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Panathenea UK Con, September 1-3, 2000

Guests: Kevin Smith, Dean O'Gorman, Willa O'Neill

The convention experience is something many of us Xena fans love. Its the same for fans of other shows (have you *seen* Galaxy Quest!?). The main reason most people go is to get a chance to meet the guests - stars of our favourite shows, and to meet other fans and to know we are not alone in our obsession. While still a novice at the convention business - this is only my second - I have been impressed with ALL the eight actors I have met. To read about other people`s experience still doesn`t prepare you for the fun of it all. However, here goes...

The Hercules and Xena Panathenaea was held in London on September 1st - 3rd 2000. Things got started on Friday 1st, with the cocktail party for the guests and a select hundred or so convention goers. (No cocktails though.) Unfortunately, Karl Urban was not present. Apparently, he is filming in New Zealand on Lord of the Rings. This was the second UK convention where guests have withdrawn late in the day. One of the problems when you are working with actors I suppose, but a little aggravating.I was lucky enough to get hold of a ticket to the party and gathered with friends chatting about what to expect. The first guests to arrive were Willa O`Neill and a shy looking Dean O`Gorman. Willa has shocking pink streaks in her hair at the moment, and seems to like bright clothing. They were both looking a little apprehensive, but were soon being greeted by us fans. We had a chat to Willa about her London experience (she`s an email addict), and her family in Scotland. Just about all New Zealanders seem to have friends or family somewhere in the UK. It seems to be party etiquette not to start quizzing the guests, so I saved my questions about the show til the Q&A sessions later in the weekend.

While getting a drink I was aware of a few female gasps and sighs around me...yes, Kevin Smith had entered the room! Kevin is the main reason most of us were there - apart from a few Karl Urban fans and the large contingent of Hercules and more specifically Michael Hurst fans. No doubt you will have read about Kevin Smith being a nice guy, and it really is true, although I don`t think I was prepared for how gorgeous he was! Very tall - and consequently easy to spot - but actually, much thinner than I expected. They say TV adds 20 pounds, well I think its true. Kevin looks very bulky and muscular on the show - and he's certainly not weedy, but he isn`t exactly rugby player weight either. Just completely perfect actually...sigh...

He was very casually dressed the whole weekend - some might even say scruffy - but when you look like that, you can wear a sack and still look great.

Eventually our moment came to talk to Kevin, and we shook hands. Some very good looking people can be very aware of their own looks, but Kevin was just so....well....nice! He has a stong Kiwi accent, and doesn`t talk in Ares low gravelly tones. He is all smiles and laugh - we only got to see the Ares glower on stage. And actually, he was very relaxed and easy to talk to and not at all intimidating. However, I have no recollection of what we talked about. I only know I MUST get a copy of that photo I had taken with him!

Later on, we also chatted to Dean O`Gorman, who is still only 22 years old. He seemed a little nervous about the whole thing, and was a bit twitchy. He is a very distinctive actor on Xena and Hercules - easy to recall his face (I think) as Homer in Athens City Academy for the Performing Bards or as Iloron in the Hercules episode The Gauntlet with Lucy Lawless as Xena. But in the flesh, you would walk past him on the street - even if you were a fan! Certainly, he wasn`t easy to spot in the crowds at the party. However, later in the weekend he proved to be a nice guy too, and very cute!

The main event was, of course, the guest talks. All three spoke on both Saturday and Sunday, and I am going condense the information.
Dean O`Gorman was first on Saturday. For Xena fans, the big revelation is that Dean has just filmed a Season 6 episode. He told us a little about - although generally speaking we didn`t get too many specifics from the guests at all. Dean said it was the third episode of the Viking trilogy that he was in, but couldn`t remember the name of the episode. He played a Viking, (name indeterminable....Wickleff/Wiglef/Wycliffe) and got to fight a monster, which he described as being played by a huge 7ft actor in a rubber suit with long tentacle like rubber arms. Dean said the direction to just smack it with his sword was pretty easy to follow. He did also say that there was some pretty hot stuff between Xena and Gabrielle, but we were unable to pry any more information out of him. He said that the whole production was far more polished and elaborate since his first XENA episode, Athens City Academy for the Performing Bards, back in Season 1. Speaking of that episode, Dean mentioned that the actors didn`t realise there would be those old movie clips in the episode.
Dean said he was very prone to falling over on the Young Hercules set. He blamed the boots with slippery soles. He spoke about the two actors who played Young Hercules. The first guy, Ian Bohen was much more serious and intense, whereas Ryan Gosling was a fun sort of guy. Dean said they had a LOT of fun on the set of Young Herc. He did try and put the same sort of energy into his role as Michael Hurst as Iolaus. Not sure if he was serious, but Dean said a second season of Young Herc might even have included young Widow Twanky! I think he was kidding. Dean mentioned that while filming on Xena and Hercules is fast - 3 to 5 minutes of film a day, working on the soap opera Shortland Street was about 25-30 minutes a day - very very fast. He is in an episode of Lawless, the cop show with Kevin Smith soon.

Willa O`Neill began her talk with a long answer to someone who asked about her career. She certainly has done a lot of things, including behind the scenes - directing in the theatre and producing. She is very bubbly and outgoing and confident. She spoke about how the US conventions were much more frantic and how she had had lots of people crowding around her. Willa spoke about only briefly about her one days filming on season 6 of Xena. She did say the prosthetics took some time to get into. Willa thought that Lila would have been very upset to hear Joxer had married Meg, and thought she would have cried for days! She DID sing on The Bitter Suite. It was a strange experience for her, as she said she had to sing down a phone to Joe LoDuca in Detroit to let him hear her singing voice first of all. When she went to record the brief buts of singing, she went to a studio in Auckland, but it was taped in Detroit! She said there was a little doubt about whether someone else might be used, but on the set it was really wierd hearing her voice booming out.

She spoke about her "dancing" as Althea in the Hercules episode, `..And Fancy Free`, and how Althea`s interpretive dancing was all her own work! She praised Michael Hurst - the director for the episode - for giving her some freedom. She said she enjoyed the role of the argonaut Phoebe a lot, and didn`t really want to be a villain. She said she`d like to play an Amazon as it would be fun. Willa was asked about fans - and she seemed to understand how much it means to many of us. She was a big Muppets fan and told us how impressed she was on hearing Ted Raimi had met Jim Henson. She is a big fan of Moby and went to a gig in New Zealand and was really thrilled to get a drumstick at the end. Kind of like the souveniers and merchandise many of us buy I suppose. She has no upcoming roles in Jack of All Trades of Cleopatra 2525. One of the fun things was to watch to see how long Willa kept her shoes on! They usually got kicked off pretty quickly.

Next up was Kevin Smith. Kevin gave little away about his future on the show. He has filmed some episodes, and was asked about whether Ares would get his powers back. He said that he thought the whole `mortal` thing would get very dull for Ares, and that he WOULD be looking for a way to get his powers back. He mentioned a scene at the end of Motherhood that was cut. Ares is on the beach with Xena, and she asks him what he will do now. Ares says something about wandering around and walking the earth! Kevin praised Renee O`Connor's work as a director on Deja Vu All Over Again, mentioning how she is very generous and very prepared. He displayed a hint of Ares as he said he occasionally wonders whether it is possible to goad Renee into totally losing her rag - she is always so nice and sweet, he said he sometimes want to see just how far he could push her - must be Ares talking there.

Kevin was asked about kissing Lucy while her husband is standing watching. He said that it was much worse having her baby watching! He said he wasn`t too bothered as Rob writes the show, although it did feel a little wierd at times. When asked if he has much input into Ares character, he said that Lucy often encourages him to adlib, but that is all.

He spoke about his stick-on beard in The Reckoning, and how he couldn`t move his face at all. Kevin also said that he can`t kick as high as he could - although he did say he gets up at about 4.45am, to work out for an hour. He said the fight scenes between him and the many small actresses are often filmed with him fighting her stunt double, and the actress fighting his, although he did say the actresses usually don`t hold back and throw themselves into the fights. Kevin was asked about any injuries, and he mentioned a nasty sounding one, where he had to do a spinning kick in Hercules, and the little dagger medallion he wore whipped around and stabbed him in the eye - right in the tear duct, which sounded revolting. He said they are soft plastic or rubber now.

The question of Ares being Xena`s father came up again, and Kevin certainly doesn`t think he IS her father, especially after the events of season 5. His favourite episodes were The Quill is Mightier and The Furies, and the Hercules Golden Hind ones. He also enjoyed the Hercules finale a lot. One of his favourite lines was in Amphipolis Under Siege, when Ares and Xena are making out in the temple and the wall blows up and Xena says to her mother, "its not what you think", and Ares says, "yes, it is!" Kevin was asked about The Xena Scrolls, and how Ares gets into that tomb if he is now a mortal. Kevin said he asked Rob Tapert who said that the events of that episode were just one possible future time line! There could be lots of other possible futures.

Kevin said that as an exercise, he would like to do an episode when we see Ares as totally, unredeemably wicked and evil, with no hint of mercy.

He spoke about the filming of his show 'Lawless'. When producers were trying to sell it to America, he was asked to tone down his Kiwi accent and to say `mate` a bit less! He had the audience in stiches when he told us about having his chest waxed for the role and how amazingly painful it was. Apparently bubble wrap is the way to get through ANY painful experience - popping those little plastic bubbles. When asked about appearing in musicals, he said he did lots early in his career. The last one he did was Brain Dead: the Musical - a version of the splatter horror movie. He also spoke about filming Desperate Remedies - a New Zealand film where he bares all! Kevin was very entertaining and funny, and seemed very relaxed too. He flew in just for this event, and was on the plane home by Sunday afternoon.

The other events of note at the convention were the fancy dress contest, which unfortunately did not have the guests present to judge as planned, due to the auction over running. However, there were 15 or so excellent entries, with an Angel Callisto winning out. The auction was really too big. There were 90 items, that were supposed to be sold in 90 minutes. Willa, Dean and Kevin took their turn as auctioneer, and the biggest items were a Joxer sword, Hera`s sword from Hercules, and Kevin brought an Ares sword. There were lots of items autographed by Michael Hurst , and not too much Xena stuff unfortunately, but a very big range of items available.

The cabaret on Saturday night featured a few songs by Willa O`Neill - and lots of enthusiastic dancing by her too. She joined in with the Indian dancer and grabbed a young girl to do rock and roll dancing later - Willa swinging her around like crazy! Kevin Smith was the star once again. He sang and played guitar on a few songs (sadly, no Melt into Me...) and even Dean O`Gorman joined them on stage for the last song as he and Willa grabbed tamourines! The band were mainly rock and roll, but it was fun. Wonderful to hear Kevin Smith sing - he was a little hoarse the next day, but chatted away undaunted.

A thoroughly enjoyable weekend, with lots going on and wonderful guests. Can`t wait for the next one....

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