Whoosh! Issue 24 - September 1998

Exclusive to Whoosh!
By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Copyright © 1998 held by author
2341 words

Author's Note: Catherine Boniface is a talented, energetic, and enthusiastic actress. She is best known to XENA fans as Meridian, the woman in THE DELIVERER (50/304) who was responsible for Gabrielle losing her blood innocence. Fans may also recognise Ms. Boniface as a priestess in A COMEDY OF EROS. She graciously took some time from her schedule to answer some questions via e-mail in June of 1998.
Author Update 22 August, 1998: Catherine Boniface will also be appearing in a Season 4 episode.

The Beginning and First XENA Experiences (01-07)
Meridian and Blood Innocence (08-11)
Acting Tips (12-14)
Present and Future (15-25)

An Interview with Catherine Boniface

My blood type?  Why do you need to know my blood type?

Catherine Boniface as the initially sweet Meridian in THE DELIVERER.

The Beginning and First XENA Experiences

[1] How did you get started in acting? Is this something you always wanted to do?

[2] It was by no means an impassioned start! Basically I needed to fill a credit in the Bachelor of Social Science degree I had begun at Waikato Universtiy. To my everlasting shame, I figured "Practical Drama I" was an easy pass and enrolled! The course was magic, I was hooked and so begins a long (I hope!) and unprosperous (unfortunately) beautiful relationship with acting! That lead on to dalliances with local repertory companies with amazing roles such as Viola in TWELFTH NIGHT, Marianne in Moliere's Tartuffe, Madame de Tourvelle in DANGEROUS LIASONS. Needless to say my performances were fairly inexperienced and relatively un-notable, so I felt the next step was to train. I was accepted into the NZ School of Performing Arts 2 year Diploma of Acting for Screen and Theatre - which concentrated on all facets of acting from voice/movement/technique to writing/directing/designing to performing, performing, performing! So really, I was quite old (about 19) when I discovered that acting was not only a viable career option for myself but something that gave me enormous pleasure.

We're here to play 'Twister' or do the Hokey-Pokey!

Catherine was the top priestess in A COMEDY OF EROS, which meant she had lines and didn't have to have her face covered all the time!

[3] What was your first "XENA" experience? How did you come to work on the show?

[4] My first Xena experience was the auditioning! Of course I had heard of the show but it hadn't been on NZ screens for too long and I didn't know much about it. When I graduated from Performing Arts School, I worked for two months in Singapore performing Shakespeare for Singapore school children - a real blast. When I returned my agent put me up for general auditions with most of the casting agents, one of whom was Diana Rowan (responsible for NZ Xena/Herc. casting). My first audition was for HERCULES and I'm afraid to say I was errmmm, aaaahhh, nervous! Must have impressed someone because I was invited again and again until I landed the role of Virgin Priestess in A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222) (which coincidentally was seen for the first time by NZers, including myself a couple of days ago!). Generally you get started on small roles and then can be cast in bigger roles later. About a month later I landed the role of Meridian in the two episodes THE DELIVERER (50/304) and GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/304).

The next gospel/pop crossover

Care had to be taken in some of the more energetic scenes to make sure XENA didn't get an 'X' rating.

[5] What were some of the more memorable experiences you had with these parts? Were there any amusing or particularly poignant moments?

[6] It was over a year ago that I filmed these roles so bear with me!!! The first time I remember being very nervous and unsure. I was not very experienced and had little idea of where, what, why and how! The crew on the set were really amazing - helpful and friendly. The second time around was a little easier, as I knew some names and generally the ins and outs of being "on set". The Virgin Priestess role meant two days filming which turned into four as we were required to run around in the back of shots either pursuing or being pursued! I only had about five or six lines so the name of the game was to enjoy myself. Going from pious to lustful was easy! You can't go too far in episodes that deal with farcical situations like this one! The most difficult thing was keeping the costumes on! The costumes, although beautiful, were concocted of what felt like tissue paper! I was more fully clothed than the other girls, but there was the obligatory tucking and rearranging of certain body parts to ensure the episode didn't turn x-rated!

[7] On the other hand, The Deliverer/Gab's Hope was a much more intense time. The sacrificial scene was shot on a closed set mostly to protect Renee who had a big job on her hands. I think the most amazing thing about working on these episodes was watching people, particularly actors, work their craft. Obviously, it was a full-on time for Renee, who had to maintain the emotion of deep distress in between takes and set/location changes. Then (as XENA is shot out of sequence) alter her distress to that of the innocent Gab. Watching her work in the sacrificial scene was a huge moment for me as an actor. Renee has such a talent. I fully appreciate the subtleties and nuances in her acting as I watch further episodes. She provides a perfect foil for Lucy, and vice versa. I was also made more fully aware of the talents of everyone involved from gripper to sound to makeup to set construction. They work like a well oiled machine, I've never seen a group of such diverse people with diverse skills work together so efficiently, and I think, for me, that's part of the charm of XENA.

*This* oughta carve that pizza!

Meridian is about to supposedly strike Khrafstar....

Meridian and Blood Innocence

[8] Your character, Meridian, has been the topic of quite some discussion. It was the death of Meridian that caused Gabrielle to lose her "blood innocence". Do you have any thoughts on that? Was there much in the way of detailed discussion between you and the director on how this character should be portrayed, or did you go mainly on your own instincts?

[9] I read some essays on people's reaction to THE DELIVERER (50/304) and I'm thrilled at the response. At the end of the day there's no right or wrong answer as to what it's all about - that's the beauty of storytelling. This is the way I see it: THE DELIVERER (50/304) deals essentially with the forces of good and evil and when I looked at the character of Meridian, I felt that these aspects were the key to her character. That Gab is a "representative", if you like, of good; and Khrafstar and Meridian represent evil, is too simplified a way of looking at it. There are aspects of good and evil in all of us - Xena grapples with it all the time. Gabrielle is good that, in this episode, has been opened up to that miniscule part of herself (that is in all of us) which is evil. Encouraged by Khrafstar, she's surrounded, consumed by it, and because of her goodness, unable to defend herself against it.

No, seriously, what's your *real* hair colour?

...when Gabrielle interferes and stabs her, thinking she was defending the defenseless...

[10]Meridian, on the other hand, has aspects of good in her that leads to evil. My biggest fear was that by playing Meridian totally evil meant a one dimensional character. By having Meridian believe what she is doing is for the very best; for the good of her people, the betterment of her faith, believe deeply that what she is doing is right and good, adds a layer to her character that makes the whole murder scene with Gab that much more tragic - and we cannot forget that what Gabrielle does is murder. To believe that your murder means the preservation and strengthening of your religion, indicates more than just base evil, it points to Meridian's misdirected commitment to a value system she feels to be right and good but which, in reality, is destructive. All we have to do is look at cult members all over the world to know that this happens.

On XENA, you die with every hair in place.

...yet it was planned all along. Gabrielle was tricked into sacrificing Meridian.

[11]I talked about this scene with both the casting agents and the director Olly [Oley Sassone] to a certain extent, but generally I was left to make my own decisions with regards to the character and her motivation. As long as it supported Gabrielle's action rather than working against it, it would work. Olly was a great diretor, warm and supportive and willing to give the actor space when needed - a hard thing to do when you consider the time constraints that come with filming a series.

Acting Tips

[12] The two roles I've seen you in were very contrasting, yet oddly similar. Both were priestesses, really. COMEDY OF EROS (46/222) was very light, but THE DELIVERER (50/304) and GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/304) were very heavy. How do you reconcile the kind of character you're going to play. What preperatory work do you do?

[13] When you are cast in a particular role, you are selected because you have in you the qualities that were envisioned by the creator, director, producer. So to my way of thinking, you are already reconciled to a role upon selection. In many cases, you don't fit the requirements at all but can shape yourself and your work so that at least you can force people to take a good look at you. This is where your preparatory work comes in, whether it be just an audition or an actual role. What I do initially is read and re-read the script. There will always be clues to your character in the script. Familiarising yourself with the whole story can only be an advantage. I look at what other characters say about you, what you say about yourself, what is said to you, what you say to others. It's all there - you just have to READ,READ,READ. If you can glean nothing from the script, this is where your imagination can come into play. Meridian, for example, has a few things said about her between Khrafstar and Gabrielle which provide a little information, but nothing else. So then it is up to you to provide a history for your character from your imagination.

[14] AS LONG AS IT SUPPORTS THE ACTION you can create for your character anything. I never believed Meridian was truly evil, so I created for her a history that supported (a) her cult membership, (b) her value system, and (c) her action. I just wrote this on a piece of paper for myself and it changed as I became familiar with her. I did a bit of reading on cult membership, but it was hard to find anything that wasn't sensationalised or heavily jargonized! In the end, gut instinct is also something to rely on. Instinct is a handy skill for an actor, but a tricky one to trust. Acting is story-telling, and story-telling has been a part of our culture since the beginning of time, so acting is part work, part instinct I guess.

Present and Future

[15] Do you have any more Pacific Renaissance projects upcoming? Or indeed, what is on the horizon for you professionally?

[16] The unfortunate thing about acting here, is the industry is very small. Work can be sporadic and there can be a long wait in between jobs. I've often said to friends that acting's the easy part, it's the in-between bits that get you down. It's difficult to keep positive about your work when you haven't been doing it for some months. I have no Pacific Renaissance projects coming up apart from awaiting the screening of THE DELIVERER (50/304)! I have had a few auditions for upcoming series of XENA but have not landed anything. I think Meridian may have been too memorable to be able [for me] to be used for some time. I would love to do HERCULES, but there aren't as many guest roles on the show as XENA. After THE DELIVERER (50/304), I landed a guest role on SHORTLAND STREET, which is a local medical drama made here in Auckland. It shot over a couple of weeks and was lots of fun. Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of ongoing local series shot in NZ, most of our tv comes from the States.

[17] What type of work would you like to do, if you could pick any project?

[18] I am open to all sorts of mediums so at the moment I have got a futuristic radio play to record in the next couple of weeks, a tour of Hamlet and Macbeth to local secondary schools for two months, and I'm in the process of developing a short comedic play which I hope to be able to nurture to fruition with the support of a writer friend who just opened a play of his in Auckland to incredible response. If the work is not out there you develop it yourself!!

[19] Do you have any other aspirations, professionally? And anywise, what do you like to do in your spare time, etc.?

[20] I originally trained in theatre and I must admit, it is a passion of mine. There's nothing like a live audience to get you going! My dream job would be becoming a part of a small ongoing theatre company that put on a mixture of original and already written plays, that could incorporate things like corporate gigs, theatresports, children's theatre, workshops and training. Unfortunately, the last theatre company in Auckland fell in the late eighties, and despite efforts, nothing has replaced it. There is the Auckland Theatre Company which is beginning to find it's stride but is at the moment only producing about seven plays a year, and competition for parts is fierce.

[21]I have also thought about combining my Social Science degree (I majored in Psychology) and my acting to get into using drama as a form of therapy for adolescents with behavioural problems. We know that things such as role playing can be used in problem solving particularly within relationships. So far I haven't gotten far with that as I'm still enjoying my own acting.

[22]Apart from acting, I enjoy anything to do with it!!! Movies are a particular passion - particularly foreign films, or anything that is slightly offbeat. I find there can be more soul in one small low-budget short film made by students in Timbuktu, than in some multi-million dollar budget blow out film star cramped motion pictures. Having said that I also love nothing better than to watch these multi-million dollar budget blow out film star pictures on a rainy day with a large packet of M&Ms and a coke!!! I consider it Homework!! I also read lots of plays, although I am in the middle of Lord of the Rings which I can't put down. It's a BIG book and I'm afraid my social life has suffered as a result.

I was thinking of sending this dress to Monica Lewinsky!

The ghost of Meridian haunts Gabrielle's dreams in GABRIELLE'S HOPE.

[23] New Zealand is a beautiful country, I was there in March during the big Auckland blackout. Do you see yourself staying in New Zealand for your profession or do you have plans to come Stateside or elsewhere? Are you concerned for New Zealand and the predictions of bad economy, particularly in the entertainment industry?

[24] NZ is an amazing place to live and I couldn't think of anywhere else I'd rather raise a family. But since that is a wee way off, I have made plans to head off to work in England sometime next year. As NZ is a colony (outdated I know!!!) of Britain, I can apply for a working visa on grandparent entry (My fathers family came out here early this century). I'm hoping to involve myself in a theatre company over there. There are many more options for actors in theatre than here. I'm afraid the States is not on my agenda. I don't really fit the Hollywood gal-type . If ever I am tempted it would probably be New York - I've heard it's rich in theatre and arts.

[25]I have high hopes for the resurrection of Auckland theatre, but the strive for the $$ means funding is at an all-time low. Locally produced tv series also tend to be relatively short term, and as I said before, our screens are 85% overseas content. The entertainment industry is very small here and I don't really see that changing. Particularly when we can get high rating shows from overseas - FRIENDS, SEINFELD, ALLY MCBEAL are just as big here as in the US. It also seems that we as a country don't like our own dramas on tv. Interestingly, most locally produced shows are panned fairly quickly. I think it's just a case of finding our own recipe that appeals to the average Kiwi. There is a whole lot of talent out here, I believe we will find our way.


Bret Rudnick 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 (10/11 0), 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." 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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