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'Buffy' at 20: Actor Tom Lenk on how the show inspired LGBTQ fans

As "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" turns 20, the actor talks about his role as quirky nemesis Andrew, who later becomes an unlikely ally to Buffy and her friends.

Tom Lenk played Andrew, a misfit villain who made for a good teammate in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

When actor Tom Lenk isn't reuniting with his "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" co-stars to film hilarious parodies of "The Huntsman: Winter's War" or "The Shining," he's re-creating celebrity red-carpet fashions with paper plates, party decorations and an extensive wig collection.

But most of his fans continue to know Lenk best as Andrew, the awkward yet hilarious wannabe villain on "Buffy."

In honor of the 20th anniversary of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," I chatted with Lenk about playing Andrew, as well as why fans were so moved by the show's LGBTQ storylines and how Buffy continues to inspire women to make a difference.

Q: Why has "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" continued to gain fans over two decades?
Feeling like an outsider is a theme that resonates now even more so. Finding yourself. Finding others like you. Empowering the underdog. Buffy was on the forefront of all of this.

Especially in Buffy's speech from season 7 where all potential slayers received their powers -- "From now on, every girl in the world who might be a slayer, will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?"

This is literally happening right now. In the face of incredible evil, women are uniting and using their strength to fight and make a difference. It's incredible to witness and support and shocking how Buffy foreshadowed all of this.

Why is it important to recognize that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" made a special effort to include LGBTQ relationships?
Joss Whedon
incorporated LGBTQ storylines when other bigger shows and networks would not. He is an amazing ally for our community and it's incredible to have met so many fans over the years who were so personally moved by these storylines.

It's amazing to hear how Willow's coming out directly effected other LGBTQ members to accept themselves and come out to friends, family and community. There were so few LGBTQ characters on TV at that point so I know that I, and the LGBTQ community, will always be grateful for that.

What attracted you to your quirky character on the show?
As an actor going to auditions at the time, what initially drew me to it was that it was a job. Until you reach a certain level, you don't get to pick and choose, so that in and of itself was amazing.

In the "Storyteller" episode, Tom Lenk's Andrew character retells a Buffy adventure from his exaggerated point of view.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

But the fact that it was on such a respected show and such a hilarious nuanced character was like 3 feet of chocolate fudge icing on an already delicious cake. I love that he was ignorantly optimistic and could find joy and excitement even during dark and traumatic times.

What was your favorite moment working with showrunner Joss Whedon?
All of it.

Which episode was your favorite and why?
"Storyteller," for obvious reasons. Danny Strong will tell you my favorite is "Superstar." But don't believe him for a second.

Why will you always feel honored to be part of the "Buffy" family?
It was my first big break in "the biz" and it changed my life immensely, and I got to become friends with some of the most talented writers and actors. I have loved seeing my friends' post-"Buffy" success, and there is something very cool about being on a show that has had such a massive afterlife. Not many shows go on to to attract legions of fans after they go off the air. So, it's incredible to see how many lives it has touched.

Where can Buffy fans find you now?
I'm currently ... serving you HAUSHOLD HAWT KEWTEWR on a daily basis on Instagram that's being developed into new and exciting digital and television content.

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