired saying they wanted me back for another episode. For a FULL WEEKS WORTH OF SHOOTING. Again, I was thrilled and had an amazing time working with most of the main cast. My character even got a name – CLEM. Getting to meet a few of the writers, going to the Christmas party and having the thrill of hearing Allison Hannigan say “Oh, you’re cute!” after showing up on set without makeup on my last day of shooting (none of the cast knew what I looked like ’cause I got to set for makeup super early and usually rolled out after everyone else was gone) was particularly awesome.

This happened four more times that season and when all was said and done I did six glorious episodes providing some much needed comedic relief in a very dark season. I was officially a “recurring character.” My agent had gotten fan mail. It was awesome. And then… I got invited to start doing conventions… and they were… A-FUCKING-MAZING. My first one ever was San Diego Comic Con in 2002 which was kind of like losing your virginity to a porn star. People actually paid money for my autograph. They wanted pictures with me. I got… attention. For the shy, chubby kid that got picked on, beat up, and laughed at by middle school girls… it was a drug like no other.

Then I started doing strictly Buffy-themed conventions. Spending three days with 1000 adoring fans who treated me like a motherfucking rock star?! Are you kidding me? I was in heaven. Pure bliss. But… it is also where things started to go so very, very wrong for me. Because like a drug, it was great until it wasn’t. The three day parties turned into me needing to drink during the week because why the fuck was I still waiting tables at fucking Bucca Di Beppo? Two days previous, people were buying me drinks and paying for my picture! Being an agreeable attention hungry party guy led to… drinking way too much and making some very bad decisions…

Booze + Pretty Girls + Marital Troubles = Me fucking fans.

There it is. Blunt as you can get. No punches pulled. I. Fucked. Fans. And… I was married. And… I hated myself for it. The morning after was always awash in red faced shame and a loathing so deep it was like a kick in the balls. But… I kept doing it. I would swear I wouldn’t – then the first cocktail party would happen and a few beers later my “fuck it” switch would get flipped and I would go looking for that hit of sweet, sweet adoration. I’d usually find it and the effects would be fleeting. I’d go home with cash in my pocket and shame in my heart. That shame followed me around, wrapped in it like a guilt woven wooby until I started to drink during the week, at lunch, before auditions – and especially at night at home. It’s no wonder I couldn’t book jobs. That I had an air of desperation wafting off me like day old sweat. That my marriage, already strained, fractured even more. On the flip side – I got to travel the world, meet fans, and make friendships that have lasted to this day (Love you Clare!).

I also got to see a lot of crazy shit. Share a ton of laughs – witnessing Andy Hallett and Mark Lutz do battling Paul Linde impressions brings a smile to my face even to this day, or auctioning off a 10 second grope of Anthony Stewart Head’s ass for charity “It’s for the children!!” Hearing the stories from fans about how the show helped them through tough times and how much it meant to them. Seeing the joy that this silly show has given people. Makes me think that it’s all been worth it. That I had to go through all the pain, all the pleasure, all the fear and heartache to get to this point so that I could truly understand that what I do matters. That even though I may only be a G-List Celebrity, who probably did more to fuck up his career then he ever did to further it, that it wasn’t all in vain.

I really don’t know how to end this rambling so I’ll end with what I hope is a funny story. I recently attended Dragon Con for the first time since 2007 (the last time I was there it was a debauched mess where I learned never to try and keep pace drinking with Canadians from hugely popular Sci-Fi shows – they will WRECK YOU).

I was very excited to be there, to still be on this crazy convention train years after I thought the wheels would have come flying off in flames – this time sober, present, and ready to experience the madness in all its glory. A chance to truly make it about the fans – ’cause that is who it is all about anyway – them. Not me. Do I get something out of it? Hell yeah I do. Only this time the high I get isn’t so fleeting or toxic.

It’s no secret that I have a huge man crush on Stephen Amell from the TV show Arrow. Sure, he’s dreamy and a good actor, but I LOVE the way he interacts with his fans and has built a Facebook presence unlike any I’ve seen – and how much he truly seems to love what he is doing, how appreciative he is for the opportunity and privilege to get to do what he does.

After having spent a decade on the circuit with actors from the past 40 years of genre film and TV and experienced more than a fair share of bitterness and anger from actors who felt above the roles they played, this is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Mr. Amell, being a huge star was obviously very busy for the 4 days of the convention (in fact I think he was only there for 2 or 3 days), and was even in his own special autograph room. Well, I know the gentleman who does the photo ops for Dragon Con pretty well (he may or may not have had something to do with the high ABV Canadian beer I mentioned at the beginning) and found out when Stephen was doing his photo ops and planned to sneak into the line to meet him and get one.

I arrived early, looking very dapper if I do say so myself, entered through the special “celebrity” photo op green room and hopped into line… and there he was – Oliver Queen himself (still wish he’d do the goatee). Let me preface this next bit by saying I’ve met, and been very cool and collected around, a lot of celebrities. A. Lot. People I look up to and admire. Hell, I sat in a Vegas bar with Billy fucking Joel drinking scotch and water and fending off end-of-shift hookers after doing a live stage show for Toyota. So, I’m no stranger (see what I did there? With the Billy Joel joke? The Stranger is his fifth album… Jokes are better when explained) to meeting famous people. But here is what happened as I walked up to all six feet one inches of blue eyed dream boat-ness that is Stephen Amell – I shook his hand and said “HI MY NAME IS JAMES LEARY, I WAS ON BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER AND I’M YOU’RE BIGGEST FAN!” Very quickly and very loudly. He nodded. Took the picture and subtly pushed me toward the exit. It wasn’t until I was in the green room that I realized what had happened.

Here is the product of that photo op, the look on my face says it all:

JamesLearyAnd ladies and gentlemen, there it is. Embarrassed? Hell yes. But you know what? That’s me. Just a kid who wanted to be Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones more than anything in the world who got to live his dream for a little bit, and regardless of everything that entailed – the success and failures, the joy and heartache, the stories and scars – I am, and will always and forever be grateful for the journey.

Click on to read Part 2 – ‘Passed Out, Naked, in a Hotel Hallway’

Featured Photo: credit via Karolina King Photography

 

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James Leary
James C. Leary’s television credits include a two-year stint as Clem, the loose-skinned demon on the critically acclaimed hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. James turned the original five-line part at the beginning of season six into a regular recurring role and was soon a fan favorite. He also had roles in HBO’s The Comeback, with Lisa Kudrow, and NBC’s Passions. James is an active member of the Austin Improv community and most recently starred in the B. Iden Payne award nominated Late Night Time Machine with Teddy Hancox. You can reach him here: james@geeknation.com
  • Joya Ghose

    Bless your heart!

  • Great story, thanks James!

    • You’re welcome. And thank you. Now… off to start on Part 2: This Time It’s Personal! (guitar chord)

  • Josh Pireson

    Crazy and awesome read! Made me think a lot of Permanent Midnight (both the book and film). Really respect the open candor of the article and kuddos for showing people the real glitz and glam of H’wood!

  • Loved this so much. Great article James!

  • Thanks so much, everyone.

  • Lorethiel

    So cool, because James sober date is right when I became a Buffy fanatic. It’s also when I was in Austin too. Man, that is such a great place to be for geekdom, so many like-minded people. It’s a great place for support of said geekdoms too. Like a an Oasis of Geekdoms in a desert of Guns-n-Ammo

    • Indeed it is! A pond of blue surrounded by an angry angry angry seas of red. Plus… tacos!

      • jdunham

        You don’t know the true red scare until you are the lone blueberries floating in the angry cranberry bog of Williamson county.

      • Lorethiel

        …aanndd MIGAS!

    • Thank you.

  • jdunham

    What a refreshing voice to hear this story in – especially from someone who came out the other side scarred, but intent on healing and working very hard to make it happen. I only hope some young actors bopping around on the set of Supernatural or Agents of Shield reads this and finds what they need to keep grounded in a world that is all about people pushing you to a pinnacle of adoration then either letting go or pushing when you begin to teeter from the strain of what you are asked to carry.

  • Wow, amazing story. Thank you for sharing, James, and I can’t wait to read part two.
    Clem is the best.

  • Cori K

    You have a wonderful voice! I look forward to reading more!

  • MP1922

    I would read the hell out of every single story that is ‘for another post’.

    • Well… I guess i should get on that!! 🙂

      • Yes… Yes you should!

      • MP1922

        I think you should! 🙂

  • maxsummers

    Thank you for sharing, James! Buffy is my favorite show ever and it has changed my life for the better, and I extend my love for every cast and crew of the show, so it makes me happy that you were able to go through a tough time and found redemption after it all. Wish you the best!

  • Calley

    This was written so well. I love it when people are so open and honest; it’s refreshing. Plus Buffy has always been a favorite and I adore Clem! Great job, and congratulatioms, James. 🙂

  • Deb Carsey

    !!

  • Ge Pop

    All of this. YES.

  • Rena Archer

    Great story and thanks for sharing James!!! I would like to order more stories from you please 🙂

  • Dan

    Excellent read: great content and wonderfully written! Definitely need more.

    • Your wish is my command 🙂 just gotta’ figure out which stories to tell….

  • Claire Hamilton

    Mr. Leary, this is a bold piece of writing: it’s full of flavor and heart. Love your voice as a writer, love your story.
    P. S. Delightful to learn from yr bio that you work for KI. It’s always so fun to see what you guys have cooked up for us to voice.

    • ha. Thanks, Claire. I just did some stuff for our new update… see if you can spot me 🙂

      • Claire Hamilton

        Embarrassed to admit I’ve never actually played. I get a glimpse of new storylines when we record, but then I’m always far behind until I catch YouTube Fraps or Kraft or O’leary send me some clips. Technically, I’m eight years behind. lol
        I’ll find you on the wiki.

  • Beau

    Great stuff, my friend. Can’t wait for the next one.

    • thank you good, sir. I really appreciate it.

  • Jake Kahlia Lynch

    This is so raw & honest thankyou for sharing this with us all! You’ve overcome alot & addiction makes great people do shi**y things. Congrats on your sobriety & here’s hoping things get better from here. Can’t wait to read more x -Kahlia & Jake

    • Thanks guys. I really appreciate that. Working on number 2 now… gah! The pressure!! The pressure!

  • Jen-a-nator

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s beautifully written with comedy and heart. I can’t wait to read more of your journey.

  • Stella12311

    Well done. Anxious to read the continuing story. I nearly met you last summer, but alas it was not meant to be. Will have to catch up to you another time. Stay strong.

    • Thank you, Stella. Well, I’m working on doing more cons so.. who knows what the future holds!

  • I remember getting to meet you briefly in 1997 after you had graduated and left the troupe, during a trip when I was on the troupe, and being so impressed with what a great guy you were. Between that and seeing you again at a troupe reunion in 2003, I watched and then rewatched all of Buffy, and greeted you pretty much the same way that you greeted Stephen Amell – “I LOVE BUFFY SO MUCH AND YOU WERE SO GREAT ON IT AND ALSO COULD YOU AUTOGRAPH THESE THREE THINGS FOR ME.” I’m thankful to have had a chance to redeem myself a little since then! This was a really interesting read – thanks for writing it.

    • Ha, thanks Danny. We need to do another reunion show 🙂

  • Dave Bratton

    Terrific read. (Helps that you’re a good writer. Strong with the voice, you are.) I think Dennis Quaid said it best about alcohol and substance abuse: First it’s fun, then it’s fun with problems, then there’s just problems.Congrats on your sobriety, keep writing, creating, and enjoying life. And I COMPLETELY feel the same way about Stephen Amell that you do. He seems to be what all of us hope the people who portray our heroes would be: someone who embraces the role, interacts with the fans, and does some good in the world.

    • Thanks, Dave. I hadn’t heard that Dennis Quaid quote before but yeah… that about sums it up.

      • Dave Bratton

        All the best to you. I’ve spent over a decade working in substance abuse prevention. Hope it helps some people miss out on some dark days. I’m a huge fan of fun, not so much of addiction and how it hurts people. Be well and good luck with all that you’re doing!

  • kjbpod67

    You were BRILLIANT as Clem. Brilliant.

    • Aw, thanks! Thankfully i had amazing words to say, and awesome people to say them to.

  • Stephanie Brisson

    Wow, thanks for sharing these extremely private and painful experiences with us. It takes GUTS !!!! Ah yes, The Demon liquor ! So many people have dealt with this problem, including my own family members. My boyfriend has been sober now since 2004 after having a car accident while driving under the influence. Nobody was killed but he was injured and it shook him up ! My brother-in-law has also been sober many years but still attends AA meetings to help others. The thing to remember is to not dwell on the past and keep on moving forward. I respect the fact that you’re so open about when you used to drink and cheat on your wife with fans. Nowadays, It’s hard to make a relationship last, even when alcohol isn’t involved and you’re not a celebrity. But let’s face it, when you’re an actor, you’re surrounded by adoring fans and lots of beautiful people in the industry. I imagine sometimes, it must get hard to resist temptation. Is it OK to cheat ? No, but it’s also human. You learned from this and that’s what’s important. Your ex co-star, James Marsters, has mentioned that he goes out of his way to not surround himself with celebrities in his personal life and he also stays away from social media. He says it keeps him grounded. But I believe that social media can bring lots of positive too. Anyway, you seem like a very intelligent and determined person and I applaud you on your sobriety. Looking forward to reading your next chapter ! 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Stephanie. Two of the AA promises always come to my mind – We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it – and – No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience
      can benefit others. Part of why I wanted to do this. To help others. Again, thank you for reading and sharing your story.

  • Laura G

    Fantastic aptitude for spinning a tale, but that was something I’d already figured out on my own. I hope to meet you one day, Mr. Leary, until then I hope GeekNation keeps you about for more of these bits!

    Good job GeekNation, his is a story worth reading. The same way all great protagonists are relatable, the journey through hard times and self acceptance is always more heartfelt and inspiring than those one might find on a typical list of ‘A-listers’.

    • Cheers!

    • Mr. Leary is my father’s name 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Laura.

      • Laura G

        Politeness is a hard thing to break me of, but I’ll keep that preference in mind next time I comment! (I came back to comment on the article by the way after you mentioned it might keep you around, if you were curious whether your Facebook posts are being seen.)

    • Lorethiel

      Can’t agree more!

  • Lisa Wick Shannon

    What a great posting, James. Seriously. It was honest and funny. It takes a lot of courage to write such a personal and open article. Thank you for that. You were awesome when I met you in person years ago, and you are even more amazing in my opinion now. Kudos on a wonderful first of many (I hope) installments of “the life of James”.

  • Everybody is a book. You’re probably War and Peace. Accent on the ‘peace’.

  • David Johnson

    If We ever meet or I ever get some head way with My book, I’ll tell You My face down in a Denver City Park tale “Oil Field Downtime/Strip Joint/Coke/& Kamikaze Induced”! Can’t wait to see where this blog goes!

    • Ha. Thanks, David. I can’t wait to see where it goes either.

  • Howler81

    Wow. You’ve just gone and laid down some truth there. Congratulations on turning things around and getting out of a very dark, very dangerous place. And thanks for having the courage to share your story. Keep fighting the good fight.

    (And on a less serious note, I really enjoyed “Clem” on Buffy, and isn’t Dragon Con just the best? I go every year.)

    • Thanks for the kind words. And the Clem love 🙂 love Dragon hope to be back again soon.

  • Larissa

    Those Buffy cons were such a mess BUT I met some people I consider my closest friends at them.

    And whenever at any charity auction we still may whisper to each other “It’s for the CHILDREN”

    I look forward to more of this series James and want to let you know during all those crazy early cons we were always happy to see you on the guest list and hope to cross paths again.

    • Thanks so much! I’m getting back out there so maybe our paths shall cross again 🙂

  • Kim

    Wonderful read. It was honest and funny and took a lot of courage. I look forward to reading more in the future.

    http://chimmyville.co.uk

  • Susan Thomas

    Wow. Who knew he was so cute?!