Ted Raimi:
He's Joxer, Joxer the Mighty!

by Michelle Erica Green

Joxer, the buffoonish sidekick on Xena: Warrior Princess, spends as much time getting Xena and Gabrielle into trouble as keeping them from it. He's not exactly what one pictures as the hero of an action show; his major contribution to the partnership is his cooking. Actor Ted Raimi doesn't mind speculating about what Joxer might be like if he were on a more traditional show: "Xena, go make me turkey pot pie like I told you! Where's my cigar? What'd I tell you, hmmm?" he bellows.

But on a more traditional show, jokes Raimi, he probably wouldn't have gotten the part. "I'm not your regular TV type - I'm not particularly handsome. Poor Renee O'Connor, this is her first big TV show, and I'm afraid she's stuck with me as the romantic interest! I always wonder, shouldn't she get some beefy-looking hunk?" Not that Raimi really wants to see that happen. The goofy, dense would-be-hero's unrequited love for Xena's companion is one of his most endearing qualities.

He's every man's trusty,
He's every woman's fantasy,
Plus he's good company,
He's Joxer - Joxer the Mighty!

"There's a fine line I think you have to draw, because if you play Joxer too silly, people will just think of him as a clown," the New York University-trained actor explains. "That's fine for about three or four minutes, then you get real bored real fast, so you have to add genuine human elements whenever you can. Fortunately, he's written in such a complex way that finding those things is not difficult at all."

Among Joxer's pastimes are getting duped by swindlers, stumbling amiably into crowds of thugs, and hanging out in brothels. But he's also honest and loyal to a fault, and despite his declarations of cowardice, he's barged into Amazon camps to rescue his beloved and faced off with gods and warlords alike. In a parallel universe, Joxer is a heroic rebel leader against the tyranny of the evil Sovereign, and he has an evil twin, Jet, who engages in nefarious deeds, even though he's not quite bright enough to pull them off.

"It's a character actor's dream come true," Raimi says of getting to play his own twins and clones. "It's like doing a play where you do three or four different parts. I hope Jet will be back, and their brother Jace will be on as well." In the episode "King of Assassins" when Jet asked Joxer whether he'd seen Jace recently, Joxer said, "Don't mention our brother's name in public," and Jet made a hand gesture "like he might be a little fruity," the actor recalls. "If they'll let me, I'd love to do that - it'd be a lot of fun to do."

A trained comic actor, Raimi maintains that he doesn't really think one can be trained to be a comic - "I think you're either just inclined to it or you're not" - and says he had three separate role models for Joxer: Bob Hope, Woody Allen, and Danny Kaye. "For physical stuff, Danny Kaye's the greatest - nobody ever has been as funny and as charming as him. And Woody Allen is the Jewish urban version of Bob Hope, who cannot help but try to talk his way out of every situation. They're both in worlds which they didn't create, but which they desperately would like to be a part of. Joxer's just like that - he knows deep down that he doesn't belong with Xena, but he really would like to, and he pretends that he does."

The 32-year-old looks and sounds younger than he is: "When people here me on the phone, they think I'm, like, 20," he admits. A self-confessed "lonely, introverted kid who didn't have any friends" until he joined the acting department, Raimi discovered that he loved performing and decided when he was seventeen that that was what he wanted to do for a career. "My father really tried to talk me out of it, he didn't think I could make a living at it. It took many years, but recently he said, 'Hey, you chose a good profession!'" The Detroit native says his family was very supportive, and that his parents "kept checks coming when all I was eating was potatoes and Cheerios. It was very fortunate that they were on my side."

Raimi went into show business following in the footsteps of his older brother, writer/director/producer Sam Raimi. Ted followed Sam to Michigan State, but dropped out after one semester. "It was a big mistake because Michigan State is an agricultural school primarily, and there I was trying to do Ibsen and be all dramatic, when they were milking cows and testing sheep for fat content," he recalls. After he left, Raimi began to work as an apprentice editor on movies in Detroit, then went to New York to study.

Ted worked on several of Sam's films, making his first onscreen appearance as a "Fake Shemp" (Sam Raimi's term for extras and doubles) in the first Evil Dead film. Ted then did several low-budget movies, mostly horror and science fiction, genres of which he is a fan. "As it happens, lots of low-budget movies are genre movies because they sell so well and they stay on the shelves for so long - love stories don't, regular old family dramas do not, but wacky comedies and horror and science fiction always do, so there's lots of those made."

He has known his brother's colleagues Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert for many years; when Campbell was a teenager, he even babysat for young Ted. All of these men are now heavily involved with Xena, Tapert as executive producer and Campbell playing the role of Autolycus. "My brother's in California, so mostly I deal with Rob - Rob's the one who cast me," Raimi explains.

His offscreen connections caused a dilemma for Raimi when Joxer proved to be unpopular in his initial appearaces on the show. Raimi didn't take the criticism personally, feeling that he was playing the character as well as he could, but he was concerned about the future of his job. Assorted internet web sites had sprung up dedicated to despising Joxer, including one page where surfers could throw virtual darts at a graphic of Raimi as the character. "I love that site, that's great - that shows guts," Raimi laughs, but he worried about the effect on the series.

"I went to Rob Tapert and said, 'Rob, listen, maybe we should do something about Joxer.' Rob's a friend of mine, and I wanted to tell him - if you have to dump this character, I understand, you're in the business of making successful television. I wouldn't say that to anybody else but Rob, but I didn't want to impede his show if he felt he had hired someone who wasn't doing the job that he needed to be done." Tapert told Raimi that he thought he was funny and that was reason enough to keep him.

"Rob has guts - even when the fans were not liking me, he decided to keep me, and it worked out," Raimi says gratefully. He also appreciates the producers' courage in maintaining the ambiguous sexual connection between Xena and Gabrielle, though he shrieked when I responded to his assertion that Joxer is Gabrielle's main romantic interest by saying that I thought it was Xena. "I think a lot of the fans thought when they brought a guy on the show that [Joxer] was going to boss them around. But of course that never happened, and I'm so not the typical male, I can't do much of anything except cook!" he points out.

Raimi enjoys his current situation as a recurring castmember on Xena and Hercules in that he has a steady job for much of the year, but he also has the flexibility to do other projects in between appearances. "I'm not in every episode, so I get to come to California quite a bit and do other things." He can spend as little as two weeks in New Zealand at a stretch of as many as eight, though it is likely to be more this year, since he will likely appear in most of the Xena episodes next season.

When he's home in California, Raimi divides his time between writing and "desperately trying to see my friends." Among his projects in development are a cable pilot which he's writing with a partner - "I can't say what it is because I'm very superstitious until the deal is signed, I can only say it's a comedy" - and some pitches for Xena scripts, none of which are about his own character. "I don't even think about him, I'm more intrigued by the idea of Xena," he says. "Joxer's fun, but he's pretty much a third wheel and that's where he ought to stay. Joxer is best used in small quantities, like garlic." His alter ego did write the lyrics to the "Joxer the Mighty" song, which fans liked so much that the writers have found ways to work it into virtually every episode in which Joxer appears.

Raimi, who says he would be a writer if he weren't an actor, wrote the episode "Lost Land" for SeaQuest DSV producer David Burke. His role as Lt.jg.Tim O'Neill on that series won him a small but devoted following. "A lot of fans miss the show, it's amazing, it's just like the syndrome where Star Trek ran for three seasons and they finally dropped it, and then it was huge in reruns," he reflects. "I made the best friends of my life on that show - myself, Edward Kerr who played Brodie, Marco Sanchez who was Ortiz, Don Franklin who was Ford, and Peter DeLuise, we're all really good friends. And thank god we're all working right now - we're all employed, which is really surprising because most actors are not."

Though he claims not to be a big TV-watcher, Raimi watched Hercules before he was cast on Xena, and tries to follow X-Files. He misses many of his own Xena episodes because of the shooting schedule, but "take me out of the picture, and I would still definitely turn on Xena to watch - I love its errant sense of humor, it's very clever, and I dig the wacky complexity of all the characters," he says. "I did Twin Peaks for a little while and that was a lot of fun, I got to work with Kenneth Welsh, but there aren't too many shows that I would love to be on. I'm not a big soap-style fan, I guess."

Raimi's favorite role was from the play The Foreigner by the late Larry Shue, which the actor describes as "one of the top five American comedies ever written," and describes as "one of these comedies where if you remove a line, or you rearrange a scene,the whole thing falls apart. It's so brilliant, you don't need to add a single doggone thing to make it funny, you just read the words." Though he misses stage work, he does not think this would be a good moment career-wise to return to theater. "I've worked so hard to be in movies, and you get on this sort of bandwagon and you say, this is good, I like it here, and if I get off, there won't be another train for months."

Fortunately for him, the actor doesn't have to do most of Joxer's stunts - those are performed by his double, Mark Roundwaithe of the New Zealand Stunt Agency. "Joxer flies through the window, and CUT! Bring in Mark! Thank you!" He did have to train for a week and a half for the fencing in "For Whom the Bell Tolls." "I would do my own stunts if it wasn't such a quick cutaway kind of show, if it really mattered - in movies where they hold on a wide shot and they can see you, but in TV it's not crucial," he explains. "I'm terrified of horses, I never get on horses in the show - I'm a city kid from Detroit, horses are big and scary for me!"

Raimi says some of Joxer's clumsy humor comes naturally to him because "I tend to fall down a lot in real life." The costume makes it harder for him to walk, so when the weather is hot and the ground is rocky, "I fall like ten times in one day." The physical laughs are important to Xena because Raimi feels "it has a very delicate kind of humor to it, you can't step over the line too hard or you lose it - the one-liners don't work as well [as on Hercules]." In terms of whether he enjoys the work, he jokes, "It's a crying shame that Lucy is so unfortunate-looking and ugly, it's hard to look at her. I have to look all day at her and Renee, it's a nightmare. I should just take her out, for pity's sake."

Instinctively shy and "almost coquettish" about below-the belt humor - he says he was quite embarrassed filming the whistling-at-the-urinal scene from "Yes, Virginia, There Really Is a Hercules" - Raimi believes the common wisdom that acting is cathartic. His own persona seems quite the opposite of Joxer's overconfident bravado. The kid who attended science fiction conventions in Detroit is also a little bemused by his own fan following. "At a recent New York convention, I had two fans trying to break downt the back door at the stage entrance - it was really bizarre, like, why are they coming in, to see me?"

Better get used to it, Ted!

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