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ANGEL: David Greenwalt
Guiding the BUFFY spin-off series into its own new territory.
By Edward Gross
July 25, 2000
It would be difficult to imagine Buffy
-creator Joss Whedon finding a more suitable creative partner than David Greenwalt. Having served as co-executive producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
since its first season, it seemed only natural that Greenwalt would be the man Whedon would pick to guide the show's spin-off, Angel
. As became apparent to everyone, Angel (co-created by both men) quickly managed to equal the strength of its progenitor, offering a series that, towards the end of its freshman year, could easily stand on its own two feet, connected to yet set apart from the show that had preceded it.
Greenwalt began his career in motion pictures, before making the shift to television. His credits prior to joining Whedon's Mutant Enemy Productions include the Stephen J. Cannell series THE COMMISH and a little show you may have heard of called THE X-FILES. In what is apparently a rare interview (given the time constraints of the series) Greenwalt discusses the evolution of the show and the character of Angel himself.
FANDOM: I'VE GOT TO TELL YOU, I THINK YOU'VE DONE A REMARKABLE JOB THIS YEAR WITH ANGEL.
David Greenwalt: That's very kind. We're feeling pretty strong about finding our feet. A little wobble here and there, but I think we're kind of finding how this show is different from Buffy
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO?
There seems to be slightly less lesbianism, at the moment. I'm hoping to correct that in the future. I'm hesitating because I'm trying to think back to the beginning when we talked about how different Angel
was from Buffy
, and how in fact it emerged and evolved from Buffy
. I guess, obviously, these people are older, out of school, in a bigger, darker cosmopolitan world. Sunnydale is, by definition, sunny, happy and a small town situation, although Buffy goes to a rather large university in a small town situation. So you have the obvious, that Los Angeles is a bigger epicenter; these are stories about people who are twenty-something and out of school, but I think that our monsters have to be slightly more believable. We have not always achieved it, but I think sometimes we have.
IS THAT IN ORDER TO ROOT THE SHOW MORE IN REALITY?
Yeah, I think there's a sort of cute cheesiness that you can't get away with quite as much on Angel
as you can on Buffy
, while at the same time it's cheese that we [use to] make fun of Angel by having him leap into the wrong car and do things so that he's not just the Dark Batman figure. We have to continue to make fun of him and have him make fun of himself and find the light side. The shows just feel very different to me, but I'm having a little trouble defining those differences because they are both shows with metaphoric demons that define problems in real life. They're both shows with a lot of heart and a lot of humor, and some good scares, hopefully. We had a crossover episode - episode 19 - in which Buffy comes to town and Angel eventually tells her to go home. It just felt like he was also defining, 'Our worlds are separate.' Maybe it's as simple as their relationship has a little distance put in. It was so unbelievably painful for both of them, but it feels like they've taken another step in their relationship. Somehow, emotionally, it now feels like two separate shows.Angel
really feels like it can stand on its own legs. Clearly, Angel is a character that grew out of Buffy
, and the show is something that grew out of Buffy
, so that's its lineage, but it does feel like it's on its own feet now. Some of our more L.A.-type stories are stories you probably wouldn't do in Sunnydale. I'm very happy with the show, though. I think highly of the actress episode ['Eternity'], and that feels like a particularly LA type show: 'I want to be eternal so I can be young and beautiful so I can continue to be famous forever,' and Angel shoving a bunch of blood down her throat. It just felt like great images that were really Angel
images and Angel
DAVID BOREANAZ SWITCHING GEARS LIKE THAT AND BECOMING ANGELUS AGAIN IT'S JUST WONDERFUL TO WATCH.
And having so damned much fun at it. I really felt he was Travoltaesque in his attitude of, 'I'm just having a good old time.'
JOSS HAS OFTEN TALKED ABOUT HOW BUFFY
EVOLVES IN WAYS HE HAS NEVER EXPECTED EACH SEASON. IS THE SAME TRUE OF ANGEL
It has. We sold Angel
as this gritty, urban thing, and we were going to show everything about Los Angeles. Then it was like, 'Los Angeles is kind of boring; kind of spread out with a lot of freeway.' When our shows are L.A.-specific, they're great, but as we ground on through the year, I felt, 'Too many goddamn warehouses.' We also originally felt, and I think this was false hope, that the show would be easier because it would be more of an anthology than Buffy
. A client will come in and Angel will solve cases, and we won't have to find what the Angel aspect of it was like we always did on Buffy
. What we found as this show developed was thatwhen we found what is the Angel of it, what is the Cordelia of it, what is something that really, truly affects one of our charactersthen the show is so much better, and we were dismayed to find that because it's harder to do that kind of show. It requires more work. Some of our stand-alone episodes were great, in which a client comes in, you service the client and you solve a crime, but these shows are always better if the demon is the metaphor for something that directly impacts our characters. Obviously some of my favorites are Cordelia refusing to give up her haunted apartment, Angel saving Faith basically from herself when she doesn't even know she needs saving from herself; Angel's own long journey back to sobriety from drinking blood for all that time, Wesley appearing as a 'rogue demon hunter' and realizing he's an utter failure, and then finding a little bit of success; Cordelia waking up eight months pregnant the next day after one not-so-casual date. These are all issues and shows that reverberate for me.
As a matter of fact, with 'Eternity,' I think Joss had always known there would be an episode about an actress who wanted to be eternal. But we kept making her younger and younger, because of the WB being the young person's network. Originally the actress was a 38 or 40 year old on the cusp of obscurity, but now she's a twenty-something year old on the cusp of obscurity because of the network's desire to get ever younger.
IT'S ALMOST A COMMENTARY ON THAT FACT.
Well, we certainly had a little fun with it. Originally we broke that story as this girl finds out what Angel is and wants to be made a vampire. There was a whole other plot in acts three and four that did not involve Angel going bad and tormenting her. It was a perfectly good script and perfectly good episode, but something was gnawing at us. Angel went and saved Cordelia who had been kidnapped by the evil manager of the actress, but it wasn't until we realized that something about the actress story had to mean something to Angel that it started to come together. Then we got to the point of, 'What if she gave him some kind of ecstasy-like drug and he went bad?' Immediately you had a very exciting story, and that, to me, was a crucial lesson that it has to reflect on our people; it's got to mean something emotionally. In one sense it all sounds pretty obvious, but in the other it's a lesson that we keep learning every day. So the show, in fact, while it was all of the things we sold it as, became more of a personal journey of our characters. Then we did a lot of flashbacks and learned a lot about Angel's past, which was something we always intended to do anyway, but I think some of those shows were some of our more exciting episodes. This guy's been alive for a long time, so there's lot to reference in him; there's a lot to learn about this guy.
ONE OF THE STRENGTHS OF A SHOW LIKE HIGHLANDER
IS THAT YOU'RE ABLE TO DRAW ON 400 YEARS WORTH OF THE CHARACTER'S BACKGROUND.
It's really fun to do, and it's fun to see how Angel's past reflects on the modern day story. Obviously the flashback in the Faith episode was what happened to him the day after he first got his soul returned to him. It is sort of the place that Faith is about to be in; she's going to have a chance to have a soul. So his journey is interesting to watch and it reflects directly on what's happening to her in the story.
DO YOU SEE THE FLASHBACKS PLAYING AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN YEAR TWO?
Oh boy do I! Early on we'll be going back, but it may be '30s or '40s L.A.something more recent. We have lots of material to play with, but I remember you would tune in to Doogie Howser
and they'd all be in the Civil War, and that type of thing. I just don't want to get wacky and crazy with the flashback stuff. As long as the past story informs the present one, that's what we'll be looking for.
ANY POSSIBILITY OF FAITH COMING BACK?
God, we hope so. We hope she'll either come back a little or a lot. It just has to do with her movie career and availability. We adore her. We think she's a necessary part of the puzzle here, and if she's available we'll bring her back as much as Eliza [Dushku] wants to be involved. There are a lot of different directions you can go with her, and I hope that she'll be able to return to us on some basis.
THE IMPRESSION WE GET IS THAT THE STREET-WISE VAMPIRE HUNTERS WILL BECOME A REGULAR ELEMENT OF THE SHOW.
The guy who is the leader of these street-kids vampire hunters will become a regular for us next year. He's terrific. His name is J. August Richards and he's a wonderful actor and brings a lot to the party. There's a sort of reckless abandon about him and there's a certain, 'I love the hunt and the thrill and I kind of like to kill vampires' attitude about him. The other side is the attitude, 'I protect a lot of people. There are a lot of homeless kids and we move from warehouse to warehouse and we protect them.' Angel, to him, is a vampire and should be killed, but Angel does some good things and they become a little confused as to whether or not they should kill him.
WHAT DOES THIS TYPE OF CHARACTER BRING TO THE MIX?
He's more street; he's more impulsive; he doesn't think things through; he does crazy things; he has no patience for victims. And Wesley hates bullies and, to him, this guy is a bully. To Gunn, in his own mind, his attitude is, 'I came from the fucking streets; I don't want to hear about your problems or your whining.' I think he brings a gritty urbanness to the show, and there's both humor and raw courage in the guy. I think he brings a lot to us. Buffy
, at the end of last year, they were saying, 'Okay, who of our characters can we bring back?' and they had like 41 people in the Buffy pantheon. We had a lot fewer people, but as the year has gone on we've added this millionaire David Babbit to the mix a little bit, and Darla's come back and Faith and now Gunn. We're going to keep adding people to the mix as either regulars or returning people until we get a great big mix that we really like. That gives us more people to draw on and more arcs to build.
You know, the whole thing that attracted me to the Joss Whedon universe isas a former movie guyI can do humor and drama in the same shows. TV has changed a lot in the last few years, but it used to be that if you were a movie guy, you had to come in and do serious one-hour TV. But it's just not life-like. I like finding the balance. But we've had a good run. As to Mr. Whedon, I don't know how he does it. He broke 44 stories last year and wrote a lot of them, too.
BUT WITH ANGEL
, YOU'RE EXTREMELY INVOLVED.
I'm 110% on Angel
. My life is pretty much wrapped up in Angel
, although I consult on Buffy
occasionally. Yet I still get enough of Mr. Whedon. The truth is, half of Mr. Whedon is like three of any other guy, and I get enough of him that we break all of these stories together and he sees every cut and gives notes on every script to make sure that it's true to his high standards, and that's important to me.
OKAY, NOW I HAVE TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE THAT HAS DRIVEN ME CRAZY ALL SEASON LONG: HOW IN HELL IS ANGEL ABLE TO SPEND SO MUCH TIME WALKING AROUND IN SUNLIGHT WITHOUT BECOMING TOAST?
There have been some complaints about, including some from Mr. Whedon who is always saying, 'Goddammit, get them out of the light,' but my opinion is that the rule is I can stand next to bright light, as long as I'm not in
the bright light. This has led to certain confusions between us and the production of 'What does that mean? Does that mean I can stand next to a window or not?' Well, I've sort of closed all of the blinds in Angel's office. Overall, this does not bother me, but it certainly bothers a lot of people and we've had no end of grief about this.
WHEN IT BOTHERS ME, THOUGH, IS WHEN HE'S IN THE POLICE STATION.
But he's not in direct sunlight. I know that it bothers a lot of people, but that's ambient light. He's not in sunlight.
BUT WHEN YOU SEE SHAFTS OF SUNLIGHT COMING IN THROUGH THE VARIOUS WINDOWS, YOU THINK HE'LL HAVE TO DANCE AROUND THOSE SHAFTS TO AVOID THE SUN.
In fact we have shown him doing things like that, but the thing is that people aren't used to seeing a vampire in daylightperiod. We even had Angel define it in an episode when he gets mad at this character Barney and says, 'No, I don't sleep in a coffin and as long as I'm not in direct light....' He's kind of expressing our thoughts. At the same time, we can do better on that front and hopefully his new digs will be a little more clearly defined in terms of where there is light and where there isn't light.
EARLIER WE WERE TALKING ABOUT THE DEVELOPMENT OF ANGEL AS A CHARACTER. A TRULY GOOFY MOMENTBUT AN INTERESTING ONEIS WHEN HE IMAGINED HIMSELF DOING A GEEK DANCE IN THE EPISODE 'SHE'.
That dance was something we were waiting to do for years, because David Boreanaz has this weird little dance that he does. Originally we thought that maybe it would be Xander's imagination of the way Angel would dance. We knew there was a way to do this, and Joss, of course, tucked it away in his brain. When we were doing this episode he said, 'Do a party scene; have a girl ask him to dance, and do a fantasy of what he thinks he would look like dancing.' To me, that's pretty terrific writing because, obviously it's fun and entertaining, but it's also a funny point on why Angel doesn't mix with people. The normal reason he doesn't mix with people is that he's a vampire and he doesn't want to drink their bloodand no happiness and all this shit. But, also, he doesn't want to look like a goofball. We'll have more of that kind of notion coming early next year that has a lot to do with karaoke. That's all I'll say about it! But this is the stuff that I live for. This is the stuff that's fresh and we're not seeing on other shows. You don't expect your hero to look silly, yet it's on point. If used emotionally correctly, it's hysterical.
THE GREAT THING ABOUT IT IS YOU'VE GOT THIS GUY WHO'S SO COOL AND TOUGH, YET HE KNOWS HIS LIMITATIONS.
Exactly. I happened to be watching Die Hard
yesterday, and they broke the mold with this guy because he was scared to death. All he kept saying was, 'Jesus, please let me live! Oh God, oh God, oh God!' And he was the most wonderful hero because you hadn't seen that guy, and he was such a wonderful character. I just love different shades and different sides of a character, and that's what we'll be exploring with Angel.