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My impression is that the original actress was not as good as AH...but I did like the way she looked as it was more believable for a picked on girl with her personality.
And sad but true, we respond to beauty (or lack thereof). Even babies do it, and we do it to babies (no, not all are cute). AH had a lot more of it. And I have to wonder how much that might factor in unfairly to how I perceived the performance of the original choice.
On a side note, I like that the vast majority of the cast were as good looking a they were simply because it helps the story of Marcie turning invisible for feeling ignored, and one can think that happened to all students who fell below a certain bar (maybe about all those students being trained at the end of OOMOOS were from Sunnydale High).
I really think the show would have suffered without Alyson. She is such a fan favorite and the original actress was just not as charismatic. I also don't believe that she was more believable because she wasn't thin althought it would have been an interesting choice since everyone was white and thin on tv in the 90s. But Alyson was 100% nerd looking in season 1, she actually looked like some nerdy girl at my high school. I always thought Nicholas Brendon was the one who was too hot for his role!
As pretty as Aly was, anyone can be picked on, that's just the reality of high school. I think the believable factor for the original Willow is quite a stretch. You want the best actor or actress and someone who can truly embody the character. Aly was spectacular whether playing a nerd or a crazy witch murderer, and she was always believable.
But she wasn't cast because she was a better actress, she was cast because she read the "sad" lines and made them seem funny. Whedon liked that the lines meant to be sad she could get laughs from. I think one of the reasons I don't like AH in the role is the main reason that Whedon cast her in the first place.