.: Casting Their Spell :.
Rose McGowan is in and Shannen Doherty is out. Us Weekly visits the cast of Charmed and finds that these days, the show's three bewitching stars are actually like sisters - even after the cameras stop rolling.
The bewitching sisters of Charmed -- Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan -- stir up practical jokes, homeopathic cold remedies and juicy Shannen Doherty dish.
It wasn't exactly an exorcism, but when Rose McGowan began work on the WB series, Charmed in August, she inherited the dressing trailer formerly used by the controversial departed star, Shannen Doherty, and she immediately began buring sage.
"The trailer had a really strange vibe," says McGowan, who, as shock rocker Marilyn Manson ex-fiancée, knows a thing or two about strange vibes. "I'm not even superstitious about that kind of stuff. But i figured, what the hell?"
At first glance, it's not apparent that her incantations have worked. On this crisp November morning, in an industrial section of Los Angeles's San Fernado Valley, Alyssa Milano, 28, who plays free-spirited middle sister, Phoebe, Holly Marie Combs, 27, who portrays the now oldest sister and family peacekeeper, Piper and McGowan, 27, who plays long-lost youngest sister, Paige, have just sauntered in front of the cameras in the warehouse-sized studio that is home to the show. They're about to rehearse the day's opening scene, but first they start trading barbs, their version of "Good morning."
"How's the little crab apple?" McGowan asks Combs.
"Oh, just fine and dandy for a Friday," Combs grouses. "How do you feel?"
McGowan, who is suffering from a cold, says, "Horrible. Like I want to die."
Milano, the cast's Italian earth mother, offers McGowan a does of her "wellness formula": "It's full of herbs, vitamins-organic everything," she says. McGowan cocks an eyebrow and strikes a dramatic pose, suggesting that her malady is far beyond any homeopathic witch's brew Milano might concoct.
Both Milano and Combs know better than to push McGowan, the company prankster too far. "A few weeks ago, we had real pigs' feet on the set that we had to throw in to make a spell," says Combs. "A foot got tossed at Rose, and she really flinched, which caused me to crack up. Maybe I shouldn't have laughed as hard as I did."
Indeed. Days later, the severed pig's foot began turning up in all sorts of unlikely places, until, finally, Combs detected a sickly smell emanating from somewhere in her Dodge truck. Her dog, Lola, and Australian shepard, rooted out the offending porcine body part, which was in an advanced state of decay on the flatbed of the vehicle. "I'm not accusing anyone of anything," Combs says, laughing. "But...."
But nothing. Charmed, despite 12-hour workdays, is a warm, friendly place to be these days. "There's no stress; nobody's really uptight," says Brian Krause, 32, who plays a guardian angel on the show and is Milano's boyfriend off the set. "It's lighter now - it's fun."
The merriment marks a change from last year, when tension between Doherty and Milano turned the set into a real-life haunted house. Doherty, who had served as a bridesmaid at Milano's wedding to Remy Zero's lead singer, Cinjun Tate in 1999 (the marriage lasted a year), accused Milano of a less-than-professional ethnic in an August Details magazine article. "I mean what do we do?" Doherty was quoted as saying. "Say a few lines, sit in our trailers, get paid a fortune. That's really rough. And yet there was a person there that bitched about her job, day in, day out."
The show's producers hired a mediator to work out some sort of rapprochement. But at the end of the season, Doherty, depending on whom you believe, either quit or was fired. (The show's writers killed off her character, the protective Prue.) "Shannen said some things that have been hurtful to me personally and everyone else involved with the show," says Milano. "She came off very bitter and very angry. I think people were able to see through it. It's almost the exact same situation as when she left Beverly Hills 90210 [in 1994]." Milano, who spent her adolescence playing Tony Danza's daughter on ABC's "Who's The Boss?", claims that "Shannen has been the only one that has ever said anything negative about me" in her 21-year career.
In Doherty's defense, she is missed by some. Her boyfriend, Julian McMahon, plays half-demon, half-human character on the show. Combs has also stayed friendly with Doherty: "Shannen believed in me way before a lot of other people did," says the actor, who as a teenager played Kimberly Brock on CBS's Picket Fences. "I have a bit of survivor's remorse. Here I am [still] on the show, reaping all the benefits. That messes with my head a little. I miss her, but she seems to be doing fine."
And McGowan's take? "I want to keep [the conflict] separate. I don't need that extra crap in my life anyway," she says. "I'm all about showing up, doing the work and having a blast, because life is going to deal you some real hard blows, as we've all learned recently."
Now, after eight weeks of shooting the fourth season, the on-set chemistry is down right Charmed. An inspired choice as Doherty's replacement, McGowan has added "a smile to the show and a lot of new energy," says executive producer Brad Kern. One of six siblings raised in the Children of God cult in Florence, Italy, McGowan and her brothers and sisters moved with their mother to Oregon after their parents spilt. "The whole white picket-fence existence is completely foreign to me," she says of her childhood. She got her big acting break at 19, when while waiting for a friend in Los Angeles, she was spotted outside a gym by a pal of director Gregg Araki, who casted her in his 1995 film, The Doom Generation.
On the jocular Charmed set, McGowan has fit right in. "When I started they 'pantsed' me, stole all my clothes and locked me in my trailer naked," she says joking. She clearly admires her co-stars. Alyssa is spiritual and comes from a great place. When I feel like dying from exhaustion on the set, she'll pick me back up. Holly cracks me up. She keeps you at arm's length at first, but she's awesome and I have a blast with her."
The closeness behind the scenes is more than just sisterhood. There's real intimacy. Besides the Milano-Krause pairing, ("I'm madly in love with him," says Milano). Combs shares a home with the show's key grip, David Donoho, 36. "The whole thing is very family oriented," says Combs. As for McGowan's love life, she's recently dated actor Kip Pardue (Remember The Titans) and now goes out with Ahmet Zappa, 27, the son of the late rock star, Frank Zappa, yet she's still dogged by questions about her relationship with Manson. "I really loved him," she says. "But I couldn't marry the lifestyle."
McGowan's attraction to the bizarre extends to her trailer, which is a funky calamity of Chinese lamps and photos of demented-looking poodles, late-period Elvis, and one of Howard Sterns's sidekicks, Beetlejuice. "The weird stuff is completely normal to me."
Her co-stars' trailers also reflect their personalities and interests. Milano's which she calls her "ashram," is draped with billowy fabrics and is decorated with books on spirituality and candles that make it resemble a Buddhist temple emporium. "It's very peaceful," says Milano, who was raised Catholic in Brooklyn, New York. "I do lots of yoga."
Combs keeps her trailer, decorated in neutral colors, tidy. A Zen eater sculpture trickles nearby, and the shelves hold novels by Tom McGuane and art books depicting horses. "I ride on the weekend, and I garden." says the San Diego native. "I'm bad about dieting and exercising. To force myself to the gym for three hours on a weekend seems like a waste of time." She says that one way she stays fit is by hauling food for her five dogs - "I carry six bags of twenty pound dog food up two flights of stairs."
This afternoon, the three women spend more time than usual in their trailers because much of the day's shooting has been bogged down, according to Milano, by their male counterparts: Krause, McMahon and Dorian Gregory. "They have more scenes than usual and they keep messing up," she says, giggling. When the female stars gather in their makeup trailer, their banter turns catty. "This is not a regular day," sighs Milano. "I mean, waiting around for the guys to finish up is not what we usually have to do."
"Notice how the male testosterone on the set today slows things down?" says McGowan. "Julian was complaining about his schedule and having to get up so early. What does he need, more time for eyebrow waxing?"
But by late afternoon, the sisterhood is in front of the camera again for the final scene. The girls are positioned in the attic. Huddled together, they recite a quirkily absurd mystical incantation and then pretend to leap one by one through a fiery ring into the show's "limbo land." A take is ruined as an airplane flies overhead. Another take is shot, and this time, the sisters play off another, nailing their lines and movements perfectly. A satisfied look passes among them. "It doesn't matter how good an actor is," says Kern. "It's still up to the gods whether you're going to catching the lightning in a bottle. But I think we've done it."