Have you ever noticed what a funny thing time is? It changes everything so quickly. One minute you could be waiting tables and the next, you’re discovered by a commercial agent. Before you know it, you’re in television commercials, appearing on Baywatch and then Aaron Spelling’s Malibu Shores. This then leads to auditioning for a role on Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer series. Subsequently cast as Cordelia Chase, a role that would be played for the next 7 years and finishing up on Angel with the 100th episode. Then going on to guest roles on Charmed, Veronica Mars and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
For actress Charisma Carpenter, this is exactly what happened. The other funny thing about time is that things seem to happen much faster when you look back on them. A blur of events, a whirlwind of experiences, skills acquired and lessons learnt.
I arrived at Lionsgate offices in London a little earlier than scheduled. It was one of those hot yet humid days in London. Where the sun shone, the breeze didn’t blow and where the air was thick. I sat on a black leather sofa, shifting around in my seat. My dark trousers were uncomfortable, one size too small and in danger of coming apart at the seams, but they were my best pair. I looked down at my shoes to make sure they were still shiny from the polish I had given them earlier. With it, I wore a long black kurta with green and orange embroidery around the collar and down the front. Being of Indian ancestry, I’ve always enjoyed the flavours of fashion and food from my heritage, and wanted to look my best for Charisma.
An assistant came to collect me and I made my way to the room where Charisma was seated on a similar black leather sofa. Wearing a black jacket and underneath it a short, low cut, strapless blue, yellow, pink, orange and black patterned dress, she looked stunning. Her long dark hair with shades of brown, parted in the middle and hanging down the shoulders framed her face beautifully. But I am drawn to her brown eyes as we reach for each other’s hands and make eye contact. She smiles and shakes my hand, asking where I’m from and as I answer I notice her rosary tattoo on her wrist. In those moments as we observe each other, time stops and I cease to give the clock another thought. At least, not for the next 15 minutes because the next words I hear are:
CHARISMA: I love your shirt!
Her voice is the same recognisable voice we know and love as Cordelia’s. There’s a sense of playfulness and familiarity about her immediately. I smile as I take my seat opposite her and explain that I wanted to wear something special for her because I knew she would be looking her best, so I didn’t want to turn up looking as if I hadn’t made an effort.
CHARISMA: So it’s a traditional Indian shirt? Do you have family from India?
Yes, time had truly seemed to have stopped for us in that room. Charisma has as many questions as I do it seems! As we chat about family traditions, culture and India, she tells me about wanting to visit there and seeing places like the Taj Mahal; the greatest gift a lover ever gave his beloved. We talk about friends who have visited there and shared stories about their life changing experiences and we nodded at each other having just decided that India needs to be visited. Just then though, the door opens and someone informs us we’re running out of time! Time might have stopped for us inside, but outside of the room it seemed to be galloping ahead! And I hadn’t even begun the interview or started recording!
We decide to get down to business and Charisma places my dictaphone beside her as we continue.
PATRICK: I interviewed Reg Traviss (director of Psychosis) and he spoke about wanting an American actress for the role of Susan, someone who would be an outsider in this English village in the story, but also in real life would give a culty feel to the film. But I was wondering what drew you to Psychosis?
CHARISMA: I think ultimately the reason why I did it is because of Reg, but it has to start on the paper. And I felt that Susan would be a challenge and I thought that there some scenes specifically that would be fun to do. I hadn’t done a film where I needed to prepare, which is a Meisner technique, I’ve never had the time to like really dive into a character – I had 10 years of Cordy! But what I mean is, to sort of practise what I had been taught in school and to practise the craft of acting and to rise to the emotional occasion, if you will. So I was really attracted to the level of difficulty I thought that I would have to overcome.
If there were any difficulties, Charisma definitely overcomes them in the movie. Playing the role of Susan, a successful writer who relocates to England with her husband David (played by Paul Sculfor), we see Charisma peel back the layers of her character to reveal a woman who could come apart at any time. She asks if I have seen the movie, I nod “yes”.
PATRICK: I did, they sent it over to me and I had a chance to watch it with all the extras and the Making of, where you were saying that you really wanted to give your best in this.
CHARISMA: Yeah! I haven’t even seen the Making of! See, you’re giving me all kinds of tidbits! I think I’m getting more from you that I’m giving! I’m really so proud of it, I really am, it was really something so special for me and it was like my first real starring role. I mean, I starred in some stuff for ABC Family and Lifetime but this was, you know, different. It was so special because it was a very intimate cast and crew. We all lived together for a month in this giant house and to have that rapport I think it showed in the film. There was a real sense of camaraderie and we all knew each other really, really well and then it’s over four weeks later. You feel like you met your best friend there or you have a really deep connection with people. That’s the hard part of being an actress; that you go off to another set or you go to another place and you detach and you don’t get to spend much time together anymore after that. But you have really intense experiences working on something. You’re devoted to it morning and night and then you have to walk away and cut ties. This business is a very interesting family. Sometimes dysfunctional!
We then get to talking about the idea of a sequel for Psychosis, something which I would love to see. I have this idea where Susan comes back to help the new family who have moved into the house, and in the great tradition of heroines who come back in sequels, the die. Heroically, of course.
CHARISMA: Actually we talked about that last night when we had drinks! We talked about Psychosis 2. I really want her to sort of like, get back at the husband and he was like, well, he died! And I said, yes, I realise that, but I wanna know she’s ok, that he didn’t squander her money away.
PATRICK: I was sad that she was kind of a victim of all these horrible things so I want her to come back and see she’s ok too!
CHARISMA: Yes, I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that she was a victim. I agree. I am drawn to strong women! Well, after Cordelia what’re ya gonna do?!
PATRICK: Sword wielding Cordelia!
CHARISMA: Yeah! My favourite.
Charisma left Angel toward the end of season 4 when it was revealed her character Cordelia was the Big Bad. After giving birth to the demon Jasmine whom Angel’s son had fathered, Cordelia went into a coma. Charisma was heavily pregnant in real life, so the time her character spent off-screen was the much needed time for her new family. She did however return for the show’s 100th episode “You’re Welcome”, where Charisma not only got to wield a mighty sword, but also got say goodbye to Cordy. All that talk of action and fighting was making me a little hungry and there was a little rumble in my tummy, which even my Dictaphone might have picked up. Time to talk about food!
PATRICK: So what sort of food have you been enjoying in London?
CHARISMA: I just went to Flavours of India near Paddington station, it’s a bar and grill – and the FOOD!!! I come to London and all I want is Indian food! Don’t give me anything else but Indian food! But actually across the street is a Navaros, it’s a tapas, Spanish tapas, its 25 years going, it was delicious, but Flavours of India bar and grill near Paddington station (claps hands) was delicious!!! And then they gave me a dessert that was on a stick and it was like a flavour I never really had before – it was sort of like mango meets cream meets coco nuts – it was just really mild and refreshing and tasty! It was SOOOO amazing! Now I’m gonna back to the States craving it! I’m not gonna be able to have my craving satiated until I get back.
PATRICK: Are you vegetarian or…carnivorous?
CHARISMA: Carnivorous! Are you a vegetarian?
PATRICK: No! Carnivorous too!
CHARISMA: You are?!! See, there you go, its supposed to be hard on your system, but I think if you eat red meat day in and day out –
Just then, the door opens again and time tries to creep its way in. Charisma looks up and I look at her.
CHARISMA: Oh my God, we’re just started!
We keep going though as they leave us to it.
PATRICK: So, The Expendables, are you going to be in the sequel?
CHARISMA: Well, I don’t know if there’s going to be one. I didn’t get to see it at the screening because I was in Australia so I asked my agent, “So, am I in the end? Do I go off with him?” Because we shot it in so many different ways I was like “Which ending is it? Am I gonna be in the next one?!” So the answer is…(spoiler alert!) we ride off in the sunset!
PATRICK: I just saw the trailer and you’re in it!
CHARISMA: Yeah! I have a kiss. (smiles)
PATRICK: Well I hope to see you in lots more things!
CHARISMA: Well I hope so too, from your lips to God’s ears! (Looks to see if anyone is coming, the coast is clear though) We have time, keep going!
PATRICK: Both of your characters on Angel and Charmed were seers and in Psychosis, Susan displays a similar skill. In real life, are you somewhat of a vision girl yourself?
CHARISMA: Interesting! Um, I’m not! I’m not! But you gotta go where the love is! It just seems to happen!
PATRICK: Now, Cordelia, she was one of my favourite characters on the show –
CHARISMA: ONE? (Arches one eyebrow, smiles deviously and mocks offence at the mere idea of it!)
PATRICK: Um (backtracking) THE! THE favourite character!
At this point we can’t stop laughing and in that moment I realised something. Joss Whedon certainly wrote great storylines and dialogue, but there was always something about the way Charisma delivered those lines that made them so delicious. It was her. Pure her! That “ONE?” wasn’t a Cordelia moment, it was a Charisma moment.
PATRICK: She (Cordelia) says what she thinks, but people don’t see the other side; her suffering and the things she goes through. And it’s similar with Susan, but what about you, do you see a duality with your own life?
As Charisma is about to answer though, the door opens, but she looks up and waves them away, “not yet”. Sword wielding Charisma!
CHARISMA: You make a very valid point, I never thought of it in terms of that. I don’t think that in my life I’ve experienced that level of fame that it’s intrusive. Not that I want that level of intrusion but yes, we’re public. But I think that would be really, really difficult to juggle and to manage and I think that is life. It’s just that when you’re in the movies I think that its life with a twist. I think it takes a very special person, like everything that’s going on with Lindsey Lohan. She is a young girl, y’know. There’s not a lot of compassion and there’s a lot of criticism and stuff and that can really tear a person apart. That could really make a person not want to be around anymore. The sort of scrutiny and attention that she gets on her mess-ups. You can’t even be a kid, you even be normal. And then it’s like you’re angry because she has it so well. My feeling from the press is that they’re bitter that she had any success and that she’s throwing it away. I don’t think many people can handle that kind of pressure. And the fact that she’s still on this planet and still fighting… it’s sad, but I hope she comes out of it and it would be a really wonderful thing and it will be testimony to her strength. Like anybody in that position. It’s tough.
PATRICK: Do you still think about being an English teacher?
CHARISMA: Yeah! All the time! All the time!
PATRICK: For the quiet life?
CHARISMA: No, not the peace and quiet, but just because I think I would do it well and I would love doing it and I would love being with kids and sharing my passion.
The last time I remember seeing Charisma walk down the hallways in a school it was none other than Sunnydale High. But to imagine her as teacher rather than student would not be a stretch of the imagination. Her warmth and friendliness combined with her enthusiasm when she talks about things she loves, enjoys and feels proud of would be a great asset to her as a teacher, something she wanted to be when she was back in school before being bitten by the acting bug. But now, here, she is Charisma, the actress and while my day is almost over, hers has barely begun.
It’s now just past 3pm and there’s a queue of reporters still waiting to talk to her and I have eaten away enough of their time. In a few hours Charisma will don a different outfit and be escorted to the London premiere of Psychosis with co-star Paul Scuflor. They will be joined by Reg Traviss and the rest of the Psychosis cast members where she will pose for pictures and sign autographs. We say our goodbyes, shake hands and as I turn to leave, I already feel the seconds rushing back to my body. But it’s not time which changes everything so quickly, we use time to measure how quickly those changes occur. On the outside, just fewer than 15 minutes, on the inside, nothing at all. There’s nothing that can’t be achieved when you have a little time and Charisma though! I try not to let my trousers rip as I leave.
Happy Birthday Charisma! (23.07)
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .