pgs. 2-9, 35
An Interview with
Ares' Murky Business of Evil
While the talent of Lucy Lawless and Kevin Sorbo are clear, part of what makes Xena and Hercules enjoyable are the great supporting characters, both regulars Renee O'Connor and Michael Hurst, and guest stars such as Ted Raimi and Alexandra Tydings. And, of course, Kevin Smith
Smith appeared first on Hercules as Iphicles, the hero's jealous brother. But his greatest work would be as Hercules's other brother - Ares, the God of War. Ironically, Smith's first appearance as the character was not in Hercules, but in Xena. It came early - the sixth episode of the first season, in fact. It's quite interesting now to go back and watch that episode, "The Reckoning," because the gist of the character was in place from the beginning. Of course, in the six years that followed, Ares was fleshed out considerably, and Smith's perfect performances - in both the dramatic and the humorous episodes - played a major part in the success of the character.
Smith's striking good looks, piercing glare, and even his singing ability complementod his obvious acting ability to portray one of the coolest characters on the series. As the show ends its run, Ares is one of the guys we'll miss most of all.
Craig Miller interviewed Smith by phone on February 16. The list of questions was considerable - we'd been wanting to talk with the actor for a long, long time and Smith graciously answered them all. Our sincere thanks to him, and also to Leah Krantzler and Jennifer Garnick at the Lippin Group, and to Renaissance Pictures, for helping to co-ordinate everything.
Miller: I think you're pretty much wrapping up your work on Xena, right?
Smith: Actually finished yesterday.
CM: I have a number of things that I want to ask you, but first something a little different. I read that your favorite film was Blue Velvet! Are you a David Lynch fan, or do you just happen to like that particular one?
KS: I think I was at the university when I first saw it with a lot of buddies. It was one of those things where, all of us at once - it was about four or five of us - thought, "We've got to see this again, man." So we ended up watching this film something like fifteen times! At the time, around 1986, it was great - it gave us all these cultural reference points. I've said it was my favorite film, and I really dug that one, and I saw it a lot. I've seen wonderful films since, but in terms of, what's a film you could easily take and watch on a desert island - Blue Velvet! [Laughter] It's a little disturbing, because it kind of puts you in a category of, if you say Blue Velvet's your favorite film, some people might become concerned!
CM: Your first role on Hercules wasn't Ares, but Iphicles. How did you get the part?
KS: That was in '95. I'd been around for a little while I started acting in eighty-seven, I guess, but pretty much exclusively theater. I'd done a few New Zealand TV series. I'd done a feature flm in '93 called Desperate Remedies; we were over at the Cannes Film Festival with it. I guess it must have done the arthouse circuit.
I went over to L.A. during pilot season; it was a totally miserable affair. I had a few auditions. I was there for about two, three months, and by the end of it every time I'd get a callback, a walk-on guest spot in a sitcom, I was ecstatic. I was homesick, and I felt really disillusioned and all: "Oh God, I'm a piece of crap." And I got this phone call from home. They filmed the [Hercules] tele-movies, and they were just starting their second season in '95, I guess. They'd asked me a couple of times before whether I was available. They were auditioning for Iphicles. When they approached me, I said, "Oh man, I can't see running around in a loincloth and stuff like that." Because of the shows l'd done, I kind of got roped into that young take-your-shirt-off leading man sort of thing. At that time in my life I thought, "Can't they see l'm a serious actor?" [Laughter] So I thought, "I won't even bother with this thing." But when they called me up I was living on ketchup and two-minute rice. When they said, "You want to come back?" I said, "Yep!" [Laughter] They could have asked me to play a drag queen in pantomime, I would have done it. You know what I mean?
CM: Well soon enough you ended up playing Hercules's other brother Ares. Was this some sort of in-joke by the producers?
KS: This shows you how behind the eight ball I am - I only figured that out after l'd been playing Ares for a while. "Guess what - they're both his brothers!" [Laughter] Hey, that's kind of cool! I think when I originally got cast as Ares, they had this idea of a look for him. I'd just finished playing Othello in the theater. I had a beard and everything, and I had this theatrically magnificent look. They had this idea for the god of war for Xena - they wanted a foil for Xena - someone who could best her in battle, and a former mentor, and they cast me. I was doing another play at the time and clean - shaven, so for the first episode [of Xena] I'm wearing the goatee from Hell, which made me look like a bad ventriloquist! [Laughter] It sort of precluded things like eating, drinking - speaking, for the most part! So l'm hissing through this tiny crack in my lips, trying to get all the lines! It's funny it seems that long ago.
I was surprised when they asked me back. Every time I got asked back to do Ares, I was like, "Ah, cool!" Because you understand, we had no concept here of what was happening with the shows at the time. To us it was a high-paying gig, but we never saw the finished product. Got to do an American accent. We got to play with swords. Of course, for us this was a novelty we'd never made anything like that here at all. This was a nice bit of fun for us, as well as being financially rewarding the exchange rate, too, was quite a thing. So we were still plugging around doing our theater shows and a little bit of TV over here. Even when I was doing my second and third seasons [of Xena], I was still going, "Ah, cool, they want me back!"
CM: So initially you didn't know this would be a recurring role. You thought it would be a one-shot thing.
Ares the mortal and his dog in "Old Ares Had a Farm"
KS: Well l've always been a traveling actor. I enjoy it. I go and do other people's shows, which means it's no responsibility. And for the most part I always play a villain. So you turn up, you get good lines. Sure, you get slapped around. [Laughter] You're there, you're gone, you don't carry a show. So this was just part of the norm for me. I'd been part of one TV show just before I started [Xena], and it was okay, it was cool, but I thought l'd never do a slot again where I was one character for a long time. It seemed to me that the show had legs, but I was just a one-off character. I think it wasn't until the third season that I got put under contract by them. And suddenly I thought, oh man, this is a real job!
CM: I have a question about that first appearance, but first some general questions about the way you play Ares. There are a lot of hints that Xena is attractod to Ares. Are we supposed to believe that any of this is legitimate, or is Xena just toying with him? How do you interpret that dynamic?
KS: When we play it, Lucy [Lawless] and I make a conscious decision - whenever they're manipulating each other, which is often, there's a fair bit of give-and-take. They bull---- each other because they both carry agendas. There's an acting exercise that we used to do a lot in improv called an "I love you" scene. Basically, whatever else you say and do you could be doing the dishes, you could be barbecuing, stuffing a chicken, whatever - that whatever you say in the conversation, the only thing that is on your mind is I love you. I guess it was in the fifth season when they really started going off on the idea that Ares loved Xena, and I asked the producers, "Is this for real, man?" And they went, "Let's play it for real." Because once we got out of the is-he-her-dad thing - I needed to clear that up right away; I need not to be her dad to do this, you understand [Laughter], because that's just sort of icky! - I've always played it as a seduction scene. The difference between the two shows: he wants to destroy Hercules but can't because of some Olympian red tape, but it's always been about seduction with Xena. Even before it became straight-out I love you," he's always wanted to get her back, to swing her back around to the dark side. His attempts to kill her have been less than committed and less than convincing. He never wanted to kill her; he wants her back. I guess for her part, too, he was her mentor, he was her Svengali. There was a bond there that was broken, so we just decided to commit to it later on, because the best thing to play is resistance. Dramatically it's a strong thing to play. So if Ares is totally committed to this love, and if she's resisting her urge to reciprocate, it makes the drama more interesting. We always played it like that.
CM: That's how I interpreted it. I wonder if l'm alone in occasionally sympathizing with Ares, because at times when Xena is bargaining with him, even though she's the hero of the show, she isn't really negotiating in good faith. For.instance in "Amphipolis Under Siege," we wrote that she basically cheats!
KS: Oh yeah. The real joy of the episode is when she first comes to him and says, "Look, if you call off your sister, you get me." And the look on her face is priceless when he starts to go for it, but then he goes, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. All these years you're doing this, and all of a sudden it's 'Take me'? Uh uh, I ain't buying it." The look on her face is, "What!? You're rejecting me!?" [Laughter] And I like to think if there wasn't an explosion, and her mom appeared in a hole in the wall, I like to think things would have carried on.
Oh yeah, definitely, I do think she's - [Laughter] a line she used to have, but she hasn't said it in a couple of years: "I have many skills." We've seen in the flashback episodes that she's used her sexuality as well. Even though she fights on the side of good, if that's what it comes to, she seems to know the right weaponry to use in any given situation. If it's time to fight, she'll fight. If not, she won't. She used [her sexuality] with Borias. And down the line she's used it to varying degrees. So yes, she does use it.
I only found out in the last month or so the existence of things called subbers and shippers in the fan world. Someone said, "Oh man, the subbers really hate you." I said, "What's a subber? Someone who eats long sandwiches? What is that?" "Oh no, sub-texters." Ares was described variously as a stalker, a rapist. I'm going, "What!?" There were such strong feelings on the matter. I'd never realized that. Somebody actually hates my character? I took indecent comfort in that. "Cool!"
Kevin Smith (As Jerry Patrick Brown) and Michael Hurst (as Paul Robert Coyle) in "For Those of You Just Joining Us"
CM: Last season Ares was instrumental in getting Xena and Gabrielle and the whole storyline moved twenty-five years into the future. Were you surprised by this, or had it been in the works for a long time?
KS: It was kind of a surprise to me. As a narrative device, it's got its useful aspects. If you create something and then get to a point where you've exhausted the possibilities of this, or if you've started to paint yourself into a corner or something, it's a good way of cleaning house and propelling it foreword. It startod fresh that whole Eve/Livia arc. Basically it's kind of boring watching a kid grow up for twenty-five years, you know? [Laughter] Once you set up the structure of [having] the baby, you paint yourself into that narrative corner. It was a great thing, that child becoming [Xena's] worst nightmare, that child becoming her. It was a great thing to have.
When we filmed that episode, I'd just come back from a convention in Pasadena, and I caught this terrible, terrible flu. I was just out of it. Over the course of this thing I lost fifteen, twenty pounds. It was all I could do to stand up. You know those scenes in which Xena dies, and Ares is carrying her back to the ice cave? I was weakened. She said, "You don't look so good. Can we help you there?" I said, "I'm Kevin Smith, mate. I'd never live this down ff somebody has to help me carry you."[Laughter]
I had to remind myself - and we all had to in subsequent episodes - the fact that they had made this jump. So no one we knew was alive any more; if they were, they were very old. And so people recognizing Xena had to go, "When she was alive...." "When it was her time...." "Xena was...." Later on she became a legendary, mythical character. And so we had to keep reminding ourselves of this. Every time we'd do a flashback, we've got to forget all the baggage. When we'd do a flashback show where perhaps we have to play something from before the jump, that's the hard thing, to divest yourself of all the knowledge of what's gone before that happened. You can't have any knowledge of that. In that sense it was good and challenging for us.
CM: There are a few specific performances in which I thought you were especially outstanding that I wanted to ask you about, including, as mentioned before, the very first appearance of Ares in "The Reckoning." I watched it again yesterday for the first time in years and was surprised at how well you nailed the character the first time out, including the whole seduction thing with Xena. How much guidance were you given in projecting this attitude in Ares, and how much did you create on your own?
KS: Obviously during the run of the show the methodology has changed a lot. For people who play parts regularly, [the producers] go, "Well, I guess they know these parts." So we don't rehearse them to the same extent. But back in those days, Lucy and I came in on a day she wasn't filming, and they wrote these scenes and re-wrote them. Basically, they wanted them to be sexy; I believe that was the word they used. They wanted to have some chemistry between them. That was on the page for a start. The director, Charlie Siebert, said, "Okay, here's what they want to achieve in this scene. You can be all those things, but don't be smarmy. Be sure, be seductive, and all the rest of it, but don't be smarmy and cocksure."
The thing that moved on from there was, his sense of humor hadn't quite emerged then. There wasn't a lot of scope; we weren't really doing that thing at the time. And so there were a couple of things we didn't see. We didn't see Ares' rage. That all came later. The introduction was just getting things set up - these people have a history, and it's a complex relationship.
CM: It seems to me like, even from the beginning, Ares is played like the famous scene of Satan in the desert tempting Christ. He's almays coming to Xena or to Gabrielle basically offering them something in exchange for their souls. Did you see that in the character, in which he's a tempter? If he can lead them off their paths, he will offer them something in return.
KS: Oh, very much so. He never comes empty-handed. He never just comes up and says, "All right, enough of the dicking around. I want this." He's always looking for leverage. It's a nice thing to play. He's the god of war, but he doesn't actually hit; he's not confrontational. He's always coming from different angles. Michael Hurst is probably right on this one. Technically, whereas Mars is the god of war, Ares is the god of the battle lust of mankind. It's subtly different. He instills people with the will, the need, and the love of fighting. It might seem a question of semantics, but there is a difference. He can play people, which is nice. And this is part of his ongoing frustration. Warlords, the most powerful men on Earth, he can play, but he just can't get this thing [with Xena] figured. What it is, and he discovers it in season three or something like that, is that "irritating blonde." It's like, you're never really trying to win over one person here, because Gabrielle is like Xena's Jiminy Cricket. And just when he thinks he's making some kind of inroad, she is the tap on the shoulder. That's the wonderful thing about the Xena/Gabrielle relationship. Together they make this one, incredible person. Even after Eli's killed, and strangely enough Ares is the guy who did it, he still gets in her ear, and he's starting to turn her. Xena has to pull her around. So there's this perfect double edge, you see. I think that's part of his frustration, you know. He's trying to get Gabrielle out of the picture, because he figures once she's gone, then Xena will fall.
But yeah, that's actually the basis of his approach - he's always coming with something, with some temptation.
Xena (Lucy Lawless), Ares, and Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) in "The God You Know"
CM: You have some great scenes in "Forget Me Not," in which it's just Ares and Gabrielle, you and Renee O'Connor. (Lucy basically had that week off.) Your scenes with Lucy are almays good, but this episade was one of the first times in which you had some extended screen time with Renee, and there's an equally interesting chemistry that develops between the two of you.
KS: Yeah, Lucy wasn't there. What, you're getting married and can't go to work the next day? Tired of carrying her [on the show]! No, no, no, no. [Laughter] No, it was funny because I guess we had just come back from Lucy's wedding at that time, and there was this little act that went on for a while where it looks as though they were trying to form this relationship between Ares and Gabrielle. There was a scene they cut out of Ares kissing Gabrielle, and there was an episode coming up, and they didn't want to play their hand as yet. It's funny, it's like these two people who both love the same person, and there's a line in "Old Ares Had a Farm" where he's talking to Gabrielle, and we go, "What do we even have in common?" And we both look at Xena and go, "Yeah, yeah; besides that." It's a wonderful bit of symmetry. They both love the same person, and she's the cornerstone to some extent to both of their worlds. It's so natural, the nature of their relationship, whatever it is. We play it as antagonistic. We play it like a scrapping brother and sister sometimes; we're always shooting each other dirty looks, having some snipe. I can't tell you the relish in "Old Ares Had a Farm" when she's out there vamping it up with the marauding warrior. I call her a harlot. Oh, the joy we got out of that! Who gets to call Renee O'Connor a harlot? Noone! It was so much fun.
And another one, "The Quill is Mightier." There was some sort of conventional ending are they going to move in for a kiss, are they not? Ah man! So we did this thing on the end where she look down, and he flicks her on the nose. We said, this moving in for the kiss thing doesn't seem to play; why not make it fun, like siblings teasing each other? Gabrielle and Ares aren't as connected by that as they are connected by their love for Xena.
CM: You're also hilarious when you're playing Jerry Patrick Brown in "Yes, Virginia, There is a Hercules" and "For Those of You Just Joining Us." Bruce Campbell told us how he took various aspects of Rob Tapert for his portrayal. How did you create the Brown caricature that we see on screen?
KS: I met Jerry very, very briefly in one of those whirlwind sort of things. I knew nothing about him, and I asked Rob, "Man, what's he like?" He said, "Well, he's conservative." So I thought, conservative, redneck. [Laughter] Sort of a leap! Once the production was highly embraced, it was great. Suddenly all this gear started turning up. I've got tattoos; I ride a motorcycle. And so at the read-through, that's where all the characters come out. I thought I'd gone too far with the gun-totin' NRA southern redneck, but they said, "No, no. That's good." I met Jerry's daughter one time when I was in the States, and she said her dad loved it.
CM: You've been in both the comedy and drama episodes. Do you prefer one over the other?
KS: I enjoy going back and forth. I like the dramatic ones where there is a flash of humor. I was concerned at one point that the writers embraced the humor thing. I love him being charming, the humorous side of him. But at the end of the day, he's still a villain; he's still got to be scary. You've still got to believe that this guy could do some hideous wrong. He was quite funny for a long time; it was about the same time he was a lot darker on Hercules. I didn't notice it so much. On Hercules, he precipitated the death of Hercules's wife. Of course, on Hercules I had that luxury because they gave me sidekicks, Strife and Discord. They were doing the schtick, you know what I mean? So I could concentrate on the murky business of evil.
CM: Watching you and Strife - actor Joel Tobeck - together is just hilarious. Ares' patience really wears thin!
KS: It's kind of funny, because he's one of my best mates. He's quite a bit younger than me, so there's this similar kind of dynamic. Not that he's an idiot like Strife. But even though l'm this middle-aged guy with three kids now, I've never been entirely the most responsible of people. All of a sudden it's like, oh God, I guess l'm the responsible one! Which should be a source of concern for the world, if l'm the responsible one. [Laughter] The nice thing about that is that it got to take that sort of thing off me. If anything the humor that generated from the character was more charm than anything; it was sophisticated, it was witty.
On Xena, it was nice, because I wanted to get back into this dark thing again, and things started to happen. I love the fact that Ares got to kill Eli, who's also another great friend of mine, Tim Omundson.
CM: He's wonderful in that role. He does a great job.
KS: I know, and I take joy in the fact that I finished his career as Eli! [Laughter]
CM: It's interesting that you mention that, because I thought "Seeds of Faith" was an astounding episode, the high point of the fifth season. You have two especially interesting scenes. Your expression right after Ares kills Eli: the camera cuts back to you, and Ares doesn't show glee, but slight confusion: "Uh oh, should I have really done that?"
KS: That was entirely it. It's one of those things where - we've all had moments in life where we do things, we do what we think we want, we achieve it, and then we wonder, "What have I wrought?" 1'll tell you exactly - I just finished shooting an episode with Josh Becker, and we were talking about our favorite movies, and this one came up, and this is where that moment was from, and I thought if I could get a fraction of that, it would be a great moment. The moment in Bridge on the River Kwai where they're trying to blow up the bridge, and Alec Guinness has been so obsessed with constructing this bridge, forgetting that he's making it for the enemy, and that moment where all these allies come out trying to blow it up, and he goes, "What have I done?" The moment where the full weight, the full horror - you know, the light of knowledge can be the most terrible thing, and it was that. That was kind of that moment [in Xena], that moment of connection, when the sword is passing through [Eli], and suddenly [Ares] has opened up this thing, and he's connected to Eli forever at that moment, physically and spiritually and everything.
Ares tries to seduce Xena in "The Path of Vengeance"
CM: Well you capture that perfectly, because the camera cuts back to you, and you have only two, three seconds on screen, whatever. It's a very brief shot. But in that moment yow expression says so much.
KS: Well thank you. It only lasted a few seconds. My intent was to bend down and hiss at Tim Omundson, "Huh? You like that, bitch? Did ya'? Huh?" [Laughter]
CM: And then right after that you have another great scene in which you're in the desert with Gabrielle, which you mentioned enrlier, basically tempting her with this god-like power. It's another of those scenes that's like an elaborate dance: I will offer you something if you will sell your soul to me, so to speak. If you will worship me, I will give you what you think you want right now. But of course Ares is almays playing games.
KS: Renee in that scene was so gutted. It's an interesting tact to take - the guy who just killed this man she so admired is the last person she wants to see right now. By the same token she is so ripe for the picking; she is so devastated on the inside; she is just at a total loss. It has turned everything she's ever believed in upside down, and so in a weird kind of way it's the perfect time to approach her. And Ren was just an open wound in that scene, so I really didn't have to do that much. That's what's nice about working with Ren and Lucy. They've already made such a huge commitment to it. They bring so much to it, this torrent of baggage and emotion and that sort of thing, I often had to do very little. All I had to do was dance around what they were doing, and that's what makes my job a lot of fun and a lot easier than it could be.
CM: It's interesting that you mentioned the relationship between the comedy and the drama One line l'd forgotten about in "Seeds of Faith" until re-watching it was after the desert scene when Ares is trying to win over the crowd, and Gabrielle interrupts him and is ready to tear him apart - even though he's a god and she shouldn't be able to kill him anyway. And Ares's line is something like, "Can't you soe l'm busy here?" [Laughter] It's in the midlle of this intense, emotionally-wrought scene. She's ready to tear into him, and he rips off this one-liner like, "I'm busy here. Go away little girl."
KS: You don't want to do it to the point of destroyIng the scene, but I can't help myself. It's kind of like in tennis, a serve-and volley game. [Laughter] You serve, you rush the net. You're right; Ares is like, "I'm kind of in the middle of something here. It's like, you bother me at work. "Don't call me at work! Honey, please, don't call me at work! [Laughter] And part of it is that Ares loves making her feel that she's an annoyance to him, that she's not important. She is, but it's just another way he plays her, he riles her up.
There have been straight comedic ones, like "The Quill is Mightier," which was a lot of fun. It was a fun look at the days when the gods had no powers, but in a fun, pre-motherhood kind of way. And then there were some straight - I forget the names of the episodes. I remember each one vividly but I forget the titles because sometimes the titles change from the time we start doing them to when they come out. But there have been some that have been wonderful in terms of allowing us some dramatic scope. There was a lot of criticism of the fifth season; a lot of people didn't like the road it went down. But there were some shows there I found the most rewarding things to do, like given the opportunity to play Ares'love for Xena. It was wonderful to be able to pursue that.
One episode that I thought was legitimate to be serious and funny at the same time was "Coming Home," where it's the second time I had dealings with the Furies. The first time was in "The Furies." It drove her mad, and I had a lot of fun with that, doing all the crazy schtick, but at the same time had this thing underneath, I'm going to kill my mother. And this ["Coming Home"] was kind of the same. Any craziness you do, you're in a lose-lose situation. There's TV craziness, which is like, "Let's drive her mad." That's general crazy. There's also what we call insanity - there are so many clinical variations. When you get forty-two minutes of screen time, you don't have time to explore the nuances of, "Is he schizophrenic?" "Does he have a bipolar disorder?" You know what I mean? And so you get TV crazy, which is doing, say, irrational things.
Another one of those moments, one of the most comforting things is when the veil of ignorance is taken off, and the blinding white light of knowledge hits you. That is serious work. They let you do something horrible, then they show you what you've done to drive you mad. I like that moment where he believes he's killed Xena, and bang, they appear to him. It's like, "Oh, Jesus." Oops, not Jesus, because he wasn't around. "What have I done?" And that was kind of fun to do because you got to have a foot in both camps.
CM: It's also engoyable to ee you in the musical episodes. Did these arise in any way because of your and Lucy's musical backgrounds?
KS: I think they figured that I hate dancing, so they made me dance! [Laughter] Actually l've only done one musical episode; I didn't do the other one. But yeah, my musical other life is kind of well known in this country. I started off in a rock band, and in theater I've done lots of musicals. I've always kind of sung, but at one point I had to make a decision. I can't be halfa--ed about the acting, do a little bit of acting, do a little bit of singing. But it was nice in "The Bitter Suite" that they said, "Why don't you actually sing it rather than us get someone to sing it for you over in L.A.?" And that was kind of nice. I got to interact with Joe Lo Duca for the first time. Top bloke; very, very nice man. It was kind of weird. I went into this recording studio in Auckland, and he is in Detroit, I guess. We're recording this thing over the phone. It was a great experience. I really dug that. And it wasn't much of a stretch, because l've always said there's something grand and operatic about Xena anyway. It didn't seem out of the ordinary that we would break into song.
CM: Did it take longer to fil that kind of episode, or do they still allot the same number of days that you getvfor any other one?
KS: I don't know about the other ones, but for this one they gave us a bit more time. And we had a huge rehearsal period, too. The huge crowd scenes, the choreography involved - it was frightening. Just trying to get me not to crash into Lucy's feet! [Laughter] That took weeks! No,no. Logistically it's a huge thing to have to do. And also, too, obviously you can tell by looking at it there's a fair bit of post-production CGI work to be done as well. They are bigger undertakings, so they are labors of love.
CM: Both the fourth and fifth season Xena finales ended a bit like series finales. In the fourth yeur there's the crucifixion and the contemporary reincarnation episodes, and in the fifth year there's the death of the gods. Both seemed like endings. When you were filming these, did you get the sense that maybe this was it, maybe the show was wrapping up, or did you know each time that there would be more?
KS: Ah, yeah, we knew there were more coming afterward. When we did the Twilight of the Gods stuff, we knew it was going to go for the next season, anyway. But pretty much when you take in a major narrative element, like "the gods," you know that you're going to have something else fairly major that's going to have to emerge. I was interested to see what would happen, although the gods weren't in play as much in Xena as in Hercules. The show wasn't as dependent on them, but it did take away a major plot device, narrative device. Because they were always there. If things were a bit slow, it was like, what the hell, what are the gods up to? So the writers just made it tough on themselves, which is good, because sometimes the most creative things can happen when you take away your safety net. And the gods have been a safety net in the past. They defy laws of logic and rationality; you can kind of re-write things when you use the gods. They took that away, and I thought, "Man, that's cool!" It's a gutsy play, you know? And it does make the stuff that comes after stronger, because you have to be more creative; there's no net there to catch you.
I wasn't in season four. When I did "Deja Vu All Over Again" -
CM: That was your only episode that season.
KS: I was in Young Hercland [Young Hercules] that year. I was busy beating up school children. [Laughter]
CM: In this season of Xena you had several episodes as a mortal before, thankfully, your return to godhood. "Old Ares Had a Farm" was hilarious, but I got the impression that the writers were quickly running out of Ares-the-mortal storylines.
KS: Ares gets a dog! [Laughter]
CM: Right! Were you happy to see Ares back to being a god, or did you want to play the mortal thing a little longer?
KS: We had several episodes of Ares as a mortal, and we know he doesn't cope well. [Laughter] There's a great line in "Coming Home": "I've got to get my powers back. You see, I'm more of what you call, oh, what is that? A god!" [Laughter] I didn't do mortal well. If nothing else, Ares is blessed with crystal clear self-awareness. "I'm not good at this. I can't do this!" "Old Ares Had a Farm" was good; it gave us a chance to do all the mortal things we wanted to do. Wouldn't it be fun to see him do this, to try and do that? It was good. We got to exhaust all that, and it was like, "He'll be a god again." What episode has aired over there?
CM: The most recent was "You Are There."
KS: That's the one where Ares gets his powers back. And he says, "Wait a minute, I got something to do." He gets himself back to the farm, and he blows the s--- out of the dog. [Laughter] Just in case you thought he was getting sentimental! Just in case [you thought] up in Olympus it was only him and Aphrodite knocking around there, he's got his dog with him. Just to show them old Ares is back, go back and kill the dog! [Laughter]
CM: Well that was such a strange episode anyway, with Michael Hurst as the reporter. From the previews, I wondered how they were going to explain Xena in a television interview. Does she get zapped into the future, or what? It's so funny that they don't explain it at all! They just have the reporter running in to interview Xena during a battle scene.
KS: Exactly. We used to watch that program here when I was a kid, You Are There. A reporter with a microphone: "I'm talking to Benjamin Franklin right now in his workshop." As a child I went, "Oh, of course. Naturally. Why would you not?" So it was like, we could use up a lot of screen time trying to find some device for this. Screw it. [Laughter]
Also, when people get interviewed, it's a nice way of explaining things. When they get interviewed, they speak specifically about their intentions, or what they're feeling, and stuff like that, whereas before you have to pick that up yourself from their behaviors, what they say and the way that they say it, and what they're doing. So it's a good way of getting some things across, and it tidied up the whole Aphrodite and Ares getting their powers back gig as well. It actually was a fun device.
I just finished shooting a television program in New Zealand, and Michael was directing. Actually I finish shooting tomorrow; I had to take a break to finish shooting my last Xena episode. But we had great fun, especially in that bordello scene where we're all lining up for hookers; we just had a blast doing that, man. [Laughter]
CM: I was disappointed to learn that you weren't going to be in the series finale. How many more episodes will you be in?
KS: Two more. The one I just finished is my last one; what a head rush! The last three, they start filming next week, and I start rehearsal on a play called The Blue Room with Danielle Cormack, who played Ephiny. So we start rehearsals next week. But it was weird filming my final scenes. Woo.
CM: You've been working on quite a few projects the past couple of years, including both film and television. Has it been tough juggling all the work?
KS: I made a thing about a year ago when I said, "Listen, I'm out of here." I just thought, we've run our course with Ares, and I was wanting to move on to other things, and just the feeling that the time seemed to be right for me to go. And then Eric Gruendmann gave me a call and said, "Listen, I know what you said, but if a really good script came along....Obviously not to the same extent that your involvement has been with the show in the last few years, but if a good arc turned out, would you come and do one or two that were really [good]?" And I thought about it, and I wasn't going to go, "No, no, no." I'll tell you what, I didn't realize this until yesterday, the level of affection I have for the character and the show. I said, "Sure. If they're one-off deals, I'll come back and do it." It's just that longterm - I was also worried, because bad guys are best used sparingly, or they lose their potency. Not that l'm telling Rob Tapert what to do with the bad guys, because he knows. It was just me needing some space for myself. So at conventions and such I would say that l'm pretty much winding up now. And then these shows started coming up with the end of the fifth season, and l'm thinking, "This is kind of interesting. Okay, cool." And before I knew it, I was back in there again. It was because of the material. Again, I was surprised when people dissed the fifth season so much, because I had a great time doing these things - selfishly, because I liked the personal journey that my character was on. And so I ended up hanging around longer than what I thought I would. But, oh man, even though I'd go away and do other stuff, it was kind of like, this was here, not as a job. "That's something I can fall back on," but it was like when you move out from home, every now and then you go back and stay with your mom and dad again. You go out, you've been out, you haven't lived at home for years, and there's that comforting thing where you go home and you sleep in your own room again. It was that. And when it really got me was when I took off my Ares costume for the last time. I was telling people on set, "I've worn these boots for six years. They're bloody things to take on and off, these freakin' things. I took them off and hung the costume up and just sat there looking at it for a while and thought, 'God almighty, I'll never wear that again.'" It's like a second skin, you know? It's only a fraction of what Lucy and Ren will be feeling.
CM: Well, you know how television works. In fifteen yeurs everyone will be feeling nostalgic, and they'll be making Xena: The Telemovie.
KS:Xena: The Telemovie. Yeah, yeah. [Laughter] And I'll be like three hundred fifty pounds, trying to squeeze back into my Ares costume, trying to heave my manbreasts back into it! [Laughter] Ares is bald, he's on a cane - people want to see that!
But yeah, I spent my thirties doing this show, and there are so many things intertmined with my own life and the people involved. It's a cliché, but this is your extended family. When l'm working, I see more of these people than I do of my family back home. The nice thing is that I go straight from that into other work: I don't really have time to mope about it. Saying goodbye to Ares, who's treated me really, really well, was really hard. It was a toughie. Again, I admit, it's not the fact that a job was finished; it was saying goodbye to this guy. And I didn't think it would be. I'm usually pretty cool with leaving gigs and that sort of thing. It caught me by surprise.
CM: So what projects are on the horizon for you for the next yeor or two?
KS: It's funny. The day I started Xena, I'd finished in the theater. And the day I finish Xena, I start back in the theater again. And that just seems to be the direction l'm heading. I've got The Blue Room, and I got a call about a week ago about doing another touring play here in New Zealand, which I couldn't end up doing, unfortunately, but when you don't try and direct yourself, and you just wait and see what happens, it just seems to be the general direction things are taking. I seem to be going back to where I was, which is kind of nice, because l've missed it - I've missed it a lot.
CM: I've talked to a nunber of actors who enjoy the immediacy of the theater, unlike television, in which you have the camera, then it goes off to post-production and editing, and it could be weeks before it airs.
KS: You have an unbroken emotional journey, too. You're there for the period, two hours; you're not sitting down having a coffee and waiting for a re-light. It's an unbroken commitment to the character. I love that.
I guess later on I will, but I haven't really thought much about taking positive steps [in planning a career]. I've always been in that sort of thing where some one rings me up with a job, and it's like, "Oh, cool!" I haven't really gone and chased stuff down. [Laughter]
CM: Does living in New Zenland limit your access to Hollywood projects?
KS: Oh, sure it does. I've got agents in L.A., and sometimes when I go and do a convention I'll stay for a week longer, and they'll go, Well that's kind of hit and miss. I was there for three weeks last year, and there was nothing happening [at that time]. Meanwhile, because of the exchange rate, I'm sitting there getting poorer by the day! So I said to them, "Listen, man, I probably won't ever do this again. Just from the point of view that I'll never live here." It's no slur; I've got great friends there, and I love going there and visiting, but my children are growing in a country which I consider to be the best place in the world for them to grow up in. It's a priority thing. I love acting. It's like breathing to me, and I'll always do it. It's an important part of my life, but my family is my Iife. That comes first. I've been lucky enough; I've stumbled around and gotten lucky for the last fifteen or so years here in New Zealand, so l'm going to push my luck a bit further. I'll stay till they get sick of me! [Laughter] I'll stay till they drive me out of town with flaming torches and peasants with pitchforks! He's a monster! [Laughter]
CM: A nunber of the other Hercules and Xena actors have stepped behind the camera to direct. Do you have any interest in doing this?
KS: [Prolonged laughter] No! Remember in the beginning talking about avoiding responsibility? Look. I respect them; don't get me wrong. I've got great admiration for Ren and Michael Hurst who, I think, is a genius. He does it all, man; he's a one-man band. I respect that, but uh-uh! When they call wrap, I'm out of there. I'm not doing homework! I'm not going home and making up shot lists for the next day! [Laughter] And when things go wrong, people don't look at me and go, "You freakin' idiot!" It's like, "Yeah, yeah, I'll be back here having a coffee, man." [Laughter]
CM: Kevin Sorbo directed some episodes of Hercules, and I think he said that it was maddening, acting in one while prepping for another - it can drive you crazy trging to act and direct at the same time.
KS: Ah, fully, bro. I think when you come to Earth, you're allotted exactly - I mean a precise number of heartbeats. Don't use up any more than you have to! [Laughter] You're banging around in there; you're wasting them, man!
CM: That's about all the questions I had; was there angthing else you wante d to cover?
KS: This is probably one of the last interviews that will be published. It always amazes me the depth of feeling and support for the show, and that is one of the things that has propelled it along all these years. Because l've been a passenger on that particular ship, it's been a great ride for me, and if there's any way of conveying my thanks to people for embracing the show - even for those people that hate Ares! - thanks!
CM: I asked Ted Raimi if it bothered him that some viewers didn't like his character Joxer, and he said, it didn't: at least people thought something.
KS: Oh exactly. Yeah!
CM: The worst thing is for people to say, 'I don't really care either way."
KS: Actually, the worst thing is for people to go, "Who?" [Laughter] "Which one was he?" [Laughter]
CM: Well thanks for taking the time to talk with us. It's been a lot of fun watching you play Ares for the past six years.
KS: Thank you very much. It's not often when you get to talk much about the show in New Zealand, and also, it's a rainy Saturday morning. I meant to go and watch a cricket match today. Well let me tell you, there's no cricket today! I'm not down there having breakfast with the kids, who, from the sound of it, are fighting, so you've spared me a little bit of anguish this Saturday morning! I say rain, but I think it's about twenty-seven degrees Celsius, and there's a humidity factor of around a hundred percent. Basically, I'm just lying here growing gills!
Return Links Articles Annex
your previous page
This article is used without permission but is being used only in a fan-oriented, non-profit endeavor. This page are not intended to
infringe upon the copyrights of any companies concerned. This page will be removed if so requested by any copyright holders.