A Slayer's Best Friend
Alyson Hannigan's alter ego, Willow Rosenberg, helps Buffy slay vampires, but the actress hopes vampires won't take it personally. "If there are vampires, I don't want to offend them by saying I don't believe in them!" she laughs. "I don't want them to need to prove anything to me. Who am I to say that weird stuff doesn't exist?"
The 23-year-old actress has been working in the industry since before some of her peers were born - the daughter of photographers, she made her commercial debut at age four. Still, she comes across as unjaded and bubbly, a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is moving to Tuesdays on the Warner Brothers network as of this week.
"Joss [Whedon], our producer, is a genius," she gushes (three times during this interview). "The writing, it's funny, it's smart - there's something for everyone. The age range of people who watch this show is from little kids to people who are in their 60s. We have characters that people can relate to, characters that people want to be...and we've got monsters."
While she always thought the scripts were brilliant, Hannigan wasn't at all certain that a show about teenagers pursuing vampires would catch on. "The first season, we had finished [shooting] all the episodes before we started airing," she explains. While she was very impressed with the production - the lighting, the cinematography - none of the cast was certain how the public would react to the show's feel.
"We were excited for ourselves, but we had no idea what the response would be. And then when the critics stared reviewing it, they were just wonderful!" Hannigan and fellow castmember Nicholas Brendan, who's a good friend of hers, watched the early episodes together and were excited by the immediate response. An enthusiastic web-surfer, the actress checked out the Buffy pages and realized, "Our fans are just die-hard!"
The Buffy phenomenon has exploded in cyberspace, spawning web rings and a large fan fiction community. The attention given to herself and Willow seems to embarrass Hannigan a bit. "I went to this one [page], and I saw all these pictures of me taken from the screen. Hundreds! And I was like, 'OK, I just don't really need to see this.'" Still, she jokes about the fake nude photos of herself and actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, and seems largely unfazed by the internet following.
Since getting "discovered" in the Dan Aykroyd comedy My Stepmother Is an Alien, Hannigan has worked with some of the biggest names on television - Roseanne, for one. Though she fantasizes about a guest appearance on The X Files - I love the simplicity of their acting, not that they're simple actors, but they don't overdo a lot, which is hard - she couldn't be happier than with her present cast.
"It's a very close cast. We always watch the show together. [This week] I was supposed to go to Nicky's, but I didn't get off in time - I had to run home. I called him during the first commercial break - 'Sorry, I can't make it!' 'OK, bye!' They're the greatest people to work with - it's such a wonderful environment, and our crew is amazing. It's a wonderful thing to go to work every day."
Though she has some computer abilities, Hannigan's not Willow - she says she couldn't ever hack into a security system. What she lacks in technical knowhow, though, she makes up for in extroversion; the actress is far more ebullient than her character. "I used to think, "Oh, we're completely different, but I think the two are meshing into one," she muses. "Willow is becoming less reserved than she was the first season. But the other day, I got a note from Joss saying, 'Less Alyson, more Willow.' So there still is that separation."
Hannigan thinks the character's seriousness is what makes her popular. "Buffy is what everyone would love to be - a superhero," she observes. "But I think that a lot of people can relates to Willow, because that's who they are now in school, or that's who they were in school. So I think it's great that there's a character like that. I think that it's great for young kids to be able to look up to Willow, [who] is something that they might be, and they're OK with that."
In terms of having input into the character's development, the actress says she throws out suggestions for lines she thinks would be funny all the time, but has never offered story ideas. "Character-wise, it's pretty mapped out. It's not like you go up to the genius and say, 'Hey, I've got this idea!'" Though Whedon recently signed a deal to develop movies, "He's still there everyday. If you need any notes or have any questions with a scene or anything, he's completely there."
Well, if she got to choose her character's romantic destiny...Xander or Oz? Xander, on whom Willow has a passionate unrequited crush, barely seems to notice her in the midst of his devotion to Buffy, his involvement with Cordelia, and his distraction by mummies and praying mantises which look like hot babes when he meets them; Oz, a guitarist, fell for Willow the first time he saw her, and pursued her before she knew he was alive. "Oh, gosh. Well, wow! As Willow or as Alyson?" she giggles. "It might be different. I think Willow is getting to the point that she needs somebody to pay attention to her. Xander's always going to be in her heart, but she likes getting some mutual attention from Oz."
Oz is going to get some character development in upcoming episodes. In the two parter airing this week, "He's starting to glimmer - as of last week, he's starting to shine," Hannigan reports. She watched the first half of the double episode while waiting around at work to begin filming, and was very excited by it. "There's this scene with Oz and I at the school, and I really like that scene. I was just surprised, you know - usually, I'm so critical, I'm like, 'Urgh, why'd I do that?'" This time, she was so enthusiastic about the episode that she wanted to see the sequel right away, but it had not been completed yet. "I thought, 'WAIT, where's #14? I want to see the end!'"
Though she used to watch the dailies, Hannigan now prefers to watch the finished episodes when they air. She frequently watches with other members of the cast, who also follow one another's talk show appearances, like David Boreanaz's recent one on Live With Regis and Kathie Lee, for which they took a break from shooting. Any criticisms? "I would love to be able to show more blood, personally," she says, noting that the necessity of a TVPG rating probably interfere with that. "You've got these great violent scenes, and then there's not an ounce of blood." Still, she likes the balance of gore and humor. "One week, it'll the scary kind of episode, and then one week, it'll be the funny one. So we get all of the elements."
A D.C. native who grew up in Atlanta, Hannigan "bounced around acting classes and stuff" while growing up, "but you learn just a hundred times more by actually doing it." She doesn't recommend a full-time acting school for aspiring performers, since some of the classes she took were "just awful, like cold reading classes." Once she moved to California, she studied "these ridiculous exercises, a lot of song and dance stuff," which ended up being a wonderful experience: "You find out so much about yourself."
Hannigan's next film is Dead Man on Campus, due out this spring. The comedy features Tom Everett Scott, whom Hannigan describes as "absolutely adorable." She plays Lucy, who is - "well, I like to think of her as extremely naive," she laughs. "Because the comedy comes from her stupidity." The film is about two roommates on the verge of flunking out of college, who discover a clause in the school rule book that if a roommate dies during the semester, then the other roommates get straight A's.
"These two look up all the suicidal people through the school psychologist's records, and then they transfer these people into their dorm room and try to encourage their depression," Hannigan explains, adding quickly, "It's a comedy, and it's not as dark as it sounds!"
She has nothing definite in the works for the show's hiatus, though she would like to do an independent film. "I really like Eric Stolz's career - he did lots of independent films, and one big film a year, although he just did a movie of the week and I'm starting to wonder why that happened - I find the movie of the week environment so depressing," she says. "I wish I could sing, because I saw Rent a couple of times, and I was, like, 'I want to do that!' But I can't sing, so I don't think it's ever going to happen."
Doing stage work isn't particularly high on her priority list, however. "I did plays in high school, just a few nights, and I would get so bored doing the same thing over and over - I found myself going through the motions a lot of the time, which I hate doing. So I don't think I would be too good at stage; with long-run plays, how do you do that?"
"I hate when I'm not feeling [what I'm doing]," Hannigan concludes. So she has no interest in performing classical repertory just for the sake of doing it. Though one does have to wonder what she'd be like as, oh, Mina in Dracula...