CHARISMA Even L.A. has an underbelly. And the Alexandria Hotel in the dank, funky downtown district may be its navel. A sign in the lobby, looming over glassy-eyed welfare residents waiting for their meds to kick in, proclaims this is "Where All the World's Problems Are Solved Daily." From the looks of this fleabag, maybe hourly.
Up on the twelfth-floor penthouse, amid peeling crimson and mustard velvet wallpaper and several pouty portraits of Rudolph Valentino, my problems aren''t solved. They're only just beginning.
Blame Charisma Carpenter, the girl in the fishnets. You know her as Cordelia Chase, the cheeky cheerleader on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which stars Sarah Michelle Gellar. Soon, she'll have the female lead job to herself when the producers spin off Angel and pair Charisma with Buffy's hunky David Boreanaz, the morally challenged vampire. What dark night of the soul they may conjure up will have to wait till September. Right now, it's March and chilly, and we huddle near a portable heater for warmth-although I've been hot under the collar since I got an eyeful of Charisma's sleek, smooth, curvy and, for all intents and purposes, naked body. With the Merlot flowing to loosen the inhibitions for what she calls her "most risque photo session ever," and Prince whining or "Cream" on the CD player, steam escapes my orifices. When makeup artists start rubbing her down with baby oil, I spontaneously combust.
"You want some wine?" she asks, flashing a smile bright enough to power Pittsburgh for a year. I shake her off. "I know it's early to drink, but I need a little help for this shoot. Do you see this outfit?" I nod and check my chin for drool. When the power of speech returns to me, I mumble something about getting...
"To that special place?" She sighs, a waft of ripe grapes and sun-licked French soil blowing across my face. "I'm a modest person. I'm just discovering my sexuality at age 28. With Buffy, I had to be young and bubbly, which I am. But there's another side to me-darker, edgier, with more sexuality--which we're about to explore."
The female photographer, also French, poses Charisma against a doorway. She looks ...well, like something out of a White House wet dream. "Can someone open my Virgin bag and take out the Stones CD?" she asks. Soon, Mick is running hot, begging someone to start him up. Loosening her bra straps, Charisma has to cup her left breast to readjust it. There are moments--not many-but there are moments when life can be very, very good.
"You look great in lingerie," I say, while f-stops are remodulated and the lighting is increased a bit.
"I like lingerie," says Charisma. "It brings out the femininity in me.
Usually, I wear undershirts and briefs. I'm not so much into bras. I'm very J. Crew-ish."
This is a good moment to carefully survey the very narrow band of cloth and sequins holding her together. "No Frederick's of Hollywood in your closet?"
She snaps a bra strap. "Well, they have some good pieces. I can't say you won't find some of those types of things around."
Later, when we're talking about stuff she has too much of, Charisma takes us on a tour of her panty drawer. "I have hundreds of panties," she says. "Mostly simple cotton panties with little hearts, little cherry blossoms. They make me feel light and youthful. I have a few 'special' ones, too. Sometimes, a girl just feels like black patent leather."
Once you've talked about panties with a girl, there's very little that's off-limits--although Charisma tries to be discreet, saying that she's in a "transitional phase" with her romantic life and "really looking forward to the future." The truth is, she and her longtime, live-in boyfriend broke up recently, leaving her with only her two golden retrievers for company.
All right, let's recap. A beautiful, basically naked starlet with a broken heart. A cheap hotel room. The Stones. Wine. Sometimes, life can be too good.
"Are you married?" she asks.
Apologies to all my Y-chromosome-carrying brothers: "Um, yeah."
Right. So, next fall will see Cordelia going through many changes on Angel. "Things get a little rough for her," says Charisma. "She's not so secure anymore. Everything she's used to--her friends, home, school--gets taken away. It's exciting to work with David, whom I adore on a personal and professional level. But I'm sad to leave Buffy. The other day Nicky [Brendon, who plays her former love interest, Xander} and I realized we were doing our last scene together. It really hit me on an emotional level."
There's nothing like a little seduction to get a girl's mind off such heavy emotional issues. If you're like me, you're already there, but hold on. Let's let Charisma guide us through what would be the perfect, custom-fantasized seduction.
"OK," she says after a rash of giggles. "He can pick me up on a Harley-Davidson and take me on a long drive over the Hoover Dam until we find a dive bar in Arizona. I love dive bars--peanuts on the floor, playing pool, a jukebox, a bartender whose teeth are missing. I'm the kind of girl that loves drinking beer and rocking out to the doors."
After a while, after a certain level of comfort has been reached--and beers consumed--she might even offer a really dirty joke. "I know one," says Charisma, "but it's so filthy, I can't say it."
C'mon, toothless bartender, another round of beers, please. "OK," Charisma says, flushing with what's left of her reserve. "How do you get a dog to stop humping your leg? You suck him off first."
Now it's time for the margaritas. Quick. "I love margaritas," she says. "They're my favorite drink outside of water. I'm also on an Oragina kick right now." Soon, she's admitting to once going through a Madonna fashion phase, dressing in fluorescent greens and oranges with a huge bow in her hair. Then, she reveals her most embarrassing school moment: "My mom busted me for fudging my report card. She came to school and my friends hid me, but she caught me and I was screwed. My parents were so strict. One time a boy wrote me a note saying, 'Can I visit you in Alcatraz?" She laughs: a tinge guilty, a touch defiant, a high school kid again.
At other times, she might get a little philosophical: "Just because you admit you're sexual doesn't mean you're not spiritual." She might even dredge up the old boyfriend: "The most romantic gift to give someone is to reveal your heart's desire." But what she really wants to talk about is...breakfast. "Four scrambled egg whites with sliced avocado and tomatoes on the side." With only that thought for food, I take my time digesting. When I look up again, Charisma is glancing at her fabulousness in the full-length mirror.
"Women's bodies naked are much more beautiful than men's," she says. "Then again, I have seen some really beautiful naked men. Actually, the right man's body can really be fantastic."
When pressed--not too hard--she confides the most fantastic parts of the less fair sex: "Hands, feet, hair, coloring, devotion, fidelity, and a great laugh. I love a good kiss. And I really love intense eye contact--to feel a man's eyes on me, to know I'm their desire."
My eyes lock on. "What makes a woman sexy?"
"Confidence. Intelligence. Knowing about her sensuality--"
But the French photographer is on to something
creative and has gotten Charisma to go with her even further down the road
than she had expected. Charisma cocks her thumb, signaling me and a small
contingent of gaga voyeurs that's a road we're not going down with her.
We exit, console each other, and I split. When I hit the pavement again,
cutting cross-grain against all the world's problems, I look up at the
penthouse window to see a flash of light, and I smile.