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"Flirting With Xena"

The Advocate

20 August 1996

Transcribed by Glaurung

Top of the first page has a big photo of Liz Friedman, arms akimbo. She's white, has shoulder-length ultra curly (brown?
red?-- I've only got a photocopy) hair, and some freckles.

Title: "Flirting With Xena"

Producer Liz Friedman hits Hollywood's big time with the series _Xena: Warrior Princess_

Byline: By Anne Stockwell

"Would I date Xena? Yeah, in a heartbeat, says coproducer Liz Friedman, speaking of the main character in Xena: Warrior Princess, the hit syndicated TV show she helped to create. "Xena's perfect! She's tough, smart, funny, and good with a sword. I'd just worry that I wouldn't be able to keep her around."

Few TV executives would care to discuss their homosexual attraction to the heroes of their own programs. But the peppery 27-year-old Friedman is ready and willing. Openly lesbian herself--"I never had a man phase," she says flatly-- Friedman is unabashedly thrilled to be calling the shots on a hit series that also seems destined to become a lesbian cult classic. "We never wrote Xena to be a lesbian, she admits. "But it's not out show, its the audience's show. If the fans want to read Xena that way, great."

For anyone not yet initiated, Xena is the hugely popular offspring of the hit series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Filmed in New Zealand for Renaissance Pictures, the company run by horrormeisters Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, both programs showcase Raimi's trademark mix of spine-tingling action and deadpan humor.  Xena, played by Lucy Lawless, is a downright-surly female warlord with a short temper and a shorter toga who first appeared on Hercules as a bloodthirsty villain. Now, as star of her own series, Xena roams her mythical land determined to atone for her sins. She defends the powerless, chastens the wicked, and pulverizes armies of bad guys. And at the end of each episode, Xena rides off into the sunset not with a man but with her female sidekick, Gabrielle, played by Renee O'Conner.

The pair's bantering affection immediately pricked up lesbian ears on the Internet, notes Friedman. What's more, adds Judy Dlugacz, founder of Olivia Cruises & Resorts, Xena mania has spread to the high seas. "The first Xena group came aboard for a cruise in June," she reports. "They brought costumes, jackets, everything they needed for a weekend of crazed warrior-princess behavior. I think its the beginning of a new and expanding cult."

For Friedman, all this adulation reflects a sad vacuum on traditional television. "The reaction to Xena shows how few substantive portrayals of women's friendships we see on TV," she observes. "In terms of what's explicitly presented, Xena and Gabrielle are very close friends who, I do believe, love each other, whether or not there's a degree of sexual intimacy."

But despite these disclaimers--and despite hints of a future male love interest for the warrior princess--Friedman and company have welcomed Xena's lesbian fans, even writing sapphic double entendres into scripts. "One episode starts with the camera looking at some bushes," Friedman explains. "We hear Gabrielle asking, 'How was that?' Xena answers,
'Very nice!' Gabrielle says, 'Really? I wasn't sure," and Xena replies, 'No, no, you're doing great.' The we see them, and they're fishing--naked!"

"They're such a perfect little butch-femme couple," Friedman concludes, laughing. "What they do between episodes, I don't know."

[around this point there is a picture of Xena and Gabrielle.Xena has sword in hand, glaring toward unseen attackers, and
is motioning "stay back" to Gabrielle, beside and behind her.]
[Caption reads: "Galloping gal pals: Lawless, O'Conner"]

Actually, it seems doubtful there's anything about the warrior princess that Friedman doesn't know. Just five years
after she migrated west from Boston and nabbed her first Hollywood job as Raimi's assistant, Friedman oversees every
phase of Xena's production. She hires directors, casts actors, cooks up stories, and supervises editing. She's
young for the job, and in rising to the challenge, Friedman has won vocal admirers among her colleagues.

"Liz Friedman is _gay_?" cries Xena star Lawless. The glamourous six-foot tall New Zealander, so unshockable as Xena, lapses into stunned silence. Finally--after a nerve-racking pause, --Lawless hoots with laughter. "If I'd only known! She's the first woman I've worshipped! I'd crawl 40 miles through broken glass just to wank off in her shadow!"

Turning serious, Lawless offers definite ideas about why Xena turns women on. "Xena doesn't apologize," she says.
"She doesn't accept that being a woman is a disadvantage in this world. Neither do I-- and neither does Liz. She doesn't
knuckle under to any bullshit. She's a star on the rise."

Friedman's ascent began at Wesleyan University, where she wrote a controversial sociology thesis on gender roles
in the horror genre known as slasher films. "I had read an article that stated, 'Feminists can say these movies are
about mutilating women, but they have some of the strongest female characters around,'" says Friedman. "I started
watching horror films, and it was like, that's absolutely right!" Her thesis won an award and clinched Friedman's interest in a film career.

After moving to Los Angeles at 21, Friedman found herself working for Raimi and Tapert just as their company
was branching out into TV. Under Tapert's watchful eye, she learned the trade as an assistant and then associate
producer on Hercules. When Xena became a reality, however, Tapert was tied up in other projects. Friedman had to make
the leap and take control. "They said, 'Here. Do this. Try not to fuck it up,'" Friedman recalls. "I took to it, and here I am."

Friedman emphasizes the fact that she's never hidden her sexuality on the job "Rob tells this story about when I first started working here," she says. I was wearing my leather jacket, and I turned around, and there was my big Queer Nation sticker on the back that said, QUEERS BASH BACK. Rob was like, 'OK, that answers that question.'"

Coming out to her family wasn't quite as easy. "My parents are both psychiatrists, and they both remarried other psychiatrists," says Friedman. "So I guess I thought I wasn't going to have all those coming-out problems. But my father didn't deal with it so well at first, and my mother was pretty shaken up. Later they both came around."

Nowadays Friedman has few problems to report. In her personal life she's happily settled into a three year relationship with partner Yvette Abatte. "She's the greatest," crows Friedman. On the work front Friedman promises that Xena's lesbian fans can look forward to lots of gal-pal action in stories to come. "We've already shot one episode," she offers,
"where Gabrielle almost dies and Xena gives her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Lucy did an unbelievably great job with
the scene."

Asked about her plans for life after Xena, Friedman guardedly admits she'd like to bring stories to the big screen. "TV has been the world's greatest education," she stresses. "But I still hear that siren song of the big feature movie, and I'd like to try it eventually."

"Still, it's tricky," adds Friedman. "I have such odd, diverse tastes. I loved Go Fish. Then on the other hand, I loved Robocop." Friedman grins, hit by a sudden insight. "in this weird way, Xena's the perfect mix of the two."
 


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