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Buffy the Vampire Slayer Official Magazine

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer Official Magazine, Vol. 3 No. 1, Spring 2000. Article by Matt Springer.

  • Sidebar: Alexis Denisof Head Vital Signs.
  • Vogue Demon Hunter. Alexis Denisof is a little bit Britain and a little bit U.S.A.--the perfect mix for bringing to life a former Watcher and Rogue Demon Hunter.

    Alexis Denisof Vital Signs
    Birthday: February 25 in Salsbury, Maryland.
         Food: Ice cream or toast.
         TV Show: Becker.
         Movie: Robin and Marian.
         Music: World music, Nirvana.
         Team: English national soccer team.
         Color: Blue.
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    Vogue Demon Hunter
    Alexis Denisof is a little bit Britain and a little bit U.S.A.--the perfect mix for bringing to life a former Watcher and Rogue Demon Hunter.

    It's not a good time to be a British actor in Hollywood. Either you're expected to ditch the accent and portray insipid Americans, or you're having English parts swept out from under you by American actors. Esteemed talents like Kenneth Brannagh are stuck in dreck like Wild Wild West, while a smarmy North American like Mike Myers (a Canadian, no less!) can rake in serious bank mocking all things English as Austin Powers. It's enough to make you cough up your crumpets.

    Hollywood's unjust anti-Brit bias is especially true in the world of Buffy. Of the many British characters who've passed through Sunnydale in the series' history, most of them have been portrayed by bloody Yanks, including both Spike and his former lover Drusilla, played by California natives James Marsters and Juliet Landau, respectively.

    Now it looks as though the Brits have lost another prime role. Alexis Denisof, who has returned to the Buffyverse or Angel as drifting Watcher Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, is really as American as Big Macs and boy bands. It's not as rough a cut as you might think, though--Denisof was born in Maryland and grew up in Seattle, but has lived and worked half his life in Britain. And although he seems to be back in L.A. to stay with his new supporting role on Angel, he remains hard-pressed to declare a permanent allegiance to either side of the pond.

    "I think the trick for anybody who has homes in different places is to enjoy the things that are different, and find the things that you like about each place," says Denisof. "There's good and bad everywhere. I love being here [in L.A.], but I also love it when I go to London. There are all sorts of obvious things that I like about living here, but there are subtle things about each place that I enjoy."

    His extensive stay in England has provided unique insights into bringing Wesley to life, first as a Watcher-out-of-water in Sunnydale and now as a reformed "rogue demon hunter" in Los Angeles. Initially slotted to appear in just two episodes of Buffy, Wesley managed to survive by becoming such a funny character that the writers were reluctant to kill him off. Now following Doyle's departure, Wesley once again returns to the demon-fighting fold--and Denisof can count on spending many more months back in his native homeland.

    Buffy Magazine recently chatted with Denisof to explore the challenges of portraying a spineless coward with a hero's heart. Unless you're half-human, half-jellyfish, it's not as easy as it looks.

    Buffy Magazine: So did you get to meet George Harrison when you were in the "Got My Mind Set on You" video?

    Alexis Denisof: Oh my God. How did you know about that?

    We're ace reporters here at Buffy Magazine. We always do the research.

    Well, you really dug deep for that. [laughs] The reason I did that video was in the hope of meeting George Harrison, who I'm a huge fan of. But I'm sorry to say that because he was trapped in that little machine, I never got to meet him. I hope one day they find the key to that machine and let him out.

    He's probably practicing the sitar in there.

    That's it. [laughs]

    So how were you approached to return to the world of Buffy and Angel?

    Well, I had gone away for the summer, and the character had been left open-ended from Buffy. When he began, he was really intended to just be around for one or two episodes, and irritate Giles and Buffy, and then have a terrible death, as only Joss [Whedon] can conceive. But then they found that Wesley had a peculiar humor that was his own, so they slowly became reluctant to kill him off. Suddenly, nine episodes or whatever had gone by, and they'd grown fond of him. There was a big dilemma over whether to include him the big season finale death toll or not. Luckily for me, he survived.

    We weren't really sure how he was going to fit into the story--it wasn't really clear how he was going to come back to Buffy or Angel necessarily. But when they all got back from the summer break, Joss called one day and said he thought there could be a storyline for Wesley in Angel, and of course I jumped at it. I think they conceived of a retooled Wesley that would add a lighter comic element to the show, and that was part of it.

    How do you think being a rogue demon hunter has changed Wesley?

    It's given him a little shake, given him a taste of the real world. I think when he arrived in Sunnydale, he was straight out of the Watcher grad school; he lacked a little bit of practical experience. He was living in the ideal of the perfect way to execute his duties. I think that losing his job and going out alone roughened him up a little and lopped off some of the sharper corners. It made him more approachable and a little more personable, less sure of himself all the time. That in itself can be funny. I think it's given him a little more of a taste for life in the gritty fast lane.

    The gritty fast lane of rogue demon hunting.

    Yeah. It's unclear right now exactly how much success he's had, but at least he's given it a shot.

    What do you think Wesley brings to the Angel dynamic as opposed to what Doyle brought to the show?

    I think Wesley is a clearer counterpart to Angel, whereas Doyle had more street smarts and had been around. Although he was struggling with his demon nature, he had seen a lot more of the world in the same way that Angel had. I think that Wesley's much further across the scales from Angel than Doyle is. He's probably just a stronger contrast to Angel's character. That's a hard question to answer, because in all honesty, it's really difficult for me to weight Wesley as opposed to Doyle. They are both characters that have merits in their own rights, but it's like comparing apples and oranges. But I do feel that Wesley brings something to Angel and Cordelia's life. Whether it's something they want all the time, I don't know.

    A lot of those traits are continuations of the performance you began last season on Buffy. What were your guideposts in developing the character initially when you began on the show?

    I looked to Giles a little, and considered what would be the most annoying thing for Giles. I thought that in a sense, an irritating version of Giles would be annoying for him, and also for Buffy, because his purpose was to come there and point the finger and get things ship-shape. He's a by-the-book schoolteacher. Some of the elements we put in there had to do with how he'd best put people out of joint. Other things were just organic to the character, such as considering what kind of person it would be that would have dedicated his life to this peculiar task of being a Watcher, and what would be the unique characteristics of somebody who had made those decisions, and then was taken out of that environment and put into Sunnydale, which couldn't be further from his life experience at that point. That was a rich thing to have, this extremely out-of-place character in their world. To Wesley, that was a completely new and bizarre place.

    You also created a hilarious spineless character.

    He was a little more spineless in his early days. I think it was because of the shock of the real world at that point. But I like to think of him now as having more guts than he used to.

    It's about time. It also seems like the writers really fell in love with the character. Was that an exciting experience, to keep that run going throughout the latter part of last season?

    Absolutely. We work together, and the actor and writers find the voice of the character, the whole tenor of the character. That was one of the exciting things, that we so quickly found ourselves in the same place looking at this person in the same way. I think we all really enjoyed that and found him funny and delightful, and fun to create. They were very inspiring, and that process has only continued since joining Angel, especially with the opportunity to reshape him a little and flesh out some of his past, the time between Buffy and Angel. He will continue to change; that's one of the nice things about him, that he's a character that can grow a lot and evolve. I feel extremely fortunate and inspired by the writing that they've been doing for him.

    What about your colleague on the Council? Did Anthony Head have any advice when you started on how to play a Watcher?

    He said, "Don't let them stick you in that small trailer."

    And I'm sure that guidance has served you very well.

    Yeah. [laughs] Anthony Head is a wonderful person. I have nothing but affection and good things to say about him. He's one of the foundations that Buffy is built on, so he was very helpful and gave me lots of great ideas. He was generous and thoughtful; he gave me and Wesley the time and the space to have fun with the character. I loved our stuff together, and I really hope they find a way to put Wesley and Giles back together again. It always tickled me when the two of them were together.

    You've worked together with Anthony Head in the past, right? In a stage production of Rope?

    That's right. That was a couple of years ago. That was terrific. Tony's a great actor, so it was a pleasure to do that production. It was sort of a dark suspense piece and we both enjoyed it hugely.

    It seems like you did a lot of work in your early career in England and Europe. How did you end up over there from the States?

    I moved over there when I finished high school; I moved to London. Then I decided to train at an acting school there, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. When I finished my training there, I just began working professionally in England. I joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and started working in London on the West End, and doing films in England and Europe. Life has a way of creeping up on you. Suddenly, nearly half of it had gone by, and I had lived over there and worked over there. A couple of times a year, I'd think to myself, "One of these days I should think about going home." But by then, I'd fallen in love with London. There's always a good reason to go, but there's always a better reason to stay. Then life conspired on a trip to L.A. to keep me here about a year and a half ago, and I've been here since. Although I keep a home in London, I also keep a home in L.A.

    We all know that Buffy fans are generally a very enthusiastic and active bunch. Have you had any memorable fan encounters since your start on the show?

    I had one fan encounter, which was during the "Prom" episode. We were shooting over at the high school, and we were using their gym for our prom night. We had to go back and forth through the school grounds to get between our base camp and our set in the gym. We were on their campus, and of course the kids were very excited to have the cast of Buffy there. I was walking back with Alyson [Hannigan] to the base camp, and she was mobbed by all the people who love her and love Willow. I was sorta standing off to the side, and a couple of people were like, "Oh yeah. Wesley. Right. Sure." One person wandered over, and I thought someone would take pity on poor Wesley and say hello. She said, "You're Wesley, right?" I said yeah. She went, "Are you...Giles isn't gonna die, is he?" I said, "I don't think so." She said, "Oh good, because you're so...euuuuuuuuuh." [laughs] She let out a noise that I can only describe as disapproval. What can I say? It's a tough world out there.

    Well, you have one very nice webpage dedicated to you on the Internet.

    Oh, that's nice. That's a consolation. I hope that people will grow to love Wesley as much as I do. His heart is in the right place, and he's trying hard. He may not always get it right, but he's a sweet soul.

    And he's so damn funny. I don't know how you couldn't love him.

    That's the idea. I know that there are people out there who like Wesley. It's just that one girl who had a problem with it. But I don't get too much trouble. He's a funny, odd-looking person that people don't always expect to see on the street, so I haven't had too much trouble.

    How do find working on the Angel set as opposed to the Buffy set? Is it a similar atmosphere?

    It's a wonderful atmosphere. They're both warm, fun places to work. I guess the main difference is a practical one, which is that Angel is at the Paramount lot at the moment, a huge studio, and Buffy is over on its own lot. You have a smaller, more family feeling there, whereas at the Paramount lot we make a little family and we're a corner of this huge studio. That feels a little different. But it's exciting.

    What about the night shoots? That must be a huge change of pace for you.

    That's true. We have more locations, and obviously with Angel being a vampire, we shoot a lot at night in downtown L.A. They're cool locations, but they're not always so cool at four in the morning when you might be home in bed.

    It must be hard to catch up on your sleep.

    It takes a little getting used. I actually have a little Polaroid taken by David Boreanaz on my mirror at work. It's a picture of me in my chair with my head resting on my hand, sound asleep. David wrote underneath it, "3:45 a.m., day one, Angel." [laughs] I love working with him, and Charisma and David Greenwalt; they've really welcomed me and made me feel like part of a team. I have nothing but admiration and respect for everyone on that show. We're really, really having fun. There are some great shows coming up.

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    Page created January 28, 2001. Original material Betsy Vera (bentley@umich.edu). This website is for information and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by others.

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