Interview - Xena & Cleopatra

Producer RJ Stewart’s the man responsible for the formidable female-led series Cleopatra 2525 and Xena. It’s a tough job, but...

Hel, Cleo and Sarge: the power of three


Ian Spelling met the busy writer-producer

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There’s only so much of RJ Stewart to go around. Stewart learned that lesson the hard way, as he had to relinquish most of his day-to-day writing and producing duties on Xena: Warrior Princess in order to channel his energies into the creation and launch of Cleopatra 2525, half of the back-to-back action pack (the other half being Jack of All Trades) that has filled the void left by the abbreviated sixth season of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

“I’ve really liked being back on Xena,” Stewart notes. “I like Studios USA thinking how hard I work because I want them to appreciate me. But I must say that it was staggered in a way that most of my work on Cleopatra was done, and then I went back to Xena... The real challenge will be when the new season of Xena starts up just about the same time we’re going back to finish Cleopatra. Then I don’t know what I’ll do."

And what did Stewart make of the Xena episodes that aired while he concentrated on Cleopatra 2525? “I was pretty pleased,” he responds. “I have some of those `Gee, I would have done this or that differently’ feelings. The way Xena’s baby was handled and delivered was very good. Some of the comedy stuff I didn’t think worked as well. Perhaps we were burning out on some of the comedy beats anyway...”

New ground

And now it’s onto Cleopatra 2525, which debuted to strong ratings and surprisingly positive reviews in January. The series centres on Hel (Gina Torres, who had guest-starred on Xena and played Nebula on Hercules) and Sarge (Victoria Pratt, Queen of the Amazons on Xena), two futuristic freedom fighters.

Hel and Sarge are joined by Cleopatra (Jennifer Sky, Amarice on Xena), a would-be actress who went into a coma during boob-enhancement surgery in the year 2001 and has just now been stirred from cryosleep.

“Rob Tapert came up with the idea of doing two half-hours, and we then tried to come up with what genre to approach,” Stewart says, relating the genesis of the show. “We chose sci-fi and just started to piece together a world that seemed interesting, that we could have fun with."

Crossing genres

“Rob and I are bringing a mythological bent to the sci-fi... There are some fantasy elements to the sci-fi because we enjoy the fantasy so much. But Cleopatra is a different show, and it’s different in the best way possible from Xena and Hercules. It provides people who like our shows a whole different world to enter. It also gives Rob and I a whole different well to mine.

“Actually, we’re creating a bunch of whole worlds. Underneath the Earth all of these different little civilizations have evolved and they’re isolated from each other. So our characters can go to one level and there will be mutants, and they can go to another level and there’s a deliberately re-created 20th century world. To explore all of that is great fun.

“We’ve got a chart on the wall where we have the different levels mapped out,” continues Stewart. “We’re going to put a list of trivia questions on the official Cleopatra 2525 web site. `What level is this on?’ And if you watch all of the episodes you’ll figure that out..."

Xena: Warrior Princess

Gabrielle cares for the pregnant Xena

Xena (Lucy Lawless),
Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor),
with Joxer (Ted Raimi),
Salmoneus (Robert Trebor),
Callisto (Hudson Leick),
Julius Caesar (Karl Urban),
Alti (Clare Stansfield),
Ares (Kevin Smith)

Season Five
First transmitted from:
27th September 1999

E1 • Fallen Angel
E2 • Chakram
E3 • Succession
E4 • Animal Attraction
E5 • Them Bones, Them Bones
E6 • Purity
E7 • Back in the Bottle
E8 • Little Problems
E9 • Seed of Faith
E10 • Lyre, Lyre Hearts on Fire
E11 • Punch Lines
E12 • Fearing Child
E13 • Eternal Bonds
E14 • Amphipolis Under Siege
E15 • Married with Fishsticks
E16 • Life Blood
E17 • Kindred Spirits
E18 • Antony and Cleopatra
E19 • Looking Death
in the Eye
E20 • Livia
E21 • Eve
E22 • Twilight of the Gods

Episode checklists for Seasons 1-4 in the issue

Cleopatra 2525

Cleopatra (Jennifer Sky),
Hel (Gina Torres),
Sarge (Victoria Pratt)

Season One
First transmitted from:
17th January 2000

A1 • Quest For Firepower
A2 • Creegan
A3 • Flying Lessons
A4 • Mind Games
A5 • Home
A6 • Rescue
A7 • Run Cleo Run
A8 • Choices
A9 • Perception
A10 • Trial and Error

Image © Renaissance / Studios USA
Feature © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction
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"There's a whole world to explore. That's what I'd love to do on Xena, explore the ancient worlds" says RJ Stewart in the full eight-page version of this feature. Get it when you buy Starburst Special #43