*Many thanks to Ross Mallett for the transcript below*
The Age Newspaper
Age Green Guide 4 June 1998:
[Full colour full page of Xena with two swords and bad attitude.]
Myth World She conquers giants, cyclops and centaurs in a single bound. Story
"We're not creating Shakespeare and we don't pretend to be, we're about
providing people with escapism and entertainment"
Rob Tapert, joint executive producer of Xena, Warrior Princess and husband of Lucy
[Three colour photographs, of Xena with Chakram, of Xena and Gabrielle and of a Xena
With its mix of high camp, dodgy mythology and girl power, Xena has been giving
audiences just what they want, writes Rebecca Lancashire
Let's face it, the bionic woman may have had a supersonic ear but she was only really
good for a spot of long range eavesdropping; Wonder Woman's best weapon was her
super-hold hairspray; and Diana Rigg's avenging Mrs Peel may have worn sprayed on
leather clothes but she always kept herself nice.
Xena is the post-feminist warrioress for the '90s. Like an Amazon Spice Girl, she
tall men, cyclops and centaurs in a single bound. She roams "a distant frontier of known
civilisation" where Greek Mythology meets martial arts action, to fight the forces of evil.
Her athletic thighs can crush men to death, if her chakram, a deadly spiked frisbee
doesn't get them first.
Xena's stomping ground is actually suburban Auckland's beaches where American owned
Renaissance Pictures has been building polystyrene castles and cranking up smoke
machines since 1993 for Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules, The Legendary Journeys.
(Xena was created from Hercules, like Eve from Adam.)
New Zealand's bush and volcanic terrain add an exotic backdrop to the series, says
executive producer Robert Tapert. And audiences love the improbable stunts, bronzed
bodies and dodgy mythology. There are internet sites, Xena-viewing parties, action dolls,
a CD of the soundtrack and a college course entitled "Xena 101". She even gets a
mention in the last episode of Seinfeld.
Our new heroine has Baywatch curves but has traded the red swimsuit for a Mad Max
style leather corset with a metal wonderbra, lots of cleavage and knee high boots. Like
Alien's Ripley, she's not about to smile and simper for anyone - but her tongue is firmly
planted in her cheek.
Lucy Lawless, the New Zealand actor who plays the warrior princess describes her as a
"kick arse woman in a short skirt who men like to watch but wouldn't want to marry." She
also has a huge following among young girls. As a 10 year old fan Lizzie says "she's really
tough and she's a girl and she's better than Hercules because she just kills people." Xena
may be steely and athletic but she has a conscience - in combat she employs a two
fingered "Xena touch" to the neck giving her enemies 60 seconds to cooperate - or die.
The creators of the Xena universe have to be mindful of their young audience. The
is full of corny jokes and double entendres - Tapert believes its huge success is mainly
due to the irony - but it is family viewing. That means that Xena never has a one night
stand or portrays violence that could be tried at home, he says.
Xena is also a lesbian icon - more than 100 Xena look-alikes paraded down Sydney's
Oxford Street for this year's Mardi Gras and Lawless says that she was thrilled to be
invited as guest of honour. Xena-ites have speculated long and hard on the internet
about the relationship between the warrior princess and her best friend and travelling
companion, Gabrielle. Devotees point to the disco lesbian vampire episode Girls Just Want
To Have Fun or the incident when Xena smooched Gabrielle on the lips.
While Tapert appears bemused by the apparent subtext, pointing out that early in the
series Xena had several heterosexual liaisons, Lawless revels in the mystery. "We employ
the nuclear weapons policy on that one - we nether confirm nor deny. But wouldn't it be
great if Xena came out of the closet in the final episode?"
In the new series screening here at the end of the month, Lawless says
"Wouldn't it be great if Xena came out of the closet in the final episode?"
there will be less fuel for speculation as Xena and Gabrielle will be fighting
without rather than the demons within".
This should provide endless material for the Internet's International Association of
Studies site. Dial it up, click on the living flame and read "Whoosh!" the association's
journal full of earnest pseudo-intellectual essays on the themes, meanings and
metaphors of the series. There's 900 words on duality and completeness as expressed in
Xena's theme music. There's even an essay on the colours used in the Xena title credits -
purple, gold and white, purple being the colour of the women's suffrage movement.
Internet fans write love poems, debate over the plots and swap gossip. Hot on the wires
has been the real life marriage between Lawless and Tapert in LA.
Tapert used to surf the sites out of curiousity but doesn't anymore. Maybe the Xena-
ites detailed analyses of plots and suggestions for superior denouements got on his
nerves. Of the fans who write poetry and essays, he simply remarks "they're out there."
Tapert, with co-executive producer Sam Raimi, has a background in special-effects
action movies. They worked on the cult horror The Evil Dead, action adventures Timecop
and The Quick and the Dead and also the American Gothic series. Lawless stood out
when she gained a bit part as an evil army leader on the Tapert/Raimi creation, Hercules.
With the help of jet black hair dye, lashings of bronzing powder and a conversion to the
forces of good, Xena was born.
Tapert says he has always admired cult Hong Kong action movies starring martial arts
"warrior-esses" and had a feeling the market was ready for a female action hero in the
same mould. As one Internet Xena-ite says "it's hard to believe someone didn't figure out
sooner that all women really wanted was a grrl that could hold her own." Hollywood is
now producing more films based on the premise that women want heroines who can kick
butt, Tapert says, but they don't always succeed. The Sharon Stone western The Quick
and the Dead flopped at the box office, as did Geena Davis' assassin in The Long Kiss
Goodbye. But Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have attracted solid US audiences.
Maybe tough girls are only palatable when they inhabit improbable worlds.
Despite the success of Xena, the critics have not been kind, sneering at the stilted
acting, corny lines and flimsy props. "We're not creating Shakespeare and we don't
pretend to be, we're about providing people with escapism and entertainment" Tapert
New Zealand TV critic, the Listener's Diana Wichtel, approves. "It's a good
rollicking series, quite witty in its way and it's nice to see a female hero". Wichtel calls
Lawless, whose acting career was decidedly limited pre-Xena "a B-grade D-cup Barbarella
for our times."
It's all very '90s post-feminist: "She is unapologetically physical, she is
allowed to be
what she is." But Wichtel couldn't resist a little dig, describing the series as a chance to
"travel to a time when jerky special effects plagued mankind and the sound of American
producers laughing all the way to the bank rang through the land".
Many New Zealand actors have appeared in Hercules or Xena in one guise or another and
the series have provided big incomes for locals and experience in big budget special
effects film making. But the arrival of a US company to use New Zealand as a cheap set
generated some hostility from locals, particularly Aucklanders who objected to security
guards and film crews on public beaches.
Perhaps what was really bugging the Kiwis was the Xena prologue, which promises to
take viewers "to a land far far away that time forgot", "a distant frontier of known
Xena, Warrior Princess screens on Channel 10, Saturdays at 7:30pm
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