The following article appeared in the Official Buffy the Vampire Slayer Magazine (Winter 1998):

Charisma Carpenter sets the record straight on her L.A. story, a close call on the set and whatís in a name

Sheís got Charisma
by Mike Stokes

William Shakespeare once wrote, "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Exactly why he chose to talk like that, nobody really knows. But after all these years, he still has a point. Itís doubtful that the inspiration behind his observation came from watching a medieval prom queen yukking it up with her vampire-slaying friends at the old Globe Theater centuries ago. Yet if heíd lived long enough to meet Charisma Carpenter, heíd probably look like Yodda - but heíd also be secure in the knowledge that he was right.

Based on her acting career, Carpenter could just as easily have been named Lucky or Charmed (though not Lucky Charms, because that would sound ridiculous).

Shortly after moving to Los Angeles and taking the plunge into acting, she landed a starring role in the prime-time soap opera Malibu Shores, playing snobbish high schooler Ashley Greene. While it wasnít long before Malibu Shores eroded, Carpenter had already landed another role on a new series called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Fearful of becoming typecast, she was admittedly reluctant to audition for the role of another snobbish high schooler - especially for a new show with a strange title on an unproven network. But when she found out the series was created by a young hot-shot Hollywood scribe by the name of Joss Whedon, she decided to give it a go.

Now well into her third season as Cordelia Chase, itíd be easy to say that the rest is history. But Carpenterís story (as well as Cordeliaís) is actually just beginning. No longer the quirky new kids, Buffy has established a Tuesday night beachead for the WB network. Suddenly, Carpenter finds herself leading the way for her friend and fellow Malibu Shores alumnus Keri Russell, who stars in the title role of Felicity, a new drama depending on Buffy as a lead-in.

Much to her delight, the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has coincided with the evolution and expansion of the character she plays, making Cordelia a much more complex character than the snooty head-cheerleader archetype that has long become a standard in high school-based shows.

On paper, itíd be easy to blur the lines between the actress and her role. In reality, they are simply both strong-willed women who say whatís on their minds. The big difference is that while Cordelia has been known to say things before her mind can actually process what sheís saying, Carpenter is a little more thoughtful, a little more genuine and surprisingly open.

So whatís in a name? Honest or articulate, funny or sharp - any of these attributes would be a suitable name for Carpenter. Still, non would have the same ring or be as fitting as Charisma. On that, even Shakespeare would have to agree.

BUFFY THE MAGAZINE: How did your parents decide on the name Charisma?
CHARISMA CARPENTER: They decided to curse me and give me a really hard time and make my life as miserable as possible. My name was undecided - for three days, I was nameless. They were bickering over it, and my grandma brought them this Avon perfume bottle (called Charisma), and my mom thought the perfume was horrible but she loved the name. Hence, my curse. (laughs)

BTM: Were siblings also cursed?
CC: No, theyíre very normal - Michael, Troy and John Kenneth.

BTM: Your parents must have had a good feeling about you, because thatís really going out on a limb. They could have named you Hazel and taken the pressure off.
CC: Yeah, I grew out of the "I hate myself" phase when I was 13 and decided I could deal with Charisma.

BTM: Are you related to the Carpenters singing duo?
CC: No. (laughs)

BTM: How about John Carpenter, the director?
CC: No.

BTM: Have you ever built anything?
CC: Thatís a very clever question. I appreciate that.

BTM: If you throw a hundred at the wall, oneís bound to stick.
CC: I tried with cards to build a house once. Does that count?

BTM: Nope.
CC: Iíve refinished furniture before.

BTM: That counts - thatís a carpenter-like skill.
CC: [Silent satisfaction]

BTM: Is it coincidence that you share the same initials as Cordelia Chase?
CC: Ooooh - youíd have to ask Joss. But his wife did tell me that he was like, "God - her name had to be Charisma! How am I gonna top that?" Then he came up with Cordelia. Actually, his wife helped him with it because she went to college with this person named Cordelia. Now Iím Cordelia. Chase - I donít know where that came from, but I like it.

BTM: How much of Cordeliaís personality is in you?
CC: I donít know how much is in me, but I think there must be some dwelling in there for me to be able to perform it. I donít know. I think I have a tendency to speak the truth. No matter how people might pefer it to be sugarcoated, I do have a tendency to just kinda blurt something out and then go, "HmmÖ should I have said that?" (laughs) I think thatís the only difference between us - in me thereís a conscience going "Iím sorry" and Cordelia would just be like, "There ya have it. Deal with it."

BTM: Would the two of you have been friends in high school?
CC: I think sheís becoming a little more complicated. The scary thing about Cordelia is that sheís like a Jekyll and Hyde; she can be really heroic and charming, and then she can be really nasty. Iím more compelled to be drawn in by that, so I probably would have been friends with her. Maybe I could have pointed those flaws out to her and done some work on her like, "Do you have to be such a s--- all the time?" (laughs) I might have, I donít know. Maybe I would have flung her around a little bit.

BTM: Are you glad that Cordeliaís attitude has mellowed a little bit?
CC: We were actually just talking about that. I love it because she gets more screen time.

BTM: How do you like getting recognized when you go out?
CC: Iím really happy for it. Iím glad people arenít scared off by my obnoxious behavior on the show.

BTM: Was it fun for you to meet fans at the San Diego Comic Convention last August?
CC: I was really impressed with the appreciation for Joss. Usually in a TV show, no one really cares or knows personal details about the writer and the creator. I guess when itís a quality show, people want to know the genius behind it, and I thought that was the ultimate compliment to our show - they were very intrigued by him - picking his brain, and wanting to know more about the future and how he gets his ideas and was he married. (laughs) I thought that was just a really impressive thing. Go Joss!

BTM: Are you a good driver?
CC: (laughs) Yeah. I used to be an even better one back when I drove a little car; it could weave in and out of traffic. Now I have a big truck, so I tend to forget the size of the car - now itís like, "Iím cominí over! Make room!" (laughs) My boyfriend either drives like a grandpa or heíll ride peopleís butts. He was like, "I canít believe how much you talk about my driving; youíre not that good." But I think I am. I donít freak out; if thereís an accident about to happen, I think Iím agile enough to think clearly and avoid it.

BTM: When did you start acting?
CC: I moved here in í92 - the day of the riots - and I began acting in í93. I started acting class in í93, and I actually got an agent a year after that, in í94, so Iíve been acting for about three or four years now.

BTM: Wait a minute. You moved to L.A. the day of the riots? What kept you from turning around and going back home?
CC: I was so in love and so naïve, there was no turning back. My father called me and said, "Get outta there!" I told him that even if I wanted to, I couldnít - it was Kuwait. I stood on the top of my building and did a 360-degree turn, and there were fires everywhere. It was reminiscent of what I had seen on CNN about Kuwait. You couldnít get out, because the smoke was so think that you couldnít take off; the airport was closed. There were two people on the freeway that night - there was a curfew on how late you could leave town, and no one was supposed to be out, but they were breaking curfew - there was a television camera on these two cars via helicopter, and they ended up crashing into each other. They were the only two people on the freeway and they crashed - I thoughth that was sorta funny.

BTM: Youíve found a lot of success in a short time.
CC: Yeah, it came really fast and really early on, which Iím so grateful for. God didnít make me stare too long. Thereís no telling, though - He might catch up with me later. (laughs)

BTM: Describe the scene when you got the part on BUFFY.
CC: Itís a cute story. I was on Malibu Shores at the time. It was around five or six oíclock, it was raining and we were running late, so I didnít know if I was going to make the screen test. I ran over to wardrobe and borrowed a cute outfit, because I didnít have time to go home, and I asked transportation the best route to Burbank, because traffic was going to be bad, and I was coming from really far away. I ended up taking a big fat unnecessary circle and wound up downtown sitting on pins and needles in traffic. Then I get this 9-1-1 page from my agent, so I pull over at a 7-Eleven and answer the page, and sheís like, "Theyíre gonna leave - you have to get there." Iím telling her that they better wait, because I just sait through an hour and a half of the gnarliest traffic of my life. [I said to] order pizza or something, because theyíre gonna meet me tonight.

BTM: It turned out alright.
CC: I went in and they were all very excited and antsy to meet me. I read and they were laughing in all the right places, so I got the part. I was very happy.

BTM: What did Malibu Shores think when you left to audition for a different show?
CC: I think they thought I was smart (laughts), because Malibu Shores was getting cancelled.

BTM: You already knew that?
CC: No, my agent did, and I was very happy for that, but I almost didnít audition [for Buffy] because my Malibu Shores character, Ashley, and Cordelia were too much alike. I was concerned about being typecast, and it was on the WB, which at the time, I wasnít sure was a good thing. My [former] agent kept telling me all these negative things about it, almost talking me out of it. Then I get a call from her mentor telling me who all these people are. It was a completely different take on things. I just thank God that I listened to her.

BTM: Have you been getting asked to read for a lot of movies since Buffy took off?
CC: Yeah, but theyíre usually Cordelia-oriented, so I stay away.

BTM: Is that frustrating?
CC: Yes. Maybe thatíll cost me a movie career, who knows. My old agent and manager were always hounding me about that - I have new ones now. We didnít have the same vision, so I had to adjust and find someone who was on the same page as me.

BTM: They wanted you to keep doing the same kind of roles?
CC: They were like, "Just do a movie, just do a movie," and I donít need to do a movie that bad. Iíd rather do something small, find a bit part in a great movie or something Sundance. Something meaningful and truthful and a departure from what Iím doing now, because I have a whole year to do that.

BTM: So youíre willing to wait for something you really like before hitting the big screen?
CC: Yeah, Iím not in a hurry yet. Right now, Iím able to keep the wolves at bay.

BTM: As an actor, do you feel any competition with the rest of the cast as more and more movie parts keep coming their way?
CC: Wouldnít that be juicy! If I said, "Yeah, it really pisses me off" and just went all Sam Kinison on you? Not at all. I think itís terrific and it brings more viewers to the show. The more viewers we have, the longer the show stays on and the longer I have a job.

BTM: Do you have a favorite Cordelia line of dialogue?
CC: Thereís one where Giles goes, "Do you have any tact?" because I said something really rude to Buffy when she was at the hospital. It was in the fifth episode of the second season called, "Killed by Death." And I said, "Tact means just not saying true stuff," or something like that. I thought that was really funny because sheís not going to sacrifice the truth to sugarcoat it or be politically correct.

BTM: Do you get tired of political correctness?
CC: I think thereís room for it. There are moments when you need it, but it would be nice if people were more truthful in general. Say you give some guy your phone number, but have remorse about it later. Itíd be great if you could just tell him that itís not anything personal - I donít even know you well enough for it to be personal - but Iím not in that space right now. Instead, we just talk and later groan about it, or if he calls again, youíre like, "Iím not home." Thatís just a random example of where it would be so much better to just be honest. If people were honest with themselves, thereíd be so much more peace in the world. Youíd just acknowledge that youíre a basket case and need help. Maybe thatís being really quick to point out whatís wrong with everyone else, but Iím also able to talk about whatís wrong with me.

BTM: It is also true that youíre kind of a thrill-seeker? You skydive?
CC: Yeah.

BTM: How does Joss Whedon feel about that?
CC: Well, I donít do it while Iím on the show. I did go rock-climbing, but I havenít heard anything from him about it. I did want to get a motorcycle. Alyson [Hannigan] and I wanted to go together and get motorcycle licenses so that we could drive one, but in all reality, itís not the smartest thing. Traffic is so bad, and itís not so much you as a drive or how skilled you are, but how lame other people are. Iím not interested in cracking my melon.

BTM: It can be a dangerous world out there.
CC: I had an accident on the set where I basically broke my fall on the bridge of my nose on a dresser. I had this really small thing to do, and I ended up tripping over these antlers and falling on my face into this dresser. I got a black eye, and they didnít know if I had broken my nose. It was a really great reality check; life is fragile, and if I mess up my face, Iím not gonna have a job. So I think Iím gonna hold off on the whole motorcycle thing. Then if I have children, Iím really gonna hold off on the whole motorcycle thing. I think that whole dream may never come to fruition.

BTM: When you and Nicholas Brendon do have romantic scenes, how do you deal with the tension?
CC: Heís a bigger nervous wreck than I am. Thatís been my experience. But then after a couple takes, we relax. As the years go on, it gets easier, but I donít think you can ever be 100 percent comfortable kissing someone youíre not intimate with or that you donít feel that way about. It is kinda awkward, but then you warm up to it.

BTM: Does your boyfriend ever get jealous of Xander?
CC: No, no. Not yet. [laughs] I havenít experienced that.

BTM: In real life, would you fall for a guy like Xander?
CC: Probably. Nicky is very good-looking, and heís very witty and fun to be around. And heís heroic.

BTM: He is heroic.
CC: Every woman wants a hero.
----
Charisma Carpenter
Vital Signs

Birthday: July 23 in Las Vegas, Nevada

Food: "Anything Mexican - breakfast, lunch and dinner."

TV Show: Buffy, Felicity

Movies: Wings of the Dove

Song: The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil"

Color: Yellow

Book: The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks

Sport: Rock-climbing
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Official Magazine)
Winter 1998


Disclamer: I own no rights to this article and if I have somehow infringed upon a copyright, please contact me and the article will be removed.

Backto ARTICLES page