On October 5th 1999, Angel first aired on The WB and while not known at the time it would gather a fandom willing to excitedly pop out of their collective coffins exactly 20 years later. On Saturday the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off had a reunion panel featuring almost all the main players. Moderated by Buffy actress Clare Kramer the lineup featured Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia Chase), Alexis Denisof (Wesley Wyndam-Pryce), J. August Richards (Charles Gunn), Amy Acker (Winifred “Fred” Burkle), and James Marsters (Spike). The hour long panel was a nostalgic walk down memory lane with both the cast and fans reminiscing on their favorite elements of the series starring the vampire with a soul.
First off Kramer had the cast reflect on their individual characters as each underwent significant growth throughout the course of the series. For Carpenter, the series not only represented change for her character Cordelia but for herself as an actress as she had to make the adjustment from Buffy to Angel. On the show there was more responsibility due to there being a smaller cast and she didn’t know what to expect. Once her fears were evaded she felt that she could step into the role of Cordelia and watch her grow.
“I’m always amazed to hear that Cordelia inspired [fans] to be more confident,” Carpenter said about how her character’s journey has affected viewers. “I remember her always being the mean girl [on Buffy], and I remember the first years on [that show] fans would never talk to me.”
Richards talked about how his character initially started off as anti-vampire, but in working with Angel his viewpoint changed. He said the beauty of his character’s storyline was that it showed that people you decide are horrible can sometimes surprise you; you can find common ground for mutual results as well as form a family with them. The closeness of the characters wasn’t just confined to the television screen according to the actor.
“That’s exactly what happened off camera with us,” Richards said. “We’ve been friends all these years the show’s been over. I was at [Denisof’s] wedding; I’ve been through so many beautiful things with these people. It’s interesting how sometimes art imitates life and life imitates art.”
In Acker’s case the transformation her character Fred went on throughout the series was more literal. In Season 5 her character was tragically killed off only to return as a demon goddess named Illyira soon after.
According to Acker, Angel co-creator Joss Whedon gave the actress a lot of prep before the transition occurred so she could develop the character; Acker and Denisof even workshopped the character in Whedon’s kitchen with various mood lighting which determined the character’s appearance.
“This is something you never get to do in any television job; you usually just show up and hope that you made a right choice,” Acker said. “We got to workshop the whole character, and he was flipping the colors on the lights. We tried it with red. We tried it with blue, and he’s like ‘Ah, you’re gonna be blue!”
Soon afterwards the remainder of the panel shifted towards the fans where they had the opportunity to ask the cast their burning questions. Though Angel ends with its surviving characters’ fates open, in years following the story has continued in various comics from publishers Dark Horse and Boom! Studios; one fan wondered if there was anything from the comics the cast wished they could have portrayed.
“Survived,” Marsters said which got a laugh from the audience. “I was surprised. When we filmed the finale my thought was we were wrapping up the arc of Angel. We were introduced to him as a villain, as a bad vampire, and then he makes a slow arc into being redeemable, and then finally to hero. What I thought Joss was thinking was ‘The most heroic thing we can have him do is to give up his life in a fight to save other people that he knows he’s going to lose, that he knows he’s going to die, but he has to try anyways. That’s the ultimate heroic act.’ We were out in the rain, and I’m thinking ‘Oh, we’re definitely dead. It’s less powerful if we’re not.’ Then I opened a comic book and was like “Oh! That’s nice!”
Before asking Denisof a question one fan revealed a personal story about how Buffy and Angel helped him get through his mother’s cancer and death and gave thanks to the cast.
Denisof responded with a comment affirming just how important Angel’s fans have meant to the cast over the past 20 years.
“This is amazing for us — that you guys are here. We are so happy to share ourselves, but what I think’s really significant for us is that you share with us,” Denisof said. “It’s evolved overtime what this this relationship is, and I don’t even know how to explain it. I do want to say we all feel extraordinary grateful that you support this show, that you support the work that everybody’s done here; it means a great deal to us.”