From Clut Times Magazine Special Edition #28
AngelJeff Bell - Cult Times Magazine Interview
Transcribed by Deborah M.
Wednesday 17 December 2003, by Webmaster
This interview is aimed at a UK audience, who haven’t yet seen any new episodes.
`Jeffrey Bell may have initially been cozying up with aliens on `The X-Files’, but when Mutant Enemy caught his attention, he traded in those conspiracy theories and extraterrestrials for the supernatural anguish on AtS. "I like what ME was doing, came over and met with Tim Minear, Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt," recalls the executive producer/writer. "It was a big love-fest. When I came in, they wanted a Cordelia-centric episode. Most stories are broken in the room with a bunch of hopefully smart people throwing out ideas. At the time, I would pitch to Greenwalt and we’d then pitch to Joss. The writer then goes off, does a pretty detailed outline, and gets notes on that. There are elements in my first one `That Vision Thing’, that are mine - like powerful demon Skip - and then other things that come out of the room like Joss’s need to serve the bigger story. We wanted W&H to do something bad."
After all, that is what W&H does best. Or is it? In season 4’s finale `Home’, they unexpectedly handed over the keys to their LA office to Angel, giving the Fang Gang some serious evil-kicking resources. The move almost screams `set-up’, but with this new direction, Bell compares seasons 4& 5 to "Night and day, and I don’t mean good and bad because I really loved last year’s story. But it was a 22 episode story. If you were inside the arc, it was as emotionally satisfying as anything, but if you were on the outside, it was fairly perplexing. This year, we’re really trying to tell standalone stories. Because we’re in this new space and Angel can be in sunlight because of necro-tinted glass, the show is a little brighter. There’s no more gloomy hotel. We have people coming to us with problems along with our own inside W&H. Our second episode `Just Rewards’ was about introducing Spike to the AtS world but it was also about `We work for an evil company with an evil client and he doesn’t want to go.’"
Poor communication and low revenue could be the least of their problems. Lately, Angel has duked it out with such heavy-hitters as the Beast, a possessed Cordelia and Jasmine. And let’s not forget the impending end of the world prevented partially by allies Faith and Willow. So with no epic battles scheduled, does that mean no more Big Bads? "Well, that’s a complicated question," muses Bell. "We’re trying to construct a mythology that will allow us to pick it up and set it down through most of the season, asking the question, "Why are we really in W&H? What do they want? There will be certain episodes that focus very strongly on that but it’s not like there’s an apocalypse. The problem with hosting an apocalypse like last year is everything else seems very trivial. It was a problem `X-Files’ ran into the last couple of years. If there’s an alien invasion, I don’t really care about a dog monster in Georgia. With W&H, we can ask questions, go to standalone episodes, and you won’t feel cheated. That’s the hope. There will be a couple of characters that will appear and you’ll think, `Is this the Big Bad or not?’"
Two of those suspects should be familiar faces to longtime fans, while Angel’s new liaison, Eve, could easily be the devil in disguise. "We’re building a whole episode around the returning Harmony," reveals Bell. "Episode nine is all about Harmony. It’s a day in her life...it’s not easy being a young, single, undead person. And people are asking, `What is Eve?’ Whether she’s good or bad is something we’ll play out."
Then there’s Spike, who literally bit the dust in BtVS’s swan song episode `Chosen’, sacrificing himself to defeat the First. Obviously, his spectral return means someone is pulling William’s strings. "We will do our best to answer everything in bits and pieces," hints Bell. "Right now Spike is a ghost, but he’s not a normal ghost. What the hell is he and why is he here? Ultimately, you’ll learn not the big why but how and through what machinations it happened. I think he and Angel are a lot of fun. They have really different energy and viewers always say, `Treat Spike with respect!’ We as writers do, but if all the characters did, you’d be bored so fast. What makes Spike unique is he has this outside persona; he’s the big bad who doesn’t fit in. Otherwise, he’s just Angel. What’s great is people are so passionate about the characters that they yell and scream."
Some of the uproar is typically caused by the relationships. After all, who belongs with Buffy more - Angel or Spike? The show has always been about interpersonal dynamics and just because things went kaput between Fred and Gunn or Angel and Cordelia, it doesn’t mean Cupid’s job is done. "You’ll get some soap," teases Bell. "Wes still pines for Fred and two of our characters have in episode 5, although I don’t know if you’d call it romantic. We’ve not forgotten that aspect of the show so we’re trying to earn it without playing the same beats. And trying to find the right romantic interest for Angel is tricky."
In `Unleashed’, Angel saved werewolf Nina from becoming a fine dining entrée, and considering their common nocturnal habits, they do seem like a natural couple. "Nina is not becoming a regular, but there was good chemistry so we’ve talked about bringing her back," states Bell. "There are no master plans for Angel and werewolf girl but we’re always open to the possibility."
Bell promises upcoming episodes will thrust each cast member into the spotlight. In `Lineage’, Wes’s father visits to evaluate his son’s work for a new Watchers’ Council, and in `Life of the Party’, Lorne discovers the downfall of being the host of the company’s super-sized Halloween extravaganza. "And what goes wrong with that?" laughs Bell. "Lord, everything. It’s a romp. It’s a Spike you’ve never seen. You’ve got characters having sex that you would never imagine and there’s abominable behaviour in very funny ways." Yet the most anticipated episode, a rumoured guest appearance by Buffy, is not even a done deal. "We’re trying, and we hope but there’s nothing in cement or even tapioca," confirms Bell. "We know what we would do but it’s really about SMG’s availability. How she would handle Angel and Spike is where the sparks are. In terms of what would bring her to town, all I’ll say is at the end of BtVS, there were about 8,000 potential Slayers let loose upon the world. So she’s been travelling a lot, training, teaching, and checking in on them. It would be a very Slayer-related episode but it’s really about Buffy, Angel and Spike coming together and working things out."
Bell also guarantees a resolution to Cordy’s fate. As for Connor, nothing is written in stone, but Bell acknowledges the little scrapper was a tough character to viewers to sympathise with. "To me, VK came in as Connor and had a thankless task of being the Mordred son,"he says. "As writers, we didn’t give him a single break. Everything went against him and we thought he was an irredeemable character, especially after he kept doing horrible things. So we saved him. Emotionally, what would be most important to Angel is to give his son a childhood and happiness. To make a deal with the devil, W&H, to do that was a really powerful thing."
Although Bell obviously appreciates certain moments from the show, he doesn’t have an overall favourite episode. "I loved powerful demon Skip in my first story, `That Vision Thing’. I really liked `Forgiving’ where Angel tries to smother Wesley with a pillow. It was very emotionally satisfying. And I liked `The Magic Bullet’ which I directed, because I worked with Gina Torres who played Jasmine and it was a Fred-heavy story."
ME has a way of nurturing newbie directors, and `The Magic Bullet’ was Bell’s trial by fire. In retrospect, the experience couldn’t have been all that fetal position-inducing, could it? "What’s the word?"he reflects."Terrifying. We have a wonderful cast and crew who are very supportive. By and large, it was a blast. I even got to set a guy on fire. And I just did another one which was my lifelone dream, to tell a story about Mexican wrestlers."
That episode, TCToNC, finds Angel seeking the help of a legendary Mexican wrestler currently employed by W&H’s mail room. Together, they join forces to take down a vicious Aztec warrior named Tezcatcatl. "When I came to ME where you’re supposed to pitch emotionally-based stories, I pitched `Ahh..I think it would be cool to do Mexican wrestling!’ explains Bell. "Evidently, Joss has always had a soft spot for it as well. I tried to do it at `X-Files’, so it’s 6 years in the making. It’s going to be very colourful."
In the grand scheme of things, it’s business as usual for Angel and gang, but with a twist. And while fans are blood thirsty for another season, it’s too early to make predictions. But if the hourglass happens to run out, how does Bell see the 250 year old vampire’s final days? "It will be like at the end of `The Wild Bunch,’" offers Bell. "Joss knows it will go out, but it will be cool, emotional, bittersweet and heroic. Yeah, heroic is the word I would use."