Whoosh! Issue 22 - July 1998

An Interview With Steven L. Sears


Yeah, you're Xena and I'm Hercules!

Salmoneus can barely contain himself at the sight of Gabrielle's Xena impersonation.

[62] Next in the timeline we have THE GREATER GOOD (21/121). This is a marvelous episode. There is so much in there; it is so rich. It is one of those episodes where I just cannot say enough good things about it.

[63] Well, thank you very much. That one had a lot of debate around it also.

[64] Really?

[65] Because it was the first time we saw Xena wounded. Well, I shouldn't say that, we saw her wounded, hit by an arrow in CHARIOTS OF WAR. But this time we would see the effects of her wound throughout the entire episode. And she would go into a coma, or die, whichever way you want to look at it. So we had a lot of debate as to how that would happen, how it would be caused, and who would cause it.

[66] Obviously, Callisto caused it. Later, fortunately, Callisto became such a good villainess that we could buy that she could do that to Xena.

[67] The other thing that did not come out as well as we had intended it to, because of time constraints, was featuring Argo. It came out OK. From the audience perspective it came out very well, from my perspective, there was so much more we wanted to do. We weren't able to because of time constraints. The episode ended up being incredibly long. And two, Tilly is not always cooperative. [laughs] So we had a couple of moments which would have been real, little tearjerkers there, but never did quite realize themselves on the screen.

[68] There was also a bit more of the explanation of Gabrielle's background with horses. In the episode, she mentions that she had a pony when she was younger. We had to cut some lines out because the episode was so long. But basically she says that this pony was a pet that followed her everywhere. She loved it dearly. And one day it died. You really do get the impression, especially the way Renee acted it, that this is a deep-seated problem with her, that she has a problem loving and giving her heart completely to pets or people. Because the analogy was here was her best friend, at it looks like she might be dying. But you catch what Gabrielle is going through.

[69] That explains a little bit why she can't allow herself to get close to Argo. Also later there was a scene written which filmed OK, was cut out anyway, but could have been better. After she attacks the tree, the tree-bashing scene, there was a scene where Argo came over to her and nuzzled her to comfort her. She said to Argo, "It's you and me, that's all we have now". Then she inadvertently, accidentally, calls Argo Tympany, which was her pony. There was that whole threadline. As it was, we got a nice thing about how Argo can act on her own and how she can respond to Xena's commands, that worked out well. But there was that whole emotional underpinning that unfortunately we lost.

[70] Then of course the mourning scene that Renee did so wonderfully, that still brings a tear to my eye when I see it. It's amazing, Renee tapped in exactly to what I wanted to put on paper. I didn't write that much in the description. But I knew exactly what I was feeling, and when I saw the dailies and saw her doing it I was like "My God, she is right on".

Lucy and Renee

[71] From what I have seen, and my experience is extremely limited, there is no doubt about that, but Renee looks very, very studious when she is working.

[72] Yes, she is.

[73] She is always taking notes, always thinking, very deep in thought and concentration about what she has to do, the consummate professional.

[74] Right, she is. Very, very studied. Which is a very interesting contrast to Lucy. Lucy is studied, but Lucy has a much more reactive manner. You do three different takes with Lucy and you might get three different styles. None of them bad, just different choices. Renee takes a little more time and nails in her character to fit in exactly what's going on. She reacts when other people change things or take a different track on things. She does react to it. But the core of her character, you can tell she's really thought down deeply for them. It's kind of interesting, there's two completely different styles to get to the same point.

[75] Writers have this difference also. There are writers who are just intuitive. They just know how to do it. They just know how to spill it out on the page. I actually fall into that category. I never learned to write. I have never read a book on it. I've never taken a class in it. I don't even know what I'm doing. [both laugh]

[76] But I have friends, very close friends, who are extremely good writers and they studied it. I'll go into their office and they'll be sitting there staring at the screen, because they're playing chess in their mind. They're putting a line down in their mind and figuring out how it affects everything for the rest of the scene. Then they go back and change the lines and do the same thing. They're doing a whole strategy. They're actually studied. Whereas if you looked at me, you'd think I'm wasting time, because I'm out there talking to the secretary or I'm in here on the phone, I'm kibitzing, I'm playing games, whatever. Then something hits me in the side of the head with a ballpeen hammer and I start typing. Then it just falls out on the page.

[77] Completely different styles. That's really the difference I see between Lucy and Renee. Renee is very studied. She finds those levels, actively seeks them out. Lucy has it just spill out from her. She's very naturalistic. There are advantages to both, but the bottom line is look what we're getting on film. It's really working well.

[78] The other thing too about THE GREATER GOOD (21/121) is we get more exposure to Salmoneus and his character.

Salmoneus vs. Joxer

On second thoughts, I'm not too keen on the kinky stuff.

Everyone raises their bonds for the chakram to slice through them in THE BLACK WOLF.

[79] Salmoneus is one of my favorite characters. But to address a continuing question, the fact that he doesn't make that many appearances is attributed to many different things. It's not the Joxer question, despite what many people want to believe.

[80] But I'll tell you something, it is easier to write Joxer because the Joxer character has a more accessible character to write. I know some people will disagree with this because and it's hard for me to explain it. The Salmoneus character is so specific in a good way that I don't want to put him in a script where he's just taped on. It would be like doing a script and saying "We need something funny. Let's just throw Salmoneus in."

[81] I think I see what you're saying. In an episode like THE GREATER GOOD (21/121) and in other Salmoneus episodes like THE BLACK WOLF (11/111), there is a depth and growth to Salmoneus each time such that in that character's next appearance, you have to be very, very careful that you do not put yourself into a hole you cannot get out of. I do not mean this in any bad way, but the Joxer character is very different in that respect.

[82] It's going to sound like a backhanded compliment to somebody, either to Ted [Raimi] or to Rob [Trebor]. The Joxer character lends itself to depth exploration, just by its very nature. You have this wannabe warrior, this bumbling fool, who really has a good heart. He's lacking things in his life and he's trying to cover for them by being...whatever. But he actually cares about people. There's a lot of easy depth to access in that character. Put that character aside and now picture someone telling you to write a character that's a total capitalist. He's a total moneylender, a guy who's always scamming, he's got a bright and cheery attitude but the bottom line is he wants to make a buck. That's a stereotype that is *so* easy to stay with. That character does not have a natural progression of depth, because what you've said is the character's first love is money. It's not that he's lacking anything, it's that he's looking for money. Whereas with the Joxer character he's lacking things in his life, that's why he covers.

[83] So you see the depth there is obvious, there are places you can go there. With the Salmoneus character, it's harder to find that depth. So when we put him in a script, it has to be something we can use that will explore that depth. THE GREATER GOOD is an example there, I wanted to see that side of him. THE BLACK WOLF, same thing, we wanted to see a little bit more depth there, we didn't want to just see the shtick.

[84] That worked almost too well for the character in that sense. Because now, like you say, how can you make the guy go backwards?

[85] Right. But the funny thing is, all you have to do is remember that the second priority in his life, the way I write him, is that he wants money. I always have to put it toward the need.

[86] The first priority in his life is he wants security, he wants to feel secure in this world. You look at Salmoneus, he's not a fighter and he's not a warrior. He's a victim. In any other village he'd be killed first. So what does he do in order to survive? That's what he's trying to do. But to get to that point I had to give him a need. That was his need, he's trying to survive. But he's reached a point where his conscience won't allow him to survive over the misfortunes of others.

[87] He's an interesting character, he's fun to play with. Every time I talk to Rob Trebor he asks the same questions. I was just talking to him a couple of days ago and he said "I was talking to some Internet fans and they were asking me when I was going to appear on XENA again and I didn't know the answer." And I said "Rob, neither do I!"

[88] I have to say, though, as a slight digression, that I quite enjoyed the episode Rob Trebor directed on Hercules [A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE (H58/321)]. I thought he got a great performance out of Kevin Sorbo.

[89] Yeah, that was an interesting episode. I like those kinds of episodes with a moral question that has no easy answer. I prefer those, to be honest. When I'm writing XENA, one of the things I like about Xena is that you can put this character in a position where there are no easy answers. There are only lesser degrees of bad answers.

[90] For myself, the things that I remember are not the fights or the special effects, but those poignant moments where there is a glimmer of enlightenment that you have gotten something out of what has been presented to you.

[91] Sometimes it's disguised. But other times it's very overt. There are times to do episodes where they walk away smiling and happy and most of our episodes are like that, up until the middle of the third season, anyway.


You know, Solan, your hair colour is close to my original hair colour!

Xena and Solan in ORPHAN OF WAR.

[92] That also brings up an interesting question. In ORPHAN OF WAR (25/201), which I believe was the second season opener, we get introduced to the fact that Xena has had a child, and we see more Centaurs and how that society works a little bit more. After having seen season three, I cannot help but think about this episode and go back to it and wonder if maybe some of the trouble between Xena and Gabrielle did not start as soon as back there.

[93] Interesting.

[94] There was that trouble that Gabrielle had with Xena and what Xena did with "abandoning" her child. When you put that in context of what happens in season three, that sheds a little bit different light on it.

[95] I don't disagree with you. Obviously whenever the characters are created and going through a certain scene or situation we don't always make those observations. When you say that I go "Yeah, that does seem natural," but I've never consciously thought about it. That's true, that episode did show Gabrielle more than just taking a normal stand of "Xena, we have to help them." This was a moral stand because it was an ambiguous question. For Gabrielle to have agreed with Xena would have taken the audience out of it. Gabrielle in ORPHAN OF WAR serves... let me back up and tell you how that story came about. Gabrielle actually served a very important function for me.

[96] Rob [Tapert] came in one day and said "What if Xena had a son?" I grabbed that story because there was a story I wanted to tell before. I didn't think I'd have a chance to tell it in XENA. I got this story from a newspaper clipping years ago. In fact, it was made into a movie. The story I had read in the newspaper was about this woman who was a prostitute and a crack addict living on the street who was pregnant. When she had her child, she gave the child up for adoption, because she couldn't afford the child. Six years later, this woman was no longer a prostitute. She had a job, she got an education, she had shaken the crack, she wasn't doped up. She had fixed her problems. She wanted her child back. So she went back and took the adoptive parents to court to get the child back and won. When I read that, I was outraged, because that mother selfishly stole the childhood of that child. That child didn't know any of this. That child had only known one set of parents to the age of six years.

[97] And the child was torn from them.

[98] Yes, she was ripped from them because of the selfishness of this mother. Now I understand the maternal instinct involved. But, no, there's a higher calling here. If you truly loved your child, you wouldn't have done that. I had that story in my job jar for a long time. And like I said, there was a movie made about it, I think Halle Barry was one of the stars, it didn't do very well, though. So when Rob said that the first thing that went through my mind was "Well, if she has a son there's a reason why she didn't take this son with her."

[99] And then it immediately hit me, "Wait a minute, she's the crack mother." She's the woman who had this horrible background who couldn't keep the child. That's what I started from. When I worked out that story, it was very interesting. It seemed right down gender lines people loved it or hated it. Men pretty much liked it. The women on our staff and our production team down there for the most part hated it because they were offended. The question came up "What do you do, how do you end the episode?" Does Xena tell the child "I'm your mother?" What happens then, does she abandon the child again? She can't take him with her. "What are you gonna do Steve, kill off the kid?" All these questions, all of them legitimate questions.

[100] The initial question, of course, is we don't want our hero to be someone who abandons a child. It's not heroic. But you know something, I kept thinking to myself, the crack mother was heroic when she gave that child up. She realized the child was not going to have a life. Where she fell down was when she had a chance to have the child back and she took it. So I put Xena in that position.

[101] Xena was obviously a bad mother back then. She gave the child away for two reasons, one, it would have hindered her ambitions, and two, as she said, it would become the target of everyone who wanted to get to her. She chose Kaliepus, because Kaliepus commanded an army which was the only army that effectively stopped Xena in the field. As you know, Xena has had interaction with the Horde and the Horde has ravaged her. But that was never for an objective, it was never a set piece battle. Yet this army of Centaurs held her army. So she looked upon the Centaurs as being this race who, if they could beat her, they could beat anybody. If they could do that, they could defend her child. Seeing as how that was the child of Borias, hero to the Centaurs, that was the selling point for Kaliepus.

[102] So she made a conscious decision to take the child to a place where the child could be protected. [deep breath] Now, when I started writing the story up and writing the script, I wrote down those critical questions because I wanted Gabrielle to say those things. She became the voice of all the people out there who were outraged. I think it worked very well, to be honest. One of the lines in there, I'm paraphrasing this, but someone said to me "I don't know what it's like to be an mother without her child, but I know what it's like to be a child with a mother." Something like that. Gabrielle became the spokesperson. And if I hadn't done that you would have had people screaming at the television set "Well what about this, what about that?" I gave Gabrielle their voice.

[102] By the end of the episode, everyone was wondering how I was going to handle this. I said "You know something, you're dealing with a hero here. You're dealing with someone who's willing to give up something she loves for the love of someone." Lucy did an incredible job. She's walking away in the end toward camera, that look on her face, the look of the mother walking away from her child.

Rift: The Early Years

[103] It looks like, in retrospect, this festered for awhile and came back in spades in season three.

[104] I've said this before when people ask me when the rift began, the answer I give them is "The rift began in SINS OF THE PAST." There's a very definite reason why I feel that way. It comes back with my interpretation of the characters' relationship. Gabrielle and Xena are closer than two sisters. They are incredibly close. And yet anybody who has a very close sister, you've had your childhood and growing up period to work out all the problems between you to actually find out where you settle. You may end up hating that person or loving that person but you've got a lifetime to work it out.

[105] These are two women who had that instant intimacy of closer-than-sisterhood relationship, yet they were thrown together at a late point in time. They didn't have all that time to get used to each other. You've got one who is very straight ahead and individualistic, which is what Xena is, and at times somewhat self-centered. Then you've got the person who is this wide-eyed innocent who says "Look, here's a mentor, here's a teacher," even though that person doesn't want to be a mentor or a teacher. So there's all sorts of things going on.

[106] It's like when the younger sister looks up to the older sister and says "Wow, I wanna be just like her." But then by the time you get into your twenties you realize something and say "You know, I *don't* want to be like her." Sometimes in your teens you end up in arguments because of that, because your icon has fallen off the pedestal. Or your icon has said something where your response is "Deep down I have to disagree with this." All of that stuff happens over years and years and years. But they didn't have that chance. So in SINS OF THE PAST, that's the moment they were thrown together. From that moment on, when Gabrielle says "You're not alone," that's when the rift started.


[107] That also kind of leads into the "alternate universe" aspect of REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202) when we get an "It's a Wonderful Life" view of what if things had been different in a certain way, and we see that in some ways things change, but in some ways they do not. When we talk about the blood innocence thing and how important that is as a thread throughout the entire series, the look in Renee's eyes as she skewers that guy in REMEMBER NOTHING speaks volumes. The look in Xena's eyes when she sees that speaks volumes. It is amazing.

[108] That was actually a late addition, too. The problem, and Chris [Manheim] would speak more on this because she wrote the teleplay and added so much to the story, the problem came down to what is it that triggers Xena to realize she's got to change things back. After everything she's been through, what is the one thing that would tell her. Is it the idea that these guys are warlords again and they're going to enslave humanity? Not really, because she could defeat them, she's done that before. She could find some way to defeat them without shedding blood.

[109] Chris and I were talking about it and that's basically what came out of the discussion, what is the thing that is the most dear thing to Xena in our real world right now? We thought, well, it's Gabrielle. But in this timeline is it the same Gabrielle? It was not just the killing it was the look on Gabrielle's face. No second thought about it, this was justice as far as she was concerned. Once that was in, obviously it worked.


And I'm the model for the new Psycho Barbie, too!

The memorable arch-villain in CALLISTO.

[110] Another thing I was interested in too, by the time we get to INTIMATE STRANGER, which is a very intense episode... how challenging was it for you to do the Callisto character in this episode? Did you have any different views of what the Callisto character was from R.J. for example?

[111] Hmmm....

[112] For one thing, the two lead actors spend so much time playing the other character. Nevertheless, you also have to get into the head of the character, regardless of who is playing it, and say to yourself, "What's going on here?"

[113] Every writer has a slightly different take on characters. I don't think my Callisto character varied much from R.J.'s. We both have ways of keeping things in mind and keeping track on where the character is. Callisto is a difficult character to write because she's not insane. If she was insane we'd disregard her and she wouldn't be threatening. But she's not crazy. She'd incredibly focused on hatred. That's a hard thing to write.

[114] When I was writing Callisto the one rule I kept in my mind was "She's not insane." I tried to give every line she had different meanings. She would say one thing, which on the surface would sound like insanity, but just underneath it you know there is something else going on there, which is what R.J. did. The whole line about "Love is just a trick" sounded like something you'd hear from a bag man. But you know something? So many people have loved that line because there's a truth in there. There's something in there where they can understand the bitterness of that line. Even in one of the future lines, in A NECESSARY EVIL, Velasca asks Callisto "Have you got a death wish?" Callisto says "You know, I think I do." That was a very honest moment for Callisto. She stopped and she went "You know something, I think I do!"

[115] That's the thing with Callisto, you always get the truth. You may not like it, but you always get the truth.

[116] Right. Jumping ahead, that's why Callisto was the part of the Fool in THE BITTER SUITE. Because the Fool is totally honest. Callisto has never lied to Xena. She's been absolutely honest, she's been very up front. the campfire scene in A NECESSARY EVIL with Gabrielle, she's absolutely up front. She's one hundred percent honest with everything she said there, even when she asks Gabrielle the question about Perdicas dying. She wanted to know. It wasn't just a dig at Gabrielle, even though she kinda liked that, she was curious.

Steve and R.J.: DESTINY

In a foreshadow of THE BITTER SUITE, M'Lila is also dubbed.

M'Lila breaks into song in DESTINY.

[117] By the time we get to DESTINY (36/212), which according to my notes is story by Rob Tapert, but this is another teleplay that you did with R.J., but by the time I get to this episode, I have been comparing and contrasting in my head writing styles. I have come to a conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that in R.J. Stewart's scripts, R.J. tends to have his characters dialogue their way out of a lot of situations, and you tend to have characters do or act their way out of a lot of situations. Not always, and that is a vague generalization, but I thought the way the two come together in scripts where you do collaborate, perhaps more than most, compliments each other nicely.

[118] Hm. [pause] That's interesting. I think you actually have hit on the difference between our two styles. They work to different degrees. Certainly R.J.'s scripts work very well. R.J. said something to me one time, he said that one of the things he really loved about the series, when a character is actually feeling something and it's in there, he said "I can actually just have the character say it." Obviously when you read his scripts it's right there and it's great. It really does come off because the emotion is there and the actresses play it very well. But you're right, I actually cringe at doing those kinds of things. Maybe it's just because I know I wouldn't be good at it.

[119] What I try to do is find ways of implying what's going on with the character without them having to say it. Most of the time I'm successful, sometimes I'm not. It's also a lot more dependent on how the actors portray it. They have to give that subtlety that makes the audience say "I know what they're saying." But that is interesting, because I would say that is probably the difference between R.J. and myself.

[120] Now in DESTINY there was so much going on in that script that boy, I look back on that as a blur. Obviously with Rob directing the script there was a lot of visual imagery that he wanted to play with. That script went back and forth between the two of us quite a bit. But I think that a lot of the overt speaking actually got transferred into visual interpretations, because Rob had this very, very clear vision in his mind of how he wanted to direct it.

[121] We get some more of the background there with M'Lila, Xena's past. She did not just pick this stuff up out of the air. There are people who showed her what to do.

[122] Yes, she's had a lot of synchronicity in her life. Things happened when they should happen. The real fact of the matter is, when things happen, she takes advantage of them. That's the old "opportunity knocks". Well it's not just a matter of being there when opportunity knocks, you have to be ready to open the door with the stuff that opportunity needs. She does that, she immediately takes advantage of situations. The same thing with M'Lila. She could have had M'Lila killed, she could have done any number of things with M'Lila but she chose to turn M'Lila into a teacher.


If you see that graphics editor hanging around the village again,
you can date him or kill him, your choice.

Solari (left) was a replacement for Eponin when that actress was unavailable.

[123] Then we get to THE QUEST (37/213)], and I know that show was an accident, literally. It was never really intended to happen, but in my opinion, it is a brilliant piece of work on all fronts. I am prejudiced here, but this is just a fantastic piece of television.

[124] [smiles] It was a lot of fun. THE QUEST was obviously born out of tragedy. When it did happen, I was reminded of the scene from APOLLO 13 where one of the NASA PR guys said "This will be the worst disaster in NASA's history." The Ed Harris character turned to say "I beg to differ. I think this will be our finest hour." What he meant by that was this is where you're forced to become creative, sink or swim.

[125] I saw this as an opportunity to basically say "OK, everything else goes by the wayside, let's just throw everything on the table and figure out how we're going to make this work. No holds barred, no restrictions whatsoever." Somehow that became THE QUEST. Everybody contributed so well to it. Not just the writers who jumped on board, but everyone who called in and wanted to help out. Bruce called in immediately and said "If you want me, I'm available. I'll move my schedule around." Robert Trebor did the same thing.

[126] Obviously the Autolycus character was the key. It was perfect for what we needed. Anybody who has seen Bruce Campbell in any of the EVIL DEAD series when he has to fight himself can appreciate the image. We just knew that was going to be fun with Xena controlling his body. Yeah, there was a lot in there that I really liked. I've looked at that episode a couple of times and wondered how we came up with it. I think that if no one had known about the accident, they would have just watched the episodes and not even missed a beat.

Previous Section
Next Section
Return to Top Return to Index