Charisma Carpenter, best known as sharp-tongued Cordelia Chase on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, is still keeping company with people who could kick your ass. Together with Lou Ferrigno and Erik Estrada (pictured), she’s now a member of The Butterfinger Defense League, a trio that will teach us how to ward off people who want to lay a finger on our Butterfingers. They do this through individual training videos (Carpenter’s alter ego “Sassy” has killer hips) and a group remake of a certain Sir Mix-A-Lot hit (“I Like Big Butterfingers”). Watch her in action after the jump. She also plays Jason Statham’s fiancée in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables, which hits theaters in August. She stopped by my office last week to chat about which episode of Angel she showed Sly to help nab her role, the joys of working with an army of sassy puppies (that would be the Butterfinger gig), why she’s a cool mom (her son, Donovan, is seven), and what she’d like to do next (Broadway!).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you have to read for Stallone?
CHARISMA CARPENTER: Yeah, I had to earn it. I had to earn it big time. I think they were filming the process of making The Expendables, and so my audition and him telling me I got the part was all taped. First we met, and he said a lot of people were auditioning for the role but they were too tough. “I really want you to convey the softness, that you want to connect with this person.” He was talking about the scene, and I said, “I want to show you a scene I did with David in ‘You’re Welcome’ [the season 5 episode of Angel in which Cordelia dies]. The tenderness, I think I know exactly what you’re looking for. Wait, I’ll be back in 10 minutes. Donovan, come on.” ‘Cause I had to bring him that day. So they said, “You can leave Donovan here with us if it’ll make you go faster.” [Laughs] So I go, and I come back, and I show that scene at the end — the kiss when I leave — and he punches me in the arm like “Good job… But you still have to read though.” Then he called me in the middle of the afternoon, and I had my son again, and he said, “We were gonna have you come tonight and read for it,” and I went. The next day, I’m driving my kid to school, my hair is in a bun, I have no makeup on, Ugg boots, oversized jeans and like a thermal shirt, and I get this call from his assistant. “I have Sly for you.” Okay. He said, “We want you to come into the office right now.” “Um, okay, well, can I just have like a half an hour? Can I at least brush my teeth?” “No, we want you to come now.” So I call my manager, I’m like, “They want me to come now.” “I can’t believe they want you to come now. What if you didn’t get the job, and then they’re gonna tell you?” I’m like, “I don’t think he would do that.” I hang up and go in. Stallone’s like, “So, how do you think you did?” I’m like, “Well it really doesn’t matter how I think I did, it only matters what you think. How did I do?” He goes, “No, I want to know. How did you think you did?” And I said, “Well, I think I nailed it.” And he goes, “You did. You got the part.” And I went, “[Shouts] Yes!… Are you sh–in’ me right now? You’re not f—ing kidding me right now, right?” He said, “No, I’m dead serious.” I jumped up, and I gave him a big hug. It was the best news. For me, it’s like my first bona fide film that’s gonna see the masses. I’m thrilled. I don’t even want it to be over.
What was it like to be on that set?
I work in television, and it’s fast. I’d been on the set a long time ago of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and it was very slow and you take a lot of takes, from different angles, and I just thought, Ohmygod, this is my first big budget movie… No. It was faster than a TV show. It was constantly go, go, go. Minds were being changed on the fly, and you just have to acclimate. I was just really bummed that I didn’t get to kiss Jason more. “Really? You don’t want another take? Are you sure? You sure you got it?” And yeah [Laughs] a lot of Red Bull on set. A lot of Monster drinks for everybody. [Stallone's] like “You’re fading. You’re fading. I can see it in your eyes. Here, take this.” “Okay. Sure, I’ll have another one.” It was fast and furious, and I don’t know how he does what he does. I don’t know how he’s been around for so long. I get it — because he’s a genius and he wears a lot of hats — but I can’t believe he’s physically been able to do it this long.
I interviewed Stallone once, and he said he told Dolph Lundgren to hit him for real during their fight in Rocky IV, and he put him in the hospital for nine days. Did you see any injuries?
He was injured every night. Every night he went to the emergency room. The guns, the pins that don’t have grips on them, he’s pulling and sliced open his hand. Another time, he was doing a scene running in tunnels. He didn’t fall or anything, but he’s like, “I just destroyed my ankle.” So he’s icing it, directing, acting, going to the emergency room at night, rewriting after he gets back from the emergency room. He’s a stud.
So your son got to meet Stallone then?
When I went to audition, he went into his office and he has action figures of himself from different movies. Donovan’s seven, he didn’t get it. I’m like, “Remember I told you about Rocky? This is him! This is him!” He’s like, “Oh, okay.” It’s funny, because when I go to Comic-Con and those kinds of things, I’m really a fan as well of the other people who are there, so I like to get autographs for him. Like one from Chewbacca or the original Batman or Darth Maul or whoever. I get them and I bring them home, and he’s like, “Oh, that’s great, mom. Thanks.” I’m like, “Don’t you want to frame ‘em and hang ‘em on your wall?!” He has the best collection ever. EVER.
Is there one he does truly appreciate?
For him, Darth Maul was pretty good. But I liked Superman, Brandon Routh, who works out at my gym, too. What he wrote was so sweet. He said, “Be super.” And then he also said, “Do whatever your mom tells you.” [Laughs] Which really made me happy. I’m just waiting for the bobblehead version of Sassy, my character for Butterfinger.
How did you become a part of the Butterfinger Defense League?
How did I become a part of the Defense League? Well, it just comes naturally, since I am a defender against supernatural things in Buffy and Angel. They were such a pop culture hit, they thought I might be a good fit with Lou and his strength in The Incredible Hunk and Erik and all his sex appeal. They asked me and I said, “Abso [pause] lutely.” I remember my manager calling me and asking me how I felt about Buttefinger. I was like, “Are you kidding me? Butterfinger is my favorite candy bar. I kid you not.” When I got the copy and got to understand the irreverent motto that they live by, I realized that I really wanted to be a part of it. It’s good to show the funny side.
And the three of you will be going to Comic-Con to promote The Defense League. What do you have planned?
I just plan to be very sassy and tell everyone to buy as many Butterfingers as possible. I’m literally telling like chauffeurs, “Really, they need to see a bump. They need to see an increase in Butterfingers. We need to sell it.”
What was the most difficult part about shooting your Lady Gaga-inspired training video?
You know normally it’s like the dog has to do what the human does. Well, in this case, [Laughs] they tried to get the repertoire of the dog down and on film, and then they tried to get me to do what the dog did – jumping up and down, crawling on the floor. I came home bruised. So it was really humiliating and totally fun…. The thing that was most exciting was just to know that there’s going to be a poster out there in like a local Wal-Mart or Duane Reade with Butterfinger and we’re gonna be a Defense League. I just think that’s crazy funny, and my parents are totally getting a kick out of it.
Where does the sassy come from? You’ve always seemed to have it.
You know what, I didn’t. The first job I ever auditioned for, for Aaron Spelling for Malibu Shores, the casting director said, “Listen, Aaron wants you to find the bitch within. Heather Locklear is the nicest woman around, but she plays one helluva bitch [on Melrose Place]. So you need to go find the bitch within.” So I had to find the bitch within in like 20 minutes, and I guess it worked and I’ve made that my niche.
How did you find it?
When you begin [acting], everything is like, What’s my motivation? Everything is all so very serious. But at the time, I really just used Heather Locklear as an example of how to go there. Just to be 100 percent confident in everything you do and that everything you do is perfectly justified, perfectly normal and acceptable. You’re wrong, I’m right. It just comes naturally now. Sometimes I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg, Charisma or the bitch. [Laughs] Was it always dormant laying there? ’Cause I did Cordelia for so long, I just wonder how much did that carry over into my life at times? But we won’t do that self-reflective interview right now.
What’s next for you? You’ve also shot the film Psychosis.
It’s my first starring role in a movie. We shot in London for a month, which was great. I play a novelist who had a nervous breakdown. Her and her husband decide to buy a house in the country. Then the house is either haunted or is it in her mind? It’s the thing that I’m most proud of.
In your entire career?
Yeah. “You’re Welcome” is one of my favorites, but then at the same time, it wasn’t that hard because I did feel it. Cordelia is in my bones. The goodbye wasn’t a challenge for work. This was a challenge. It will be out this year. It will be theatrical in England, I’m not sure if it will be here.
Is that the kind of role you most often get offered today?
Horror? Yeah. I think it goes hand and hand immediately. But then I do Back to You with Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton or ABC Family’s Greek. [She'll return for at least one episode in season 4.] I can do Playboy, but then I can do a wholesome channel like ABC Family. I don’t really go to one place or the other.
Your 2003 ABC Family channel movie See Jane Date is still the best one they’ve ever done.
They wanted to make it a TV show. I wasn’t sure because at the time, I’d just gotten off Angel, and I just wanted to see what my other options were. I wanted to be in L.A., and it shot in Montreal. It would have been more difficult. I’d just had my son, and I was nursing. That’s when I realized that I can do anything in the world. If you can nurse and shoot a movie and be in every single scene, finish your 16-hour day, and then come home and study your lines while you got a baby on the boob, you’re Superwoman.
I just read that you actually auditioned for Julie Bowen’s role in Modern Family because of your Back to You connections. You and Ty Burrell…
I really like him. Have you ever noticed that all the leads go to blondes? Oh! [Points to the giant framed EW cover of Buffy's Sarah Michelle Gellar hanging on the wall.] Just kidding.
Are you able to watch Modern Family?
How could I not watch it? It is so bloody good. I love Parenthood, Nurse Jackie, Californication...
I could totally see you on Californication. Biting and sexy but still likable.
Yeah, I could to. I’d give myself the job immediately, no doubt. I could muster some David Duchovny love. I could try to have a little chemistry with David.
Anything else you’re working on?
I’m currently trying to get a Broadway show. I want to be in New York so badly. I want to do live theater. I love going to theater. I am addicted to it. Especially in London, it was so inspiring. I saw Brooke Shields on one of these shows recently, and they’re like, “What are you gonna do next, Brooke?” And she goes, “You know, I might do some Broadway. Every couple of years, I get an itch.” I never thought Brooke Shields, Calvin Klein Jeans, can have a sitcom, can do Broadway, be a mom, do all that stuff. I’m impressed with that, and I would love an opportunity to do that. Even off-Broadway.
Are you talking a musical or a play?
I don’t sing. I definitely dance. [She's a former San Diego Chargers cheerleader, who'll confirm she's been approached for Dancing With the Stars before.] But you know, that might be what pushes me to get lessons. It’s my understanding that Renée Zellweger didn’t sing or dance when she booked Chicago. I know that because her manager is my manager. She’s just incredibly hardworking. In my life, I am 120 percent if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it. A play on Broadway, off-Broadway, it would just make my lifetime. Maybe something wholesome and sweet, or something compelling and dramatic tempered with a little comedy. Maybe Joss should come to Broadway.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone are bringing a musical, The Book of Mormon, to Broadway in 2011, if you like irreverent.
Is there a girl part? [Laughs] I could go there. My best friend is Mormon. I could have her take me to the temple as research.