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.
21. Season 1, Episode 21: “The Greater Good” (Aired: 05/06/96 | Filmed: 03/20 – 03/28/96)
When Xena is incapacitated and left near death after being struck by a poisoned dart, Gabrielle is forced to impersonate the Warrior Princess in order to protect a group of innocent villagers.
Written by Steven L. Sears | Directed by Gary Jones | Production No. 876924
I featured this episode as #39 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[This episode] really changed things… [allowing] the audience to see how much these [two] characters meant to each other for the first time – and suddenly, the heart came into the show. After that, the writers started to focus more on the two characters together as opposed to all the high-concept plots.” (Dreamwatch #119 – August 2004)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “When I put together scripts, I try to be the audience. We weren’t going to try to convince the audience that [Xena] was dead. The main part was the emotional impact of her death, and Renee hit that note perfectly. I was calling on reactions I had to deaths in my life, and the way I reacted to them was always very quiet at the moment, and then I had to take out my anger. When I saw the dailies, I sat back and said, ‘My gosh, Renee absolutely nailed that feeling; I must have written that incredibly well!’ I pulled out the script, and I had only written two lines, so she brought all that to the scene, and my hat is off to Renee.” (Starlog Magazine #246 – January 1998)
Robert Field (Editor): “Renee O’Connor is absolutely mesmerizing in that [grief] scene. So I did what any editor worth a half a penny would do… I just let the shot stay on her doing her work – only cutting away from her when the progression of the scene warranted it – and then back to her again.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Ah, [this is] the one with the silly old water fight. [This] was kind of a ‘Renee episode’ and I think I was very happy to let [this] one go into her capable hands… I just remember it was really dirty crawling around on the ground and the studio was filthy. And it was also the last episode we filmed before [hiatus]. By that point you’re completely [exhausted]. The penultimate one you’re at your finest, your hardest-working, but the last one is difficult because everybody’s brains slow down.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Robert Field (Editor): “After Gabrielle and Xena have discussed Xena’s illness… Salmoneus tells Xena that she should have some of his chicken soup. ‘Soup is good food!’ he proclaims. He then mentions that he would make some, but he has no knife to kill the chicken. Xena tells him he can use her breast dagger. So Salmoneus, in his exuberance to please, starts reaching for Xena’s body. In the most steely of voices, Xena imperiously tells him, ‘The breast dagger is on the table!’ Sal pulls back his hands, in his inimitable fumbling way, and says, ‘Maybe, uh, you should consider another name for that particular apparatus.’ We loved it! But sadly, for a show much too long on first cut, it had to go – for the ‘greater good.’’’ (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “[One] thing that did not come out as well as we had intended it to, because of time constraints, was featuring Argo… From the audience perspective it came out very well, from my perspective, there was so much more we wanted to do. We weren’t able to because of time constraints. The episode ended up being incredibly long. And two, Tilly is not always cooperative. So we had a couple of moments [that] would have been real, little tearjerkers there, but never did quite realize themselves on the screen. There was also a bit more of the explanation of Gabrielle’s background with horses. In the episode, she mentions that she had a pony when she was younger. We had to cut some lines out because the episode was so long. But basically she says that this pony was a pet that followed her everywhere. She loved it dearly. And one day it died. You really do get the impression, especially the way Renee acted it, that this is a deep-seated problem with her, that she has a problem loving and giving her heart completely to pets or people. Because the analogy was here was her best friend, and it looks like she might be dying. But you catch what Gabrielle is going through. That explains a little bit why she can’t allow herself to get close to Argo. Also later there was a scene written which filmed OK, was cut out anyway, but could have been better. After she attacks the tree, the tree-bashing scene, there was a scene where Argo came over to her and nuzzled her to comfort her. She said to Argo, ‘It’s you and me, that’s all we have now.’ Then she inadvertently, accidentally, calls Argo Tympany, which was her pony. There was that whole threadline. As it was, we got a nice thing about how Argo can act on her own and how she can respond to Xena’s commands that worked out well. But there was that whole emotional underpinning that unfortunately we lost…” (Whoosh! Interview – July 1998)
Robert Field (Editor): “[M]any shows we literally have to lose scenes to get them down to time. [This one] was a rarity, in that… we only lost one scene intact, everything else was taking bits and pieces out of existing scenes. In other words, [director Gary Jones and I] looked at a scene and said, ‘Where’s the fat, where’s the bone, where’s the meat?’ How much fat could we trim away, how much meat could be trimmed and not cut into the bone but still keep as much meat as we can. That show was more of a condensation than actually losing elements of it. The show remains very true to its original script in about 98% of the cases.” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Steven L. Sears gave on “The Greater Good” for The Chakram Newsletter: #23.
22. Season 1, Episode 22: “Callisto” (Aired: 05/13/96 | Filmed: 02/06 – 02/16/96)
Xena is once again reminded of the sins of her past when a malicious female warrior, whose family was killed by Xena’s former army, exacts her revenge on the Warrior Princess by impersonating her.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by T.J. Scott | Production No. 876920
I featured this episode as #3 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “I was driving to work one day thinking, ‘Boy, Xena got off easy. She did all these terrible things, [and now] she doesn’t have to deal with the consequences.’ So I thought, ‘What if she comes face-to-face with somebody she did wrong to? What if that somebody has become evil and is actually trying to out-bad the old Xena?’ Then I said, ‘What if that someone is a beautiful woman?’ By the time I got into work, I had a great story to pitch to people. It really went rather effortlessly from there – it was one of those pleasant experiences. The first draft worked. T.J. [Scott, the director] totally got it, and they cast the right gal. It just worked.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #1 – November 1999)
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “This is my version of [the casting process]. I was going though a really hard time then, and I was in a bad mood, a foul mood, when I was auditioning. We were sitting in this cramped, tiny little office. I definitely get holier-than-thou sometimes. It’s true — it’s unfortunate and it’s ugly but it’s true. I didn’t like it. There [were] a whole bunch of actresses in there and I didn’t feel that we were respected enough, waiting in this little office. Everyone was talking really loud. We all had to go in and audition, and we needed to prepare but it wasn’t quiet. All the production people were talking and it was noisy. That’s annoying, when you’ve got to bring something in and try to center yourself in a roomful of other people. I remember really not liking that, sitting still and just emanating that. I didn’t say anything, but all my energy was going in that direction. By the time I got in, I was pissed. I came in and there was a group of people. So many people. And they were like, ‘Okay, let’s go!’ That’s intimidating, when you walk into a group and you’re going to audition and give something. I wanted to know who everyone was. There were about seventeen people there. Or maybe not, maybe it just seemed that way. Perhaps there were eleven. But there were a lot of people, and I went up to every single one of them and shook their hand and asked their name. All of them. And I think that impressed them and made them a little wary of me. It wasn’t very friendly, either. I said [abruptly], ‘Hello. What’s your name?’ Then I auditioned. I had seen Hercules and how scantily clad the women were. I was not going in that direction. I wore a skirt down to my ankles and covered up every part of my body. I didn’t do any action stuff. A lot of the women in the waiting room had little outfits on and they were supposed to do kicks or something. I didn’t understand how you could possibly add kicks and flips and things during the audition. I mean, she’s a psychopath, she’s a psychopath, she’s discussing something. She’s not going to go into a rage and start kicking the air. It didn’t seem appropriate. So I didn’t, I just stayed still… I’m sure they had their own things going on and were busy and frantic, and I understand that, but at the time I didn’t like it. I didn’t feel ‘honored.’ So I read the script, I read with the casting agent. They all kind of stared at me after I was done. It was very quiet. The way I read was very quiet and very low and very twisted. They said, ‘Can you…do anything?’ I had a long skirt on, and I said, ‘What do you mean?’ They said, ‘Can you kick or do anything like that?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’ I did a high kick and I threw a prop chakram and I left and said goodbye to everyone. I heard R.J. say ‘She is so scary! That is such a weirdo. She is so, so scary.’ Then Rob said, ‘Then she should get it!’ They loved that! It felt so great. That’s courageous [of them] because I could have been, literally, a big weirdo. And that would not be fun to work with.” (Whoosh! Interview – November 1997)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[This] was the first time I met Hudson and she was very, very shy. I’m thrilled she came to us, but it was a difficult get-to-know-you period… But even though I wasn’t sure at first if I liked this person, I really respected her acting ability. And when the camera rolled or during rehearsal, she was there for me every time… She has become a very valued member of the ‘family’ and I love her… I did quite a bit [of the latter fight myself], really… Yeah, we were [both on the ladders]. Of course they’re rigged at the bottom so they’re pretty safe and I fortunately did not have to go up in the darned harness, as every actor dreads because they hurt like crazy. We had a big long ladder on a teeter-totter, an industrial strength teeter-totter, and she and I did that, just using our balance… Oh, there [were] nets underneath… They take all precautions. I don’t think we felt threatened. And Hudson’s really good, too. Not that she’s athletic, but she’s like a cat – she’s got an amazing kick and she’s very flexible and quick, she’s really fast, so she keeps me on my mettle.” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Robert Field (Editor): “The ladder sequence was comprised of 150 separate camera setups shot over four days. It was an incredibly ambitious and complicated scene, and a nightmare to organize. Imagine a vast jigsaw puzzle, but with the difference that you not only have to figure out which pieces go together, you also have to cut and shape each piece before you put it down on the table. Talk about mind-blowers!” (The Official Guide To The Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot – 1998)
Donald Duncan (Director Of Photography): “[In this episode] we had to have Lucy galloping on sand dunes with Callisto chasing her from behind. And you can do wide shots with doubles on the second unit and that was fine, but he really wanted to get tight shots like this with Lucy. And I’m not even sure how the idea came about, or who refined it, but what we essentially ended up doing was having Xena static on a hobbyhorse. (Which was some boxes with a saddle that you could sit on, and put her on a little dolly that would track backwards and forward.) And we did the same thing with Callisto, we put her further back on another hobbyhorse. And then we put the camera way away from them, probably 300 meters, on a very long lens to condense it. And essentially as the camera moved backwards and forward, and the actors moved backwards and forward, relative to each other, you couldn’t tell that they weren’t actually galloping or moving – with a healthy shake of the camera, wiz panning on, and wiz panning off. And in the finished thing, you were totally convinced they were galloping on a high speed chasing each other along the sand dunes. When in fact, they weren’t actually moving anywhere. We ended up doing that quite often for those types of pursuits and sequences.” (What You Didn’t Know About Xena – Exclusive Bonus on Best Buy Season One DVD Release)
T.J. Scott (Director): “Nine days [allotted for shooting] is a rarity, and this was the first time they had done it. I said I would do [this episode] in nine days, but they could give me another episode and I would do it in five. So that was my trade-off…. We were all concerned about [the casting of Callisto], because of course Lucy has such a presence. So how do you find someone who looks like a worthy adversary for her? I got a call from R.J. saying, ‘We found her! We found her!’ Apparently, the second Hudson walked into the room and greeted everybody, R.J. and Rob Tapert mimed and looked at each other and said, ‘We found her!’… [For Joxer] they had been looking around at different people and had even talked to Wallace Shawn, and I think they almost got into negotiations with him for the part. It came right down to the wire and Ted was free from his show, and all of a sudden, Ted was Joxer. [This] was the first episode for both [Callisto and Joxer], so I had a lot of fun working on the wardrobe for them and helping to create the characters through the wardrobe, especially Ted’s character.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #8 – July 2000)
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “R.J. Stewart is a clever man, and he wrote [Joxer as] a character who isn’t just a bumbler… [he] thinks he’s a brilliantly talented warrior, and nobody can tell him differently. The other thing that’s appealing is that he’s like a big 15-year-old, and that’s how I play him. His mind stopped developing at 15, but he pretends to be 30. If you ever found Joxer alone for ten minutes, you would probably find him with a pre-Hellenic comic book, eating a donut.” (Starlog Magazine Yearbook – August 1998)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “You know what’s horrifying about this [episode] as you watch it [today], all those years ago doing that [campfire monologue] scene, and then knowing how the series ends, and you [wonder], ‘How many villages did [Xena] burn to the ground? How many… souls she’s responsible for?’ And, of course those things were written with no precedence of what would [evolve later]… [I used] a holocaust thing [during the campfire scene]. Because… I don’t know where I got the idea about the smell, but—smell is such an evocative sense… this terrible smell about human beings burning… and nobody ever talks about that, but, perhaps I’d heard a holocaust survivor mention it or… I don’t know. I don’t know where I got it from, but it was specifically a holocaust reference in my mind when I was [doing this monologue]. That was the image I was using…” (Coffee Talk #2 With Lucy & Renee)
Robert Field (Editor): “If anything, I feel that, and this is still fairly early on in Xena’s character evolution, this is really the first time we saw her break down or expose any vulnerability, which was a big first. I think personally both actresses were very deeply into their characters and very deep into the emotion in the scene. I at first avoided the take at the point where Lucy actually laughs. I thought, as some other people might have thought, she kind of lost it on the set. The director, T. J. Scott, said no, he was on the set, he was there watching and it was Lucy being Xena and that her character was so uncomfortable with the emotion she was feeling it was a nervous laugh. So that shows you what *I* know… One of the things I believe in regarding editing is the shot should be as long as it has meaning. Which means you do not want to get out of it before it is finished completing an idea, or action, or whatever. You also do not want to be in a shot *too* long. I felt I had to let the characters finish what they were doing and I was complaining to T.J. Scott a little bit because I said, ‘I feel like they’re looking in the camera.’ He said, ‘No, they’re looking at the fire.’ The camera was behind the fire. So, it could be done one of two ways. They are either looking at the fire or they are looking at the camera intentionally. It becomes abstract because of that very significant sunrise that kind of ‘halos’ them.” (Whoosh! Interview – August 1997)
Here is DP Donald Duncan’s account of the shooting of the campfire scene in “Callisto” from Weisbrot’s The Official Guide To The Xenaverse.
Here is an on-the-scene account of the post-production sound ‘spotting’ for “Callisto” from Weisbrot’s The Official Guide To The Xenaverse.
Here are scans of an interview that writer R.J. Stewart gave on “Callisto” for The Chakram Newsletter: #5.
Come back next Thursday for the next two Xena episodes! And tune in tomorrow for another Myrna Loy film!