Thursday, June 4, 2009

RIP, Andy

Wasn't Andy Hallett amazing? Among the other tragedies of Angel's premature cancellation was how the audience lost out on more opportunities to enjoy the acting talents of this gifted performer before he passed away at the age of 33 on March 29, 2009.

There are a lot of wonderfully informative online tributes to Hallett which I'll let you read if you want the nuts and bolts of his career. This Wikipedia entry is a good starting point.

The first time I saw Hallett perform as Lorne in "Over the Rainbow", I thought he was a fantastic, experienced, older character actor. Imagine my surprise when I found out later on he was only about 26 years old and had never acted professionally before in his life until he kicked off Season 2 with his performance in "Judgment".

It turns out Joss Whedon tailor-made the part of Lorne for Hallett (who was Whedon's wife's personal assistant) after seeing him perform at B.B. King's lounge just outside of Universal City. I say what a collaboration between the two, as Whedon and Hallett must have drawn a lot of inspiration from each other to create the part of Lorne. Whenever I think of Hallett, I'm reminded of Leonard Nimoy as Spock. To me, both actors looked more "normal" with their makeup and prosthetic pieces on than when they were "themselves".

It's been widely reported that Hallett suffered from cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure due to the spread of a dental infection to his bloodstream, roughly about a month after the taping of the last episode of Angel. I've read other reports that he was suffering through the dental infection during the taping of Angel, but held off on dental surgery because he didn't want to hold up production. Regardless, it just shows the power that old-fashioned infections still hold over the human body. Just because a person has an easily-treatible infection doesn't mean that treatment should be delayed. I also can't help but think of the poor little 12-year old boy in Maryland who died from his dental infection because of difficulties his mother had in finding a provider who would accept Medicaid as payment.

Of all of the major characters in Angel, I believe Lorne had the deepest love for humanity. Whenever I watch Hallett's performances, the word "warmth" runs continuously through my mind. As much as I loved Hallett's singing voice, I thought the rich tones of his speaking voice were even more impressive! We learned that even though the mind-reading anagogic demon's carefree demeanor hid a much darker, more complex personality, his coping mechanism was to try to bring peace, love, joy, happiness and understanding to almost everyone he met. It's telling that he not only used his powers to inform people of their futures, he took it many steps further by counseling his subjects on how to cope to with their new-found knowledge. His purpose in life wasn't to try to slash the heads off of his enemies, but to try to directly improve people's lives.

Lorne hated injustice as much as anyone, which was why he was eventually drawn into the Angel family. But deep down he always felt he had to answer to himself. Lorne was not a neutral, but he did have the ability to step back and look at the overall picture. He often cautioned Angel against just going all out on psycho revenge, and gently but firmly advised him that the long-term consequences of his actions could possibly be worse than the short-term gain. In fact, I trusted Lorne's judgment so much, I felt vindicated in my hatred of the Connor character simply because Lorne, the least likely person on Angel, was the only one who repeatedly lost his cool with Connor, refused to acknowledge any good in him, and even tried to kill Connor himself!

Wasn't it too bad that Lorne ultimately lost his nightclub, Caritas? The Angel creators might have thought the nightclub kept Lorne away from the Angel family too much, but I actually thought the destruction of Caritas limited the show's range of opportunities. Lorne could have easily still had a life outside of Caritas, and still run the nightclub. Even though Lorne ran Caritas as a neutral-zone, as I mentioned above, it was not because Lorne was unwilling to take sides. He had the very mature attitude that there was a need to have a place for all parties to meet, relax, mingle, maybe scout each other out, recharge, then go back forth into the world to continue their battles. Perhaps Lorne allowed Evil to flourish, but Lorne recognized more shades of gray in the Black and White between Good and Evil than perhaps anyone else on Angel.

Lorne quickly recognized Angel's courage and convictions, and ultimately became willing to follow Angel implicitly. However, if Lorne did not have such an independent streak, he might not have been quite so charitable in his attitude toward Angel after Angel went to him for support while wallowing in the deepest depths of his misery in Season 2.

I think Angel recognized Lorne's willingness to be able to accept the various shades of gray and allowed himself to trust Lorne's judgment more than once, which ultimately influenced his decision to allow Lorne into the family fold. Angel did not always follow Lorne's advice, but he recognized Lorne's ability to bring a clear and different perspective to the table.

Lorne often acted as the conciliator, and tried to ease tensions with his joking amiability. He was even downright cowardly in many situations, which was in keeping with his character. However, Lorne often wasn't afraid to stand up for his convictions. I thought Lorne/Andy Hallett was at his best when he looked at people straight in the eye and told them the straight scoop in no uncertain terms. One moment I can think of was in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" when he advised Angel that "Evil's coming, Angel, and it's planning on staying."

Another moment was in the series finale when Lorne, disgusted with his assignment to take out Lindsey, (although the audience didn't know that at the time), informed Angel, "Hey, Angel, uh, I'll do this last thing for you, for us... but then I'm out, and you won't find me in the alley afterwards. Hell, you won't find me at all. Do me a favor. Don't try." And with that, he left Angel forever.

I'd often thought Andy Hallett had great dramatic talent, which was understandably underutilized in a series that featured so many strong performers. I thought his finest moment occurred during his execution of Lindsey, when Lorne advised him, "You're not part of the solution, Lindsey. You never will be."

Christian Kane gave an interesting version of the filming of that particular scene in a podcast he recorded earlier this year. Even though the audio quality is horrible, I highly recommend you listen to the podcast for Kane's colorful version of the events. However, I will say that, just like the character of Lindsey, Kane himself was horrified that he was taken out by the "gay karaoke demon" rather than Angel. Kane stressed that Andy Hallett was a very good friend of his, and claimed that even Hallett was quite upset that his character was called upon to shoot Lindsey. Hallett reportedly did not like guns, and as you view the scene, you can just see Hallett/Lorne absolutely dripping with disgust over the turn of events. As I've said in a previous post, his simple "Good night, folks" to close out the scene was not only the perfect ending to his appearances on Angel, but a poignant farewell to his TV fans as well.

How can you pick a favorite character on a TV show, particularly when you have so many good actors to choose from? It's pretty obvious who I've picked out as my favorite character on Angel, but Lorne might possibly come in as a close second place. Lorne the Karaoke Demon was pretty unique, but the purpose of the character is not without precedent. A lot of TV shows have characters whose job is to provide a much-needed change of pace within an episode, by lightening up the mood through humor (think of Klinger on MASH), or by providing a unique insight by giving us a different point of view (think of Wilson on Home Improvement). Andy Hallett's Lorne served both of these roles admirably, and then some. Hallett's Lorne is a genuine bona fide TV icon.

Andy Hallett seemed to have a real appreciation for older pop standards. I remember his references to Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin on Angel, and I've read references to Motown in at least one of his interviews. I'd give anything to have been able to drive around Detroit with Andy in a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX convertible and showed him the ghosts and haunts of all of the great musicians who lived there so many years ago!

Sadly, I found out about Andy's death on the exact same day I saw my first episode of Angel, in late March. I was doing online research about Angel and ran across the names of a lot of the actors. Imagine my surprise when I saw Hallett's death announcement on the MSN home page just a few short hours after I found out his real name!

Andy, you are sorely missed. May you rest in peace knowing that the love from your fans will keep your memory alive for many, many years to come.

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