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LAist Interview: Hilary Angelo, Charlie Wilson's War

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Though most film coverage focuses on the stars of a particular movie, there is a large legion of supporting actors who give shape and weight to the world of that film. Before Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the stars of Charlie Wilson's War, he had a brief but memorable role many years ago in Scent of a Woman. Now, also in Charlie Wilson's War, Hilary Angelo jumps off the screen as one of the girls who catches Charlie's roving eye.

I'll give you the big open-ended question first. Tell me a little bit about why you decided to become an actor. Describe that journey.

Well, I started out as a young girl as a ballerina. I really thought that's where my destiny lay--in the dance world. I did my first play at my church when I was eleven, and I got completely bitten by the acting bug. By the time I was fourteen I had pretty much stopped dancing and thinking of it as a profession. So I did some more plays, and I had this agent notice me at a church play.

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I got very lucky. Pretty much from the beginning I had an easy foot in the door. I started acting professionally in high school. Now looking back on it, I got so lucky in the beginning because it's very hard to find representation usually. So I started going out on auditions and within six months I booked my first job. It was a series on Nickelodeon (The Secret World of Alex Mack). I think if I hadn't gotten that job right away I might not have stuck around just because it's really a lot of rejection for a young person to handle.

I've always wondered how child actors are able to endure it and come out unscathed. It seems like a lot of them don't actually.

I think it was easier for me because I grew up in Los Angeles, and I have a great family. So it wasn't like I moved from my small town and away from my family. I think that's even harder--to come to a place where you don't know anybody and start a career that already has the odds stacked against you.

What's been the most satisfying thing you've done professionally?

Hands down it's this movie, Charlie Wilson's War, because of the kind of people that were involved. I don't think I've ever worked with an A-list screenwriter, a director, a movie star--all of them on the same film. I felt very blessed, and I kept saying to myself that I'm breathing fine air. I wanted to soak every moment in. It wasn't like it was very different from the way other sets run. Technically, it was like every movie set I've ever been on, but I think it was the most respectful movie set I've ever been on. Mike Nichols really understands that it's really a group effort. It's not just Tom Hanks or Mike Nichols that makes it a good movie. It's everybody and so because of that it was a very harmonious set and everybody was inspired to do a good job.

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You've been doing a lot of episodic television lately. Then, all of a sudden, you're in Charlie Wilson's War which is a big holiday picture. Can you talk about the audition process for the film?

I saw the names on the breakdown and I thought, "this is a little bigger than I usually go out for." But it was for a smaller role so I thought I had a shot. (laughs). I at least had a shot to get a call-back. I had to play a stripper which is not something people would typically cast me as. I'm more of the girl next door look. So I really did it up. I put on my craziest outfit, my shortest skirt, highest heels. Because, if anything, that would get me to the call-back. So I did get a call-back and met with Mike Nichols. And I had a very strong feeling by the time I left that room that I had the job. And it was probably the best audition I ever had. Not because I was so amazing, but because he was so amazing. He welcomed me and shook my hand like it was an honor to met me--where as I was honored to meet him! He treated me with so much respect and before I even opened my mouth or said the lines, he was already talking to me about the script, and my thoughts, and the Iraq War and how it mirrored what was going on in this movie and how it's so important to tell stories like this. So by the time I got the scene I was very relaxed and by the end of it he was so sweet. He was praising me and I was thinking, "this is the best day of my career". Because that just doesn't happen unfortunately. I wish it happened more. So within a week he hired me and then I got to rehearse. Which is also unusual. Mike had it in his contract that he wanted the actors to rehearse. Within five minutes of rehearsal, Tom Hanks comes up to me and introduces himself. We all sat around a round table--Aaron Sorkin, Mike Nichols, Tom Hanks. I was more nervous than anything. Even more nervous than I was in the audition. I had the job, but I still thought I could get fired so I better step it up. But it was really easy-going. We even improv'd the scene a little bit which was fun. It was just one day of rehearsal and it was such an honor to be in everyone's presence. But I also feel like it relaxed me for the actual days of shooting. So by the time I got to the set I felt a little more at ease. Not completely at ease, but a little more at ease.

I thought the scene played more sweet than sexy. Everyone's naked in a hot tub, but it felt very relaxed. What was it about that experience that surprised you?

I think what took me by surprise was that Mike didn't give us anything except, "Action!" He really lets his actors explore. So I'm just sitting in this hot tub. I can't just sit here the whole time. I'm supposed to be doing drugs. I'm supposed to be drinking. In TV sometimes it works so fast that you're not given a lot of time. I'm so used to being treated like an afterthought. But in this movie I could turn to the props (department) and say, "I need this. I need that. I need this. I need that." And everyone was very accomodating. I thought it was really exciting. I wasn't treated like a baby. I wasn't treated like a prop myself. And I could find whatever my character found during the scene. That surprised me because I've always heard that's how it's supposed to be, but I'd never experienced it. I don't think Mike ever gave us any direction. The only thing he ever said--on one take to everyone was 'talk faster.' (laughs) It was a simple note. (laughs)

Compared to your first reading of the script what was your take on the full realization of the movie? How was it different from what you expected?

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My parts were very fun--the scenes that opened the movie. I thought they set the tone that this is not all dramatic, that this going to be humorous, that this guy Charlie is a character. I thought that some of Mike's shots were very creative, things that I'd never seen him do and didn't even see in the script. A lot of the war scenes with the planes and the explosions, I thought were really beautifully done.

They were so unusually intense relative to the rest of the movie. The scenes where the helicopters just open fire.

I've never seen anything like it. I'd never seen any war done that way. I think he specifically did it that way because it was a covert war. He wanted it to look like the Russians were attacking the Afghans. That these Afghan people were really innocent victims. And it really feels that way.

Photo courtesy of IMDB