Here Comes Trouble!
How Hudson Leick created the volatile Warrior Queen Callisto out of her own fear and fury
Xena: Warrior Princess
The Official Magazine
Every great hero requires a memorable villain to test his or her mettle. Sherlock Holmes had his Professor Moriarty, Batman tangled with the Joker, and Xena: Warrior Princess... well, Xena's faced a plethora of odious adversaries during her two-season crusader against evil. But one villain is clearly in a class by herself, and for obvious reasons. When the guilt-plagued Warrior Princess looks into her own heart of darkness, she sees Callisto, a whirlwind of madness and mayhem wrapped in the beautiful persona of a Warrior Queen. This is Xena's "creature," the tragic consequences of her blood-stained past come back to haunt her. For, as Xena has learned, the greatest "villain" of all is the potential for evil that lies within one's own soul.
And Leick ought to know. "I remember the first time I ever worked with Lucy (Lawless)," she recalls while munching on her tasty lunch of avocado, cucumbers and sushi. "When I first got in front of her, I jumped off my horse and screamed right at her! Lucy's face lit up and she said, 'All right! We have a show!' It was like someone had finally come to play."
But this form of playtime didn't happen overnight. It was a long and sometimes bumpy road for the 28-year-old actress, born in Cincinnati as Heidi Hudson Leick. After growing up in Rochester, New York, she worked as a professional model, both in the United States and Tokyo. The master plan was to become famous in that field and then take the movies by storm. "The plan didn't work," Leick readily admits with a grin. "Modeling was definitely not satisfying. I started in France, at age 19, and I think the only reason the agency took me as a potential client was because they found me interesting... funny in a droll sort of way."
That distinctive spirit came in handy at New York's prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. Leick graduated in 1992 after honing her acting skills playing parts like Suzy in "The Hot L Baltimore." Nazareth College followed, as did a production of "Our Town" and the more challenging lead role of Emily ("I think that's when it really started cooking," she remembers).
But, thinking back, Leick finds the roots of her current success in assignments and exercises that originated in high school. "We had to improvise something," she recalls, "so I got up on the stage and pretended to be a mentally retarded child. At first, all the other kids started laughing because it was kind of funny. Then I started reacting, as if people were throwing things at me. It was incredible. I mean, it's like you're a child of God and you want something, and you're really friendly even though you're so different... compared to everyone else. And when people react harshly to you - damn, I remember I started crying! It's like the little bit inside of you that is so filled with love, but is not "social" -- I wasn't socially accepted in high school -- you're just not in the same groove as everyone else. You don't lie flat, so to speak; you kind of stick out a little bit. And sometimes that's upsetting to other people... they may want to harm you because of it, because you're different. I think that was like the beginning, because I realized I can use stuff like this, about how I feel so deep and dark inside. I can give people the opportunity to feel this, if they want."
Hudson Leick stops eating her lunch for a moment, lost in even deeper, more distant thoughts. "I've always been very strong-willed. When I was about four, I remember feeling that I wasn't pretty enough... I was too fat. I wanted blue eyes and long curly blonde hair and I felt ugly and dirty. God, I was a lot like Callisto - I know why I relate to the role so well. Wanting to have my hair brushed and braided, seeing the girls in the shoe store who always looked so neat and clean. I was a little ragamuffin, I would run around all the time and have mudfights. I was kind of like a tomboy but I always wanted to be a woman, too. I could not wait to have breasts. I couldn't wait to have hips, or wear high-heels, or low-cut dresses. I don't know why that happened like that. I loved Barbie dolls -- loved them! And I definitely had some strong opinions. It was very hard to get me to do something I didn't want to do."
Leick's unique personal qualities were not lost on Xena executive producer Rob Tapert, who knew his key "villainess" had to be every bit as complex and compelling as the Warrior Princess herself. "The person who is Hudson is a wonderful person and a really fine actress, because she can turn it on and turn it off at will," Tapert explains. "As a result, she's absolutely brilliant in the role. I remember when we were casting for it, she came in the room and I couldn't stop thinking about her after she left. I had another two and a half hours of casting to go, and in my mind, I could've sent them all home. She really nailed that part."
"I have the capacity for a lot of love, and I also think that I have a lot of fear, and the fear turns to anger," Leick explains, almost in awe of her own inner mechanisms. "'The rage is just my nature, and what happens is that it overshadows all of the kindness and love - and fortunately I can use that. I believe in signs, I'm a Taurus... and you never want to get a Taurus angry!"
Once this particular Taurus was signed for the role, Callisto began to come to life as a full-fledged character. Leick remembers, "Originally, T.J. asked me, 'Would you dye your hair dark,' to reflect Callisto's personality, and I said, 'No way am I going to dye my hair. It's going to stay blonde!' Which worked out in the end, because (Lucy and I) are complete opposites physically... I have brown eyes and blonde hair and she has light blue eyes and dark hair." Just as Lawless' skin is darkened with body make-up, Leick must also go through a somewhat uncomfortable transformation. "My costume is skimpy, so they wind up painting my entire body this kind of orange color. I'm like naked in my trailer every morning with this freezing, yucky goo covering me." Undaunted, Leick uses the time to study her lines and prepare for the day's shoot. "I read the script... but I don't plan anything," she explains. "Whatever comes up comes up. I play off the other person -- usually Lucy. She gives me a lot to work with."
And Lawless herself clearly appreciates what her "opposite number" is bringing to the series: "Hudson is a complete professional, a terrific actress. She's very popular in her own right and you can easily see why." In addition to symbolizing Xena's bloody past, Callisto serves as an ongoing reflection of the Warrior Princess' uneasy drive for atonement. They clash continually, spiritually and physically. The latter is achieved in a seemingly endless series of battles honed to perfection by both the fight coordinator and the director (again, T.J. Scott has helmed most of the Callisto shows, and was the mastermind behind the energetic "ladder fight" from her debut episode). "It's all choreographed," Leick, a natural athlete, explains. "It's literally like dancing with a partner -- Lucy -- and I absolutely love doing it. She loves it, too. There's so much energy in the air."
To contain her active mind and body, the actress frequently turns to isometric exercises and related therapeutic techniques. "I use yoga to calm my mind and connect to my spirit.'' she says. "Silently, hopefully, you can go into yourself and figure out who you are, how your body works, what you're able to do... your strengths and weaknesses. Like not comparing yourself to the person next to you. Realizing that your body and you are completely unique and special exactly as you are. And that's like the ideal."
It's been two exciting seasons now that Callisto's been haunting and taunting Xena. What's next for the volatile Warrior Queen?
For now means an appearance in the significant episode Maternal Instincts" and the equally memorable musical show "Bittersweet," which was filmed in mid-November. Leick also appeared as Callisto in an episode of Hercules, appropriately titled "Surprise."
Dealing with her new-found fame as an actress, Leick is amazed and just a little overwhelmed, especially since she's still somewhat intimidated by all things "cyber." The Hudson Leick Official Fan Club, operated by Debbie Mills, can be found on the Web at http://www.hudsonleickfan.com/, and a quarterly newsletter has been around since last June. Fans without computers can send their letters to P.O. Box 775, Fair Oaks, Ca 95628.
And where there's life there's always the possibility of hope and eventual redemption. Xena's learned that. Perhaps one day her beautiful, half-crazed, spiritual child will discover it as well.