Xena: Warrior Princess was a show ahead of its time. No really. The series broke boundaries thanks to its strong female protagonist. Since it began in 1995, Xena has gained a strong cult following, tons of fandom attention, and has even influenced how other TV series move forward. That’s exactly why we’re taking a look at facts you didn’t know about the show. Let’s get started!
Not The First Choice
We know it’s hard to believe but Lucy Lawless wasn’t the first choice to play the Warrior Princess! Vanessa Angel, from the series Weird Science, was originally cast in the title role. Sadly Angel became ill just before filming and was unable to travel. Therefore the role went to Lawless. Phew.
Most of Xena’s run saw Zoe Bell as Lawless’ stunt double. Actually, Bell would go on to stunts for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Lawless has often said that “Xena is half Zoe.” That’s an understatement as the number of stunts for an hour-long episode were extraordinary. At just 17, Bell started as Lawless’ double and she continued until its final episode.
Can you believe Zoe Bell is actually a blonde?! Her wig had us fooled…we thought it was natural the entire time! We bet the hair and makeup department super glued that wig to her head so it stayed put during all of the super natural stunts.
Sunny Doench was originally offered the role of Gabrielle. However, she didn’t take it because she didn’t want to move to New Zealand for filming. Producers then contacted Renne O’Connor and the rest is history.
Across The World
What we may not realize it that the stars actually lived across the world in New Zealand during filming. It wasn’t a 9-5 job and they then returned to their lives in LA like other TV show stars. The cast of Xena lived and breathed the New Zealand air throughout the entire time the show was on the air.
From her outfit to her battle cry, Xena’s chakram is just as iconic. And guys, it’s a very real weapon. Yup, the chakram dates back to 2nd century BCE India and is traditionally composed of steel or brass. Moreover, it can be thrown up to distances of 60 meters. Although in the show the chakram was wielded and thrown instead.
While filming for Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, Lucy Lawless, unfortunately, fell off a horse and fractured her pelvis in many areas. Can you believe how bad Jay must have felt?? We can’t imagine how painful that injury must have been!
Changing Things Around
For months, she couldn’t move like she used to. As the show was in its second season, many of the scenes had to be rewritten to focus on guest stars and supporting characters.
Repeatedly Quentin Tarantino has praised Xena. In an interview for Double Dare, Tarantino said, “Xena has no apologies. Xena is a really cool show. It’s got cool characters. Lucy Lawless is terrific in it. I love that girl who plays Callisto, and the action in it is a lot of fun. The scripts are really good. There’s really cool storytelling going on. The backstory of Xena’s character is quite magnificent.”
Co-producer, Robert Tapert, loved Hong Kong action films so much so that it influences the series. Xena often had Kung fu-style fight scenes and also exaggerated sound effects, such as the whooshing noise of a characters’ movement and their weapons.
Even scenes in Xena: Warrior Princess were influenced by Hong Kong films. A popular fight sequence in the one of the episodes was inspired by the films Once Upon a Time in China and The Bride with White Hair.
A lot of people tend to focus on the “romance’ between Xena and Gabrielle. While it was all subtext, they were, in fact, each other’s soulmate, just not in the way people think. The show would have been totally different had these two not shared a special bond.
The series was progressive in more ways than one. Diversity and inclusiveness were often celebrated. Moreover, many females were cast as leads and seeing a team of strong women from different backgrounds empowering one another was extraordinary.
Before musicals became a staple on a series, Xena aired its very first musical episode in 1998 with “The Bitter Suite.” This episode was a key development within a season arc and is often regarded as one of the series’ best ever episodes.
Not One, But Two
The show’s composer even earned two Emmy nominations for his work. Ted Raimi, Kevin Smith, and Lucy Lawless all studied opera in college and would perform their own songs. They did a second musical episode later on.
Before New Zealand became known as Middle Earth, it was home to Hercules, Xena, and Young Hercules. Even though the show was shot in New Zealand, locally cast actors couldn’t be used as the series was meant for American and international audiences.
Producers decided that Southern Californian accents were best. Since Lucy Lawless is originally from New Zealand, she had to fake that accent! We’re guessing endless voice lessons helped with that! We give her credit for pulling that off!
There were plenty of crossovers between Hercules and Xena, however, fans forget that Lucy Lawless first appeared on the movie pilot Hercules and the Amazon Woman. Twice, Lawless played a different character before finally becoming the Warrior Princess.
Xena: Warrior Princess dealt with a lot of controversies because of its depiction of Hinduism. The show had Greco-Roman roots but incorporated elements of other ancient religions as well. The show’s producers and directors would find themselves in hot water after doing that.
“The Way” episode interpreted elements of Hinduism, prompting showrunners to even add a disclaimer at the beginning of the episode to explain their intentions. However before the episode aired, controversy began as it was rumored that Xena beat up a Hindu deity. Also, they said that Lord Krishna was depicted inappropriately.
Big And Bronze And Dark-Haired
Can you believe that in the original script, Xena was meant to be blonde?? Lucy nixed this idea right off the bat. She felt that an Amazonian princess should look “big and bronze and dark-haired.” We happen to agree, Xena!
In a 2015 interview, Lucy Lawless said that the Argentinian tennis champ and US Open winner Gabriela Sabatini was who she modeled her look after in Xena. The star was happy she didn’t have to damage her hair from bleaching it.
Not For Me
It turns out that Lucy Lawless really didn’t like doing the fight scenes. “My only defense was to get good at it,” she said to Television Academy. “Get it over and done with ASAP.”
On My Own
When it came to Gabrielle doing stunts, she did most of them herself. Sure, the team had the best stunt doubles in the business but as Gabrielle had fewer dangerous stunts, she did the bulk of them.
A Xena Movie
From the moment the series went off the air, rumors flooded in that a feature-length movie was going to happen. Screenwriter Katherine Fugat was contacted to work on the project in 2003. Fugat said then that production would start in three to five years, between 2006 and 2009. Lucy Lawless has said many times that she is on board to star as Xena in a film.
But, film producer Rob Tapert said in April 2009 that there wouldn’t be a film anytime soon and that Lucy Lawless or Renée O’Connor wouldn’t appear in the film if one was created. “It’s something that just won’t happen…In twenty years or ten years, in some amount of years, like McGyver, like Charlie’s Angels, it [could] happen like that [with other actresses].”
As the show’s popularity grew on social media, fans launched a global campaign in 2013. They bombarded Universal Pictures, demanding a Xena movie be created. In just a few days, Universal received hundreds of thousands of fan messages. The Australia, Finland, and Spain Universal Studios offices seemed to also be on board.
Setting The Facts Straight
Lucy Lawless wrote on Twitter that a “chap who wants to re-invigorate the #Xena brand” while warning fans that “there’s a lot of red tape around #XWP so don’t get your knickers in a twist. It may come back in a different form”. Ever since, Lawless has appeared in many interviews where she expressed her support for a Xena film and said that they just needed to smooth out some legal issues before the go-ahead is given.
Head on over to the National Museum of American History if you want to see Xena’s actual costume. Lucy Lawless donated it to the museum in 2006. Smithsonian magazine also asked her, “Was the Warrior Princess outfit comfortable?” Lawless replied, “Not at first, because they would put boning in the corset. It would cover up those little floating ribs that are so important for breathing, so I’d feel like I was having panic attacks. But it just became a second skin after a while.
Lawless also told Smithsonian magazine, “the costume was very functional, once I got over the modesty factor. I admit to being a little bit embarrassed the first couple weeks because I’d never worn anything so short.” We’re sure she got acclimated pretty quickly since that would be her costume for 6 years straight!
In September 1997, Lucy Lawless appeared as bad girl Betty Rizzo in the Broadway revival of Grease. Lawless wanted to play the lead, Sandy, however, she felt that producers typecast her as a “bad girl” after her success with Xena. She felt that Sandy’s character was similar to her own sheltered childhood – Lawless grew up in New Zealand with protective older brothers.
Rob Tapert was asked just why and how he chose Xena’s weapon, “I had a book of ancient weapons and I saw this weird discus called the Chakram and I said let’s give her this because it can return and we’ll never have another character use it. John Schulian [series writer] said he hated it and said we should cut around it. I told him ‘that weapon is the coolest thing I’d ever seen’ – it’s her signature piece.” Tapert knew what he was talking about!
Love At First Sight
American film producer Rob Tapert met his beau, Lucy Lawless, while directing Xena: Warrior Princess. The show’s main character, Xena, caught his attention, and she felt the connection too. The two began dating and married while the show was still on air.
Speaking of Rob Tapert, he and Lucy Lawless tied the knot on March 28, 1998! Together they have two children, Julius and Judah. Both sons were born in Auckland, New Zealand.
In the episode titled “The Bitter Suite”, the crew were inspired by the most unusual thing – tarot cards. That’s right, the scenes, settings, and costumes were all based on pictures from tarot cards. Callisto can be seen dressed as the fool while Joxer is the hanged man.
Throughout the series, Gabrielle features in a total of 7 regular outfits. She started off with a mere Greek farm girl dress in season one. However, Gabrielle would then upgrade to three different Amazon outfits, including a yellow two-piece Indian garment and also two warrior bikini costumes.
Gabrielle’s fighting style, while not as intense as Xena’s was still just as impressive. She used a mix of martial arts, kickboxing, and acrobatics. Moreover, Gabrielle’s two trademark weapons, the fighting staff, and the sais, are a part of a Japanese fighting style, Okinawan Kobudo.
In season two, Xena: Warrior Princess saw its ratings soar past its predecessor, Hercules the Legendary Journeys. As a result, Xena became the number one syndicated action show. In fact, the series continued to lead Hercules in every subsequent year that both series were airing.
Everyone is familiar with Xena’s famous war cry, she does it in just about every single episode! Turns out that Lucy Lawless modeled the war cry on the ululations of Arab women.
Originally Renee O’Connor did not appear in the season one opening credits. However Lucy Lawless demanded this change so, from season two and onward, O’Connor appeared in the opening credits. Such a simple request but we’re sure it was one that meant a great deal to O’Connor.
Melinda Clarke played the Amazon Velasca in season two of Xena: Warrior Princess. However, it turns out that Clarke was originally considered for the role of Xena but dropped out. Interesting choice on her part!
Renee O’Connor was first introduced to Xena executive producers Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi after she played Deianeira in their television movie, Hercules and the Lost Kingdom. For the now 47-year-old, that role opened the door for her to play the legendary Gabrielle in Xena: Warrior Princess.
In 2015, reports came out claiming that NBC was in the middle of developing a Xena reboot series. Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert were set to return as executive producers and the show was to debut sometime in 2016. Insiders also asked for Lucy Lawless to return as Xena and to even have a role in series production. Just a day later though, Lawless tweeted that the Xena reboot is a rumor.
A few months later, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt did confirm that the reboot is in development! Entertainment Weekly announced that Javier Grillo-Marxuach would be the writer and producer for the reboot. Grillo-Marxuach wrote on Tumblr that they would be “fully exploring a relationship that could only be shown subtextually in first-run syndication in the 1990s.” Many websites believed that meant that “Xena will be an out and proud lesbian.” He then came out to say that, “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.” In April 2017, Grillo-Marxuach left the project because of “insurmountable creative differences.”
Fast forward to August 2017 – NBC announced that the reboot plans had been canceled. Jennifer Salke, the NBC Entertainment president, said, “I’d never say never on that one because it’s such a beloved title but the current incarnation of it is dead.”
Xena: Warrior Princess has experienced a major cult status within the lesbian community. Many in the lesbian fan base see Xena and Gabrielle as a romantic couple. Therefore they consider them role models and lesbian icons. The Marching Xenas have also participated in a lot of gay and lesbian pride parades.
Heck, Xena’s popularity was even exploited by Subaru when they tried to slyly target lesbian customers: one ad featured a car with the license plate “XENA LVR” (Xena lover). The car on the right has the famous license plate while the one on the left has a gay pride flag adorned on the back bumper.
Just about every viewer has pondered whether Xena and Gabrielle are lovers. The series writers deliberately were ambiguous on the entire matter. Although various jokes, innuendo, and other subtle moments hinted at a romantic relationship. This was what fans referred to as “lesbian subtext” or “subtext”. Many “shipping” debated kicked off in the Xena fandom as well and this even spilled over to real-life debates about same-sex sexuality and gay rights.
In 2003, during an interview Lucy Lawless had with Lesbian News magazine, fans were convinced that Lawless finally cemented the nature of Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship. Lawless said that after the series finale, she believed Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship was “definitely gay” after Gabrielle revives Xena from drowning with mouth-to-mouth, although it looked more like a full kiss. “There was always a, ‘Well, she might be or she might not be’ but when there was that drip of water passing between their lips in the very final scene, that cemented it for me. Now it wasn’t just that Xena was bisexual and kinda liked her gal pal and they kind of fooled around sometimes, it was ‘Nope, they’re married, man’.”
She Wasn’t Meant To Live
Xena’s character was originally introduced in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and made an appearance in three episodes. At the end of the three-episode arc, Xena was meant to die, but the producers were so impressed with her that they made a whole spin-off for her.
Hercules Was Not A Fan
Kevin Sorbo was not very happy with the spin-off, as Xena surpassed Hercules in ratings. He said he thought it was a mistake to make Xena a physical equal to Hercules, as he was a demi-god and was supposed to be the strongest person alive.
Liz Friedman, who was an executive of the show, wanted to start incorporating little jokes into the credits. From season two, you can see additions to the credits along the lines of ‘no winged harpies were disrespected in the making of this show’ and so on.
Initially, Poseidon was created solely for the opening credits of the show, and nothing else. Turns out, the fans wanted him to appear in the show so badly that he ended up appearing in two episodes in the second season.
Considering the show is so focused on female empowerment, there were hardly any episodes directed by women. From the 100 plus episodes, only five were directed by women, two of which by Renée O’Connor. Eric Gruendemann discussed this topic with the Los Angeles Times, saying that there weren’t enough qualified candidates who knew about visual effects as well as action. “We feel bad about it,” he added, “but we’re not guilty because we’ve tried.”
They Were Supposed To Meet
Xena and Wonder Woman came close to meeting on-screen when DC came into an agreement with Dark Horse Comics to create a crossover. Unfortunately, the corporate red tape would never allow it, and DC backed out after Xena got canceled in 2001.
The Theme Song
The theme song of the show is Bulgarian. In fact, a lot of the show’s music was performed by the by the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir.
Female Heroes On TV
During the time the showed aired, there weren’t many female leads playing on television. The studio that created Xena was hesitant to make a spin-off with a female lead but went ahead anyway. They were concerned since they didn’t think female heroes would do too well on TV.
A Feminist Icon
When the show launched, many female fans got excited about this female lead, calling Lucy Lawless a feminist icon. Lawless wasn’t such a fan, as she claimed it felt reductive to be so iconized and reduced to just a few words.
Warmed Up To It
Although she wasn’t on board at first, Lucy slowly changed her mind. She said more recently that now she sees the value of the term, having warmed up to it. We’re glad since she really is a feminist icon!
Xena and Ares’ dynamic was always somewhat different throughout the series, but did you know that the writers were originally thinking of making him Xena’s father? However, the writers decided to change it as they didn’t want Xena to be a half-god like Hercules.
In the series finale, fans are faced with the tragic death of Xena herself. Little did the writers know how much backlash they would get from the fans over this. Even Lawless has said she regretted it.
Kevin Smith, the actor who played Ares in 32 episodes of the show, has tragically passed away in 2002 in an accident.
A Real Pregnancy
As Lucy Lawless became pregnant while filming, the writers came up with an arc in season five to accomodate the pregnancy.
A few episodes of season four were broadcasted in the wrong order by the Spanish public national television.
Beat Its Predecessor
While the show was a spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, it became so popular it surpassed its predecessor in ratings as well.
The show began filming in a 4:3 aspect ratio during its first two seasons. However, from the third episode of the third season, they began filming in a 16:9 widescreen.
To hide the actors’ placemats, most of the fighting scenes in the show were filmed on dirt grounds.
For the first five seasons, the opening credits remained the same. They were changed for the sixth and final season.
A Day In The Life
This episode was supposed to have the least amount of action possible so Lucy Lawless, who was injured at the time, could recover. For this reason, the episode was filmed more like a documentary, following Xena and Gabrielle through a mundane day.
Throughout its entire run of six seasons, the show remained in the top five. It had high rating and maintained its popularity through all six seasons.
Since Xena was released at the end of 1995, computers and the worldwide web were just making their debut. The Internet was a new concept, and people were just learning how to work and use it. Xena fans were able to discuss the episodes using online community chatrooms. This made Xena one of the first major Internet fan groups ever made.
The Studio Didn’t Approve
Throughout all 6 seasons of Xena, Gabrielle and Xena were best friends, and maybe a little more. Fans enjoyed seeing the romance blossom between the two main characters, but the studio had differing feelings. Executives on set were worried that if the romance was confirmed, their studio would be involved in controversy and the show would be negatively effected.
Four Different Characters
Can you believe that Karl Urban played four different characters on the show Xena: Warrior Princess? He played 2 major roles as the god Cupid and Julius Caesar and 2 minor roles as Kor and Mael. Portraying so many different characters definitely improved Urban’s skills, helping him land more and more acting jobs.
Xena actually had a planet named after her, the official name Eris. The Palomar Observatory-based team led by Mike Brown founded the second largest dwarf planet in January 2005. Experts still had to decide if it would be classified as a planet or a minor planet, and it was named Xena while awaiting the results. Unfortunately, in the end Xena was a dwarf planet and given the name Eris from Greek mythology. Still, it’s the thought that counts!
Producer Sam Raimi Was Also The Creator Of The Evil Dead
Xena’s co-producer Sam Raimi was also the creator of the Evil Dead. Raimi likes to bring actors and actresses that he’s familiar with into new projects, so he often casts Lucy Lawless, Bruce Campbell, as well as his brother Ted Raimi. Sam was also the director of the Spiderman trilogy! This guys sure has a stacked resume.
Actors and actresses who worked on Xena and Hercules were later casted in Lord of the Rings. For example, Marton Csokas played Borias in Xena and Celeborn in Lord of the Rings, and Karl Urban played Cupid and Caesar in Xena and Eomer in Lord of the Rings.
Fans Were Left Heartbroken
October of 2000 was a hard year for fans. This is when directors and producers officially let the public know that the show would be cancelled. The series finale of Xena aired in the summer of 2001, giving fans the proper closure they needed.
During the 2nd season of Xena, the show became the top-rated syndicated drama series on American TV. During all six years of its existence, it remained in the top 5 and never dropped. In ’04 and ’07, the show was ranked #9 and #10 on TV Guide‘s Top Cult Shows Ever. Xena herself ranked as #100 on Bravo‘s 100 Greatest TV Characters.
Xena: Warrior Princess ran for 6 seasons, 134 episodes in total, each ranging from 45–48 minutes. From September 4th 1995 to June 18th 2001, Xena captured the hearts of viewers worldwide. This show was a phenomenon that people still talk about to this day.
Xena: Warrior Princess was nominated for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Dramatic Underscore) in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002. The series finally won in the year 2000, receiving the proper recognition for all of their hardwork!
With any hit TV show often comes the release of novels and literature. The most notable releases have been The Official Guide to the Xenaverse by Robert Weisbrot, Xena Warrior Princess: Complete Illustrated Companion, XENA: All I Need to Know I Learned From the Warrior Princess by Gabrielle Bard. As well as Fiction works such as The Empty Throne, The Huntress and The Sphinx, The Thief of Hermes and Prophecy of Darkness.
Many video games have also been created mirroring the TV series Xena. The most-played games are Xena: Warrior Princess: The Talisman of Fate, Xena: Warrior Princess, Xena: Warrior Princess: Death in Chains, Xena: Warrior Princess: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Xena: Warrior Princess (Europe version).
Lucy’s Passion Was Music
Before making her debut as an actress, Lucy Lawless wanted to be a singer. The young star made her big debut at 10 years old in a musical. Lucy was even going to study opera at Auckland University, but her plans later changed. Although she did go into acting, she has had singing gigs on the side. Not only did she sing in Xena, she also played Rizzo in the Broadway musical Grease and was on Duets, the music reality show.
She Stands Up For What She Believes In
Lucy is not one to back down when it comes to things she is passionate about. In 2012 she was arrested for climbing onto the Noble Discoverer drilling tower. This picture is documented from her protest on the rig.
Thanks to her work on Xena, Lucy Lawless is now called time and time again for roles asking for strong women. She acted on Salem, Sparacus, and she’s currently on Ash vs. Evil Dead as Ruby. As the photo says…this woman is scared of nothing!
Lucy Lawless’ Resume
Aside from Xena, Lucy Lawless also appeared in the Battlestar Galactica series from 2005–2009 and in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena and its sequel Spartacus: Vengeance. She also had recurring roles on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation!
Awards On Awards
As you may have imagined, Lucy Lawless has been nominated for several awards throughout her career. She was nominated for the ‘Saturn Award Best Genre TV Actress’ Xena: Warrior Princess in 1997, ‘Golden Nymph Outstanding Actress’ – Drama Series Spartacus: Blood and Sand in 2010, and ‘Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Supporting Actress on Television’ – Salem in 2016. In 2010 Lucy was nominated for the ‘Saturn Award Best Supporting Actress on Television’ – Spartacus: Blood and Sand…and she won!!
We thank Lucy Lawless for all of her work both on and off screen. She truly is the example of elegance and poise. Her work in the charity world is also impressive. Oh, and we can’t forget about her incredible acting skills. Xena: Warrior Princess forever!