Is Alyssa Milano really charmed? Recently, one of her cats jumped off a second-floor balcony in her Benedict Canyon house and sailed 20 feet to the atrium floor, shrieking like a hellcat en route. « She made this horrifying sound, like I’ve never heard before, » says Milano. Kitty didn’t land on its feet as expected, so Milano swooped down (the stairs) after her and picked up the sprawled feline, ready to administer last rites. « But she started purring seconds later, and I thought, ‘This is a special cat.’ »
In the WB’s cult occult hit Charmed, Milano plays Phoebe, who, along with sisters Prue and Piper, finds she’s possessed of magical powers and (like the WB’s other unlikely heroine, Buffy) spends her days and nights warding off satanic demons. Milano’s character is the wackiest Wiccan of the three, the one most likely to use her powers foolishly. But the off-screen Milano is delightfully grounded and levelheaded, and tends to use her star power wisely. After growing up in front of our eyes for eight seasons as Tony Danza’s adorable daughter, Samantha, on ABC’s Who’s the Boss?, Milano busted out, literally, as a sex icon, the girl most often entertaining young men in their bedrooms via the Internet. But four years ago, she’d had enough of electronic pornographers getting rich illegally off of her, ahem, charms, and did something about it. In an ironic turn of events, she sued the pants off them. Now she’s warding off demons off-screen, as well.
She’s reading the Los Angeles Times and sipping coffee when I meet her at a deli in Bel Air at 9 a.m., 90 minutes before she has to be on the set of Charmed. She’s so pretty and, yes, charming that it’s hard to believe she once portrayed the harsh Long Island Lolita in a television movie about Amy Fisher.
« Let’s not talk about your TV series, » I say, « since by all reports it’s a veritable lovefest on the set. »
« We have a really fun time, » she says.
« That’s what I mean. How did your website, safesearching.com, come about? »
Her: My little brother, Cory, who was 12 at the time, went on the Internet and typed in my name and found me on a lot of porn sites. He was devastated. It was a major family dilemma. My lawyer said that, even if the pictures were legitimate, they couldn’t use my likeness for their income without permission. Those people were making 30 grand a month off me.
Me: And your mother get involved.
Her: She started a company called CyberTrackers that sent harassing e-mails to pornmasters to make them take down Internet pictures of her celebrity clients. Threatening them was mostly successful, but lawsuits came about because of those who wouldn’t cooperate. We settled 15 cases out of court and one went to trial and won us $250,000.
Me: Which I understand you thought of as filthy lucre.
Her: I thought, ‘Oh, shit, this is karmicly wrong and I’m going to hell!’ So we decided to use the money to start this search engine and network that would be porn-free and eventually have original programming safesearching.com.
Me: Do you make money from it, you little Webmistress?
Her: Oh, yeah. I completely own it with my mother.
Me: Do you make 30 grand a month?
Her: I make more than that. And we’re gonna go public soon.
Me: Can I buy in?
Her: Yeah! It’s a very nice way to make extra money.
Me: Actually, that would be my income.
Her: I’ll give you another good stock tip: MP3. I just made someone $5,000 in three hours. It’s 42 bucks a share right now. ‘MP3′ just surpassed ‘sex’ as the most frequently searched-for word on the Web.
Me: I checked out safesearching.com the other day and it’s very entertaining in a wholesomely prurient sort of way. I got to watch the very-hot-indeed version of your Candie’s perfume commercial that’s nearly impossible to find on TV. Do you like being a sex object?
Her: Yeah, I like it to an extent. I grew up in such a well-rounded family; my parents were obviously having sex. They probably continue to, although now it makes me a little ill to think about it. [Laughs] My parents had a healthy attitude toward sex; it wasn’t a dirty, evil thing. So I like appearing sexy to people.
Me: It doesn’t bother you that boys are jerking off to your image?
Her: I don’t think about that.
Me: But you know it’s….
Her: I don’t think about that.
Me: Okay. But if you did think about it, would it freak you out?
Her: I don’t want to think about it.
Milano was born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, in December 1972. In 1976, a shooting in the neighborhood while little Alyssa was playing on the Milanos’ front lawn prompted the family to move to boringly safe Staten Island. « I grew up in such a creative house, » says Milano. Mom was a fashion designer with two boutiques in Brooklyn; Dad was a struggling musician (he now edits music for films in Hollywood). They were not a typical suburban family.
« We didn’t sit down and watch TV together. When my dad came home, we’d have dinner and then he played piano, my mom would sit with her sketchbook, and I would play with my dolls and make up scenes. » Early on, she had taken singing and dancing classes and, at age seven, after seeing the musical Annie on Broadway, tried out for and won a part in the touring company. « It was so easy, » she says. It was no hard-knock life for her.
Her: I did that for a year and a half. When I got back from Annie, I did theater work, some plays and a low-budget movie called Old Enough, with Danny Aiello. It was great starting out like that because it was like my acting class, you know. Then I got the pilot for Who’s the Boss? when I was 11, and we moved to Los Angeles.
Me: You spent your entire formative years in the living rooms of America.
Her: I went from 11 to 19: prepuberty, puberty, adolescence, adulthood. It was probably the best way for me to grow up in this business because it meant stability. It was seeing the same people every day. I know a lot of child actors who have major abandonment issues because they became friends with a movie crew for three months or bonded with the cast of a play for a year and then never talked to any of those people again. But when it came time for Who’s the Boss? to end after eight years, I was old enough to understand that.
Me: Certain other kid actors grew up on television and wound up addicts and bank robbers. How were you spared that fate?
Her: Because I had two incredibly normal parents who loved each other and provided a strong family foundation. In fact, my parents never came on the set of the show; my mom hired a guardian to be with me. It was important to her to have her own life and also to have dinner ready when I got home. And having a brother who’s ten years younger is incredibly grounding. It was always very evident to me what life is supposed to be about.
Me: Did Tony Danza protect you in a controlling, macho Italian kind of way?
Her: I have Italian parents, so it was relative to my world. I had uncles and cousins who did the same thing.
Me: But I remember talk at the time that he wasn’t letting you grow up, that he was restricting your necklines and hemlines.
Her: But that was my life with my family, so it wasn’t weird to me at all. It was weird to other people. He wasn’t any more parental than my father was. I was with him for eight years. He’s Italian, and that’s what they do. [Laughs]
Me: Who’s the Boss? went off the air in 1992 and you posed nude for Bikini magazine’s premiere issue that year.
Her: I didn’t pose nude for Bikini. I posed nude for a coffee-table book about celebrities and their tattoos, and the money was going to go to pediatric AIDS. But the book never came out and the photographer sold the pictures to Bikini without telling me. I could do nothing because the photographer owned the rights to the pictures.
Me: But it really opened up a can of worms. When you sued an Internet pornographer, it was for posting bogus nude shots of you, like the one with your head on a child’s naked body. It’s almost frivolous that anyone would fake a shot of you when so many authentic ones are online.
Her: I know. There are so many real ones. Absolutely.
Me: And you sued over those, as well.
Her: I sued for the real ones more than I did for the fake ones.
Me: Nine years ago you were a singing sensation in Asia. You were on the charts and your albums went platinum. How many albums are there?
Her: Five. And I have a compilation also. [Laughs] A best-of.
Me: What was your genre?
Her: The songs were a product of Japanese specialty writers and producers. Mind you, it was during that Asian bubblegum pop craziness.
Me: Like that ‘Twiggy vs. James Bond’ by Pizzicato Five?
Her: Yeah, sorta like that. I sang in English. I recorded the first album in five days.
Me: Do you ever listen to them?
Her: Not in five years. Now I’m married to the most brilliant musician who ever lived, so there’s no way I’m playing ‘em now.
Me: That’s right. You married a struggling musician like your mom did. How did you meet Cinjun Tate? [Cinjun, Gaelic for St. John, is in the band Remy Zero.]
Her: We met at a mutual friend’s party. That night, I knew I was gonna marry him. We talked for eight hours straight.
Me: Was he aware of exactly who you were? That you were, you know, Alyssa Milano?
Her: Oh, yeah.
Me: Did he boast to friends that he was going out with Alyssa Milano?
Her: Well, [he'd come from Nashville but] he’d been in L.A. for quite a while, so he wasn’t really starstruck when he met me. But it was definitely weird for him the first month to be like, ‘Wow, I’m falling in love with Alyssa Milano and she loves me.’
Me: In every print and TV interview you did before you met him, you gave the impression that you were desperate for a boyfriend, that you couldn’t get a date. Was that really true?
Her: It was basically my gimmick. It was self-deprecating and fun to talk about in interviews. It became humorous. But I’d been single for two years before I met my husband.
Me: ‘My husband.’ You like saying that?
Her: I love saying that.
Me: Are you an old-fashioned wife?
Her: What does that mean?
Me: Is Cinjun the king of the castle? Are you the little missus?
Her: I am. I’m incredibly supportive of what he does and am trying very much to make the house a home, a supportive environment.
Me: Don’t you also have a male roommate?
Her: I do. Davy.
Me: How does that work?
Her: You have to understand that I live in a house that’s 6,700 square feet with five bedrooms and an atrium. So it’s not like I have to see him. He has been a friend of the family for years and was going through a hard time with his wife.
Me: You were once engaged to [Party of Five's] Scott Wolf. Does it make you sad to talk about him?
Her: It’s not sad to talk about it now. We’re like bookends.
Me: You’re 5′ 2″. How tall is he?
Her: 5′ 3″! [Laughs] No, probably 5′ 6″.
Me: Then he was lucky to find you. You have his initials, SRW, tattooed on your ankle. When you broke up, you said SRW stood for Single Rad Woman. What does it stand for now that you’re married?
Her: Some Rad Woman.
Me: It’s like a mood tattoo. Now for some fun stuff. Describe yourself to me.
Her: I’m incredibly earthy. I like getting dirty. I’m loyal in friendships. Compassionate. Passionate –that’s the Italian thing. I’m dedicated to my work, to an extent.
Me: What does that mean?
Her: I love what I do, but when it gets to the point of taking up every facet of my life I’ll move to a ranch somewhere in Canada. I’m a good wife. I’m maternal. I’m domestic. I cook. I don’t clean, but am definitely a straighten-upper.
Me: Other than your cats, dogs and birds, what one thing would you save if your house caught fire?
Her: Wow. I would grab my parents’ wedding bands out of my jewelry box.
Me: Why do you have them?
Her: Because they buy each other new ones every ten years. I get my mom’s old ones, and my brother gets my dad’s.
Me: Is there anything you’d like to change about yourself?
Her: I’d like to be taller and have the height come from longer legs.
Me: What do you like best about boys?
Her: I love boys! Physically, I like the backs of their necks. And I love how they think they’re different from us and how they’re really not. I’m turned on by a really attractive man who is not afraid to make himself look like an asshole for a joke, who’s secure enough in his beauty to be absolutely ridiculous.
Me: What do you like best about girls?
Her: Most women I’m friends with have a very nurturing, maternal aspect. That’s really beautiful.
Me: Would you rather be first or next?
Her: It depends. It made me really proud to be the first person to sue a pornmaster; I felt like such a pioneer. But I’d like to be next in line for a scary ride that’s untested and might kill me.
Me: What are you reading right now?
Her: In my trailer, I’m alternating between a book on the cabala and The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama.
Me: Are you spiritual?
Me: In what order would you give up sex, fame and money?
Her: Fame first, money second, then sex.
Me: Any beauty secrets?
Her: I don’t use deodorant –too much aluminum in it. Use the crystal. That’s my beauty secret.
Me: What’s your favorite cookie?
Her: Famous Amos.
Me: I was hoping you’d say…
Her: Milano? That’s my brother’s favorite, actually.