Christine Willes is an accomplished actress known for many roles including Delores Herbig in Dead Like Me and “Granny Goodness” on Smallville — and those are just two out of dozens of credits to her name. For us, we know Willes for her role as “Gladys, the DMV Demon” in The CW’s short-lived series Reaper… and now, thanks to FEARnet, we’ll be seeing Gladys and Ms. Willes again very soon, as the network has picked up the rights to air every episode of Reaper in addition to a reunion special that airs on May 28.
We were able to to interview her about the Reaper reunion, and in doing so, we learned some fun anecdotes about what it was like to play the horned, cranky agent of the DMV. You can find that below. Our questions to Ms. Willes are posted in bold; her answers are not.
KSITETV’s CRAIG BYRNE: What was it like to see everybody again for the reunion?
CHRISTINE WILLES: Oh, it was so wonderful. In some ways, it was even more enjoyable than when we were shooting, because you’re on set, and it’s go go go, and you’ve got deadlines, and frequently you’re just saying hi in the makeup chair, so to actually get a chance to connect with everybody and find out where they are in their lives, and remember what it was like to be part of such a fun project, was just amazing.
Was there anyone that you were surprised to see at the reunion, that you didn’t expect to run into again?
I guess in some ways, I never expected to run into Ken Marino again! [laughs] Tyler [Labine], I thought I might run into again, because I also know his wonderful wife. He’s in Vancouver from time to time, but then the funniest thing happened, after the reunion, the next day, the people that I was staying with took me to Abbot Kinney Street in Venice, and I ran into Bret [Harrison], and I ran into his wife!
What was it that drew you to the Reaper show in the first place?
The comedy. You know, Vancouver, which is where Reaper was shot, is a town that does a lot of sci-fi and supernatural. I actually got started in this business on The X-Files, as did the producers of Reaper (Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters). All this supernatural stuff was quite serious and dramatic, so to get a script where all of that was done tongue in cheek with moments of seriousness was a real breath of fresh air to me.
On the note of sci-fi, Gladys’ horns… were they CG or were they physical?
They were physical! I got made those beautiful horns, and I had to have a full head cast made, which was something I didn’t expect I’d ever have to do. They put you in a hair net and a cap, and then put vaseline on you so you don’t stick to the plaster, and they did my entire head. It was quite exciting. Very elaborate. Every episode, the horns got put on with great care by the makeup department.
What took longer – getting horns for Reaper or getting turned into “Granny Goodness” for the Smallville finale?
Good question. You know, I’d have to say Granny Goodness, because of that fantastic wig they found. That wig was a work of art. It was getting the wig on, and then there was the styling of the wig… so, yeah. That one took a while.
Why do you think Sock would flirt with Gladys so much?
You know, I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m eternally grateful that he does. [laughs] I’m going to come at that again: I think that what happened was we had such great chemistry, Tyler and I, really, from the get-go. That first scene that we had together in the Pilot was scripted so that it was just going to end when I laughed at him, and that had been what had been seen in the audition. But when Tyler reached over the glass and started messing around with my stuff, that was unscripted, so those moments were always really electric, when they happen in front of the camera. And then from there, we just developed this war, and he figured out that by flirting with me, he could really annoy me.
In the episode “The Cop,” Sock and Gladys got kind of hot and heavy. What was that like to shoot?
Tyler is so much fun to shoot with that it was a blast. The story on that one is, we got the script and the script said very clearly that Gladys got down to her bra. And I thought, “oh my goodness! I’m not 20 anymore!” So off I went to wardrobe, and said “okay, so I have to get down to my bra, huh?” and they said “Oh. Well, we don’t think they’ll do that.”
But I’m a great believer in when the writers write something in the script, that we could at least try it, and see if we can make it work. Because they’re the ones with the vision for the show, right?
So I just happened to have a red bra, and I wore it under my costume, and nobody knew, and I thought “well, I’ll play it by ear. I’ll see if it feels like something that would be comfortable.” And we started doing it, and Tyler just went for it as he always does, so I thought “Okay. I’m going to go for it,” and I took my T-shirt off in the rehearsal.
You could hear a collective gasp from the crew, who then all were trying not to make noise; they were laughing so hard. So when it was such a big success when the crew liked it so much, I thought “okay. We’ve got to do this.”
The crew was great for giving an indication of how people are going to be about it. And then Tyler and I just had fun.
You’ve talked about the interaction between Gladys and Sock; what did Gladys make of everybody else?
She did her best to ignore Bret’s character, Sam, because he was working for the Devil, and I always got the feeling there was some uncomfortable stuff going on, so we had as little to do with each other as possible. With Rick’s character, and later with Andi, Missy’s character, she had to work really hard not to be affected by the people who had hearts.
The concept for Gladys was that she had become an aging, bitter beauty queen, and she was resentful, but underneath, she hadn’t gone so far over to the dark side, if you will, that she wasn’t affected by people who had soft hearts. They annoyed her. So that’s a way it developed. She had to work very hard and get even snippier with them, so that she wasn’t sucked into their compassion.
What kind of story would you have liked to have seen for Gladys that wasn’t able to happen?
Well, I was really inspired by Tara and Michele when they told me what they had planned for the third season, which was that Sam ended up selling Andi’s soul, and she had to go to work for the Devil, and she and Gladys became coworkers at the DMV. They shared that at the reunion. I thought that would have been so much fun, with the constant bickering and the tension, and Gladys trying to point out to Andi how stupid she was for caring for anybody, let alone Sam, and Andi constantly trying to get her to own up to having some human feelings.
And the one scene that I had with Ray, who of course played the Devil, was so chilling. I just thought it would have been very fun to have more of that. At one point, also, there was an idea that when Gladys got into trouble with the Devil, he sent her places, so there would be an opportunity for her to be reporting with a Dutch hat on, and taking souls from demons in other places. Not, demons… people working for the Devil, collecting escaped souls. A little travelogue. And finding them all equally useless. Those were all fun ideas, I thought.
Have you ever had a bad experience at the DMV, yourself?
You know, I haven’t, but Gladys was also partially based on someone that I did have a bad experience with in a government office up here in Canada. This person was so rude to the woman ahead of me, that I marched up to her and I said “I’ve never seen anybody treated like that before! I think you have a real problem.” Which she, of course, said “I don’t think I have a problem at all.” [laughs] She practically made the woman she was serving on cry.
Can you talk about Gladys’ house and the kinds of things that you would see around it?
Lots of chotchkes. It was incredible. The set dressing that they did for that house. There were lots of angels, you know, because demons are fallen angels, and everything was hearts and flowers. I always got the feeling, because I’m inspired by what the creative teams does on the show… they give so much with everything from set dressing to costume to hairstyles to makeup to props… I got the feeling that even though Gladys would have said “oh, well I’m just doing this so I’ll passas a normal human being,” that part of it was what she yearned for. And it gave the part some dimension, you know? The very fine china with roses and gold trim on it… very traditional.
Did you have a particular favorite vessel that they used on the show?
I’ve got to confess, I always loved the classic dust buster. I just thought that was so brilliant. That was my favorite.
Do you still think of the series when you use a Dirt Devil?
I do. And I have one that I use on my stairs! But I really want one of the Dirt Devils. They had one at the reunion with the horns and the Reaper [logo] that they did up for it. I thought it would be great to have one of those.
Why do you think the fan base embraced Reaper and still embraces Reaper years later?
Well, I think we were a very unique series, and I think that’s what the fans respond to. There’s a lot of excellent science fiction and supernatural content being made, but I go back to the point that I made about what drew me to this project: There are very few that are made with the comedy that allows you to laugh and then hopefully scares you. So, I think that… and we were talking about this: When we made Reaper, there were not that many openly gay characters on television, so for Ken to do such a wonderful job of playing the demon who with his gay lover is either going to revolt in Hell or overthrow the Devil… that was really groundbreaking, I think, for the time. So that’s what I think: We were really ahead of our time.
How would you sell the show to someone who hasn’t seen it before, and might now be seeing it on FEARnet?
I would say turn on the TV, kick back, get some popcorn, and prepare to have a few laughs at these three guys who end up working for the devil, but be careful when you’re chewing that popcorn, because you might choke if something unexpected happens.
If Michele and Tara came to you and said “Let’s do a Season 3,” would you be interested?
In a heartbeat. In a heartbeat. It was so liberating, being so awful to everybody. [laughs] Gladys was just awful. If there was any way she could make somebody uncomfortable, or angry, she’d do it, and I’m not like that as a human being, so to get to do it as a job was just so much fun.
Do you have any more words for the fans who will be reading this?
Thank you for your support, and for joining us on this wonderful, wonderful ride that we took with this series. I feel like we’re all in it together. We’re all in on the joke; we’re all in cahoots.
The Reaper reunion airs May 28 on FEARnet. You can read more details about it here!