An Interview with Robert Tapert
FALLEN ANGEL and the Christian Arc
 FALLEN ANGEL (91/501) was the opening to Season Five, and in Season Four we had the lengthy arc of the "Twilight of the gods" leading up to the eventual destruction of most of the gods. What was it that motivated you to bring a "Christian" theme to the show and get rid of the Greek gods almost in entirety?
 People will soon see we really didn't give in to Christianity as such. We ultimately play the Archangel Michael as a really bad guy. That's something that both R.J. and I like playing about with Xena. All religions, even the Greek mythology of old, have a certain element that is personal and good, but they all get corrupted. It seemed like with FALLEN ANGEL it was more based on people's interpretations of an afterlife. I don't think choirs of angels coming to greet you is anything but cinematic.  The thing I liked best about FALLEN ANGEL was Xena being willing to give up her humanity to redeem Callisto. We struggled a great deal to get into a situation, an environment that allowed us to have that action take place, that Xena was willing to trade places with Callisto, so to speak. Therefore, I guess it did embrace aspects of Christianity, but I am certainly not banging the drum for Christianity.
 It spills over into what we did with Eve. What we wanted to do with Eve, and it may not have succeeded, was to have somebody whose opinion Xena has to listen to but doesn't have to respect. We thought it would be good ammunition that Xena knows so much about gods and has the power to kill them, but, for lack of better words, her daughter becomes a kind of "Jesus Freak" who rubs Xena the wrong way. We thought that was good conflict between mother and daughter. It probably won't play out quite right, but that was the original reason we went down that path. I don't feel we embraced Christianity any more than we embraced Hinduism, Confucism, or anything else.
 Is it that Xena is a victim of timeline and circumstance more than anything else? Living through that period where belief in the gods declined and belief in Christianity was on the rise?
 That's right. She was there at the crossroads of those aspects of different stories. I find it interesting when people think we have gone out of our way to promote Christianity and I see it differently. There's nothing wrong with "Love your neighbor". But I thought by the end of the HEART OF DARKNESS (115/603) story as far as the Archangels go, we showed that something was rotten.
Xena's old homestead is less spooky in broad daylight.
 We see that they are being manipulative and "godlike", if you pardon the pun, in how they're trying to get things to go--"
 --their way.
 The comment fans have made is that in the past, Xena has been such a strong individual, why would she just do what these other characters want her to do?
 By default, Xena has done some of their bidding, such as killing off the Greek gods. But they came after her daughter and brought about their own demise. My feeling is had Zeus not pursued his war against Xena and Xena's child, he'd still be alive. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy and he scratched away at it until it killed him. Mythology is filled with that, and the Old Testament is filled with that. I don't know how we could have gotten around it. For awhile, Xena and the Archangels had a common goal. Halfway through this season, Xena will defy them and return Ares and Aphrodite back to their godhood, realizing that the god you know is better than the god you don't, so to speak. Xena knows that Michael is a bad guy. We haven't had time to dwell on it but next time he shows up, she tries to kill him herself.
 That makes it pretty clear! (both laugh)
 We were aware as we were doing this of the end result, but we never intended consciously for Xena to become some messenger for other "gods".
LIFEBLOOD and Amazon High
 When we got to LIFEBLOOD (106/516), it was good to see that footage from the unaired pilot Amazon High (Michael Hurst, 1999). Not to detract from Selma Blair but it really did show off the talents of Claudia Black and Danielle Cormack.
 It sure did. Neither Claudia nor Danielle were available if that show had gone to series, and Selma Blair wasn't either because she was on another show [Zoe, Duncan, Jack, And Jane (TV, 1999)]. I sold Amazon High instead of Cleo. It was Jack and Amazon High. It was at the end of NATPE (National Association of Programming Executives). I was at some other booths and I saw Lost World (TV, 1999- ) and Beastmaster (TV, 1999- ). There was another monster show also. I said, "I don't think I can differentiate Amazon High from these other shows."
 They were two years behind on Amazon High anyway. It should have come out a year after Xena. That was the right time. Claudia Black had been on Hercules and Danielle Cormack had been on Xena. I thought I could put together a strong core group of really good actresses from down here. But I didn't have Danielle Cormack or Claudia Black available by the time things were ready and I didn't feel I could differentiate enough from these other shows coming out. I said "Let me just try something different."
 As we've come out of Season Five and into Season Six the fan reaction seems to be quite positive. People are really liking it. I've heard a lot of positive comment regarding WHO'S GURKHAN (116/604), LEGACY (117/605), and THE ABYSS (118/606). People have commented that the show is returning to areas that fans like to see.
 I'm happy with all of them. I liked HAUNTING OF AMPHIPOLIS (114/602) and HEART OF DARKNESS (115/603) although they wouldn't necessarily be fan favorites. Those are the crew's favorites.
The crew set up for a shot for THE GOD YOU KNOW.
 I understand you had some difficulty when you wanted to have Melissa Good write some episodes. Did you have trouble with people convincing them to do that?
 (smiles) Only amongst my writing staff. It's not conventional to go into fandom and pluck out a writer. It invites problems. It's also challenging to the staff. I give R.J. a great deal of credit. Missy did a pretty darn good job on LEGACY (117/605). The whole system worked exactly as it should have. He [R.J.] spent maybe a day or two polishing up some stuff, working out a bit of logic, this and that. All in all, her script was left pretty much intact. COMING HOME (113/601), due to the story we had assigned her, R.J. had more to do in acts three and four, working out a bunch of mechanisms.
 On COMING HOME, Missy did as good a job as I would expect any junior or new staff writer to do, but that was a struggle because the first two acts were left intact and the last two acts needed more work. There were some holes in the story. We noticed Xena didn't talk to her daughter after she was "arrested" by the Amazons, things like that. Then we putzed around with it some more down here.
 But I'll tell you why I like working with Missy Good: she loves Xena and Gabrielle. That's invaluable to me. If I had my druthers I'd have Missy write two more scripts, but I'll take what I can get and have her write one more.
 See, I have a big decision to make. I have this giant Sappho episode that I've wanted to do since the middle of the second season. At that time, R.J. and Liz [Friedman] talked me out of it. R.J. said, "You're only going to get into trouble." Liz thought that I was going to show predatory lesbians and that was unflattering. But I've worked out bits and pieces with Missy and I have a tremendous love of musicals. I wanted to make this into a big, nutty, musical extravaganza. But they're so expensive. They're a half a million dollars over pattern. If I do that, it really hinders me. It's like FALLEN ANGEL (91/501). If I do one like that, I have to do a KINDRED SPIRITS (107/517) and a LIFEBLOOD (106/516). Musicals are time consuming. They require a lot of extra rehearsal. They need rest so Lucy's voice is good and she's not screaming. Now I have to decide if I want to spend the money. But everybody will get what they want.
 Having said that, I am obligated to ask you another question about subtext. We know it started out accidentally. People applied that interpretation and it was picked up on, played to, and then dropped. Now it's back with a vengeance. Or is that just audience interpretation again? Is there no more or less attention paid to it than there ever has been?
 As far as the writing is concerned, there's more attention being paid to it than ever before. I think Lucy and Renee did more with it in the past. If you ask R.J. and Chris Manheim, they never really wrote it. It was more in the playing. There was a sly joke here and there. It was never front and center in their mind, I don't think. This season the staff wanted to heal the wounds in their relationship and show the love between the two characters and fandom can interpret that any way they want. This season when you write about the characters it's hard not to have subtext even more in the forefront than we had before. It's a difficult road to walk.
 Research has told us so specifically that our audience doesn't want this and people turned it off because of subtext. The really hard-core fans like it, and there may be 100,000 of them, but that's only a tenth of a rating point. The lesbian fans really like it and I appreciate that, I really do, but they aren't the majority of the audience. I sat behind glass windows during research as people in Phoenix and people in New Jersey said, "We want them to have more guys. We like guys. We want Xena and Gabrielle to have boyfriends." I think it would be wrong, having an opportunity like we have with Xena and Gabrielle, to not find a way to make it publicly acceptable and condone that it's OK to have single sex relationships, it's OK to have interracial relationships. We don't want to be accused, as we have been, of pandering to the "pink vote" but you also don't want to lose your show. Joss Whedon did the right thing. He's got his relationships with his C and D characters. I'll be interested to see if Tara and Willow end up on a happy or a sad note ultimately.
 Have you had a lot of pressure or interference over the years from the studio trying to dictate what your show should be?
 No. Right now, they're more nitpicky about certain things. There have been a bunch of regimes that have come and gone. They've stated their opinions. "We want Ares and Xena together. We want to see more of that." That's come through a couple of times. I got a call from a guy last week, who said, "I wish you'd do some more comedies. The show's a little dark lately."
 How have the losses of some people affected you? Steve Sears is gone, Liz Friedman, Eric Gruendemann, Ngila Dickson, and others.
 I liked all those people. Each made the process enjoyable. I miss Liz. I continue to miss Liz because I like her. I liked working with Steve and Ngila. Eric knew I liked things even before I knew I liked them, but the transitions to Chloe from Eric and Beany from Ngila have been pretty smooth.
What's Coming Down the Pipeline?
 As we see the end of Xena coming down the road, are there any stories left untold that you would like to tell?
 Yes. I will be able to.
 You're running out of time.
 And money. (both laugh)
 The truth is I have a whole other season of stories after this season I'd like to tell. I've been trying to think of how to end the series. I don't know how I'm going to end it yet. I know how I was going to originally, but there are some other things to consider and I don't want to paint myself into a corner. I'm not going to kill them again, that's all I'm going to tell you. (both laugh) As you said earlier, I like where Hercules ended up. I think it's important to leave on an "up" note with Xena. If there was a way I could feel the show had come "full circle" so to speak, that would be nice.
Getting ready for a scene in THE GOD YOU KNOW.
 Care to drop any hints for public consumption about what's to come?
 Well, you know about THE LAST OF THE CENTAURS. You know about the Sappho episode. I have a very interesting one we're working on. Maybe it means the show should wrap up. It's a very weird retelling/re-take on REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202). It goes back to a defining moment with Xena and Julius Caesar where he realizes from the Underworld that he made a key mistake and has a chance to rectify it. It's about how things would be different in his relationship with Xena and how that would affect history [WHEN FATES COLLIDE].
 This is from someone else who is a fan and has seen every episode, but has never been to a chat room, never been online. She came to us through her agent. She's a screenwriter with a couple of movies in production [Katherine Fugate]. I think it will be a very interesting story for Gabrielle and for Xena.
 I love comedies, and I'd like to do the funniest comedy we'd ever do, if I could find that one. The trouble is they're so hard to write. It's always a scramble to get that script working an hour before it shoots. It's been that way since WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109). And I'm keeping my fingers crossed, not about going on past this season, but about keeping Xena and Gabrielle alive, one way or the other.
Soon this will be alive with chariots and townspeople during a big chariot race in THE GOD YOU KNOW.
 What is your take on fandom? Including the Internet, but not necessarily limited to it. What do you think of all these things fans say, research notwithstanding?
 You know what, I'm honored by it. At some very base level I'm egocentric enough to say I'm honored that people would go to the trouble to analyze and converse and debate and be outraged by something that I'm a part of at some level. For that reason I'd have to say, I'm always honored, and therefore it's easy to get hurt if you're not careful. Renee [O'Connor] got hurt early on with the "dump Gabrielle" in the first season. She was so excited when she first got a computer and I remember her setting it up to see what people said about her and her character. She saw all this "kill Gabrielle" stuff and it sealed the door with her forever. Lucy had similar experiences.
 I do go on the Internet from time to time. Sometimes I want to write back to people and say, "Hey, you missed the point!" or something like that. To me, it's a double-edged sword. You like it when people like what you're doing and you don't like it when you feel they're just being outrageously vindictive for some unknown reason. At some level, I feel really bad that I can't give them the show that they want it to be. But it's beyond my ability to do that. I came from an action/horror background and I know how to do those things. I know what makes me feel good and gives me heart and I look for those things. When you do 135 episodes, sometimes you'll make some mistakes. Most fans are forgiving of those mis-steps.
 Having been to conventions, I have to say that 99.99 percent of all the fans I've ever met are really nice, genuine, good people. It's hard not to like something when people like what you've done and it's hard not to be disappointed when they hate what you've done.
 One thing I've noticed especially with Xena fans is that they have a passion for charitable causes.
 Absolutely. Xena fans, for the most part, are some of the most generous people in the world. They're some of the best-hearted people in the world. Xena fandom and the Internet have brought people together in a positive fashion, for the most part. I'm glad. I never get over the fact that Xena fans are so generous. I feel blessed and honored that people have been able to come together over something I've been involved with.
In the great and vainglorious world of Internet Redux there will probably be some people who will take a line or two from this interview in an effort to offer "proof" of some misbegotten agenda or other. In the interest of fairness, it would be nice if the entire article could be given reference, so people can see the interview in context and thus be better informed.
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)
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