Author's Note: Who among us has not dreamed of getting a call one day, saying "Guess what?! You are going to be a featured performer in a multiple-episode story arc on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. Pack your bags for NZ!" And what friend or relative of someone in show business has not silently prayed "I hope success doesn't go to her head."
Believe it or not, there is indeed at least one all- American, girl-next-door who found herself in a major role on XWP early in her career. Adrienne Wilkinson is featured in the last three episodes of Season 5, and will be seen next season as well, as Livia, the adult daughter of Xena, and the reincarnation of Callisto. Ms. Wilkinson graciously squeezed in time for an interview just before heading back to New Zealand to begin filming new episodes. It became very clear that she is tremendously grateful for and excited about this role, and very appreciative of the positive experiences during shooting.
We conducted this interview via several lengthy e-mail sessions. I was especially impressed with her wonderful command of language (she can use the subjunctive, as in "had they not been," and everything!) and that she writes as an actress might, with the idea of someone hearing her words as well as reading them.
The Early Years (01-11)
Los Angeles (12-19)
Real Work (20-28)
Guest Starring Nitty Gritty (43-49)
Rob, Lucy, Renee, et al (54-71)
Season 6 and New Zealand (72-76)
Music, Future, and Fan Club (77-86)
Adrienne Wilkinson, as herself. Photo courtesy the Official Adrienne Wilkinson Fan Club. Check it out at: http://www.angelfire.com/celeb/adriennewilkinson.
The Early Years AUGUST KRICKEL:
Thanks for agreeing to do this. Let's start with the basics. Your name, do you pronounce it AY-drienne, or Adri-ENNE?
 ADRIENNE WILKINSON:
I guess the first one is my preference, but I will answer to anything that comes close. It is my given name, but I have also chosen to use it in all fields of work.
I gather you are from Missouri? Where abouts?
I moved around quite a bit growing up. I was born in Memphis, Missouri. I've lived in Springfield, Missouri, Prescott, Arizona, Jasper, Arkansas, Branson, Missouri, and then I moved to California. My family is stationed mostly around Cuba, Missouri and Springfield, so I consider those places home.
You started performing at a very early age. How did that come about?
My mom started me in classes when I was tiny. I think it must have been obvious that I have always been a performer. My mom is very perceptive, she sort of just knows what things we might enjoy, or she makes us try a lot of things at least once before we make a decision either way. So, my siblings and I have had lots of experiences that have helped us decipher what it is in life we really enjoy, and want to dedicate our time to. Acting was a personal choice. I had been on stage (dancing) for quite a while, and doing small shows in school etc., but towards the end of high school it became a career choice.
So, like Xena, you have many skills: dancer, actress, singer. Which came first? And how did you make the transition into the other areas?
I started as a dancer. I've done performances of one sort or another for years. Acting became a serious part of my life around the age of 16. They were filming some movies where I was living (Branson), and I met the casting people. That was the first time I realized that acting was a possible career choice, that it was something I could actually do for a living. Before that, it seemed like such a fairy tale job -- not something people from my home town do. The reality of seeing a film being made and meeting the people involved really broadened my ideas about what I could do with my future.
 It's only been about the last year and a half that I've attempted to become a singer in a professional sense. It started when a lot of the auditions were requiring people that could sing, so I gave it a try, and slowly built up my confidence, and now I'm loving it.
That was certainly a good break. While you were getting serious about performing, were you still able to maintain a relatively "normal" high school existence?
I consider myself very lucky. I had a totally normal childhood. It wasn't until I was old enough to make the decision on my own that I looked into acting. There are a few roles that I would love to have been able to play, that would require me being younger than I am. But I wouldn't change a thing about how everything has worked out. I went to three different high schools in three VERY different towns. They each had things I loved about them. I did the prom thing, and going to football games and hanging out, but I was never the true party girl. Instead I've always been the one to look out for everyone else who is there.
Los Angeles KRICKEL:
You must have been very young when you moved to Los Angeles.
I was 17 years old. I moved to LA two days after I graduated high school. I was determined to make it in the business. My parents were a bit terrified, but the move was allowed because I had an aunt and uncle that lived near LA, and I lived with them upon my arrival and for the first couple of years. If they hadn't lived here, I'm not sure what I would have done, because I refused to let anything stop me from coming out here. At the time, it didn't seem like a big deal at all to me. It was simply something that I knew I had to do. It was simply logical to me, a fact. Now I think, "Wow, I was so young, and I had only the smallest idea of what I was getting myself into." I don't know that I would be able to just jump into something like that now."
Heading out to LA at 17 to seek fame and fortune. Wow. Was that intimidating at all?
As challenging as LA is, I was never scared for a minute. It is by far the biggest city I've lived in, but I never give it a second thought. Somehow it just feels right. Shortly after getting to LA, as a means of security, I got a real estate license, so I always have that to fall back on.
A realtor who can slice you in half with a sword too! Works for me. Now given that you were not originally thinking about being a professional actor, did you do any formalized study once you got to LA?
Yes, my current teacher is Ken Lerner. He is a genius. I just love him. He is so down to earth. He loves to teach and makes time for it even though he is the most constantly working actor I know. He keeps the classes quite small, so it's a wonderful setting to experiment. He always demands that you do your best, and he has this amazing ability to bring performances out of you, that surprise even yourself! I don't know if he has aspirations of directing, but he would be wonderful!
How difficult was it to get an agent?
I'm lucky - when I arrived I had an agent, someone that a casting director who became a close friend had recommended me to. I've never been without representation, but it took a while to really find people that I felt had the same aspirations for my career that I did. I'm very happy with who I am trusting to represent me now.
Real Work KRICKEL:
So what was your first real professional gig?
My first role was a real wake up call. I booked some student features and things as soon as I got here, but the first true professional job I booked about 3 to 4 months after arriving in LA. It was guest star spot on Sweet Valley High (TV, 1994) for one episode. I went through about 9 auditions to get the job, which is unheard of. Normally 3 auditions is a maximum! It went on for over a month, then I got the part. It was quite substantial, the lead cheerleader, a couple of scenes, and quite a bit of dialogue. But then when I arrived for work, they had re- written the material because the show was going over the time limit. To make a long story short, my great acting debut that I had worked so hard for was cut down to two words! "Hi Todd," and they ran out of time, so they didn't even get any close ups. It was basically the back of my head! I was crushed. Talk about teaching you humility.
From there, you went on to appearances on Chicken Soup For The Soul (TV, 1999) and Saved By The Bell (TV, 1989-1993). Tell us about those.
In Chicken Soup For The Soul, I play a girl dying of anorexia. The make up was pretty gruesome. It starred Robin Givens as my guidance counselor and Meredith Bishop as my best friend, who is trying to stop me from killing myself. It was a very quick filming process, but pretty intense. The episode is called "The Right Thing."
 Saved By The Bell had a story line about a dance that everyone was trying to raise money for, and I played Sonya, a girl that was trying to win the affections of the male lead, Richard Lee Jackson. It was pretty cute.
Have there been any big auditions where you just barely missed out on getting cast?
I've had tons of close calls, but any actor worth their salt can tell you that exact same thing. Because if you are good at what you do, casting directors will recognize it and always bring you in for anything they think you are appropriate for. Most close calls are because you've done a great job, you might be perfect for the part, but someone with more credits is far more likely to get the role. That's just how the game is played. Work breeds work, the more you are able to do, the more people that see and enjoy your work. the more opportunities you will get. Then one day (hopefully) you reach the point where you have enough credits that almost any producers will trust you with their projects.
Having been in the business for a few years now, what's your overall impression of the acting and film industry?
I've learned SO much from every single job I've ever had - from watching other actors and seeing how productions work, how things are dealt with efficiently etc. I'm lucky; I can't think of any horrible moments. What is always surprising is what is captured on camera versus the reality of the shoot, i.e., filming at the beach when it looks like paradise on film, but I was actually so cold I couldn't feel my feet. Or when some pyrotechnics explode at the wrong time, so the reaction on film is true shock/fright, but in the finished product the actor is probably the only one to remember which take is which.
Livia makes an impression wherever she goes.
Moving on to your recent Xena experience, how did that come about?
My manager is the one who recommended me to the casting director for the role. I only read for the role of Livia. It was in L.A. There were apparently tons of girls reading for the role. I guess the casting process had been going on for a few weeks before I got the chance to read. The read was wonderful. It was one of those experiences where I wouldn't have changed a moment. The rapport I had with all the producers was great. The way the reading went was just beautiful. It was one of those experiences that was just meant to be.
Gosh - that must have been quite an experience. Almost like a dream come true. Did you have any idea that there would be so much advance buzz for this role? I mean, as we are doing this, LIVIA (110/520) has yet to air in my town, but I already know who you are, just from fan word-of- mouth. I don't recall this much excitement about, say, the rumors about Alti, Najara, Mavican, etc. Do you realize you may have an action figure at some point?
How cool would it be to have an action figure?! That is amazing. Umm, I hadn't even imagined that. I'm completely shocked by the amount of attention and interest Livia/Eve has generated. I would love to take the credit for it. But I am undeserving. The credit belongs to the story and the previous actors. Had Lucy and Hudson not been as amazing as they were, my character wouldn't be nearly as interesting or be generating as much desire for more information. The fans should be proud. The following the show has makes everyone work harder, the writers, actors, producers, because no one wants to disappoint anyone who is so loyal and supportive. Everyone works to make the show as unexpected and unique as possible. I couldn't have been more fortunate. The role is truly amazing.
By the time this will be published, we all will have had a chance to have seen Livia in action. How would you describe her?
In a word, she's fierce. She very intelligent, very confident, strong, brave, vicious, manipulating, ambitious, vain, a bit crazy, and very powerful. (Wow, who wouldn't love to play this girl?!!) I think the journey that she takes through the story line, strips her of all of the walls she has built and lets you in on her true self.
 She never had a mother (that she can remember). Everyone needs that. A mother has the most enormous impact on someone's life, and the absence of one has an equally strong impact. Livia has learned to live without anyone else, but that doesn't mean she has never wanted anyone else. She is simply surviving the way she has been taught to survive.
 The story line has her world as she knows it spinning out of control. Everything she thought was, wasn't, and everything that was expected to happen, didn't. She goes through many stages: desperation, confusion, anger, grief, etc. Livia is so comfortable with who she is and where she is going, that when her comfort zone is threatened, it not only makes her examine where she needs to be going, but examine who she really is, what she really wants in life, and who she will become now that her life has changed so dramatically.
How much of this portrayal did you develop, how much was already written into the character, and how much did you guys work out on the set?
The script had a definite flavor of what they were looking for. I like to do as much prep work as possible. I spent a lot of time creating what Livia had experienced for the past 25 years, what her beliefs were, her attitude, her reactions, how she had become this incredible warrior. I knew exactly what I wanted, who she was, what she thought, how she walked. I felt I had everything to make her this dynamic person. However, one never knows what will happen when they get on set, what ideas are kept, or what will be thrown out, etc. Fortunately, the majority of my ideas about Livia were kept, and anything that needed help, they provided. So, between all of us, she became very cool.
 Author's Note: At this point, I made an extraneous Classics-geek's observation on the historical Livia, the second wife of Octavius, and her granddaughter Livia (or Livilla - "little Livia") whose exploits can be seen in I Claudius. Ms. Wilkinson once again impressed me with her desire fully to research all aspects of her character:
I had no idea. I love that about Xena though - there are so many historical, literary, and biblical references, and remnants that are worked into the scripts. It's very innovative. I wish I had known that. I would have researched her.
How much background did they give you on the character, the setting, the whole milieu, and "the story thus far"?
Unfortunately I hadn't seen much of Xena, so I was very unfamiliar. I was given three episodes to watch to prepare me for my role. One was of Callisto (in her evil stage), one was of Xena when she had been evil, and the third was a recent episode that included baby Eve. Most of my knowledge was gained through conversations with the producers/directors, and of course the script itself covered almost everything that was necessary to create my performance.
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