Charisma Carpenter first came to our attention as Cordelia Chase, the popular, acid-tongued cheerleader who taunted the lovable misfits of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all while dreaming of escaping her one-Starbucks town for something bigger. That shallow first impression of Cordelia didn’t last, as the character grew over seven seasons (four on spin-off series Angel).
Since her unforgettable run in the Whedonverse, Carpenter has made memorable recurring appearances on a variety of shows like Veronica Mars, Burn Notice and Greek. But her current gig on The Lying Game has her back on television as a series regular.
The Lying Game focuses on a pair of identical twins, Sutton and Emma, (both played by As the World Turns alum Alexandra Chando) who were separated at birth, only to find each other in the teen years. Searching for their birth mother requires unraveling a web of family secrets that gets more interesting when Carpenter’s character, Rebecca shows up as the birth mother and seeks revenge on the people who separated her from her daughters. It’s an addictive show with a plot that keeps moving at a relentless pace.
We talked with Carpenter about her Lying Game character, her time on Buffy/Angel and the TV shows she'd love to work on. (Like maybe a Supernatural spin-off!)
AfterElton: How did you become a part of The Lying Game? Was Rebecca always seen as Emma and Sutton’s mother?
Charisma Carpenter: I don’t really know much about the history of it because they had somebody else as their mom and then they changed their mind. I was in Europe working and then I got the offer.
AE: I know a lot of viewers were quick to notice the resemblance between you and Alexandra Chando.
CC: Yeah, I get that a lot.
AE: You, Alexandra Chando and Adrian Pasdar are the show’s three main schemers. You get to be a part of some of the most fun scenes to watch. Are you having as much fun playing those characters are we are watching them?
CC: Yeah, I think those are really fun characters to play. I have the most fun with Alec, Adrian Pasdar’s character. The cat and mouse stuff is a lot of fun. I’ve only worked with Sutton-- not Emma, the nice one. Sutton’s showing her rebellious side, not wanting to conform to mommy’s ideas and suggestions. She’s being a typical teenager.
AE: I can never decide if Rebecca cares about Sutton or if she sees Sutton as a tool in her plan for revenge. What’s your take on the relationship?
CC: I think she wants her daughter back. Ultimately, she does want her girls, but she wants everybody to know her pain and what was taken away from her. What happened to her wasn’t fair and everybody needs to know how unfair it was. But everybody’s getting over it, they don’t see the injustice. It’s hard to sympathize with Rebecca when her actions can be a little heartless.
AE: Yeah, one of the things I enjoy about the show is Rebecca’s motives are never clear-cut.
CC: I think her motives have always been the same, ‘I want my kids back.’ She does a lot of that, but what I think is interesting is that when she starts to think she’s losing Sutton to [adoptive mother] Kristen things get a little bit nastier. That’s the part I struggle with sometimes. I’m defensive of her because I feel like, ‘What kind of mom shows the diary of the adoptive mom?’ Despite all her feelings, it’s not going to sound good. Who does that? She does that because she wants what she wants, she wants her kids back. She doesn’t want them to feel loyalty to a mother that really isn’t their mother, so she feels justified.
AE: The midseason finale is coming up, can you tease us on what we can look forward to and does it set up some new storylines?
CC: As far as the breakdowns go, I feel like Emma and Ethan should be together. That’s my personal feeling, she just brings out the best in him. She’s always working for his redemption, but he can’t let go of that wild side. Sutton is that wild side and if you put two fires together, you’re going to be burning stuff down.
While I feel like Emma is the solution to Ethan and she doesn’t love Thayer, she really screwed up by not letting Ethan tell his brother about the twins or that Ted is a murder suspect. I’m curious to see how they work through that. I think that’s going to be a big one for a lot of the kids. There’s this terrible thing she did and how will he ever forgive her. Just choosing between brother and girlfriend, which one will he choose? I think the whole deal between Theresa’s disappearance and who did it and leaving flowers at the grave, there’s also a conversation that takes place between Sutton and Rebecca where Rebecca implies that there’s a big uber-evil out there that none of us know about and it works in our favor so let’s not question it.
AE: We got to see a lot more depth to Cordelia as she developed, and I think there’s something similar we’re seeing with Rebecca. How much were you involved in that?
CC: I feel like she’s pretty central, everybody’s related to her one way or another. I think when I signed on as a series regular [after guest starring in season one], they were like ‘If you sign on, we’re going to use you a lot.’ Which is great and I’m happy to do it. I’m just really looking forward to seeing where it’s all going. The biggest thing to make it interesting to me when I play Rebecca is, ultimately, to find the balance, to keep her grounded. As Fred Gerber, one of the producers would say, it’s really important to keep in mind, even though she’ s mad at her daughter, she’s going to be threatening to Jordan and charming to Alec to keep him on her side, there are still moments when that truth has to come out when she’s around her daughters. There has to be that feeling of love, of loss. That feeling of unconditional love for her children has to get across. They’re her girls. That has to be there for it to even be interesting to play.
One of the most wonderful gifts that Fred gave me was just to say, ‘I think when we play these scenes, it’s important to keep them as real as possible.’ In last [week]’s episode, one of the scenes had Sutton accuse me of killing Derek.
I don’t say ‘How dare you.’ I don’t get pissed. I don’t become indignant. I think you see her go, ‘Wow, that really hurts.’ She didn’t have a big reaction or a big explosion. I felt the direction was good, which was to keep her grounded. Like your daughter just confessed that she thinks you could be a killer and I’m like, ‘You don’t know me at all and that makes me even more sad because you don’t know me. And why? Because you were taken away from me. Why? Because of these horrible people who are still in my life.’ And it’s just a moment of sadness for her, a moment of loss.
I think those are the moments I hope we can continue to find along the way.
AE: Recently, you appeared on Supernatural which turned out to be a mini-Buffy reunion between you and James Marsters. What was it like getting to work with James again?
CC: We get asked that a lot since we worked together on Supernatural, but we really didn’t spend much time together [while working on Buffy/Angel]. In the early years when Spike and Drucilla came along, we would have some group scenes together, but I never had any one-on-one scenes with him.
Later, every now and again like in the Angel 100th episode where he tries to bite me, we got to work together a little bit. But we never really had the chance to sit down next to each other and to get to know each other. Or go to the margarita bar next to Paramount! We never had a chance to do that. Our schedules were just very different.
But on Supernatural we both were on set at the same time the whole time, and I got a crash course in James. We were sequestered in Vancouver which is one of my favorite cities ever, and our chairs were side-to-side, neither one of us running off to our trailers and we just got to hang. We discussed music, kids and we talked about the shows that we worked on and grew up on, and how funny it is that we’re just now getting to know each other ten years after the shows are over.
Just talking about ‘I cut my hair, I couldn’t handle the hot tips’ or ‘I couldn’t handle the bleaching and the blisters’ It really was a wild ride, and we both we so happy to get to catch up and have the same experience but from totally different perspectives. Like, ‘This is my experience and what I got from it, what did you get from it?’ It was great.
AE: Supernatural has a fanbase that’s about as loyal as Buffy’s fanbase. What is it like to step into another show that popular? Was it a chance to see things from a different perspective?
CC: What’s it like to go from one cult hit show to guest on another cult hit show as a guest-star? It’s a compliment. Obviously, Supernatural has been around for a really long time. Those producers, they have a large pool of players to draw from when they need to fill in those voids. But I really enjoyed those people a lot. I really enjoyed the location. The boys [Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles] were great. They were really funny, and they’re both from Texas. There’s this brand of humor that comes with people from Texas that I enjoy very much.
I would go back to Supernatural in a heartbeat because I loved the city, I loved the boys. It’s not like they were outrageous, but they were just givers. They were like, ‘Well, we could go home and somebody else could do our off-camera for us’… a lot of people do that. Anyway, they could have gone home, but they wouldn’t. They’re good kids, they’re level-headed, they’re removed from the success of the show. They still seem to really be into acting. We enjoyed them, and they enjoyed us as guest-stars, we hope! It felt like it.
AE: That was a very fun episode.
CC: Yeah, that character was really fun – and she didn’t die! That leaves it open, doesn’t it? You know what, I’ve got an idea. We haven’t heard if The Lying Game is continuing yet. I think James and I should have a spin-off from Supernatural. I’m starting the rumor now, the CW should develop it, and it would be nice to have Tim Minear or some of those Buffy writers back. I miss them so much.
AE: I wanted to bring up Buffy because just recently Netflix had their own awards were subscribers get to vote. Buffy was nominated for Best Guilty Pleasure, which some fans weren’t happy about that term.
CC: Why weren’t Buffy fans happy to have Buffy called a guilty pleasure?
AE: Some people don’t think it’s a complimentary term.
CC: I think it’s great. I think it’s one of those things where the show is so good that you’re willing to neglect other things that you shouldn’t so that you can have that one moment of pleasure. I think that’s the perfect example of what Buffy is. I know there are kids that are way too young watching, but the parents feel that Buffy should be watched because of its themes and cultural relevance, even today. And it’s just damn good writing.
AE: Are there other Buffy cast members you would like to team up with again, even if just for an episode?
CC: Yeah. I loved everybody. I would love to see Sarah (Michelle Gellar) again. She’s primarily based in New York now, but I spent a lot of time with her. She’s married, she has kids now, there’s a lot of growing going on for both of us. We left a lot of stuff behind us – the shows, the hours, the characters.
I think I’d be most interested to catch up with her. She really taught me a lot. I can’t say enough about what I learned from her about getting your marks, hitting your lights, the demands of the role that she was under, the crazy hours. It was an ambitious show. I’d really like to see her again.
AE: Are there other shows you’d like to make a guest-appearance?
CC: I have a list. It’s funny because I grew up on the Paramount lot with [actress] Shiri Appleby, and I was watching Girls and she was playing Adam’s sort of new girlfriend while Lena Dunham’s character is having a total nervous breakdown. I flipped out because we have the same manager. I was, ‘There was an audition for Girls and you didn’t call me?’ I’m a little jealous. I love that Shiri did that though.
I’ve been trying for eight years to get on Californication. I’ve gone in there twice, and it’s never happened. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I don’t get on that show before it’s done.
And I am obsessed with Shameless. I think every single one of those characters – and it’s a huge cast – is amazing. I don’t know how the writers are able to service each character so incredibly. They’re very fleshed out characters, each and every one of them. House of Lies with Kristen Bell and Don Cheadle, that sounds really fascinating to me. I’m a TV freak.
Modern Family, I auditioned for Julie Bowen’s role. It rightfully went to Julie Bowen, but I want a scene with Eric Stonestreet so bad I’m frothing at the mouth. I would love to work with Sofia Veraga, I could be the American version of her. Half-hour sitcoms would be my all-time – that would be so fun.
AE: Joss Whedon is working on a pilot that’s set in the Marvel Universe, S.H.I.E.L.D. If that becomes a series would that be something you’d try to get a guest role on?
CC: This is going to come out wrong because he’s so successful with The Avengers and everything, but I always want to work with Joss. He would probably be surprised to hear that. Working on Buffy and Angel and then moving on with your life you realize… nobody else is quite that good. I’ve been with wonderful writers. I’ve been very lucky. Rob Thomas of Veronica Mars is a wonderful writer. Then all the people who wrote on Buffy and Angel, they’ve gone on to have their own shows, like Jane Espenson, who’s on Once Upon a Time. But I think anyone who has had that sort of history and mentorship, whether you’re a writer or actor, it’s like you got lucky too soon because then you’re ruined for life. It’s like you open your first present on Christmas Day and you’re a boy and it’s a BMX bike. Then you open the next one and it’s a parasol. The rest of your Christmas is kinda ruined because you peaked, that’s the best.
I feel like my best work, my voice and my range was discovered through their writing [on Buffy/Angel], through David Greenwalt specifically as well. They taught me how to be funny, they taught me how to be dramatic.
There’s one scene I remember where I’m supposed to say goodbye to David [Boreanaz] and he doesn’t know if I’m saying goodbye to him permanently, like I’m not going to work with him anymore, or just saying good night. The way he directed it, he whispered in my ear this one thing, ‘you can’t look at him.’ And then I said the line, and he was like, ‘That’s the one… you couldn’t look at him and that’s what I wanted.’
It wasn’t even what I said or how I said it, it was just that I didn’t look at him. Those are the behavioral things that he looks for other than just the tonality or the line… it’s that one little detail that he didn’t have and when he does, ‘That’s the one.’
That’s why I’d want to work with Joss again, whether it’s on a TV pilot or some obscure thing, webisodes, big small, whatever. He made me better.
By Lyle Masaki