In today's Sci-Fi Blast From The Past, actress Stephanie Romanov talks about playing the evil legal eagle Lilah Morgan on Angel.
When it comes to legal representation a person deserves the very best, even if he or she happens to be evil. On the TV series Angel, the Los Angeles law office of Wolfram & Hart specializes in defending the rights of the underworld and its demonic minions. The firm’s lawyers will fight tooth and nail to get clients what’s illegally theirs and then some. One of its chief movers and shakers is the beautiful Lilah Morgan. A legal eagle with a tongue as sharp as her mind, she is a staunch supporter of Wolfram and Hart’s core mission, which is to keep Angel out of their hair and alive just long enough to serve their needs. Of course, Lilah has her own way of dealing with the vampire and his friends and does not make others privy to her plans. The one person who knows her the best is the actress who walks in her high-heeled shoes, Stephanie Romanov.
“Lilah is 5’9” and she looks a lot like me. However, I’m a heck of a lot nicer than she is, at least I hope so,” jokes Romanov. “No, seriously, I think Lilah is the type of woman who’s basically only had herself to take care of. She chose a path that would bring her the most success in her career. Lilah has a strong business sense and can be a bit cut-throat, but that’s not unusual in her profession. She’s moved up the corporate ladder rather quickly and amassed a great deal of power along the way. Lilah also manages to have fun even in the most dangerous of situations. I mean, once you’ve sold your soul to the devil so to speak, what can anyone do to you that’s not already going to happen,” laughs the actress.
When she was originally hired for Angel, Romanov thought it was for a one-off part. That was four years ago. Since then, the actress has reprised her role several times on the show. Lilah made her debut in the first season episode The Ring. In it, Angel (David Boreanaz) becomes an unwilling participant in a seedy underground gladiator-like boxing ring.
“Prior to booking the audition for Angel, I happened to be dating a man who was a big fan of the show,” she recalls. “Much to my embarrassment, I had never seen it. He said to me, ‘You have to watch it,’ which I did, and the very next day I got a call to audition for the series. Eerie, huh? So when I began working on the programit was all very new to me because I’d just seen it and now suddenly here I was on the set. Naturally, you want to create a certain dynamic within the scenes but that’s not always easy since you’re not sure what the chemistry with the other actors is going to be. Fortunately for me, David Boreanaz was totally available and forthcoming and that made me feel much more at ease. I loved my character and what she represented. I had never before played someone so evil and Lilah was quite cold insofar as her involvement with the ring and the fighting. It was a great starting point for me.”
Wolfram & Hart weren’t always so concerned about keeping Angel alive and well. One of their first schemes to get rid of him involved employing vampire slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku). When that failed, they resurrected his former lover Darla (Julie Benz) at the end of Angel’s first season. However, the lawyers did not expect her to eventually become pregnant and sacrifice herself for the sake of hers and Angel’s child Connor (Vincent Kartheiser).
“I always enjoyed working with Julie Benz,” says Romanov. “She was such a compelling person to watch in her role of Darla. Julie totally embodied the character and had such a sense of fun when playing her. I liked how Darla toyed with everyone, and it was certainly a turnaround when the character found redemption in the end and gave up her life for the soul of her baby. I thought that was a terrific way for her to bow out of the programme.”
It was Lilah and fellow attorney Lindsey McDonald (Christian Kane) who spearheaded the campaign to use Darla against Angel. Even though they may have worked as a “team,” that did not deter them from trying to pass each other on their climb up the corporate ladder. Ironically, it was Lindsey’s love for Darla that led to his downfall. When he finally realized that she would never return his affections, he quit his job and left Los Angeles. While Lilah was pleased to see the back of Lindsay, Romanov missed the on-screen sparring with actor Christian Kane.
“I had such a blast exploring the innate competitive nature between Lilah and Lindsay,” notes the actress. “It’s funny, I asked early on if I could wear flats when playing my character. Christian and I are the same height – actually he might be a bit taller than I am – but when I put on high heels I towered over him. Of course, the show’s producers wanted Lilah to tower over everyone. This created a marvelous dynamic that helped spark off the repartee between our two characters. As a viewer, you were never quite sure who would be the victor when Lilah and Lindsay were in a scene together. That was a neat ride to go on. It almost felt like a tennis match where the two of them were hitting balls back and forth and they both wanted to win. He was definitely a worthy adversary for my character.”
The actress also enjoyed the on-screen struggle between her and Sam Anderson, who played Lilah’s boss Holland Manners during the first two seasons of Angel. “It was a treat to work with Sam. He’s a great guy and a talented actor,” says Romanov. “As for his character’s opinion of Lilah, I don’t think Holland really wanted her to be a part of what he considered to be ‘the boy’s club.’ So Lilah felt as if she had to work and fight harder if she hoped to be the evilest one of all, and her persistence certainly paid off.
“Because Lilah is so confrontational, power hungry and not the nicest person I have to play my scenes as such and often it’s with people I don’t know,” she continues. “I remember, for example, the first time I worked with Daniel Dae Kim [Wolfram & Hart’s Gavin Park] I think he was taken somewhat aback. The scene called for me to be a total bitch and that’s how I played it. Daniel and I hadn’t met before going in front of the camera and afterwards he kind of gave me a strange look. I went up to him later and said, ‘They wrote that scene for me. That’s not really who I am.’ After that everything was fine and we got along just great.
“So Daniel’s initial impression of me was based on Lilah, and sometimes it’s a challenge to play the coldness of the character with people who aren’t familiar with the real you. I know that sometimes when I meet fans at conventions they look scared, and that can be tough. I love comedy and making other people laugh and feel at ease, so it’s weird when someone’s first reaction to me is one of fear. All I can say is thank God I’m not like Lilah in real life,” laughs the actress.
In Angel’s third season, Wesley (Alexis Denisof) incurred the wrath of Angel and his friends after he kidnapped baby Connor in the hopes of saving him from a deadly prophecy. With no where else to go he ended up sleeping with the enemy - Lilah. She quickly took advantage of the situation and attempted to lure Wesley over to the dark side. In trying to do so, she actually began to care about him. Lilah’s relationship with Wesley came as a complete surprise to her as well as Romanov.
“I was so shocked when the writers put Wesley and Lilah together,” says the actress. “It was right out of left field. I don’t think the two of them ever had any scenes together prior to that, although they did know each other existed. When you’re in that line of work you have to be familiar with who your adversaries are. Initially, Lilah’s ploy was to get information out of Wesley. I think she was rather promiscuous with all the young aides in the office, so that was nothing unusual for her. However, this was the first time that Lilah slept with a man who gave her something positive in return, maybe not for long but still positive. This created an inner conflict for my character. It worked extremely well and was an interesting dichotomy of Lilah’s and Wesley’s worlds coming together.”
Unfortunately, all good things eventually come to an end, even in the make-believe world of TV. In the fourth season Angel episode Cavalry, Lilah has a showdown with The Beast (Vladmir Kulich). She puts up a valiant fight, but the demon ultimately ends her reign of evil.
“In this episode, The Beast impales Lilah in her side with his finger,” explains Romanov. “Coincidentally, I guest-starred on the TV show Seven Days a couple of years ago with the actor who played The Beast, Vladmir Kulich, and he stabbed my character on that programme in the exact same place. How weird is that?” she chuckles. “Vladmir is from Czechoslovakia, which is where my father was born, and the two of them bonded when they met on the Seven Days set. So I couldn’t believe it when I walked onto the Angelset and discovered that Vladmir had been cast as The Beast.
“I thoroughly enjoyed working on Cavalry. The range of emotions I got to play was in many ways a culmination of Lilah from the beginning of her time on the show right up to the end. That was such a wonderful acting challenge for me. To top it off, I got to come back and do the very next story, Salvage. In it, Lilah is already dead and Angel/Angelus has fed on her. Because of this, she has to be decapitated and Wesley volunteers. He takes her body downstairs and is poised above it with an axe in hand. He can’t quite force himself to do it and all of a sudden my eyes pop open and I ask him, ‘What’s going on? What’s taking you so long? This is what you wanted, isn’t it? Me out of the picture.’
“In the next scene Lilah is standing behind Wesley, all dressed in her Wolfram & Hart gear and looking exactly how she did when she was at her most powerful. She tells him, ‘It’s OK to let go. Do what you have to do. Just know that I always cared for you.’ It not only gave Wesley the opportunity to combat his inner demons but it also allowed Lilah to help him through it by basically saying it’s too late for her but she knows that he still has other things to do. It was a wonderful way for her to go. Joss Whedon [series creator and executive producer] and the other writers on the show gave me some fantastic things to do in my final few episodes and I’ll always be grateful for that.”
Besides being a talented actress, Romanov is also a skilled dancer with a repertoire that includes everything from tap to tango. Although acting had been a dream of hers since childhood, she actually began working in front of the camera as a model. “I love travelling and meeting new people, and modelling allowed me to do both,” she says. “Whenever I was out and about in the world I would usually seek out people that were not in the business and ask them questions about their lives. It’s those experiences that gave me a greater understanding of others which, in turn, helps me when playing different characters.”
One of the actress’s first jobs was the regular role of Monique Duran on the short-lived Aaron Spelling TV series Models, Inc. However, prior to that she made her debut as Teri Spencer in an episode of another Spelling show Melrose Place. “I’d never been on a set before so everything was brand new to me,” says Romanov. “In the scene I was sitting at a table with Heather Locklear, Linda Grey and four other actresses. The director said, ‘Action,’ we did the master shot, and after that I thought we were done. Boy, was I wrong. I had no idea about shooting close-ups and different angles. 12 hours later I was on my way home,” laughs the actress. “So that first day I learnt how to act on film and everything that entails.”
Romanov has guest-starred on such other programs as Homicide: Life On The Street, Nash Bridges, Just Shoot Me and Due South. Her feature film work includes Spy Hard, Menno’s Mind, Sunset Strip and Thirteen Days in which she portrayed former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. “Despite it being a small part I wanted to do my best to emulate her voice and body language,” says the actress. “After the first take the director came up to me and said, ‘You were great.’ I can’t tell you how good that made me feel.”
With her striking beauty and modelling background it would be easy for Romanov to be stereotyped as an actress. Fortunately, she has not allowed this to happen. “Early on I was offered the ‘pretty girl’ roles and I turned them down,” she says. “What’s most rewarding for me is getting to play a character that’s as different as possible from the previous one I played. My roles have included the good girl, the bad girl, the funny girl, the wife, the con artist, etc. I’ve been lucky enough to have embodied a variety of people and I just hope I get the opportunity to embody many more.”
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