Xena Magazine #22 - Interview with actress Alison Bruce

Author: K Stoddard Hayes
Source: Titan`s Xena Magazine #22

While some regular guest stars play the same role each time, New Zealand native Alison Bruce has played everything from a slinky femme fatale to an Amazon Queen. However these diverse roles share one quality, "They've all been quite strong women," says Bruce. "So I guess that's the common bond. They've all been women with a cause."

The daughter of an actress, Bruce has been studying acting since she was a child. She trained at the drama school of Auckland's Theatre Corporate and is a seasoned stage, film and television actress. She recently moved from playing guest characters to a starring role in a new television comedy called Being Eve. The main character, Eve, is a teenage girl, and Bruce plays her mother, Vivian.

"She's the sort of mother anyone would like," Bruce reveals. "She's quite easy going and quite eccentric. She has a lot of heart-to-hearts with her daughter, but she also has a lot of problems in her own life that she is trying to sort out. So it's that classic situation, where your mother advises you to do one, thing but does another herself." Being Eve is currently airing in New Zealand.

Bruce made her first appearance in the Xena/Hercules universe as the cruel seductress Postera in the season one Hercules episode Gladiator. The episode also marked Garth Maxwell's directorial debut on the series, and this combination of firsts led to what Bruce describes as a wonderful working experience.

"[Maxwell] is a respected filmmaker here, but it was his first Pacific Renaissance job, so he really wanted to do a lot of work before we started shooting," Bruce recalls. "About a week before production started we met several times to talk about it and work on the character, so that was a fantastic introduction to the show. She was such a mad, nasty girl, which is always fun to play! That genre of fantasy is a light touch, but I think you still have to like your character and have a legitimate reason for why they behave the way they do."

There may not be much to like in Postera, but Bruce was able to find some points of empathy to make her role more than just a caricature. "I think she felt unloved and frustrated, and that's what makes people tortured," Bruce muses. "Anything to have some kind of sensation. So you start experimenting in extreme things instead of healthy things. Her solution to that was to be dominating and powerful."

Bruce made her next appearance in the world of Xena and Hercules as the Amazon Queen Melosa in the season one Xena episode Hooves and Harlots, a role distinguished by big hair, a scanty leather costume and a major stunt fight with Lucy Lawless. She also appeared in several episodes of Young Hercules as the Amazon Simula. Bruce then disappeared from the Xena scene until the season five Xena episode Animal Attraction, which makes the significant revelation that cowboy culture was actually born in ancient Greece. It also gave Bruce the chance to utter the historic line, "Wake up and smell the diapers!"

In Animal Attraction, Bruce had an opportunity which comes to few Xena guest stars, it was Bruce, and not series star Lucy Lawless, who was the hero of the climactic fight. The fact that Lawless was well into her pregnancy at the time might have been a factor in how the story was structured. In any case, Bruce was delighted at the opportunity. "It was a really big fight, and much longer than you'd ever normally get to do," she recalls with obvious enthusiasm. "The fight took most of one full day to shoot. When you're learning those kinds of fights, there's usually a sequence that your body wants to follow, and it contradicted that. So it was quite a complex fight to learn. It involved using the lids of bins for shields! Plus there were a lot of tumbles."

At the time, Bruce's son was still a baby, so she was experiencing a lot of interrupted nights' sleep. As a result, the actress remembers feeling rather tired during most of the shooting of Animal Attraction. However, the fight was an exception. "I'm one of those people who love physical stuff," she explains. "I used to do a lot of physical theatre and I find now if I don't do any physical activity I feel really dreadful. I like to work my body quite hard. And I get caught up in the passion."

Bruce made her final appearance in the Xena universe this year, playing Kahina in Legacy. The episode stands out in her mind chiefly because of the shooting location - in the sand hills near Dargaville, two hours north of Auckland. The remoteness of the spot made the days unusually long, since it took an hour and a half to reach the location each day from the company's base in Dargaville. Nevertheless, Bruce felt the extra effort was more than worthwhile.

"It was such an extraordinary place to be," she explains, "and driving home along the beach at night was amazing! I've never seen that part of New Zealand, and I didn't know we had landscape like that here. The sand was golden, and looked as if it went on forever. It really did go as far as the eye can see."

The sandstorm scenes in the episode were done in the studio; however, working in a sandy location, even without sandstorms, was quite a challenge. "On the first day we were there it was really windy, so you were being stung by sand a lot," says Bruce. "After that, the wind settled, and it made a big difference, but it wasn't a comfortable environment to work in. The sand was moving all the time and sticking to your face. For the makeup, it was quite a lot of work just trying to keep you looking okay when you actually had thousands of grains of sand stuck to your face."

A highlight of the episode for Bruce was having the opportunity to do some riding, something she had not done in a number of years. Of course, the production crew doesn't just put an actor on a horse and roll the camera. The actor is given a riding assessment to find out how well she can ride, how much of the riding she can do herself and how much a double will have to do for her.

However, Bruce is happy to report that her long-unused riding skills came back immediately. "They take you out to the stables and ask you how, competent you think you are, and they find a horse they think will suit you," she explains.

"Mind you, the horses are great - they're so used to every kind of rider. Then they take you, put to the ring and they get you to do some really basic things trotting around the ring, getting the horse up to a canter and stopping it. And then you get to do a bit of riding around with someone else, pretending to fight, just so see whether you can manoeuvre your horse really close to another and pull it out of that. I had a horse that could turn on a dime, so that was great."

Bruce has played many more parts for Renaissance than have appeared on camera. She has often served as a reader at auditions, voicing the part opposite the actor who is auditioning. In New Zealand, casting directors, prefer to use actors for readers to give the person auditioning the best, opportunity to demonstrate their skills.

"As a reader, you're really listening to what the casting director is saying so that you can work with whatever they're trying to get the other person to do," Bruce explains. "A really important part of it is to serve the actor who's auditioning. So if they want it pulled back a bit, then you'll do that with your performance, and if they want it stronger, you try to push them a bit. It's a great job for an actor, because you get to practice your craft all the time without worrying about whether or not you're going to get the job."

Thanks to her role as a reader, Bruce's name features high on the list of actors whose lives have been altered dramatically by their involvement in a Renaissance series. She happened to be reading on the day that Neill Rea auditioned for the Hercules episode Once Upon a Future King. "He came up from Wellington to audition for the part of Arthur, and I was reading Queen Mab," she recalls.

"So we were doing this audition and it was getting a bit steamy! Both of us pulled back our performances a bit on the last take because we were getting a bit embarrassed! He walked out of the room and I said to' [cameraman] John Brazier, `Who was that?!' John said, `Oh, he's too young for you!' But for months after that I was dreaming about this man, thinking he was so gorgeous!"

Although Bruce lives in Auckland and Rea was based in Wellington, 440, miles away, at the time, both were travelling back and forth for auditions and saw each other fairly frequently. "There'd be a little banter between us," Bruce recalls, "but neither of us was courageous enough to say anything. Then, about a year after the audition, I went down to Wellington and bumped into him. I had missed an audition in Auckland with him because I was casting in a commercial, and he yelled out across the street, 'Where were you?' I thought, `Oh, he's spunky!"'

The next day, despite an attack of adolescent nerves, Bruce decided to call Rea. "I was such a bumbling mess on the phone because the only thing I knew I was going to say was, 'Is Neill there?' But he answered the phone saying, "Neill speaking,' so my first line was gone! I didn't know what to say."

After several minutes of chat, Bruce finally got to the point and invited Rea out for a drink. "He went, 'Oh, I'm a bit hung over,' and I thought, 'He doesn't like me after all."'

But Rea accepted, and now, a year and a half later, he and Bruce are planning their wedding. "We have Pacific Renaissance to thank," Bruce concludes happily.

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