Michael Hurst Interview

Part 1 - Xena Episodes

This is a transcript of a round-table conversation with Michael Hurst (Iolaus, Xena director, et al) organised by Cindy McBain of Hurst News - a UK-based newsletter on Michael's work and career. The full transcript of the conversations will be published in current and future issues of Hurst News; Cindy has kindly allowed me to share the Xena related parts of the conversation with you via the Web. Many thanks to Michael Hurst who so kindly made time out of his busy schedule to see us, and to Cindy for making it all possible. The contributors to this piece were myself (Bevis King), Jo Robins, Jo Rodgers and Cindy McBain - 'cos I can't remember who asked which questions I've marked our contributions in as "Q" for questioners.

Q: Xena's apparently starting again at the end of this week, are you involved?

MH: In fact Jennifer's [Ward-Leland, Michael's Wife, has] been in that first episode [back from the Christmas break], [but] not as Boudiccea unfortunately, but she's playing a villain, a corrupt theatre producer, so go figure. [NB: This is The Play's The Thing]

Q: Why does she always get to play villains?

MH: I don't know - a certain vampy quality I suppose. She's also a great comic actress.

Q: Lots of people are interested in Jennifer's career.

MH: Are they?

Q: Yes, a lot of people liked her performance as Boudiccea and Voluptua especially.

MH: She looked great as Boudiccea. I just couldnt believe it. I took little Jack [Their son] into see her one day - Jack was amazed - with all this hair and I just thought she was great and because she's so tall, she's very striking.

Q: Was this the rumoured 1990s episode? [NB: A reference to rumours about Deja Vu All Over Again which we now know is the 1990s one. Jennifer doesn't have particularly big hair in The Play's The Thing as we now know, so this was a reference back to The Deliverer.]

MH: No, it isn't the 1990s one, its definitely in period, definitely. I dont know when the 1990s one [will be] - of Xena [right]?

Q: Yes

MH: No, no. Although we all know each other and we cross over occasionally we are run on such different timelines, each hierarchy is completely different. The areas which are shared are design and things like that. And I've directed both so I know what thats like but you just never see the crew, you just never see them.

Q: One of the things that is always mentioned in terms of injuries on the set is the one where you hurt Kevin Sorbo.

MH: Oh yeah, yeah yeah [laughs].

Q: He mentions that a lot.

MH [amused]: Of course he does!

Q: Was it really bad or did he just get slightly offended that you whacked him over the head with a sword?

MH No, it was nine stitches, it was nine stitches. I've seen the shot, well its actually been edited. I'm doing a reverse spin with the sword, and in those days they gave us real metal swords - idiots, you know but anyway, he didnt duck quite far enough and my aim was off.

Q: He's tall!

MH: He goes on about that. I just look at him and I say [pointing to his previously damaged wrist] `broken wrist Kevin you know what I mean?`

Q: It looked pretty painful. We can't spot it on the programme.

MH: In Xena? It was Xena I did it on. You can't spot it because in Prometheus there's a fight we do in a barn and theres a move I do on this guy, its the end of the fight where I fall on my back and I'm pulling him over and he has to go over the top and he ends up upside of that, then I reverse flip back onto him, his chest and do that [indicates a hit]. The take they're using is the one that worked, the second take is the one where I went over like that [indicates how], my arm got stuck on the floor like that and his whole weight came down on it and it broke across there - you can see, its a whole different shape and it snapped across here. And then in the one that works, I punch him and then flip up into a close-up and do something like errrr [makes a face] and in the one that doesnt work, I flip up into a close-up, its all perfectly in focus, I've seen it, but my face is like white and I'm screaming without making a sound and I'd broken it. And on the take that the break is happening, you can hear it go [snap].

Q: Since you mentioned Bruce [Campbell]. You did an episode with him in Xena - A Tale of Two Muses

MH: Yeah, have you seen that?

Q: Yes. I wasnt quite sure of it.

MH: It was an odd piece but again, I made a decision not to shoot any of it outside

Q: I was wondering why it was a bottle-show [TVspeak for an episode made entirely inside in the Studio.]

MH: Well I just wanted to..it was like a kind of a musical, it wasn't a musical but it was like one and I wanted to get that feeling which is why I had them just paint this huge backdrop.

Q: Almost slightly surreal?

MH: Surreal. I call it super-real, like so real its not real and then we shot all those things of them walking across the desert you know we had trays of lighted methylated spirits in front of the camera to get the haze and we could only shoot in one direction so the actors come in and go blah blah blahblahblah and then we turn them around and put the other actor in there and move the camera an inch and shoot again and stuff like that. But again, I think it fulfils what its meant to fulfil but its an odd little episode, very strange. I think when I did the Xena, you know the other one A Day in the Life, that held it together quite well.

Q: That was a superb episode.

MH: Everybody says that you know and its great because we shot it like five days. I used [a] hand-held camera most of the time except for the bath scene which I really like.... [so we Michael, so do we! :-)] I kept getting calls from the editors `can you please give us something to cut away to - Nah! Its one shot, its nearly three minutes long, its never dull and you know these two women in the bath together... - you've just got to say it! So I just said to Lucy and Renee - don't play sexy, don't do anything, if you do anything it'll be too much. Its two women in a bath - it's YOU two in a bath, you don't have to do anything. And they didn't, they just played it - you watch it and there's pieces like Xena scrubbing Gabrielle's ear and getting in there and its all so real I just love it, its my favourite, favourite shot.

Q: Did they adlib lots in that?

MH: No not really, that was all written, but some of the other stuff was adlibbed. We shot it like hand-held, threw it around. We kept finishing our days early and I kept thinking, god theres something wrong here but no it was really good, it worked really well. I get a lot of positive feedback about that.

Q: I think that one of the things was that the whole episode just has a sort of a moving, bouncy feel.

MH: Yeah it does.

Q: You dont know quite where its going next.

MH: I kept saying look, you've got to think like a BBC camera crew - fly on the wall and just go in and do it and also Alison Wall, plays Minya, well she's fantastic, she's an old, old friend of mine. I actually taught her at drama school and all that sort of stuff and thats what happens quite a lot with the actors here, some of them, you know I can remember from ten or fifteen years ago, you know weve all worked together or I've taught them or directed them, its great in that respect.

Michael also confessed to adding the soap gag himself!

The author pictured with Michael Hurst

The second part of the interview covers the technical aspects of production and includes information on Amazon High.

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Bevis King <B.King@ee.surrey.ac.uk>
20th May 1999