Bewitching Alyson Hannigan keeps Buffy fans spellbound
By John Crook
Fledgling witch Willow
Rosenberg must be getting more adept with her spells, because her real-life
alter ego is having one magical year.
Alyson Hannigan, the 26-year-old
actress who plays Willow on The WB Network's hip Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
has jaded TV critics eating out of her hand and noticing that story lines
for the current season have given Hannigan a chance to dazzle audiences
with a startling new dramatic range.
"Yeah, I've had some interesting
story arcs this season, haven't I?" Hannigan says. "It's been fun to show
how Willow has grown since Buffy started, when she was a doormat
for everyone, especially Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter, now starring in
the Buffy spinoff Angel)."
Her elevated profile on
the show was sheer serendipity. When this Buffy season opened, Willow was
blissfully involved in a romance with Oz Osborne (Seth Green), a musician
with identity issues (he's also a part-time werewolf).
But thanks to his work
in the Austin Powers comedies, Green's film career has been heating
up, and the actor needed a break from Buffy this season to work
on a movie. As a result, Oz took a powder, leaving behind a shaken and
"We were worried about
losing Seth at first," says Buffy creator Joss Whedon, "until we realized
this actually opens up new story possibilities for Willow. She and Oz were
very happy together, which is all very nice, but it doesn't exactly make
for great drama.
"By taking Oz out of the
equation, at least temporarily, we were able to shake things up and give
Alyson a chance to do some new things. And Alyson can do anything. I mean
That "anything" has included
a hard-won new confidence for Hannigan's character, partly the result of
her growing friendship with fellow Wiccan Tara (Amber Benson), a relationship
with heavy sexual overtones.
What hasn't changed is
the enormous warmth and compassion Hannigan brings to her endearing character.
If Sarah Michelle Gellar's booty-kicking Buffy is the show's muscle, Hannigan's
Willow is its tender heart. And don't think Whedon doesn't realize it.
"I know it's cheap and
manipulative, but anytime we need to get the audience on our side, all
we have to do is put Willow in danger," he says drily.
"I figured that out pretty
early on," Hannigan says with a laugh. "After we had done several episodes,
I turned to Joss and said, 'Heyyyyyyyyy, why am I always the one who gets
caught by the vampires?'"
It's not surprising Hannigan
is at ease in front of a camera, since she has spent most of her life in
front of one lens or another. Born in Washington, D.C., she moved with
her mother to Atlanta after her parents divorced when she was 2. At 4,
she began getting work in TV commercials.
During a visit with her
father in California, the 11-year-old aspiring actress received several
offers from agents interested in representing her. Excited by the prospect,
Hannigan returned to Atlanta to talk things over with her mother.
"Atlanta was a nice place
to live - and my mother and most of her side of the family are living there
now - but I knew I wanted to be an actress, and there weren't a lot of
opportunities apart from commercials and the occasional movie that would
come through," she says. "I think my mom was a little bored at the time,
so we moved to California."
Not long after that, she
made her movie debut in My Stepmother Is an Alien, in which she
co-starred, coincidentally, with future Buffy beau Green. Several
TV movies and guest appearances followed before Buffy came calling.
She rocked movie audiences
with laughter in American Pie as Michelle, a band nerd who was,
um, unusually devoted to her flute. More recently she completed work in
a radically different mode as a heroin addict in Beyond the City Limits,
an independent film awaiting release.
"Oh, it was insane. The
producers and the director had completely different views of what they
wanted the movie to be," she says with a sigh. "The actors were just sort
of in the middle of this tornado going, 'Huh?' I think that`s probably
why I haven't heard about (when it is being released)."
Far sunnier is Hannigan's
personal life these days. It includes a shiny new romance with her former
Buffy castmate Alexis Denisof, who has taken his effete Wesley character
over to Angel. The two have been dating since last December.
"This is the best relationship
I've ever had, because we started out as friends," says Hannigan, who previously
dated Marilyn Manson drummer Ginger Fish. "For a long time, we joked that
we could never have a relationship because we would laugh too hard if we
had to kiss."
She pauses, then adds
shyly, "Um, that part just went right out the window. He's just a great
guy, very smart, and ... we're planning to go to Africa this summer. I've
always dreamed of that."
Denisof isn't the only
smart guy who appreciates Hannigan's charms, judging from her fan mail.
"We all get some interesting
mail, as you can imagine on a show like ours, but I get a lot of letters
from doctors," she says, noticeably bemused. "And really, I don't mean
just one or two; I get a lot of them, every week almost.
"And they're all very
nice, I guess, and I appreciate them, but part of me can't help thinking,
'Um, shouldn't you be saving someone's life or something instead of writing
to me?` "
Maybe. On the other hand,
in an industry noted for its lack of job security, Hannigan may be one
of the few young actresses in Hollywood who never has to worry about health