Whoosh! Issue 17 - February 1998

AN INTERVIEW WITH ALEXANDRA TYDINGS
Exclusive to Whoosh!
By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Copyright © 1998 held by author
4709 words



*I* could've played Callisto!


Alexandra Tydings, woman of many skills.


Editor's Note: When I first began to do research on Alexandra Tydings, I was immediately intrigued. While Xena and Hercules fans know her best as the "valley girl" goddess, Aphrodite, Alex Tydings herself is a true Renaissance woman with many, many skills. She has had other film and television credits, not the least of which are the film Sunchaser (Michael Cimino, 1996) and multiple appearances on the Showtime cable show Red Shoe Diaries (1992- ). But acting is only one facet of this complex gem. Not only did she graduate from an Ivy League university, she also attended the Sorbonne and is well-versed in feminist film theory. She is also an accomplished dancer, in a variety of styles including ballet. She also represented the United States in an Irish dancing competition in the United Kingdom. She is smart, articulate, and altogether charming company, as I was soon to discover. We met in person on Saturday, December 20, 1997, at a trendy North Hollywood spot very close to Griffith Park. As I waited for her, in a pub-like setting that was one part gothic and one part 1940's beatnik, I wondered just how different she would be in "real-life" from the image of her seen on television. In fact, it was she who first recognized me. Whatever I was expecting, I was not prepared for a petite woman with very short hair. But the instant she smiled, there was no doubt: this was indeed the person I came to meet.




Academic Background (01-08)
Constructing Aphrodite (09-22)
STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD (23-24)
The Theatre and the Future (25-36)
The Different Sets (37-43)
Contributions to the Character (44-47)
Dancing Around the World (48-60)
Deconstructing Aphrodite (61-86)
Biography



An Interview With Alexandra Tydings




Academic Background


Hercules realizes Aphrodite must be really
cold...


When the boys won't stop fighting, Aphrodite provides a useful... distraction.


BRET RUDNICK:
[1] First of all, let me thank you very much for your time in advance. I know this is a busy time of year and it is very nice of you to give up a small part of it.

ALEXANDRA TYDINGS:
[2] You're very welcome.

RUDNICK:
[3] In doing my research, I saw that you are a graduate of Brown University.

TYDINGS:
[4] Yes!

RUDNICK:
[5] Was your major in theatre?

TYDINGS:
[6] No, my department was called Modern Culture and Media. That's where the film department was. It was mostly theory -- feminist film theory and psychoanalytic theory. All that kind of stuff.

RUDNICK:
[7] [smiles] I noticed that in your background. It's cool that you have that experience and then took a role like Aphrodite.

TYDINGS:
[8] [laughs]




Constructing Aphrodite


RUDNICK:
[9] I meant that in an entirely complimentary way. When you first took the role of Aphrodite and you played it in the "surfer babe" mode, was that your doing as far as implementation?

TYDINGS:
[10] That was the script they gave me. When you get words like "b*tch*n'" and "totally", you kinda have to go with that. [both laugh] Certainly, I took it to places that someone else might not have, but yes, they wrote that in the script. Since then, I'll get a script and I know the character pretty well and can make some suggestions, but the original thing was all the writers.

RUDNICK:
[11] Since your first appearance on Hercules, I have really enjoyed your portrayal of Aphrodite more and more over time. It's not done in a "dumb blonde" kind of way, either. It is rather sophisticated.

TYDINGS:
[12] [laughs a lot]

RUDNICK:
[13] Other people I have talked to appreciate that too.

TYDINGS:
[14] Really?

RUDNICK:
[15] Absolutely.

TYDINGS:
[16] Good!

RUDNICK:
[17] Aphrodite is a very popular character.

TYDINGS:
[18] That's what I've heard. [smiles] That's funny. It was weird because she's [Aphrodite of Greek mythology] one of my favorite goddesses -- she always has been. She is the goddess of love -- she's beautiful and special and wonderful and brings so much joy to people. But on the show, she is really kind of a bad guy most of the time! [laughs] She's funny, and she's not mean-spirited, but...

RUDNICK:
[19] That's a very interesting observation. It seems that over time, with many characters on the show, the more appearances that character makes, there is a deepening of the character, a richer history is given, and often, as a consequence, the more sympathetic they become.

TYDINGS:
[20] Yes! Definitely.

RUDNICK:
[21] Are you happy with how that's been going?

TYDINGS:
[22] Yes. I have my favorite experiences, which has more to do with who I'm working with. We've had some really fun actors and directors.




STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD


Just keep laughing, Kevin...it's just for one
episode.


It's a whole new look for Ares, the God of Love and Aphrodite, the Goddess of... Propriety... in STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD.


RUDNICK:
[23] Speaking of directors, in the past I've interviewed Mike Levine, one of my favorite directors period. I knew his work from FOREVER KNIGHT (1992-1996) days, well before Xena and Hercules. He directed the episode you were most recently in, the "crossover" episode STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD (H64/405). What were some of your experiences on that episode, especially since you played multiple roles there.

TYDINGS:
[24] I enjoyed it. It's always fun to play more characters. Mike was really fun to work with. He was really flexible, but he also brought a lot to the table. In television everything is fast. It's not like theatre where it's more about the actor. Most of the time on television, you just do whatever you're going to do. The director will tell you when you're screwing up, but otherwise you're pretty much on your own. Michael brought a lot to the table and took the best stuff. I was really surprised when I saw it. I'm in front of the camera, not behind it. I know what the set looks like and what the colors look like, but I had no idea how the lighting they were doing was going to show up on the film, the camera angles, and the crazy pull-outs. I was impressed.




The Theatre and the Future


Now, when I ring this bell, you give me a pedicure.


Aphrodite makes more mischief in FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS.


RUDNICK:
[25] I notice that you have also done a lot of theatre. Do you miss that sense of immediacy you get in a reaction from a live audience?

TYDINGS:
[26] Yes. It's lovely; it's really lovely. But I also miss the experience of working through something. In film, if you're into something intense and you're right in there with it and it's going really, really well, it might last for two minutes. Then you hear "cut". In the theatre, there's just something special about working on something for a long time, moving from one scene to another. It just seems like a richer process. I miss it a lot.

RUDNICK:
[27] Is that something you'd like to go back to or expect to go back to in future?

TYDINGS:
[28] Yes. Yes.

RUDNICK:
[29] Any plans for that kind of work in the near future?

TYDINGS:
[30] I'm presently studying, so I'm constantly doing work like that. I have dreams, but nothing concrete at the moment.

RUDNICK:
[31] Anything coming up for television projects?

TYDINGS:
[32] I'm going back to New Zealand in a couple of weeks or so, in mid-January.

RUDNICK:
[33] Xena or Hercules?

TYDINGS:
[34] I can't remember! [both laugh] I only heard just last night. I was on the phone, it was so hectic, I'm leaving Monday (for holiday travel plans). So I have all these last-minute business things, shopping plans. I was on a pay phone at six o'clock at night, with one finger in my ear going, "What?!" [both laugh] I think she said Hercules. And we have another episode we filmed about two months ago [THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER]. I just did the ADR [automatic dialogue replacement] for it. It was a Xena. I usually do Hercules . It was fun. I lose my powers. I get dirty and gross -- it was fun. [both laugh]

[35] I like the ones where I get to mix it up. That was directed by Andrew [Merrifield]. He's usually an AD [Assistant Director] on Hercules, and he's been an AD on Xena too. He's Australian, and that was the last episode he directed before he moved back to Australia to pursue his directing career. He was great; he was really fun.

[36] In my experience, it's a personality thing. The people that the crew respect, the people that the crew get along with, that's when things really click. Everyone knows how to do their jobs. When you can get people to relax and play and have fun, it's great.




The Different Sets


Aphrodite just remembered she missed the 50% off
sale on wonderbras.


"Not my Vase from Thrace!" Aphrodite laments as Gabrielle takes Joxer on a "world tour" of Aphrodite's temples to get her to relent and break the spell.


RUDNICK:
[37] It's funny, but when I ask men if there is a difference between life on the Hercules and Xena sets they invariably say, No. They do not notice a difference. But women always say, yes, they detect a difference.

TYDINGS:
[38] [laughs] That's interesting. I have a different perspective on it. Most of the women work on Xena, whereas Hercules is more my home base. I did three Herc episodes, then I did a Xena. Then, two Herc episodes and a Xena. In some ways, Hercules is my home town. I knew Kevin before I went down there, and he was my director, so I felt really comfortable right away. But it is different, it's funny. And now a lot of the people have switched over. It's just like high school sometimes. [both laugh] It really is. It's like visiting a different school.

RUDNICK:
[39] So overall, I get the impression you think this is a pretty positive experience, much more a blessing than a curse.

TYDINGS:
[40] Yes, definitely.

RUDNICK:
[41] I know sometimes people can think that they're stuck in a rut if they have to keep doing the same thing over and over again.

TYDINGS:
[42] No, I'm pleased. It's such a funny little... event, these two shows. I had never seen the show when I got the audition. I had just finished doing this movie with Woody Harrelson called The Sunchaser (Michael Cimino, 1996). It hadn't come out yet and everyone was saying, "This is going to be your huge break. You're going to be a big star." Some people who advised me said to be careful about doing too much TV, especially syndicated TV. Other people said it [Hercules] was a really fun show, check it out. I got the script and said, "What is this?!" I called up this woman who worked with me, who as it turns out watches the show every week, and I said, "This is a joke, right?" It's an action show and most action shows aren't funny. She said, "No, it's different. Just go with it. And it shoots in New Zealand." I love it. It's really campy. It's right up my alley. It shoots in New Zealand, so sure, I'll do it.

[43] It's turned out to be a really fun experience, and every time, I've learned something. I still feel I'm learning. When I did REIGN OF TERROR (H55/318) that was the first time I was able to cry on cue. That was a big deal for me! I've cried before spontaneously on scenes that were captured on film and put into the show, but until then, it was never a situation where is says, "she cries, she notices she cries, and he says it". So, you have to be crying. That was exciting.




Contributions to the Character


Alexandra practices her facial exercises.


Aphrodite -- not just another pretty face!


RUDNICK:
[44] Have you been able to bring more of your own ideas of what you think the character is all about? Or do you not think that much about it?

TYDINGS:
[45] No, I do. It tends to show up in little things. I might say something like, "I don't know if she would do that." If you have a good director, and most of them are, you can talk it out and maybe we'll figure out she would and why, or she wouldn't really and we'll do this instead. But not in terms of storyline or anything like that.

RUDNICK:
[46] I ask because I've heard from so many people who work on the show that they like this work because things are so open. Practically anyone can have an opinion or idea and they're listened to.

TYDINGS:
[47] In one episode I worked on, I can't remember the name, there was a weird technical problem they were working on. There were a lot of complicated things going on and there was a concern over how someone would exit the frame. All the crew members were sitting there trying to figure it out, and one of the actors said, "Why don't we do this?" The director paused, smiled and said, "How come you're not the director?" [both laugh] That's not how it usually happens.




Dancing Around the World


RUDNICK:
[48] I notice too, in looking over some of your biographical information, that you have a background in ballet and dance.

TYDINGS:
[49] Oh yes!

RUDNICK:
[50] I see you represented the United States in an international competition.

TYDINGS:
[51] [laughs] In Irish dancing, yes! When I first came out here, I put it on my resume and thought it was hysterical. No one would know what the h*ll this was. No one's going to give a sh*t. Now all of a sudden, Michael Flatley is a household name. When I was doing it, it was much less known. It's such a completely insulated little weird subculture. The rest of my life was pretty normal. I was a kid, went to school. I didn't go to an Irish Catholic school or anything like that, but on the weekends, I would go to Irish dancing lessons. Then I started competing, which is the natural progression. We'd drive to Delaware (from Washington) or New Jersey or New York for competition. It was a big deal, and you had to wear a special dress that was embroidered with all this Celtic knot work, all hand-done. You had to put curlers in your hair and sleep on them the night before. You wore these crazy, ridiculous shoes. My friends in third grade said, "What are you doing?"

[52] I love dancing pretty much more than anything else in the world. I used to get in trouble a lot. In school when we had to line up for lunch or something, I didn't deal well with that. I was always hopping up and down. I was told that when I was a little girl, we went to see some festival and there was Irish dancing, and I said I wanted to do that. I don't remember that. I started dancing before I had a memory of it. That's how I started doing ballet, because it makes you a more graceful dancer. I got really into that and wanted to be a ballerina. Then I got too tall, and that was the end of my dancing career.

RUDNICK:
[53] Wow. Generally being tall is a good thing.

TYDINGS:
[54] I know, right? It was a little hard. But you add an extra six inches to your height when you go up on toes, I'd tower over the men. I think now it's a little more acceptable. Then I dabbled in other forms of dancing in high school. In college, they had an awesome dance program there. In particular, there was one awesome woman who had studied a lot of African dance. She had a lot of friends who lived in Providence who were drummers. It was an amazing, beautiful thing that would happen two or three times a week. The drummers would play and she would dance and we would follow her. Food for the soul, you know?? Great stuff. And I haven't really found that exact kind of thing out here. I've found other stuff out here, like salsa and samba, that I didn't do before, but I'm getting into now. I love dancing so much, and I spent so much time in nightclubs and such when I was a teenager, which are the things I really love to do. I can't stand techno-music, but I want to go dancing, so I'm trying to investigate this whole salsa thing, and this swing thing.

RUDNICK:
[55] I don't know about Los Angeles these days, but ballroom dancing has undergone quite a revival on the East Coast the last several years.

TYDINGS:
[56] Really?

RUDNICK:
[57] Yes, there are now a number of places to choose from where couples can go to actually dance.

TYDINGS:
[58] That is so cool! I think there's something comforting, too, about knowing exactly what the rules are. There's so much confusion about gender right now, even if it's a fantasy for a couple of minutes, we all know what we're supposed to do, and people feel comfortable with that.

RUDNICK:
[59] It's a nice way to express yourself physically and use some of the energy you have.

TYDINGS:
[60] I was lucky to dance a lot as a child. Also, I sang a lot as a performing child. I was in chorus and musicals at school. I stopped when I got older, as you do when singing Christmas carols is no longer attractive. I started singing again when I went to an audition. I had to audition for the part of a singer. There's one scene in the movie where she sings, so for the final audition I had to go in there and sing a song, which I hadn't done in front of people in quite a while. That sparked my joy for that again. So I started studying again about six months ago. I'm not really very interested in musicals, but I wanted to sing jazz. My teacher said, "You can sing anything and call it jazz. Jazz is really a style you put on that song." He said there was a standard, such as Cole Porter and Ella Fitzgerald. So, I started researching standards, and I discovered they're all from old musicals that I had never seen before. After seeing some of these I found out I really love these things! Then I rented SWEET CHARITY (Bob Fosse, 1969) and I feel like it changed my life. I love it so much. It's so sexy and so much fun. I have this little dream that somehow, that sort of thing is going to be popular again and I'm going to be ready! [both laugh]




Deconstructing Aphrodite


You could use a good conditioner, Cupie.


Like many parents, Aphrodite can't resist interfering in the life of her child as she tells him "Don't be stupid, Cupid!"


RUDNICK:
[61] I was also interested in your thoughts as regards your experience with feminist film theory, which I know you have a background in. I'd like to hear your opinions on that about television in general, or Xena and Hercules in particular.

TYDINGS:
[62] How do you know all this stuff? [both laugh] No, that's really interesting because the work I was doing at Brown was so critical. That's what it was, critical theory. Back then, deconstruction was such a big thing, especially in academia. That was what we did. I can completely understand that there are people writing theses about Xena. That's something I might have done at Brown. We would pick any bit of text, any culture -- THE FLINTSTONES (1960-1966), whatever -- and tear it into little pieces, and basically point out all the problems, all the racism, all the gender, all the subtext, all the ideology.

[63] It's almost the exact opposite of the process you need to go through in order to act. With acting, it's like falling into a pool and letting it happen. At Brown, it was looking carefully at every little thing. I had to almost completely turn around my whole way of looking at things even just to feel OK about what I was doing. Even the coolest Jodie Foster movie, according to my training at Brown, is completely problematic and there are all kinds of underpinnings and bad gender things in it and so forth. I said, "Yeah, that stuff is all true, but I really love acting." [both laugh]

RUDNICK:
[64] And now you find yourself in the middle of all that.

TYDINGS:
[65] Yeah, it's weird. But I also believe that stories are so important to cultures, and art is so important, whatever it does. Whether it tries to heal people through laughter or through bringing up an issue that had been submerged in the subconscious of the culture. I think it's really important stuff. It's one of the cool things about being involved in the show -- is that it deals with all this mythology.

[66] The first episode I did, THE APPLE (H30/217), was based on the story of Helen of Troy, and the judgement of Paris, where Iolaus is basically Paris. [laughs] They certainly took their liberties with the story, but it's exciting to be involved in that kind of thing. Those stories lasted as long as they did because they resonated with people on a deep, archetype level.

RUDNICK:
[67] Everyone has experiences with love gained, or love lost, or trying and succeeding, or trying and failing, or being ripped off. It's how the story is told, how people relate to them, that determines not just the tone of the show, but what people get out of it.

TYDINGS:
[68] That's exactly what we studied at Brown: how the story is told determines how the meaning is perceived. In terms of what you might anticipate a feminist might say about a character like Aphrodite, twenty years ago a feminist might say, It's horrible, it's exploitation, and it is. The first thing people say when they meet me is, "You're not nearly as big as you look on TV!"

RUDNICK:
[69] [laughs uproariously]

TYDINGS:
[70] Or my friends would say, "What did they do? Did you get some work done or something?" No, that is the magic of Hollywood, my friend. [laughs]

RUDNICK:
[71] The miracle that is WonderBra.

TYDINGS:
[72] The show owes a lot to that invention. [both laugh] And bodypaint! That is so brutal! You go home every single night and there's this weird, orange ring around your bathtub. And especially me. Not that you should feel sorry for me, but there's a lot of skin that's covered with that stuff. That's another reason why I liked doing STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD (H64/405) because I was wearing a long dress! [laughs] But I think feminism today is much more complicated. We're much more willing to see women as sexual beings and that's not necessarily a problem. I think that's much more interesting. In terms of that, Aphrodite is an interesting character. If I were at Brown, I'd probably write a paper about her. [both laugh] I don't know what I would say yet, because I haven't thought about it like that.

[73] Someone asked me if I thought Aphrodite was a good role model for girls. I have two responses to that question. One was that at some point, every girl has to reckon with the power of her sexuality, which is sort of what Aphrodite is all about. She's not too good a role model about how to do it, but in terms of being conscious of the role that plays in the relationship with everyone, but men especially, I think that's important. And also, if she's going to be a role model, it's good to have someone comfortable with their sexuality and maybe even proud of it. There are more and more women like that in media, but not enough, I think. But then there's the part of her that's completely petty and ridiculous, and there, I think she's a really good model of what not to do. [both laugh]

RUDNICK:
[74] In talking to a number of people who help make the show, one of the things that has come up repeatedly is the fact that they try to make each story have a moral or particular theme to it.

TYDINGS:
[75] Yes, they do, I think.

RUDNICK:
[76] Even at that, the show now is rated as violent. For both Hercules and Xena I notice that at the beginning of the show, a little box pops up and gives them both a "V" for violence. Some other shows also get warnings for language, dialogue, and so forth. Even though the violence on both shows is often very tongue-in-cheek and comic book.

TYDINGS:
[77] I think that whole debate is very complicated. The work we were doing at Brown was all about how the images you see in the story you're told affect you. If you don't have a word for something, you don't have a concept of it. My personal opinion is that the frenzy to legislate is really taking the responsibility away from people, viewers, and parents especially. I completely understand -- when I have children, I don't want them to be traumatized by turning the television on, but I also feel I should play a part in deciding what she's going to watch. The TV shouldn't be a surrogate babysitter.

RUDNICK:
[78] A trend in modern culture is that people are becoming more isolated from society in general, from their own families. Everyone is off doing his or her own thing.

TYDINGS:
[79] I hate that so much. I think that's another reason why ballroom dancing and things like that are becoming more popular for some people. It feeds that nostalgia that we have, and how often do you actually get that physically close to another human being.

RUDNICK:
[80] It's something you can't do by yourself.

TYDINGS:
[81] [smiles] You can't do it with your computer; you can't do it with a book. I wonder what's going to happen with that. It seems like that's one of the repercussions with all the technology. I don't think we're wired that way, as humans. I don't think we're supposed to be that isolated. I wonder what's going to happen to make us all come back together. In some ways, the Internet can help that. But, in some ways, it's also depressing in that people will go to cafes and talk to people they don't know, but right next to them is a live person.

RUDNICK:
[82] I know you're pressed for time right now, and thanks very much for taking a little away from your busy schedule. I know people are looking forward to seeing you again very much, and I'm glad you're getting more work in New Zealand.

TYDINGS:
[83] I'm excited. I love it there. This year, I was down there three times for six weeks. Last year, I was down there four times for two months. At this point, I have a lot of friends down there and it's kind of like going home a little bit.

RUDNICK:
[84] Wonderful. Looking forward to seeing you again.

TYDINGS:
[85] Thanks a lot!

RUDNICK:
[86] No, thank you, very much.

S & M posterchild


Aphrodite dons leather and makes like Emma Peel in REIGN OF TERROR.




Biography

Bret Rudnick Whoosh! Staff
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< /cite>, 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: GIANT KILLER (27/203)







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