feature xena: warrior princess   from TV Zone #Special 40
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The many adventures of Xena (Full-page version in issue)

She was forged in the heat of battle, you know. We take a look at the rise and rise of Xena

parallel Hercules history here

When the producers of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys decided to introduce a new tough female adversary to challenge their hero in a three-episode arc to end the first season, they had no idea they were creating a character that would turn out to be a pop culture icon for the Nineties.

Xena the Warrior Princess eventually battled her way through six seasons of her own acclaimed adventure series, revitalizing the moribund action heroine genre, and empowering a new generation of television viewers. It seems to have given us a show that captured the imagination of a Nineties audience,” reflects star Lucy Lawless, “and lucky old me, I was there at the right time!”

The story of Xena began in 1995, when Hercules producer Rob Tapert came up with the idea of doing a story that would feature a female warrior character not dissimilar to Hong Kong actress Brigitte Lin’s character in the 1993 action film, The Bride With White Hair. The story would allow Tapert to introduce one of his interests, Hong Kong action cinema, to American television; something that really hadn’t been done before.

Brought to Life

At the same time, the show’s head writer John Schulian had been kicking around a story about a beautiful woman who comes between Herc and his friend Iolaus. When the two ideas were combined into a possible three-episode storyline, Xena was finally brought to life.

The trick was finding an actress with the presence and physicality to stand toe to toe with Hercules star Kevin Sorbo. The role was reportedly offered to Vanessa Angel (Weird Science), who was sent off for a month’s physical training, but the actress was stricken with the flu only several days before she was scheduled to leave for New Zealand. A number of other candidates were approached, but no one wanted to leave America over the holidays just before pilot season. As producer Liz Friedman recalls, “We were at the point where we had magazines in front of us, and Rob was holding up a Banana Republic ad, saying, ‘What about her?’”

Enter Lucy

In desperation, the producer turned their attention to Lucy Lawless, who had already made a great impression during her previous appearances on Hercules. “Lucy just sparkled whenever she was in any of those shows, in any of the characters she played,” recalls Doug Lefler, who directed Lawless in the Xena pilot, Sins of the Past. “She actually auditioned for one of the parts in Hercules and the Circle of Fire, but it was a minor part, and I felt by not casting her, she would be cast again in another part that was more substantial.”

“Rob didn’t know who he wanted as Xena,” continues director Josh Becker, “so he started talking to all the action babes in town, like Sandahl Bergman. Lucy had been Lysia the second lead Amazon [in Hercules and the Amazon Women] when I was second unit director, and the minute I laid eyes on her, I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s the greatest chick I’ve ever seen in my life!’ Anyway, when Rob was saying, ‘Goddamn it, I can’t find anyone for Xena!’ I said he should read Lucy Lawless. I probably brought it up three or four times, and he ultimately did read her.”

Unfortunately, the powers-that-be at Universal Television weren’t too happy about using A) a New Zealand actress, who B) had recently appeared as another character. “We all liked Lucy,” claims Friedman, “but there was a big concern that she had just been in that centaur episode [As Darkness Falls], and that’s actually part of the reason why Xena’s hair is black.

"We were worried about using her again so fast, but when we had no other choice, we tried to find her. She was camping with her husband in the Outback, so we couldn’t even get to her directly by phone, so we had to leave word at her parent’s house, so that’s how we got Lucy, so God bless Vanessa Angel and her flu.”

“I was on an incommunicado camping trip around New Zealand,” Lawless recalls, “and a casting director managed to track down my then-in laws, who knew to try a cousin. Two days later, I was on a plane, dying my hair and in the part.”

As the saying goes, the rest is history. When footage from The Warrior Princess began coming back from Auckland, the producers knew they had something special on their hands. “The studio was flipping over the dailies,” says Friedman. “We initially thought we were going to kill this character off at the end of the third episode, but about the time that Schulian finished his first script, we all said to each other, ‘We don’t want her do die, do we?’ so that was that...”

continued in TV Zone Special #40

Joe Nazzaro

Also in this six-page feature...

Producer Liz Friedman on the importance of the two stars: “People saw Lucy kicking butt and said, ‘Oh my God, this is cool!’... But I think they stayed because there was Xena and Gabrielle.”

Renee O'Connor on clicking with Lucy: “She really took me under her wing and made me feel comfortable... ”

Lucy Lawless on getting involved with executive producer Rob Tapert : “We had to redefine the parameters of our relationship, is what happened...”

Producer Liz Friedman on the Xena phenomenon: “We’d made the show that we wanted to make, so when Xena was a success, it was the coolest thing ever.”

Xena images © Renaissance TV / Studios USA

Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction

Previous Xena covers on TV Zone

TV Zone #109

TV Zone #120

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