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.
89. Season 4, Episode 21: “The Ides Of March” (Aired: 05/10/99 | Filmed: 03/09 – 03/18/99)
When Xena learns that Caesar has put a six-million-dinar price on her head, she decides to go to Rome and kill him. Meanwhile, Caesar sends Brutus to capture Gabrielle and Amarice. Complicating matters is Callisto, who has been released from Hell and put on a double mission.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Ken Girotti | Production No. V0624
I featured this episode as #1 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I love this episode. I’m so proud of it… great performances across [the board]… I really like the way [director Ken Girotti] stages things. He’s got a good sense of composition…. [And it’s] so beautifully written, this one… A lot of characters… a lot of value…” (“The Ides Of March” Commentary – Season Four DVD Set)
R.J. Stewart (Writer/Producer): “I came back from a trip to Europe in our hiatus and I met Rob [Tapert] in New York and he basically knew where he wanted to get to at the end of the [fourth] season… He really had a vision which was going to pop up throughout the [season] which we were going to end up with in [this episode], which was Xena and Gabrielle both being crucified, and what did it mean? And [we’d] tantalize the audience with it. And it was brilliant. Rob is wonderful that way… As we went through the [season], as we explored more and more of Gabrielle’s journey, it became apparent that also what needed to be resolved [here] was Gabrielle’s philosophical story. The decision [was also made] to do the Caesar aspect of it and have Xena be responsible… in a wonderfully manipulative way, for Caesar’s death… [And] the naked truth is, it’s always good to get Callisto in…there was also, I felt and I know Rob felt, that there was some unresolved issues with Callisto, and that haunting issue that had bothered me from day one when I invented Callisto, which was why does Xena get off so easily? She was a war criminal and now she’s got a hit TV series… Why did the chakram break in two when it hit Xena? Part of that was a vision that Rob had about the next season of putting it back together and… having an episode of doing that. I think too though, and my rationale of writing was, in a sense, Xena and the chakram are sort of one. Spiritually they are one. And when Xena broke, the chakram broke… When Gabrielle picks up Xena’s sword, that is, of course, the end of her deliberating on whether violence is an appropriate alternative. She’s going to inflict some serious damage on people who are threatening Xena…. To see her in such a violent rage was exciting, and in a weird way, satisfying too – particularly after we did the pacifist thing… that was an exciting daily to watch to see Renee kick butt. Boy, does Renee do that great. I mean, that’s just great acting… It was such a nice completion of what we were building up for her for the entire season…When I wrote the prison scene, I… want[ed]… these two characters, who had been together and said kind of loyal friendly things for years, just to pour their guts out and really just tell each other how much they loved each other. It was sort of a consummation of so much and you know the actors did it great. I was so pleased with that. It was a terrific moment in the series… I just was so impressed with what [the production team] did with [the episode]. It was just great television… one of the great moments of the series.” (“The Ides Of March” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Rob Field (Editor): “I believe [this] was perhaps one of the most powerful Xena episodes we ever did. And there’s a lot of reasons for that, but I think one of them would happen to be a very important sequence in the show — that being, Xena and Gabrielle’s crucifixion and Caesar’s assassination. That’s the culminating point at which the sequence ends. But prior to that, we keep cross-cutting back and forth, back and forth, showing these two parallel events… If you watch very carefully in that sequence, you will notice that when Caesar gets stabbed, Xena reacts. And when the hammer hits the nail, Caesar reacts. And so it’s all even more cross-cut in that Xena and Caesar’s life are so inextricably tied together that they’re almost experiencing each other’s pain, which I think brings an overall emotional impact to what essentially is a brutal and gory murder.” (“The Ides Of March” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “[When we were filming the actual crucifixion], the sun had… vanished from where [Renee] was shooting, and this cold wind [came through]. And Renee was just lying there being a trooper of course and I had said to her, ‘Renee, we’ve got to play cold.’ Because she’s just lying out there like she was sunbathing. ‘Don’t forget to shiver and carry on.’ And she went, ‘Oh, no, no, no. I don’t remember it like that actually. No, no, I was quite calm.’ But she had forgotten that she actually had hypothermia the first time [when we shot the flashforward crucifixion]… So you’ll see in one of them that Xena’s [shivering] and Renee’s just… sunbathing…” (The 2003 Pasadena Xena Convention)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “[The fight scene] wasn’t fun. I understood where the motivation came from, but I was frustrated it had to happen so quickly. I like to play everything more subtle –perhaps a few less head butts or stabbings. And I was afraid it would look comedic because it was so over the top for Gabrielle. I tried to play it as primitive and instinctual as I could… I don’t think it looked anything like Xena’s sword fights. The movements weren’t complicated. Gabrielle was just defending herself as simply as possible. I felt it was important to show that Gabrielle didn’t feel comfortable committing murder. And I waned her to be vulnerable so I tried to make it as awkward for myself as possible… I was sitting on top of the stuntman and we had to use a real dagger because it was coming up into the shot. As I was doing the motions, I was watching him as intently as I could to make sure I didn’t actually stab him. I put my hand on his chest to protect him and ended up stabbing my own hand! Took off a chunk of my wedding finger. I stood up and had all this blood on me and thought I had hurt him. The blood was so red, I thought it had to be fake. But, oh, no, it was real! When you’re in the middle of a scene, you don’t feel a thing and I didn’t… [The prison scene] was so beautiful and so easy for Lucy and I to do. It was Rob’s idea to play the first part with no dialogue. And R.J. wrote the bit with the characters reminiscing about their lives – ‘I should have read your scrolls.’ Very touching to even think about. That was one of those scenes where you just try not to cry too much. You go through waves as an actor where you reach a scene and you’re fine with it. Then you might have to do a few more takes and you start to struggle. I was getting frustrated and mentioned it to Lucy. She shared with me what was inspiring her and I used that to go into it on a new level. Another actor might just have said, ‘Well, you’re on your own.’ I found a way to tap into the energy between Lucy and myself and brought that into the scene.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #8)
Hudson Leick (Actor, Callisto): “I always liked playing Callisto… when Rob called me up to ask me if I’d be willing to do [this episode], I… said, ‘Yes. But one condition: I want another outfit. I want to wear something different.’… Standing out in the snow, I think I was looking up while we were just on hold and setting up, and I was looking at all the snow, and I think the director came up to me and said, ‘Stick you tongue out.’ And I loved that. I thought it was brilliant. He goes, ‘Catch the snowflakes on your tongue.’ Because it’s so like Callisto. And everyone knows what it’s like, being a little kid and… that’s what’s so grotesque: that you see this little bit of innocence from someone that is helping crucify other human beings. It’s so twisted.” (“The Ides Of March” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “What [Xena] means [when she says she’s done paying for her sins] is that she’s not guilty for that particular crime against Callisto. She’s over that. In Xena’s eyes, Callisto has given as good as she got, I should say. And she cannot push Xena’s buttons any longer…” (The Chakram Newsletter: #9)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I remember Tim [Omundson, Eli] and I trying to decide [in this episode ] if we wanted to sort of let like a subtle relationship chemistry start… we were talking about whether or not that was interesting, because, you know, he’s supposed to be our Christ figure. You know, and could he have relationships? We were testing that boundary and just seeing if people got that or not… we were playing with… if there [is] something more primitive… I think someone [eventually] said something to us… they just thought it was a little too almost incestuous, cause I’m supposed to be like his family member…” (“The Ides Of March” Commentary – Season Four DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that writer R.J. Stewart gave on “The Ides Of March” for The Chakram Newsletter: #10.
90. Season 4, Episode 22: “Deja Vu All Over Again” (Aired: 05/17/99 | Filmed: 02/03 – 02/08/99)
In 1999, a woman is convinced she is the reincarnation of Xena the Warrior Princess.
Written by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Renee O’Connor | Production No. V0618
I have mixed feelings about this episode. It’s a clip show, and, as usual, I appreciate the series for concocting an original premise. While Season Two’s “The Xena Scrolls” dealt with the descendants of Xena, Gab, and Joxer, this episode deals with their reincarnated souls. So, it’s very much in keeping with some of the themes explored by the characters during the fourth season (particularly in the India arc). It’s not as funny as the outright “comedies” from this season, but it certainly veers more to the lighter motifs than the heavier ones, and, like the comedic installments from Season Four, finds much of its humor in self-parody. That is, the episode is very meta-theatrical and to enjoy it, one needs not only an understanding of the series and its characters, but recognition that this is all just performance. So this episode is all in good fun, right?
Well, our favorite bard, Renee O’Connor, makes her directorial debut in this episode, and she seems to try to ground the installment with a sense of emotional weight. Ordinarily, this would be appreciated in a comedy. But the episode, and maybe this is also in the scripting, comes across as unsure of itself. Is it the lighthearted fare we’ve come to expect from comedies in Season Four? Or is it something deeper, remarking on the relationships between Xena and Gabrielle? This blurring of genres, while quite common in the first two seasons, feels out of place here. Especially since we’re dealing with characters from an entirely different setting and time period. The episode’s lack of center keeps it from being purely enjoyable, and, though I hate to be condescending and say it, seems indicative of a novice director.
That said, there’s stuff to like. In addition to the final appearance of Robert Trebor, we also get the first, last, and only Season Four appearance of Ares, who’d been kept quite busy on Young Hercules. His presence is always a welcome one, and since he will once again become quite prominent in Season Five, it’s good to remind viewers of his importance in the series. Additionally, it’s fun to see the regulars play different characters, and for the most part, they do a nice job — particularly Ted Raimi, who gets to play Xena! So, this episode is quite a mixed bag. And though the show wanted to end the season with this “lighter” episode (to give viewers some hope after Xena and Gab’s brutal crucifixions), I wish it had aired in the order it was produced, right near the end of the India arc, where it seems most appropriate.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Renee O’Connor (Director/Actor, Gabrielle): “When we were coming back from the hiatus and [they] were getting ready to do “Adventures In The Sin Trade (I)” and “(II)”… I asked [Rob Tapert] if I could shadow T.J. [Scott]… And so [he] said, ‘Sure.’ And… during the filming… [Rob] was there… and [he] finally said, ‘Well, Renee, I guess I’m going to have to give you an episode..’… And [he] sort of surrendered to the fact that I had really really wanted to commit to doing something as a director… It was supposed to be a four day shoot, but I remember going over. So I think I had four-and-a-half. And then half of a Saturday, so it ended up being five… It was a huge learning curve and I guess you’ve got to break the ice somewhere… and it was hard… to kind of change roles and be the leader…” (“Déjà Vu All Over Again” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “It wasn’t hard to make the decision to give Renee an episode. I mean, besides hassling her at first about why she wanted to do it, she was a committed and dedicated part of the team. And if she wanted to direct, or if Lucy had wanted to direct, it would have been very hard to tell either one of them, ‘No. You can’t do this.’” (“Déjà Vu All Over Again” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Director/Actor, Gabrielle): “First I met with the heads of each department. We started off with a preliminary meeting and went through, with a broad stroke, what the episode was about and what I had in mind. That was before Christmas. Then I went off and basically worked with the story. I talked to R.J. [Stewart] many, many times and tried to flesh out parts of the story’s structure I thought were important. He was wonderful, so supportive. And so very, very patient. I’m hoping he’ll be pleased… During filming, I learned how to compromise with what you have in your mind compared to what’s actually possible to manifest. Maybe the costume department put great effort into a costume and if you don’t have any wide shots, what a waste of energy. Little things like that you learn as you go. Try to make everyone happy, but not yet lose your own integrity and vision. I found that, early on, I made some mistakes because I was too green in not knowing when to hold my ground and when to let things go… I found that I relied on the support team of the director of photography, the cameraman, the first assistant director to guide me. As I developed more confidence I realized what my instincts were and, if I really wanted to follow them, I had to be stronger. And this was good, especially with the actors. It sounds weird to say ‘the actors.’ I did a lot of background with the characters by approaching the scenes as I would as an actress. That helped me a great deal when I had to support my theories of how a scene should be played…. I found that I had to take some choices in order to make my day, just to get our schedule accomplished because I was behind from the get-go. And I just kept getting deeper and deeper in the hole! It was really hard. I think I had no idea just how challenging it would be. I constantly had to let things go… Lucy was wonderful. The first day, she and Ted teased me a bit, saying, ‘Oh, I don’t think I would play it like that.’ Just completely setting me up as an egocentric, precious actor might do. They joked around saying, ‘We’ll dub my lines later. I’ll just stand off camera for this.’ They were such a tease, but very supportive. Especially Lucy. She tried to help me get everything I could to succeed… And she, more than all of us, has an appreciation of how hard it is for directors to make their day. Maybe it’s because she’s married to Rob and he’s also a director. She’s very cooperative in having them place her where they need het to go in order to get the shots that tell the story without having to stroke her ego and say, ‘What would you like to do as an actor?’ She’s very practical and says, ‘What do you need to get the show on film?’ Then she makes it work with her own choices in acting. I’d always noticed that before, but never appreciated it as thoroughly as I did when I didn’t have to apologize to Lucy for compromising her acting in order to complete my day. I learned an appreciation of that from her so that I’m even more docile towards directors now.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #7)
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “That fight scene was the most fun I’ve ever had, using an umbrella, a beanbag, a sofa. It was cool, man… I could tell the [stunties] were nervous because, obviously, the beanbag is an indiscriminate weapon. I could have hurt everyone in that room. But it was a level of satisfaction I had that they trusted me enough to wield that by myself. Because, you understand, it was corduroy as well, and you know what that can do to a human.” (Starlog Magazine – August 2002)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “I’ve never been accused of more contradictory things than I have while working on Xena. I am a homophobe and honorary lesbian… I’m sure you heard this story before, but the homophobe thing happened in two e-mails once. A true homophobe sent me an e-mail lambasting me for “outting” Xena and Gabrielle in [this episode]. Who cares if they were in male and female bodies, they KISSED! The very next e-mail was from a lesbian (she said so in her post, by the way, not assumption) who accused ME of being a homophobe because they would only kiss in MALE and FEMALE bodies! I forwarded the e-mails to each of [the] senders. On the first I wrote, ‘Maybe you two should switch TV sets.’ Oh, and by the way, the infamous ‘kiss’ in [this] episode wasn’t in the script. It was added in on the set. I was as surprised as anyone.” (NetForum – January 2000)
Renee O’Connor (Director/Actor, Gabrielle): “I was relieved [to see the final cut] I think. Before it was done, I was quite worried I wasn’t going to be able to show my face. When I do see it, I see all the mistakes I made, so, of course, I cringe. But I’m pleased I made it through alive… I was the hardest director I’ve ever worked with! Gave myself no guidance whatsoever. I only gave myself one take on most scenes, except for when I had the luxury of working on a Saturday with the second unit and I had a bit more time to give myself two takes as an option. If I were to do it again, I would take the time to put more energy into preparing myself actingwise. I didn’t realize that with the time constraints, I would only have one or two chances to nail a scene. And, obviously, during the first take, I was still thinking about everything else around me. So I couldn’t quite get into the scene. It took me a while to relax into acting… I think you just get an idea of the personalities when you direct someone. And since I know Lucy so well, of course it was easy for me to know how to speak to her. Lucy’s the sort of actress where you don’t need to do a lot of work with her because she uses her instincts and she’s usually right on all the time. I would put my two cents in when I thought I could add to what she was already doing, but usually she’s always good, you know. She’s the sort of person that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ There’s no need to go in there and try to complicate issues. The approach I took was from the point of view of an actor. How do I like directors to talk to me. When I was breaking down the scenes, I put action verbs in that I wanted to make points of and if I wanted to make a note for Lucy or Ted, I would try to give them an action to do instead of giving them a result. A lot of times you have directors who give you the end result of what they want to see and you have to translate in your mind what you have to do to get that result. I try to keep it simple… As I was getting ready to direct [this episode] I read as much about reincarnation as I could because I wanted to have a realistic element in the episode. What I really liked about [the] episode was seeing Ted’s dignity come across on screen. He’s an intellectual man and we hardly see that when he plays Joxer. I wanted everyone to see the Ted I know… We filmed a great scene where Ted played a campy version of him dressing up as Xena. It was my favorite part, but the episode was just too long and we had to cut it. It was R.J.’s idea.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #8)
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “[This episode] was fun because Renee was directing… and I was actually very curious to see how she would do. She did very well, but… directors are usually two different types. There’s circle kind of directors who are like, ‘Let’s just organically see how things are going and, you know, once the actors are sort of ready, then we’ll put the cameras around them.’ Then there’s the square kind of directors who are like, ‘You, stand there. You, there.’ And here comes Renee kind of meekly coming to the set, being very humble [and then], ‘You, there. You, over there.’ We were like, ‘Woah! Okay, here she comes’…. But she did really good and she was really good with actors. She was tough though…” (“Déjà Vu All Over Again” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I’d like to think that I’m always 100% there for my directors, but for Renee I was going to be extra quiet and extra, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ But sometimes when I really feel that maybe they should consider doing it another way, I would say, ‘Well, what would you think if it went like this?’ And Renee told me to shut up and go sit back down. ‘Get on your mark and say the words.’ ‘Yes, ma’am.’” (“Déjà Vu All Over Again” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Four DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview/article that actor/director Renee O’Connor gave on “Deja Vu All Over Again” for Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #1. (I have included only the sections of the interview about this episode.)
Renee O’Connor’s commentary on “Déjà Vu All Over Again” from the Season Four DVD Set is highly informative. Click here to download an mp3.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!