Elizabeth Anne Allen:
The Witch Who's a Rat

by Michelle Erica Green

Elizabeth Anne Allen plays smart, tough witch Amy Madison on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but she's had a small problem getting into character since last fall: her body double is a rat. Amy transformed herself into a rodent to avoid being burned at the stake in the episode "Gingerbread" - a condition from which fledgling witch Willow has not been able to restore her to date.

So Amy lives in Willow's house in a little cage, which Buffy helpfully suggested could be improved by adding a hamster wheel. "Hopefully I won't be a rat much longer!" laughs Allen. "I think that since the writers have been making a lot of changes - they've been working on Angel," the spinoff series which will begin airing this fall - "a lot of us were just in the background for a little while, and they'll bring us back this season."

Although Allen has been mentioned as a likely candidate to appear on Angel and it has been widely reported on the internet that she will become a series regular - the Internet Movie Database even lists her as a cast member - the actress says that she is currently working on another series, and doesn't know the origin of the rumor that she would cross over to Angel.

"I couldn't do Angel if I wanted to, because I'm already attached to a series," she explains. "I don't think we even talked about it in negotiations, because I was already attached. Joss [Whedon, the executive producer of the Buffy shows] went online on the WB and said he was sorry if there was any misinformation, but it keeps coming up - everybody says congratulations, and I read it everywhere."

Allen is working on a pilot called Green Sails, which she describes as "kind of The Firm meets Mission Impossible," but although she can't do a full-time role on another show, she is pretty sure she will make a guest appearance on Buffy as she has each of the previous three seasons. "I'm looking forward to doing Buffy; I don't know what the logistics are with me doing Angel, since I'm presently recurring on Buffy and I can't attach myself to another series permanently," she notes. "It's confusing to me."

Homecoming Queen From Hell

Allen has been involved in the Buffy franchise since the very beginning, when she auditioned for the title role. "It was Sarah Michelle Gellar and I, and obviously Sarah got it. But I really liked working with them and meeting them, and then the role of Amy came up in the first season. I went in for an audition and I ended up getting it. It sort of took on a life of its own from there."

She was hired while the pilot was still in production, right after the producers learned that the series would continue. "Mine was the first episode they filmed, the one that they used to show to the networks - they replayed it a lot, so I got a lot of exposure," Allen recalls. "Everybody is so cool over there, I feel like family. I've hung out with a lot of them off the set, so when I go on there, it's really comfortable."

In her first installment, Allen portrayed the alter ego of legendary Sunnydale cheerleader Catherine Madison - who was so determined that her daughter Amy should succeed her as Homecoming Queen that the mother used witchcraft to switch bodies with her daughter. Though Buffy and Giles reversed the spell, trapping Catherine in a nether realm in the process, Amy had become interested in the occult and began to cast her own spells - including one which went awry and made all the women in town fall in love with Xander.

"Sarah was filming Saturday Night Live, she wasn't there for most of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," so that's how the show came to be around Nicky and me," says Allen. He and I had a lot of fun. That scene where he walks down the hall and they sing, 'Got the love, got the love, got the love,' I laughed so hard, I was just dying!"

The New Yorker does not believe in vampires, but has no problem accepting that there may be supernatural possibilities of which she is unaware. "I think my reality is limited, so there's probably a lot more that I'm not aware of out there," she states. "I get contacted a lot by Wiccans. I did a lot of research when I got the role, I went to a lot of different shops and bought a lot of books and read a lot, and I met people and chatted with them about their beliefs. It's a religion to some people, it's really important to them, and I didn't want to belittle it or not honor it. It was important that it be represented fairly: it's not all dark.

By her third episode, "Gingerbread," the character of Amy was so identified with witchcraft that the people of the town ostracized her along with Buffy and Willow, attempting to burn all three women at the stake. A much darker episode than the previous two, Allen found that the research she had done gave her insights about how to play the character. Because Amy and some of her peers were associated with Goth-like culture, Allen also went to a Goth club, which was nothing like what she expected it to be.

"We came in with the misperception that we needed to be tough, and we got in there and everybody was so nice!" she says with embarrassment. "They were like, 'Hey, it's your first time here!' They were really open-armed, and when I introduced myself to people and told them what I was doing, they were really cool about that."

"I think people inside are the same, and we all choose different costumes that fit us, that express parts of ourselves," adds Allen. "If you sit down and talk to somebody who's in a Goth outfit or whatever, they're going to be the same underneath."

Bewitched, Bothered, and Be Censored

Buffy has come under fire from some quarters for celebrating the Goth lifestyle, which has unfairly been linked with teen violence in some of the recent highly-publicized incidents that led the series producers to withhold the last episode of the season until the media frenzy had abated. Allen says she understood the decision to wait on airing the finale, in which she did not appear.

"I think it was being respectful towards the families and the kids involved at Columbine," she says. "Entertainment is supposed to be fun, not traumatizing to anyone. It was too close, and there was no reason to rub people's noses in it, so I think they were wise in holding it back. And I can't speak on their behalf, but I think they don't want to upset their largest audience."

Still, Allen laments, "I haven't seen the finale and it's killing me! I called to have my friends send me the tape...I begged. 'Send me the tape!'" The actress sighs that she hasn't heard any spoilers about what happens - "They keep us in the dark, they don't want us to give away any secrets" - and laughs when told that the WB press release cancelling the finale contained several, such as the death-by-ingestion of Principal Snyder. "Poor Armin!" she wails.

Though she is uncertain how her character might grow in the future - well, other than ceasing to be a rat - Allen has been pleased with how Amy has developed so far. She's a darker person than in the more comic first season, "but that was sort of fun because my hair was dark and I was sort of Goth. It was very weird because that's the first time I've ever seen myself with dark hair on TV. It takes a bit of an adjustment."

The hair color change was incidental to the character, however: natural blonde Allen had dyed her hair red for an independent film, "and I looked godawful. It just didn't work! The colorist explained that once you go that way, you can't really go back without doing a lot of damage, so they thought it would be easier to go dark. And because my character was darker as well, it just sort of worked." She gets recognized less often as her character these days; "people give me a double look and go on, but when I was a blonde they were like, 'Amy!'"

In terms of the filming, however, the first episode remains Allen's favorite. "We did a lot of training with the Laker Girls," she reveals. "I was a cheerleader in high school, but we were pretty lame. We just did these sing-songy cheers, but when they came in, I'd be sweating up a storm! They were really hard, they had to train us and teach us these routines, and it was so much fun. They gave us a lot of things to play with, so that was great. But I loved every season; it's just different."

The actress has taken some karate but lacks the serious training for which Gellar is known. "There are a lot of great people on set who teach you as you go, how things look, and then you have body doubles and stunt people who help a lot," Allen explains. "These people are really athletic!"

Thus she identifies most not with Amy the cheerleader nor Amy the witch, but Amy the adolescent who has trouble making others understand her. "I completely get the feeling misunderstood as a teenager, always feeling like you never quite fit in, and the wanting to. And I also relate to where my character is now in that she is who she is, and it's OK if people don't get her," admits Allen. "She doesn't need to be a part of some hip clique to belong. She needs to meet people who understand her and like her for her. I relate to needing to seek out people who get you, and who love you and accept you just for who you are."

A former student of Roy London and Cameron Thor, Allen has appeared on Silk Stalkings and Days of Our Lives and in the films Timemaster and Silent Lies. She writes her own backstories for her characters "just because I like to have history, I like to know where I come from, because it adds depth to what I do. I like to research as much as possible because I feel like I can attach myself to a character more that way."

So how will she play Amy again, knowing that she's been a rat for more than a year? "I don't like cheese, so I don't know!" the actress laughs, shrieking at the reminder that she's probably gotten to observe Willow's life way up close and personal, more so than she might have liked. "I might be a little miffed, but it's her my darn fault, I did it to myself. And I'd do it again! Burned alive or a rat for a year? It was worth it! But I hope Willow and Oz gave me a little blanket or something."

Becoming, Part II

A performer since childhood who has played such youthful stage staples as Annie and You're a Good Man Charlie Brown in regional theater, Allen says, "I've just always loved performing, it's been a source of enjoyment and I've always felt good at. I started young, I can't even remember how old I was. My mother was pretty flexible about helping me get into the business. It was a little intimidating, but I did most of it on my own after I was 18."

Allen's family has since moved to Ireland, which is very hard for her because they're so far away. "I have a three-year-old brother and I miss him," she laments. "He's a cutie. He has that baby smell - you know, that great smell?"

The family keeps in touch via trans-Atlantic phone calls and the internet, where Allen has several unofficial fan clubs. "A friend in the band Velvet Chain, which is one of the bands attached to Buffy, is the person who helped hook me up with the fan sites and online chat," the actress reveals. "It's really pretty interesting. And pretty crazy! It's so impressive though, I can't believe all those people did that much work. And I can't believe they could find all my old stuff! It's so cool!"

She laughs when asked about her ambitions. "Oh, god, it's endless. I would love to be on Felicity. I want to go to Dawson's Creek. I like stories driven by characters, so I like watching life. But I just saw Star Wars and now I'm like, 'Mr. Lucas! I can be in the next movie! I'll play the girlfriend or something!'" she squeals in a phony voice. "I was just so impressed. It's just so much fun. I met with Steven Spielberg one time for about ten minutes, and I just stood there - I was in awe. There's so many people where you grow up and you see these things that they've done, and you're honored just to meet them."

In the future she would like to play some meaty character roles - including some true bad guys. "I like to sink my teeth into villains - no pun intended!" she confesses. "I think there are lessons in bad characters as well as lessons in good characters. It challenges me. I look for parts I feel some personal attachment to, because if my heart doesn't pick up the project, I'm not interested in it. I've been choosing by character - I'm trying to go by the model of, if it makes me feel good then I'm going to do it, so I've done a lot of independent films and things that I just enjoyed where I looked at the character and said, 'I have to do this.'"

Allen has also written a script with a friend of hers, "for fun, just to see if I could actually do it, we wrote a feature film." Though she prefers character-driven material in her choices as a performer, "the script I wrote doesn't fit that at all! It's like a goofy There's Something About Mary meets The Bodyguard. Sort of slapsticky high-comedy goofy; my partner was a big influence on it. I think it would be interesting to play, it would be so far away from a lot of the other stuff that I'd do that it would be a lot of fun to try. I'd laugh my whole way through it."

But Allen has no intention of giving up performing. "I love being in front of the camera. I give directors credit - there's so much to take into consideration, it's really intimidating to me. I don't think I'd want to direct, but I love writing and I love acting."

On her new series, Green Sails, allen plays Carri, whom the actress describes as "the gadget girl. She comes up with all these different gadgets that they can use for spying or whatever. She's really intelligent, she's the one who fixes all the technical things, she's the one who creates all the Mission Impossible sort of equipment. And she's a bit of a tomboy. She doesn't have a great sensor button; she speaks from her gut, she says things the way they are."

Allen does not share the frequent complaint among actresses that there aren't enough meaty roles for women. "I get a lot of characters who are really interesting and powerful," she notes. "I think that because I set a certain standard for myself, I don't see a lot of scripts that treat women with little respect. I think because I've really said, I'm not going to go around doing nudity - not that I have a problem with nudity, just that I have a problem with the way scripts represent women, I don't want to jump out of a cake topless - so I think because I've set boundaries, they're selective with the material they give me and they're respectful of the type of stuff that I want to do."

The actress would like to become more involved in charity work - something to which her work on Buffy gave her exposure. "We just went to the Make a Wish foundation with the WB. I really enjoyed doing that," she says, adding that she has been meeting with different people with ideas for charities that benefit children. "I really want to attach myself to something that I believe in - it's so hard, though, to know what to choose, or who to help."

The whole world is open to Elizabeth Anne Allen...once she stops being a rat, that is.

Get Critical