When Alyson meets West End

The Guardian


There is a certain inevitability to Alyson Hannigan’s arrival on the stage in London’s West End. As Willow in US series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she was part of a long-running TV show for seven years. Her likeness features on all manner of merchandise from refrigerator magnets to cups, mouse mats and board games. “You know you’ve reached a certain point when your character has an action figure,’’ she smiles, a poseable doll having been made in her image. Google her name and you get about 232,000 results.

From Buffy she bounced into movies. Unlike her co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar, Hannigan eschewed horror (Gellar opted for ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’), and in contrast to Katie Holmes, who went from ‘Dawson’s Creek’ to Doug Liman’s ‘Go’, she also avoided independent films. Instead, she chose comedy. As Michelle in the smutty ‘American Pie’ trilogy, she was known for her “One time, at band camp...” proclamation, which for most of the movie, marked her out as a geek, until she finally finished her sentence saucily with a reference combining her flute and her nether regions. One of the few stars to weather all three films, she can currently be seen grinning out from phone boxes, billboards and posters across the UK promoting the trilogy on DVD.

It is therefore - for such is the scheme of these things - about time she did theatre. And so here she is, in London for a stage version of ‘When Harry Met Sally’, alongside Luke Perry, alumnus of the original gleaming teen drama, Beverly Hills 90210. Hannigan herself is upbeat about the play. She admits to being petrified but it has, she says, always been a dream of hers to appear in London’s West End. It has been one fostered by actor Alexis Denisof, her recently acquired husband, whom she met on the set of Buffy. He lived in the UK for 13 years and has a background in theatre.

And what about taking such a well-known film and putting it on stage, particularly as it is so well known for that iconic scene in which Meg Ryan’s Sally fakes an orgasm in a diner? “I can see why people think it shouldn’t be tampered with because the movie was so wonderful. I think it’s going to be one of those things that’s going to have a life of its own for years. It really works on stage.”

Hannigan has, however, been avoiding watching the movie since she started rehearsals. “I don’t want to make the wrong choice just to be different from what Meg Ryan did, but, at the same time, I’m not doing an impersonation.” Inexorably, the talk turns to orgasms. “I’ve been practising and I have gotten over the embarrassment factor. Every time I do it, I get more and more confident and bigger and bigger. Now I have to learn how to do it from my diaphragm rather than my throat. I have been hurting my throat. I need to be more,” she pauses, grasping for a word, “guttural.” Indeed.

There still is a problem though. “When I’m doing it, my ears get really hot and turn red. So I’m hoping my hair will be down.” As a performer who started in commercials at three years old, and did movies and various guest parts in sitcoms such as ‘Roseanne’ before she landed Buffy, it could be that Hannigan doesn’t need to be worried. When her friend Anthony Head left the latter series, Hannigan landed the much-coveted “and” at the end of the opening titles, and having been part of an ensemble in the first two American Pies, she became, in effect, one of the third instalment’s two main stars, earning a reported pounds sterling 1 million for reprising Michelle. Beneath her easygoing perkiness, you sense a steeliness and an ambition.

Testament to that is her development deal with NBC. Focused on working on her comedy she is doing a sitcom pilot for the American network. “I met with a bunch of writers and producers, listened to what their ideas were and then got to pick the one I liked the best.’’ And having moved on to London, she is very excited about something most unexpected. “I love ‘I’m A Celebrity’... ‘Get Me Out of Here!’ English reality television is so much better than American reality television, ’’ she says. Whatever her reviews, you suspect that she might just weather whatever the West End throws at her.