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.
81. Season 4, Episode 13: “Paradise Found” (Aired: 02/01/99 | Filmed: 07/10 – 07/17/98)
Gabrielle finds inner calm, but Xena is plagued by violent images in a land ruled by a man who claims to know the true path to peace.
Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Robert Tapert | Production No. V0611
I featured this episode as #55 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “I really wasn’t ever planning to direct [this episode]. I really wanted to do one of those darn India [episodes]… [And also] to compensate for the all the money we had spent, [this] became like a five-and-a-half day episode. And I thought it would be a good experience for myself as a director to have to do what was the shortest episode we had ever done on Xena. I had given myself more time previously on episodes, but now I wanted to do five-and-a-half days, [four] characters… and even though it was a small story and a small cast, it lent itself to, oh, visuals that I kind of wanted to put on film. So there were aspects of [this] story that even on a real short tight schedule, that I thought I could realize.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Four DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[Rob Tapert is] very visual as a director and as a producer. He’ll come up with a vision he wants to capture and that’s where he starts. He might have a photo from a book or painting and he’ll elaborate on that image. He also has a wonderfully bizarre sense of humor that I find hilarious. Like that bit with the turtle in [this episode] when we are left wondering whether or not Xena will crush the poor thing as she comes racing down towards him. That’s so Rob. And he’s very good with actors in that he can talk to them. There’s a trust there that you don’t have with a lot of directors until they have been around for a couple of episodes. He can get you to do anything. Some directors just have that ability… You know what Rob said [during the scene where Xena watches Aiden comforting Gabrielle]?! He said, ‘Lucy, she’s in another man’s arms!’ And Lucy went, ‘Another man’s arms!!’ It was hilarious because it was quite a serious scene and Lucy couldn’t hold it in. She just started laughing. For the next take, Rob stood near Lucy and talked her through the rest of the scene. It was quite moving. But that was a hilarious line. One of those classic moments.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #7)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “It was very important, so that we didn’t think Gabrielle was an utter brain dead person, for [Aiden] to make, actually not just a certain amount of sense, a lot of sense so that, well, hopefully Gabrielle, and the audience as well, falls under his spell, so to speak. And the things he says, they aren’t wrong; peal to why he’s saying them later, that gets a little dicey, but he’s not wrong. And it was important [for] the actor… to ground himself in the truth of what he was saying so that Gabrielle didn’t look like some dummy… The whole purpose of [this] episode, at least for me, thematically was, I just don’t believe that good can be passive. It’s not enough to ‘do no harm.’ It’s not enough to be passive and not hurting anyone else. I think good has to be proactive because evil certainly is proactive. And when good’s asleep, evil triumphs. So, I think that’s what… if you learn anything from this episode, it’s that since evil is so proactive, good has to be equally proactive to balance it.” (“Paradise Found” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “Traveling between Greece and India, there was this little interlude [with this episode] which would be [a] stop off. So really, [this] was the lead-in to the India episodes and really set the groundwork… [This episode] wanted to [take] that which the characters were and push it to a ridiculous extreme… and so there were incidents and scenes that allowed me to embrace that idea. So we had this giant yin and yang bed that we created, this big circular bed, [with] Gabrielle just what I call blissing out on it, just kind of floating, and Xena totally unable to bliss out, she was just becoming more and more furious by the second. That was something that wasn’t really scripted… And there were opportunities to do the same thing [like] with Xena losing her mind getting a nosebleed and – once again, ran out of time to realize it in its totality but – she’s giving Gabrielle a massage and her nose keeps bleeding, and she’s catching the drops before they splash on to Gabrielle. It was beautiful and yucky all at the same time, and it kind of told that Xena was really coming unglued, as was Gabrielle, just as she was slipping further and further [away]…. Aiden… wasn’t even a God… he was just a swami, a magician of sorts. He was just one step above run-of-the-mill villain, besides that Jeremy [Roberts] played him beautifully. But I don’t think he had any special qualities – oh, I can’t say that. He had unique qualities that other villains didn’t have, but he was still just a villain…” (“Paradise Found” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “As the writer… I missed a certain gravitas in [Aiden’s] character. He seemed a little light for who he is. I mean, I know he’s a yoga person and all of that… To me, he’s almost what Najara used to talk about, the Djinn, you know? He’s kind of that. He’s a man who’s amassed a lot of spiritual power that he’s using for evil. But [I] remember we used to talk about [how] he wanted to get Gabrielle’s goodness to break out of that place he was in and conquer the world. He wanted to get out into the world again… It just never made it into… the script. But we kicked that around.” (“Paradise Found” Commentary – Season Four DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “One of the highlights for me, and for the audience, was… [finding Gabrielle] in kind of a hot little outfit doing yoga with Aiden. And Renee really embraced this, she went to yoga classes and got to do these insanely difficult poses… So they got Jeremy [Roberts] down there, who plays Aiden, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve done some yoga.’ Well he got down there and he hadn’t done anything in years and it damn near killed him. But he was a trouper. In fact, that was one of the reasons I wanted to work with Jeremy [again]. If you’re going to give yourself an ambitious slate and very little time, then at least make sure the actors you’re working with are great, cause then it’s hard to fail… [And since] I’m a huge fan of Maxfield Parrish… it was only natural that I would want to bring that to this other world that we were creating. And it seemed like the right thing – its idyllic beauty and overly romantic lighting. And [this episode] lent itself totally to ‘Parrish-izing’ it… But one of the things in [this episode] that I’m really sorry I did [was] I thought the first three acts actually worked and it was an interesting, intriguing drama. And then I kind of threw all that out the window and let the lead character hide behind prosthetics, which is always a bad idea, because I needed a fourth act fight and climax, which every episode has to have. I had to get there. So Xena had to go mad, and it all just went a bit over-the-top, so for many reasons I wish I hadn’t let it get away from the first reigns. But I’m certainly the one who dropped them and said, ‘Okay, let’s do this!’ To this day… I wish that… the script addressed a better solution to that story and maybe Ms. Manheim can say that she provided one and I just screwed it up. [But this] is one of the instances that you look back and go, ‘What were you thinking? Why did you do that?’” (“Paradise Found” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Chris Manheim gave on “Paradise Found” for The Chakram Newsletter: #9.
Here are scans of an interview that executive producer/director Rob Tapert gave on “Paradise Found” for The Chakram Newsletter: #7.
82. Season 4, Episode 14: “Devi” (Aired: 02/08/99 | Filmed: 11/12 – 11/20/98)
While traveling in India, Gabrielle suddenly acquires the power to heal, but Xena is suspicious of the power’s source.
Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0615
I featured this episode as one of the 18 honorable mentions that narrowly missed inclusion on my list of the 60 best episodes. (In fact, it’s the only episode I regret not highlighting.) Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Garth Maxwell (Director): “I think [this was] the [episode] that I enjoyed most… because it had the exoticness and fantasy of the Indian city. I think in total we had something like 100 Indian extras for that episode. They were just brilliant, and very aware of the whole process of filmmaking. India has such a large filmmaking industry and although all of our extras were from New Zealand, they all understood the process and were very keen and very forward. You could pan just about anywhere and get some great facial expressions.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #18 – May 2001)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I just liked going to India because the sets were so cool and the extras were so interesting too. Like they were always bringing you food and inviting you to their homes. It was an interesting group of extras.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Four DVD Set)
Eric Gruendemann (Producer): “We had a lot of different streets that we had built on our movie ranch in Auckland, and so [for the India episodes, we did] a major redress of some of those streets. And what we loved about going to different lands was the ability and the fun it was to create, through costume and through production design, new worlds and our own take on [them] too. So I always liked when we’d go to India for two or three episodes, for instance, cause it would actually allow us to do a great job and amortize those costs over three [episodes]… We knew about two months before we shot that we were going to be going to India, and so… we could start to actually design… Ngila Dickson, who was our costume designer at the time, had less time because we really couldn’t design costumes until we knew who the characters were. But it was especially fun to dress up our leads in new costumes when we’d send them to Egypt or India… so that was great too.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Four DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “Ooooo – I had so much fun [playing Tataka]! So much fun. It was the most fun I’ve had with a character other than Gabrielle since we started the show. I thought Tataka was just so vain wanting all those pearls draped over her body. She wanted to be idolized and anyone who disagreed should die. To me, that was the core of the character and I went with it and had a ball… We shot [the throne scene] on a Saturday, which is unusual for us. It was one of those situations where you just jump into the costume and do it in five minutes, and I thought it came off really well considering how little time we had. It was so fast… [For the lick during the fight], Lucy and I just said, ‘Oh, yeah, we can do that.’ And I did think it was quite funny. But I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would because the taste of the makeup was so disgusting. What also bothered me was that I felt I was invading Lucy’s space. That’s something an actor is always conscious of. But she didn’t have a problem with it at all. It felt pretty outrageous… I heard about this debate [over whether Tataka ever let Gabrielle speak for herself]. I decided to play it where Gabrielle [was speaking and] didn’t know [about Tataka]. Otherwise you can’t really play the scene between her and Xena where Gabrielle is defending herself so strongly. Plus, who’s to know when it would emerge? So I thought it was legitimate to play that aspect. The whole idea is to keep the mystery of the episode. Who is the demon in? If I play Gabrielle as if she’s possessed, you lose any mystery.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #7)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “When we decided to portray Eli… we were incredibly concerned that the religious right would come after us. And we had originally called him Issa. I-S-S-A, which was supposedly the historical name of Jesus when he went to India. And R.J. [Stewart] just wouldn’t let the script go out with that name in it… and rightfully so. The last thing we needed after ‘The Way’ was to have more trouble with religious groups. So we went, ‘All right. Eli’s a very veiled name for that.’… I had just seen some special on TV with David Blaine and I went, ‘That’s who should play this part. Kind of the magician, street smart character who gets a calling and doesn’t know what to do with it.’ And [we] contacted David Blaine, threw buckets of money, told him, ‘Hey it’s a chance to play this.’ And he said, ‘That’s not what I do. That’s not what I want to do. I’m doing this other stuff.’… But then we auditioned like 150 people and went, ‘No, they’re not the same as David Blaine.’ They just didn’t have the same charisma on screen. And finally Ted Raimi said, ‘Hey, I worked with this guy. You should read him, he’s a really good actor.’ Brought him in and I went, ‘He looks exactly like what I don’t want for this part,’ but [he] read and gave a great reading. And, well, kind of gotta go with the best person for the part. And he was great… [Blaine] probably wouldn’t have pulled it off with the same dignity that Tim did.” (“Seeds Of Faith” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Timothy Omundson (Actor, Eli): “I remember about a week into shooting [this episode], we were working on the goodbye scene with Lucy and Renee, setting up the camera angle and just sort of standing there trying to keep our focus. The camera operator asked me to adjust my position for the camera, and Lucy looked up and said to him and Renee, ‘Doesn’t it feel like Tim’s always been here?’ It was a nice little thing, but it really meant a lot to me… [But earlier in the week] Ted Raimi had a little surprise in store for me when I got to New Zealand. He was back home in the States, so I was on my own and I didn’t know a soul. About 12 hours off the plane, I had to go to a read through with the cast and producers. I was really looking forward to meeting Lucy and Renee, because for years, I had been hearing from Ted about how great they were. So I go into the room and I’m introduced to Lucy and she barely looks up from her script. Renee walks in and I’m introduced to her and I get the same response… cold! I ask if anyone wants coffee when I’m getting some, and they barely toss me a ‘no.’ They’re not talking to me… they’re not laughing at my jokes and I’m really starting to sweat. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Great! I’m stuck on the other side of the world with two actresses who won’t even give me the time of day. This is going to be horrible!’ So the read through ends and they just get up and walk out without a word of goodbye and I’m sitting there for about 20 seconds dazed and confused. I’m thinking that they hate me, when the door bursts open and Lucy and Renee come rolling in bursting with laughter! ‘We’re sorry,’ they both say, ‘Ted made us do it! He told us to be really mean to you!’ That was my initiation into the Wonderful World of Xena! Lucy was kind enough to call me the next day and let me know that they were happy I was there and to make sure that I wasn’t running away!” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #9 – August 2000)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Chris Manheim gave on “Devi” for The Chakram Newsletter: #7.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!