Hilary Angelo gives us the low down on Mike Nichols' latest political dramedy

Hilary Angelo plays a key character in the upcoming Mike Nichols' political dramedy Charlie Wilson's War. In the film, she is supposed to seduce Charlie Wilson (aka Tom Hanks) in a hot tub while still wearing her stripper shoes. Her scenes are based on a real incident that got the Texas Congressman in a lot of trouble back in the day.

In an unusually large cast of supporting players, Hilary Angelo's Kelly stands out. Angelo gives a great performance that adds an enthralling complexity to the sure-fire wattage of stars Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Her work will only help get this film noticed come award time. And it is our pleasure to shine a spotlight on her rising star.

A veteran of many cult television shows and films, Hilary took a moment out of her busy schedule to chat with us about her work in Charlie Wilson's War. And to reminisce about her days on Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Here is our conversation:

You are co-starring in Charlie Wilson's War. Can you tell me about the character you play in this film?

Hilary Angelo: I play a woman named Kelly. She is a stripper in Vegas. It is a true story, this movie. I am in the first fifteen minutes of the film. Kelly more or less tries to seduce Tom Hanks, who is playing Charlie Wilson. They are over at Caesar's Palace, and it is a crazy party. She is trying to get to know Charlie in a hot tub, but he is not paying attention to her. He is more interested in Dan Rather on television. A couple of "things" later, I'm still trying to get his attention. But he is much more interested in politics. Which I think is interesting. You would think he'd be more interested in a stripper. It sort of introduces Charlie as a playboy guy who hangs out with people of this ilk. And he is a politician. Now, all of a sudden, he has taken an interest in Afghanistan. It all has to do with being in the hot tub and watching Dan Rather. So, it really is the launch of the film. I don't want to give away too much. Charlie in real life gets in trouble for hanging out with strippers in hot tubs. He did get in trouble with congress in the 80s for doing that.

That sounds pretty funny. I have read different things about the film. What do you think the tone of the film is?

Hilary Angelo: Aaron Sorkin wrote it. He did The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. He can take serious topics and make them really very witty. I would say the tone of the movie is a drama. But it is very comical in the way he has written it. Charlie Wilson himself is a funny, gregarious congressman that drank a lot. He slept with many women. He wasn't married at the time this took place. He had many lovers everywhere, in every city. He had hot women called "The Charlie's Angels" that worked for him. He was just this interesting, eccentric congressman from Texas. I think that Aaron Sorkin did have a lot of fun with the dialogue because of that. Even though there are a lot of serious issues on hand, I think Charlie Wilson himself was a fun loving guy. He just became passionate about Afghanistan's fight against the Russians. I think it's a drama, but it is more of a dramedy. It is a melding of comedy and drama. I don't know if you'll cry in it, but you'll definitely laugh.

What is it like to have to seduce Tom Hanks in a hot tube? Were you looking at him as Tom Hanks, or were you in the mindset that this was actually Charlie Wilson?

Hilary Angelo: It's funny. That's what I was thinking about when I first walked onto the set. Am I going to be looking at him as Tom Hanks? How is this going to work? What is great is that Mike Nichols rehearses his actors. So we had a whole day where we rehearsed with Tom. I actually got to know him as a person. He actually took us to lunch on that second day of rehearsals. It was really great for him to do that. He made himself a real person, rather than this icon. He knows that people think of him like that. I think it was because of that lunch, that I just thought of him as a regular guy. I just know his face, and his voice. Sure, I have gotten to know him from his movies. But he is a regular person. Once I got to the set and did the scenes, I was comfortable. I did look at him as Charlie Wilson. I've never really seen him play a character like this. It was great to see him having fun in this guy's skin. That helps to not see him as Tom Hanks, but to see him as Charlie Wilson. Or, rather, his version of Charlie Wilson.

I know this is based on a true story, but is your character based on a real person?

Hilary Angelo: Yeah. According to the book, I really existed. I asked Charlie about it at the wrap party. He wasn't on set the days I worked. But, he told me that, "Yup, there were two showgirls." He told me that in reality, they were showgirls, not strippers. And that he invited them up to party with him in his suite. He said that a lot of things happened, but he is not talking about it. He got in trouble for it years ago, and he doesn't want to get in trouble again. I would like to see if they are still around. I would have liked to meet them. I don't think Charlie knows where they are. They're not talking. I have no idea who they are. There were two of them. And there are two of us in the movie. We are strippers. The only thing in the book that they had about my character is that she had long, red fingernails. And she wore her high heels into the hot tub. Those are the two things that stuck out to me. I have long, red fingernails. And I have great high heels that I wear into the hot tub.

So you obviously read the book before jumping into this character?

Hilary Angelo: I did. It's a great book. I thought Aaron did a really great job of adapting it into a movie. Because it is such a dense book with a lot of information and facts. It's a funny book as well.

A lot of films are coming out that deal with Afghanistan, and the war in general. Why do you think its important to have these films at this period in time, in history?

Hilary Angelo: I didn't see Lions for Lambs or the Reese Witherspoon film Rendition. I have yet to see either of those. But I think what is different about "Charlie Wilson's War" and why it is important to have in theaters right now, is that it talks about a secret war in the 80s, and how we really did help the Afghans fight the Russians. How we gave them money. A lot of people aren't aware of this. A lot of people also aren't aware of the religious extremists that were living in a world of fanaticism in Afghanistan. We were training Osama Bin Laden. But we had no idea. We thought we were helping these guys battle communism. We didn't know we were training them to kill us one day. That's why I think it is so important. We really need to learn from history. History is repeating itself before our eyes, and we really need to wake up and learn from our mistakes. Our world is just not a safe place. And our country is not very well liked at the moment. I think that's why all of these movies are coming out. I hope the country is not overloaded, and I hope people will go see them. But I think that in an election year, it is really important for us to wake up and atone for our mistakes.

That's why I was asking about the tone of the film. I've heard various different things about the tone. But, it seems like to me, with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts starring in it, and the film having a little bit more of a comedic tone, that more people will go and see it.

Hilary Angelo: I am hoping that it is being marketed properly. I think the trailer is great. I know what the movie is about. I don't know if you can tell what it is about from the trailer. I think it is much more light and airy, even though it is touching on more serious subjects. I think that's what is going to be great about the film. It is cathartic and eye opening. Yet, you are enjoying it at the same time. I'm sure, by the end of the film, you will feel like, "Oh, my God! We really need to wake up and smell the coffee." I think the tone is important. And the fact that Julia Roberts hasn't been in a movie since she had her child. I think people want to see her. And Phil Hoffman is fantastic. I don't even have to mention Tom Hanks, because everybody loves him. I hope that, yes, their comedic sensibility lifts the spirits of the general moviegoers. It is a Christmas release, first of all. And people want to enjoy themselves when they go to the movies on Christmas.

Yeah, people don't really want to go to the movies on Christmas Day and be depressed, I guess.

Hilary Angelo: (Laughs) No, they don't. They want to go see some big Hollywood movie. I think people will enjoy this film. I hope it does well. I hope people enjoy it. Who knows about Oscar? It's too early to even predict that.

What was is like working with Mike Nichols?

Hilary Angelo: It was wonderful. I've been describing him as a grandfather or uncle you love so much. I just love sitting and listening to him tell stories. He has a million stories, because he has worked with every actor in town. He is just so funny. I mostly love how he just lets you play. He really was so freeing. He never really gave me or anybody else any directions. He hires someone because he knows they can do the job. He lets you just play and have fun, and do the scenes that you are doing. It gives the actor so much confidence, they are free to have fun and try different things. He doesn't put a cap on you. He lets you explore. It was such a joy to work with someone that really gets actors. That's were he came from. He was an actor, he worked on stage. That's how he directs you.

I was doing a little bit of research on you this morning, and I noticed that you have your resume up on IMDB. Does that actually help you land jobs?

Hilary Angelo: You know, I do everything I can. You never know who may click on it one day. I have my resume up on a bunch of websites. It just seems to be the way things go nowadays. Sometimes you go into a casting office, and they print up your IMDB resume. And they have your forehead shot on there. They don't even bother having your agent send over one. I just do it more to be professional. To not have your picture up on IMDB if you are an actor is silly. You are just shooting yourself in the foot. If someone wants to find you, that's where they are going to go.

That's where I went.

Hilary Angelo: IMDB just seems to be the one place everyone goes. Everyone in the business is on IMDB-Pro. They can look at your resume on there. And the resume gets into more detailed information like training, and whom you have studied with. The IMDB pages just talks about your credits. And that's it.

The one thing I noticed about looking at your resume is that your are a dancer by trade. Have you gotten a chance to utilize those skills in a film or television project yet?

Hilary Angelo: No. It is so unfortunate. I was just talking about this. I have probably auditioned for twenty or thirty dance parts in movies. I have gotten very close, but they always seem to hire the person that doesn't really dance. Which frustrates me. I have used it a little bit. I have played a cheerleader in a couple of things. But I haven't really used my skills. Not really. I am a trained ballet dancer, and I would love to use it. Though, a lot of the dance movies now are all about hip-hop and street dancing. That is not my thing. I have auditioned for a couple of the recent dancing films. I just haven't gotten them.

I heard that they were putting a spoof movie out based on all the recent dance movies.

Hilary Angelo: That would be great. I haven't thought about it, or read that script. Geez, you should write that.

They are actually in the process of making it right now. I don't think they have even begun casting for it.

Hilary Angelo: I should get on top of that.

That sounds right up your alley.

Hilary Angelo: It sounds hilarious. I know, it's about this kid from the wrong side of the tracks. I could totally write the whole thing by myself. The kid is from the wrong side of the tracks, he doesn't know how to dance, a girl teaches him how to dance. Then, the girl is anorexic. She doesn't eat enough. She faints in the middle of class. Yeah, those are all great movies. And the dance moves are awesome.

I noticed that you were in some huge television cult hits like Saved by the Bell: The New Class, Gilmore Girls, and Beverly Hills, 90210. Do you remember anything exciting about working on those shows?

Hilary Angelo: Yeah, I had a great time working on Saved by the Bell: The New Class. It's on my IMDB pages. Don't tell anyone. I can't get rid of it. But, I was on the New Class, alright? I loved Saved by the Bell growing up. It was fun to be on it. Screech was still on it. And Mr. Beldings. Screech was my favorite. He loved what he did. He loved his job. He will always be Screech until he dies. And Gilmore Girls, I just love. It was a fun show. The only thing they tell you when you get on set is, "Talk fast." The one thing you'll notice about that show is they all talk a mile a minute. Then I did Beverly Hills, 90210 towards the end of its run. Which was awesome, because I had posters of Luke Perry on my wall. That was a really fun job.

Christmas is coming up, and I saw that you and your immediate family all starred in the Mr. Bill: Christmas Special.

Hilary Angelo: (Laughs) Yeah. My whole family is in it. The reason is, Walter Williams, the guy that created Mr. Bill, is a very close family friend. My father and him lived in New York together. They scrapped pennies to get the first one made. Walt came up with this Mr. Bill character. And Lorne Michael told Walt to start making some movies, and he would put them on Saturday Night Live. My dad helped him make these short films in the 70s. They have been best friends for over twenty-five years. Mr. Bill: Christmas Special was the one we were all in. My brother, my mom. My mom had to join the Screen Actors Guild to be in it. Walter is a great guy. And he has been doing a lot for New Orleans and the Katrina clean up. He is just doing a lot of work down there, trying to get government officials to pay some attention. He is a wonderful person. He is a funny, very clever guy.

One last question before I run out of time. What are your plans for the future? What do you got coming up?

Hilary Angelo: Well, you know, it is hard to say with this strike going on. I have some things on the burner that I'm waiting to hear back on. I wish I could say I have something. I did this movie. I have a television show that came out a week ago. I am just hoping to get another film gig in the next month. TV is kaput until the strike ends. The movies, we only have until next June if the Screen Actors Guild decides to go on strike. So, hopefully, there will be an influx of productivity in the next month. I will most likely get something soon. I wish I could tell you to go see me in Blah, blah, blah. But I have to take this one job at a time.

The strike is making it hard for everyone.

Hilary Angelo: Yeah, my husband is a screenwriter. He is out there right now with his picket sign. Poor guy. But, he did sell a movie to Disney. Maybe they will settle this here in the next couple weeks. They are trying not to rush it.

How long does he have to be out there everyday?

Hilary Angelo: They are supposed to be there for four hours a day. They need to be out there twenty hours a week. I don't think they are going to reprimand you if you don't. He has to get up. He has to give his time. He is not supposed to be writing anything for money, that's for sure. I think a lot of writers will be writing their million dollar spec script in the next six months, because they are not going to be able to get work. They think it will end next week, which it very well could.

Well, I hope so.

Hilary Angelo: Okay. Is that it?

Yeah, it was great getting to chat with you today.

Hilary Angelo: Thank you. It was a lot of fun.

Hopefully, we will speak again in the near future.

Charlie Wilson's War opens December 25th, 2007.

B. Alan Orange at Movieweb
B. Alan Orange