Variety has certainly been the spice of life for Tydings in her most recent episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess - take appearing as a mermaid in the season five episode Married with Fishsticks, for example. "There are some shows where it's all about the emotions and the comedy, and the beats between the actors," she explains, "and there are some where it's all about the technical stuff: the wind machine; the dirt blowing in your eyes; saying the lines so your partner can hear them, even though we're going to dub it alt later. Fishsticks was one of those. It was all about keeping my head out of the water, but trying to float at the same time."
Although she can laugh about the experience now, it's clear that playing Crabella the mermaid was anything but funny for Tydings and her co-stars. Luckily she had gained her scuba diving certificate a few weeks earlier. "That did help," she admits. "We were in a pool, so it wasn't the most amazing dive of my life. We were under five metres of water for half an hour at a time, and we were right down there with all the safety guys. They had all the tanks and gear with them, and we were completely cared for, but I think the fact that I had dived so much deeper than that before definitely helped. I had been under that much water tons of times, and was completely used to breathing underwater, having ankle weights and being weighted under water.
"We weren't allowed to have scuba tanks in the shot, so we didn't actually have tanks on our backs," she adds. "The safety guys had tanks, and each of us had a regulator from their tanks which we were breathing from. They would get the shot lined up, then call action, and the guys would swim away with our air. That can be a little daunting, but you have to do stuff like that to get your scuba diving certificate. You're way under water, and you have to let go of your regulator, then recover it, blow the water out of it and start breathing again.
"So having been through all of that made it just so much easier for me to not freak out under there for half an hour at a time with no control over my air, and with guys holding me down by my ankles. I felt for Meighan Desmond [Discord], because she was going through that for the first time, and suffering through it like the trooper that she is."
The difficulties of shooting Married with Fishsticks weren't entirely water-related - the mermaid costumes were far from the easiest it wear. Tydings giggles at the memory. "Basically you've got a whole bunch of guys holding you up the air, and you wiggle your legs into this tail. Then they pull you up and slap you down at the the pool, and then they flip you over like a fish. They lace up these little shoelaces that are on your butt, and strap on this felt, and then they flop you back over again. From that point on there's no more walking - you're completely dependent on these guys to carry you to wherever you need to be. Actually, it's easier to be in the water, because you float, but only if you're lying on your back. With that ridiculously huge wig, when I laid on my back in the water the wig would get wet and start pulling me underwater from my head backwards!
"It was lovely to get out of the fish costume and the wig and back into normal Aphrodite stuff," Tydings says of her appearance in the climactic fifth season finale, Motherhood. "That was my first really serious Xena episode. I was kind of floored by it, actually, because Aphrodite usually just does comedies. I had been in a few fight scenes, but nothing really serious.
"On my very first day we were shooting the end of Act 3, in which it's raining, the house is burning, and Gabrielle is out cold, lying on the ground. Xena has to drag her, Eve is limping along, and Xena is kind of half carrying her as well. Xena and Aphrodite have this conversation in which Aphrodite agrees to take them to Olympus.
"I show up on the set - do the makeup, the hair, etc, and say hello to everybody - and then I've got to be quiet because they're still doing this shot. And suddenly it starts, and they come dragging out of this house, and there's all this blood. I was really touched, moved and saddened by it. It was pretty interesting and different."
In Motherhood, the majority of the gods are killed, and Ares become mortal. According to Tydings, in many ways the episode showed that the series still has the capacity to shock its audience, even after five years. "I think people really responded to it," Tydings says. "Aphrodite and Gabrielle had had so much story between the two of them through the season, so it was good that there was continuity to that. That obviously gave Aphrodite a lot more depth than we usually get to see from her."
Fans of the dippy blonde airhead (or 'Bubbles' Aphrodite, as Tydings calls her) will not be disappointed by Tydings' return in season six, although the actress points out that "Aphrodite takes a pretty strong turn after Motherhood," hinting about her appearances in the two-part adventure The God You Know and You Are There. "She goes through some pretty crazy stuff."
Tydings is proud to continue to be so closely associated with a show which presents women in such strong positions. "It's one of the only action shows that has a female hero who is not dependent on a man in any way," she points out. "That's pretty amazing. The time was right and the world was ready, and it just took off. It opened the doors for a lot of stuff that's happened since then: like the new series Dark Angel, and the Charlie's Angels film. So I think Xena is doing something that really hasn't been done before, and I'm sure in 20 years we'll look back and it'll all make sense. We'll see things that we don't see now because we're in the middle of it. It's fun, syndicated, action television, but it has this whole interesting base to it, which is fascinating to me."
Tydings is used to analysing such phenomena - she was a film major at college. So does she use the skills she gained at college? "Do I use them? Not enough," she says regretfully. "Not nearly enough, although I just got a little video camera and I started shooting some stuff when I was in New Zealand. I started a short a few months ago, but I shot it documentary style, so I've got about eight hours of footage to log. That's where it's stuck. If someone else would log the thing, I'd be willing to go in and edit it!" Nevertheless, it's clear from Tydings' discussion of the role of an actor that the lessons she learnt at college are ingrained.
Asked why she wants to perform, Tydings admits that it's "the joy and the transformation that happens for me personally. It's essentially a selfish thing. I feel good when I'm acting, happiest when I'm performing. I've always wanted to do it - I started dancing before I could remember, so performing came as naturally as walking. I love it.
"There are all the amazing goodies that come with it," she adds, "like applause, people's reactions and responses, and hearing laughter. That's just so wonderful. I think on some kind of macro level theatre and art in general are really important community-building, binding, psychological events. I'm not necessarily saying that's also true of television, but I think that's where the history of theatre comes from. I think at some level, performance is still a part of it. Laughter can heal, and I love to be part of that. Plus it's just really fun!"
Tydings used her voice to express Aphrodite's pleasure when she took part in the animated movie Hercules and Xena: The Battle for Mount Olympus. "It was so much fun, and I loved it," she says of the experience. "It was just one afternoon in the sound studio. I love going into sound studios. I don't know why - it's just one of those things that I dig. One of my favourite things is sound mixing and recording. It's must be all those dials or something! I have a really fun time doing ADR and voiceovers.
"I had never been a cartoon before," she reveals, "and there's a certain style to it which I had never really thought about before. There was one line where Aphrodite is losing her powers right in the middle of a good ride on the snowboard, and she kind of freaks out. The line says, Whoa, whoa, whoa.' So they said to me, `Really hit that.' So I'm sort of yelling, `WHOA, WHOA!', and they said, `Try one more time', and I tried it again louder. So they said, `Alex, this is a car toon - it's like Whoo0000000aaaaa' - and I thought, `Of course it is - it's like Scooby Doo.' How much fun to go to work and do that all day!"
Like all the guest stars on the show, Tydings doesn't know if she's going to be asked to return to the series before it completes shooting next spring. If she has made her final appearance, does she feel that both she as an actor and the character of Aphrodite have been served well by the writers and producers? "I think they've done a pretty good job," she says, "particularly given the aesthetic of Aphrodite. She started off pretty much as a Barbie doll-like vain and frivolous girl, and I think they've done a fabulous job of giving her depth, especially if you look at both Hercules and Xena. There was some great stuff that she got to go through in Hercules, when she found that she loved a mortal for the first time.
"She's not just interested in the superficial stuff," Tydings insists. "In the very first episode I did Aphrodite was controlling and manipulative. She could be nasty, and I guess at the beginning they used a little bit more of that. I think, especially with Xena, the show's based on more than just mythology, and stories centred around Xena and Gabrielle just took off on their own. At the beginning, we had more of a basis in stories that came from mythology, and I was very surprised at what a bitch Aphrodite could be. She could be really nasty, and she was."
How much input has Tydings had into the scripts? "That depends a lot on the director and the script," she states. "If the script is a mess and has to go through lots of rewrites, they will take input from us and listen to it. Of course, it's the producers' decision as to what they get to do, but we have been known to take advantage of the fact that we're all the way down in New Zealand and the writers are all the way up in LA. If we do what we want to do, they can't do anything about it. But we don't - we respect them - but we do tweak our own dialogue and change our stuff around a lot more than in any other job I've had. We're really lucky in that way.
"Of course, no one knows Xena better than Lucy Lawless, except maybe Rob Tapert. So for new writers joining in, say, the third season, Lucy's going to know a lot better than them what Xena would say although they do get fabulous writers and they've done a great job, thank God!"
Viewers of Xena obviously agree with Tydings, who admits to having had firsthand experience of the show's loyal fanbase over the years, specifically from her appearances at various conventions. However, she recently participated in her first online chat. "I was so amazed - I was online talking to Israel and Bali, England and Germany" she says.
And while it's more than likely Tydings will remain in contact with fans of her on-screen persona long after the show has wrapped, the actress couldn't have imagined that more than five years down the line she would still be receiving acclaim for what she'd thought would be a one-off guest part. "I had never even seen either of the shows when I played Aphrodite for the first time," she recalls. "I thought it would be a fun, cool deal: a couple of weeks in New Zealand.
"I had no idea this was going to happen."
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