In today's Sci-Fi Blast From The Past, Mercedes McNab talks about her experiences playing Harmony Kendall on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.
She’s strong, quick, and can type like a superhero, that is if there was a superhero whose power was typing. She also knows how to whip up the perfect cup of pig’s blood to help get you started in the morning. What’s her secret? Why a touch of otter, of course. This hardly describes your typical office worker. Then again, Harmony Kendall has never been what you’d call typical.
As a single undead girl trying to make it in the big city, Harmony has been working in the steno pool at the evil Los Angeles law offices of Wolfram and Hart. However, at the start of Angel’s fifth season, she was promoted to an executive assistant and now reports to the company’s new boss, Angel. Having threatened to kill the perky vampire during their last encounter, he is hardly pleased with this arrangement. Harmony, on the other hand, thinks her new job is made in heaven – or should that be hell? As for actress Mercedes McNab, the offer to reprise the role she originated on Buffy the Vampire Slayer came out of the blue.
“It was back in May, and I was getting ready to move to New York City,” recalls McNab during her lunch break on the Angel set. “Two days before I was set to leave, Joss Whedon [Buffy and Angel series creator/executive producer] phoned me. In all the times I’ve worked for him he’s never called me personally, so I knew it had to be pretty important if the boss was on the phone. Joss asked me, ‘If Angel is picked up for a fifth season we really want you to have a pivotal role on the show. What do you think? What’s your availability?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m moving to New York, but when you definitively know whether or not it’s a go just let me know.’ Two days later I was on a plane to New York and a month into my stay the Angeloffice called and said, ‘How about coming back to Los Angeles?’ And here I am today.”
The actress was one of many who originally read for the starring role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the end, Sarah Michelle Gellar won the part, but the show’s producers were so impressed with McNab’s audition that they hired her to play Cordelia Chase’s (Charisma Carpenter) best friend Harmony. She made her debut in what became the show’s unaired pilot.
“I remember Charisma and I had to wear these insanely short skirts and really high platform shoes that were very uncomfortable and nearly impossible to walk in. The two of us always thought we were going to fall over, so we made up a song about our shoes – which we called stilts – and sang it as we stumbled to the set,” laughs the actress.
“Something else that sticks out in my mind about those early days was watching everyone getting to know one another and the fact that we were all so young. We were just kids. I actually got my driver’s license the week before we shot the pilot and my mom wouldn’t let me drive alone on the freeway. I was 16 back then and now I’m 23. So much has changed in my life since then.”
McNab was not in the second Buffy pilot Welcome to Hellmouth – which actually aired – but she did finally appear as Harmony in the next episode, The Harvest. The actress was convinced that this was a one-time job, but the show’s producers kept asking her back to do more stories. Her character became one in a clique of so-called popular Sunnydale High students that turned up their noses at Buffy and the rest of The Scooby Gang.
“Initially, Harmony did whatever Cordelia told her,” explains McNab. “The problem was both roles were very much alike, that of two bitchy girls. It’s just the way they were being written. I began to wonder, though, why would you want two girls basically playing the same type of character? So I decided, ‘OK, rather than her only being a bitch, I’ll make Harmony into the ditzy sidekick. So I did. The writers quickly caught on to what I was doing and we began working together to develop that side of her.”
In the two-part third season Buffy finale Graduation Day, Buffy and her friends learn that Mayor Wilkins (Harry Groener) is planning to transform himself into a pure demon. They come up with a way to defeat him and enlist the help of their Sunnydale High classmates, including Harmony. In the midst of battle, she is attacked and killed by the mayor’s vampire henchman. It’s not until the show’s fourth year that audiences discover Harmony did not die but, in fact, was turned into a vampire.
“That came as a total surprise to me, but I’m usually the last one to find out anything,” jokes McNab. “It’s just a quick flash in Graduation Day where you see Harmony being bitten on the neck. At the time I assumed, ‘She must be dead.’ I had no idea my character was going to be killed or that she’d eventually make a comeback.”
Harmony’s true fate is not revealed to The Scooby Gang until the fourth season episode The Harsh Light of Day. In it, British bloodsucker Spike (James Marsters) returns to Sunnydale with his new girlfriend, Harmony. He’s searching for the Gem of Amara, a stone that makes vampires invulnerable. According to McNab, becoming a vampire was the best thing that could have happened to her character.
“Suddenly, Harmony was strong and able to take care of herself,” notes the actress. “She was no longer friends with Cordelia and her gang because they couldn’t be friends with vampires. For the first time in her life Harmony had to find her own way as opposed to being a follower. Then there was her relationship with Spike, which was great. It finally gave the writers a solid direction in which to take her. Of course, it was a joy to act opposite James Marsters. I love his style and I’m so excited to be working with him again on Angel.”
It didn’t take long before Spike grew tired of Harmony and abandoned her. She had the pleasure of doing the same to him when he came to her begging for help. During Buffy’s fifth season, Harmony became the leader of a ragtag group of vampires with delusions of grandeur. Like Spike, they soon turned on her and Buffy wound up slaughtering most of them. Harmony fled back to Spike and the two remained together for a while until finally parting company in Crush.
“That episode was a lot of fun because it was the one fight between Spike and Harmony that my character actually won,” says McNab. “Normally they’d get into a fight and she would end up running away into the woods or whatever. She was such a wimp,” laughs the actress. “This time, though, Harmony got to kick some ass and tell Spike exactly what she thought of him.”
Harmony may have left Spike but she wasn’t gone for good. Only a few months after her Buffy swan song, the vampire paid a visit to former Sunnydale residents Angel (David Boreanaz), Cordelia and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (Alexis Denisof) in the second season Angel episode Disharmony.
“The first time we were all together again was for a night shoot,” says McNab. “We were sitting in a convertible and the scene had Harmony yapping incessantly. I had a ton of dialogue and David and the others were reading the script and probably thinking, ‘We’re going to be here all night.’ I was so nervous and all that kept going through my mind was, ‘What if I mess up? They’ll never want me back.’ Thankfully, I did the scene in two takes and everyone, especially my fellow actors, seemed pleased. It was such a treat to play Harmony once more as well as be reunited with David, Charisma and Alexis.
“So it felt like old times coming back to Angel this year,” she continues. “When it comes to my character, Angel still doesn’t really know how to deal with Harmony. Obviously, he’s not the most trusting person and it’s going to take time for my character to reestablish his trust in her. In the meantime, she makes him laugh, so that’s a good thing. Otherwise, their relationship is very businesslike.
“Wesley picked Harmony to be Angel’s secretary, so he has some faith in her. Fred [Amy Acker] doesn’t know a thing about my character or her history with Spike. So far Gunn [J. August Richards] hasn’t really dealt very much with Harmony, but she and Lorne [Andy Hallett] appear to be becoming fast friends.”
Now that she’s on Angel, McNab is hoping to explore new facets of her character as the show’s fifth season continues to unfold. “The writers have done a wonderful job so far of providing some background on Harmony for those fans unfamiliar with who she is,” says the actress. “I’d like for her take on a little more responsibility and not be so self-centred. I also think it would be neat if Harmony became involved in a real romantic relationship. Well, I did film a love scene this morning, but I can’t say with who,” teases McNab, “so perhaps we’re on the right track in that area. I’m having a great time and I’m sure I’ll enjoy playing anything that they throw Harmony’s way.”