Whoosh! Issue 52 - January 2001


An Interview with Robert Tapert
Page 2


DESTINY and THE QUEST



Retract that tongue or lose it, bucko!

Xena and Caesar got together in DESTINY, and will be seen together again in the upcoming episode WHEN FATES COLLIDE.


RUDNICK:
[32] As regards DESTINY (36/212), an episode that became the opener to a trilogy, how did Lucy's [Lawless'] accident affect what you were trying to accomplish there?

TAPERT:
[33] I only had to change the ending. I had all the footage even, to cut it either way, that's the beauty of editing. Originally, in DESTINY, Xena came back at the very end. Gabrielle brings her back. Then when Lucy got hurt, we met and said "Let's do All Of Me (Carl Reiner, 1984) and put Xena in Autolycus' body." Chris [Manheim], R.J., and Steve went off and banged that out [THE QUEST (37/213)] and it turned out very well.

RUDNICK:
[34] Even today that trilogy is a favorite among fans.

TAPERT:
[35] The word is luck, sir. There is an element of luck in everything. I'm the first to say that luck is important in anything. It would have been DESTINY (36/212), EXECUTION (41/217), BLIND FAITH (42/218), and A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215). We wouldn't have done FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216) without the accident. I personally liked that episode, but-- (both laugh)


Joxer

RUDNICK:
[36] I did too, Ted had some fine moments there, but some fans didn't care for it. That brings up a tangential topic - Joxer, Eve, or any other "secondary" characters. Their purpose, as I perceive it, is to give your principal actors a bit of breathing room. Lucy [Lawless] and Renee [O'Connor] can't do everything all the time. I saw Joxer as helping to take up part of that burden in addition to being a humorous sidekick. Some fans thought Joxer was getting in between the relationship of the Xena and Gabrielle characters. Of course, that too depends on how you define that "relationship" as open to viewer interpretation.

TAPERT:
[37] Joxer, and we let Ted [Raimi] down to a certain extent with this, was a character that was always relegated to comic relief. Therefore, you never feel the need to grow his character as much as it probably should have.

RUDNICK:
[38] Yet, his character got some very good development just before he was killed off.

TAPERT:
[39] You get that. When you decide the character will go, you think about what you can do to get people to care about him more.

RUDNICK:
[40] Mission accomplished there!

TAPERT:
[41] You know, we're always confronted with a silly problem. Our regular viewers mostly see six or seven episodes a year. That's someone who says, "I watch Xena." That's really what they see. There might be 50,000 or 100,000 people who are hard-core fans. But the regular viewer only sees six or seven episodes and they love Joxer!

Alone with his thought...

Seen here in A COMEDY OF EROS, Joxer will return again in the Sixth Season episode MISSING PIECES.


RUDNICK:
[42] Over the seasons, Ted has had some really great moments. I remember quite vividly in A COMEDY OF EROS [46/222], in the final scene at the campfire, Gabrielle is laughing off the notion of Joxer being in love with her and he turns away and delivers this very soulful "Ha, ha", line that makes your heart break for him.

TAPERT:
[43] But then what do you do? (laughs) He's got a broken heart but he has a contract for three more years. We didn't want him to marry Gabrielle or explore a serious romance there. We tried to do the best we could with Ted and I was lucky to have a supporting character played as well as he did it.


"Mouth Music"

RUDNICK:
[44] Going back to a quick question on DESTINY, who was responsible for using the piece from the group "Mouth Music" as the background for the sailing montage?

TAPERT:
[45] (smiles) I did. The music came before the episode. I knew I wanted to use that music somewhere. It never really jibed, having a black character with a Gaelic background, but that was one of my favorite pieces of music and I knew I wanted to use it somewhere. You're one of the few people who knows where that piece of music came from.


THE DEBT



Why sleepwalking can be dangerous

Xena stealthily moves down a hall during a sophisticated montage scene in the closing moments of the first part of THE DEBT.


RUDNICK:
[46] Moving on to THE DEBT (52-53/306-307), those episodes were two of the finest in episodic television. Everything came together so well there: the story, the dialogue, the acting, the photography, the editing, everything. Towards the end of Part One, where Xena is creeping through the castle and we get this wonderful montage with all these different images, one can't help but hold one's breath throughout that scene.

TAPERT:
[47] That was the feature I never made. I had hoped Universal would have done a Xena feature or a Herc/Xena picture. I know how to do that. That was our version of a Xena feature. It came from a couple of places. I wanted to see Xena go to China and reveal a bit about her past. And I wanted to explore the Gabrielle character and what lengths would she go to in order to stop Xena being an assassin. I give the production team down here a great deal of credit for that too. It was the first "being away" shoot we did and on a TV budget that was tough to do. All across the board, each department did a great job, the director of photography, editing, costuming, Rob Gillies and his set design. [48] Jacqueline Kim was great. We looked at a bunch of people and didn't like any of them and she didn't want to do television. R.J. and I were shown a piece of film she did and he said, "That's her!" I thought Oley Sassone [director] did a great job too. I told him we were going to do a visual extravaganza with people flying in the air. We did some early tests that failed miserably. But he did a really good job of capturing the relationship between Lao Ma and Xena. He brought that to life. It was one of those times when everything lines up and works.


FINS, FEMMES, AND GEMS



Gabrielle turns down an offer to pose for porn

FINS could have gone very differently for Gabrielle.


RUDNICK:
[49] Your next story credit was for FINS, FEMMES, and GEMS (64/318). Was this a comedy that you wanted to do that incorporated your fishing hobby?

TAPERT:
[50] Yep! (smiles) That was one of the times the studio did come down on us and said, "You can't do that!" I think this time it did end up better for the change. Two or three days before shooting the studio got around to reading the script and originally, Gabrielle was looking at something on the wall: people in various sexual positions. She says, "Can people really do that?" That's when there was going to be the spell put on Gabrielle, where she just kept imagining sex and sexual positions and it was much raunchier, for lack of any other word. The studio told us we couldn't do that. So over a weekend R.J. and Steve changed it to Gabrielle looking in a mirror and becoming obsessed with herself. Renee does a great job of playing the minx.

[51] The other aspect from the studio was they said "You've got to figure out a way to use a diamond in the episode." DeBeers had bought a bunch of advertising and the studio promised them we'd do something with a stone. I asked would it work if Gabrielle got Xena a wedding ring? (both laugh) They said "No! You can't do that!" I don't think DeBeers was ever happy with how a stone got used in that episode. I wanted to do that episode pretty much all outdoors and have Xena go back to her childhood. It all came together. I liked that comedy, personally. Josh Becker came up with that ad-lib song Renee did, "This is a story 'bout Gabrielle". That was total Josh, as was the "Joxer the Mighty" song. He and Ted wrote that and did it without ever asking anybody.


Josh Becker

RUDNICK:
[52] Mention of Josh Becker brings another question to mind. Did you two have a falling out for a period of time?

TAPERT:
[53] We did, at the beginning of this year. I was not supportive as a friend to him. But we buried that hatchet. I like Josh and I admire the work that he's done, even though other people find him abrasive at times. I've had other people do comedies and I never felt they made the episode any better than the script they were given. Josh has been given some scripts that were just awful and did not work in any way, shape, or form 24 hours before shooting time. He's managed to pull something out of them, salvage something, and make them watchable episodes. IF THE SHOE FITS (80/412) could have been a turkey beyond your wildest dreams.

RUDNICK:
[54] That episode actually turned out to be pretty popular with many fans.

TAPERT:
[55] I give Josh the credit for everything that worked about it, except for the lack of close-ups of the little girl.


ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE

RUDNICK:
[56] The next story credit for you is ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (69-70/401-402). That I think was successful because people really like the backstory with Borias. I understand you altered the shooting schedule a little bit in order to get him for the role since he had other commitments.

TAPERT:
[57] That's possible, though I don't remember specifically if we did or not. If anything, we pushed the shooting date back in order to get him. I knew when we did that episode that I didn't want to push the time too far back because we shot on the Southern part of the North Island and the longer we waited the worse the weather would be. As it happened, the crew ran into some terrible weather down there.

RUDNICK:
[58] I understand some people were stranded down there for awhile.

TAPERT:
[59] They had the flood of the century while we were shooting there. It was also a low point in the series for Lucy [Lawless]. There's nothing she hates more than being cold and wet. She tells me the only other people who have any idea what that is like are Navy SEALS. It was rainy, windy, and cold. She had a tough time. She didn't really get mad or anything, but it was a dark time for her. It worked for the episodes.

RUDNICK:
[60] Over time, in the evolution of the Xena character, there seems to have been a shift in the character. Until about Season Two, there was talk about her "evil past" but relatively speaking she herself wasn't shown to be that evil in flashbacks or in hearing about her history. By the time we get to SIN TRADE, we've seen that she was pretty rotten.


Demographics



The soap flakes you sell can also double as snow

Xena will have to ride north again to help Aphrodite and Ares regain immortality.


TAPERT:
[61] In the Norse episodes that are airing now [THE RHEINGOLD (119/607), THE RING (120/608), and RETURN OF THE VALKYRIE (121/609)], she's really bad. There was an overall shift at the end of season two. Many, many fans hated it, didn't like it, but going into the third season, we made a decision, right or wrong, to go with THE DELIVERER (50/304) and GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305). We knew we were going in a darker, more adult direction. We were talking to the guy who does Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and also the guy who produces Spider-Man and runs marvel toys. They talked about kid audiences and how as kids get older they tend not to watch the same shows anymore. For a kid growing up, as your younger brother starts to watch a show it becomes very unhip. So, we decided to be very schizophrenic and make some shows for kids but also to go in a more overall adult direction so we could tell some more interesting stories. In looking back at it, that's what happened. We whipsawed back and forth doing some episodes for kids and some for adults.

RUDNICK:
[62] What has research told you about your audience? Is it mostly kids, mostly teens, mostly adults?

TAPERT:
[63] It's a third, a third, and a third. Who we've lost over the years is mostly children. But we've been able to keep an adult audience. Looking back on Seasons 1 and 2, with exceptions like CALLISTO (22/122), they seemed a little staid and the stories were not that compelling to me. Over time the show skewed. I liked DESTINY (36/212), I liked THE QUEST (37/213), and I liked A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214). Those were all adult episodes. When we decided to do shows like THE DEBT (53-54/306-307) the concepts got harder, more difficult.

[64] I was reading Whoosh! the other day, the 50th issue. It was interesting to see that many of the fans who wrote about why they stopped watching the show didn't stop because of some outrage with the series, but because what was new and fresh about it no longer worked for them so they moved on in their life, to some new series. They went off to college or had kids, or whatever. It was really interesting to read that because it said the same thing that research told us. The people who tuned out did so because the show no longer held them. It wasn't about the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, that's not why people turned off the show. We've seen this in research over and over again: people don't like subtext, they don't like goofy flips, and they don't like the warcry, so eventually they got driven out of the show. Finally, at the end of the fourth season I said, "I capitulate".


Season Five

RUDNICK:
[65] Your mention of the end of the fourth season leads into the fifth season. I have to say there's not a single episode of Xena where I can't find at least a little something to like about it. There's always a good or amusing moment here and there. There are always episodes I like better than others. Having said that, and with all due respect: Season Five -- what were you people thinking?

TAPERT:
[66] You know what? Nobody was thinking. Nobody loved the show. And it takes everybody loving the show to make it happen, every single aspect. I lost an entire crew to Lord Of The Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001). My wife was totally distraught, in that people that she thought were her friends were leaving her in the middle of all this. That had a big impact. Steve [Sears] left and R.J. [Stewart] went over to Cleo [Cleopatra 2525 (TV, 2000-2001)].

[67] When people leave, their heart isn't in those last couple of scripts and I got some awful scripts. I'm not afraid to say this because Steve took his name off THEM BONES THEM BONES (95/505). Alex [Kurtzman] and Bob [Orci] gave it a little heart in the third and fourth act but it still didn't make much sense.

[68] The two China episodes [PURITY (96/506) and BACK IN THE BOTTLE (97/507)] were an absolute disaster. I kept on that chalkboard behind you, until I recently erased it, the whole reason for Xena's conflict in China. That was about how, as a pregnant mother, could she take 100,000 lives in order to save the lives of a few, but that whole concept got dropped out of the show. Alex and Bob added in Ming T'ien to give it some semblance of order but scriptwise, those were disasters because nobody was running the show. I had Cleo, Jack [Jack Of All Trades (TV, 2000), and a baby at the time.

[69] Alex and Bob watched all of Season Four and said we had shortchanged Xena in Season Four. Season Four was all about Gabrielle and her quest. We wanted to take the show back to Xena and her dramatic thing. They didn't realize that you can only go so far with an actress who's only able to be on set for seven or eight hours a day, and that's without makeup and transport to and from, so that's an eleven hour day as it is. The big dramatic things for Xena got pared back a little bit. It was hard on everybody.

[70] I still think some of SEEDS OF FAITH (99/509) is a great episode. It had one of the strongest scenes we've ever had with side characters, between Eli and Callisto. I liked that a lot. I liked GOD FEARING CHILD (102/512) and I liked AMPHIPOLIS UNDER SIEGE (104/514). I really shot myself in the foot with those two Amazon episodes, KINDRED SPIRITS (107/517) and LIFEBLOOD (106/516).


MOTHERHOOD



New products remove blood stains easily

Some fans were upset by the 'Gabchak' in MOTHERHOOD.


RUDNICK:
[71] I know I'm in the minority here, but I thought MOTHERHOOD (112/522) was a very fine episode. I think you have a gold mine in Rick Jacobson as a director.

TAPERT:
[72] Me too. Although in that episode [MOTHERHOOD] there was a change. And it's my fault for not paying attention, and I have not failed to pay attention since that moment. My beat sheet said the following: "Xena hears a noise and sees a shadow on the wall of someone raising a hand, about to stab Eve. She throws her chakram through the window, it hits the wall. Xena comes running in, Gabrielle is lying on the floor."

[73] Well, they couldn't get that quite right. The set designer said, "The window isn't in the right place." R.J. made a change, he did put it in the script, in the final draft. At the read-through I turned to Rick and said, "You know, Xena has to be outside to throw that chakram." Rick said, "OK, yeah." Well he didn't to that, the set wasn't built that way, they couldn't get it right. It would have saved me so much grief if Xena had not seen Gabrielle when she threw that chakram. I called Rob Field [editor] and said "Don't you think this is too mean, too cruel?" He said, "Not really, no. I can turn the chakram sideways with the effect and make it look like it was not meant to be a killing blow so that it does something else." I knew when I saw the editor's output there had to be a way to make that more palatable.

[74] As far as killing the gods and every other aspect of the episode, I had no problem with it. I thought Rick Jacobson did a great job with it. I give Lucy and Renee and all those people credit for once again being cold and wet. But Rick is a really good director and that was also an episode that was 15 minutes over and I had to cut some scenes.

RUDNICK:
[75] I understand that some of those scenes that were cut found life again in COMING HOME (113/601). There was that scene at the end between Xena and Ares that I thought was very fine.

TAPERT:
[76] Me too. We still got to kill off the Furies. I was happy with MOTHERHOOD. We're shooting the episode right now, THE GOD YOU KNOW, with Xena and Caligula where Xena loses the power to kill gods.

RUDNICK:
[77] I know many people who will be happy about that.

TAPERT:
[78] Archangel Michael is happy about that.


LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN

RUDNICK:
[79] Another story you did was LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407), formerly SHARK ISLAND PRISON.

TAPERT:
[80] I did that with Josh [Becker]. I wanted to look at Xena being tried for her crimes. Of course, we couldn't have her stay in prison. I liked that story, and it was hard physically on Lucy. Rick [Jacobson] directed that and he's hard on the actors. He gets a lot out of them though. I had to ask Lucy about the rats and she thought that was pretty funny, biting one and throwing it up to get the chakram.

RUDNICK:
[81] Kind of a moral revenge for all those rats dropped on her in episodes past.

TAPERT:
[82] That's right. And that episode was also probably the last time we used Gabrielle as a "healer". I don't know why, but the stories just evolved differently after that.




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