Mad, Mad Love
Hudson Leick sounds just enough like Callisto, Xena's immortal nemesis, to give one chills, even over the telephone. "I love being a villain," she cackles. "It's like a little kid's dream. All of my demons balled up, screaming...I am a three-year-old throwing a fit, and everyone's saying, 'Yeah!'"
Callisto, the cunning, ruthless neophyte goddess who was last seen trapped in a lava pit, will be back on Xena: Warrior Princess during the new season. Leick, who says the part is her favorite ever, couldn't be happier than being the bad girl.
"It's not the power, it's the safety," explains the 28-year-old actress. "If you're bad, you expect everyone to think you are bad, and that's safe. You also have more range of doing whatever you want. I think I have a lot of rage that I can access. It feels real good to get it out, and it is safe--the swords aren't real, I am not going to hurt anyone but myself."
"But if feels absolutely delicious, to run around and play a freak and to be paid for it!" laughs Leick (pronounced like "like").
A former model who studied acting in New York, Leick shares Callisto's gleeful sense of humor, but not her ego. Unpretentious and self-depracating, the actress sounds grateful to be on Xena and has no designs on stealing the spotlight from the main characters - at least, not on a regular basis. "Having Callisto there all the time would be so boring," she points out. "It would be, like, 'Just kill her.' I think Callisto is wonderful when she just comes in now and then."
Callisto is a bit of an enigma. The victim of tragedy at the hands of Xena before the warrior princess became a force for good, Callisto has spent her life in pursuit of revenge. She's violent and unstable, claiming to have no feelings beyond the desire for power and vengeance, but Callisto has shown hints of a vulnerable side, especially when Xena confessed her crimes.
"The death of her family [at Xena's hands, years earlier] has split her, and it is something, like a trigger split in her, and so she must live out carnage to be safe," she explains. But Leick is not interested in seeing Callisto turn to good, as Xena did. "Maybe she could reform and still be manic, really manic. And nobody's perfect, so maybe she could reform and still kill people a little bit on the side!" the actress laughs. "I think she has been in the past such a powerful nemesis for Xena, and [the writers] want that, because that gives Xena a purpose as well, that it wouldn't make much sense if they reformed her, for the show."
One of the hardest challenges for the actress came when Xena and Callisto switched bodies, and Leick played Xena, while Lucy Lawless, whom millions recognize as Xena, played Callisto. "That was a lot of pressure because it is her show - she is the lead. The audience wants to see Lucy Lawless, not Hudson Leick, as Xena, and I was aware of that," Leick notes. "It's not my character, not even my idea of what the character would be like - it's somebody else's portrayal of the character, so I have to copy that and stay true to that."
Lawless and Leick studied one another so that they could play one another's characters convincingly. "We followed each other around, we listened to each other. We would both say lines like how I would say it, like, "Xeeennna," and she would go, "Xeeennna." Discovering each other and trying to copy each other was a lot of fun."
Doing it before the cameras, however, "was a completely different matter." Leick found it much easier to play Xena when her co-star was on the set than when Lawless fractured her hip and had to miss shooting. "There is not a lot of creativity," Leick says of her attempts to imitate Lawless' Xena. "I didn't have the freedom to do the things that I wanted to do; everything I was doing was very planned."
Leick says she has the more fun sparring with Xena than emulating her, anyway. She thinks Callisto has a playful side which Xena brings out. "They are playing together," she points out, noting that Callisto wants attention from Xena more than anything: "[Then] she feels cared about." Callisto finds Xena's sidekick Gabrielle humorous, no more than a minor annoyance - though "of course, she would kill Gabrielle!"
Surprised by the question of whether her character is a pathological liar, despite Callisto's many broken promises and betrayed allegiances, the actress says she thinks Callisto is pretty honest about herself. "Of course I'm going to change allegiance, that doesn't seem like such a lie," she giggles. Then she adds, more seriously, "She assumes that Xena knows her character, and if she can screw Xena, then she is going to." Asked how she feels about the character's power, Leick says, "I see her as very strong and very weak. And I see her as very fragile...I think that is why she is so fierce, and angry, and harsh, because she is so fragile."
Leick keeps herself much more grounded than Callisto, whom she labels "a madwoman...I think that she is very unstable, putting is gently!" The Ohio native says that she craves structure in her own life. "I've been a shut-in for the last three years. I mean, I go to yoga, I go to therapy, I hang out with my friends and my boyfriend," she reports, claiming that her days "are packed."
Having completed a couple of yet-to-be-released movies and several televised episodes of Touched By An Angel, on which she played a sweet angel named Celeste, she is currently auditioning for new projects. "They pulled me back on the second [episode]", she complains of Touched By An Angel. Though she doubts she will be returning to that series, she enjoyed playing "ditzy."
"It just seems boring without the character to it...I think it would get better and better the more I did it, it was so drastic from anything I've ever done. And it was fun, because it was different."
The sister of an ardent Star Trek fan, Leick auditioned for the coveted role of Seven of Nine, the new Borg character on Voyager. "I didn't have my heart in it," she confesses of the audition, which she says she went to mostly for her sister. She would prefer to play a Q on Star Trek - "they're not gods, but they are omnipotent."
Callisto has been a god since she consumed ambrosia during her last televised appearance, and Leick has found herself treated as something like a demigod by ardent Xena followers. She sounds both awed and intimidated by the show's popularity. "It is very surreal. I don't think that I grasp it...it just seems very outside myself." While she finds it "juicy and delicious" that people are interested in her and like the character so much, she doesn't want to "start buying into it too much--then when they decide they don't like the character, I am going to go just as far down."
Concerned that fans can be fickle because "we're all fickle," the performer frets that she has no control over whether or not people will gravitate toward the character. "Like Joxer - I think there were some problems. People didn't like his character for a while," she recalls. "And Ted Raimi is an amazing actor. You know, you don't know what people are going to take to or take offense to."
Asked whether she thinks the unpopularity of Joxer might have to do with a sense that his very presence might be a heterosexist network ploy - a response to growing awareness of the show's lesbian subtext, and the desire to have a male regular to balance that - Leick is quick to jump to the producers' defense.
"I don't think that Joxer was thrown in there to prove that Xena is not gay, because that has nothing to do with her relationship with Gabrielle. Nothing...Joxer is like a moron on the side," she insists. "I know Rob Packard, and I don't think he is homophobic at all - and I love the fact that there are so many innuendoes!"
Does Leick play up the sexual tension between Callisto and Xena? "Oh, yeah!" she exclaims enthusiastically. "I love that - it makes it so much more exciting for me. Lucy will say, okay, let's flirt. That's what we do. It is just a big flirt. It's seduction, except it is life or death. It's exciting, it's fun."
Leick does not, however, spend much time reading the newsgroups or web pages about the show. "I don't use a computer - I don't even know how to turn the damn thing on," she admits, confessing that when she got depressed a few months ago, she asked her boyfriend to find some internet feedback to bolster her ego. "I would read and read--and it doesn't do anything for you when you are depressed, because no one is saying anything that will fill you up. It can't make you feel better--well, other people can't do that even if they know you, which even makes it more sad."
Conventions are also a mixed blessing. "It is delightful but very draining [to attend a convention]. I keep giving myself away." While she enjoys the interaction with the audience, she finds herself exhausted afterwards - "I don't get out of bed the next day after a convention." It's hard, Leick says, to find a balance between being herself and performing for an audience. "They want to see Callisto, but they want her accessible, they don't want Hudson Leick," she worries. " Which is funny because the people are so warm to me. They are amazingly warm, and the character is, well... you would think that people would not be warm to the character. Little girls are afraid of me when they come up on stage."
Does Leick like that power? Is fame something she actively seeks? "I would like to break into features," she agrees. "But I am really afraid of it as well, and TV seems safer to me. When I think about being a giant movie star, because sometimes I will go in that direction, I want to be Sharon Stone, I want to be huge, not as an actress but as an icon, it is totally my ego--I think that scares the shit out of me. I don't know if I want that. I can't imagine doing that."
What drew her to performing? "When I was little I wanted to be Cher," Leick laughs, warning that she can't sing, but she loves Cher's long hair and fancy clothes. Leick's long-time interest in psychology and meditation led her to take college philosophy courses, but they didn't hold her interest. Acting class did. "And even before that, I think I knew I would be an actress. I don't know why," she notes.
Though she has been an actress for almost ten years, Leick says that she doesn't know nearly enough about her craft - "I have so much to learn." When she studied at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse, the training lasted all day, from nine to six, for two years. Yet Leick learned as much from watching movies consistently. "I would study and study them, I thrived on it," she says.
Is she bothered by the limited roles for women in mainstream Hollywood films? The actress says that the issue is only now beginning to affect her personally, since Xena is just beginning to open doors for her. She has a new agent and manager, and hopes to start working on bigger projects.
"They have a lot of sexism in Hollywood," she agrees. "You'll see an action-adventure movie and they don't know what to do with the woman. The woman has no direction, I don't even know why she is there. What is her point? I don't mean like Sandra Bullock on the bus [in Speed], where it's about her. I mean the babe that sleeps with him," whichever "him" is the hero of a film.
Though she worked in Europe as a model, Leick groans that she was "terrible." Informed that she does not look particularly diminutive on Xena next to Lucy Lawless, she laughs, "I don't have a little spirit - I think when people see me in real life, they realize how little I am. Because I don't come across as little if you know me. I am not little!"
All in all, Leick sounds very happy with where she is in life and where Callisto is going. "I really have a love for the people I work with," she says over and over. " I really like the whole experience. No one has an attitude. Everyone gets along, very professional and kind. It's the best crew I've ever worked with." Her only complaint? Having her stomach bared on days when it's cold.
But Callisto's costumes seem to be the only drawback in a diabolically fun character played by a woman who seems much the same.