Xena Magazine #10 - Actress Darien Takle on playing Xena`s Mother

Maternal Instincts...Cyrene actress Darien Takle talks to Stoddard Hayes

Author: Stoddard Hayes
Source: Titan Official Xena Magazine #10
Date: August 2000

Edith Piaf; Eva Peron; Lotte Lenya; Maria von Trapp. Dorothy Gale; Cordelia; Lady MacBeth. If you ask Darien Takle about her career, she`ll start telling stories about playing virtually every major female role in musical theatre and in Shakespeare, and quite a lot more besides. Not surprising for a woman who at the age of four played the starring role in an amateur production of Red Riding Hood, and who announced in kindergarten that she was going to be an actress when she grew up.

In addition to her native New Zealand, Takle has worked in the theatre in England, Australia and Hawaii, acquiring a list of credits that includes titles like Les Miserables, Into the Woods, The Elephant Man, Cabaret and Godspell. She has also appeared in short films and feature films and on television series in Australia and New Zealand, as well as her ongoing guest role as Xena`s mother, Cyrene. And last year she made a CD called `No Regrets`, which she describes as a kind of "musical autobiography" including songs from many of her leading roles.

At the time of this interview, Takle was preparing to appear in a new play, The God Boy, in which, her 14-year-old son plays the title role and she plays his mother. She was also eagerly awaiting the script for her next appearance as Cyrene in the opening episode of Xena`s sixth season, Haunting of Amphipolis, which started shooting in mid-May. After the events at the end of the fifth season, Takle expects some surprises.

"I think there is [a major upheaval], a think it`s coming from Cyrene`s granddaughter [Eve]," she says of the episode. "I think she`s quite a naughty girl! I don`t know if I`m going to be confronting her or not... We never quite know what we`re going to do. We never know if we`re going to be put into bathing suits or what."

Takle prepares herself both physically and mentally for each appearance as Cyrene. "Because the filming hours are long, I do more at the gym and I`ve started power walking around the lake. Also I wrote a bit of history for myself and worked out what Cyrene was doing before this latest story happens, because you often don`t have that kind of background. You might not have done any filming for a few months, so you have to create your history for yourself so that you don`t feel you`re totally out of it, especially suddenly coming in and finding you`re a grandmother!"

Takle is referring to the events of her most recent episode, Amphipolis Under Siege, in which the gods attack Amphipolis in their attempt to destroy Eve, Xena`s daughter. Asked what it`s like to film a battle scene with babies involved, Takle responds immediately, "Hard. Because the babies are lovely, but you`re working, and there`s smoke everywhere and there`s noise and dust, and those poor babies! They`re very well looked after and they`re only allowed to do about an hour or two at a time, but it`s still hard for them with horses galloping by and the smoke machines. The baby did quite a bit of crying, and you`re holding it close into your chest... and babies are very heavy!"

Takle made special preparations for one particular scene, in which Athena demands that the villagers give her Eve, and Cyrene, with Eve in her arms, defies the goddess by starting to sing. During production, neither Takle nor the crew knew what the lyrics of the song meant, or even what language they were in.

"I had to work out for myself that it was like a kind of `We Shall Overcome`," she recalls. `I had to create that feeling for myself.. `We shall overcome, we are Amphipolis, we are one`. I knew what I was singing in my own heart."

Takle has definite ideas about Cyrene`s place in her community. "She`s got quite a heavy responsibility as Xena`s mum," she asserts. "The way I look at it, villagers look up to her. She`s a bit of a spokeswoman, people come to her and tell her what`s going on. I think that because she`s Xena`s mum they expect her to he a bit of a warrior herself." Takle explains that she has gone to great efforts to keep the character of Cyrene from becoming too serious. "I try to lighten her up, to make her funny, to be a bit ditsy," she explains. "I think she is quite funny. I think that`s where Xena gets her sense of humour from, and probably her independence and feisty character, because mum`s small but feisty. There was one thing that I did which Lucy loved and we kept in. In Takes One to Know One, Xena reaches to get a bit of fruit and I smack her hand, which is what mothers do. That`s the sort of relationship that they`ve got now and probably always had, except when Xena was being a bad girl. And also trying to organise her life and trying to find a man for her - I was a bit like that when I was a solo mum with my daughter."

Among Takle`s favourite Xena appearances is the musical episode Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire. Given her musical experience, it seems surprising that the actress did not actually sing in the episode, but she is philosophical about the omission. "I think technically it`s just so difficult for the producers to do that, [because of] the time involved and having to go to a recording studio. I`ve done enough singing over the years. I`m quite happy not to sing for a change." However, Takle loved the dancing in the finale and the scene in the bathhouse, adding that she learned both dance sequences at the last minute. "I kind of had to wing it!"

Takle is also eager to talk about her professional friendships among the Xena actors, many of which were formed years before Xena. To hear her talk about her many friends is to begin to appreciate how intiniate and close knit the New Zealand acting community is. "It`s really just lovely going on the set," she enthuses. "I find it`s like being in love. I know that sounds odd, but there are all these people who`ve worked together over this time and there`s just a wonderful bond." Takle first worked with Lucy Lawless in the New Zealand television series Typhon`s People, and during her years on Xena has developed what she considers a special relationship with her screen daughter. "I feel quite grandmotherly and motherly towards Lucy, even though she`s much taller than me," she laughs. "I still think of her as my little girl! After six years [on Xena] I really feel quite protective of her, especially when she was pregnant.

"She always finds time to come and have a chat over to the side," Takle continues, "which is great, because when we go onto the set we`re kind of caught up with each other. So we kind of renew that bond. We`ve got a special link now, because our roles as mother and daughter have changed radically since the beginning."

Takle is also very fond of Lawless` Xena co-star, Renee O`Connor. "Renee`s a sweetheart," she says, "and what I love about her is we`re sort of the same size. It`s so nice to stand next to someone not tall! You do get quite a sore neck," she giggles, referring to working alongside Lawless. "There are a lot of tall actors in New Zealand. Plus Renee is another total professional, and she`s very giving too. She`ll say, `If you want to do this in a different way, just say`."

Another good friend of Takle is Michael Hurst, with whom she has worked many times both on television and on stage, but not, surprisingly, on Xena. She just missed the chance to work with him when her two scenes in Antony and Cleopatra, which Hurst directed, were cut before filming began, because the episode was too long. But that doesn`t mean that she`s lost touch with the actor/director.

"I rang him the other day because I was trying to think what to read at my daughter`s wedding," Takle reveals, "and Kevin [Smith] suggested, `Ring Michael because he knows the right thing for every occasion`. He suggested a Shakespearean sonnet, which was just perfect."

Takle mentions her daughter and son several times during our conversation, revealing that motherhood is as important to her as acting. In fact, sometimes the two overlap: she and her daughter, who was married only two weeks prior to this interview, played mother and daughter in the film The Lost Tribe. She is already working with her son as they prepare for The God Boy.

So what are the difficulties of working professionally with your own children? "My anxiety is about the workload for my son," she responds. "I`m thinking, `Gosh, I`ve got to make sure he`s fed well, and I`ve got to make sure he sleeps well.` I said to him, `When we get to the rehearsal room, once we`re inside that room I`m no longer your mother except in the play. We`ll just be two professional actors.` And last night we were going over some lines and I said something to him about not having one of those drinks that`s got caffeine in, and he said, `Mum, I thought we were just going to be professional actors once we got to the rehearsal room!` I said, "Oh, here we go!"

Perhaps one reason Takle has had so many strong roles is that she is choosy about what she`ll accept. "I look for something that will really stretch me," she explains, "that`s not going to be a walk in the park, or for which I`m going to have to draw on either something within myself or something that I have to see in somebody else. This woman [in The God Boy] murders her husband in the end, and that`s not something I`ve done! "

I also really love doing comedy," Takle says. "I belong to a women`s comedy club called Hen`s Teeth. I`ve got this funny old lady character and I`ve also got a teenage boy and a minister that I do. And I`ve got this character called Dolly Pardon. I do country and western versions of straight songs, wearing huge knockers and a tight skirt!"

Despite all she has accomplished during her long career, Takle still has several unfulfilled ambitions, both professional and personal. She would love to visit the US, and thinks it would be fun to be a guest at a Xena convention. And she would like to make a film, not only acting but writing, producing and directing. "I think I`d do a film that has older women who I find incredibly interesting," she remarks, "women who`ve lived as well." And she would like to travel more, just "take my son around places and have adventures."

One special project she dreams of is a solo show about her own life and career, which she could take touring overseas. "I`ve met a lot of interesting people and worked with a lot of wonderful people, so I would also play those characters, the people I`ve come across in my life. And you meet amazing people when you do a show like that. I`ve done solo shows before and iCs great. It`s easy to pick up because you`ve only got a chair and a couple of hats.

"I`ve been very lucky," Takle acknowledges, "because I`ve had lots of challenging roles."

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