Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In Their Own Words: Alexis Denisof

In my previous post, "In Their Own Words: Stephanie Romanov", I discussed how I have a hard time letting go of the main questions I have about Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Lilah Morgan in Angel, being, did they love each other and did they have a relationship? (Hint: I always shout out an emphatic YES to both.)

Alexis Denisof has said some very lovely things in the past about his character Wesley's relationship with Lilah in Angel. Here's a transcript of the above YouTube video of a Q&A session held at a Slayercon event in Oakland, California that I believe was held in August, 2004. Again, the usual disclosures where I apologize in advance for any transcription errors I made, the light editing I've done, etc.

Alexis was responding to an audience member's request for him to elaborate on the differences between Wesley's relationship with Lilah and his relationship with Fred.

"The difference in the relationship between Wes & Lilah and Wes & Fred - sex and love. (audience laughter). I mean saying that - making light of it but - the relationship with Lilah is a very powerful one that comes in a very interesting time in each of the characters. It had inherent in that relationship the struggles that Wesley is going through as he's kind of descending into this darker area. Of course it's perfect that the person that he sees very clearly at that time is Lilah, and the person he can't really quite be [with?] because he's not really right for her yet even though she's been the flame in his heart for a long time.

And then the interesting thing I think about the relationship with Lilah is how it's sort of one little step in time - the orchestra doesn't break out when they lay eyes on each other. It's just that they start kind of walking along side one another and having sidelong glances that end up [with] them being in bed together, and it becomes more than just being in bed together. And it's complicated of course because how much is it kind of spy versus spy manipulating information and how much is it that they're cautiously making a real connection? And in my opinion they are making a real connection and it's a connection in such an impossible circumstance because of where they are - two enemies looking at each other across the battlefield knowing that they could really never possibly be together, but they wonder if they could, and so I think that they have a powerful thing with each other.

But I think it's different from the Wesley and Fred [relationship]. I think in a sense that the whole thing about Fred is that - she's everything that the world is worth fighting for. And so she's everything that's worth dying for, and that's why there's only certain times where it's possible for Wesley and Fred to really see each other and fully allow it to happen because it's so powerful for him on other levels."

I actually wrote about this YouTube video in my "What's Love Got To Do With It?" post from last April, where I noted Alexis' reluctance to use the word "love" when talking about their "relationship". I also noted how the question of "love" might be more of a matter of semantics, where some people (like me) seem to have a much broader and more inclusive definition of "love" than others.

In Nikki Stafford's excellent Once Bitten: An Unofficial Guide to the World of Angel, Alexis Denisof spoke even more eloquently about Wesley's relationship with Lilah. I was absolutely delighted with his response since he talked about how the word "love" means different things to different people.

(Page 89 of Google Books Link)
"Did Wesley Love Lilah?"

Love is a term that, when people say it, they know exactly what they mean and the other person has an idea of the what the person means - and do the two people mean the same thing? So you and I could interpret this forever because you probably have a concept of what you mean by love, and then I interpret it in my way and then it gets interpreted by both Wesley and Lilah and we don't really know where we're at with this question. But what was the nature of their relationship? I think that it's everything that you see on the screen, which is two people highly charged by the danger of their interaction and fascinated by the possibility of having a future with somebody they can't have a future with. So it's sort of like Icarus - the closer Icarus gets to the sun, the wings melt and he falls to Earth. And that's sort of how I feel about [Wesley and Lilah]. The closer they get, the heat is too intense and they burn each other. They desperately want to trust each other and they don't know how and they desperately want the intimacy and they don't know how and they're really interesting together as a result. They definitely have chemistry, those two characters. I can't sum it up as Yes, he loves her or No, he doesn't; it's really more a question of the possibility of love rather than the actuality of love."
Notice that, just like in the YouTube video Q&A, Alexis is again reluctant to take a definitive stand as to whether Wesley and Lilah were in love with each other. As I discussed in my "What's Love Got To Do With It" post referenced above,

The third hang-up is a matter of semantics. "Love" and "relationship" imply stability. A case can be made that if we start talking about Wesley and Lilah being in a loving relationship, and do not offer much in the way of further explanation, we tend to get a distorted or even inaccurate description of what they went through. The English language certainly cannot describe the complicated relationship Wes and Lilah enjoyed. Perhaps I'm saying this too late, but I'm not criticizing Alexis' answers in the YouTube video. He is simply trying to explain things to an audience in words that will give a more accurate picture of what was really going on between the two characters."
I would take a wild guess that Alexis may have a narrower definition of "love" than I do, but it really doesn't matter as long as everyone can clearly see what was happening in their relationship.

Stephanie Romanov was quite open about how she first approached the story arc as having her character more or less strictly sleeping with Wesley for information. I wonder if Alexis approached it the same way, and felt equally surprised when the two characters started falling for each other? To be honest, Stephanie's admission somewhat surprised me, although it shouldn't have since it was such a nice and tidy way for her to score a performance.

Personally, I always felt there was a lot more to it than starting off as just "sleeping with the enemy for information". I know I'm not breaking a lot of new ground in relation to my prior blog posts, but bear with me. We don't know for sure if Lilah was in the habit of using sex in fulfillment of her duties at Wolfram & Hart. However, we know she did have an attitude that she would do whatever it took to get the job done. In that context, sleeping with Wes for information wouldn't sound in the least bit out of character.

I can go on and on about how Lilah certainly had a huge arsenal at her disposal for obtaining information, and, perhaps, after looking at all of the options and looking into Wesley's past history and character, decided that using sex would be the most efficient way to win him over to Wolfram & Hart. But, gee whiz, can't we imagine that she just looked at the guy, or liked what she saw in his personality assessment, and decided that maybe she could make a go out of mixing business with pleasure?

As far as Wesley, I've also written at great length about how I was convinced that he was attracted to Lilah in spite of himself from the very moment they met. She kept coming around to his place and bumping into him in public. Wes must have figured, "What the hell? It's not like anything else is happening in my life."

Regardless, Alexis' analogy of what happened between Wesley and Lilah to Icarus flying too close to the sun is by far the best explanation I've ever seen of how their relationship worked. I also liked his continued insistence that they were perhaps not really believing they could have a life together, but they dared to dream about the possibility.

The impossibility of their relationship was all the more poignant since they seemed so well- matched with each other. As far as I could tell, they might have been roughly the same age and/or maturity level, were both highly intelligent and scholarly, had similar senses of humor, had the same bent for kink in the bedroom and, most importantly, looked damned good together! The element of being on opposite sides of the battlefield undoubtedly added a lot of excitement to their relationship. In a way I can't help but feel that they respected each other for who they were and what they represented. If one had formally broken ranks and joined the other, would that have destroyed the entire dynamic of their relationship? Would Wesley have loved a saintly and sweet Lilah, and would Lilah have loved an Evil Wesley?

Closing Thoughts. Oddly enough, of the two, I think Lilah working for Angel Investigations (as long as she wasn't alone with Fred for too long) would have been more successful than Wesley working for Wolfram & Hart (in its original inception). Her take-no-prisoners approach and insane work ethic would have been a great asset to the group, whereas Wesley could have easily settled into boring, comfortable mediocrity.

I would have loved to have seen a lot more uneasy alliances between Lilah, working on behalf of Wolfram & Hart, and Angel Investigations, similar to how they worked together to try to figure out the secrets behind The Beast who was rampaging through Los Angeles. I think the creators also could have gotten a lot of good mileage and dramatic tension out of a still-independent Wesley tentatively trying to work his way back into the good graces of Angel Investigations while serving as somewhat of a go-between between Lilah and Angel.

Wesley and Lilah, (along with Alexis and Stephanie), seemed to really feed off of each other's energy level during their scenes. Alexis' statement about flying too close to the sun and getting burned could also apply to how Wes and Lilah sizzled during their ever-escalating battles of one-upmanship, which usually resulted in (presumably) incredibly hot sex. That high level of constant intense interplay would have been unsustainable.

On page 87 of the above-linked book, Once Bitten: An Unofficial Guide to the World of Angel, the author asked Alexis Denisof about his favorite storyline or moment of the show. Notice his lack of mention of the Wesley/Lilah story arc. Did he really enjoyed performing pratfalls in Season 1 more than getting between the sheets with Stephanie Romanov?

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