There are few people who can say Renee OConnor drools all over them. But Campbell Cooley is one such man. Was he impressed? Er, not exactly
SHERYL-LEE KERR explains exclusively for AXIP..
So there you are, thinking youve signed on to Xena as a misunderstood henchman with a secret penchant for sewing, only to end up rewritten as an assassin flat on your back and unwittingly being Gabrielles spittoon. Such is the life of a Xena bad guy.
And if you think grunting, leering and stating the obvious to the head villain of the week - like, "they went thatta way" - is all the job description entails, think again. Youve got to grunt, leer, state the obvious, hit your marks and stop your fake scar wearing off when dribbled all over by numb-tongued bards. No mean feat, to be sure.
Campbell Cooley is the Xena/Hercules actor down in the trenches, one of the recurring baddies regularly getting walloped by our heroes and uttering immortal lines like: "Theres something wrong the furnace; its losing heat".
Shakespeare it may not be, but, hey, at least we could truly feel that furnace in Vanishing Act was losing heat...
So whats it like being the perennial badguys second banana? Wouldnt one miss not being able to get off a single smart alec remark such as those reserved for boss villains, like: "Ohh youre gonna pay for that, Xena"; shortly followed by "Oomph", "Ow" and THUD?
"It's kind of nice playing a side kick for now," Campbell muses. "I guess it's like being the Vice President. You get most of the same privileges and notoriety but not nearly as much responsibility. That's not to say I want to stay in this niche. I'm just enjoying it for the duration."
Campbell, 33, is a Florida-born, New Zealand-dwelling dude with RenPic acting credits which include lurking in the dastardly underbelly of Ancient Greece as Licinus, the silent assassin in A Tale of Two Muses; the first guard in A Vanishing Act; and, in the yet-to-be-screened Hercules episode, Love, Amazon Style, Vargus, a low-life casino operator. And Aussies may see him in a TV commercial for auction house sold.com.au. The commercial shows a couple in bed and the man remarking it's time to sell his model of the Millennium Falcon. Suddenly 11 people pop out from under the sheets and begin bidding for it. (Campbells the dude with the moustache and goatee.)
But he will perhaps be remembered forever for that role as Euryalus, an assassin who conveyed the full horror of being Gabrielles drool receptacle in In Sickness And In Hell while under the influence of a neck pinch.
And trust the man, it was as bad as it looked.
"They put a simple glucose syrup in her (Renees) mouth for the scene," Campbell recalls. "When they did the first take of me getting slimed in the face, the drool was actually coming from her mouth, thus she didn't have a lot of control when the dribble went on my face.
"I was so grossed out after that take, fearing that it'd drop into my mouth, that the next shot she dribbled from a jar.
"After the last take, I sat up and the whole crew burst out laughing while the make-up people were frantically trying to remove the goo before it dissolved the scar on my face."
And this for the man slated to play a tailor turned badguy turned, well, tailor. What the heck happened? Did Campbell have any clue what he was in for instead?
"It didn't really dawn on me what I was getting into when I went for the part," the actor says. "The main scene I auditioned with was the jail cell scene which was actually a little different from the finished product.
"The original script called for Euryalus to emotionally crumble when Gabrielle goes into kiss him. He then declared that he never wanted to be in his brothers army in the first place but wanted to be a tailor because of his love for sewing.
"Needless to say, I'm glad they rewrote the scene!"
So all's well that drools well, it would seem.
But how did Renee OConnor (Gabrielle) handle all this? Sure, the actress has been dragged by a horse; hurled off cliffs and betrothed to dead kings in the line of duty. But even Renee would have presumably found the Gabslag a little out there.
"ROC was trying SO hard not to laugh during the drool scene," Campbell reveals. "I think she genuinely felt sorry for me."
And Lucy Lawless?
" I remember Lucy was very tired. She actually feel asleep on the bed (where I'd tried to assassinate her earlier) while ROC and I were filming the drool scene."
The perils of bad hair/skin/lice/horse days, perhaps...
The episode - A Tale Of Two Muses, however, Campbell recalls vividly for quite another reason. It was, in a word, "Hot!"
"I mean in the temperature sense," he adds. "There were so many people - cast, crew, extras, journalists, etc - and the whole set was indoors so we were cooking under the lights.
" Myself, John Givens, and Bruce Campbell all had the hottest costumes because we were completely covered.
"I remember that my boots kept filling with sand and they had so much lacing that I couldn't stop every few minutes to unlace them to empty them out. So, I just had to walk around all day with sand in my shoes. I was amazed at how calm (director and also Ioalus on Hercules) Michael Hurst was during the shoot. He had so much to accomplish in so little time. "Most people would have had a nervous breakdown!"
One of the most controversial characters to enter the Xenaverse has been Tara (Shiri Appleby) who made a comeback on A Tale Of Two Muses after the widely panned Forgiven. So what was Shiri really like - that is when shes not in the invidious position of playing a bad attitude teen giving Gabrielle a hard time?
"I only talked briefly with Shiri twice," Campbell explains. "She's got a good head on her shoulders. I know it may sound prudish, but I actually felt awkward about ripping the back of her top open during the whipping scene."
So with all that toe-tapping going on around him in Muses the question remains, can Campbell cut the floor, too?
"Ahh, the dreaded question I hoped you wouldn't ask," he says. "I reluctantly answer YES. I'm a great dancer. However, dancing is a very personal thing with me. I consider it very intimate which is why I'm very selective about who I will dance with. I enjoy celtic dance but my personal dancing style is more like Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Secretly, I've always wanted to learn how to Tango. I probably will when I can find the time for lessons."
So whats the best thing about working on Xena?
Campbell says the sets are "wonderful" and "everyone is so relaxed and laidback" but the most satisfying thing is being "a part of the worlds most popular TV show".
"But I do need to add that I feel very humbled by it. I am so grateful for having been given the opportunity to be on it."
The least satisfying thing? "I know this sounds selfish, but it would be my not having a recurring character," he says. "I'd be happy if one of the characters I've played could come back at least once more. Tim Lee and I have joked about the writers bringing back Acestus and Euryalus to try and seek their revenge on Xena and Gabrielle."
Revenge of the Brothers Drool and Vomit? Has a certain ring to it...
Interestingly, Campbell cites the two actors who seem to have the most fun on the show as Bruce Campbell (Autolycus) or Ted Raimi (Joxer).
"They have such awesome characters," Campbell says. "They can get away with just about anything."
And he thinks Bruce Campbell, like Renee OConnor, are personally pretty cool people. "They are both AMAZINGLY talented but I'm sorry to say that I haven't gotten to know them better," Campbell says. "They are just SO busy. There were a few times I wanted to chat with Renee but she's always reading when she's not filming a scene so I've always felt awkward about disturbing her. Bruce likewise is amazing to watch but so busy it's difficult to find a moment to chat with him.
"Even when I was an acting stand-in for him when he directed (Herculess) For Those of You Just Joining Us we only got to chat about two or three times. He's very funny off screen. When he played Rob Tapert in FTOYJJU, he not only dyed his hair red but the hair on his arms as well!"
Thats the sort of dedication that could impress anyone... So is Campbell now a fan of the show? Or more to the point, was he before he appeared on it?
"I knew that there was chance that I might be on it so I started watching it," he says. "Because there is a major lag time from when an episode airs in the States to when it arrives in New Zealand, I was watching the first season of Xena while they were filming the third season. It was hard for me to like the show because they were still working on establishing the characters. Six months later I was into it!"
His family took a little longer to adjust to the idea.
"They're obviously delighted for me but it's also kind of funny," he says. "These are NOT the kinds of shows my family watches. When I told my mother there was a chance I'd be on them, she started watching the shows. She soon wrote me a letter saying " it isn't exactly Shakespeare!"
"I laughed. But, several months later, my conservative little grey-haired mother said, You know, it grows on you after a while! "
Initially Campbell wasnt even sure acting would be for him. He did a bachelors degree in Theatre, had a short "life crisis" as to whether he was doing the right thing pursuing acting then, "Finally, I was so unhappy with everything, I put my hand to what I knew I never should have gotten out of acting in the first place. I can't say HOW annoyed I am by that decision but I'm slowly getting back to where I should be."
Into the theatre he plunged and "you name it, I did it". Right about then he learned one of the industrys more valuable lessons: Always read that script the whole way through!
"I auditioned for a British sex farce one time and had only read the first act," he recalls. "I got cast only to discover that in the second act my character had to strip off! Talk about shedding your inhibitions! Lesson learned; ALWAYS READ THE WHOLE SCRIPT FIRST!
After doing the "starving artist thing" for a while, Campbell says "one day I woke up and said, Hey, why should I starve when there are people less talented than me making a living at this! I love theatre but as everyone knows, it's hard to make a living at it (even doing Repertory theatre), so I knew I'd have to get into film. I've never looked back."
Campbell then followed two loves to New Zealand - his wife, and his acting.
This also conveniently meant he was one of few of the Xena cast who required no fake American accent. But try convincing some people of that...
"Oddly, Hudson Leick (Callisto) says she's completely baffled by my accent. She doesn't think I sound American! She doesn't know WHAT I sound like!"
Now Xena will be going into a sixth season, we may see some more of Campbell Cooley before Xena hangs up her chakram for good. "I can't say for certain. I feel fairly confident that I'm good for at least one more episode but who's to say. I audition often for the show but it ultimately depends on the directors vision for the character."
So what would Campbell like to do in the next few years, after Xena finishes its run?
"My goal is to have had at least one recurring role on a TV series, several decent movie credits (to date the parts I've done have been smaller than I'd like) and hopefully to have directed several short films," he says.
"I've directed a lot of theatre and I know I can make the transition into directing film. I've actually got a film project in the planning stages right now; it's only on hold because I need more funding. It's my hope to have it done before the end of the year."
His next project is playing a convict in a small role on TV. But surely even the most optimistic actor would by now be wondering why casting agents see him only as evil. Typecasting would be a concern for others, but not Campbell.
"I guess if EVERY acting role I've ever done during my career was a baddy, I'd feel type cast but that hasn't been the case. As it stands with Xena/Herc, it's just the way it's worked out so far. It's just a matter of being given the chance to do something different. I've auditioned for plenty of non-bad guys for both series and I'm convinced that many times it simply boils down to a certain look the director wants."
Ahh, so would he/could he play a believable Cupid? Salmoneus? Joxer?
"ABSOLUTELY!!! Well, maybe not Cupid I don't have the body for it "I've done a lot of improvisational performing (stand up comedy, etc.) and there's a vault of characters locked up inside me just screaming to get out."
So what is his dream role?
"At the risk of setting my (baddy) typecasting fears into stone, I'd love to do a role like Hans Grueber from Die Hard. There's also some Shakespearean roles I'd love to do on the screen."
For now though New Zealand is his home: "I love it here. Beautiful country, nice lifestyle. However, I can't wait to visit Australia!"
And will he ever live down being Captain Drool?
"As with all things, yes. But it won't bother me if I don't."
Actor and Xena/Herc semi regular Campbell Cooley gives the inside word on that commonly asked question, what an you would have to do to be an extra on Xena: Warrior Princess or Hercules:
I guess it depends on how long they were in New Zealand. There's a lot of extra work but there are also thousands of people trying to get on it.
There's one agency that seems to handle most of the extras for Xena/Hercules but they have over 5000 people on their books. I'd say that if someone were on their books and living here long enough, chances are good that you'd probably be an extra in at least one show.
People with unique, distinguishing features also have a better chance of being used.
I don't want to throw a proverbial spanner into anyones dream of trying to get onto Xena but it will PROBABLY be difficult.
But hey, if that's your dream, go for it! Don't let me stop you. Just don't throw away anything that you do have for such a small opportunity unless you know that it's exactly what you want.
I wish you good fortune!
(C) 1999 Sheryl-Lee Kerr/The Australian Xena Infromation Page
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