An Eve With Adrienne - Part I

An Eve With Adrienne - Part I

Aug 11, 2000 - © Josh Harrison

Adrienne Wilkinson is no stranger to television, having appeared on shows like Saved By the Bell and Sweet Valley High.

But she is perhaps best known for playing Eve -- Xena's daughter. When she appeared in the fifth season episode "Livia" she captured the attention of fans across the country.

Adrienne will be returning for the first three episodes of Xena next season. I spoke with her last week as she was getting ready to leave for New Zealand for a fourth episode. We had a wonderful time chatting about the series, her acting technique, and the realities of show business.

We had such an enjoyable time, in fact, that I haven't finished transcribing the tape of the interview. Not only that, it is significantly longer than my usual pieces.

As a result, I have broken the interview up into three parts. The first is available now, and the others will be avaialble over the course of the next couple of weeks. I think you'll find it a fascinating conversation.

Incidentally, Adrienne will make her first Xena convention apppearance at the Cherry Hill Con in New Jersey August 26 and 27. If you can, why not head over there and show your support?

Q. Did you have an artistic family while you were growing up?

A. Not artistic in the professional sense, but I've always lived relatively close to Branson, Missouri. Right now there's something close to seventy live theatres there. Through people we know and so forth I saw more live stage productions than I care to count. My mother was always taking us to touring Broadway shows and things like that. All of my siblings and I were involved in more extracurricular activities than we even had time for. So I can definitely see that an appreciation for the arts was cultivated while I was growing up.

Q. How large is your family?

A. I have a sister, Tracy, who's twenty. I also have a half-brother and sister. Aimee is twelve, and Daniel also just turned twelve.

Q. So with all this exposure to the theatre growing up it must have seemed natural to get involved with that when you entered High School.

A. It did, really. It's one of those things where it was such a large part of my life that I just assumed it was part of everyone's. It was one of those things I didn't know was an advantage until I got a little bit older.

Q. So when was the first moment that you realized you were hooked on this acting thing?

A. Oh gosh... it was probably the first moment that I had a clue. [Laughs] I jumped into it feet first. I had been on stage a lot, almost exclusively dancing, some interpretive theatre-type dancing where we were perhaps doing a story that was narrated. But nothing where I ever had dialogue on stage until I got into High School.

My senior year was when I really got involved in acting classes and theatre outside of school - just various projects. For the first time I was meeting casting directors even though I had absolutely no clue what I was getting into. I was sixteen years old - about to turn seventeen - and I was actually looking to get some senior portraits done. I met someone who was helping to cast a project in the local area, and they asked me if I'd be involved in this showcase. I had no idea what I was doing, and they sort of led me to a monologue, a piece they thought would be good for me, and walked me through it. It was absolutely magical. Just getting more reaction than I ever expected to... it was absolutely magic. Whenever you have a good moment you always get that feeling again.

Q. I know exactly what that's like. I've done quite a bit of theatre myself, actually. The moment for me was my sophomore year of High School, and we did Big River as the musical. I had a minor part in the chorus, but we did three shows and got standing ovations every night. The first night I just got this rush and thought, "This is all I could ever possibly want."

A. Yeah, exactly, it doesn't matter. It's knowing you were part of something and knowing that the audience feels you did justice to it. It is so unbelievable to me. I mean, you're playing people - whether they're fictional characters or not, there's so many facets that make a person a person, that makes somebody believable. To fulfill those - on the surface it can look pretty easy, but when it comes to actually fulfilling a person - that's just an amazing thing for me.

Q. So after this showcase where you got snookered in, did you go off to college for more training, or did you jump right into the professional gig?

A. Actually it was a bit of a whirlwind. That happened probably a week before my senior year actually started, and it was automatic. I jumped in feet first; I joined the theatre company that was also involved with a talent manager - though I didn't really know anything about that. I was taking classes six evenings a week.

My senior year of High School, actually, I had enough credits that I could almost have graduated my junior year. But we had moved that summer so I had to take a couple of classes that were specific to that state - I had actually moved back to Missouri. I was out of school at about eleven in the morning, so I had a little bit of extra time - you know, more than a normal student would. I was taking classes constantly. It really amounted to six days a week. I was taking some private classes, and taking three or four group classes at the time.

Within a month the talent manager - who was friends with some casting directors - he brought one in to do a sort of training course for us. They had the option of scouting if they wanted to - if they found someone they thought was amazing. Basically it was a chance for them to get out of the city and teach a bunch of kids who knew nothing about Hollywood. There were actually two people that came in. Robin Mathis - who used to be the head of ABC Television - she was the first person that I ever met that had anything to do with Hollywood. I'm sure I made an absolute fool of myself because I didn't have a clue.

She had brought sides from actual sitcoms that she had cast. Of course, she knew them backwards and forwards and everything about them. I didn't know blocking, and I didn't understand exactly how a screenplay was written - some of the phrasing and exactly what the directions meant. She completely walked me through it and was such a blessing.

Immediately after - she went home on Friday - she talked to the person that at the time was head of soaps for ABC. I was sent sides for a soap and I was supposed to tape them and send them back. And I did - having no idea what I was doing. Anyway, the story goes that they were supposed to take me to New York, and do this big screen-testing thing. But my parent freaked out at that point. "Are you kidding me? We thought this was a hobby. Now way, you're barely seventeen, this isn't going to happen."

That right there was the motivation for my whole career. Just knowing that at some level it was possible, that professional people had an interest in me. I loved doing it, and had gotten some sort of response. That pretty much sealed the deal. Two days after I graduated, I moved to California and the day I turned eighteen I started doing auditions.

Wow.

Yeah, the family was completely overwhelmed because I had always been involved in this, but I had always had aspirations of majoring in international business, I had all these scholarships. I had a definite plan that had been set for a while. But once you find something you love it completely changes your perspective. It did that in a heartbeat for me, knowing that if something I loved doing that much could actually have a physical payday - it was an interesting thing.

I mean I was completely na´ve. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. I pretty much expected that the day I turned eighteen I'd walk into an office and they'd say, "Oh there you are. We've been looking for you." Then I'd have a job. [Laughs]

The reality of the situation sank in pretty quickly I imagine.

Oh absolutely. Just the reality of - just the reality, actually. Knowing that there's fifty thousand girls like me -- that could be put in the exact same category - that arrive every six months. Just the overwhelming fact of how hard it is. Even now it scares me, if I actually sit down and think of the odds of my being able to do sustain a career for a lifetime - it's terrifying. But I have enough belief - enough confidence, for whatever reason, that I keep going.

I love it. It would be different if the journey was ugly, but it's not. It's so amazing, and every little experience. There are things about L.A. that aren't that interesting, but even living here is just full of magical things because the city offers so much.

It sounds like you're not regretting anything at all about it.

In a sense I wish I could have been better prepared, or had a bit more of a clue. But the truth is if I had really known what to expect I would have been too scared to even try. You're right, I don't regret it. I'm so eager that I want everything sooner than it comes. I'm an absolute believer in what's meant to be will be. Every job I have I'm meant to have for whatever experience it gives me. We'll see - that's the exciting part, thinking, "My gosh, what could be next week or next year."

Q. What was some of the early stuff you did those first couple of years while you were having your illusions shattered about how easy it was going to be?

A. [Laughs] The first couple of years I tried to do everything at once. I realized it was impossible. I was incredibly fortunate because I had an aunt and uncle that lived in California. What gave me the permission to move to California was the fact that they were here. I moved in with them, and I was told by everyone in the family that it was fine to pursue this dream, but I still had to do the college thing. So I was trying to accomplish school - and I was fortunate enough to have representation as soon as I got here, so the moment I turned eighteen... my birthday's in September, which is also the start of the semester. It was so overwhelming, having a minimum of an hour and a half commute each way whenever I had an audition or a meeting. Trying to fit a school schedule in, and not miss too many days - not to mention trying to work and make ends meet.

I was fortunate; I did some student films as soon as I got here. It was like an afternoon shoot, some as long as a week. These were of course student films - you're not paid and you're just trying to get a feel for it. Again, I didn't have any clue. I knew what it meant to act, but I didn't know what any of the film terms meant, and trying to figure out what's good for camera - the little differences that make a big difference when you're learning.

My first professional job was on Sweet Valley High, and that was a huge learning experience. Over the course of about a month I auditioned probably seven times. I ended up getting the job, and the script was pretty hefty. I was feeling pretty confident. When you get that first job it's like, "Okay, I made it!" I get to the job and the script was longer than their time allowed. It was only a half hour show. I don't know if it was stuff they added or what, but by the time came to film my scene, my entire first job had been whittled down to two words. I walked into the room and said, "Hey Todd." They talk about me for the rest of the episode, but I'm not there. That was beyond a learning experience.

It's just little things like that. I was lucky that I had a group of friends and acquaintances that were going through the same thing - not necessarily as actors, but just trying to break into whatever part of the film business they were into. I was able to visit tons of sets, whether it was because I had an actor friend that was working on it, or a friend that was a PA, or who knows what they were doing. I was absolutely soaking up every piece of information that I could for probably the first year and a half - almost two years.

It's amazing, getting so close on so many things and not realizing the tiny details - that you have no control over - can make a difference whether you get cast or not. The first two years I was here was simply learning to let it go - not to let it get to me. Not necessarily the rejection, because I'm always looking forward to the next project, but the things that you have no control over are incredibly frustrating. That's the part that really gets you down sometimes.

Q. I sort of understand what you mean. I was an extra in the production of The Langoliers (a miniseries based on a Stephen King story) about five or six years ago, and it was incredible for me - who had done exclusively stage for years - to see how a movie was put together.

A. Every production has its own personality,and how they run. Of course the director completely determines the feel of the set, but the little things you'd have no idea about. Like when you film a scene you have to film dozens of angles and multiple takes - I had no idea going out there how long the actual process takes.

And other things - if I read a script that I fell in love with, of course I automatically thought that I was just perfect for it. Just the tiny details - literally it comes down to a situation like if the leading man is five foot six, I'm five-five. I'm too tall. Things like that which are just impossible to control. It's so frustrating when people say to you, "We absolutely love what you've done. It couldn't be more perfect than the work you've just shown us, but we want a blonde." [Laughs] Okay. I mean, that's Hollywood, I'm sure I'd feel the same way if I were casting. It's just frustrating when they expect that exact prototype to walk in the door.

Q. So which do you prefer, live stage or film?

A. I prefer them in different ways. Absolutely, working in front of a live audience there is nothing that compares to that. Period. There is far more... [Searches for the word]

Energy?

Yeah. I personally feel that you can get more direction from an audience than practically any director. You know if the audience is happy, you know if they're with you. There's nothing like that. But there are a ton of things that can be done on film that would be impossible on stage. I mean, all the Xena stuff...

We'll get into that later.

[Laughs] Yeah. Projects like that there is absolutely nothing... as amazing as stage productions are getting, they still cannot logistically accomplish certain things onstage that are easy on film. I don't know. Emotionally, I have to go with the stage. But there's something nice about your work being better than you can make it just through special effects. You can have a fantastic moment, but when you see the finished product and it's better than you imagined just because of the elements they were able to add - that is a really interesting feeling too.


That does it for part one of the interview! Next time we'll talk about how she won the role of Livia and Eve, as well as how she prepared for the role.

Before I wrap this installment, I'd like to mention that I have extended the first stage of the contest (the question submission stage) until August 15. At that point, I will assemble the actual questionnaire for the contest and make it available. Stay tuned!

Oh... if you would like to visit the Official Adrienne Wilkinson Fan Club online, it can be found at:

www.AdrienneWilkinson.com

The pictures are from their archives, and I thank Adrienne and Shawna (president of her fan club) for letting me use them here.