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A Chat with Annie Ilonzeh (“Charlie’s Angels”)

Annie Ilonzeh and Minka Kelly and Racheal Taylor in Charlie's Angels

“Charlie’s Angels,” ABC’s 2011 take on the classic chicks-kicking-ass concept, hasn’t exactly been setting the ratings on fire during its first few weeks on the air, but that’s not for lack of extremely dedicated actresses in the show’s cast. Take, for instance, Annie Ilonzeh, who plays Kate Prince on the series, starring opposite Minka Kelly and Rachael Taylor. Bullz-Eye had the chance to chat with the “General Hospital” alumnus just as “Angels” was about to take flight, and her enthusiasm and excitement about the series and her role proved decidedly infectious.

Bullz-Eye: So have you just finished a long day of filming?

Annie Ilonzeh: Yes, I have! So I’m sorry that I’m a little late calling.

BE: That’s quite all right. You have a good excuse, so you’re fine.

AI: (Laughs) Literally, it was perfect timing. I’m really surprised that it worked out. But after looking at the schedule, I figured, “Okay, we’re not going to be working ‘til 10 or 11 tonight.”

BE: Well, I’m glad you were able to finish in time to talk. I was at the TCA tour when you did the panel for “Charlie’s Angels,” but you all rushed off immediately afterward, so you weren’t around to chat at the party that night.

AI: Yeah, they had us in and out of there so quick! It was, like, “Get out of here and go back to Miami!” “Okay, okay!” So we were there for the panel that morning, and then we had a 2 PM flight or something crazy like that.

BE: You play Kate Prince on the show, and the one-liner ABC gives you in the press release is that you’re “a Miami cop who fell from grace, losing both her career and her fiancé.” Is that all they gave you to work with when you first got the role? Or did they even tell you which Angel you were going to be playing?

AI: Oh, yeah, I auditioned specifically for her. And, yeah, that was kind of the gist of it. Actually, I don’t think the ex-fiancé thing was in the breakdown as of that time, as in when I first auditioned. But when I auditioned, I kind of felt like things were a bit rougher at that time. They were still figuring things out. (Hesitates) Well, no, because originally I’d heard that they’d tried to attempt this a year ago, so I guess they kind of had an idea of the character. I just didn’t know about the ex-fiancé part very clearly. But slowly, through the four month audition process(Laughs) …I learned more about her and figured her out more, which was good for me. It was a long process, which sucks for any actor, because you wrack your brain and you’re, like, “Well, they didn’t say this, but they did say this, and she looked at me this way,” and…well, whatever. You just start making things up in your head, and it just gets crazy. But throughout that process, it did help me figure her out more. And I got to see producers more, and they got to see more. So it all worked out.

BE: I’d have to guess that this is one of the longest audition processes you’ve ever had to deal with.

AI: The. Longest. (Laughs) Literally, the longest. It felt like I was in training for a marathon…even though those people train like crazy. But, you know, it was just every day, and I kept trying to do something new and I tried to stay in the energy of it all, as far as watching the shows and really understanding that relationship that the girls have between each other. And with Charlie, who you never see, but they still have that relationship. And also Bosley. So I was just doing little research like that, I guess, and still auditioning, and I always had it in the front of my mind that I was on “General Hospital,” but I couldn’t help but think about Kate, who I was auditioning for, as I was on “General Hospital,” which…I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. (Laughs) But you can’t help but think about something like that when you want something that bad. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or where you are. You’re still, like, “Oh, I hope I get this thing!” So it was constantly on my mind.

BE: Obviously, everybody in town wanted to be a part of this series. What was your history with “Charlie’s Angels”? Had you been a fan of the show, or at least the movie franchise, before auditioning?

AI: For sure. I was even a fan of the series, even though I technically wasn’t old enough when it was first running to really know what “Charlie’s Angels” was. But it’s one of those things that’s never gotten old. Time has passed, but it’s kind of a timeless show, because everyone can relate to the relationship. And you kind of get lost in that fantasy world, I guess, and it’s a little inspiring and fun and it’s this little adventure that they take you on. So the series was definitely something that I grew up with, and also the movies, so it was something that I was super familiar with, and I was, like, “I have to have this!” I saw girls in and out of that casting office that I had seen on TV more than…well, I mean, I remember seeing some of these girls on TV when I was growing up! (Laughs) So that was nerve-wracking, but it was just one of those things where I was not going to give up. I had to have her.

BE: So what more have you learned about Kate since you’ve started shooting the series itself, as opposed to the pilot? Has she started to be fleshed out a bit more?

AI: Yeah, it’s crazy, because I look back…we’ve been shooting since July, and even just from then, the amount I’ve learned about her, she and I have kind of developed together, and I understand her a little bit more. It’s hard, you know, when you get this character, and they’re just, like, “Here she is, this is what we think she is, so go!” It’s a little hard to develop something from scratch when…I’m not a person who invents things. So it was hard for me. But now I see that she is vulnerable and she’s not just this tough stereotypical female cop. She’s got a sense of fashion, but she’s also sensitive and vulnerable and not just this rogue hardcore girl that’s just this huge tomboy and puts up a huge wall and a thick exterior. She’s definitely got feelings. I think in the first audition and even in the pilot, I was a little more aggressive and intense, and now I understand her a bit more. So it’s kind of fun. I’m still exploring getting to know her. And now, with Isaiah Mustafa – who plays Ray, my ex-fiancé – coming in, I see more of her softer side, where…she wants to just be so upset with him, and she’s got a lot of resentment, but there’s also that frustration and that tension between them, and there’s definitely an attraction still there. The sexual chemistry is still there, that soft spot for him. So it’s really fun reading a script every day and seeing what new things kind of pop out.

BE: How’s the chemistry between you and your fellow Angels? Had you known any of them before this?

AI: No, only what I’d seen on TV. I’d seen Rachael (Taylor) in “Transformers” and also on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and…we all were on the same network, ABC. “Parenthood,” with Minka (Kelly), was also on ABC. (Writer’s note: Actually, “Parenthood” is on NBC.) So it was kind of a full-circle moment where we kind of asked ourselves, “Is this meant to be?” But as soon as we all locked eyes and were in the flesh with each other, it was instant. Instant sisterhood. I mean, those girls…40 years from now, they’ll still be my sisters. It’s one of those things where you can’t necessarily fake what we have, and when people ask us, we’re not just fluffing it up for interviews. We really are sisters. And I love that.

BE: I know your producers have made a point of saying that they didn’t want to go campy or retro with this series, but does that rule out cameos from former Angels?

AI: No, I don’t think so. I mean, we’ve certainly expressed our interest, saying, “Let’s bring in some of the women from the originals! Let’s go there! Let’s not just stop at the movies!” Because there’s always talk of Drew (Barrymore, who’s a producer on the show) possibly making a cameo, since she’s our boss and our mentor and our fellow Angel. But we’re, like, “Hey, what if one of them was, like, a veteran Angel that used to work for the agency” – which obviously plays – “and if one of them was one of our moms?” Or something crazy like that. So I definitely think there are going to be some surprises. What’s funny is that, just as much as they’re hush-hush with everyone else, they’re also like that with us. So they leave mysteries between us, too. But it’s fun. Every day is an adventure. Even when we’re reading the script, it’s, like, “What? Oh, my God, that’s so cool!” So we’ll see. But I definitely see, if not toward the end of this season…maybe there’ll be some foreshadowing, at least. But if not, then let’s cross our fingers for second seasons. ‘Cause I feel like we’ve got some veterans coming in. (Laughs)

BE: You’ve done some prime-time work here and there, but as you kind of touched on earlier, your most notable role is probably playing Maya Ward on “General Hospital.”

AI: Yeah, you can say I’ve had my share of stepping onto prime-time sets, so I kind of understood that world, but those were usually cases where it was, like, “Okay, you’re going to be working for a day or two,” so you don’t really have this deep connection with the character. You’re not developing something and going from zero to 60, or having this huge arc moment with a character where all of these emotions pop up. So this has been a huge transition for me. Definitely longer hours. (Laughs) It goes so fast that you blink and you’ve done five episodes. We’ll work on, like, three scenes in a day, and it takes us about eight days to shoot a whole episode, whereas it would take only maybe five hours to shoot two episodes in the soap world. So it’s been a huge transition, but I would say that I’m so appreciate of “General Hospital,” because I was able to go to “GH,” they had a brand new character in mind, someone who hadn’t been played by anyone else before, so I got to develop her. I learned a lot, but I’m still a rookie for sure. By no means am I anything close to being a veteran or experienced at all, especially compared to Minka, Ramon (Rodriguez), and Rachael. So with the experience I had with “General Hospital,” being able to develop Maya for the short amount of time I did, I’m super grateful for that, and I took that along with me. I’m still learning, but I got my feet wet a little bit, anyway.

BE: I’m not a soap opera aficionado, but my understanding of your character’s fate is that, if you were of a mind to do so, you could still come back.

AI: Back to Port Charles? (Laughs) Yeah, I think the invitation is still open. I feel like I have a great relationship with them, and I told them personally, “Look, I have this opportunity, we were fortunate enough to have our show picked up,” but they didn’t kill me off. I personally asked the producers, “Please don’t kill me off, because if the chance were to come about, I’d love to come back. You guys were the first network place where I felt like I had a family!” So if the opportunity were to come up, I’d love to come back if they’d have me. I definitely wouldn’t close that door.

BE: Given how iconic the original Angels have become over the course of time, are you prepared to take on a similar mantle, or is it intimidating?

AI: What we’ve said…well, Rachael’s said it a few times, and I agree with her…is that every “Charlie’s Angels” has been perfect for its time. And now with us creating something for 2011, we’re trying to make it our own for our time with our cast, putting a fresh take on it. So because of that, I don’t feel the pressure of trying to recreate the original show, or to be like the movies, which were kind of camp and really big and out there and a lot of fluff. I feel like we’re trying to create something a little more grounded and level-headed and real. So I don’t feel the pressure with that. What my main thing is, is that we have an underlying message, and…just like Charlie gave the Angels – and we have four Angels now, because we consider Bosley an Angel – a second chance, there’s a moral to the story where anybody out there in society can take something bad, some horrible circumstance, and have a second chance to turn it into something good. So I hope that’s what people get out of it. My biggest fear…well, not fear, but my biggest pressure on myself is that I want people to gravitate to our show with an open mind and expect to see that charm that every “Charlie’s Angels” has had, but be open to the fact that this is a 2011 version. We’re not trying to recreate anything. It’s not, like, “My character has to be like Drew Barrymore,” or, “My character has to be like Kate Jackson.” We want people to be open. For us, the biggest pressure is just that we want it to be good. (Laughs) With all the critics out there, and with shows dying so fast, I really want ours to have a long lifespan.

BE: I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

AI: Yes! Please do! (Laughs)