Xena Magazine #7 - Writers Adam Armus and Nora Kay Foster

Author: Ian Rentoul
Source: Titan`s Xena Magazine #7
Date: May 2000

If Gabrielle has her face covered in goat poo, a Bacchae bunny lunges towards her throat or Joxer is swinging from tree to tree in a pink nightie, it's a safe bet that these images have all come from the active minds of the writing team that is Adam Armus and Nora Kay Foster.

Other characters and situations that have been written into Armus and Foster's stories are equally memorable. They include Joxer's brothers Jet and Jace, a disembodied Orpheus, Bacchus and the Bacchae, the Hagster Tyrella (and her evil step-sister and stepmother), the Fairy 'Gab' sister, Harmonia: Fairy Godsmother and a virgin Hestian priestess, to name but a few.

The music-based season five episode Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire (in which we are introduced to Jace, Joxer's older brother by half an hour, who bears a striking resemblance to Prince) was the last script to be written by the pair before they left Renaissance Pictures to move on with their writing careers and work for David E. Kelley Productions. They can now be found working on The Practice and Ally McBeal, accompanied by their three cocker spaniels, Champagne and Max (both owned by Armus) and Bear (owned by Foster), who commute to the office with them every day.

"We both live and work in Los Angeles," says Armus. "I moved to LA to go to UCLA Law School back in the late Eighties and worked as a lawyer for a brief period of time. Kay [Foster] was born in LA and had multiple careers, including teaching and sales. I specialised in Real Estate and Corporate Law and practised for three years with a large Chicago-based firm, but wasn't really cut out to be a lawyer. By a happy coincidence, the recession of 1991 gave both of us an excuse to pursue our dreams, and behind every cloud there is a silver lining. The law firm I worked for closed their Real Estate division and they let me go. In Kay's case, the company she worked for shut their doors after 20 years."

So what made the two of them decide to combine their talents and become a writing team? "We met in 1991 in a 'sit com' writing class taught at UCLA," recalls Foster. "We wrote separate scripts and then decided that they would be better if they were merged. We wrote together for a few years, mostly doing comedy (in fact, we were selected for the Warner Bros New Comedy Writers Workshop), until we finally got our first script assignment on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys based on our writing samples. Someone in Rob's [Tapert's] office read one of our [scripts for] Home Improvement and thought we couldn't screw up an episode of Hercules too much! So we got our first professional writing job."

"After that, we were given opportunities on Xena: Warrior Princess and got to know R. J. [Stewart], Steve [Sears], Chris [Manhelm] and everyone else through working with them," Armus explains. "As mentioned, we wrote for Hercules, but while at Renaissance Pictures, we also wrote scripts for Young Hercules, Cleopatra 2525 and Jack of All Trades. We've also worked on a number of Disney animated projects and developed a series for Fox Kids."

"The Hercules episode The March to Freedom was our first writing assignment for Renaissance Pictures," remembers Foster, "and we got involved with the company through personal contacts after Kay got our work over to Robert Tapert. Our first Xena script was the second episode, Chariots of War."

Further episodes in season one followed, such as Death in Chains and Ties that Bind, while in season two, Armus and Foster's offerings included The Xena Scrolls and Blind Faith. By then, the duo had begun to create the now trademark comedies for which they will perhaps be best remembered as writers in the Xenaverse. Their first was the 'dark' comedy Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, followed later by For Him the Bell Tolls. "Rob and R. J. wanted to do a Halloween episode, and we came up with the idea of using the Bacchae and a severed-headed Orpheus," Armus explains of the concept for Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. "Pretty sick, huh?"

"We went to see Girls Just Wanna Have Fun being filmed in Auckland," Foster expands, "and this is a favourite memory of our time with Renaissance Pictures."

The second episode written by Armus and Foster for season two was The Xena Scrolls. Set in Macedonia in the early stages of the Second World War, the background for the story is the descendants of Xena and Gabrielle meeting for the first time. They are Melinda Pappas (Lucy Lawless) and Dr Janice Covington (Renee O'Connor), respectively, and it is these two who then in turn meet up with a bungling Jack Kleinman (a salesman from the Victory Brush Company, Hoboken, New Jersey, and a descendant of Joxer) masquerading as Lt Jacques S'er of the Free French Army.

The three then discover the Xena Scrolls, which were secreted many centuries earlier. As the story draws to a conclusion, we are told in the final act of the episode that it is from these scrolls - written by Gabrielle and found in 1940 - that Rob Tapert develops the concept for the show Xena: Warrior Princess. O'Connor and Lawless' roles are reversed in the episode, with Covington playing the warrior character and Pappas as the sidekick.

So what was the inspiration for the episode, and how did Armus and Foster come up with the idea for the characters? "Two words," remarks Armus: "Indiana Jones. A former writer's assistant created the idea of the Xena Scrolls for a web site. We were told to write a 'clip show' based on the site."

While Girls just Wanna Have Fun was a comedy, For Him the Bell Tolls, later that same season, was instrumental in launching the pair towards their now trademark riotous episodes. This too laid the foundations for the comedic interaction between Joxer and Gabrielle and the mischievous intervention of the goddess Aphrodite. This interaction was evident again later that same season, when it was taken up in the episode A Comedy of Eros (written by Chris Manheim) and then carried on into season three (with help again from Aphrodite) in Fins, Femmes and Gems and again in Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire. In fact, Armus and Foster have written a number of scenes in which Joxer and Gabrielle interact: the 'Gabby tied up in a cave' scene from in Sickness and in Hell; the 'Monkey-Man' scene from Fins, Femmes and Gems; and the scene towards the end of Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire in which Gabby reveals to Xena how strange she finds it seeing Joxer with another woman.

So do the writers enjoy penning the scenes which hint that Gabby may be attracted to Joxer and show that he is head-over-heels in love with her? "Unrequited love is always fun to exploit," says Armus. "Rob [Tapert] enjoys seeing Joxer suffer, so it may have been his idea!" Armus and Foster have given us many an episode which has provided light (and sometimes welcome) relief during a 'run' of dramatic and very tense shows. So were they 'briefed' as comedy scriptwriters on the show to go away and write this genre, or did it just work out that way? "Rob Tapert thinks we're funny," laughs Armus. "Go figure! Rob really loves the physical comedy stuff. When directed well, it can be a hoot."

Both writers agree that there are many funny scenes which stand out. "Ted as Joxer in his pink nightie from Fins, Femmes and Gems is one," comments Armus, "while others include Renee as the Hagster Tyrella in If the Shoe Fits with no front tooth; Lucy's big disgusting foot in the same episode; Renee drooling on the bad guy and her battle with the rabbit [both from in Sickness and in Hell]; and Lucy as the virgin priestess in Warrior, Priestess, Tramp. They all cracked us up. Picking lice in In Sickness and in Hell was hysterical; and Ted as Jace singing 'Dancing in the Moonlight' in Lyre, Lyre Hearts On Fire... there are just so many."

Talking of Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire, Foster reveals that the entire production staff had their input into the episode and the songs which feature in the show. "It was everyone's musical tastes all rolled up into one episode! Our musical tastes are varied. We listen to talk radio on the way to work, while on the way home we listen to whatever is handy... Santana, Sting etc..."

"Rob Tapert was the inspiration for Fins, Femmes and Gems," says Armus of the episode in which the three main characters become overpowered by strange obsessions when Aphrodite puts a spell on them. "The entire writing staff came up with the different obsessions. At first, Gabrielle was going to be obsessed with Xena, but that went a little too far for everybody."

So where do they get their ideas from for their stories? "Personal experience," says Foster. "Adam's wife is into leather, while I've been known to breathe fire! Seriously though, we think about where we'd like to see the characters go, and then Rob will dismiss our thoughts and tell us to go write a script about fishing!" In Sickness and in Hell has been commented on as having a very British type of humour, so what kind of comedy programmes have inspired them? "Monty Python, Fawlty Towers," ponders Armus. "We like anything that makes us laugh," agrees Foster, "such as Something About Mary, Election, Annie Hall, Fawlty Towers, Everybody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld, Muriel's Wedding and Mr Bean." Neither writer had any education in 'classical' history before joining the Xena staff, which makes one wonder where they draw their ideas for the characters from. "I was Julius Caesar in a former life," deadpans Armus, "while Kay was Joan of Are's horse! No, we've got bookshelves filled with resource materials to refer to. Kay has no sense of humour. I'm the funny one."

"We don't do any specific research to come up with an idea," Armus expands. "Generally speaking, Rob Tapert or R. J. Stewart might have had an idea for an episode which they will tell us about. Sometimes, we get an idea for something on our own and we pitch it to them. In the early days we got a lot of 'clean up' work. This came about when other writers were given scripts to produce, but for one reason or another they didn't work out too well. We were then given the task of re-writing the script and making a show out of it."

So what inspires them to produce a particular story in the first instance? "Money," jokes Foster. "Of course, telling a good story has its own rewards, but money is a great motivator!"

Having now moved on from Renaissance Pictures, are there any particular story ideas which they 'pitched' but which, for various reasons, didn't make it to production? "Geez", ponders Armus, "I wanted to see the full frontal nudity episode... just kidding..." "Where should we begin?" says Foster. "Every writer has zillions of ideas waiting in cold storage. Perhaps we'll use some of them for our current job! But if we're going to see The Full Monty, let the star he Kevin Smith!"

Armus and Foster have many happy memories of working an Xena. "Watching our first episode air is a great memory for us," Armus recalls fondly, "as is scrambling to write scripts! It was all fun. Writing for two strong female lead characters was definitely fun, always a challenge and never a dull moment... hopefully! Also, the writers were all very nice and very funny. Of course, we have only fond memories of Renaissance Pictures - they are like family to us.

However, asked to draw on any anecdotes of what happened to them whilst on staff, Foster's only comment is, "There is not enough money in the world ...!"

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