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’Angel’ Is Back from the Dead

By Kate O’Hare

Monday 29 September 2003

The cast and crew of ’Angel’ talks about the upcoming fifth season, almost getting cancelled, and cashing in on the popularity of ’Buffy’

With director (and series co-creator and executive producer) Joss Whedon hunched over a small monitor in a cramped corner of the set, the cast and crew of The WB Network’s "Angel" begin work on what Whedon’s script calls "a big-ass Steadicam shot," which opens the show’s fifth season on Wednesday, Oct. 1.

For Angel (David Boreanaz), a vampire with a soul, and his motley crew of do-gooding crusaders, it’s their first step into a larger world.

Taking full advantage of the newly built set, an expansive suite of offices in downtown Los Angeles — as evidenced by the fictitious Spring Street address on an envelope at the beginning of the scene — the camera follows disoriented science-geek Fred (Amy Acker) out of the elevator, where she meets scholarly demon fighter Wesley (Alexis Denisof). They’re joined by Fred’s new assistant, Knox (Jonathan M. Woodward), who whisks her off upstairs, while Wesley grabs a basketball tossed by vampire hunter Gunn (J. August Richards).

They tour their offices, then return to the lobby, where they’re passed by flamboyant demon Lorne (Andy Hallett), nattering away on his cell phone. Angel appears from the same elevator as Fred, meets up with Gunn and Wesley, then heads into his huge, minimalist office.

"I won the bet on that one," Acker says. "I guessed 27 takes, and I got the closest without going over. It was 28. We finished it before lunch, so it only took like five hours."

"Was it 28 ?" Boreanaz asks. "I thought it was going to be at least 42. It’s where we’re at, as far as the show is concerned and where our new environment is at. It was a cool shot."

The shot is indeed cool and sleek and unlike anything seen on "Angel" before, as befits a show with a fresh concept and a new lease on life. Teetering on the brink of cancellation last spring, the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" spinoff managed to earn a fall berth and officially outlive the show that spawned it.

After keeping busy with "Buffy" and Fox’s short-lived "Firefly" last year, Whedon is now helping to fill a void left by the departures of co-creator David Greenwalt (now doing UPN’s "Jake 2.0," "Angel’s" time-slot competition) and executive producer Tim Minear, who wrote the "Angel" season finale, then signed onto FOX’s midseason drama "Wonderfalls."

Coming over from "Buffy" is writer David Fury, who is co-executive producer with Jeff Bell, who stepped up last year when Greenwalt left and Minear was pulled away on "Firefly.""

Life was full last year," Bell says. "Now we have a little more help, and life is beautiful."

Many factors contributed to the renewal of "Angel," including cost, the end of "Buffy," and the possible addition of "Buffy" cast members.

James Marsters, who played the vampire Spike on "Buffy," joined "Angel" for the full season, bringing much plot baggage. Angel turned Spike into a vampire, both now have souls, and both have had love affairs with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), whom producers hope will guest-star in February or May 2004.

"Buffy" star Alyson Hannigan has already guest-starred on "Angel," and as she’s engaged to Denisof, expect to see witch Willow drop by. Signed for 17 of 22 episodes is Mercedes McNab, reprising her "Buffy" and "Angel" role of spoiled vamp Harmony, Angel’s new secretary (and Spike’s ex).

"She’s a single, undead girl trying to make it in the big city," McNab says.

New to the cast in a recurring role is Sarah Thompson ("Boston Public") as the enigmatic Eve.

"The WB has always liked our show critically," Bell says. "Our audience numbers are always rock-solid. We’ve been everywhere on the schedule, and our fans always show up. But we’re not a cheap show. It’s not easy to be pretty. It costs money.

"It’s all about the numbers. Ultimately, they felt we were a good gamble."

While some have suggested that signing Marsters was the deciding factor, Bell says, "I don’t think so. It’s just a piece. If you look at him as representing a chit played to bring ’Buffy’ people over, it’s great. But Joe Blow in the street, who’s going to be tuning in for the first time, doesn’t know James Marsters vs. Angel vs. Anybody. It was an attempt to cash in on the ’Buffy’ audience, and it was a smart one.

"The hope is, between being the only Joss show on the air, and bringing people over from time to time from ’Buffy’ would help grow our audience."

Also a big factor was the finale, which upended the show’s premise. After four seasons of battling evil on a budget, Angel and his team got the keys to the kingdom when their longtime rivals, the evil law firm of Wolfram & Hart, ceded them its L.A. office (but not without strings).

The team now must find a way to do good in an environment suffused with evil — not to mention the temptations of wealth and luxury.

"I get to wear Marc Jacobs," Acker says.

"We’re going to show them what this new world is like," Bell says of the premiere. "We have this fabulous new office space. You’re going to see what each of our people’s little private kingdom is within it. You’re going to see the lay of the land. It has Joss humor in it.

"It really is introducing characters to people who’ve never seen the show before. The big mystery this year is, ’Why are we at Wolfram & Hart ? Why did they invite us in here ? Can we do good ?’

"There are lots of big, shiny, glittery things out there and how badly do you want them ? What price are you willing to pay ?"