Xena: Warrior Princess actresses Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor, along with co-creator and executive producer Rob Tapart, feature in the new edition of Entertainment Weekly, discussing the chemistry between Xena and Gabrielle, how their relationship's subtext resonated with the LGBTQI community, and why their characters never got together.
Lawless, who played the show's titular princess, tells EW that she believes it was the friendship between Xena and Gabrielle that attracted an LGBTQI audience back in 1995, saying, “The name Xena means ‘stranger'. She felt she was irredeemable. That friendship between Xena and Gabrielle transmitted some message of self-worth, deservedness, and honour to people who felt very marginalised, so it had a lot of resonance in the gay community.”
And the reaction to the relationship was surprising at first, according to O'Connor: "I think that the writing staff, who were extremely sophisticated and savvy and witty, caught on much faster than I did.”
So why didn't the characters get together? Well, it was a few reasons, says Tapart.
“We didn’t really ever want to get them 100 percent together for a very strange reason,” he revealed. “There was Ares [Kevin Smith], God of War, who we loved. We did not want to give up the hold that character had over Xena and the enjoyment we had with telling stories of Xena and Ares. So as much as we liked that Xena and Gabrielle were two people who were the best of friends, and perhaps intimate friends, we never wanted to give up Ares.”
Aside from that, Tapart also cites hesitation from Universal Television out of fear that they would lose viewers. “Before we started shooting Xena, we shot the material that we were going to use to create the opening title sequences with. The studio was so concerned that it would be perceived as a lesbian show that they would not allow us to have Xena and Gabrielle in the same frame of the opening titles.”
O'Connor noted that the show at the time was "very aware that there was only so much we could do, because it was a show on network television,” adding that “Rob would push the envelope as much as he could, [but] he had to work within certain guidelines.”
Reflecting on how much times have changed, Lawless added that, “for the LGBT community to see themselves on TV was certainly new in the ’90s".
And it's certainly a welcome change, she says. "My goodness, how things have changed from Xena subtext to I Am Cait. That’s an incredible evolution in 20 years, and I think it’s a really healthy one.”