LESSONS ON LOVE
Alexandra Tydings shakes up Hercules as the goddess Aphrodite, and takes Xena for a drink.
When Alexandra Tydings accepted the role of Aphrodite, the sexy surfer chick and goddess of love in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, she had no idea what sort of feedback she would get after finishing her first episode of the tongue-in-cheek Fantasy series. As Tydings laughingly recalls, "When I came back to LA, the response was basically all of my friends saying, 'Did you get work done? Where did you get those boobs? I've never seen them before!' That was everyone's response, and a really good friend of mine who's now my manager said, 'You were great, where did you get those boobs?' That's really all anyone wanted to talk about, and of course my answer was, 'Wonder Bra and the magic of Hollywood'."
Tydings may joke about the incident now, but she's always taken her work seriously. After landing the role of Aphrodite, she spent a great deal of time working out just how, er, large to play the character, "I've been studying with a woman named Kate McGregor Stewart for five years, who's an amazing teacher and she's done lots and lots of theatre and movies and everything else, but she's particularly brilliant at comedy, so anything I've ever booked, I've worked with her on, but on this, she was pushing me to Mae West it up a little bit, which was hard for me. Stitching yourself into a Wonder Bra and getting all bawdy; that's really not what I'm like, so that was a little weird and uncomfortable. If I ever got conscious about what I was doing, like if the make-up artist had her brush in my cleavage or she was powdering me down and all the drips were standing there watching, and I started thinking, 'Oh my God, what am I doing?' that's just one of those little action tricks, to go twice as far in the order direction when that start happening."
Action or Comedy?
The actress first heard about the role from casting director Beth Hymson, who had cast her in a guest role in another Universal series, the short-lived Vanishing Sun. "When I got the call, I had never seen Hercules or had any idea what the show was about," Tydings admits. "I went to pick up the script and I was completely confused because it was funny, and I wasn't expecting it to be funny at all. I called my agent and said, 'Is this a comedy or an action show?' and she said, 'Well, it's kind of both; it's really campy, so just go with your instincts and have fun with it.'"
Aphrodite was originally introduced in the episode, The Apple as a somewhat ditzy, Valley girl-type character, but Tydings quickly realized there was more to the goddess than was apparent at first glance. "There were mostly blondes in the audition, and I was actually a little surprised; I tend to not look around too much, because it can really screw up your head. You start saying, 'Oh, she's prettier than me, she's taller than me, everybody's shorter than me!' but a lot of girls were wearing leather and stuff, which was kind of weird, and then Beth came out to walk me in, and said, 'Now, one thing I want to tell you: a lot of girls are playing her like she's stupid, and she's definitely not stupid; she's not a bimbo.' I said, 'Okay, it never even occurred to me that she would be a bimbo,' because the episode was The Apple, and she was so manipulative, so it never would have occurred to me that she was dumb."
For some actors, the prospect of flying half a world away to New Zealand where the series is filmed, could be a hit daunting, but Tydings was fortunate to have met leading man Kevin Sorbo (also that episode's director) before shooting. "I was booked in December," she explains, "and was going down the second or third of January, and because it was Christmas time, he happened to be on his way back home and was going to be in LA for a few days, so he called and said, "I'm going to be in LA for a few days; do you want to hook up?' It was really lovely, because when I got down there on the very first day, they get you off the plane and put you right to work; they put you straight into wardrobe, and it's not a hard day, but you're working and his was one of the first faces I saw when I got there, which was really nice."
While Tydings had at least one familiar face waiting for her in New Zealand, there were other reasons for apprehension. "Kevin ad a lot of ideas, for stuff between him and Michael [Hurst, who plays Iolaus], like the fantasy scenes, which he was really excited about, and I remember him saying, 'I'm not sure about this whole Valley girl thing, I think it's kind of weird, so if you want to change it and make her like a spoiled New England prep school girl, go ahead,' and I said, 'Oh my God!' Here I was, having worked on the whole Valley girl thing for two weeks. There were these two other girls who were playing the other goddesses, Athena and Artemis, they were two models, and they were so beautiful. Artemis was in such killer shape, I've never seen a body like that in person before, and I turned to Kevin and said, 'I think you might have miscast, if I'm supposed to be the God of beauty and here I am against these two girls,' and he said, 'No no, we cast this thing perfectly,' so that was nice.
"We were also shooting into the sun, and I remember trying not to squint. I have really light eyes and pale skin, so it's a real problem for me, keeping my eyes open. I also remember wearing a robe so that I'm traipsing around in that costume the whole time, but it was also really hot because it was summertime, and they were giving me these woolen robes to wear, and I was trying not to trip, because that costume drapes behind me, so I was trying not to trail it in the dirty sand."
Aphrodite quickly became popular with viewers, and the producers waster no time in bringing her back, with such episodes as Love Takes A Holiday, The Green-Eyed Monster, Reign of Terror, Stranger In A Strange World, and One Fowl Day. "The crew now works on Xena, and my first three or four episodes were on Hercules, plus I'd met Kevin before, so I really felt like a Hercules girl. I really love the crew, and John Mahaffie the Director of Photography is just lovely. It might have been the second or third episode I did with them that he figured out this beautiful way to light my eyes so they pop out more. The second episode I did was the first in which Cupid appeared and he and I became friends, so it became like summer camp for me. Every time I got to go down there, I'd see my old buddies."
It also wasn't long before Tydings was asked to work on Hercules's iter series, Xena: Warrior Princess. Her first appearance was in the 'Xena-lite' episode, For Him The Bell Tolls, with lead Lucy Lawless still recovering from horseback riding accident sustained in the States. "I had met her that one time on the set when she had just come out of the hospital, and I think the next time I went down there, I brought my grandma with me, and one night, I went out to dinner with what my friend Debbie calls "the brass," and Lucy was there, and it was the first time I'd spent very much time with he, and Kevin was there and Rob and Eric; all these powerful, important people, and Lucy sat at the comer next to my grandma and talked to her the entire dinner, and I thought, 'Wow, she's a cool lady! That's one of the ways that Xena is different: I don't really know how to articulate it but it's a little more mellow over there. They hang out together on Friday afternoons after we wrap; the crew sits around and has a beer together after work, which I don't think they do on Hercules, so it's a little bit different."
Tydings hopes to use the increased visibility of two hit series to eventually create her own projects as a writer and producer, but in the meantime, she's looking forward to her next appearance as the flamboyant Aphrodite. "Some actors are really blessed and get to work all the time, but most actors go through lots of down time, and the ratio of auditions to work is brutal. When you actually get opportunity to work and do your stuff and do more than just walk into a room for five minutes and then walk back out again, I think it's worth doing. You never know; the day you decide to take a week off, that might be the day that Scorcese would have decided you were the one for his movie, and that can make you completely crazy, because you never want to miss anything, but you just have to live your life and trust that it's all going to be okay."