Welcome to another Xena Thursday! Today, we’re continuing our chronological coverage of every single episode of Xena: Warrior Princess — both the episodes that I have previously highlighted AND the episodes I’ve yet to feature. Complementing my thoughts are the thoughts of those who worked on the series: mostly actors, writers, directors, and producers. I have done months of research for the acquisition of the quotes you’ll see over these next 67 weeks (as there are 134 episodes and I’ll be covering two episodes per week). They come from a variety of sources, including the original special feature-laden DVD releases, The Chakram Official Newsletters, both the Topps and Titans Official Xena Magazines, the fan kits, and other assorted print and video interviews. So in addition to sharing my thoughts, these posts will also contain information and musings from the Xenites that matter most — the ones who brought this exciting series to the small screen.
03. Season 1, Episode 3: “Dreamworker” (Aired: 09/18/95 | Filmed: 07/19 – 07/28/95)
When Gabrielle is kidnapped by a mystic, Xena enters an altered state of consciousness and must face ghosts from her past in order to rescue her friend.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Bruce Seth Green | Production No. 876905
I featured this episode as #24 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This episode] was wonderful fun. It came at the nadir of my marriage breakup. I think I put on an awful lot of weight in a great hurry. And when I see that one now, I go, ‘Ooh, I remember what was going on then.’ It was very thrilling to play my evil double. The large dark contacts that I wore completely change[d] the shape of [my] face… The only difficulty [in playing a double role] is that you have to work the scene so you know exactly how long it takes which character to speak and what your reaction will be. I enjoy doing those things, they’re a solo challenge, and I’m a solo challenge person, so I loved it.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “[This episode] gave me a huge chance to immediately explore the differences between [Xena and Gabrielle]. The first thing I thought was, ‘Xena comes from this bloody background, and here’s this little girl Gabrielle who says, “I want to go out and watch you do this.”’ I thought, ‘Let’s slap her in the face with reality, and make that the stake here. Let’s make her blood innocence the huge risk that we have to deal with, and make that as sacred as her virginity, maybe even more so.’ That immediately defines Gabrielle as a character.” (Starlog Magazine #246 – January 1998)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I think Gabrielle was always supposed to be comic relief. That was her role, originally, like Ioleus [sic] from Hercules. Maybe that’s why [the writers] wanted to establish the character [more in “Dreamworker”] and let you know who she was, so you’d find her sympathetic. She was a bit annoying [at first], wasn’t she?” (The Chakram Newsletter: #23)
Bruce Seth Green (Director): “It was a tough episode. We were doing it during [New Zealand’s] winter, which meant there was a lot of mud in New Zealand, [and] so much of it had to do with the weather. [Xena was] shooting episodes in one day less than Hercules, at least when I started, but it was great to see Lucy again. [The cast and crew] were very nice people.” (Starlog Magazine #280 – November 2000)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “Dreamworker” for The Chakram Newsletter: #22.
04. Season 1, Episode 4: “Cradle Of Hope” (Aired: 09/25/95 | Filmed: 07/29 – 08/04/95)
Xena and Gabrielle set out to find the parents of an abandoned baby, and discover that the infant has been marked for death due to a prophecy declaring him a future threat to a local king.
Written by Terence Winter | Directed by Michael Levine | Production No. 876906
Perhaps the first episode of the series (save a couple of lines here and there) to knowingly inject humor into the action, “Cradle Of Hope” has never been one of my favorites. In addition to both Lawless and O’Connor’s continuing struggles with their characterization, the script — with its touches of humor — lacks both the hilarity to be an out-and-out comedy, and the gravitas to be a well-rendered dramatic installment. Now, while I am in agreement with the majority of fans who believe that an ideal Xena episode should have elements of both comedy and tragedy in a balanced combination, this episode simply isn’t strong enough on either front.
To be more acute: the premise of this episode has little to do with Xena and her past and Gabrielle and her journey, thus — like several of these very early installments — it could just have easily been a Hercules episode. But… we’re only on the fourth episode and we KNOW things are going to get better. Mythology lovers may enjoy meeting Pandora’s granddaughter and her mythical box, while the infamous baby tossing fight sequence has long been a fan (and cast/crew) favorite. However, the best part about “Cradle Of Hope” is Michael Levine’s direction, which yields many beautiful and memorable images. (Several of these ended up in the opening credits.) My pick for the most exhilarating moment: when Xena breathes fire for the first time — just awesome!
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Robert Field (Editor): “There is an interesting story behind that baby-tossing scene. When I first read the script and saw they were tossing a baby around, I thought, ‘You gotta be kidding.’ I did not realize there was a progenitor of that scene in one of the Asian stunt films. It is not the same sequence, but the same idea, where a baby is being tossed from person to person in the midst of a fight sequence. I imagine Mr. Tapert found that amusing and thought, ‘Hey, why not do that in Xena?’ A funny thing about that particular sequence is that the original concept of that shot was although the baby would be thrown in the air, it was not going to go very far. The baby was going to go up, come back down, and then Xena was going to do a little fighting in the meantime. I am not sure if this was the first time we defied the laws of physics in the show… There were several takes from the second unit where, obviously, they did not throw a real baby in the air, they used a little mannequin in a blanket. I would see the little blanket go up in the air, come back down, go up in the air, and come back down. There was something boring about that. I do not know what it was, but it also seemed that the time frame was not going to work for me because I knew my overhead shot of Xena fighting required time to do a couple of bits of action before that baby came back down. As providence would have it, in one of the takes from second unit, somebody had thrown the little mannequin just a little too hard and the baby came up to the top of the frame and then left the top of the frame. That was the one I used, because I thought. ‘Hey, she’s really tossing this baby now!’ Since it went all the way through the frame and out of frame, I could play with the time/space relationship and let that baby drop back into the overhead shot at any point that felt right to me. We had a lot of discussions with the effects guys about how fast the baby needed to be moving. That was an actual baby on the way down. The baby was shot in the blanket against a blue-screen for the overhead so you could see his face when he goes back down into Xena’s arms. There were some funny outtakes from the effects people because the shot was a little longer than they wanted it to be, so they slowed the baby down. There’s a couple shots where the baby seems to be floating down to Xena’s arms as opposed to falling. They got the speed right and got the right blur motion on it. It was Mr. Tapert’s idea that after Xena catches it to cut to the baby giggling and cooing to show that he is okay.” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
Michael Levine (Director): “We never quite got the shot I wanted [with the baby]. I wanted Lucy to toss the baby up in the air, fight, fight, and then I wanted the baby to come up large in the frame, the fight below him, and giggle and laugh. Then he’d start to go back down, fight, fight, then Xena catches the baby. It ended up as fight, toss, and then we saw the baby going down, not toward us. We were never quite able to get the baby to laugh at the appropriate time either. The shot was planned out from the very beginning. Also what I call the ‘baby cam’ shot came into it. We had Lucy wrap her arm under the camera and move back and forth, that’s how that came about. I wanted to have fun with the baby fight, and I talked to Rob about it. There were a lot more tosses back and forth in the script than what we showed. I thought we needed to limit it. The first time Xena tosses the baby it’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ and sure, Gabrielle catches it. We know if Gabrielle can catch the baby, Xena can certainly catch the baby despite Gabby’s bad throw. That’s why I had Lucy give the look to Gabrielle, ‘Don’t do that again.’ That was a fun part to do… [Now] the fire-breathing. When I read in the script where that happened… I said to myself ‘Is Lucy really going to do that?” And we did it! I thought it was the coolest thing when she did it. It ended up in the main title… There was no stunt person and no computer enhancement at all. We shot with a long lens when we cut to the guy she blew fire at, so he was never in any danger. But it was all real. It was pretty cool. I enjoyed doing that. Also, we were still trying to figure out what the neck pinch was. I think Lucy had done it once, maybe twice, and we were trying to figure out what the rules were for the ‘Xena pinch.’ You do it and the nose starts to bleed. We still had to figure that out. By the time it got to me I thought, ‘Is this the Spock grip? What are we doing here?’ It was kind of funny. And they made [Pandora’s] box to click and move. That was great. It was a real, working box. There was a hidden lever out of sight so they’d be able to work it particularly in the slow motion sequence of Xena getting it into Pandora’s hands. The dance sequence was a kick to do as well. There’s an outtake of Lucy tripping. And then a fun scene for me, which I did all as a ‘oner’ all at once, was Xena rising in bed and the bad guy kneeling behind her. “ (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This episode] was wonderful fun. [This] was the beginning of a slapstick thing that really sent me on a roll… [The director] Michael Levine did a great job without being invasive.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[This is] the baby toss episode…? I definitely remember being in New Zealand and wanting to work more… In the beginning of the series, my nickname was ‘Halfday Renee.’ I would go in, work half a day, and then get to leave. I had it so good… [But] Lucy and I both agreed that when you don’t have much to say [or do], it’s harder to stay involved in the action because you have to string together these tiny little thoughts that are sporadic and make them worthwhile… [It is] hard to stay focused in an episode where [you don’t] have something driving [you].” (The Chakram Newsletter: #23)
Come back next Thursday for the next two episodes! And tune in tomorrow to read about another 1929 film!