She faced puberty in public, survived a devastating heartbreak and outlasted her bimbette image. Now, Alyssa Milano is enjoying a 'Charmed' life.
By John Griffiths
AFTER CHECKING OUT THE MEDITATION BOWLS AT THE PSYCHIC Eye Bookshop, a kind of supernatural supermarket in Sherman Oaks, Calif., Alyssa Milano joins a curly-haired seer for a tarot reading. "You're involved in something scary," the psychic ventures. Milano is impressed. "I'm on a show," she says, pulling her black leather jacket across her chest. "We kill warlocks every week."
The actress does some damage in the Nielsen ratings, too. Charmed, the WB's Wednesday-night comedy-drama that casts Milano, Shannen Doherty and Holly Marie Combs as witch sisters who use their powers to fight evil, is a certified hit. Last November, the Aaron Spelling production, a mix of Charlie's Angels and The Craft, took in the network's highest ratings ever for a series debut, and it continues to draw a weekly audience of more than 4 million viewers.
"Charmed is the most satisfying thing I've ever done," Milano says. Spelling allowed her to help create her clairvoyant character, Phoebe. "There was no way I could do this show and have Phoebe not find the absurdity in killing warlocks," says Milano. "That was my contribution to the character - fun."
The girl who grew up as Tony Danza's spunky daughter on the ABC sitcom Who's the Boss? from 1984 to 1992 went from teen queen to trashy in subsequent years, starring as seductress Amy Fisher in 1993's CBS movie Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story and in the title role of 1995's Poison Ivy 2 - Lily. Milano's bimbette image was only cemented by an engagement and breakup at age 22. And those nude pictures of her clogging up the Internet didn't help much, either.
Her professional rebirth began in 1997 with a role on Melrose Place as the scheming Jennifer Mancini. A year later, Spelling cast her in Charmed. "Alyssa has a virginal sensuality," says Spelling, "but she also has a great sense of humor."
Milano has a lot to be happy about these days. In March 1998, she met Cinjun August Tate, 26, lead singer for rising alternarockers Remy Zero, at a party hosted by Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz, a mutual friend. "I saw August across the room, and I was like, 'Oh, my God,'" Milano recalls. "Love at first sight - whatever you want to call it. He's kind, gentle. He's got the brightest white light around him."
The couple married on a Louisiana plantation on New Year's Day. Doherty and Combs served as bridesmaids. "August couldn't be a nicer human being, and Alyssa has the most pure soul - they're this perfect union," says Doherty. "Alyssa's very focused about her career, but her personal life is really important. I respect that."
Family has always been Milano's sanctuary. She was raised in Staten Island, N.Y, where her mom, a former fashion designer, and dad, a musician, nurtured her and younger brother Cory with a creative mix of Italian-Catholic values and hippie caprice. ("My parents went to Woodstock together," Milano says.) When she saw Annie on Broadway at age 8, she told her parents, "I can do that." Her only showbiz training had been dance lessons, but shortly afterward she won a spot in the show's 1980 touring production. Four years later, at 12, she nabbed the role of Samantha Micelli on Who's the Boss?
The job made for an unusual childhood. While other kids were attending junior high and high school, Milano was being tutored on the set alongside fellow kid star Danny Pintauro. And she still cringes when recalling how the show's writers incorporated her "little teeny mosquito-bite boobies" into a treatise on training bras when she was 13.
However difficult adolescence was for Milano, "she never made it difficult for others," remembers Judith Light, who played Angela on Who's the Boss? "It may sound airy-fairy but it's true - she had a real light and a wisdom behind her eyes. She dealt with child stardom as well as anybody I've ever seen."
Life after child stardom wasn't so easy. In 1993, Milano met future Party of Five cast member Scott Wolf on the set of the film Double Dragon. Their heated two-year romance ended with a broken engagement in 1994, leaving Milano with a broken heart and a tattoo of Wolf's initials on her left ankle. "I'd never been through something so drastic," she says.
For the next two years, Milano swears, she could barely get a date. "It pissed me off that my mom had a husband - I was that bitter!" she jokes. Maybe guys were too nervous to approach her, but she had become an international lust object, something her kid brother discovered in 1995 when he stumbled on nude photos of her while surfing the Internet. (They were either fakes or screen shots from her nude scenes in Poison Ivy 2 or 1996's Fear.) Milano won $2oo,ooo in damages from a web site last December and now has a strict nudity clause in her movie contracts. "If I choose to do it," she says, "I have complete editing approval."
She also feels in control of her current life, even if 14-hour workdays don't leave much time for her three dogs or her new husband. But Milano predicts that Charmed will remain a hit and she'll have plenty of time to play pool and jet-ski with Tate. She just added a new tattoo, she confides: "I just got an ankh on my wrist - an ancient symbol for peace within the self." Does she have that peace now? "I'm working toward it," she says with a laugh. "Do you have it? I don't know if you ever reach it, but it's a beautiful thing to strive for."