Whoosh! Issue 41 - February 1999

Exclusive to Whoosh!
By August Krickel
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
5332 words

The Missed Chat That Spawned an Interview (01-05)
Personal Data (06-09)
The Life of an Actor (10-37)
Acting in New Zealand (38-53)
Xena: Auditioning and Shooting (54-64)
Xena: Stunts (65-72)
Xena: Planning and More Shooting (73-79)
Directors and Rob Tapert (80-84)
Auditions and Salaries (85-87)
Xena/Herc: Working With the Regulars (88-102)
In Bed Bidding and The Vertical Limits (103-109)
The Future (110-116)
Off the Wall (117-125)

An Interview With Campbell Cooley

Campbell Cooley, actor.
Courtesy of The Official Website of Campbell Cooley

The Missed Chat That Spawned an Interview

[1] For a nefarious, warlord-serving, evil-deity- following bad guy, Campbell Cooley is a pretty nice fellow. I know this because of the circuitous route this interview took. Early last summer, a Net-acquaintance of mine saw his name and e-mail address at the director Josh Becker's website. Cooley had played Euryalus, a particularly scabrous Scythian assassin, on whom Gabrielle had drooled, in the classic Xena-schtick episode IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404), which Becker had directed. My friend, ever the cyber-entrepreneur, e-mailed Cooley and asked if he would be willing to participate in a chat with the "Sam Raimi Club" on Yahoo. Cooley agreed, and the time was set for a weekend that I would be out of town. I posted a quick note to the group, apprizing them that I would have to miss the chat, and requesting that they ask lots of good questions. Much to my pleasant surprise, I found the following note awaiting me upon my return:

Hey there from the Xenaverse! Campbell Cooley here, and I read that you won't be able to join us in our chat tomorrow. Feel free to write any questions you have to me in person. If I remember, you wanted to know about Josh. He's really talented and very laid back. The most profound memory I have of him was that he smoked like a chimney and turned 40 on our last day of filming. That's all I know to say for now. If you have any specific questions, just write me.



[2] Needless to say, I was most impressed. I remembered the infamous drool scene from IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404), of course. As it turned out, he had also played Licinus, the strong-arm town enforcer in A TALE OF TWO MUSES (74/406), whom I mainly remembered as a menacing skulker in black, and the First Guard in VANISHING ACT (66/320), who, much to my chagrin, I had little memory of. Additionally, he indicated that he would be appearing in an upcoming Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode called LOVE AMAZON STYLE (H105/602) as a two-bit casino operator who falls in with the wrong crowd - namely Deimos, the god of terror.

The infamous drool scene from IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)

[3] So I responded, and when computer glitches made the chat impossible, I asked Campbell Cooley if he would be willing to subject himself to an interview. Again, he graciously agreed. I quickly discovered that:

  1. He is not a Kiwi but rather an American who recently relocated to New Zealand;
  2. He has a wicked sense of humor: when I asked "Is Campbell Cooley your real name, or a stage name?" he wryly and succinctly replied, "Both";
  3. He is amazingly down to earth: willing both to ask and seek advice on website design, articles, screen grabs, and also able to laugh at lame jokes I made;
  4. He is an amazingly courteous guy, apologizing when he was busy with auditions, updating me on possible new roles, wishing me a Happy Birthday, etc.

[4] In preparation, I asked Josh Becker, via his website, if he had any good Cooley stories to recount. His response was:

"I only worked with Campbell Cooley for a couple of days. He did his job so well and effortlessly that there really aren't any amusing tales to tell. Tell him I say hi."

[5] As we put together this interview, Campbell Cooley's "big break" aired: a featured part as Vargus, the god Deimos's sidekick in HTLJ LOVE AMAZON STYLE (H105/602). The following is the result of many trans- continental e- mails back and forth, and it was only accomplished with the willing and helpful participation of Mr. Cooley.

Mr. Cooley's official website can be found at

Personal Data

Where were you born?

Pensacola Florida, January 13, 1966 U.S. Naval Base.

Really? Military? Where else did you live growing up?

All over the States but never outside the country till I came here (to NZ)

The Life of an Actor

How did you first get into acting?

[11] COOLEY:
My mother got me started at a very early age. I guess it stayed with me.

Where did you study?

[13] COOLEY:
University of Louisville, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre.

Why did you choose the University of Louisville for college?

[15] COOLEY:
Honestly, because it was the least expensive to attend. However, I lucked out because they had a halfway decent theatre program.

Did you have a particular focus? (stage, film, etc.)

[17] COOLEY:
In school, I concentrated in Acting and Directing, but I studied just about everything, costume, make-up, etc. I never saw myself going into film because of my love for the theatre. I was perfectly content to do the 'starving artist' thing, then woke up one day and said, "Hey, why should I starve when there are people out there less talented than me making a living at this?!" I realized that I would have to make the transition into film in order to achieve that.

[18] It's been a slow journey because I got side- tracked for a few years, which set my career back, but I'm slowly getting to where I should be. My focus now is primarily film, and I'm currently trying to make the transition into film directing.

What was your first really good part?

[20] COOLEY:
Probably 'Edmund Tyrone' in Eugene O'Neil's Long Days Journey Into Night. It's a four hour long play and has only four characters (not counting the maid). It was my first serious stretch as an actor. We rehearsed almost everyday for six weeks! I love doing drama but doing that show was an emotionally draining process.

Have you always worked full time as an actor?

[22] COOLEY:

Really? What were some day jobs?

[24] COOLEY:
You name it, I've probably done it. Singing telegram messenger, waiter, pest exterminator, the list goes on. Some were/are related to acting. I've done a lot of improv performing for parties, corporate functions, etc.

Corporate Functions? How does one get into that? Through an agency? Free-lance? Through an established group?

[26] COOLEY:
Initially it was through agencies, but now I do it all by word of mouth.

You weren't a mime, were you?

[28] COOLEY:
Do you really think I would admit to that if I had been?!?
[INTERVIEWER'S NOTE: I'd say that means there's about a 50% probability he was!]

Upon graduation, you said you did various non-acting things, as well as a lot of regional theatre, and improv stuff. So, did you first work in the "real world," then get back into acting? Or did you sort of do both simultaneously? Or did you take a break from the stage, then think better of it?

[30] COOLEY:
I did a lot of acting prior and during University. I did two commercials while in school. After I graduated I broke away from it completely for a few years. During that time I still dabbled with improv and performance-related work. I finally got back into acting on the stage and started seeking work in commercials. Just before I could make my transition into film, I married, which delayed that by about a year and a half. I now do strictly film and commercial work. I love the theatre, but it doesn't pay the bills. (When I'm rich I'll probably get back into it.) I also still do improv work on the side when I can fit it into my schedule.

What were some fave roles when you were doing that?

[32] COOLEY:
Probably a Marxist-sympathizing manservant named 'Bennet' in Tom Stoppard's Travesties. I love Tom Stoppard's plays and any character by him, no matter how small, is a challenge. I also enjoyed playing Mr. Smith in Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano.

[33] I was just getting ready to make the transition into TV when I fell for this girl and followed her here. As it turns out, it's worked out all right, but I do long to work in LA and possibly Vancouver.

What's the most embarrassing thing to happen on stage to you?

[35] COOLEY:
During a performance of Long Days Journey Into Night, the lock to the ONLY door on the set jammed. I had to exit through THAT door in a rather tense scene where I discovered my mother was a morphine addict. Not having time to think of a way around it, I climbed out the window, which sent the audience into hysterics. I was then supposed to return a few minutes later through the SAME door and walk in on another tense situation. To make a long story short, I practically ended up breaking down the door to get back into the room.

Rumor has it you once dressed as a pink gorilla.

[37] COOLEY:
Oh Lord, I knew my past would come back to haunt me! I worked for a singing telegram company about 10 years ago, and one of their routines was a pink gorilla! I kept justifying it by saying that the money was good. All that time I thought my identity was safely hidden behind the mask but now it's on public display for the world. D'OHHHH!

Acting in New Zealand

So let's move on to the present. How big is the New Zealand acting community?

[39] COOLEY:
Well, that's hard to say. It's not so small that there's too much work to go around to all the actors. Quite the opposite. New Zealand's population if about 3.5 million, so there's a fair amount of actors. But it definitely can't be compared to Hollywood.

I see a lot of the Xena and Hercules performers have extensive resumes. Do they drift from stage to screen to commercials?

[41] COOLEY:
Some do. Kevin Smith actually does a lot of Theatre Sports. Karl Urban does a lot of theatre.

Is there a particular city that's central to the acting world in New Zealand (a la New York and Hollywood here?)

[43] COOLEY:
Auckland. Any actor in New Zealand who wants to make a living being in film comes here.

How does New Zealand TV work? Is it government-controlled?

[45] COOLEY:
It used to be. The government had relinquished a lot of that control to overseas investors but still has its feet in the water.

Are there a lot of TV series done locally?

[47] COOLEY:
Yes, but American programming seems to dominate the air ways. (If you ever get the chance, try to find a show called Who Dares Wins (TV, 1996-?). It's mindblowing!)

How many American shows (network and syndicated) are on?

[49] COOLEY:
A LOT!!! All the major shows play here. We have four channels, (there were only three when I arrived in '96!) Channel One is still very English in its content and quality. Channels Two and Three are like watching American television with the odd Aussie program and NZ program thrown in. Channel Four is like watching Fox and MTV while saturated with Infomercials.

How big an impact has Renaissance Pictures had on New Zealand's economy and the acting community?

[51] COOLEY:
A considerable one at that! However, I suspect that it's only the first of many companies that will come. More overseas film companies are coming here as they learn what New Zealand has to offer. Many Hollywood companies are leaving L.A. for Vancouver and Toronto, but I suspect that it may only be a matter of time before New Zealand becomes another prominent choice for the industry.

Who are the really big/popular New Zealand performers?

[53] COOLEY:
There's too many to mention here. Obviously the main cast on Xena and Hercules. But we don't have a whole lot that are known world wide. Joel Tobeck is a really hot commodity. He's going places. The only problem is that many of the actors that really make it big almost always leave for Hollywood (i.e. Sam Neil, Anna Paquin, etc.).

Xena: Auditioning and Shooting

When did you first audition for Xena?

[55] COOLEY:
Sometime between September and October of '97. It was quite frustrating because I signed on with my agent the day before Xena went into hiatus, so I was sitting around for a while.

What was the process?

[57] COOLEY:
Fairly straight forward. My agent sent me a script, I went to the audition, and they filmed me. Because I've auditioned so much for Xena/Hercules, it's not as formal as it used to be. We usually joke during the audition, and sometimes they tell me why I didn't get a certain part or how close I came to getting one, which is usually quite encouraging. It's funny how many people think that they call you to let you know if you weren't cast. This is NOT the case. You only get called if you get the part, which means you may go weeks wondering if you got it, only to know for sure when you haven't received a call several days before they start shooting.

How long do you generally shoot?

[59] COOLEY:
My average filming schedule has been about 5 days per episode (which is pretty good since usually the main unit schedule is usually 6).

Did you work more with 1st unit or 2nd?

[61] COOLEY:
First. I've only had to work with 2nd unit once when we didn't get all we needed one day for IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404).

How does that work, anyway? Anything the layman would not know about the filming process?

[63] COOLEY:
In layman's terms, second unit basically shoots anything that doesn't involve the feature actors. (i.e. a close up on a hand with a sword, the setting of a sun, a shot of villagers running from a monster, stunts, scenes where body doubles can be used, etc.) Second unit can also be used to film scenes with actors if main unit didn't have time to get everything they needed during their shooting schedule. The scene where charged Xena on horseback in IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404) was just such a case.

Xena: Stunts

Did you have any background in action? Stage combat?

[66] COOLEY:
Regretfully, no. I really wish I had the time to learn stage combat. I'd love to join one of those Medieval Societies that stage combat tournaments.

How much do the performers do, and how much are stuntmen?

[68] COOLEY:
Depends. Performers will usually have to do some minor stunt work, usually close up shots that may involve them falling on mats, etc., but wide shots are usually stuntmen. There are exceptions. Tim Lee, who played Acestus in IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404), did most of his own stunts since he's also a professional stunt man. He even did that cool sword battle on horseback with Xena at the end. I'm not as brave. Fortunately, all I had were two small stunts.

So, what was it like getting your b*tt kicked by Xena?

[INTERVIEWER NOTE: I must have asked him a dozen silly questions like this, but he always responded graciously!]

[70] COOLEY:
Well, the humble response would be I was just doing my job. But I do admit, I think it's pretty cool! Every Xena I've done, she's whacked me. Even in VANISHING ACT (66/320), but that scene got cut!

In the script for VANISHING ACT there is an off- camera line: Xena/Ezra's Voice: "Oh, you naughty guard, you!" Is that you?

[72] COOLEY:
No. If you look carefully, you will ALWAYS see me at Tarses' side up until the moment I unmask Autolycus. When Xena says that line, I'm actually standing right behind Tarses.

First Guard hanging with Tarses.

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