Whoosh! Issue 15 -
December 1997


IAXS project #362
By Darise Error
Copyright © 1997 held by author
1023 words

The ugly result of one too many viewings of 'ApocalypseNow'

Lucy Lawless does high drama
in THE DEBT Parts 1 and 2 (52-53/306- 307).

[01] Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) is a sophisticated blend of creativity, pastiche and post-modernism. It's fun too, and, the fun is tempered with a healthy dose of "heart." Perhaps that is enough for some folks. But what about the acting? Is it good or bad or somewhere in between? Do people even care? As an actor and a teacher of acting, I care very much about the quality of performances in movies, plays, and television programs. I would also venture to say that whether or not fans know it, a primary reason that the show is good is that the acting on XWP is sound.

[02] What exactly is it about the acting that makes it sound? For purposes of this discussion, I will deal exclusively with Lucy Lawless (Xena), although (1) it was the work of Renee O'Connor in THE QUEST (#37) that drew my initial attention to the show, and (2) the relationship between the two principal characters (Xena and Gabrielle) is the most critical factor contributing not only to the success of the show, but to my personal continuing interest in the show as well. Lawless is the title character, and without an effective Xena, you have no Xena: Warrior Princess.

[03] First, Lucy Lawless has demonstrated a terrific ear for dialects. A few of my friends did not know she was a Kiwi (a native New Zealander,) which demonstrates that she does very well with American Standard dialect. Many of the American actors I have taught do not handle American Standard as well as Lawless. Though I did not get the opportunity to see Grease (the Broadway play Lucy Lawless was performing in during her 3rd season XWP hiatus, September-October 1997,) I heard her speaking with her Rizzo dialect (Italian-American) on the Live with Regis and Kathie Lee show (September 1997). She handles that one favorably as well. Dialects can be tricky and problematic, but Lawless manages them nearly flawlessly. I like that.

[04] Secondly, much of the show is camp, but you need an actor who can play it without mugging. For non-actors out there, "mugging" is the use of excessive gestures, facial expressions, and/or line deliveries for the purposes of stealing focus and, hopefully, garnering audience approval. Mugging screams, "Hey, look at me. See how funny I am." It may occasionally work for Jim Carrey in a two-hour film, but it would certainly get tiresome in a weekly series. It has also been my experience that camp, and much of comedy in general, is more entertaining the "straighter" you play it. Lawless seems to have grasped these concepts. Even her wide-eyed, "Xena-tude" facial expressions and her acrobatic antics fall below the mugging line in my opinion. A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39) is a terrific example of her mug-less comic flair. She delivers the most amusing lines with sincerity and seriousness, making them all the more humorous. I like that.

[05] Thirdly, the most important (and rarest, it seems) components of good acting are: being able to listen, to give back to your partner, and to subsequently react to what you are given. "Listen, really hear, and then react" is a mantra I sound every day in my acting classes. Frequently, actors think that they are only acting when they deliver lines. I, however, often judge the quality of actors by what they do, not when they themselves are speaking, but when they are being spoken to.

Is that a squid in your pocket or are you just happy to seeme?

Xena and Cecrops share a moment
in LOST MARINER (45/221).

[06] In LOST MARINER (#45), Lawless has her most beautiful moments in the cabin with Tony Todd (Cecrops) as he describes the nature of his fate and the loss of his only love. She has few lines, but she speaks volumes with her face. She does the same in THE PATH NOT TAKEN (#05) in her scenes with Bobby Hosea (Marcus.)

[07] Lawless is a "star" but, she is an actor first because obviously the work (rather than self-aggrandizement) comes first to her. She simply listens, giving generously to her partner, and allows him/her to have their moment. She then allows herself to respond honestly to what her partner has given her. She does the same thing in her scenes with Renee O'Connor. This "give and take" is the stuff good acting and believable on-screen relationships are made of. Lawless is the kind of actor I love to work with, as well as my favorite kind to watch. I like that.

[08] Finally, though I enjoy the humor, it is the "heart" that won me over and keeps me coming back to the show week after week. Along with a sense of comic timing and a knack for underplaying the bold and overt, Lucy Lawless has also demonstrated an aptitude for creating the emotional and the subtle. Sensitivity, a willingness to be vulnerable, and an intuition about the inner workings of human beings are requisite for creating "heart." Lawless' acting demonstrates these traits on nearly a weekly basis. I like that.

[09] What is there to like about Lucy Lawless' acting? In a word, plenty. Her work displays both good technique and innate artistry. Specifically, Lawless possesses a terrific ear, a keen sense of comic timing, a love for the craft of acting, generosity rather than virtuosity, and sensitivity. I enjoy the show from a pure entertainment perspective, but I also admire Lawless from an aesthetic standpoint. That is a terrific combination.

[10] It is also worth mentioning that, whether they know it or not, fans also care very much about Lawless' acting. Part of the reason different members of her audience can interpret aspects of the series in a variety of ways is Lawless' acting. She was not satisfied with the shallow, comic-book characterization which probably would have been sufficient for a lesser talent in a similar situation. Instead, Lawless has created a complex, multi-dimensional character with all the inner turmoils, joys, longings, fears, and quirks of Xena's flesh and blood counterparts.

[11] I sincerely hope that in the distant future, when XWP is a fond memory, that the people with acting jobs to give will see what I and other Xenites have seen all along -- the woman is a fine actor with much to bring to any role she undertakes.

All right, Joxer, doooooon't move!

Lucy mixes comedy and drama
in BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/202).


Darise Error Darise Error
BA in theatre, MA in theatre/film, ABD (all but dissertation) on a PhD in theatre (Her fascination with XWP actually began as a dissertation avoidance measure.) Darise Error is an actor/director/singer/songwriter from Dallas. She would like to be an artist full-time, but she owes way too much in student loans. She teaches college, and keeps her hand in art by doing as much theatre as possible. She also penned the lyrics to "Talk to Me" which can be heard on the Domestic Science Club's self-titled cd released by Discovery records in 1994. She lives with a mutt named Sweeney, a cat named Beau Geste, and a grouchy parakeet named Virgil.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) and LOST MARINER (45/221)
Favorite line: Xena to Gabrielle: "You don't know how much I love...that." THE PRICE (44/220); Xena to Gabrielle: "Are you sitting on the soap?" A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
First episode seen: THE QUEST (37/213)
Least favorite episode: FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216)

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