Xena Magazine #2 - Actor Kathryn Morris

Source: Titan`s Xena Magazine #2

"They wanted a Joan of Arc kind of character," says Kathryn Morris of her audition for Najara in the Xena:Warrior Princess episode, Crusader.
"They said, 'We want a very thin, delicate-looking kind of woman that's just a little tweaked out, a little angry.'"

Morris didn't realise until she arrived in New Zealand that one aspect of her role was something that Xena's quest stars rarely get to do. When she was being fitted for her costume, everyone told her, "This is really a big deal! You get to kick Xena's butt!"

"I think that's why they wanted me to be very unassuming and seeming very gentle and small," she says, and recalls her reaction the first time she and Lucy Lawless stood face to face in full costume: "Wow! You're tall, girl!"

"I was scared about the fighting, because I am not a large person. She's taller than me and she's been doing it so long and she's an expert. I just decided that we've all seen somebody like the kid in school that everybody pushes around.... The small kid, if you get him too mad, he goes ballistic. I decided it was more of [Najara's] internal rage that would compensate. Plus, she's so religiously and fanatically got her agenda, that is what fuels the craziness."

Morris, who grew up in a family of musical performers, began to pursue acting when she was 13. Her first professional role in television was a small part in the 1991 telefilm 'Long Road Home.' The leads of the film, especially Mark Harmon, encouraged her to move to Los Angeles, where she found representation and began to work steadily. Since then she has worked with stars like Anne Bancroft, E. G. Marshall, and Jack Nicholson.

The highlight of her career so far has been her recent appearance in the Showtime remake of Inherit the Wind, in which she worked with screen legends Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott, as well as Piper Laurie, Beau Bridges, Lane Smith, and Tom Everett Scott.

"We got to rehearse together for a week... I had great scenes with all the 'big boys.' It was really something to have the opportunity." Morris was also delighted to work on Xena, and speaks with enthusiasm of the dedication of the cast and crew. "The way they shoot that show, it looks like a million dollars! And, they really try to do intelligent things with the way they write the scripts and... explore all kinds of different things about good and evil... I have a real respect for people that connect to doing something full out... I think that's why Xena is [a success]. If they have a deep and tender moment they say, 'This is a really deep and tender moment.' Or, 'This is a really funny, silly, ridiculous moment, so lets just go for it."'

Although she had some prior experience with action scenes, Morris insists that she is not athletic. For Crusader she had to learn four different fight sequences. "It was so tough... You've got to make it look natural. If I miss a step, I could hurt somebody.. I was using muscles that I'd never had to use in my life, like the muscles on the back of your arms for hacking somebody's head off!"

The fight on the vines in her second episode, The Convert, presented its own challenges. "Trying to swing in at the right angle and say your lines and kick the way you should kick... it's all very technical. It wasn't funny at the time, but when I was doing the vine fighting, I was so bad at it that... it just became a big comedy routine, me swinging back and forth like Tarzan... and eveybody's waiting and I'm just swinging back and forth going, 'oh, I missed it!' That was a really fun fight to do because it was so ugly and primal, I was grabbing her leg and putting blood on my face. It was just insane." Part of the challenge of creating Najara was to keep viewers guessing about whether she is good or evil. "I think she means well but she's human," says Morris. "Anybody that tries to be too perfect... is going to crack. [Najara] thinks, 'I have all this love to give, I will heal you... as long as you go along with my agenda."'

Morris and Renee O'Connor also worked together to create the dynamic between Gabrielle and Najara. "We wanted to make sure it was about the truth of what she's looking for and what I'm looking for in her. I'm trying to do this agenda on her... but there's something about her. I think [Najara] almost wants to take away her innocence and manipulate it for good or evil... Gabrielle is a disciple but an extra interesting possible disciple because she has such a hunger to know what's the right thing to do."

The end of The Convert left a possibility for Najara's return. Morris says she is open to the idea, but does not know what the producers have planned. Meanwhile her fans can look for her in the film, Deterrence, which was released this summer in the US, and she is also scheduled to play a role in the film 'The Contender' with Joan Allen, Gary Oldman and Jeff Bridges. For the future, she says she would like some day to play a role like the heroine of Sophie's Choice.

"I read for a lot of silly roles... that are 'the girl,' but I just try to make her more human and more of a woman. A lot of times they really appreciate that. They write this idea of a girl, and then you bring this woman in and they say, "Oh, it's so much more interesting that way.'You just come in and you do your take on it, and sometimes they appreciate it and sometimes they don't. I feel really fortunate that I'm able to be taken seriously for what I have to offer."

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