XPOSE #37

The Xena Scrolls
The Making Of A TV Legend

Many thanks to Kevin James for the transcript and scans

 

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XENA is the perfect modern heroine in a series set in the past. The multifaceted Xena: Warrior Princess has influence far beyond the television audience. Xena is a complex character and the exploits of her off screen counterpart, Lucy Lawless, get as many headlines as the Warrior Princess herself. You can find Xena someplace on television almost anywhere in the world. She'll be riding into battle as the music swells...

"In a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero. She was Xena, a mighty princess forged in the heat of battle. The Power. The Passion. The Danger. Her courage will change the world." Xena's popularity has started to appear in unexpected places. Alternately, Xena can be a symbol for good, assertive womanhood, a seductress, a dominatrix or a lesbian. Like sister show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena has spawned the usual line of toys and trinkets. Thousands have swarmed to the Xena conventions where the floors can be seen crawling with Xena look-a-likes and tiny Warrior Princesses. You can enjoy the Xena ride at Universal Studios or watch the Xena and Hercules animated movie.

The other places Xena has popped up are a little more obscure. When the Lehigh women's basketball team found themselves facing the unbeaten Navy team, they resorted to what their coach called a tough-minded Xenastyle' defence and shocked Navy into their first loss of the season. American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has been favourably compared to the warrior woman and appreciates the compliment. There is even a 'Xena' in the United States Air Force. Formerly stationed with the 25th Fighter Squadron in Korea, you can find First Lieutenant Michelle 'Xena' Vestal flying out of Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.

In spite of this far-reaching influence and interest, the genesis of Xena was low-key. She started from that humblest of television beginnings, the spin-off. Back in 1995 during the first season of Hercules, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert started looking for a concept to ride the popularity of Hercules into another syndicated adventure. Tapert wanted to combine their established fantasy sensibilities with the speed and dynamics of Hong Kong action films. At the time, they weren't looking for the Xena we know today.

The original Xena concept called for a blonde warrior in the typical fantasy mould. They even contacted an unnamed actress to play the part but she backed out at the last minute. Luckily, Lucy Lawless had caught Tapert's eye during her previous work on the show. She originally played Lysia in the very first appearance of Hercules, Hercules and the Amazon Women. The producers were going to have Lawless dye her hair to match their original concept, but Lawless was able to talk them into going for a different look.

"Let's make her a kind of Argentinean princess and bronze her up," Lawless said and the show took on a whole new, more cosmopolitan, look. Lawless turned out to be the right choice for Tapert in more ways than one, He went on to marry her in 1998.

They created the show's opening credits to give this sweeping sense of Xena's World. From the dramatic narration to the background Bulgarian female chorus, the entire opening sequence was designed to give the show an epic feel. Unlike most show openers cut from show footage, several scenes, like the one of Xena saluting Poseidon, were filmed just for the opening. According to designers at Flat Earth Productions who did the Poseidon sequence, the episodes Ulysses and Lost Mariner resulted partially from public demand to see this scene.

That is all part of the show's fun. From the opening to the final credits, the cast and production crew on Xena: Warrior Princess never forget their sense of humour. Lucy Lawless has said she had to let go of a lot of the "character protection" actors go through to make their on screen personas look good. On Xena, she's as likely to be called on to do a pratfall as a drop kick.

Even the show's closing credits have a sense of humour. If you've never done it, stop the VCR sometime and check out the disclaimers at the end of the episodes. The one at the end of Sacrifice II reads 'Gabrielle finally went off the deep end during the production of this motion picture.' You'll remember that this was the third-season-ending cliff-hanger that sent Gabrielle plummeting into a volcano with Hope. Another at the end of Past Imperfect, a fourth season episode that saw the death of Xena's former lover Borias, reads 'Borias' Goose was cooked during the production of this motion picture.'

This innate sense of humour may come from the real-world Xena. Lucy Lawless the actress gets almost as much press as the show does. She'll be the first to tell you she makes an unlikely fantasy warrior. Her high-school nickname was 'Unco,' which was short for 'uncoordinated.' She worked in musical theatre, studied opera, and even mined a little gold in Australia before landing the Xena role. This is far from the resume of the physical actress the role demands. Lawless had to balance 14-hour shooting days and lengthy workouts and training while still trying to maintain a life. She hasn't let the show stunt her personal growth or her love life.

In March 1998, Lucy Lawless married producer Rob Tapert at a ceremony in the Saint Monica Church in Santa Monica, California. Ngila Dickson who designs costumes for Xena: Warrior Princess designed a much softer wedding dress for Lawless. Tapert and Lawless are expecting their first child together this fall. This is in addition to daughter Daisy age 11 from a previous marriage. Lawless says that family life will always be more important than her career.

Unfortunately, not everything has gone swimmingly off the set. In October 1996, Lawless fell off a horse while filming a skit for the Tonight Show. She suffered a pelvic fracture and sent the Xena production team scrambling to replace her in several second season episodes. Bruce Campbell who plays Autolycus and Hudson Leick, otherwise known as Callisto, stepped in to pick up the slack and play the part of Xena. Bruce Campbell as Xena? How'd they do that? The solution was to change the ending of Intimate Stranger to leave Xena in Callisto's body and allow Hudson Leick to portray her in the episode Ten Little Warriors. The end of Destiny was changed to leave Xena dead so she could occupy Autolycus as played by Bruce Campbell in The Quest. This episode also gave us a steamy on screen kiss between Gabrielle and Xena, but that's another story. Watch for these post-accident episodes and see how they worked around the disaster: Ten Little Warlords, Here She Comes... Miss Amphipolis, The Quest, A Necessary Evil, A Day in the Life, For Him the Bell Tolls, The Execution, Blind Faith, Ulysses, The Price, Lost Mariner and A Comedy of Eros.

If you've been reading Xpose, then you've already seen the details of Xena's most recent trial off-screen. Several Hindu groups have banded together and convinced Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures to pull a very pivotal fourth-season episode from syndication. The controversy hinges on the portrayal of the Hindu god Krishna.

It is unfortunate that this controversy has shelved The Way. It was the last part of one of the most introspective story arcs in television history. This past season, Xena: Warrior Princess has taken a long hard look at the woman Xena and the world she inhabits. In episodes Paradise Found, Devi and Between the Lines we've watched as a story line unfolds that resolves in The Way. This story line deals with Xena's past and her future and looks at both the dark and light sides of Xena's nature.

Xena wasn't always one of the good guys. Back when she led an evil army of warriors in battle, they gave her the name 'Warrior Princess.' She was a ruthless and merciless warlord. She finally sees the light and starts fighting the good fight in the first-season Hercules episode Unchained Heart. You can see the beginnings of this change of heart in her flashback from Past Imperfect this season.

As she gives up her son to be raised by the Centaurs she says, "Take this child. He is my son... the Son of Borias. If he stays with me, he'll become a target for all those who hate me... He'll learn things a child shouldn't know. He'll become like me."

If you listen to the female voices singing in the background during the opening credits you'll hear this theme of light from darkness spelled out.

Bulgarian voices sing: Jeneta iazdi samotna (A woman is riding alone) Neinoto Minalo srazi ia (Her shameful past almost destroyed her) Sreshtu voiskite ot tumen sviat (She is battling an army of the dark world) Vouva za dobro tia (She is fighting in the name of good) Rogovi zvonove idvat (Horns are sounding as she approaches) Napraite put na voina! (Way must be made for a fierce battle) Turpani biat vuv ritum (Rhythmical drums are heard) Princhesata e pak tuka! (The Princess is back)

In addition to this heavy-handed subtext of personal responsibility, there is a much more playful and more often discussed subtext lurking near the surface. It's the question you have been dying to know the answer to. Is Xena a lesbian?

"There was a time when we played with the idea," says Xena co-star Renee O'Connor. Just what goes on with her and Gabrielle anyway? Why do they have so many scenes in the hot tub together? The truth is much more pedestrian yet still surprising. The subtext is a conscious addition to the episodes and has spawned everything from protests to doctoral dissertations. It is played up so you can take it either way.

Another star of the show is Xena's circular weapon known as a chakram. Based on a weapon used by the Sikhs of Punjab, India, Xena gives it her own flair by having it return to her. The Sikhs were known to use several in a battle, but Xena keeps better track of hers. At the end of this season, a well-placed throw of Xena's chakram by Callisto sealed Xena's fate and left us aching for more.

What's in store for the season ahead? Xpose' has used its crystal ball to peer ahead and seen a few glimpses of Xena's future. Long-time co-star Argo the horse will be getting his own episode titled either Wild Horses or Animal Attraction. You can look forward to another musical Xena episode and possibly even an animated episode! Claire Stansfield who played the evil shamaness Alti in this past season has revealed that she returns in an episode titled Them Bones, Them Bones. She also noted that she spends a lot of screen time completely naked! For the rest of next season's secrets, you'll just have to watch the show. Judging from their efforts so far the entire Xena crew intends to give us another great season.


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