By Elizabeth Gracen:
Actress Adrienne Wilkinson has "relaunched" the series Xena: Warrior Princess on Tiktok, returning to her role as Eve, the daughter of Xena—originally played by Lucy Lawless but who now "co-stars" as a life-size cardboard cutout—in this highly original, comedic series. It's a whole lot of bonkers fun and truly exemplifies the power of creativity to flourish even amidst a prolonged actor's strike.
Clever and silly, the series is a love-letter to the dedicated Xena fandom, both old and new, creating a quirky commentary on modern life from the perspective of the ancient warriors. It's a throwback look at the original series and a cheeky take on a storyline that reveals the series' iconic characters tangled in unresolved familial issues.
Xena: Warrior Princess, a fantasy television series that ran from 1995–2001, became (in its second season) the most-watched syndicated show in the world, airing in more than 100 countries. And, like many syndicated series during that time (remember Highlander, anyone?), loyal fans have remained true and desirous for more.
Turns out that Adrienne Wilkinson is doing her best to make Xena fans happy.
Wilkinson envisions her TikTok series as a surprise "Season 7" and brings the Warrior Princess and frustrated daughter to modern-day Los Angeles, where life in Tinseltown appears to be just as challenging as ancient Rome. Xena shows her frustration by constantly giving her daughter the silent treatment—refusing to be impressed with anything. Additionally, Xena cast members and surprise guests join in on the fun as the bite-sized episodes progress.
The series runs for a limited time, so I reached out to Adrienne to talk about her recent creative endeavors and what it was like to act with a cardboard cutout!
Elizabeth Gracen: Adrienne, we’ve known each other a long time and have collaborated on many projects over the years. I have to tell you, straight up, that your latest venture is one of the most creative you’ve endeavored. Congrats! Can you give me your elevator pitch on this series? Adrienne Wilkinson: Thank you so much for taking time to explore this creative adventure. The short answer is that Eve and her moms (Xena and Gabrielle) have moved to modern-day Southern California. Xena is not happy about it. She is spending time with me (Eve) in Los Angeles, where I am doing everything I can think of to bring some of her old joy back. Despite all of my efforts, she is not giving an inch, refusing to speak to me . . . so I just keep trying harder.
The series has 4 parts:
Showing my mom modern life in Southern California.
Trying online therapy to tackle our issues, with mixed results from several incredible therapists (including a fantastic appearance from the glorious Elizabeth Gracen!).
A look back at our history via family photos and a new perspective on our old life
Trying modern trends in our attempt at "influencing"— because we can no longer make a living as warlords. Our outings and attempts are almost always a failure as we stumble our way through, but I hope it also brings laughter to watch us struggle to find our place in modern life.
EG: Xena has such a loyal fandom and have been incredibly supportive over the years. It must feel great to still have their support after all this time.
AW: Yes! There was a Xena-themed day in support of the writers' strike this summer at the entrance to Universal Studios. Hundreds of fans showed up in support. Renee O'Connor (who played Gabrielle) and I were there, as was a Xena cardboard standup. When we were getting our photos taken together, I laughed because I thought it looked like my "mom" and I were on vacation, just visiting the studio. That was the seed of the idea.
About a week later, I saw the photos, and they were just as funny as I'd imagined. I immediately started riffing about what that summer vacay with my mom could look like: Xena bringing her weapons everywhere, not understanding modern life, etc. It made me giggle, and I thought, well, because of the strikes, I currently have time on my hands, so it's now or never. I filmed for 5 weeks over the summer before launching the series on Tiktok. The experience has been delightful and challenging, absurd and heartwarming.
EG: I have to tell you that during my family summer vacation, and you were staying at my house, there was a moment when my kid came in and told me, “I think I just saw Adrienne with a giant, life-sized cutout of what looks like Xena!” It was quite a moment to see you on our security camera with it. Fantastic! I’m curious about how the process of filming it began. Did you have scripted ideas, or did you just wing a few to see what you had? AW: Ha! I had wondered if you would see me. You must have thought I was losing my mind! What I was doing was ridiculous, and I was too embarrassed to be talking about it yet, as I was still trying to explore if the idea would work or not. The very first day I filmed with the cut-out, I was at the beach, and a teenage boy came up, so excited to get his picture taken with us, and I was so unprepared, but also realized that he love for Xena was still there and that the effort would definitely be bring joy. The original series ended in a way that left many Xenites heartbroken, as Xena died a valiant death. In this Tiktok extension, Gabrielle and I made a deal with the Gods to revive my mom, and they agreed, but only if they could whoosh us off into the future to be out of their hair. So that's where we are now. It's a mix of real-life shout-outs and imagined circumstances.
Personally, my favorite episodes are when we start unpacking the family trauma (because WOW did our characters go through a lot) and our attempts at being modern-day influencers (and constantly failing because we simply don't understand modern life); our life experiences are so markedly different from modern day that it is inevitably chuckle inducing.
When I first had the idea, I thought it would be impossible, because where in the world does one find a Xena standup? I reached out to one friend for advice, and it turns out she had one in storage in her garage! The entire idea came together so quickly and easily, it felt undeniable that I had to see it through. I decided to jump in immediately while I had momentum and before I allowed myself to second guess or stop myself from embarrassment. EG: You’ve put a lot of time into creating these vids, what has that process been like? What have you learned? AW: Oh, the lessons are endless. In practical terms, this greatly deepened my abilities with editing. I also didn't realize the foolish production schedule I'd put myself on. I released 3 episodes a day for 6 weeks, and it nearly killed me! I thought filming in advance would make it easy, but each part of the process (plus the learning curve of Tiktok, as I was brand new to the platform) was intense and required more time and effort than I had expected. And in deeper terms, it allowed me to be brave and champion my own creative ideas. I've released more than 150 videos at this point, and all of them are my ideas and done via improv. Within a week of the main idea landing, I had nearly 30 pages of episode-ideas I wanted to attempt, so I jumped right in to see if it would work. The episodes are entirely improv-ed, and, and with rare exceptions, are all done in 1 take. It made me trust my talents in a new way and forced me look at my resources differently, which has been quite empowering.
It has also been wonderful to have a creative outlet while the business has been shut down due to the strikes. It has allowed me to embrace "play" and to show different sides of my personality.
EG: What do you hope people come away with by screening this series?
AW: Mainly, I hope this is bringing a bit of much-needed joy into the world. Being a previous fan of the series is not a requirement to enjoy it; you only need a desire to escape real life for a moment and to suspend your disbelief that my mom is by my side even if she appears to be cardboard—ha! I also wanted to make it as a shout-out for the lovely Xenites who have followed my career (along with the entire cast) and have always been so lovely and supportive. For more than 20 years, I've hosted charity events that have been overwhelmingly supported by Xena fans. In fact, part of my Tiktok series is made possible by the fact that I have Xena-merchandise that is donated each year, where we raise funds for families in need. Having these pieces on hand at the moment in preparation for the 2024 charity raffle has meant many additional storylines and an extra level of connection to the show and authenticity. In a way, it's been a group project with the fans. I also incorporate feedback and ideas that they have brought into the mix.
EG: I don’t know if there is an end goal for this series, but please tell me about your other creative endeavors—what we can look for? AW: The overall goal of the series is to get "mom" to talk to me again; we shall see if that happens. I shall keep trying, and I think my odds are quite good. Stay tuned! My expectation is this project will come to its natural conclusion soon, and I shall continue to use that space to share additional content with my talented friends and co-creators (already in the works!). Acting-wise, I have three new videogames that are in the works and should be released soon, I'm part of a documentary being released next year, and depending on how long the strike continues, I have a project that is expecting to film this fall. Of course you can find the latest information and access to all my projects, social media, and other resources via www.adriennewilkinson.com.
EG: Thanks for talking to me, friend. Good luck with all you are doing. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next! AW: Thank you again for chatting up this venture (and for letting me use your front yard 😂)!