Arizona Republic newspaper, Phoenix, Arizona (US).
Newest Angel actor earns his wings. February 13, 2000, by Kate O'Hare.
Alexis Denisof, the newest cast member of the WB's Wednesday-night (sic) hit Angel, is used to straddling nationalities and even oceans. Born in Maryland to the son of Russian immigrants and the daughter of an old Main Line Philadelphia family, Denisof spent his childhood with his mother in Seattle, then attended boarding school in New Hampshire.
After high school, he went off to explore Europe and wound up in London.
"I lucked into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts," he says, "and ended up training there for their entire program. When I finished, I had a lot of friends, and I was enthralled by English theater and classical theater, and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be exciting if I could work in that field?"
"I got lucky again and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. From there, I just began a career over there."
For the next decade and a half, Denisof worked steadily. His film credits include the role of Sir Gaheris in the 1995 medieval adventure First Knight; Rossendale in three installments of Sharpe, the Napoleonic adventure series starring Sean Bean (which aired on Masterpiece Theatre); the TV series Soldier Soldier, starring Robson Green (Mystery!: Touching Evil); and the 1999 feature film Rogue Trader, starring Ewan McGregor (Eye of the Beholder) as a broker who bankrupted a British bank.
In the meantime, Denisof fell for British TV star Caroline Aherne, star of The Mrs. Merton Show. When that relationship ended--a split widely covered in the British press--it unwittingly signaled a sea change for the actor.
"I came back (to America) just on a vacation for a week. I was nursing a broken heart, which you may or may not have read about.I came with my two best friends to LA. We were going to have a Thelma and Louise--rent a car, drive to Vegas and over a cliff somewhere, and who knows what else.
"A film I had done was at Sundance, and there was a call, saying to go for a meeting, and we got back to the hotel in LA. We had all promised each other that although we were actors, we weren't going to ruin our vacation with looking for work. So then I put it to the committee, 'This interview came up, what do I do?' They said, 'All right, you can take it, but you owe us dinner for that.'
"I took the meeting, and that ended up going to another and another and another, and out of that came a pilot. I was all bruised and battered after this split-up, so I thought, 'Yes, of course, I'll sign my life away.'"
Denisof headed to Vancouver, British Columbia, to shoot a Fox pilot called Ghost Cop, which didn't wind up getting picked up. But after that came other jobs, including the role of Ham in the NBC miniseries Noah's Ark.
This was followed by two episodes of the WB's Buffy the Vampire Slayer during the 1998-99 season, as uptight British Watcher Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, who is sent to replace Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) after he was fired as the Watcher (a guardian and mentor) for Slayer Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar).
"That was really just going to be two episodes," Denisof says, "and they were going to kill the character off in a glorious Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy and its spinoff, Angel) spectacular death sentence. But as we got working on it, we found this sort of uptight English guy was find of funny. He had his own sense of humor, so they kept him alive, episode by episode.
"Suddenly, he'd been alive for half the season and had grown into the furniture."
The role of Wesley was also a reunion for Denisof, who had co-starred with Head in an acclaimed British production of the Patrick Hamilton play Rope. But the season ended, Wesley nascent romance with Buffy antagonist Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) fizzled--in one of television's funniest, most unromantic kisses--and Wesley took off for parts unknown.
In the meantime, Angel was under way, with David Boreanaz as vampire Angel, fighting evil in Los Angeles, with help from aspiring actress Cordelia and half-demon Doyle (Glenn Quinn).
Shortly after that series premiered, it leaked out that Doyle was going to be killed off, setting off a flurry of rumors and speculations that continues to this day. But for Denisof, who had spent the summer on a boat trip down the Amazon, followed by stints in Martha's Vineyard and London, it was a new lease on life
"I had just gotten back to LA," he says, "and had been here for a day and was thinking, 'Gee, I should probably think about getting a job,' and the phone rang, and it was Joss, with a job."
Wesley turned up, clad in black leather (which apparently chafed) and riding a motorcycle, after being bounced by the Watchers Council and spending months as a "rogue demon hunter."
Although not everybody may be thrilled at the return of the persnickety Wesley, Denisof says to have faith.
"Joss has ideas about reshaping the character a little, giving him a little more spine and growing him up a little. That will continue to happen, as time goes by.
"I realize he turns up and whimpers a little and people think, 'Oh, no, not Wesley, for God's sake.' But I hope they'll see the things that I like about him I hope he won't remain perceived as the opposing team.
"That's the glory of Wesley. You don't know whether he's going to be on a bird-watching tour or at a heavy-metal thrash concert, and in either one, he would be out of place. That's why I love him. You never quite know whether Wesley will be a complete disaster or come through with shining colors."
Meanwhile, Denisof is learning about life in Los Angeles, and getting his American accent back.
"I remember Anthony (Head) suddenly turning around at work one day and going, 'My God, you're American again!'"
And how's that broken heart?
"They always last longer than you think. But I'm much better now, thank you."
CYBERSPATIAL ANOMALIES... For more information on Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, the "rogue demon hunter" of the WB's Angel, and the actor who plays him, Alexis Denisof, visit "The WWW: Web Wide Wesley" (http://lonejack.simplenet.com/wwp/).
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