Xena Magazine #17 - Adrienne Wilkinson

Source: Titan`s Xena Magazine #17

Adrienne Wilkinson had no intention of becoming an actress. Brought up in the American mid-West town of Brandon, Missouri, renowned for its arts community, her career was mapped out for her: she was majoring in international business. So it came as a surprise to her friends and family when she suddenly got the acting bug.

"It was the summer before senior year," recalls the LA-based actress, "and I needed to get my senior portraits done. The photographer was casting a movie in the area. He got me interested in acting and convinced me to take a couple of classes for fun, and I just fell in love with it. I ended up taking classes six days a week. I was lucky, because I only had to go to school for half of every day during my senior year. So I soon became obsessed.

"About two weeks later, they had a workshop with Hollywood professionals," she continues. "I'm sure I made a fool of myself. I didn't know what I was doing! But the head of casting for [US television network] ABC gave my information to the guy who did soaps for them, and they asked me to go to New York for screen tests. My parents freaked out. They had no idea how much I was into acting. This completely circumvented everything that I had planned, and I'm sure that terrified them - not to mention the fact that New York and Los Angeles were incredibly far apart."

But Wilkinson's parents stood by their daughter's decision, and it wasn't long before more members of the family were following in her footsteps. "They've been unbelievably supportive," she acknowledges. "It obviously helped, because my sister is a director, and she's at college right now. My younger sister is in drama classes and is very interested in acting. It had never even crossed my mind as a career move at all, but for my siblings it represents a definite opportunity"

Before joining Xena, Wilkinson's career looked as if it might be taking another turn, this time into music. "One of my very dearest friends moved to LA last year. We were both actors and dancers, and we could both sing, so we decided it would be a great idea for us to do this music group," she explains. "We were unbelievably successful. We had offers from numerous record companies to represent us. We waited until we finally found this woman we trusted, and it turned out really well.

"Unfortunately, I couldn't be in the band this year because of working in New Zealand. If Xena had been filmed in LA, it wouldn't have been a big deal to do it, but with me being gone so much, it wasn't fair on the band. At first we were able to juggle it, but it got to the point where we couldn't anymore. They've done very well - it's now turned into a five girl group. I think they're going to be incredibly successful."

So how did Wilkinson come to be involved in Xena? "I was asked to come in and read for the role twice, and I couldn't," she recalls. "Normally you only have one shot at a guest part on a series. Over the course of about three weeks, because I had other commitments, I was unable to go to the meeting, but they called me a third time and I was able to go in that time.

"It was great: Beth Hyams was casting, and she's an angel. I wasn't familiar with the show. I didn't know anything about the role except that it was a warrior part. I felt very small and not fierce enough. I walked in, and Beth said, 'Please let you be the one; you're just perfect.' Then a couple of days after that I met the producers, and that's when they put me on hold for the show. But it wasn't until a week later that they called me to confirm. I was on pins and needles for a week!"

It wasn't until after Wilkinson had been cast in the show that she was told she was to play Xena's daughter in a threeepisode arc. "I had no idea," she remembers. "I think if I had known I would have been far more nervous. It was maybe the first week of February when they told me, and I left about a week later. It was unbelievably overwhelming! I had to learn so many new things, and I loved every second of it."

So how did she feel about having to work in a strange country? "It was just something else to deal with in that I didn't have my home to go to and I didn't have my friends to call. It was an exciting show, but I was in a country I'd never been in. It wasn't that it was extraordinarily different, and the people were very welcoming, but it was still a different place, with a cast that I had never worked with before. More intimidating was the fact that they'd worked together for so long. Just walking into that was very nerve-wracking. It was actually great - they're just like a family. They're so down-to-earth and welcoming.

"At the beginning of every year I make a list of the things I want to accomplish. I hadn't even looked at it until just a few weeks ago, and I found I'd written something to the effect of, 'I always want to work in a nurturing environment that is challenging and makes me a better person.' I thought, 'Oh my gosh, did that ever come true!"'

Wilkinson's role as Livia/Eve was certainly challenging, and the actress enjoyed being put through her paces by the show's producers. just a few of the things she's had to do on the show include, "Being dragged by a four wheeler; sitting in front of a wind machine for hours; playing with a spider; being in the ocean... Individually they're not scary things," she says, "but because you've never done them before, that makes them scary.

"Being from the mid-West I had never been out on the ocean in a boat. I went on lakes almost every summer of my life, but never an ocean. That happened during my last trip down there, and all I could think was, 'I'm going to be sick. Something horrible is going to happen. I'm going to fall overboard. It's going to be awful!' But it was the best experience of my life! They were just so sweet and amazing."

Wilkinson's experience of acting alongside an Avondale spider for an episode of Xena's sixth season was one she won't forget in a hurry. "The spider was scary just because you think it's going to be scary" she says in retrospect. "There's nothing about it that's harmful, but it's just so big.

"Lucy doesn't like spiders, but she can deal with them if she has to. She was giving me a pep talk, and she said, 'When you have that spider, a third of the crew won't be on the set because they can't stand to look at it.' And it's absolutely true! The poor girl who had to hold the camera couldn't come near me. It made me feel good afterwards! At the time it was completely nervewracking, but I was far more nervous about how valuable the spider was!

"The guy who trains the spider is standing there watching you with it because it's a protected species. So they weren't worried about me at all! They have no reason to, because the spider isn't harmful. So you're completely nervous, and they're only worried about the spider!"

Wilkinson had a bit of a surprise when she received the script for Livia, her first Xena episode. "The scripts are always far more racy than what actually appears on television," she explains, "because the writers pretty much put what they want in them. Whenever I get a script, I always think of my siblings and my parents and how they're going to want to see it. But I got this first script and it was unbelievably racy. It started out with a scene where I'm in the bathtub, and I'm obviously enjoying myself, and Ares suddenly pops out from under the water!

"I was like, 'Oh my!' I didn't know how to deal with it. I was freaking out, and I thought, 'Do I tell them I don't want to do this? I can't do that: I was really worried, and the producers called me and said, 'We know that you booked Xena, and maybe you were worried you booked the Red Shoe Diaries! The scripts are always so much racier - don't worry about it. It's no big deal.'

However, one particularly racy scene was filmed that didn't make it to the final cut of the episode. "It was the most uncomfortable scene I've ever filmed in my life," she says. "It replaced the scene in the bathtub, and it was my first nude scene. And there were a hundred people there! I wasn't caked, but I certainly felt it. The scene was shot 'rom the back. I was dressed up to my hips, and then I ripped off all my armour and threw a towel over myself before I turned around. But I was still horribly nervous about the scene, just because I wasn't used to it.

"I go in, turn around and I'm naked from the waist up. Octavius is speechless, and I'm like, 'Just spit it out. Come on!' He's so annoying, but then he starts talking to me about how I'm going to be Empress, so I'm thrilled. Then he turns his back and I'm annoyed - I want to go bathe and I can't stand him. I thought that scene was just so much fun. It wasn't necessary for the telling of the story, but it was great for introducing the character. As soon as he leaves, Ares pops in on the couch and then he and I have a dialogue that's obviously more honest. I just loved it. It showed such an interesting dynamic. I was just bombed that that scene didn't make it.

"All the scripts are relatively last-minute," Wilkinson reveals, "and the producers are incredibly detailed about what they want. There's almost a weird dichotomy: they're written racier than they can be filmed, but when they're filmed, the visuals are almost more stunning than you can describe. I'm always eager and nervous to get a script, because you never know what you're going to have to do, and within a running storyline there are so many different adventures that can happen. I'm always whipping through them and just freaking out a little bit - but even that's exciting, because if it was boring it wouldn't be nearly as much fun."

Wilkinson's favourite scene to date is the one from the teaser of Eve. "I'm destroying the village, and Xena, Gabrielle and Virgil walk in," she explains. "We played with it to get it where we wanted it. I don't know why I love that scene so much, but it was great. I thought it was so powerful. I got to talk about Callisto, and I treated Xena like a kind of kitten. The scenes are amazing because of everybody else," she adds. "Two hundred background people were doing these incredible stunts things were on fire and people were freaking out and crying. To feel like you're in control of that mayhem is just great.

"I also loved it because it was so over the top. I'm chopping this guy's head off, but I'm actually chopping cabbage. They're shooting this trenchful of blood at me as I'm chopping this guy's head off. It was so gross. That amount of blood could never have come from a human. It's hilarious, but the look was great."

Wilkinson wasn't aware that her character was going to follow in her mother's footsteps and be redeemed, and relished her initial role as the cruel Livia. "I loved her, but I think you've got to," she points out. "Regardless of what your character's personality is like, regardless of how objectively you feel about them, you've got to love a character-and I loved her. I thought she was a total spoiled brat, but she was intelligent and conniving, and obviously very fierce and the most amazing warrior. I couldn't quite comprehend some of those things, but I could comprehend the manipulativeness of her plans, especially because I'd never gotten to play a character like that. There's absolute freedom in playing someone who isn't sorry for anything they're doing. That feeling is empowering."

Following on from her three-episode arc at the end of the fifth season, Wilkinson was approached to return for the show's sixth and final season, an opportunity the actress had no intention of turning down. But she reveals that despite Eve's importance to the Xena story arc, she doesn't know from one day to the next how many more episodes she'll appear in. "They only booked me for three episodes of the sixth season," she recalls, "but the week I got back, they booked me for another one, and so on... I don't know if this is how it always is, but I don't think they know where they want the story to go this year, and it's a case of whether or not I fit in later in the season."

So does Wilkinson have any idea what's in store for Eve and her companions? "I don't know what they're doing with me and I don't know what they're doing with the show," she says bluntly. "We get hints about storylines that they're interested in doing, but on the whole, absolutely not. I'm always excited when I get the script, and also nervous figuring out what they're going to do. It'll be exciting this year."

Is there anything in particular that Wilkinson would like to see happen to her character? "There's always more stuff to do with her," she muses. "I know the ending I would like to have: I would like her to get to a comfortable medium. She's gone from one extreme to the other, and I'd rather she ended up comfortable in her own skin, just sort of following in her mum's footsteps.

"So I'd like her to be a little bit more like Lucy's character, who accepts her path and redemption, but who still fights for good and doesn't shy away from it. She's a little bit more timid than I'd like her to be. Basically, I'd like a resolution - whether they kill her, whether she rides off into the sunset; regardless of what she does - as opposed to letting her storyline just fade and not be acknowledged. I just want to know what happens to her, no matter what that is."

It's no secret that fans of Xena would like to see a spin-off series following Eve's adventures. Is that something the actress would be interested in taking part in? "I would be totally interested," she enthuses. "Of course! But it would absolutely, one hundred per cent depend on what they did with her," she adds firmly. "The producers are great at giving power to female characters, and as long as that happened, I would be completely excited at that. I'm incredibly in love with the idea.

"I get nervous at the mention of a spin-off," Wilkinson says, "because a lot of people are expecting Eve to just continue her mother's journeys, and I don't think there's any way for her to live up to Xena. I think its impossible, and I think it would be foolish to try that. Xena is such a strong, amazing, memorable character - she's just irreplaceable. The series wouldn't work if Eve tried to step into her shoes, so I hope they would do something a little different, something that takes the past and maybe works it in with something new. That's what I'd look for."

Although she won't reveal whether or not Livia makes a return in Xena's sixth season, Wilkinson is very clear about her feelings towards the character. "I absolutely love playing Livia. I love her! She's the best, she's such fun - she just doesn't care. I love that. With Eve, it's been far more realistic. I've been able to have great scenes with Lucy and Renee, but its just not as much fun, mainly because Eve is very righteous. She's so desperately trying to repent of her past that she's too shy to get involved in the battles. Fighting is really exciting, and considering that I fought so much in the first couple of episodes, that's something I've found that I miss, although I didn't realise I would. Plus she's nervous whenever she deals with something that's evil. So as much as that's very realistic, it's just not as much fun. Livia's far more fun."

While Eve's future beyond Xena's sixth season is uncertain, it's more than likely that Adrienne Wilkinson will be scouting for parts again within the next few months, and she has a clear idea as to what sort of role she'd like to play next. Her ambition is to play Mata Hari in a realistic biographical film about the spy's life rather than the Hollywood rewriting of it, but whatever role Wilkinson does take on next, the actress fully intends to continue to challenge herself.

"If it's too easy, it's not what you're meant to do," she muses. "The best part is the kind where, when you're reading the script, you're so excited you're jumping out of your skin, but you're so nervous about whether you can do it that you want to throw up. If it's too easy, you know you can go in and do it with your eyes closed. And that's just not interesting.

"I'd like to be able to look back on my career as a body of work," she adds. "I don't want to play the same girl over and over. I would love to have enough control over my career that I can guide where it's going and help pick the projects that I want, perhaps even be able to dictate who I do projects with, because I think the best directors and actors you can work with make you not just a better actor but also a better person. I'd like to be able to say that I've worked as much as I've wanted to work, done a lot of projects that I'm proud of, and also that I've been able to do good work that people will remember."

For the time being, however, Wilkinson is delighted to be associated with Xena, where she is continually challenged in her role as Eve. "In so many ways, Xena is the biggest job I've had," she states. "Its been frightening, scary, overwhelming and wonderful just incredibly empowering and really nice. And I've met the most amazing people."

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