“In May of 2002, Joss Whedon murdered Tara Maclay and broke Willow Rosenberg’s heart on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I was among the destroyed. Truly, madly, deeply destroyed. Ask any of my friends. And then something weird happened. Never one to get all boycotty, I tuned in to Whedon’s other show, Angel out of boredom one Sunday night and I saw something that blew me away. A flash of red hair caught my eye and I looked over from what I was doing. My eyes grew wide as I stared at Laurel Holloman in black jeans, a black tank top and a big silver belt buckle, mane of flame red hair flying as she kicked a vampire’s ass. It rocked. There was swordplay. I was riveted. I learned that there’s more to her than beautiful doe eyes and sheer adorability. She’s got fire and a hell of a lot of sass.
Two things happened that night; I was reacquainted with an actress I really liked but hadn’t seen in a while and Whedon narrowly averted my complete contempt with this masterstroke of casting. Laurel Holloman inhabited Justine the way she always does, and as I caught the complete season’s storyline, I was quite moved by the dark, sad journey her character undertook.
And it wasn’t just me. There were others out there in Angel fandom who latched onto this beautiful, conflicted wannabe bad-ass slayer. A number of fan fics can now be found online. I confess to using the outlet that Justine gave me for my anger at Whedon to concoct a couple of Buffy/Angel crossover fics of my own. In some small way, they helped me begin to work through that very real grief a lot of us felt when Tara was killed. It was a bit like putting a Band Aid on a sucking chest wound, but it felt proactive.”
~ Debra McCampbell
It wasn’t just McCampbell. Laurel attracted a cadre of devoted Justine Cooper fans who identified with this deeply wounded, angry, and fierce woman who would do anything to avenge the murder of her twin sister, Julia, at the hands of vampires. When we first meet Justine, her fury is evident in the way she tough-walks out of that back alley door, in long leather jacket, jeans, and boots – her face sternly set, ready to meet whatever the world dealt her head on. She even seemed furious at the cigarette she held to her mouth: taking a drag, exhaling with distaste, and then flicking the butt to the ground in a way that was emblematic of her “don’t mess with me” mindset and careless attitude towards life itself.
Laurel made you feel Justine’s pain, anger and world weariness in less than thirty seconds onscreen. As soon as Justine exits the gate, she comes upon the man who would change her life and help her to channel her unfocused hostility and vengeful temperament into a well-honed, disciplined, skilled vampire hunter/slayer.
As well as being an interesting character in her own right, Justine was a great dramatic catalyst. Sometimes those sorts of characters suffer a bit from their role’s necessity, but Justine always felt organic and natural. There was nothing false or forced about her. This was in no small part due to how she was played by Laurel. In fact, Laurel tells the story of a woman whom she met one day, who practically called her a murderer and said she hated Laurel because she was so mean. Laurel was taken aback, thinking the woman “unstable” – until she realized the woman was referring to Justine and not herself. That’s just one example of the power of make believe, and how Laurel’s portrayal convinced this woman she’d come face-to-face with a badass vampire hunter.
Next: Laurel’s Other Roles