Not long ago, it seemed like Alyson Hannigan was everywhere. From American Pie and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to How I Met Your Mother, her stock has soared in the last few years. But after How I Met Your Mother went off the air in 2014, Alyson Hannigan seemed to drop off the radar. Now, fans are more likely to see her in a fashion magazine or doing a random blog interview than they are to see her on the silver screen. What happened? Well, this one time, at Hollywood camp…
Movies were never her strong suit
Quick—think of an Alyson Hannigan movie not named after a patriotic dessert. Yeah … we couldn’t think of one either. While many people were introduced to her as the notorious "this one time, at band camp" girl in American Pie, she’s mostly known for being one of the main cast in two highly popular television shows, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and How I Met Your Mother. In Buffy, she played the role of Willow Rosenberg, a shy teenage computer geek who grows to become a confident witch with great powers (and not always great responsibility). In How I Met Your Mother, she played Lily Aldrin, an artistic teacher whose relationship with Marshall Eriksen provides a foil for the perpetually looking-for-love Ted Mosby. Because of just how long she was in the spotlight as part of two highly prominent television shows, it may be hard to re-sell Hannigan to moviegoers as a movie star rather than as someone who shines best on television.
Her public image has completely changed
Like many of her Buffy and American Pie castmates, Hannigan was packaged as something of a sex symbol during her initial rise to fame. But while she gamely posed for a handful of cheesecake photo spreads, that really wasn’t an aspect of her personality she ever appeared all that enthusiastic about playing up in public—something that likely played into the way she overhauled her image after becoming a real-life mom. No one lounges in lingerie in front of the cameras forever, of course, but for fans who remember Hannigan for her geeky sex appeal in those early hits, her more grown-up image might be a bit of a tough sell.
She hasn’t showed off much of her range
While the characters she played on Buffy and How I Met Your Mother are quite different, they both serve as the amusing comic relief. As Willow Rosenberg, Hannigan often offered wry commentary on everything from the state of Buffy’s latest relationship to the gender norms that she and girlfriend Tara helped redefine. As Lily Aldrin, she eventually came to embody the humorous voice of a veteran spouse who could poke fun at the often too-serious Ted’s quest to find the future mother of his children. Her most prominent Hollywood role in American Pie is also comedic. But she hasn’t played any popular serious roles. Most people have never seen whether she’s capable of any range at all.
She spoke out against the How I Met Your Mother series finale
While the How I Met Your Mother series finale was by no means a Dexter-level disaster, fans were left scratching their heads at the perplexing decision to make perpetual bachelor bro Barney get married to Robin, only to divorce three years later so she and Ted could finally, inevitably get together. Apparently, the confusion was shared by Alyson Hannigan, who said she wished they’d done a two-hour series finale, so they could have included many "vital" cut scenes which she thought were "all this stuff that I think the audience needed." She added, "They needed that time to process that information, instead of having it slap them in the face."
Of course, Hannigan also gushed about her experience with the show, saying she would "do it again in a heartbeat," and that it was "just pure, lovely fun." She even broke down in tears on The View when asked what she’ll miss about working with Jason Segel.
Her next big thing after How I Met Your Mother flopped
It’s not a huge sign of foreboding when a TV pilot that an actor works on doesn’t get picked up. In fact, it happens every season; people just move on to the next project. But in the case of the sitcom More Time with Family, it was apparent that Hannigan really wanted it to happen.
"I was fully prepared to take a break, until I read the script and it was too good to pass up," Hannigan told Variety, adding, "I just loved it so much." The show was even shot on the old How I Met Your Mother stage—except in front of a live studio audience, which Hannigan told Maximo TV was "what this stage wanted all these years." Ultimately, the network passed on the show, which had to be a massive disappointment for her.
Then it happened again in 2016
Two years after More Time with Family got shelved, another project started being widely promoted as Hannigan’s "first major role after How I Met Your Mother": TV Land’s adaptation of the popular ’90s film First Wives Club, which starred Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn. This version cast Hannigan alongside Smash star Megan Hilty and Vanessa Lachey, who is famous for, let’s be honest, marrying Jessica Simpson’s ex.
This time around, Hannigan was a bit more tempered in her public enthusiasm for the project. In an interview with the now defunct Wet Paint, she said, "I’m more excited about what would happen should the show continue for years. … Where they want to go, more so than the initial pilot, which is trying to respect where it came from with the movie."
Her seemingly lackluster feelings about the pilot were apparently shared by TV Land, who passed on the show and instead moved forward with an adaptation of Heathers, effectively leaving Hannigan with two small one-off parts on TV shows and a single, forgettable indie film as credits since 2014. Which brings us to…
Do You Take This Man
Hannigan’s only film credit since 2012’s American Reunion is the 2016 indie flick Do You Take This Man. And in case you’re thinking, "Huh?" right now, you’re not alone: the movie went largely unnoticed and unreviewed—it was listed as having a "limited release" but didn’t even make enough at the box office to be recorded—but those who did see it didn’t have positive things to say.
The review in The L.A. Times fell under the headline "Do You Take This Man is not the gay wedding drama you’ve been waiting for," and the criticism of the film was summed up as "this sluggish talkfest feel like even more of a missed opportunity; something livelier and more compelling was in order." Hannigan’s performance was even more forgettable, only garnering a passing reference to her character as the "stressed sister." Does all of this mean that she’s incapable of a big screen comeback? Certainly not, but it doesn’t really help her either.
She’s still milking her old roles
Another reason Hannigan is still associated with those old roles is because of the timeless quality of fandom. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air in 2003, fans have kept the show alive with fan fiction and comic conventions throughout the world. Both Hannigan and her husband are very popular stars on the sci-fi convention circuit, appearing at events such as the Phoenix Comicon to fans eager to get autographs and pictures with their favorite Buffy characters. This further cements Hannigan with her genre roots, making it harder to sell her as a character in other roles, like a traditional drama or other non-genre films.
She’s too old and too young at the same time
One of the unfortunate truths about Hollywood is that it primarily casts actors by archetype. Age can determine if an actor plays the hapless young victim, the plucky young hero, the grizzled mentor, and so on. As of 2017, Alyson Hannigan is 43 years old, which puts her at a kind of intermediate age. She’s no longer young enough to be the teen sidekick she once was with Buffy or to be the newlywed yuppie she popularized on How I Met Your Mother. But she isn’t really old enough to play a mentor to younger castmates, which ultimately makes her very hard to put into a movie. Similarly, Maggie Gyllenhaal reported that, at 37 years old, she was turned down for a role because she was considered too old to be the love interest for the male protagonist … a man who was 55! Hannigan has to navigate a weird matrix of sexism, ageism, and fan expectation.
She’s too busy buying, selling and renting houses
Why spend all that time learning lines and going on auditions when you can make a killing with real estate? Hollywood is notoriously fickle, but property is almost always a solid investment—as evidenced by Hannigan’s growing portfolio, which made headlines in December of 2016 after she and her husband, Alexis Denisof, picked up a new home worth nearly $8 million. The couple’s L.A. pad—whose distinctive architecture was featured in the Anthony Hopkins/Ryan Gosling movie Fracture—is just part of a list of properties that includes a home in Atlanta and a rental property in nearby Santa Monica. Nothing against any of her best-known characters, but it sounds like Hannigan may have found the role of a lifetime.
It’s hard to picture her in a mother role
To see why Hollywood is hesitant to cast Alyson Hannigan as a mother, one need look no further than Winona Ryder. They both started young but have aged like typical humans. Some fans reacted quite strongly to Winona Ryder playing a mother, first to a young Spock in the 2009 Star Trek reboot and again when she played the frantic mother in 2016’s Stranger Things. At the age of 45, Ryder was the perfect age for the role, but many fans freaked out at the tangible reminder that they and Ryder were getting older. Seeing the plucky teenage witch instead chasing down rambunctious teenagers might remind her fans of a certain monster that neither witch nor slayer can conquer: the Grim Reaper.
She’s too busy with her real-life family
One of the happier reasons Hollywood is hesitant to cast Hannigan is that she’s keeping very busy as a mother. Hannigan married Alexis Denisof, who played fellow Buffy veteran and Angel costar Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, back in 2003. Since then, Alyson has given birth to two daughters. Hannigan is known for being very active and engaged with her family and has understandably felt the pressure of balancing family life and life as an actor. Knowing that she’s actively balancing those two lives more than other actors may make Hollywood reticent to hire her for the requisite late nights and reshoots that are part of a major motion picture. This seems to suit her just fine; Hannigan is positively beaming in nearly every photo she takes with her family.
Her TV shows ran way too long
Buffy lasted for seven seasons and spanned two networks, while How I Met Your Mother lasted for a staggering nine seasons. Both shows probably would have benefited by wrapping up about two seasons earlier than they did. But because the same two characters got shoved down our throats for a combined 16 years, she may have worn out her welcome. No one wants to be typecast (except maybe Steven Seagal), but she will forever be associated with those roles. Hopefully, Hannigan will receive (and take) an opportunity to reinvent herself on the silver screen sometime very soon.
She’s found success in non-scripted work
Although Alyson Hannigan experienced something of a slowdown on the acting front since her nine-year run on How I Met Your Mother, she’s also had a lot more luck in the TV competition series department. In 2016, she was announced as the incoming host for the CW’s magician reality show Penn & Teller: Fool Us, aiding as the title magicians welcome their budding peers to try and trick them to earn a spot on their live shows.
For Hannigan, the gig was a good match for her lifestyle; as she said in a statement, "I am so excited to be hosting a program our whole family can watch together." As a bonus, she’s also gotten to watch her little ones learn their first magic tricks from the pros. The show, which films is Las Vegas, has featured her as its host since its third season, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon; the network renewed the series for a sixth season in 2018.
She’s been a supportive spouse
In addition to devoting a precious portion of her time and energy to raising her children, she may also be stepping away from the spotlight a bit allow her husband and former Buffy the Vampire Slayer co-star Alexis Denisof his turn to shine. Denisof had a recurring guest role on Buffy, which is where he met Hannigan, before achieving regular status on its spinoff series, Angel. But he’s only recently begun to achieve the kind of fame and recognition Hannigan has enjoyed.
After guest-starring in HIMYM with Hannigan and earning a small role as the villainous Other in The Avengers, Denisof went on to star in a few other TV shows, the latest of which, I Love Bekka & Lucy, earned him his first Emmy nomination. Of course, Hannigan was happy to arrive as his plus-one for the big event this time, especially since she’s always credited him with being greatly supportive of her work when she got to attend awards shows as a nominee.
She’s getting back into the game
The show is far from over for Alyson Hannigan. Although her first few new adventures in television may not have panned out the way she hoped, she hasn’t given up on the small screen yet. In 2018, she was cast in a recurring role for WGN America’s second season of Pure, a crime drama in which she’ll portray a woman helping her significant other launder money for a drug cartel. The role is a far cry from her usual image, so it should allow her to present a new side to her skills.
Hannigan also landed a leading role in the Twitter thread-inspired comedy-horror feature You Might Be the Killer, based on a viral fictional story about a camp counselor who may or may not have become a mass murderer. She was also cast as surgeon-slash-mother Dr. Ann Possible in the Disney Channel’s live-action adaptation of Kim Possible, which means she’ll have another family-friendly film on the books that she can screen with her own children. While her workload might have slowed down a bit from the old days of dominating TV with so many long-running shows, she’s still keeping herself quite busy these days.