Thursday, December 22, 2011

INTERVIEW: BUFFY, ANGEL & GREEK Alum Charisma Carpenter is THE LYING GAME's Rebecca Anne Sewell

Just when we thought - maybe - we were about to figure it all out, THE LYING GAME has upped the ante! We'll soon meet Char's aunt, Rebecca Anne Sewell, who has returned to town after years of being estranged from her family. Now she's a woman of means, full of secrets, played by Charisma Carpenter.

Born and raised in Las Vegas, Charisma Carpenter lived there until the age of fifteen, when her family moved to Mexico and later to San Diego. In San Diego, she attended the School of Creative and Performing Arts and was a cheerleader for the San Diego Chargers.

In 1992, Carpenter moved to Los Angeles. After being discovered by a commercial agent, and appearing in more than 20 commercials, her career in front of the camera began. After just two years in LA, Carpenter made her television debut in an episode of BAYWATCH, which caught the attention of MALIBU SHORES creator Aaron Spelling.

Carpenter was cast as series regular, Ashley Green, in MALIBU SHORES. The series ran for only one season, but Carpenter caught the attention of both viewers and series creators. Subsequently, she was cast in a number of series through the late 90s and into the mid 2000s including: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL and VERONICA MARS.

It is through Carpenter’s portrayal of the character, Cordelia Chase, for seven years on the WB's hit show ANGEL, that she is most famously recognized. Carpenter originated the role of Cordelia Chase in Joss Whedon's popular show BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and when the spin off ANGEL occurred in 1999, Carpenter’s character moved to the new show.

We Love Soaps recently enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Charisma. Below, you can read a complete, unedited transcript of the interview.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How familiar were you with the whole Lying Game phenomenon when you were first invited to join the cast?
Charisma Carpenter: Not at all; not at all. In fact, I had no idea what THE LYING GAME meant and I’m still missing the last five episodes of the first ten. So, obviously, I’ve got the first five and then I’ve got episodes ten through sixteen down, but I’m missing five there. I was given the link but I can’t get the link to work on my Mac, so I’m a little bit challenged in that regard.

I’m not that familiar with it; what it means. I’ve been exposed to it a little bit, but I don’t know in what sense it’s a game. Like why is it a game? I don’t know. I understand Sutton introduced it.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Was there anybody that took you under their wing and helped you get assimilated and get into the entire universe of the show?
Charisma Carpenter: I would probably say it started at the top with Chuck. Chuck really—I read the script and I called him and I just said that I just have some questions about her and how she fits in and who is this Annie, and now my name is Annie and I don’t what that means. How will that be explained to the audience and will that be more confusing or less confusing? Who am I? What did I do?

So he walked me through it and he was pretty generous, was willing to tell me whatever it is that I needed to understand, but there did come a point where I’m like, “Okay, don’t tell me anymore. I don’t want to know any more than just what you said because I don’t want it to inform my performance in a way that would reveal too much.” It doesn’t assist you to know more than you should, because then you’re not playing it right.

Or you can be informed and you can have the information, but then you have to play against that information. And then it becomes more confusing and more complicated than maybe it need be. I just like to keep it simple, keep it simple, play it very earnestly and straightforward with the information I have at hand, unless I’m told otherwise.

Can you give us some insight into why Annie has been gone so long and her relationship with Phyllis?
Charisma Carpenter: Her relationship with Phyllis is sister. She’s been gone so long because I think when she was there, she was in high school, and things did not go well for her. She was very—well, treated poorly, not well received. I think some very bad things happened to her and what they are exactly has not at this point been revealed to me. It’s just touched on a little bit here and there.

But when she does come back, she is a completely different looking person in appearance and obviously, she’s monetarily better off. I guess she was in Los Angeles running a music company with her husband, who she is no longer with. She thought she would go back home and start fresh, to everyone else’s chagrin.

How do you approach a character like Annie who knows so many secrets about people like Ted and Alec?
Charisma Carpenter: I think it’s not about them, I think it’s about her is the way I would approach it. It being sort of like just focusing each interaction one at a time and knowing what my overall purpose is to be there and it’s a fresh start. So, it’s positive and it’s up and it’s a good thing. To play it any other way would really not—it would just be a different show.

I mean, part of THE LYING GAME is appearances aren’t always what they seem. I think if you go into it being difficult or giving too much attitude or whatever, there are not a lot of places to go with that. She’s optimistic. She wants a change. She’s open to befriending those people that weren’t nice to her when she was younger and starting new. I think she comes from a place of confidence and success and she has nothing to apologize for and she’s interested in opening those doors again.

What is it about the role that really drew you to wanting to be a part of it? Are you looking to enter into another television show as a regular or is there something about this role that you couldn’t pass up as a guest star?
Charisma Carpenter: I am definitely interested in finding a home, for sure. And it was not introduced to me that way. It was a recurring opportunity to be on a show and if more comes of it, it would be a welcome surprise but not my intention.

I was drawn to the complexity of a character that is not all that she seems which I’m a little bit familiar with; but not too much because Cordelia, really, from Buffy and Angel, if I were to compare the two characters, was way more up front. She was like a soothsayer. She just said what was on her mind. You always knew where you stood with things. She’ll give you advice when you don’t even want to hear it.

I think this character, Annie Rebecca Sewell, is not so forthcoming with what she’s really thinking, but you know that there are wheels spinning behind her eyes. I’m thinking this but I’m really not going to say it. And I think that also happens with age. You filter a little better.

Rebecca definitely has her filters and her radar highly tuned. She’s smarter, wiser, sophisticated. Apparently, she’s a little moneyed up. She’s lived and survived a lot, especially socially. The way she was treated when she was younger affected her in a way that either you sink or swim, and apparently she swam.

And now she’s back to these choppy waters to sort of navigate them and see what she can make out of it. I mean, I feel like her intentions are to set things right for herself mainly, but not in a vindictive, revenge way because then that gets into a whole other show altogether. I think what her intention is really is like one of her lines recently to Kristin was, “Between you and me, it is really fun to be back and turning heads.” She never turned heads in the past and she was really mistreated by her peers. So, it’s nice to come back on top. It feels good and I don’t think she’s really going to be willing to let that go anytime soon.

We know that you’re a part of the network with Twitter and I’m wondering how the interaction with fans comes into play with your projects. Is it a great way for you to not only interact with fans, but also promote the projects or get that instant feedback from fans about your projects?
Charisma Carpenter: You know, it’s a double-edged sword, the social media, because I’ve gotten in trouble for either announcing too soon something that the network or the studio wanted to do and it takes away from. So it is something like it’s okay to tease but I’m sort of like well, oh goodness, I said too much and I’m so sorry and I’ve had to apologize and like say, “Oops, I didn’t mean to do that.” Or what is that expression where you just, you steal some of the thunder, so to speak. You don’t mean to do that.

But, it’s hard because it’s like these are my fans and I want to give my fans what they want to hear and that is I’m on television and I’m going to be back on the show and I really want you to watch and you’re going to have fun doing it and you’re going to see more a grownup, sophisticated version of Cordelia, who you are familiar with. I think you’ll see a lot of similarities between the two, but they’re not, by any means, the same character.

How is the chemistry on the set of THE LYING GAME and how are you enjoying that?
Charisma Carpenter: It’s one of the best sets I’ve been on. It’s probably on par with my experience on Veronica Mars. A lot of young kids with a great deal of pressure and responsibility just killing it every day. They get it. They’re appreciative. There is no diva. There is no attitude. There are no hang ups. Everybody, everybody, I mean everybody, has a fantastic outlook.

I think too, it helps like in this economy, everybody is really appreciative to be working. It’s not lost on them. It’s really a wonderful thing to see such young people taking on such huge responsibilities and jobs and hours and just do it with such grace. I really have been impressed a great deal. And Alexandra Chando without exception. She’s mid-20s and she’s not one character, two characters.

It’s a fantastic environment. The chemistry is great. The crew is great. I love working with Adrian. He’s crackly. He’s incensed; like he’s on fire. He’s like going to ignite at any moment. One little bit of accelerant and he’s just going to blow up. He’s so alive and his energy is just—it’s impossible to ignore.

Every time he’ll give you a line and you might have in your mind a way that the scene would be going or the way he would say something, but no. And then you’ll do the same thing again and it won’t be the same way either. And that, for me, just brings my level of acting up. I think for sure when you see the season, you will see it. You will see what I’m talking about. It’s an amazing work experience for me.

In addition to Lying Game, are there any other upcoming projects in the works for you that you can give us any clues about?
Charisma Carpenter: Yes, there is something, but I’m not allowed to say and I won’t get in trouble. I can’t get in trouble. It will be announced very soon. Let’s just say that.

Okay, we will definitely keep our eyes open.
Charisma Carpenter: And not T.V.

Can you describe a little more about the history of your character with Ted and Alec?
Charisma Carpenter: With Ted and Alec? With Ted and Alec, my understanding of their relationship is high school acquaintances. They were cruel and mean to me and what that means, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. They played games on me. Maybe THE LYING GAME started way before Sutton, I don’t know.

But apparently, I was not treated well. I was not a confident person. I was not a charming person. I was not attractive in any way. I guess they must have done something terrible to me and honestly, I don’t know what it is. It hasn’t been revealed to me and I don’t even know if the writers know yet what it is that they did.

That gives us something to look forward to.
Charisma Carpenter: Yes, for sure. More will be revealed I guess.

Are there any pranksters on the set?
Charisma Carpenter: No, nobody really pranks. Everyone is really respectful. Everybody loves each other and hangs out with each other and spends time with each other; goes on hikes, goes to dinners. It’s very familial, and no, there’s no like George Clooney on the set that I can think of. I haven’t been around that long, but I don’t feel that yet.

Who does your character have the most chemistry with and who will she cause the most trouble for?
Charisma Carpenter: I feel like she has the most chemistry with Alec Rybak, but I think that’s kind of on purpose. Some of my scenes are with him. I feel, though, there is very interesting tension between Ted Mercer and Annie Sewell, or Annie Rebecca Sewell. I feel like whenever he’s around, he’s kind of a cold fish and she kind of revels in that. “Oh, I make you uncomfortable,” visibly. I think she likes that. So that has its own element to it, but it’s not like it’s mutual. With Alec, it’s like mutual interest. With Ted, it’s like I can tell that I can ruffle his feathers and I love it. “Hi, Ted. Hmm, nice to see you.”

It is very interesting to see where that may or may not go. I think the most trouble I will be causing—well, right now I feel like the most trouble is probably Kristin Mercer because she feels threatened in some way and she can’t put her finger on why. Why I’m back, why I look different. Some of the stuff she says to Kristen, like it’s really fun to be back and turning heads, I don’t think that that’s conducive to something you say to a woman who you want to befriend, who’s married and you’re single. I don’t think that’s very comfortable for her.

I don’t think Thayer Rybak likes me very much. We don’t know why he’s so resistant because his sister, Mads, is very happy to see me and thinks I’m cool. Like, “Wow, you’re so lucky to have such a cool aunt, Char.” I think the trouble is with the Mercers mainly.

You said that Cordelia shares some similarities with your character in THE LYING GAME. Could you expand on that a little bit? What characteristics do they share?
Charisma Carpenter: I think they’re very spoiled in a way. I don’t think she was always spoiled, Rebecca, I think she has sort of come into money and money changes you. It’s sort of like a—you can feel when people, I don’t know, there’s like an arrogance that comes with it, almost. And I think that that sort of is similar to Cordelia. There’s this sense of entitlement. I’ve found myself. I’ve made myself successful and get out of my way. And I think everything that she approaches is with intention.

I think Cordelia was very specific and very intentioned in her behavior and protective of those people in her vicinity that she grew to love and trust, but she’s a hard nut to crack, Rebecca. We don’t really know who she has an affinity for, if anyone. I think she will tell you the truth. She’ll say enough to make a person uncomfortable which is very Cordelia, but she’s not as blatant as Cordelia. I think she just says enough.

She’s like a garnish on a plate. Cordelia with just a little bit of Cordelia in it, but she’s not Cordelia. She’s grown and she’s sophisticated and she uses respects and she uses her resources in a way that maybe Cordelia didn’t always know to use yet.

Have you had any really interesting or strange fan encounters?
Charisma Carpenter: Yes, I have. I have had some fan encounters that were interesting, but most encounters are actually quite pleasant and endearing. But it was a little unsettling when a very sweet young girl actually did pee her pants. That was a little odd. You hear about that happening with people like the Beatles or Michael Jackson or something like that, so it’s a little unsettling to know that that level of excitement or emotional intensity is being caused by you.

It’s a little unsettling; I mean, it’s flattering but unsettling at the same time. I don’t know how to put it. It’s like, “It’s just me. It’s just me. I’m just a person.” It’s a little odd. I don’t know how Justin Bieber deals.

Can you tell us what it was like to work with James Marsters again on SUPERNATURAL?
Charisma Carpenter: Oh, it was a lot of fun. What was so great about it is we didn’t spend time together at all unless he really—I never really had scenes with him, not that much and we’ve sort of been orbiting the same areas and various conventions, but when we’re acting, we don’t get to socialize. So when we’re on set, I really feel like I got back story and I know what’s going on in his life.

I know he has a kid. I know they love music. I know they play together. I know he’s involved. I really feel like I got to connect with him and kind of talk about the old days and what was your experience and oh, this was my schedule, what was your experience and kind of share and reconnect in a trusted way. It was really special to me.

If you could go back and have this Twitter technology for just one year, or one TV season, from Buffy or Angel, what year or show season would you have picked?
Charisma Carpenter: Probably the third season of Buffy; my last season on BUFFY. Graduation day, I think that probably would have been a good year to be on Twitter, because we were getting ready to exit. There would have been a lot of news to share, if I was allowed to share it is another story. But there would have been a lot going on. The rebar scene, some of the kooky stuff we wore, it was exciting for me. A lot of stuff happened to me. I knew I was jumping ship, so a lot of my character was getting some resolution with relationships in that season.

I finally got to vanquish a vampire after being a damsel in distress for three years. So that would have been fun to tweet. Pictures on the set with all the demons running around would have been fun. We were on a very specific lot which we called Weeden World. So it wasn’t on Fox or Paramount or any of that. We had our own sort of world going on. So that would have been interesting.

We were around on set, like we had outdoor sets, the graveyards and stuff. I think there just would have been a lot of fun stuff to tweet from that. On Angel we had a lot of indoor sets and things. Angel would have been fun too, especially when Andy Hallett was around it was always fun. It was a lot of fun too, but I just think if I had to pick one year, that would have been it.

You and Alexandra Chando, you resemble each other quite a bit. I’m wondering have you guys talked about this or noticed it at all?
Charisma Carpenter: Yes, we’ve noticed it. We notice it. I mean, I’ve actually and this is not even with her around—they take continuity pictures of your makeup so they know what you look for a particular outfit and day, like it’s labeled like day 1 or night 2 and this is what you were wearing, this is your makeup and this is your costume. So the costume department has one, the makeup department has one, the hair department has a continuity photo.

So, I was literally going through, running through the wardrobe and they have these pictures cut out and I literally thought it was me. I had to remember, okay, that’s a 20-year-old version of me; but it was like me. I really did think that it was me. Dang, I look good. Oh wait a minute, that’s Alex.

You’re both so beautiful and you look so similar.
Charisma Carpenter: Well, I think she’s so beautiful, so I will take that as an absolute compliment and she’s so bright, so bright, and strong. She’s just a strong girl. You can just—I just love people from the Midwest. They’re just awesome. I just love them. Grounded and bright and down to earth and get the job done and there’s no whimpering or whining. It’s just handled. She’s very capable and I admire her very much. She has a lot of responsibility at a very young age. So I will definitely be grateful for any comparisons to that young lady.

It seems like your character kind of stirs the drink a little bit when she arrives. Am I on track there with her?
Charisma Carpenter: I would say you’re on track.

Is it just because of the way she was and the way she is now, the difference, and people kind of being taken back by her a little bit, do you think?
Charisma Carpenter: Yes, I think her presence makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Who is she? Why is she back? Why isn’t she going by Annie? Why does she look different? Obviously, she has money. What’s going on?

Have you been given any ideas of her arc at all?
Charisma Carpenter: Ideas, yes. And I have my own suspicions but I don’t know what I can say without losing that job. They don’t like it when you give—it’s such a difficult position because I want to give you stuff and I want to make you happy and I want to give you the interview that you want, but at the same time I don’t want to lose my job. Also, then, just mess up or get it wrong. Because, to be honest, I know things, but I don’t think I really know all of it. Because I’ve actually asked to not know past a certain point because I don’t want it to color or affect my performance in a subliminal way, subconscious way.

Is one of the projects you can’t talk about, is that Haunted High that’s coming up?
Charisma Carpenter: No, no, I can talk about that. I’ll be in Haunted High with Danny Trejo.

Can you kind of give us an idea of who you play and all that?
Charisma Carpenter: Well, I did find out that Machete does tweet. So now I follow him. I don’t even think he goes by Danny Trejo anymore. I think he’s straight up Machete and I’m really okay with that. He is an amazing man. He’s so amazing and he looks so fit. And then he’s on my other favorite show, Sons of Anarchy. It’s just ridiculous. The man is so accomplished. He just is everywhere. I love him. He’s a doll. He’s bad to the bone.

I want to be him sometimes. Like I imagine like, what would Danny do? What would—because like if I could embody him, it would be really nice sometimes. Can you shoot me out? I’m tired. Who’s going to say no to Machete?

In talking about the resemblance between you and Alexandra Chando and we definitely have a theory that you are the twins’ real mother. Can you kind of comment on that?
Charisma Carpenter: Well, I mean, obviously I’m wondering too. It would seem that I am, but I don’t know if I’m a red herring in that really we haven’t met her yet at all. I don’t know. I kind of hope I am. It would be nice to be around awhile. But I don’t know for sure. They haven’t told me. We only suspect.

And also, who is the father? If I am the mom, then who—which one is it because apparently I’ve had relations. I was a bit of a get around girl. All I can tell you is that my feeling is the adults are really going to have some time. They’re going to have their time and they’re going to be competing hard for that storyline for the younger kids.

The younger kids are very compelling and it’s the demographic and all that, but if you are a grown up and you are watching this show, you will have your own storyline and you will be into it. I have every intention of making it super interesting for you.

Would you ever consider going on Bones and if so, who would you like to play?
Charisma Carpenter: I hear such wonderful things about that set. I have friends that have worked on the set. I’m friends with David Striver. His name is Hershey. He drove us on Angel. We have breakfast at least once a month together and I am in touch with David and we have tweeted about doing episodes, Julie and I doing episodes of Bones. I just don’t know if it’ll—I think it’s been brought up to the executive producers and ultimately, if you are Bones fans and you want to see some crossovers, I’m totally absolutely game. I’m in love with David, I mean not in love—that could be totally misconstrued.

I adore him. He’s like my brother. I know him really, really well. I love him so much. Julie and I, she’s one of my closest friends. For us to all kind of get together again and play, whether independently or all together, would just be so much fun. And I really want to work with Emily because I hear wonderful things about her. Like she’s one of the nicest people around and she and David have such wonderful chemistry. I want to meet this woman. I want to meet this person that has been so wonderful to my friend.

Do you have a preference to between working in TV or film?
Charisma Carpenter: Yes, of course, I would love to do more film and I will be doing more film. I can’t tell you any more than that but I do really—my heart is into television just because it’s been so good to me. I’ve had the joy of working on critically acclaimed shows and that kind of thing. Unfortunately, those shows aren’t always in the Golden Globe or Emmy nominated categories, which kind of bums me out because they are really good quality shows.

But, yes, television is my home to me and I like—it’s a special breed of person that can do that kind of nine months on and three months off; 22 episodes of one-hour shows, it’s very hard work. It’s a grind. It can be a grind. It’s not a grind for me. I relish in that. But there are very few of us that can handle that; that are movie people.

Movie people going over into television, it’s a little bit of a shocking world. It’s much faster paced. Everything is really last minute. You won’t know your schedule for the next episode until the last minute. You don’t know if you’re going to be off for Christmas, or what the date is. But for me, it’s familiar and it’s good to me and I like having a steady job and all that goes along with that.

I know you can’t talk about it but we’ve got on here, The Human Factor. Are you going to start filming in that soon? Or have you already started?
Charisma Carpenter: I have no idea what is going on with that film. I don’t even know if they have the financing. I had been cast for it and then it kind of all fell apart. I don’t know what’s going on with that film. It would be nice to work on it if the people involved are still involved. I would love to work with Michael Madsen and Sean Patrick Flanery and Eric Roberts. It’s a great cast.

There were rumors this past year about a Buffy remake, what do you feel about that?
Charisma Carpenter: Right, I get asked that a lot. I talk about it on Twitter a lot because it inevitably makes it on my line, my timeline. My feeling is of course, they’re doing it. It was successful, but to do it without Joss (Whedon), it’s just going to be really disappointing. I feel like it could do more harm to the franchise than good in a way, just because—or not, maybe it’ll make people appreciate the original more. I don’t know. But it doesn’t make much sense to do that without any of the key players involved. Why call it Buffy? They should just call it something else because it’s not going to be the same thing.

What are your favorite Christmas and holiday traditions?
Charisma Carpenter: Well, one of my favorite traditions, which is just to my family alone, we have what’s called “ Faux Christmas” the week before Christmas with my dad and my stepmom. Because when you have a large family like I do and we’re all married and all around the country, it’s impossible because you’re married and it’s my spouse’s family’s house this weekend or it’s this holiday or Thanksgiving. What we try to do is we, no matter what, do faux Christmas which is the week before so we can all get together either at my house or my brother’s house or my dad’s house and his wife’s house.

And then on the actual holiday, then we can go to the appropriate house for that winter. Because we all love each other so much and we want to be together but we know that we have to split our time, so to keep together every single year we celebrate Christmas one week before. And then we go to Australia to visit a family there. And then my brother’s wife’s family is in Tucson, so she’ll get to stay with her mom and nobody’s left out.

You were in Deadly Sibling Rivalry with Kyle Richards and I was wondering if you watched Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or any Reality TV shows?
Charisma Carpenter: I did not watch that show. I was not happy about that casting at all because it was going to be a difficult shoot. It was to be shot in, I don’t know, 16, 18 days. I really wanted to make sure whoever was on the set was like going to be a trained actor and good at their job and take it seriously and that there wasn’t going to be any kind of shenanigans. Reality TV shenanigans are round the job at hand. I was a little peeved, I’ve got to say.

She showed up and she won me over in the first five seconds. She’s smart. She’s professional. Whatever expectation I had in my head, Beverly Hills housewives, I didn’t know. I didn’t know and I could not—When she performed, I believed her. I was really happy with her choice. In fact, I thought she did a really good job, but at first I was really reluctant with that cast.

I mean, I don’t have a say in those things; who’s cast, who’s not cast. But I understand the need to make something more mainstream or more marketable and get the distribution that they need to make it successful financially for the investors. I get all that and how that works, but that really bummed me out that they went the reality T.V. route because I’m a little bitter about that whole Reality TV thing. A little bit.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
Charisma Carpenter: I do. Some more personal than others, but I really want to practice not cussing; cursing at all. Definitely with this job, if we get picked up and I have to stay working in Austin, to try to make a bigger effort to be more consistent with my training, working out. I have a lot of New Year’s resolutions. More saving, make better choices in that regard. Travel, but making more time for the family. More timeouts, just re-appropriate my spending. Whatever I do, maybe whatever was important to me in my 20s, like I want to have three Fendi bags, or I want a Chloe bag, or whatever the in thing was. Okay, let’s not buy three Fendi bags at $2200 a pop. Let’s instead like sock that away, save it, and then oh, we have a little extra money. Why don’t we go up to Whistler and have a family ski trip?

I want to go to Montana. I want to spend time in Montana. I got plans. I want to brand out; brand out like sell out. Who says that? So bad. But I want to sell out. I want my own perfume line. I have some ideas about beauty regimen and care and that sort of thing. Those are the things that I think a book should be written about. I have some stuff to say. I got some stuff on my mind. I would like to get started on those things.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The next time we interview a LYING GAME star, what would you like us to ask? Please go ahead and make your suggestion in the Comments section below.

Kevin Mulcahy Jr. is a Harvard alum who is currently working as a staff contributor at writing theater and web series reviews as well as other in-depth features. Read all his Web Series reviews here. To contact Kevin, email [email protected].

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