Xena: Warrior Princess burst onto the screen in 1995 with a bold premise for the time, featuring a strong female hero on a journey of redemption. Xena, the former warlord, went on far-reaching adventures with her fast-talking companion Gabrielle to atone for the sins of her violent past.
Xena broke a lot of new ground and quickly became iconic for its complex portrayals of female characters and its heavy LGBT undertones. The show became a huge cult hit, overshadowing Hercules, the show that originated Xena’s spin-off.
Xena succeeded in spite of long odds. The studio was reluctant to take a chance on a female hero, and the content of the series was reigned in by the network. The series almost did not happen at all, and Xena herself was almost different.
The series was fraught with controversy from the beginning. Xena contended with the network censoring the show, religious groups’ objections, and significant fan backlash against writing decisions. Lucy Lawless also had a difficult time adjusting to her role as an action star and an iconic female character.
Still, Xena: Warrior Princess triumphed through all of this to last six seasons, and the show has a loyal fan base to this day.
Here are the 17 Mind-Blowing Secrets Fans Didn’t Know About Xena: Warrior Princess.
17. Xena was meant to be killed off on Hercules
Although Xena eventually became more popular than Hercules, the spin-off was not planned from the beginning. Xena was meant to serve as an antithesis to Hercules. Producer Rob Tapert wanted a dark and tragic figure to contrast with the optimistic straight arrow Hercules. Xena was supposed to appear in three episodes of Hercules and die at the end of her arc.
However, at the same time, producers were looking for a potential spin-off, and they were impressed with Xena when her three-part arc began. They saw the potential that Xena could carry a spin-off series and decided she would survive the story.
16. Writers were required to keep Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship ambiguous
Fans have long seen the bond between Xena and Gabrielle as a romantic relationship. The writers never confirmed or denied the idea, though the relationship was heavily suggested at certain points. The ambiguity was a deliberate choice by the network.
Executives at Universal forbid any overt references to a romantic relationship, telling producer Rob Tapert it would create a surge of interest followed by a steep decline.
The network was very concerned by the idea at first, but apparently warmed up to the ambiguous suggestion over time.
Tapert explained, “Before we started shooting Xena, we shot the material that we were going to use to create the opening title sequences with. The studio was so concerned that it would be perceived as a lesbian show that they would not allow us to have Xena and Gabrielle in the same frame of the opening titles.”
15. Lucy Lawless was the sixth choice for Xena
Lucy Lawless now seems inseparable from the role of Xena, as if she was made for the part. However, she was not even close to the first choice for Xena. Vanessa Angel of Weird Science fame was first cast as Xena on her Hercules run. However, Angel became too ill to travel to New Zealand for filming, leaving the Hercules crew scrambling for a replacement.
The role was then offered to four other actresses, all of whom rejected the role. Finally, the role was offered to Lucy Lawless, a relative unknown that had already appeared on Hercules twice in two different roles.
14. Hindu groups objected to Xena’s Krishna
Xena: Warrior Princess started out by entangling Xena in the affairs of the Greek pantheon of gods, but the show soon expanded to feature figures from many cultures and religions.
This became complicated when working with religious figures from current world religions. When one Xena episode featured the Hindu god Krishna, some Hindu religious groups were not happy with the portrayal.
These religious groups felt this was comparable to depicting Jesus on screen and putting words in his mouth. This was especially contentious since Krishna was summoned to help Xena rescue Gabrielle, who many assumed to be her romantic partner.
Hindu groups felt this was tantamount to Krishna giving his blessing to homosexual relationships, miring Xena in a heavy religious debate.
13. The studio head did not think female heroes worked on television
Xena: Warrior Princess appeared at a time when female-centered shows were incredibly sparse on television, before the forthcoming successful shows like Buffy.
Producer Rob Tapert said, “At that time, there were no female superhero shows on TV, and really Bionic Woman and Cagney & Lacey were the two most identifiable female-driven shows that had been on. While they had been somewhat successful, they had never repeated in syndication very well.”
However, the studio finally gave the green light for the Hercules spin-off, but not without hesitation. Tapert continued, “At that time, the head of the studio gave me a lecture about why he was going to do this. He was concerned that female heroes don’t really work well on television and never to take my eye off the ball of Hercules.”
12. The series creator thought the show was pushing boundaries before the Xena-Gabrielle relationship
In the 1990s, LGBT characters and relationships on television were still controversial, and the series creator did not intend to address the subject at first. He was surprised when fans started to read a lesbian relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. In fact, most of the cast and crew were surprised at the suggestion.
Producer Rob Tapert explained, “The truth was, and I know it’s such a different era, we thought we were pushing the boundaries by giving Xena a history of having men of color in her past.”
Renee O’Connor added, “We were very aware that there was only so much we could do, because it was a show on network television. So [while] Rob would push the envelope as much as he could, he still had to work within certain guidelines.”
11. Large portions of the series had to be rewritten for Lucy Lawless
Xena required significant action and stunt work from Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor, which created problems when Lawless was physically unable to perform the necessary stunts.
During filming for the second season, Lucy Lawless fell from a horse during a segment on The Tonight Show, fracturing her pelvis in several places. Lawless’ injury was serious, requiring physical therapy to relearn to walk.
While Lawless recovered, producers and writers scrambled for a way to continue filming with Lawless in a limited role. Some episodes were written or rewritten around this, like an episode where Xena and Callisto switch bodies.
10. Kevin Sorbo objected to Xena being Hercules’ equal
The star of Hercules, Kevin Sorbo, was not pleased with Xena’s incredible strength and skill in her spin-off. He felt it was a mistake to show Xena as the physical equal of Hercules.
Sorbo commented, “I never understood why [Tapert] made her actually more powerful than Hercules. Hercules is supposed to be the strongest person in the world and a half-god. And here Xena was able to do everything Hercules can do and more… They made her a doctor and so many other things. And I found it just weird. You know, make her a kick-a** chick… but to give her my strength on top of it was weird.”
Sorbo’s opinion may have been somewhat affected by Xena surpassing Hercules in the ratings. Sorbo reportedly complained so much about Xena while filming Hercules that people on set would jokingly spit whenever Xena was mentioned.
9. Lucy Lawless regrets not making a Xena movie
The story of Xena was never continued outside of the series, but Lucy Lawless wishes she had done a Xena movie while the show was at its most popular.
Since the end of the series, there have been multiple rumors and attempts at making a Xena movie. A screenwriter was approached for the project in 2003, with a projected timeline of releasing a movie between 2006 and 2009.
However, in 2009, Rob Tapert said there was no hope of a Xena movie with Lawless and O’Connor. He expected it would happen at some point down the line with other actresses.
8. Many fans hated Joxer’s introduction
In season two, Joxer joined Xena and Gabrielle’s adventure, mostly providing comic release for the group. Many fans did not take kindly to Joxer’s introduction as a main character, as it felt like it shifted focus from the core relationship of Xena and Gabrielle.
Ted Raimi, who played Joxer, explained, “They felt it was a female centric show. It was, like, the only one on TV at the time just about. It happened to be fantasy, but I think that was besides the point, and there I was, this goofy male who was not even complimenting the other two females particularly, other than the fact that I was obviously dumber and weaker than them, which was OK, but they didn’t want any males on the show.”
7. Lucy Lawless hated being called a “feminist icon”
When Xena: Warrior Princess premiered, many female fans latched onto the strong, smart character of Xena as a feminist icon.
A female character as tough and competent as Xena as the main focus of a show was a rarity, and Xena received a flurry of attention from excited women looking for strong female leads. At first, Lucy Lawless was not happy about receiving this kind of attention.
Lawless elaborated, “I was really weirded out in the first season when they were [calling me] ‘a feminist icon.’ … I had never been described before in print and it horrified me to be reduced down to a few words, less than a tweet. But now, with the wisdom of age, I’m like, ‘Right on!’ Now I see the value of it. At 25 and 26, I couldn’t bear to be iconized, because it’s so reductive.”
6. The series cast and crew were concerned about the potential reboot
When the news circulated that NBC was working on a reboot of Xena, many of the original production crew and cast were excited, but they also had some concerns.
Renee O’Connor was excited about Xena returning to the screen, but expressed trepidation about how it would be done.
She stated, “The other part of me sort of questions how they would do it because, nowadays, it’s so easy for people to go to shock value of structures and stories to get an audience and I think if that’s what they did with this show, that it would be a little disappointing to me, because the show was never about that.”
Lawless added, “I hope they do right by the fans, do right by the character and the legacy of the show… There are central characteristics, the cadre of that show is as an institution that you can’t mess with.”
5. The planned reboot died due to creative differences
Although NBC had a reboot in development, the reboot was eventually cancelled. Javier Grillo-Marxuach was hired as a writer and producer for the series. Grillo-Marxuach stated that the new series would be “fully exploring a relationship that could only be shown subtextually in first-run syndication in the 1990s.”
This caused a flurry of fan reactions, from objections about making Xena an outed lesbian to the potential erasure of her apparent bisexuality. Grillo-Marxaugh later commented about the issue, “It feels like – from a few sentences – everyone has already made up their mind about what it is I am doing. I would prefer people be surprised by the story.”
He later left the series due to insurmountable creative differences, and the reboot died. NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke added, “I’d never say never on that one because it’s such a beloved title but the current incarnation of it is dead.”
4. Ares was supposed to be Xena’s father
Ares and Xena had an interesting dynamic. Throughout the series, Ares and Xena cycled between being enemies and love interests. Ares was even cited as a reason Xena and Gabrielle were never really together.
Rob Tapert said, “We didn’t really ever want to get them 100 percent together for a very strange reason. There was Ares, God of War. We did not want to give up the hold that character had over Xena.”
However, this relationship almost got weirder than it already was. In the original script for the episode “The Furies,” Ares was revealed as Xena’s father. The writers eventually decided to change it. They did not want Xena to be half-god like Hercules, and it would have made Ares’ attraction to Xena very creepy in retrospect.
3. Producers regret the lack of female directors on the show
Xena: Warrior Princess was a paragon of female empowerment on the screen, but some people feel the show could have done more to empower women behind the scenes. In six seasons and 134 episodes, only five were directed by women.
Two of these episodes were directed by Renee O’Connor herself in the somewhat common tradition of giving main . It’s curious that in a show about intelligent, highly skilled women as competent as any man, more women directors were not given a chance at the helm.
Producer Eric Gruendemann claimed that it came down to qualifications. Few female directors had experience directing with both action and visual effects, two necessary elements for creating a successful episode of Xena. He said, “We feel bad about it, but we’re not guilty because we’ve tried.”
2. Episodes had to be rewritten and recut due to controversial content
Although Xena created plenty of controversy with the content that made it to the screen, there were some scenes that were too controversial to show in their original form.
Producer Rob Tapert explained, “At that time, the TV division [of Universal] went through rapid changes. We had no parent guarding the liquor cabinet. Once in a while they would weigh in and say, ‘You can’t do that,’ like we had this terribly gross cesarean birth of a baby centaur from a woman. They said, ‘The advertisers will pull out,’ and we did it anyways and then they said, ‘Oh, M&Ms is pulling out,’ and we had to recut.”
He continued, “We had an episode that would have outed Xena and Gabrielle, and they said, ‘You just can’t do that, guys,’ and we spun it a little differently. The writers took all week to do a rewrite and changed it…”
1. Lucy Lawless regrets the series finale
The series finale of Xena: Warrior Princess ended with the heartwrenching final death of Xena, leaving Gabrielle to continue her journey without her. When the production crew made the episode, they had no idea how much backlash it would create with the fans. Some of the people have expressed regrets about how the series ended.
Tapert explained, “The funny thing is was we probably underestimated the backlash… We thought it was the right thing for a character who had come from such a violent and lawless past, so that’s why we did it.”
Lawless said, “[Xena’s death] is a huge regret on my part, because we didn’t realize really what it meant to people. We thought, ‘Oh, that’s a really strong ending.’ Now I just say to fans, ‘Let’s pretend that never happened.'”
Can you think of any other facts about Xena: Warrior Princess? Sound off in the comments!
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