The concept of an interconnected universe is incredibly hot in Hollywood nowadays. However, like most things in the current in-demand geek culture, Joss Whedon did it first.
Joss Whedon’s multiple and beloved TV projects aren’t all linked by any continuity, except of course Buffy the Vampire Slayer and spin-off Angel. Yet due to the connection and involvement of Whedon, fans have taken to calling everything he touched on TV the Whedonverse.
There's more linking the Whedonverse than just the man who created it, though. All of Whedon’s projects have a very similar tone, vibe, and even similar themes. They also share a lot of the same actors, as Whedon typically recycles actors who he enjoys working with over and over again.
In some cases, though, there are big name or recognizable actors who popped up once in the Whedonverse and never again. Throughout all four shows (and one movie) in the Whedonverse, there are number of actors who appeared and went on to have huge careers afterwards.
The roles themselves usually aren't that notable, but it can be shocking to watch a decades old episode of Angel, Buffy, and even Firefly and see an unexpected star whose still working to this day and has gone on to bigger and brighter things.
Here are the 20 Stars You Completely Forgot Were In The Whedonverse.
20. Zac Efron - Firefly
Looking at actor Sean Maher and present-day Zac Efron, it doesn’t seem like the two have much in common physically. (Although that could also be because Efron’s body is currently 99.9% muscle.)
Yet, back in the days of Firefly, Joss Whedon and crew disagreed. In Efron’s first ever major role, he played the younger version of Maher’s character, Simon Tam.
Efron’s role is super brief and he only appears in flashbacks.
He does manage to stand out, though, mostly be being an non-terrible child actor.
If Firefly had gone on for more than one season, the show probably would’ve explored Simon (and his sister River’s) childhood a lot more than it did, which would have meant more appearances by Efron.
Still, it is amusing to see Baby Troy Bolton pop up in the science-fiction Western during the episode “Safe”.
19. Amy Adams - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Because Amy Adams has been steadily working since the late 90’s, there are a lot of embarrassing and unexpected roles on her CV.
A whole list could be made of the roles that the current Lois Lane would probably like you to forget. However, one of the most shocking is her turn in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Amy Adams, long before she became a bonafide movie star, was about the fifth-string guest star in Buffy season 6's episode “Family”.
In it, Adams plays the cousin of Tara Maclay, Beth. Beth and the rest of Tara’s monstrous (metaphorically, not literally) family come to Sunnydale to force Tara to come back home with them and to stop her from being a witch.
The subtext of the whole affair is that Tara’s family despises her lifestyle and orientation. It’s all very heavy hand and Adams' Beth is perhaps the most over-the-top and unlikable character.
18. Jeremy Renner - Angel
Jeremy Renner’s best known role under the umbrella of Joss Whedon is as Hawekeye in the MCU. However, years before The Avengers was even a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye, Renner had a small but important role on Angel.
Renner’s turn as the vampire Penn in the Angel season 1 episode “Somnambulist” was one of his first big roles. It wouldn’t be until after The Hurt Locker in 2008 when Renner’s career really got off the ground.
Yet even so, Renner's Angel stint was the onset of his career.
Penn was one of Angel’s old protégés back when he was the evil Angelus. Penn was the embodiment of all Angelus’ evil in one blast from the past. He tormented Angel and friends, until the vampire with a soul was forced to kill him, putting end to Penn and Renner's role in the Whedonverse for years.
17. Pedro Pascal - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Pedro Pascal wasn’t unknown before he showed up on Game of Thrones as everyone’s favorite Dorne prince, Oberyn Martell. It is Pascal’s charismatic and charming portrayal of Oberyn that launched him to the forefront of geek culture and presumably landed him several roles afterwards.
Oberyn also ended up making all of Pascal’s former roles oddly amusing. This includes his time as a vampire lackey on Buffy.
The Buffy role was one of Pascal’s first in America. It was so early in his career that he was still going by his birth name, Pedro Balmaceda. Pascal (or Balmaceda) played Eddie in the season 4 episode of Buffy, “The Freshmen”.
Like Buffy, at the time, Eddie was a student at UC Sunnydale. Eddie shared a quick flirtatious connection with Buffy, before being kidnapped by vampires and turned into one himself. Sadly, Eddie’s transformation forced Buffy to end his life.
16. Christina Hendricks - Firefly
Christina Hendricks’ masterful job playing Joan on Mad Men isn’t just one of the highlights of that series, it also made Hendricks’ career, turning her from a relatively unknown actress to someone in a great deal of demand.
Years before Joan, though, Christina Hendricks appeared in Firefly, looking so much younger that’s she’s virtually unrecognizable.
Hendricks has two appearances in Firefly, and if the series had continued beyond season 1, it probably would’ve developed into much more.
In her first appearance during “Our Mrs. Reynolds”, Hendricks plays Saffron, a sweet and innocent girl who Mal accidentally marries.
However, it turns out that Saffron’s sweet demeanor is all a ruse. She’s actually a ruthless con-woman. In “Our Mrs. Reynolds”, she nearly takes down the whole crew, and in her second appearance in “Trash”, Saffron’s almost as damaging and twice as fun to watch.
15. Melinda Clarke - Firefly
Melinda Clarke isn’t exactly a household name. Yet for certain TV fans, especially those who watched The O.C., Clarke is a very recognizable character actress.
She is best known for playing characters who take no nonsense and even less (metaphorical) prisoners. Clarke’s brief role in the short-lived Firefly doesn’t break out of that mold too much.
Clarke played Nandi, a former Companion (the Firefly version of an escort) turned madam. Clarke was a friend of Inara (Morena Baccarin) and a brief lover of Malcolm (Nathan Fillion).
However, Nandi’s real claim to fame is being central to one of the best episodes of Firefly’s first and only season. In “Heart of Gold”, Nandi enlists the help of the Serenity crew, after one of the “girls” gets pregnant by the brutal son of a local landowner. A gunfight ensues and Nandi tragically loses her life, but not before going out in a blaze of glory.
14. Rhea Seehorn - Dollhouse
After struggling in Hollywood with bit roles in good shows and big roles in bad shows, Rhea Seehorn has finally hit it big. Seehorn plays Kim Wexler, the love interest of Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill, in the surprisingly excellent Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul.
Kim is the perfect use of Seehorn’s considerable talents.
This is the reward for suffering in the background of several shows for far too long. One such background role can be found in Dollhouse.
In the season 1 episode “Haunted”, Seehorn played Jocelyn Bashford. Jocelyn was the daughter of the episode’s subject, Margaret, a woman who had been recently had her life ended.
Jocelyn’s rocky relationship with Margaret made her one of the chief suspects of the death. Yet eventually Eliza Dushku’s Echo, programmed with Margaret’s memories, figured out it was Jocelyn’s brother, Nicolas, who had ended the life of their mother.
13. Sam Witwer - Angel
As a self-proclaimed nerd, Sam Witwer has serious cred in the geek community. Witwer has performed and appeared in several genre projects, most noteworthy being his voice work in the Star Wars franchise. (Witwer plays the animated versions of Darth Maul and The Emperor, among many others.)
This genre trend started very early in his career. One of Witwer’s first major TV roles was in an episode of Angel. Witwer appeared at the tail-end of Angel’s troubled season 4 as John Stoler, a character who seemed deeply unstable-- and not just because his hair was horrendous.
When the entire city of LA was under the thrall of season 4’s big bad, Jasmine, Stoler resisted. John could see Jasmine for what she truly was: a demonic old god. Worried that he would expose her, Jasmine literally drove John insane and into a mental ward.
12. Janina Gavankar - Dollhouse
Thanks to her roles in True Blood, Sleepy Hollow, and even the controversial Star Wars: Battlefront II, Janina Gavankar’s star is on the rise.
However, Gavankar has been doing solid but largely unrecognized work for a long time, especially on TV. One such role is the curious case of a Dollhouse season 1 episode, “Epitaph One”.
There’s a lot that’s strange about “Epitaph One". In fact, it was never really meant to air on TV. It also took place in a future apocalyptic world and really functioned like a backdoor pilot for a completely different show.
However, it’s a great episode, and is even viewed as standalone story.
This is partly because of the characters, like Janina Gavankar’s Lyn.
Lyn was one of the protectors of Iris. Iris was a character who seemed like a young girl but was a mass murderer imprinted into a young girl’s body. Iris ended the lives of many people in bloody quest, including Lynn herself.
11. Ken Marino - Angel
Ken Marino has a well-earned and successful career playing TV's resident goofball characters. Sometimes Marino’s characters are little gross andvery immature but they’re usually very amusing. Marino’s role in Angel is a rapid departure-- and not in a good way.
Marino appeared in one episode of Angel, season 1’s “Expecting”. It’s the first (of two times) that the show mystically impregnated Cordelia, and it's just as gross and unnecessary as it sounds.
Marino played Wilson Christopher. Wilson meets Cordelia at a bar, where they hit it off and go home together. The next morning, though, Cordelia wakes up eight months pregnant with a baby that might kill her.
It’s revealed that Wilson worships a demon called the Haxil Beast. The Haxil Beast gives men wealth and power in exchange for them choosing to impregnate young women with his monster spawn. It’s creepy, strange, and makes Cordelia into a needlessly helpless victim.
10. Ashley Johnson - Dollhouse
Ashley Johnson, the actress responsible for bringing Ellie to life in The Last of Us and a series regular on NBC's Blindspot, has a very small role in The Avengers.
In a deleted scene, Johnson's character, a waitress, serves and slightly flirts with Captain America. She's later saved in the movie due to Cap's intervention. Interestingly, this wasn't the first time that Johnson played a waitress for Joss Whedon.
Ashley Johnson appeared in the Dollhouse season 1's episode “Omega” as a waitress named Wendy.
The story plays out as the inverse of her character’s “arc” in Avengers. Wendy is still a damsel in need of saving, but in Dollhouse, she dies at the hands of Alpha, a villain played by Whedonverse regular, Alan Tudyk.
Weirdly, “Omega” was Johnson’s second appearance as Wendy. The actress and character had previously appeared in the unaired pilot of Dollhouse, “Echo”.
9. Felicia Day - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Felicia Day isn’t quite a Whedonverse regular. Day’s appearances in Joss Whedon projects is nowhere near the number of Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, or Alan Tudyk’s roles.
However, she has appeared in several, including Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. Though it may not be immediately obvious where the working relationship started, it actually began on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
During Buffy season 7, several young actresses were casts as Potentials. These were girls who could, one day, become a Vampire Slayer. While most of the Potentials went on to do absolutely nothing, Day's character was the exception. Day played the Potential, Violet, otherwise known as The One With the Hat.
It’s a very minor part but she evidently used it to transition into a working relationship with Whedon. It also probably didn’t hurt her efforts to build her own successful nerd empire.
8. Mehcad Brooks - Dollhouse
Thanks to the Arrowverse, Mehcad Brooks is now playing a superhero. Even though Supergirl doesn’t always know quite what to do with his character, Mehcad Brooks is a firmly a part of the Arrowverse due to his role as Jimmy Olsen.
However, Brooks also appeared in Dollhouse and is involved in one of the bigger hanging threads from the series.
Brooks’ first and only Dollhouse appearance was in season's 1 episode “Echoes”. He played brilliant college student Sam Jennings, who got way over his head with the Rossum Corporation.
Throughout “Echoes”, Sam’s life is effectively ruined, all starting with him accidentally ending the life of his best friend.
As a way out, Sam was offered the chance to become one of the series’ eponymous dolls, but the episode never showed his answer. After “Echoes”, any resolution of the plot was abandoned. (Perhaps because Brooks joined the series True Blood.)
7. Josh Holloway - Angel
Even though Sawyer was one of the most popular characters for Lost, actor Josh Holloway hasn’t done much since the series ended. He’s certainly been more active than Matthew Fox, but not quite at a superstar level.
Still, the role of Sawyer was so iconic (and Holloway was so good in the role) that it makes any of his previous, very minor roles on TV noticeable. This includes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part in the Angel pilot.
Years before he would go on to charm everyone as the con man with a heart of gold, Holloway played the deep and complex role of “Good Looking Guy” on Angel.
Good Looking Guy appears in the very first scene of Angel and he looks like just another jerk at the bar. However, quickly the twist occurs, and it’s revealed that he is a vampire hunting an innocent girl. Angel stakes him and Holloway turns into a cloud of dust.
6. John Ritter – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The sadly departed John Ritter is one of the most underrated sitcom actors of all time. Ritter had such a wonderful sense of comedic timing and was effortlessly charming. (Luckily, he’s passed some of that onto his son Jason.)
It’s Ritter’s reputation as such an affable guy that makes his role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer so surprising.
Ritter was already TV star when he appeared on the Buffy season 2 episode “Ted”. So, his appearance was a bit of stunt casting. Yet “Ted” is so weird that it’s hard to remember its existence. In it, Ritter plays an evil robot, Ted, who lures and nearly marries Buffy’s mom, Joyce.
It’s bizarre and confusing but Ritter’s performance does sort of save the episode. He’s so incredibly scary and menacing as Buffy’s abusive would-be stepfather that the episode is interesting to watch, even if it’s a complete logical mess.
5. Sarah Paulson - Serenity
Sarah Paulson has had a decades long career that is extremely impressive. Yet it’s only until very recently that she’s been recognized as one of the best working actresses on TV (or in general).
This is in large part due to her close working relationship with Ryan Murphy. However, before she became an award-winning phenom, Paulson had a bit role in Firefly’s movie spin-off/conclusion, Serenity.
Paulson’s character never actually appears in the flesh. She’s seen purely as a hologram but she’s very important to the lore of the movie and the world.
Paulson plays Dr. Caron. Caron is a member of the research group who investigates the planet Miranda. It’s through Caron (and her hologram) that the crew of Serenity learn the truth about Miranda and all of the horrible things that happen there.
The role basically consists of one long monologue but because it’s Paulson, the speech is magnetic.
4. Kal Penn - Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel
Even though Angel and Buffy took place in the same universe, it wasn’t totally uncommon for the same actor to play two different roles on both shows. Usually, though, this was made excusable by the use of heavy make-up, as the actors were playing different demons. However, this isn't the case with Kal Penn’s two Buffyverse characters.
The man who would go on to become Kumar and work in the Obama White House first appeared in the Buffyverse in the infamous Buffy episode, “Beer Bad”. “Beer Bad” is Buffy’s alcohol PSA episode that sees drinking college students turn into cavemen like-creatures.
Penn plays one of the booze-drinking students, and it's awful.
However, a year later, Penn popped up in Angel as a character named Man in Fez. The fez wasn’t just a mildly racist costume choice based on Kal’s appearance, though. It actually covered the character’s exposed brain, which Angel eventually stabbed a crowbar into.
3. Jeffrey Dean Morgan - Angel
Jeffrey Dean Morgan has built a career on playing swaggering, confident, aggressive, and overall very manly men. Between The Comedian, Negan, and even John Winchester, Morgan is the poster boy for aggressive alpha-males. However, despite this résumé, his character in Angel couldn’t be more removed from this particular type.
Morgan appeared in one episode of Angel, but it’s a totally forgettable one. Morgan plays Sam Ryan in the season 3 episode “Provider”. Ryan's is a part of one of several cases that Angel takes on while trying to provide for his newborn son, Connor.
Ryan enlists Angel’s help to destroy a vampire nest in order to avenge his deceased friend (and get his friend’s watch). The twist is that he’s using his employee’s identity to try to pay Angel with money that he doesn’t own. It’s a stupid twist and an even lamer character, but at least Morgan was getting work.
2. Wentworth Miller - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
It’s his role as Michael Scofield on Prison Break that put Wentworth Miller on the map. However, it’s actually his job playing many different versions of Captain Cold in the Arrowverse that has launched him to true legendary status in geek culture. From the very onset of his career, Miller was involved with genre TV.
When Miller was just 26 years old, he had his first ever television appearance on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Unfortunately, it was neither a very good episode nor a big role.
Miller played Gage Petronzi in season 2 episode “Go Fish”. Gage was one of the students on the Sunnydale High Swim Team, and like most of his fellow teammates, he was turned into a fish creature.
Weirdly, unlike most Buffy episodes, Gage isn’t saved from his unfortunate fate. Once he turns into a fish monster, he stays that way for, presumably, ever.
1. Summer Glau - Angel
Of course, it’s not surprising to learn that Summer Glau was in the Whedonverse. Glau played one of the most memorable and beloved strong female characters in the Whedonverse: River Tam on Firefly. The interesting thing is that River wasn’t Glau’s first role in the Whedonverse, however.
Glau’s first acting job ever was with Whedon but on the Angel season 3 episode, “Waiting in the Wings”. In it, Glau doesn’t speak a single world of dialogue but she manages to be one of the most mesmerizing parts of the episode.
This is because “Waiting in the Wings” uses Glau’s talents as a dancer and she plays the main ballerina in a ballet that Team Angel attends.
Reportedly, it was because Glau was so good at doing so little that Joss Whedon made the decision to cast her in Firefly.
Can you think of any other actors who have been in the Whedonverse? Sound off in the comments!