From the day he was born, Nicholas Brendon Schultz boasted something that most people don’t have: an identical twin brother, Kelly Donovan. Born April 12, 1971, the pair were inseparable, and to this day remain best friends. “You always had a person to play with,” says Nick of Kelly. “You always had someone to confide in, someone to talk to. And someone just to beat up.” His parents got divorced when he was young, and it brought him, Kelly, and their two younger brothers even closer together.
As a child, Nick developed a stutter, something that affects over three million Americans, and he feared that people were making fun of him, especially in high school. “I was seven or eight when it really became apparent. The more anxious and embarrassed I became, the worse it got,” he told one interviewer. “Of course, the snowball effect of fear and failure soon took over and soon my life became a living hell.” He withdrew from friends and didn’t date until his early twenties.
After high school he worked as a receptionist at a talent agency and as a waiter, and was a pre-med student, but he knew he had to conquer his stuttering. So he decided to go into the one career for which a stutter would be unacceptable: acting. “One night I went out into the backyard,” he recounts, “and I was talking to God – asking for direction – and acting was the answer I got. That was pretty terrifying, because I was not a confident kid. I had a stutter. I had ears that stuck out and acne. I was definitely not cut out for acting. But I decided to chance it.” It took him over four years of saying tongue twisters and speaking more slowly, but when he finally stopped stuttering, it was the most rewarding accomplishment of his life. Today he is the spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America, helping other people overcome the disability he has conquered.
Nick moved to Los Angeles to become an actor, dropping his last name and going by Nicholas Brendon, but he had a terrible time finding parts. He started getting roles in television shows and movies, but couldn’t win anything bigger. But his résumé said something much different. “My whole résumé is pretty much a lie,” he admits. “I did one day on “The Young and the Restless and then, of course, I put on my résumé ‘recurring’ because it looks better. And now I’ve gone from that to being a regular. So it’s out of control.”
He hit rock bottom shortly before landing the role of Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer when, as a waiter, he could barely pat his rent, his girlfriend had left him, and he had all but given up hope of ever finding good acting work. He was then hired on as a production assistant on the TV series Dave’s World, but he says it was more of a gofer job than anything else: “I had to go buy Pop Tarts for the writers, and they wanted the cinnamon Pop Tarts, but not the ones with the frosting on top, so if I got the frosting on top I was in a world of hurt.” When he didn’t show a lot of enthusiasm in the workplace, he was ultimately brought into his boss’s office and fired, with these last words: “You should be acting.” Three months later, he won the role of Xander, essentially his first big break.
One of the reasons why Brendon was attracted to the script for Buffy the Vampire Slayer was his own rotten time at high school. “High school isn’t really great to many people,” he says. “It’s like a mandatory prison sentence… In Israel they make you join the army; in America we go to high school.” The character, described by one reporter is a version of a Greek chorus, since Xander is often treated as an outsider looking in, was originally based on Joss Whedon himself. “I think it was Joss when he was in school, but now he’s God, so he has more say on what the outcome is,” jokes Brendon. No wonder Xander gets all the good lings. And the gorgeous women.
Xander has undergone several changes during the course of the show, but the biggest one has been maturity. Where in high school he was the goof who spun the one-liners, in season four he developed a real worry that his friends were moving on in their lives without him, since he was the only one who didn’t go to a university. His strange but sweet romance with cheerleader Cordelia had come to an abrupt end, as did communication between the two actors. As he told an interviewer in 2000, “When you’re close with a character, you’re often close with the people as well, and then when you guys break up on the show, you kind of break up a little in real life as well. I haven’t talked to Charisma since we broke up, much at all really, because we were always in different scenes and then she was over on Angel. Kind of strange.”
But in season five everything changed, and Xander became a man, declaring his love for Anya and moving toward wedding bells (or not) in season six. “It’s nice to see him grow and mature,” says Brendon, “because I’ve been the nerd guy for four years… It’s nice to go back and play a different character.”
And it’s not just Xander who’s grown up, but Brendon as well. On September 1, 2001, he married his girlfriend, Tressa DiFiglia, at her parent’s ranch in Carlsbad, California. The couple had gotten engaged earlier in the year. “I had bought a ring, and I took her to Sausalito, in Northern California, and we got a hotel room that overlooked the water,” recalls Brendon. “I sang a song we like – it’s called ‘And We Danced,’ by Mark Paisley. And we kind of act out things sometimes, so we did. In the song, he takes a diamond ring out of his pocket, and I did, and she cried, and we were engaged.” DiFiglia is also an actor, having played small parts in The West Wing and ER.
Today Nick lives in a Spanish-style home in the Hollywood Hills with DiFiglia. They fell in love with the house the moment they saw it, and bought it before they were married. “I just felt it was the right time, says Brendon. “We wanted to get out of our little apartment, and we found an awesome house. It was just the right time and the right fit. It’s got everything we wanted in a house, so we wanted to jump on it.”
And as for his twin brother, who is constantly mistaken for Nicholas and even tried dying his hair blond to avoid overzealous Buffy fans, Nick got the chance to act with him in “The Replacement.” It was a fun experience for the two of them, and Kelly continues to act on other shows. When asked if he would work with Kelly again, Nick replied, “If something good comes up, but I don’t want to be the adult equivalent of the Olsen twins. Or maybe we could do a TV movie with the Olsen twins and they could play our romantic interests! It would be very David Lynchy. I’ll talk to my people and get right on it. Kelly has blond hair right now, so it’s pretty easy to tell us apart. At least Tressa can. Except for that one time when she and Kelly had sex, but she apologized for that.”
Nick hasn’t done a lot of work aside from Buffy, although he did star in the 2001 summer film Psycho Beach Party. “Even though I played a gay guy, I was actually the straight man,” he jokes. “I was not the funny guy, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do it. On Buffy, I am now considered the far-out funny guy. With Psycho Beach Party, I was so nice and philosophical, it was almost boring. But it was also a huge challenge because your natural instinct as an actor is to show off.”
But things are never boring on the Buffy set. For Nick’s 30th birthday in 2001, the cast threw him a big bash. InStyle magazine reported that Nick joked around a lot that night: “I’ve still got all my hair!’ crowed the birthday boy, which prompted his identical twin, Kelly, to plunge a metaphorical stake through his heart: ‘Yeah, dude, but you have had all those facelifts.”