Charisma Carpenter was discovered by a commercial agent while waiting tables in Los Angeles to save money for her college education. This led to her role on theatrical productions and more than twenty commercials. She made her first television role in 1994 by appearing in an episode of Baywatch. Shortly after that, she landed a starring role in the NBC short-lived teen drama/soap opera series Malibu Shores.
In 1996, Carpenter auditioned for the title role in The WB supernatural drama series Buffy the Vampire Slayer but instead was cast as Cordelia Chase, a snobby and popular high school student. After three seasons on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Carpenter was offered an even larger role as the same character on the spin-off series Angel alongside David Boreanaz. She played Cordelia Chase for four seasons on Angel. Although her character leaves the series during Angel’s fourth season, Carpenter returned for the 100th episode in the fifth and final season.
In 2004, Carpenter had a guest appearance in The WB fantasy drama series Charmed as a psychic demon named Kyra for three episodes and played a recurring role on NBC’s Miss Match, appearing in four episodes. She also had a recurring role as Kendall Casablancas in the UPN mystery drama series Veronica Mars for the 2005–06 season, appearing in 11 episodes. Carpenter guest-starred in the first-season finale of the ABC Family comedy-drama series Greek and reprised her role for two episodes of Season 2. According to TV Guide in September 2007, she was set to join the cast of The Apprentice: Celebrity Edition, but instead she chose to do a guest appearance in the Fox comedy series Back to You as well as a two episode role on the short-lived series Big Shots. Carpenter also had a guest appearance in an April 2009 episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation entitled “The Descent of Man”.
Carpenter has starred in an assortment of made-for-TV and direct-to-video films including the comedy What Boys Like, the horror film Voodoo Moon, and the romantic comedies See Jane Date and Relative Chaos on ABC Family (the latter of which co-starred fellow Buffy alum Nicholas Brendon). She also appeared in the original films Flirting with Danger and Cheaters’ Club (both 2006) both on Lifetime and the Syfy original film House of Bones broadcast in 2010, around the same time as her guest spot in Legend of the Seeker.
In 2009, Carpenter starred in production company Red Sparrow’s first film, Psychosis, which was released on January 11, 2011. In August 2010, she had a supporting role in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables. After the success of The Expendables, Carpenter was cast in Human Factor and in the indie thriller Crash Site. She appeared in an episode of the seventh season of Supernatural alongside Buffy co-star James Marsters. In 2012, Carpenter landed a recurring role as Rebecca Sewell in the first season of ABC Family drama series The Lying Game. She was upgraded to a series regular for the second season. Later in the same year, she reprised her role as Lacy in The Expendables 2.
On August 28, 2013, Surviving Evil debuted on Investigation Discovery, with Carpenter as host; in the premiere episode, Carpenter herself was featured as a crime survivor, revisiting the horrific attack she and two friends suffered at the hands of violent serial rapist and police officer Henry Hubbard Jr. on San Diego’s Torrey Pines State Beach in 1991. She starred in the 2015 erotic film Bound and later led the television film Mommy’s Secret.