Alyssa Milano – 20 years ago she was already a TV veteran

June 1998 By Philip Berk

It’s been sixteen years exactly since I first interviewed Alyssa Milano.

She was fourteen at the time, appearing in Who’s the Boss, and answering 7000 letters a week.

Today as the star of Charmed she may not be receiving 7000 letters a week, but her show is charming  audiences all over the world. 

Interviewed in 1987, she didn’t seem all that consumed by acting, and in fact had fallen into it by accident.

“I was being cared for by a baby sitter,” she told me, “one of my mom’s close friends who was a dancer. I was being obnoxious,  and she was looking for something to keep me busy, when she saw an ad in the newspaper for Annie auditions. She took me there. 1500 kids showed up. Four were picked, and I was one of them.”

Even at eight she seem conflicted.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted my mom to give up her career (she was a dressmaker) which going on the road with me meant. What if I didn’t want to do it anymore? After a year and a half it would be hard for my family to get back into doing what they had done before. At the time my dad was a  musician and he wasn’t doing well. And then my mom found out she as pregnant.”

But after two years on the road, the family did return to New York. 

For a long time Alyssa had difficulty finding jobs, even commercials, because as she explained, “I was too ethnic.”

Was she under pressure from her parents to keep working?

“Not at all. If at any moment I said to my parents, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ they would have been behind me 100 percent.”

Even today she enjoys a close relationship to her family.

But then, when she was signed for Who’s the Boss, the family moved to Hollywood, her dad found a job as music editor on the show,  and her mom found work as a fashion designer.

The show was an instant hit. It allowed the family to live comfortably, and it made a star of young Alyssa. 

But even at fifteen she was distrustful of relationships and friendships.

I remember her telling me, “I had a friend once when I went to regular school. She asked to go with me to auditions. I thought we were best friends, but then I realized what she was up to. That’s why I find it hard to stay friends with people who are not in the business. You can’t really trust them. But then again if they’re in the business you don’t always know why they’re your friend.  So that’s why it’s really hard for me to make friends.” 

Could that be why she’s never had a successful relationship?

Her engagement in l993 to Scott Wolf, who at the time was being groomed as the next Tom Cruise, ended after a year and she steadfastly refused to talk about it.

At fourteen  she wanted to have “four kids because I love kids,” but despite a one year marriage which ended in divorce, that dream has eluded her.

But now thanks to Aaron Spelling, who rescued her from years of bad movies when he gave her a role in Melrose Place, she is unquestionably the star of television’s most unusual success story, Charmed, which has charmed its way into households not only in the US but all over the world.

On the set of the show, she gives no indication of any neuroses; although for three years she and (co-star) Shannon Doherty clashed to the point that she gave the producers an ultimatum. It’s either she or Shannon.

Of course Shannon was the one they let go.

Her replacement Rose McGowan obviously has worked out just fine, and the new working environment is everything Alyssa could hope for.

“I just love Alyssa’s unflagging optimism,” Rose tells me on the set, “her unflagging happiness, which is a great boon for someone like me who gets tired very easily.”

How has Rose changed the dynamic of the show, I ask Alyssa during a break from filming.

“I think it was a blessing that in the fourth season we could introduce a new character and give the show some creative juices. I know when I did Who’s the Boss eight years ago, it’s usually the fourth season when things start getting a little monotonous; so I’m very happy that Rose is with us. We’re all pretty close, we’ve bonded, and we’re having a good time.”

What makes her special?

“I love that she has no mental editing. She says everything that I’m thinking except she’ll say it out  loud so that I don’t have to. It keeps everything light.”

And Holly?

Why do they continue to work together so well?

“For starters, we’ve pretty much known each other for twenty years. We’re very similar. We were born in the same month; there’s an honesty about Holly that I love. With friendships you are often attracted to what you wish you can be, and that’s Holly. Very straightforward. I, on the other hand, having grown up in the business, I’ve always had to put on a happy face. She doesn’t do that. She’s more interested in being a completely real person than just an entertainer.”

How has her character evolved over the years?

“The great thing about Phoebe is that she’s gone through so many changes, and now with Rose becoming the youngest, all our positions have shifted. Phoebe can be more of the peacemaker now because she’s the middle child.” 

Does she still find the physical demands of the role challenging?

“It’s been very easy for me to slip into the physical aspects of the role. To do not only twelve hours of scenes a day but also those fight scenes, you have to be in shape. Some of those fight scenes go on for a couple of hours a day so it’s like a two-hour workout each time.”

How much of Alyssa is there in Phoebe?

“When I first started, Phoebe was very angst ridden and a lost soul. But then because of  the way I grew up in a family where no matter what tragedy struck we always used a laugh to relieve things, I added that.  It’s very hard when you’re doing a series nine months out of a year, twelve hours a day,  to play someone completely different from you. So that’s why she probably has so much in common with me. To play it any other way, I’d lose sight of who I am. So I’ve sort of  melded the two together.”    

How will her marriage to a demon play out ?

“In the beginning the writers had a very hard time trying to figure out who would be a good guy for Phoebe. What type of guy?  because when they were looking to settle her down with a boy friend, she was still very carefree and not as mature as she is now. So they came up with the idea that a demon would be a good match, yet clearly one who was half human.”

Then jokingly she adds, “Every woman I think goes through a phase where she likes the rebellious man; so it was perfect, except that he turned into a big red beast. So it’s  a great storyline for me. I like doing the romantic comedy aspect of it.”

Is that why she has a new hair cut?

“I’ve had so many styles, from supershort to ultralong,  platinum blond to radiant red. I’m the type that likes doing my hair and makeup myself. I love that I can wake up in the morning and have cute hair.”

So it had nothing to do with the show?

“I don’t know what possessed me. One day I just wanted to cut it.”

Why does she think the show and others like it attract audiences all over the world?

“I think people respond to strong female characters, and young girls also really like that.” 

For the record her only marriage was to Cinjun Tate, the lead singer of the rock band Remy Zero; since then she’s dated her Charmed costar Brian Krause and Justin Timberlake.