Hudson Leick Fights The Good Fight
By Rod Dovlin
As the evil Callisto-- arch-enemy of TV's Xena: Warrior Princess, actress Hudson Leick projects the image of a carnal carnivore, prepared to devour anyone foolish enough to get in her way. At this afternoon's photo shoot I quickly learn that the real Hudson Leick is more inclined to devour "an avocado-tofu-cucumber-bean sprout pit sandwich with mustard instead of mayo." Like her Amazonian alter-ego, Hudson Leick is a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. The big difference is the path she took to get there.
Born Heidi Hudson Leick, the 27-year-old actress grew up in Rochester NY, where she attended high school in what she described as "a Welcome to the Dollhouse kind of education." Over a bottle of water and the aforementioned sandwich, Leick openly relates the experience. "I've had a lot of crazy things happen in my life. In high school, from age 15 to 18, I was saddled with the unfortunate nickname of Junk, which doesn't do a lot for one's self esteem," she sighs. "The older boys came up with that name to describe the way I dressed, the way I looked, the way I was to them. I was new at my school, having just moved there-- so I guess that meant I was fair game."
The combination of Leick's self-professed drive to be different and the onset of puberty made her an easy target. "I developed a body and got curves and must have looked like a Barbie doll to them. I was this strange girl that came to school dressed in these tight mini-skirts that I made myself and high-heeled, spiked shoes, with socks with frills on them. I wanted to dress it up and look sexy, but, at that time, I didn't know anything about sex." She laughs. "I knew nothing about a man's body. I barely knew anything about my own body back then, much less anyone else. I was a virgin until I was 18. The first guy I ever did have sex with was best friends with most of the same guys who tormented me. He turned out to be my first love as well. When I first found out that this guy had a crush on me, I thought, 'I'll get back at all of them and let him get close, then I'll rip his heart out.' And I meant to do it, too. But I didn't have it in me. I found out that the other guys would always tease him when he told them he liked me. I always thought that was cool of him. It was like he didn't give a fuck. He had a strong sense of himself, and I've always found that really attractive."
Leick doesn't pull any punches when confronting her attackers. "The boys called me names to break me down, which they did," she confesses. "They never knew it-- I wouldn't cry or let on that it was really killing me-- but in fact, it hurt in ways I can never fully express. I couldn't let them know I was afraid. And I was. Absolutely terrified. Even so, I was never the type to hide when I felt afraid. I would walk right down the middle of the hall with my head held high. It screwed up a lot of the ways I felt about sex in general-- dress or appear provocative, you were trash or junk because of it. It was a three-year horrifying experience. A lot like the film Welcome to the Dollhouse, except I was persecuted for looking sexy instead of geeky."
It was those sexy looks that offered Leick a chance out of the snake-pit. "It's hard for me to talk about, but I think it needs to be said, because I know there are kids out there in high school going through the same thing. It's just so damaging. For me, it got to the point... where I stopped dressing up for school at all. No makeup, no jewelry, nothing that made me feel or look any different. I eventually got depressed. Really depressed, suicidally depressed. But instead of checking out, I just got out instead. I got into something -- in my case it was modeling-- and traveled around the world. I did something to change my life. If someone who reads this is going through a similar situation and it helps them to know this part of my life and my experience, then it's worth it for me to have gone through it in the first place. I've always felt that hearing about someone else getting through a situation was so healing. You hear it from someone else and you think, 'You mean I'm not such a freak, I'm not a geek or a weirdo?'"
Even though the life of a fashion model offered respite from the abuse her peers dished out, Leick still felt something was missing. "I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life; I just knew I wanted to be very different. I started modeling around the age of 17, but I was terrible at it. I wasn't pretty enough or tall enough. It was kind of depressing, because that's what that industry is all about. I remember being in Japan on a modeling assignment, surrounded by all of these completely gorgeous women. They were these experienced, well-traveled European fashion models, and here I was-- this teenage hick from Rochester, wearing my mother's clothes and thinking that I looked sophisticated." She laughs. "I would tell the other models that I wanted to be an actress and they would all laugh at me. Even so, I would just tell them to wait and see. I knew I would do it. When I went to France, I told one of the women at the agency I was with about my acting aspirations and she said, 'You'll make a wonderful actress. You should leave modeling and concentrate on your acting.' And she was right."
With her focus on acting full-time, Leick worked in New York theater until a big break came with an offer she couldn't refuse from the Don Corleone of television-- Aaron Spelling. The man who brought us Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat and Tori Spelling eventually gave Leick a role in the now-defunct University Hospital and a recurring character on Melrose Place as the shady ex of that MTV Sports geek Dan Cortese. You'd think a gig on one of the hottest prime-time soaps would suffice for a young actress. But for Leick, something wasn't right. "Aaron Spelling has been good to me, and I only say that because it's true, both with University Hospital and Melrose. But I have to say that I find no love on Melrose Place. I don't mind playing evil characters, but everybody's screwing everybody else's somebody on Melrose, and behind the scenes there's a lot of egos colliding. It made me feel uncomfortable and I could never be a part of that whole scene."
The fame game, in general, leaves Leick with an uneasy feeling. "This is all new to me," she explains, "all the attention, the fame. It's very scary, because I'm just another human being. I'm not all that different from anyone else." With the surprising success of the Callisto role, Leick might just have to get used to it. Leick's popularity on the show skyrocketed last year when Xena herself, actress Lucy Lawless, was injured in a stunt rehearsal for The Tonight Show. To keep on their shooting schedule, the Xena writers pulled the old 'body switcher' routine and placed Xena's 'spirit' into Leick's body. The resulting 'Callisto as Xena' episodes turned out to be some of the most popular to date. Leick doesn't bother to hide her enthusiasm for the character. "I love doing Xena. Lucy Lawless is just great, everybody-- the cast, the crew-- is just the best I've ever worked with. I'm not just bullshitting in the usual Hollywood fashion The show is shot in New Zealand and the people there are very earthy and sexy. They're both proper and wild. Like the Maori, the indigenous people, with their tattoos and their bare feet and long hair. I love all of them, and I've made some really great friends there through my work on Xena."
Does the role of vile temptress and vicious killer suit Hudson Leick? "In some ways," she admits, "I think playing Callisto is very therapeutic. I think those name-calling boys from high school helped create Callisto because, even though all she ever does is scream and yell and fight, it's because she's so hurt and angry. That's part of why I love the character so much. It was kind of strange when I did the first (Xena) convention, and everybody wanted to see me as the evil Callisto. Then two days later, I'm off to Utah to play Celeste-- a sweet, cute little angel on (the CBS drama) Touched By An Angel. The character isn't even a typical angel. Celeste is a little bit ditsy. A seemingly radical departure from Callisto, but for me it was easy. I love contrasts, especially big contrasts. I can play both characters because I have both of them inside of me. I have Callisto's rage and hatred and, at the same time, I can also relate to the bliss and joy of celestial life because of the good things that my life has brought me."
With the success of her high-concept characters (like angels and sword-wielding warriors), does Leick worry about the perils of typecasting? "I don't worry about it, because whatever is going to happen will happen. What people want or don't want from me is out of my control. I try not to take any of this too seriously. How seriously can I take myself in a black leather metal-studded bikini with a giant sword in my hand? If I felt that I no longer wanted to play Callisto for whatever reason, then I wouldn't. I don't rely on advice from other people to make those kinds of decisions. I have to live with the results, so I rely on myself. I try to fell good about what I'm doing at all times, because who you are is much more important that what you're doing."
Leick seems content to avoid the usual scarlet-of-the-moment rat race and to let her conscience, not her publicist, be her guide. "I've been really lucky as far as work goes. I see it that way, too. I mean, sure, it's a matter of getting yourself out there, but then you have to let God or whatever take over. The attention my career has been getting lately just sort of happened. I'm not out there creating press situations. I don't have a publicist. It just happened. I'm not saying that I'm lacking talent or drive, because I think I possess both, but a lot of the good things in my life-- along with the bad-- just happen. If I'm driven to anything it's to enjoy the life I have." She grins adding, "Because it goes by much too fast when I don't take the time to appreciate it."