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.
115. Season 6, Episode 3: “Heart Of Darkness” (Aired: 10/16/00 | Filmed: 05/10 – 05/19/00)
Xena fights to avoid inheriting the throne of Mephistopheles by devising a plan to turn the cocky archangel Lucifer into the King of Hell.
Written by Emily Skopov | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V1402
I featured this episode as one of the 18 honorable mentions that narrowly missed inclusion on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Emily Skopov (Writer): “I guess what intrigued me was the idea that Xena was maybe succumbing to darkness. More than anything, it was the idea that Xena was going to seduce Lucifer, and we had to actually bring about his seduction. In some ways it was perfect for me: the idea that when you play evil, you sort of get caught up in it yourself. And I thought it would be interesting to see Xena starting to go in that direction and actually bringing somebody along with her. How do you drag someone towards darkness and make that darkness appealing to them? So we talked about the seven deadly sins, but then I started thinking about the framework: what if you take somebody through all seven sins, and as they get caught up, it becomes more and more powerful? So they’re succumbing more and more with each sin they encounter, because sin and naughty behavior are very appealing, especially for an angel. It’s very easy to live in that rarified world up there in heaven, but when you’re down there among the humans and you see what it’s really like, your perspective completely changes, and it definitely calls your strength into question… [But] I think everybody was very uneasy with what the tone should be and how dark Xena should behave. Was the audience going to be confused, would they understand what was going on when Xena started giving in to the dark side? Are we saying she really is giving in to the dark side, or is this an act she’s putting on to be convincing? If it’s an act, are we going to clue the audience in or are we only going to reveal it’s an act at the end? The moral ambiguity of where Xena was in all of this caused a lot of people to be very nervous about how we were going to play it, how she was going to come across, and how the audience would perceive it. Would they get it? Would they like it and accept it? So there were a lot of questions during the writing of the script, which made it take longer than it should have. I usually like to take bigger risks; I think it makes for better drama if she really starts to give in to darkness, as long as you can redeem it at the end. But because people were very concerned about it, the tone shifted when it went into production – I don’t think it was comedic, but it was a little campier than I originally thought it would be.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #19 – June 2001)
William Gregory Lee (Actor, Virgil): “We had a lot of fun with [this] one. They had me in several different scenes with my shirt off! I was standing there, and everyone else had all their clothes on. In episodes like that a lot of teasing goes on, and I think the overall mindset on the set is a little bit lighter and a little more laid-back than usual. It’s not as tense as a huge battle scene would be. We all had a lot of fun with [this] particular episode.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #21 – August 2001)
Adrienne Wilkinson (Actor, Eve/Livia): “[This] was such an interesting episode. It was the one episode where I just thought, ‘Ugh. Eve is annoying.’ I mean she drove me batty in [this] episode. And, I have to tell you, it’s one of my favorite moments from the entire series where… Gabrielle come up behind me and grabs a statue and hits me on the head with it. When I saw that, I laughed out loud. I thought that was hilarious because, seriously, at that point, I wanted to hit me. I mean, it was horrible. And again it made sense, because I was the only one not losing my mind, not being swayed to the dark side. I’m the only one who’s really aware at that point and so desperately trying to fix everything and keep it together. But, oh gosh, when she hit me, I really did laugh out loud. I think it was hilarious. And [the episode] was great… Eve got to fight for a second, which was great. And that was also a beautiful fight within the hall that they were in. I thought that was another so well choreographed and just beautifully done [fight]. And it’s always fun to see characters change a little bit. And both Lucy and Renee got to do some really interesting things, which I thought were fantastic in both… [the prior episode] and [this one]. So I loved them.” (“Heart Of Darkness” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
William Gregory Lee (Actor, Virgil): “The filming of the make out scene between Virgil and Gabrielle… it was fantastic. There was nothing bad about that at all. She’s wonderful, actually. She made me feel very comfortable. She’s gorgeous so everyone would automatically think, ‘Wow. How hard could it be?’ But you’ve got somebody that you’re working with on a professional level, that you respect, but also sit there and go, ‘Wow. She’s amazingly gorgeous. What? This is going to be very awkward.’ So strangely enough, my girlfriend/now wife – girlfriend at the time – was on set that day because she wanted to see what it was going to be like… And I was like, ‘It’s not the way you think it is.’ It’s not like they throw the two of us on a bed and go, ‘Okay, go at it.’ Because it’s lighting, it’s technical. Can’t block her light, she can’t block my light, can’t cover her face. So it’s not just this free-for-all. It’s almost blocked like anything else would be, like the coordinating of a fight scene or something along those lines. So, it’s always awkward, but you try to look at it as a professional thing. Make jokes afterward [for] any tension that might have built up or awkwardness to try and just alleviate that… Originally [a kiss] was scripted. But I think that Renee and I talked it out and thought that maybe it would be best if we didn’t… You can imply a lot, but you don’t necessarily have to go there… I think everybody wanted to be on set that day [we shot the dance]. It was sexual. It was beautiful though. I think everyone was just kind of amazed. It was like, ‘Wow! They’re doing what?’” (“Heart Of Darkness” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “I haven’t seen the episode, so I don’t know how it turned out. I would like to think [Xena and Gabrielle] were quite far gone. Everyone was becoming very carnal. [The dance] was all part of it. But oh God, I could hardly stand up in those shoes… They were dreadful. And then, oh man, there was a moment when Gabrielle and Xena had to go back to back. Because Renee was in low heels and I was in very tall ones, they asked me to break my height, which means bend my knees. I thought they were in a fairly tight two-shot, but they were also running a wide camera at the same time. You can see me sort of stalking around her, looking ridiculous with my knees really bent to try to be down at a manageable height to work with Renee. Xena looked like a crane, an ostrich on stilts… when they cut to the wide shot, it just looks so silly. If I had dance rehearsals, I know I could pull it off. But the demands on my time are so great that learning to dance is really a low priority for me, I’m afraid. The fact that I’m not a terrific dancer is as much by choice as by a lack of talent. So I can’t complain.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #14)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I think what Mark Beesley, the director, wanted to capture was that Gabrielle was drawn into the sinfulness of the environment around her. I don’t think she was dark. We didn’t see a cruel side of her at all… Mark wanted to create this sexy environment and Gabrielle is thrown into it with glee… [Shona McCullagh] did all the choreography for [this] episode.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #14)
Here is an on-set report of the production of “Heart Of Darkness” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #13.
116. Season 6, Episode 4: “Who’s Gurkhan?” (Aired: 10/23/30 | Filmed: 05/22 – 05/30/00)
When Gabrielle learns that her niece has been captured by the vicious raider Gurkhan, she sets sail for North Africa on a rescue mission with Xena, Eve, and Virgil.
Story by Robert Tapert | Teleplay by R.J. Stewart | Directed by Michael Hurst | Production No. V1404
I featured this episode as #60 on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “I really liked the process of working on [this episode], because initially my character was going through something she had already been through—she wanted to kill someone and she couldn’t. It was one of those moments where I went to Rob and said, ‘I think we’ve already done this. Maybe she actually does try to kill him.’ I asked if we could explore how Gabrielle could become a little more like Xena, since she had been traveling with her for so long.” (Dreamwatch Magazine – August 2004)
Rob Tapert (Executive Producer/Writer/Director): “Because I couldn’t direct [this episode], Michael [Hurst] was the best choice. Once I saw the episode, he was actually even a better choice… [This] was a story I came to R.J. [Stewart] with and I think we wrote the story together and he wrote the script. And once again, Michael elevated, I thought, all through… the characters’ motivations and kept them and raised them a level. So it didn’t feel quite so slimy. It was an episode that could have come off where each person’s kind of outdoing themselves in how low can [they] go to accomplish killing somebody… We had to be careful in the editing of the scene of Xena being hung upside down, because I know Lucy actually was hung upside down for a portion of it and hurt her back… and she had that horrible eye patch [that] she mailed off to Cameron McLean, who had been the camera operator for many years, who was easily grossed out and he was off being camera operator on Lord of the Rings. And he just received this little box and opened it and here was this eye prosthetic with hair and all that.” (“Who’s Gurkhan?” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Lucy Lawless (Actor, Xena): “Sometimes you have bad days. I have a bit of a bad back and I’d hurt myself. But you have to soldier on at work. They put the prosthetic eye on me and it was glued very tightly to my eye socket. I was hurting and freezing and so miserable that I started to cry into the eye patch. But the tears had nowhere to escape! They welled up inside and mixed with the glue and started stinging. It made me even more miserable… I go to the acupuncturist and he says, ‘What happened this time?’ And I say, ‘They hung me upside down by my ankles and whipped me…’ Or I’ll go to the chiropractor and I’m covered in makeup bruises and dripping blood. I turn up there and I say, ‘I was fighting a demon and one of his horns flew up and hit me.’ Or, ‘I was crucified and I slipped off my cross.'” (The Chakram Newsletter: #12)
Michael Hurst (Director/Actor): “[This] is a weird one. To me, the story doesn’t actually add up to the sum of its parts. But nevertheless, it’s very atmospheric. I learned a very big lesson on [this] episode. I did the second unit shoot on it – which I decided is a really good way to go – and I got carried away shooting it. We really went to town with the scene in which Xena decides to let herself get beaten to a pulp for the love of Gabrielle. But then when I saw the dailies afterwards, I went, ‘Oh my God, this is so violent! Did I do this?’ What you see in the final episode is about a tenth of how far we actually went – it was really extreme! So on that episode I learned a great lesson concerning the power of television.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #23 – October 2001)
Robert Field (Editor): “I had done an initial cut of the [torture] sequence where I kept a lot of the brutality in the scene and when Rob Tapert saw it he felt that it was perhaps far too brutal. (This coming from a man who had Xena hit by a tree in ‘Destiny’! But that’s beside the point.) The feeling was that the brutal beatings that Xena was taking were too harsh and too severe for what we wanted to show in the episode. So the note came back to me to find a way to temper it. And the way we did that was rather than letting the sequence play out as a straight hard beating brutal torture sequence, we started overlapping images, we started dissolving one image into the next, we brought in moons that would come into the shot. We let these images play through each other. And what we were able to do by that was accomplish two things. First of all, it made the [blows] themselves less intense because we weren’t seeing them directly and yet in an obverse psychological way, they also became more intense…” (“Who’s Gurkhan?” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Michael Hurst (Director/Actor): “It seemed to be really important in the script that while Xena was having all that happen to her, she needed something to hold on to: the light of Gabrielle. And I find that a very strong emotional thread. And I believe… in the original script, [Xena] was hanging on to something that was said earlier… and some image of them galloping along on horses… And it all just got a little too difficult, and time [restraints] and everything.” (“Who’s Gurkhan?” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Renee O’Connor (Actor, Gabrielle): “The underlying story is so beautiful to me. It’s revenge! There’s so much I can play with. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Michael [Hurst] and I were talking about the similarities to Hamlet… I pointed out to him when Gabrielle goes to kill Gurkhan, it reminded me of the scene when Hamlet goes to kill his stepfather, the king. We latched on to that and started talking about other scenes where Gabrielle is in similar emotional states to Hamlet. I’ve been trying to find things in Hamlet to motivate me. I’ll read bits of the play before a take. It’s been a huge source of information and emotional energy… Everyone would understand if Gabrielle was unable to kill him, but making a decision to not to kill him was a much stronger statement and a sign of her growth. She’s been in so many wars now, that to say she couldn’t kill someone wouldn’t be true. How could she not have the courage and dignity as a hero to stand up for her family? I’ve always tried to protect her truth in her journey as much as I can. The key to Gabrielle’s character is that she won’t kill in cold blood. To me, it’s the perfect debate of how Gabrielle has been affected by her environment of being with Xena to become the woman she is. Because she would not be in a situation like that if she were still living in Potedaia.” (The Chakram Newsletter: #12)
William Gregory Lee (Actor, Virgil): “Michael Hurst directed it, and they wanted a little bit of Joxer to come out in Virgil. Michael is not only an amazing actor, but an amazing director as well. He wanted to incorporate a little bit of Joxer’s personality into Virgil. It was more playful than the serious sword-fighting stuff or when I’m crying over my father’s deathbed. Some of the things that we did on set got quite goofy, and although I know that the episode was dark towards the latter half, the first part, when I play Superlius the pirate, was great fun. To be able to play something that’s a bit lighter and has more comedy to it is just such fun.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #21 – August 2001)
Adrienne Wilkinson (Actor, Eve/Livia): “I loved working with Michael Hurst, both as an actor, but absolutely as a director… [This] episode has both my favorite scene I’ve ever done with Lucy [and] my favorite scene I’ve ever done with Renee. [And] there was a scene cut out with Greg [William Gregory Lee] that I thought was great for both of us. It just was so emotionally honest. I loved [this] episode. It didn’t seem to push anything too far. It was great fun. I mean, being on that ship in this beautiful ocean. What an adventure; it was incredible. But equally, Michael has such a great sense of humor, but he also has such a love of acting that he knows what he wants and he pushes you to do even better. And he wants it to be honest and real and meaningful. And I really think it comes across.” (“Who’s Gurkhan?” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Six DVD Set)
Here are scans from a series of articles that were printed in issues #13, 14, 15, 16, 19, and 26 of The Chakram Newsletter on the making of “Who’s Gurkhan?”
*Click here to see a behind-the-scenes account on the making of “Who’s Gurkhan?” that was produced by the Official XENA Fan Club.
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!