SFX (UK) – 2002
March 2002 (issue #88)
You don’t have to be mad to work at Angel Investigations but it certainly seems to help. New girl Fred will calm down, actress Amy Acker assures Ed Gross, but maybe not too much…
One of the strengths of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (with emphasis on the word one) is the continual evolution of its core group of characters – or the Scoobies, if you will. What Team Whedon has done is set up a situation where a fluidity of central characters is not a drawback, but a bonus; where a character’s departure doesn’t detract from the show; where seemingly short term guest stars can unexpectedly gain promotion to credit sequence stardom.
And now Angel is pulling off the same trick.
When Glenn Quinn departed Angel (for whatever sordid or non-sordid reasons you choose to accept), Alexis Denisof was seamlessly integrated, followed in turn by J August Richards. Not satisfied with a core group of four, the show’s creators decided to add Winifred “Fred” Burkle to the mix, having introduced her from a demon dimension in the three-episode arc that concluded year two. Now in season three, her name’s there in the opening credits. She’s a bona fide central character. The question on more than a few minds, though, is how the impish, oddball, little girl lost played primarily for humour in her introductory episodes is going to fit in with Angel Investigations?
“I kind of wondered about that too,” admits actress Amy Acker. “I was kind of worried about Fred becoming a regular. My old roommate is a big Buffy fan, and she said, ‘I was on the website and people are not excited about a new character joining the show.’ It was before I’d even started, so I was like. ‘Oh, no!’ But it seems that everyone has been responding well to it.”
A Texas native, Acker was born in Dallas and initially found herself drawn to the idea of being a ballet dancer rather than an actress. “But then I had knee surgery,” she explains, “and realised that ballet wasn’t going to happen. I decided to take an acting class and was kind of glad that I did, because I liked acting a lot better.”
She enrolled at the Southern Methodist University to study Fine Arts and her career trajectory has, you suspect, been something of a breeze. Acker has no tales of hardship to relate, no diatribes about the difficulty of breaking into show business while living in roach or rat-infested New York lofts.
“I’ve been pretty lucky,” she laughs. “I was lucky because I went to SMU, which has a great theatre department. They have this thing called ‘January Audition’, and lots of people come and watch you – people from grad schools and theatre companies. So in my senior year this theatre company asked me to come do Shakespeare for eight months, before I even graduated. I kind of got an early start and have been pretty lucky. I went to Wisconsin and worked with the American Players, where I did maybe five plays and then we went on tour. I moved to New York for a little bit, then ended up doing a pilot and a couple of independent movies.”
Those films were The Accident, The Energy Specialist, and Groom Lake, the latter of which is a black comedy directed by Star Trek‘s William Shatner that still awaits the light of the projection booth. She decided that since she was making films anyway, she “might as well head out to Los Angeles where it’s nice and warm and sunny.”
Her role as Fred followed shortly after her relocation to La La Land, though, again, there is no incredible anecdote about how she nabbed the part. “I just went in for an audition,” she giggles, sounding very much like Fred. “I guess they had been looking for someone to fill this part since November [of 2000] and I had an audition in February, so it had been a while. Whether or not I was going to be a regular was unclear in the beginning. They knew that they wanted to add another girl character to the show, but I didn’t have very much film stuff to show them. They weren’t even sure what I would look like on film or anything. The first day I was on the job, Joss wrote a scene for me, J and Alexis. Something that we might use later on. So we did the scene, the WB saw the audition and I got a phone call asking if I’d like to become a regular. It was pretty quick once I started, but at first I didn’t know.
“I had been somewhat familiar with the show,” she adds. “In college there were people who would have Buffy/Angel nights and they would have a party and everyone would go watch the shows. I went to a couple of those. I didn’t know all the back histories, but everyone else seems to, so I’ve gotten caught up. Actually, not knowing that much about it kind of helped with the character, since Fred had spent so much time trapped in that other dimension. On the set I’ll say, ‘Oh, we can’t go there?’ and they’ll say, ‘Well, in episode six we went into this other place.’ It’s kind of like I’m learning just like Fred is. I think as we go on, there are getting to be more similarities between us. I don’t think I talk nearly as much as Fred does in real life, but I do think I’ve started to say random things and people are kind of like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I’m quirky in the sense that I’m kind of klutzy, so I’m always doing silly things. Hopefully I’m smart like her.
“I actually came up with some background for Fred, but during the first meeting I had with Joss and David, they sat down and told me a lot of what they thought the back history was. We worked together on it. I’ve added my own things to it, but then they’ll call me up and say, ‘Oh yeah, when Fred was in high school, she graduated three years early.’ Those are the kind of things they’ll add.”
One of the things that’s most intriguing about Angel for Acker is that she’ll often find Shakespearian connections with the material. She smiles, “When I got the job, my mom called and I said, ‘It’s not Shakespeare, but there are some demons.’ The thing is, Joss has us over to his house once a month where we sit in his backyard or his living room and just read Shakespeare plays, eat food, drink beer and stuff like that. He’s so smart and knows so much about everything I think he brings that into the shows. At some point you stop and say, ‘Oh, I see, we’re doing the Midsummer Night’s Dream episode.’ That connection is definitely there.”
Two significant episodes for Fred in the current season are “Fredless” and “Billy”. In the former, Fred’s parents come to town, the reunion giving the audience a glimpse of Fred as she was before she was taken away. In the latter episode, the touch of a killer manifests resentment and hatred in men towards women, and, in a sequence as frightening as anything in The Shining, Fred is literally running through the hotel to avoid a psychotic Wesley and then Gunn.
“They wanted to use ‘Fredless’ as a turning point for my character,” she says. “They want to keep her quirky, but get her a little more to where she can fit in with the group and help out. She’s been trying to figure out her role on the team since her parents left. In that episode, she says, ‘Gunn’s the muscle, Cordy’s the heart, Wesley’s the brains, Angel’s the hero,’ and she kind of realises that she doesn’t have a specific category. But then she realises maybe it’s okay that she doesn’t fit into one certain role.
“’Billy’” is one of my favourite episodes,” Acker elaborates. “Alexis is so much fun to work with and I was really scared most of the time we were shooting that. There wasn’t a lot of acting going on there. Both Alexis and J were pretty scary. When J broke that chair, grabbed the leg, then stormed at my face… I had no idea he was going to do that. Add to that the fact that the hotel where we filmed those scenes was in downtown LA in the middle of the night, and there was nobody else around. It was just a scary place to begin with; scary because you’re in a deserted hotel at 5:00 in the morning, being chased by someone with an axe.”
Although she has certain directions she would like to see Fred go in the future, Acker admits that she, like just about everyone involved in Buffy and Angel, is pretty much clueless about where the storylines are heading. But, also like everyone else, you can sense that she’s excited about the possibilities.
“Like the fans, we often hear rumours about our characters,” says Acker, “but we never know until we get the script if it’s actually true. I would just like to see her have more of a role in solving things. I like the episodes where she builds something or helps figure something out. At first people don’t get what she’s saying, but then they’re like, ‘Oh, she was right.’ I would love if she had some sort of special power, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. A lot of people have asked me whether or not it was hard to go on a show that was already kind of set, but not at all. Everyone was so helpful and welcoming and they’re just a great group of people. I really like all of them so much. Everyone has different qualities and brings different things to the scene. Last season when I started, I had all of those scenes with David Boreanaz and I thought, ‘Wow, he’s so wonderful to work with,’ but every time I do a lot of scenes with anyone, I realise they’re the ones I enjoy working with.
“For me,” she ponders, “this is something so different from anything I’ve ever gotten to do. Usually in everything I’ve done, I’ve played an ingénue victim role. I this I get to be funny and nerdy and it’s really exciting to play something completely different than you’re usually cast as.”
The third season of Angel is currently showing on Sky One on Thursdays at 9.00pm.
Text copyrighted to their respective owners; transcribed for Amy Acker Fan (amy-acker.org) — please do not repost elsewhere without permission first. Thank you.