Advocate Interview With Liz Friedman Where She Calls Gabrielle and Xena the "perfect little butch-femme couple."

 

Butch-Femme Couple

Lawless's Famous "Wanking" Quote

 

THE ADVOCATE. Pages 81-83. 1160 words.

08-20-96

"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."

But despite these disclaimers--and despite hints

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

her.]

[Caption reads: "Galloping gal pals: Lawless,

O'Conner"]

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.

"Liz Friedman is _gay_?" cries Xena star Lawless.

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

am."

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."