Xena Magazine #12: Paris Jefferson article

Author: David Bassom
Source: Titan Official Xena Magazine #12
Date: Sept 2000

When Xena`s resident Greek gods needed a new leader, The Fates made absolutely sure that Paris Jefferson was ready to assume the role. "Just before I started working on Xena, I was actually doing a play in Los Angeles called The Greeks, which was all about Greek mythology," she explains. "So Zeus, Ares, Athena and all those people around her were very familiar to me by the time I did Xena. I felt very comfortable with it all."

Jefferson secured the pivotal and highly coveted role of Xena`s most powerful Greek goddess, Athena, after participating in the standard audition process. The actress made her divine debut in the exhilarating fifth season instalment, Amphipolis Under Siege, which saw Athena attempting to prevent the prophesised Twilight of the Gods by killing Xena`s child, Eve. Athena continued her crusade in the later season five episode Looking Death in the Eye, before making her final appearance in the fifth season finale, Motherhood.

"To me, Athena was essentially a good god who was put in very difficult circumstances," says Jefferson of her Xena counterpart. "I don`t think she was a bad god; she was simply forced to do something she felt was imperative for the survival of the gods. She wouldn`t have gotten any pleasure out of it like Ares, who is much more angry and gung-ho. I think Athena is far more reticent.

"Athena also has a certain kind of dignity," Jefferson comments. "I think when you`re powerful and a god, you don`t have to play it - you just are those things. It`s sort of like being a king: the king doesn`t expect to have to order people around; he expects people to be behind him. So Athena just knows her orders are going to be followed.

"She also knows she can kill anyone, although it is very infuriating when you`re a god and you keep missing, because Xena, of course, can`t be killed!" she adds. "And it`s especially infuriating when you`re supposed to be an intelligent god!"

Jefferson was surprised by how quickly fans of the show took to Athena. "I attended a Xena convention recently and I was really taken aback by how much fans seemed to love her and how they had warmed to her," she admits. "They seemed to feel that Athena was someone to be admired."

Athena didn`t just command admiration from Xena`s audience, though. The Greek goddess was held in high regard by virtually everyone around her, and even the Warrior Princess herself admitted that of all the Olympians, Athena was the one whom she had the most respect. In Jefferson`s mind Xena`s feelings toward Athena were mutual. "I think Athena has a tremendous amount of respect for Xena," she says. "A grudging respect sometimes."

Away from the Warrior Princess, Athena, shared some memorable - and, arguably, romantically-charged - exchanges with her ill-fated `chosen-warrior`, Ilainus (Musetta Vander). "I think that the loyalty llainus shows Athena is probably absolutely without question," notes Jefferson. "Ilainus would give up her life for Athena, no question. And Athena loves Ilainus. I don`t know exactly what their relationship is - we never really see that - but they definitely have a love for each other.

"One of the fans at the Xena convention told me that what was really nice about our final scene together was that it showed even gods could feel pain and loss. I haven`t seen enough of the episodes to know if the gods have always been portrayed without having those human emotions. But that could have been something I brought into the episode that perhaps wasn`t supposed to be there. The director of that episode, Mark Beesley, wanted to cultivate that relationship to a point."

Despite the solemn nature of her epic straggle with Xena, the role of Athena essentially provided Paris Jefferson with a passport to have fun, and the actress is extremely enthusiastic about her time on the show. "Working on Xena is probably about as much fun as you can ever have on a television show," she acknowledges. "In a way, you get to play a larger than life cartoon character. And I don`t mean that to diminish who these people are. But you`ve got powers that usually only come with superheroes, if you like.

"You get to act, but you get to be very physical as well. It`s not very often that you get to look at people and have them know you could kill them if you wanted to. Or hold your sword up and have fire come out of it!

"It was so much fun when I had a fight with Ares. Kevin [Smith] is about twice the size of me and could probably kill me in real life just by sneezing on me! But in Xena I got to hit him with my sword and he went flying back 50 feet!

"I also loved my costume," she continues. "I had the best cleavage in my life on that show! I was fantastically well-endowed! Overall, it was pretty much about the most fun I`ve had."

Jefferson credits much of the fun surrounding the making of Xena to the show`s cast and crew.

They`re all fantastically lovely people," she says. "Lucy [Lawless] and Renee [O`Connor] are two of the nicest people I`ve ever worked with. And how a cast and crew works, really comes from the top. When the people at the top are so nice, so professional, so without ego and down-to-Earth, it filters down. It was very easy-going on the set. Everyone does their job really, really well, but they do it with a smile and in a relaxed way I don`t know if that happens often."

Reviewing her three-episode tour of the ancient world, Jefferson points to Athena`s climatic fight with Xena in Motherhood as her personal highlight of her time on the show. "I really enjoyed that," she enthuses. "Pretend sword-fighting looks like it should be easy, but actually there`s a certain art to it. You have to stand in a certain way, you have to be really highly energised in a certain way and you have to swing the sword in a certain way.

"So I enjoyed doing that fight scene a lot more than the first fight I had, because at that stage, I sort of knew how to fight properly. When I did my first fight scene, I think I had bronchitis and I was losing my breath every 10 seconds. The cast and crew just thought I was a weak thing from LA who couldn`t swing a sword!"

Jefferson`s heavenly portrayal of Athena in Xena represents the latest achievement in an extremely accomplished acting career. Prior to assuming leadership of the Greek gods, Jefferson had graced stage productions of everything from The Merchant of Venice and Uncle Vanya to Carousel, The Good Doctor and Ring Around the Moon. Meanwhile, her numerous screen credits include the US mini-series A Will of Their Own and Strauss Dynasty, Poirot, Sherlock Holmes and The Bill, to name but a few.

"I suspect Xena has probably put me the on the map here in the US more than anything I`ve done," she remarks, "apart from maybe A Will of Their Own. People in the UK might recognise me from things like Sherlock Holmes and Poirot, but I`d say that, in the States anyway, most people would probably know me from Xena now."

Like her work on Xena, Jefferson`s own background is fairly unique. Born in London, England, she was raised in Sydney, Australia, before relocating to Los Angeles (via London). Jefferson was indirectly propelled towards an acting career by following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, both of whom were dancers.

"I was on stage from the age of five or six doing ballet," she recalls, "and I just liked being on stage. I was like a duck to water. The great thing about acting is that I feel fortunate to be doing something I really enjoy," she states. "I also get to work with people I enjoy working with. And I don`t know if that happens very often in life."

Since making her last foray into the Xenaverse, Jefferson has devoted most of her time to screenwriting projects. She recently finished scripting a short film for actress Lea Thompson (of Back to the Future and Caroline in the City fame), and has another movie project in the works. As a member of the independent theatre group The Impulse Company, Jefferson has also assisted with the development of a new play entitled Round Robin. The play is set to make its debut in France this November, when Jefferson will be among its leading cast members. A British run seems likely to follow.

Ideally Paris Jefferson`s future plans would also include a return visit to the ancient world. The gods may have fallen, but Athena`s real-life alter ego wouldn`t be surprised if she crossed paths with Xena again.

"There`s never an end in Xena," she says. "Maybe we`ll see Athena again. I have no idea what they`d do with her, but it would be great to go back."

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