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.
109. Season 5, Episode 19: “Looking Death In The Eye” (Aired: 04/24/00 | Filmed: 01/25 – 02/03/00)
Old Joxer obtains a scroll describing Xena and Gabrielle’s final attempt to trick the Fates into bringing about the Twilight of the Gods.
Written by Carl Ellsworth | Directed by Garth Maxwell | Production No. V0920
I featured this episode as #48 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “When we filmed [this] episode, I’d just come back from a convention in Pasadena, and I caught this terrible, terrible flu. I was just out of it. Over the course of this thing I lost fifteen, twenty pounds. It was all I could do to stand up. You know those scenes in which Xena dies, and Ares is carrying her back to the ice cave? I was weakened. She said, ‘You don’t look so good. Can we help you there?’ I said, ‘I’m Kevin Smith, mate. I’d never live this down if somebody has to help me carry you.’ (Starlog Magazine – August 2002)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “I liked [this episode] because of the storytelling device we used [which involved the future Joxer] and there were some subtle things in it that I personally liked.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #10 – September 2000)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Carl Ellsworth gave on “Looking Death In The Eye” for The Chakram Newsletter: #14.
Here is an on-set report of the production of “Looking Death In The Eye” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #9.
110. Season 5, Episode 20: “Livia” (Aired: 05/01/00 | Filmed: 02/18 – 02/29/00)
Xena and Gabrielle are freed from their icy prison after 25 years and set out to find Eve, who has become a fearless commander in Rome.
Written by Chris Manheim | Directed by Rick Jacobson | Production No. V0921
This is the episode that officially moves the series’ narrative forward 25 years, and although I think it’s a fabulous and exceedingly creative device to get rid of the baby, it’s simultaneously sad because the time jump further severs the show’s connection to its golden days of yore. Looking at aged Joxer, who is obviously not long for the world, is perhaps the most painful. Thus, in some ways, this episode (and the one prior) are incredibly important, for they alter the entire course of the series. Unfortunately, I had my issues with this particular course, and for that reason, this episode (and the one following) have never been among my favorites. I also attribute this lack of favor to my distaste for the actress cast as Livia/Eve, whom I find neither likable nor believable. (Just my personal opinion on the actress, not the character.) But since she carries a lot of this story arc, my enjoyment of her is difficult to separate from my enjoyment of the episodes themselves. That being said, “Livia” is a tightly directed installment by stalwart Rick Jacobson, and it’s scripted by veteran Chris Manheim, so there are a lot of strong character moments driven, again, by a fascinating premise and a unique device that, ultimately, solved a bigger problem than the ones it would later present. So, my problems with what this did for the series aside, this is a fine, bold episode — one of the more solid entries from Season Five. (But the next episode, which follows after this installment’s ominous “To Be Continued”, is slightly better.)
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Kevin Smith (Actor, Ares): “[The time jump] was kind of a surprise to me. As a narrative device, it’s got its useful aspects. If you create something and then get to a point where you’ve exhausted the possibilities of this, or if you’ve started to paint yourself into a corner or something, it’s a good way of cleaning house and propelling it forward. It started fresh that whole Eve/Livia arc. Basically it’s kind of boring watching a kid grow up for twenty-five years, you know? Once you set up the structure of [having] the baby, you paint yourself into that narrative corner. It was a great thing, that child becoming [Xena’s] worst nightmare, that child becoming her. It was a great thing to have.” (Spectrum Magazine – June 2001)
Chris Manheim (Writer/Producer): “I think we were looking for the irony of Xena’s daughter being the champion of Rome when Rome and Caesar in particular had been such foes of Xena’s. I think we all liked the irony of that. I know that we wanted a story that showed the daughter grown up, because, of course, she’d been the baby and we’d kind of done what we could with the baby. And now we needed a grown up for Xena to be a mother to. We needed to see that relationship. And I thought [this] was a pretty smart way to fast forward 25 years so that we could get it.” (“Livia” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Adrienne Wilkinson (Actor, Livia/Eve): “I was asked to come in and read for the role twice, and I couldn’t. Normally you only have one shot at a guest part on a series. Over the course of about three weeks, because I had other commitments, I was unable to go to the meeting, but they called me a third time and I was able to go in that time. It was great: Beth Hymson was casting, and she’s an angel. I wasn’t familiar with the show. I didn’t know anything about the role except that it was a warrior part. I felt very small and not fierce enough. I walked in, and Beth said, ‘Please let you be the one; you’re just perfect.’ Then a couple of days after that I met the producers, and that’s when they put me on hold for the show. But it wasn’t until a week later that they called me to confirm. I was on pins and needles for a week, [but] I had no idea [that I was going to be Xena’s daughter]. I think if I had known I would have been far more nervous. It was maybe the first week of February when they told me, and I left about a week later. It was unbelievably overwhelming! I had to learn so many new things, and I loved every second of it… [But] the scripts are always far more racy than what actually appears on television, because the writers pretty much put what they want in them… I got this first script and it was unbelievably racy. It started out with a scene where I’m in the bathtub, and I’m obviously enjoying myself, and Ares suddenly pops out from under the water! I was like, ‘Oh my!’ I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was freaking out, and I thought, ‘Do I tell them I don’t want to do this? I can’t do that.’ I was really worried, and the producers called me and said, ‘We know that you booked Xena, and maybe you were worried you booked the Red Shoe Diaries! The scripts are always so much racier – don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal.’… [But the replacement scene] was the most uncomfortable scene I’ve ever filmed in my life… it was my first nude scene. And there were a hundred people there! I wasn’t naked, but I certainly felt it. The scene was shot from the back. I was dressed up to my hips, and then I ripped off all my armor and threw a towel over myself before I turned around. But I was still horribly nervous about the scene, just because I wasn’t used to it. I go in, turn around and I’m naked from the waist up. Octavius is speechless, and I’m like ‘Just spit it out. Come on!’ He’s so annoying, but then he starts talking to me about how I’m going to be Empress, so I’m thrilled. Then he turns his back and I’m annoyed – I want to go bathe and I can’t stand him. I thought that scene was just so much fun. It wasn’t necessary for the telling of the story, but it was great for introducing the character. As soon as he leaves, Ares pops in on the couch and then he and I have a dialogue that’s obviously more honest. I just loved it. It showed such an interesting dynamic. I was just bummed that the scene didn’t make it.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #17 – April 2001)
Rick Jacobson (Director): “The ice coffins in the beginning of the show… were made out of just a thick Plexiglas and… and I believe it was rock salt [that] was used… and [it] looks like crystalized ice… and frost. And you throw the blue light in there and… I was standing behind the monitors going, ‘Man, I’d buy that. That looks cold.’ And then of course the way Lucy and Renee played it, you certainly kind of bought it. But it was some invention that Rob Gillies came up with that once again worked perfectly… Adrienne [Wilkinson]’s first fight scene with Kevin [Smith]… I think Adrienne had probably been down there for a week and a half or so and…. The stunties [got] with her right off the bat and immediately [introduced] her to the swords… Just to get her into the character she would be playing… [and] making her look confident on a horse and with a sword. I think she did a pretty good job. She’s believable, which is certainly something we were always afraid of. It’s a big role to cast and if it’s not done properly, it can certainly fall flat on its face. But I think she did a real good job with it.” (“Livia” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Adrienne Wilkinson (Actor, Livia/Eve): “Yes, my first week on set was a doozy. But my first day was particularly amusing. We were running very late and the scenes with me were the very last scenes to be shot. There’s so many extras, there’s things on fire, there’s smoke. It’s crazy. It’s the most amazing set to be on. And I have to say, I’m overwhelmed, but I’m just trying to focus on the little thing that I’m responsible for. And it’s our very first take, we’re racing the day, and they only have time to do two or three takes at all, we get everything together, and we start to do this fight scene. And this fight scene included this very high kick, which, since it’s my first day in the costume, we’d done this kick dozens of times in rehearsals, but that was in street clothes. We’d never done the fight fully in my regular warrior gear. So we go to do that. I do this high kick [and] the guy acts like he’s been hit in the face and he flies backwards. And I suddenly stop like a deer in headlights, just terrified. And of course, the director Rick [Jacobson] is freaking out, going, ‘Why are you stopping? We don’t have time!’ And I’m just like, ‘I need a moment. I need to talk to one of the wardrobe girls.’ That high kick had split my pair of pants entirely in two, and no, I just obviously could not go on. But, yeah, they fixed it. They took me into one of the little huts and did this very fast sewing job. And fortunately the very next day I had brand new pants made out of stretchy material. So that made it much better. But that was just the beginning of so many adventures. There was a moment in filming where… my hair extensions were being singed by some of the candles in another scene. I believe that was the second day. And unfortunately, that’s a scene that never made it onto that particular episode because we filmed far more than we could fit in. But it was another scene with Ares in my commander’s tent.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Five DVD Set)
William Gregory Lee (Actor, Virgil): “I think it was [my] very first day on set. It was Ted, Renee, and Lucy, and myself, and we’re going over this little scene. And immediately they start throwing dialogue left and right. I felt a little bit lost there cause I was like, ‘Where exactly are they at?’ Lucy looks over at me and she’s like, ‘Sweetie, you’re going to have to get on the ball. We do a lot of improvising here.’ And it was just one of those things right away where I’m like ‘Great.’ And she’s like, ‘Don’t wreck my show.’… Originally… the character’s name was Jerrick… and he was just a warrior. I don’t think there was any specific relationship with Joxer in the auditioning sides. And once I got over there, they had rewritten the draft and they said, ‘We’re changing your character’s name to Virgil.’ And I thought, ‘[But] Jerrick sounds so tough! Virgil sounds so soft! What’s up with that?’ And then they explained the entire thing. Virgil, the poet, and they were tying it in with being Ted’s son and then they were going to originally, I think, have Renee and I, not as a love interest kind of thing, but have that common bond of poetry.” (Best Buy Exclusive – Season Five DVD Set)
Adrienne Wilkinson (Actor, Livia/Eve): “There’s that huge scene at the end [of this episode] with Xena, with the horses, the whole big battle and that took a long time to film. And I was getting so frustrated… but I was doing a scene with Lucy’s stunt double and we were doing this particular sword fighting scene and she missed and hit me in the leg. And I mean, she hit me! And I thought at that second, ‘That wasn’t so awful. If I can take it, so can they.’ And that changed everything. I was so proud, I had this great bruise, I felt strong and finally into it. And that changed everything. Cause I was so afraid to hit somebody. I was so afraid to hurt somebody that I just wouldn’t. I know that it must have looked horrible the first couple of days… until… I gave it my all.” (“Eve” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
William Gregory Lee (Actor, Virgil): “The biggest surprise to me when I met Ted [Raimi] was how old he was. I was like, ‘He’s playing my father? There’s five or six years difference, tops.’” (“Livia” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Here are scans of an interview that writer Chris Manheim gave on “Livia” for The Chakram Newsletter: #14.
Here is an on-set report of the production of “Livia” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #10.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!