Advocate Interview With Liz Friedman Where She Calls Gabrielle and Xena the "perfect little butch-femme couple."
THE ADVOCATE. Pages 81-83. 1160 words.
"Flirting with Xena."
Producer Liz Friedman hits Hollywood's big
time with the series Xena: Warrior Princess.
by Anne Stockwell.
"Would I date Xena? Yeah, in a heartbeat, says
coproducer Liz Friedman, speaking of the main character
in Xena: Warrior Princess, the hit syndicated TV show
she helped to create. "Xena's perfect! She's tough,
smart, funny, and good with a sword. I'd just worry
that I wouldn't be able to keep her around."
Few TV executives would care to discuss their
homosexual attraction to the heroes of their own
programs. But the peppery 27-year-old Friedman is
ready and willing. Openly lesbian herself--"I never
had a man phase," she says flatly-- Friedman is
unabashedly thrilled to be calling the shots on a hit
series that also seems destined to become a lesbian
cult classic. "We never wrote Xena to be a lesbian,
she admits. "But it's not our show, its the audience's
show. If the fans want to read Xena that way, great."
For anyone not yet initiated, Xena is the hugely
popular offspring of the hit series Hercules: The
Legendary Journeys. Filmed in New Zealand for
Renaissance Pictures, the company run by
horrormeisters Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, both programs
showcase Raimi's trademark mix of spine-tingling
action and deadpan humor.
Xena, played by Lucy Lawless, is a downright-surly
female warlord with a short temper and a shorter toga
who first appeared on Hercules as a bloodthirsty
villain. Now, as star of her own series, Xena roams
her mythical land determined to atone for her sins.
She defends the powerless, chastens the wicked, and
pulverizes armies of bad guys. And at the end of each
episode, Xena rides off into the sunset not with a man
but with her female sidekick, Gabrielle, played by
Renee O Connor.
The pair's bantering affection immediately pricked
up lesbian ears on the Internet, notes Friedman.
What's more, adds Judy Dlugacz, founder of Olivia
Cruises & Resorts, Xena mania has spread to the high
seas. "The first Xena group came aboard for a cruise
in June," she reports. "They brought costumes,
jackets, everything they needed for a weekend of
crazed warrior-princess behavior. I think its the
beginning of a new and expanding cult."
For Friedman, all this adulation reflects a sad
vacuum on traditional television. "The reaction to
Xena shows how few substantive portrayals of women's
friendships we see on TV," she observes. "In terms of
what's explicitly presented, Xena and Gabrielle are
very close friends who, I do believe, love each other,
whether or not there's a degree of sexual intimacy."
of a future male love interest for the warrior
princess--Friedman and company have welcomed Xena's
lesbian fans, even writing sapphic double entendres
into scripts. "One episode starts with the camera
looking at some bushes," Friedman explains. "We hear
Gabrielle asking, 'How was that?' Xena answers, 'Very
nice!' Gabrielle says, 'Really? I wasn't sure," and
Xena replies, 'No, no, you're doing great.' The we see
them, And they're fishing--naked!"
"They're such a perfect little butch-femme
couple," Friedman concludes, laughing. "What they do
between episodes, I don't know." [around this point
there is a picture of Xena and Gabrielle. Xena has
sword in hand, glaring toward unseen attackers, and is
motioning "stay back" to Gabrielle, beside and behind
[Caption reads: "Galloping gal pals: Lawless,
Actually, it seems doubtful there's anything about
the warrior princess that Friedman doesn't know. Just
five years after she migrated west from Boston and
nabbed her first Hollywood job as Raimi's assistant,
Friedman oversees every phase of Xena's production.
She hires directors, casts actors, cooks up stories,
and supervises editing. She's young for the job, and
in rising to the challenge, Friedman has won vocal
admirers among her colleagues.
The glamorous six-foot tall New Zealander, so
unshockable as Xena, lapses into stunned silence.
Finally--after a nerve-racking pause, --Lawless hoots
with laughter. "If I'd only known! She's the first
woman I've worshipped! I'd crawl 40 miles through
broken glass just to wank off in her shadow!"
Turning serious, Lawless offers definite ideas
about why Xena turns women on. "Xena doesn't
apologize," she says. "She doesn't accept that being a
woman is a disadvantage in this world. Neither do I--
and neither does Liz. She doesn't knuckle under to any
b*llsh*t. She's a star on the rise."
Friedman's ascent began at Wesleyan University,
where she wrote a controversial sociology thesis on
gender roles in the horror genre known as slasher
films. "I had read an article that stated, 'Feminists
can say these movies are about mutilating women, but
they have some of the strongest female characters
around,'" says Friedman. "I started watching horror
films, and it was like, that's absolutely right!" Her
thesis won an award and clinched Friedman's interest
in a film career.
After moving to Los Angeles at 21, Friedman found
herself working for Raimi and Tapert just as their
company was branching out into TV. Under Tapert's
watchful eye, she learned the trade as an assistant
and then associate producer on Hercules. When Xena
became a reality, however, Tapert was tied up in other
projects. Friedman had to make the leap and take
control. "They said, 'Here. Do this. Try not to f*ck
it up,'" Friedman recalls. "I took to it, and here I
Friedman emphasizes the fact that she's never
hidden her sexuality on the job "Rob tells this story
about when I first started working here," she says. I
was wearing my leather jacket, and I turned around,
and there was my big Queer Nation sticker on the back
that said, QUEERS BASH BACK. Rob was like, 'OK, that
answers that question.'"
Coming out to her family wasn't quite as easy. "My
parents are both psychiatrists, and they both remarried
other psychiatrists," says Friedman. "So I guess I
thought I wasn't going to have all those coming-out
problems. But my father didn't deal with it so well at
first, and my mother was pretty shaken up. Later they
both came around."
Nowadays Friedman has few problems to report. In
her personal life she's happily settled into a three
year relationship with partner Yvette Abatte. "She's
the greatest," crows Friedman.
On the work front Friedman promises that Xena's
lesbian fans can look forward to lots of gal-pal
action in stories to come. "We've already shot one
episode," she offers, "where Gabrielle almost dies and
Xena gives her mouth-to- mouth resuscitation. Lucy did
an unbelievably great job with the scene."
Asked about her plans for life after Xena,
Friedman guardedly admits she'd like to bring stories
to the big screen. "TV has been the world's greatest
education," she stresses. "But I still hear that
siren song of the big feature movie, and I'd like to
try it eventually."
"Still, it's tricky," adds Friedman. "I have such
odd, diverse tastes. I loved Go Fish. Then on the
other hand, I loved Robocop." Friedman grins, hit by
a sudden insight. "in this weird way, Xena's the
perfect mix of the two."