When I call an actor`s agent to request an interview, anything can happen. Sometimes I`ll be told the actor is on a shoot somewhere and I should call back in three weeks. Sometimes the agent tells me I should make the request to the actor`s manager or publicist. Once in a while, I make repeated calls over several weeks and get no response at all. Most often, after two or three calls the agent will give me a day and time to call the actor, and I call them. They don`t call me.
Which is why, when I answered my telephone barely three hours after calling Ted Raimi`s agent, and a very familiar voice says, "Hi, this is Ted Raimi," I almost dropped the phone.
Ted Raimi returns his own calls, just like you and me. Talking with him is like chatting with the guy in the next cubicle at your office - that is, if the guy in the next cubicle has a goofy sense of humour and is the friendliest person in the place. And of course, Raimi has a much more interesting job than the guy in the next cubicle.
In addition to his well known roles in Xena: Warrior Princess and SeaQuest DSV, Raimi has along list of screen credits and a diverse batch of new projects. In October he will appear in the film The Attic Expeditions with Seth Green (best known as Oz in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Jeffrey Combs (best known for the Re-Animator films as well as Weyoun and Brunt in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). He has also written his own feature film, tentatively titled The DJ, which he is planning to shoot in his hometown, Detroit, Michigan, starting in December. And at the time of our conversation, he is getting ready to direct rock videos for two different bands.
Raimi is explaining that being Joxer is just one of many things in his life, when he suddenly begins to yelp with pain, and for a moment, I`ve got Joxer on the phone: "Ouch! Ooh! Ouch! I slammed my hand in the dresser drawer. Ow! That was a real Joxer thing! OW!" Then he finishes his sentence, as if becoming Joxer were perfectly normal.
With all these different projects going, what does Raimi look for in a new venture? "Energy and originality. I don`t really care what something`s about as long as they`ve got a new take on it. Even if the new take is bad but they have energy in the words, if a writer is really trying to say something and they`ve got a certain amount of oomph in there. I like to see that. You want something that makes you excited. And Xena had some very good episodes that did that.
Of all his work on Xena, Raimi says fans most often ask him about For Him the Bell Tolls, and it`s clearly a personal favourite as well. Raimi and Executive Producer R. J. Stewart were talking about the Danny Kaye classic The Court Jester, a favourite film of both men, when Stewart conceived the idea for the episode.
"It was really fun to do," says Raimi. "I had a crash course in sword fighting for it. I had to fake every last thing. And Mark Roundthwaite, who`s my stunt double, really helped me out. He gave me a lot of pointers."
Raimi admits that he has tried to perform as many of his own stunts as possible on Xena, although Roundthwaite is responsible for some of the more complex falls and scrapes. "I would say that any time you see me falling or crashing into things to a small degree, it`s me. But if I fall out of a plate glass window or off a horse, that`s Mark. And he`s really good at it, because he knows how to stumble and goof around like me!"
Raimi`s chief regret about ending his work as Joxer is that he rarely had the chance to work with his old buddy Bruce Campbell. He adds two other names to the regrets list. "It would have been nice to work with Meighan Desmond [Discord], who I think is just a fabulous actor, and also Kevin Smith [Ares]. I only ever delivered one line to him the whole time, and I`ve known Kevin for all the years I was down there."
There is one aspect of working with Lucy Lawless and Renee O`Connor that Raimi will especially miss. "When we started laughing, we couldn`t stop," he recalls fondly "Sometimes we`d piss the whole crew off. We`d just be howling with laughter and they`d be sitting there going, `Come on man! I want to get out of here!` Sometimes it`d be 20 minutes before we`d stop. Those are the kinds of wonderful things you remember."
In Xena`s fifth season, Joxer had nearly as much serious drama as he did slapstick. Yet while Raimi does enjoy the serious moments, he explains that one of the biggest problems with playing Joxer in a dramatic scene is the clownish nature of his costume. "When you`re wearing a clown costume, its tough to be serious," he remarks. What I love and hate about the show is that hat. I`ve always thought it was funny for about two minutes on camera, and then it`s not funny anymore. So I would always try and take it off, but the writers think it`s so clever and cute that they`d want me in that thing the whole episode. So there was always a fight between me and the costume department. I`d try and take it off and they`d try and keep it on!"
With or without the hat, Joxer shone in his dramatic turns, from reacting to the crucifixion of Gabrielle and Xena, to declaring his love Gabrielle, to his death at the hands of Livia. For Raimi, though, tragic moments are all in a day`s work. Recalling as an example how he approached the scene in Fallen Angel in which he, Eli and Amarice recovered Xena and Gabrielle`s bodies from the cross, Raimi explains, "I did all my emotional work I do as an actor, then I just got up there and pretended to be sad. I really wasn`t. I wish I could tell you it was more than that. I`m not a method actor, which means that I don`t have immediate emotions and feelings that I tap into. I`m a very mechanical actor. Anything you see on screen is just pretend. But if that affected people in a great way and I know it did because I got a lot of fan mail from it that`s wonderful."
Another high point of season five was Chakram, in which Joxer finally tells Gabrielle that he loves her. "Renee and I were pretty excited to finally get a scene like that, Raimi recalls enthusiastically "Renee gets lots of good emotional scenes to do with Lucy, but she doesn`t get too many to do with me, so I think that might have been fun for her. It was certainly fun for me."
The year had its lighter moments as well, such as a scene in Purity in which Joxer and Gabrielle have been put in the village stocks. For Raimi, filming that Scene highlighted Renee O`Connor`s professionalism. "Being in stocks, or having water poured on you it doesn`t matter to me. But sometimes when you get a female actress of Renee`s stature, they won`t do it because they don`t look good. But Renee is such an actor`s actor that she doesn`t care about that sort of stuff. I thought it was very bold of her to do that. Of course, Renee`s so pretty that it doesn`t matter how you photograph her - she`s always going to look good. But mainly I was like, `Wow!` I`ve worked with a lot of actresses who would not do that."
Raimi`s favourite fifth season episode was unquestionably the musical episode Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire. "When I found out we were doing a musical, my first instinct was naturally to be panicked because there`s so much stuff to do. I think that once we got underway, it was more fascinating just to see if it could he done."
The dancing was a particular challenge for Raimi, who claims he has no idea how to dance. "They gave me two weeks of intensive training to learn how to dance for my one big number, and I still just sort of scraped through by the skin of my teeth. It was tough, but it was cool, and it was really the reason why I got into this business in the first place. I`m not here to be a file clerk; I`m here to do things I`ve never done before."
Lyre, Lyre was the second episode in which Raimi has played a dual role, learning two sets of lines and shooting every dual scene twice. "It`s a little like playing a chess game against yourself in that you make a move but you already know how the other guy`s going to respond, so it`s tough to make it fresh and interesting every time. Bruce Campbell is probably the best director I could have hoped to have in an episode like that, because Bruce sees things in very dramatic ways. He was an actor before he was a director."
Raimi put a great deal of thought into creating the character of Joxer`s twin brother, Jace. "As good as the script was, Jace was an afterthought, because, though I can`t say for sure, I think what the writers thought was, `He`ll be gay and that`ll be funny enough.` I didn`t feel I could sustain that humour for a whole hour. I thought the audience would get bored with it, because they`ve seen that before. I was at the voice-over stage, laying down the vocal track for `Dancing in the Moonlight`, and [Composer] Joe Lo Duca had done this kind of Latin-themed song, when I thought, `This tends itself well to a Latino accent`. I did it and I thought, `Wow, that`s just really good!` So I came up with this whole personality that, not only was he gay, but he`s from Spain, he loves music, he loves to get dressed up and he likes parties Usually, when I sit down at the read-through. I`ll ask [Co-Executive Producer] Eric Gruendmann `Is it okay if I change this line or that line? And that episode I said, `Can I completely change my character to something new?` He said yes after I had given a little demonstration. I got up and did the walk I had come up with and the accent and the whole thing with the boa, so I think they really liked it. The writers [Adam Armus and Nora Kay Foster] were very nice about letting me rewrite some of my dialogue."
However, on the third day of shooting Rainn suddenly realised he might have an even bigger problem with Jace "It occurred to me that this character might be very offensive to both gays and/or Latinos. Here I am in the middle of New Zealand, and there`s maybe two Latino people down here. So I was very concerned. So I called up Marco Sanchez, who`s my best buddy. He used to be in SeaQuest with me. I said, `Marco I`m going to do my accent for you. If it sounds offensive to you I`m going to cut this thing out and reshoot everything.`
"So over the phone I did my whole thing of (he lays on a thick Spanish accent) `You can call me Juan, Hernando, Marco Tantaranti...` He just howled with laughter. He thought it was the funniest thing he`d ever heard. And you know, he`s about as proud a Cuban as you can get. And of all the nice letter, I got, I never received one telling me that they thought that my character was offensive to them as gay or Latino, and that`s something that`s tough to get away with on TV."
The biggest change of the year for Joxer was his ageing by 25 years in the final episodes of the season. Raimi says he played the older Joxer the same as ever, but with one difference "Old people, despite their experiences, generally behave like young people but with a hell of a lot more body aches and misfunctions," he explains. "So that`s pretty much how I played him. He was just Joxer but his body was old."
The make-up for the older Joxer made the role more demanding. It took as long as three hours each morning to apply, then another hour and a half to remove each night. So what was it like to play a rubber-faced character like Joxer while wear all those prosthetics?
"You have to not worry too much about them when the camera rolls," Raimi explains. "You have to be very careful every other moment, and just open your mouth a little bit. You drink everything with a straw; you have to sit in the shade [or] in air conditioning. You can`t eat lunch with everybody else because you can`t talk. But when the camera rolls you have to just forget all that and do your thing, because that`s what the make-up`s there for. It was really fun to finally be able to do that. It`s really lots of actors dream of doing.
Raimi knew well in advance that Joxer would die at the end of the season. Rob [Tapert, executive producer] was playing with the idea of taking some characters out and putting new ones in. There`s a time in a show when you need new blood, and they did it very well. And the dramatic aspect of it, with Joxer being killed by Xena`s daughter, Eve, was good drama."
Before his departure from the show, his fellow cast and crew members gave Raimi one final surprise. "When I left, Renee and Lucy put together this really nice farewell party for me," he recalls fondly. "I`d never had anything like that before. I was pretty choked up. I didn`t know what to say!"
O`Connor also enlisted everyone`s help on the set to make a very special parting gift. "Renee took a picture of everybody in the crew wearing that hat," he laughs. "They put it in a book for me so I wouldn`t feel like I was the only one suffering with it on. It was the funniest thing I`ve ever seen. Lucy`s wearing it. Renee`s wearing it. Kevin Smith wears it. Everybody`s wearing it! It`s great!"
Although Joxer will almost certainly make an appearance in the upcoming sixth season of Xena, Raimi believes that his character is pretty much finished. So how does he feel about that? "The same as anyone leaving a job," he shrugs. "How sad, but how great! Sad because I`m going to miss working with Lucy and Renee and Rob Tapert and Chloe [Smith, the New Zealand Producer] and Eric Gruendemann. All those guys really made that show for me. I`ve worked on a lot of TV shows, but those guys are really unique and special. You can`t have a good time acting if your actors aren`t fun and talented and if your producers aren`t open, interesting and intelligent. So that was sad. It`s good, because if an actor`s life were about doing one thing their whole life, they`d be a file clerk. Change is a good thing. In my career I`ve done dozens of things. I`d like to do dozens more.
"And it was a wild ride, and I`ll look back on it as one of the fondest memories in my life," he acknowledges. "I`ll miss it. I miss everything I do, though, acting-wise. It`s a bittersweet job. You put one thing down, you pick another thing up."
Now it`s time to go, and Raimi signs off with the same friendliness that began our conversation: "Hey, it was really nice talking to you this morning."
Right back at you, Ted!
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