Csokas' first appearance in Xena was as the priest Krafstar in the season three episode The Deliverer. Krafstar speaks kindly to Gabrielle of the one god, but then encourages her to spill first blood and ultimately become a vessel for the evil Dahak. However, Csokas insists Krafstar himself is not evil, and he has a very novel explanation to prove his point.
"Krafstar was a deceiver," he insists. "He was never what he appeared to be. But rather than being evil himself, he was inhabited by a force that was evil. Because that force, that thing of evil, came out of him, he was really just an illusion. Dahak was inside him, so arguably, Krafstar didn't even exist."
Here in the real world, something else about Krafstar and his god didn't exist either: those monstrous bolts of energy from Dahak himself that gripped and eventually impregnated the helpless Gabrielle. For the audience, those visual effects were pretty damn fancy, but in the temple scenes with Krafstar and Gabrielle, for the actors it was really a case of playing opposite nothing at all. Of course, they all knew what they were supposed to be seeing, and for Csokas, that made things a lot easier.
"If you've got a fair idea of what's going on - which you don't always - then you're okay" he says. "As long as you know where everything's taking place, and you've got the practicalities and the pragmatics of it sorted out that's when your imagination comes in handy! But as long as you've got a distinct picture, whatever it might be, then that's fine."
A few more of those effects were required during Krafstar's brief appearance as one of the robed nasties in the climactic temple scene of the musical The Bitter Suite. Csokas remembers being on set for about 20 minutes in total, and appearing in the scene "for a split-second", yet it was still a matter of playing to various effects that weren't there, with the added factor of song. "The song we did in that scene was to a backing tape," he reveals, "and it had been rewritten just before we performed it. To be honest, it was a bit weird..."
Slightly less weird - but Csokas also insists, not evil or bad - is the character of Borias, the warlord who was Xena's partner in the warrior's dark past. "I don't see Borias as being bad," he says. "I see him as a person who is loyal to his principles, with war being a part of his world. His fundamental motivation was derived from survival, and principles of war, family and even love, and the maintaining of a life beyond just conning around and killing people. So, in that way, his was quite an honest profession."
Coming up to date, in The Last of the Centaurs, Csokas plays a character with a face that should look familiar: Borias' son, Lord Belach. "Belach is bad," he admits of his latest villain, "but its only because he's torn between who he is and what he wants. He becomes confused and kills a race of people because he believes they've kidnapped his daughter, but they haven't actually done anything.
"Belach is a product of the old world, in terms of Borias being his father, and I think he's only now finding out how to put the qualities he's inherited from his father, which he abhorred, to good use - mistakenly or otherwise. He's also trying to master this new world and work out how to harness his own energies and his own power. He's trying to divorce himself from his heritage, because he wants to live a good life, but what do you do? If your daughter's been kidnapped, you're bound to behave in an irrational manner. So that's a part of him, and it seems to me that that's what this story is about."
There are a number of flashback scenes in The Last of the Centaurs featuring Xena and Borias, and to complicate matters just a little, some of these scenes are actually new footage. This means that Csokas is actually playing both Belach and his father Borias in the same episode. "Centaurs focuses more on Belach than Borias," Csokas reveals, "and generally speaking, Belach is a more watered-down character than Borias, because he's still trying to find his way in the new world."
Fair enough. But isn't it a little difficult to play father and son, both in different time periods, in the same show? Not really, says Csokas, although his explanation doesn't make it sound any easier. "I play both characters depending on the circumstances and what their agenda is, according to the script and the story. The timespan isn't really a great consideration for me; that sits within the context of the story. Technically, they're doing some grading and filtering [of the film] with the past sequences, so there's that. There are all sorts of things that come into it, like the fact that the costumes are different and the scenes are different. Borias was Borias back then and Belach is Belach now, so, to all intents and purposes, it's the same time period, but also it's not."
Summing up the motivations of his three Xena characters, Csokas defends them to the end. "In terms of existing in a world that is predetermined by its environment and by the other people who inhabit it, they have to survive. So on that level, I wouldn't really call them bad."
Csokas hasn't always played bad guys, however. In the 12 years since he started acting, he's played a wide range of varied roles, in theatre, television and film. He played the shy and mild-mannered doctor Leonard Dodds in the New Zealand soap Shortland Street, and recently finished a season of Twelfth Night in Sydney. He recently filmed his part as a major planetary leader in the highly anticipated Star Wars: Episode Il, which airs worldwide from May 2002, and his next project is a film shot in the Australian outback, titled Down And Under. "It's the right part of the world for the title," he says, acknowledging the benefits of playing a range of roles. "I've had lots of variety - the more experience you can have in these things, the better - and of course it's more fun!"
Csokas is proud to be associated with Xena, and can list a number of reasons why he thinks the show has been so successful. "I think it taps into a whole lot of different genres," he says. "There's the horror genre, the B-grade movie genre... It has a sense of humour, so there's irony there too, and there's the whole romance thing going on as well.
"For me, it taps into childhood experiences of running around imagining all these different worlds. The beauty of this is that the budget allows the crew the freedom to create all the effects, and make up all the environments, the costumes and the weapons. So it's a real playground. Sometimes it delves into areas that remind me of old-style movies. I watched an episode of Xena last night and I thought, `This is like a spaghetti western!"'
Just as I ask which other Xena character he would have liked to play, Lucy Lawless walks past within close hearing distance and tells him in a stage whisper, "You'd play Xena..." Obediently, Csokas nods, "...I'd play Xena!"
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