Xena Magazine #9 - The Underworld Connection - Stephen Lovatt talks to Kate Barker

Author: Kate Barker
Source: Titan`s Xena Magazine #9
Date: July 2000

He is the son of Titans, sovereign of the Underworld, lord of the Dead. He rules over the souls of those in the afterlife. He`s also been turned into a Disney cartoon, voiced by James Woods, and appeared in toy stores everywhere as a collectable action figure with flaming blue hair. In the television world of Xena. however, Hades is suave, smooth-talking and very enigmatic.

He was first played by Mark Ferguson (in the television movie Hercules in the Underworld), then by Erik Thompson (in such Hercules episodes as The Other Side and Highway to Hades, and Xena episodes Intimate Strangers and Mortal Beloved). But lately, Hades has a new face: that of actor Stephen Lovatt. "They asked me if I was interested in the role," says Lovatt, `and I said, `yeah, sure, absolutely!` It`s great fun."

Lovatt is no stranger to acting, nor to the Xena/Hercules universe. His first professional production was in the theatre in 1986, and since then he has appeared in many stage and screen productions. Some of Lovatt`s screen credits include the feature film Absent Without Leave, the mini-series Typhon`s People and Mysterious Island, and the US adventure series High Tide. He was also a regular guest star on the Australian drama series Medivac.

Lovatt has previously guest-starred in several episodes of Xena, Hercules and Young Hercules, playing a variety of weird and wonderful characters. For example, there was the young legionnaire who deserted Julius Caesar`s army to fight side by side with Xena; then there was Galen the vampire hunter in the Hercules episode 'Darkness Visible.'

One of Lovatt`s favourite roles was Kirilus, General of Ares` army, who came to a sticky end in the Xena episode 'Ties That Bind'. "He was violent," admits Lovatt of Kirilus, "a real bent kind of guy..." The actor seems to relish the `nasty` roles ("I think they`re often the more fun!"), although he does concede that many of his previous characters have often paid the price for being a villain. "Most of my guys have died," he says wistfully, "and then gone to meet Hades, funnily enough! This is the first time I`ve had a character that continues for more than one episode. "

Hades isn`t the first immortal role Lovatt has played, either. In Young Hercules, Lovatt played Morpheus the God of Dreams, a character he describes as "a bit of a jazz freak from the 1930s. He possibly had a little too much absinthe in his day..."

The gods of this version of ancient Greece certainly aren`t the stereotypes of classical mythology. In the same way that, for example, Ares is a passionate manipulator and Aphrodite is the self-centred `valley girl`, Lovatt`s Hades is portrayed with smoothness and ambiguity. "For me, the role is developing," says Lovatt. "I`m not sure where we`re going with him yet, but so far Hades feels to me like George Hamilton with a sword up his sleeve. He`s not really malevolent, but neither is he benevolent; he`s a god of ambiguous condition.

"I get the feeling - from talking with Lucy - that Hades` relationship with Xena is verging on friendship sometimes. But he can be dangerous. That ambiguity makes it even more interesting, because there is no definite side you can place him on. I think he`s a very smooth god."

In 'Looking Death in the Eye', Hades has no choice but to take a side... and what god would not choose to side with his own family?

"He`s basically defending himself and his family of gods," says Lovatt of Hades` motivation in the episode. "He`s got to go after Xena to do that, which isn`t something I think he particularly relishes, but after all, she`s only a mortal, right? He`s attempting to protect his existence."

As we all know, Xena doesn`t give in without a fight, and Hades may not relish the battle, but Lovatt certainly does.

"The fight sequences," he says with obvious enthusiasm, are a lot of fun. I have a stunt double who makes me look good - with swordplay, there`s no getting away from it that a stunt double will certainly improve on my style - but I do my best. As far as doing falls and that sort of thing goes, when the camera`s pointing at my face, I`m fine with that. I love doing fights."

So what does it really feel like to play a god? For one thing, this is one character who wouldn`t necessarily be so quick to bite the dust. "It definitely feels different," Lovatt responds. "There`s a certain kind of knowledge that has to come with the role, you know. This show is strong on that; with the gods, the game they play is a much bigger game. A god can`t just wander around being the average joe; he`s got to keep the spirits of the mortals up. He has to turn up dressed for the occasion!"

Speaking of dressing up, Hades is one god who knows how to accessorise. "I love the wardrobe for this character," Lovatt enthuses. "There`s this enormous crushed velvet gown, very grand and refined... and then underneath it is this studded leather, bondage-wrapped sort of demonic-looking wardrobe. It`s sensational!

"I thought maybe Hades would have a paler complexion than they`ve given me," he continues. "But then, just because he`s in charge of the dead, doesn`t mean he has to look dead."

There`s definitely nothing dead about Lovatt`s performance, or about his enthusiasm for the inspiring atmosphere he experiences while working on Xena. "A lot of times you come into things and they`re just beginning, still working things out," he says. "Here it`s just smooth. I really enjoy the professional quality of the way Xena is done.

"I once heard that great stories were always about kings. I think that is true, in that even if they`re only stories about Joe Bloggs, we have to care for them the way we care for kings. I think that Xena is successful because it works on that very primal expectation, almost fairy-tale thing. Of course, it also has a lot of wit..."

Wit, fun and the opportunity for an actor like Lovatt to give a role all they`ve got. "I think they`ve cast me because they`re confident," Lovatt asserts jovially. "They`ve seen my work and they`ve cast me because I fit in naturally with what they`re looking for.."

"Xena is just wonderful for its flexibility as far as the actors go. You can bring in a lot to your role, and they encourage that, which is great. It`s a lot of pleasure."

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