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NYCC 2019: Angel cast reunited exactly 20 years after the show premiered, and the love flowed like blood

By Brian Silliman
Charisma Carpenter

It may be 20 years later, but the love for Angel still flows strong. Though the series began life as a spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it quickly established it's own Los Angeles-based way of doing things. Whether it was through Angel Investigations or going into the belly of the beast at Wolfram & Hart, Angel was the dark hero who always beat the bad guys. He didn't do it alone, though. 

Some of the cast reunited to celebrate the milestone at New York Comic Con 2019, and SYFY WIRE was there. 

The panel included actors Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia), Amy Acker (Fred), Alexis Denisof (Wesley), James Marsters (Spike), and J. August Richards (Gunn). They wasted no time in coming onstage, to an incredible amount of love from the audience. Marsters responded with a heartfelt, “Hello beautiful people!” 

The show actually premiered 20 years ago today, and it was pointed out that in the pilot, the only cast member present on the panel who was actually in that episode was Carpenter’s Cordelia. 

“It was an amazing experience, a big responsibility, a smaller cast,” Carpenter said about the transition from Buffy. She felt the pressure to succeed, and wondered if she’d be able to go back to Buffy if it didn’t catch on. She mentioned that a big moment in the first season was the episode “Hero”, where Doyle (Glenn Quinn) left the show — things got more intense for Cordelia after that. 

“It’s always remarkable when I get to engage with the fans, and learn how Cordelia affected you,” Carpenter said, adding that in her first years on Buffy, none of the fans wanted to talk to her because she played such a mean girl. Marsters even added that he thought the same thing, and mentioned that he apologized for this misperception many years later. “You play a really good mean person,” he said. 

How did Richards go about creating Gunn when he was added to the series? “When I got it, I was really intimidated by it,” Richard said. “I found a way to connect to the character’s yearning for family, because ultimately that’s what he was looking for.” He also mentioned how much he loved the arc of starting the show judging vampires (and Angel himself), and how that changed over time. 

Marsters famously played Spike on Buffy, but then made the move over to Angel for it’s final season. Marsters said that Spike’s original job was “to die” on Buffy, to simply be Drusilla’s boy-toy, and that he would be the first kill after a few episodes. They built Spike up to be cool in order to make Angel even cooler when Spike was taken down…but then that didn’t happen. “To his credit, Joss does not believe that evil is cool. He thinks that evil is laughable,” Marsters said. 

Joss Whedon didn’t necessarily want to keep Spike alive, despite fan reaction. He maintained that Spike was soulless, and did not care about anyone. He told Marsters with conviction, “that’s that.” Marsters, though, decided that he was going to find love, and he began to find it with Drusilla, undercutting Whedon’s meaning. “I needed a job!” Marsters said, adding, “I pretty much played Spike with a soul from the beginning, and that was wrong. So wrong.” The audience didn’t seem to mind his approach, though. 

Denisof also began on Buffy as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, and transitioned over to Angel, beginning as a “rogue demon hunter.” He was also only supposed to have two episodes on Buffy, but things went quite a bit further, obviously. “I think if each little step works, then you get to take the next one,” Denisof said. Thanks to dailies, people behind the scenes got to see what he was actually doing, and how well he was working. 

Carpenter prepared for the panel by rewatching Season 4’s “Spin the Bottle", going on to admit that Season 4 was her least favorite. This was all in service to praising Denisof, who went from a bumbling goof to more of a bad boy in later seasons. The two of them laughed when recalling their awkward kiss on Buffy, and Richards tagged on to that saying that he and Acker did not have any kissing problems. 

The transition of Acker’s Fred to the demon goddess Illyria was obviously a huge curve in Season 5, and Whedon did tell her well in advance that it was happening. Acker and Denisof then had time to prepare for their very emotional (and totally heartbreaking) scenes that led up (and out) of that transition in the episode “Hole in the World.” 

“We got to workshop the whole character,” Acker said, talking about how they settled on the look and mannerisms of Illyria. Dancing in Whedon’s kitchen was involved, and Acker looked best in a blue light. Thus, Illyria was blue-toned. 

The respect for the show’s scripts ran strong for all of them, and Marsters was praised for some of Spike’s one-liners. They asked the audience what their favorite was, and one fan immediately shouted, “you’re a wee little puppet man!” Marsters was kind enough to repeat the line for everyone. 

As for the show’s powerful cliffhanger ending, Marsters talked about how he just assumed that they were all dead, standing there in the rain, making the ultimate heroic sacrifice for the greater good. He then said that he opened up the continuing Angel comic, saw that he was alive, and thought, “oh, that’s nice.” Acker was excited by the ending, and Illyria in general, saying that she wished that she had that body. 

Richards’ simple response to that was, “you do.” The audience cheered for a full minute about that. 

One fan asked about Cordelia’s exit from the show, and if there was anything left to explore with the character. 

“That’s really loaded,” Carpenter said. “She would have been great to see in Season 5? I would have loved for her to come back.” She found out after signing that she was being written out, but would come back for just one episode. She didn’t want to come back just to die (for real), but that’s mostly what happened. She was convinced however when she was told how that ending would go, in what she described as “a seminal episode.” Carpenter maintains that Cordelia is still a huge part of her life, and the best character she’s ever played. 

Marsters added that the only reason he ended up on Angel was that they needed a new Cordelia, a character to look at the hero and say, “You’re stupid, we’re all about to die.” Was there more to explore from Acker’s Illyria, who we only knew for half a season?  “I’d love to explore more of it,” Acker said. “Both of my love interests…I didn’t get the full extent of it,” she said, possibly referring to Wesley and Fred, who only got together right before Fred made her transition to Illyria.

Richards had one lingering question about Gunn when he looks back at the show’s first season: “If Gunn was bald, why was he wearing a do-rag?” he all but shouted to the ceiling, before saying, “Guess who’s decision that was?” He also gave shout-out to the dearly departed Andy Hallett (Lorne), when a fan asked which other characters they’d like to attempt to play. It was only fitting that the incredible Lorne (Andy Hallett) got a mention. 

Are there any favorite episodes among the group? Carpenter liked the one where Cordelia got a sitcom, and also mentioned “Spin the Bottle” again. Any time that they were all together was a special one for her, Denisof was partial to “Hole in the World”, and Masters mentioned the brilliant puppet episode, ‘Smile Time.” When it came to favorite recurring villains, Richard was partial to Gina Torres (Jasmine), and Masters mentioned Nathan Fillion’s appearance on Buffy. Carpenter also brought up a Buffy moment, talking about how she was blown away by John Ritter’s villainous performance on that show. 

Many fans in the audience had nothing but heartfelt thanks to the group, and Denisof responded by saying that he was very grateful for that, as are they all. “We see that, and we thank you all for that time and energy,” he said. 

Could the band ever get back together? One fan wanted to know, and moderator Clare Kramer told the audience that if they wanted that to happen, then they should get loud about it. Shows like Veronica Mars have come back thanks to the fans, after all. 

Acker possibly had the story that summed up the love between these actors the best, saying that just the day before, the group of them were together and talking, and a stranger came up to them and asked a question: “I don’t know who any of you are, but why do you like each other so much?” 

Twenty years later, the love between the cast of Angel (and the love from the fans) has not faded away. 

Click here for SYFY WIRE’s full coverage of New York Comic Con 2019, including up-to-the-minute news, exclusive interviews, and videos.