Queen of Swords Promoted in the Press

Reviews, News, & Interviews

Queen of Swords' Dr Robert Helm as portayed by actor Peter Wingfield
  The new breed of action hero has taken Hollywood by storm — hard bodied babes who turn heads and kick butt with equal style. The swashbuckling gals are sweeping all before them on the big screen and on TV, from futuristic Cleopatra 2525 to old-fashioned Tomb Raider Lara Croft.
“There was a time when people couldn’t even fathom the idea of a woman fighting,” says Tessie Santiago, who stars as a female Zorro in Queen of Swords. “Now, people love to see a woman in a position of power, kicking ass.”
— “Action Gals who are blazing the screen in TV and Film”, Star Magazine, June 2001

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“Latina Lightning Rod: Tessie Santiago is Ready for Some Action” by Chris Pursell for Crain Communications, Inc

June 12, 2000

In a television climate that has seen the likes of “Xena,” “V.I.P.” and “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” all entrench themselves in the viewing habits of today’s audiences, the “Queen of Swords” is set to stake a claim of her own among heroines and help sever stereotypes.
  The star of Paramount’s upcoming action hour is a Miami-born Cuban-American who nailed the role of the 19th-century sword-wielding Tessa Alvarado in her very first professional acting audition, despite never touching a sword in her life.
  “I’m a big-city girl, so I never really had any experience horseback riding and never took up fencing,” said the 23-year-old Ms. Santiago. “Being from Miami, those skills are not typical out there.”
  Fresh after graduating from the University of Miami, Ms. Santiago was quickly thrust into a regimen of physical conditioning and stunt training with the likes of Tae-Bo guru Billy Blanks and weapons master Anthony Delongis.
  “My training was like boot camp,” said the self-proclaimed klutz. “I not only learned to sword-fight, I learned horseback riding and how to master a whip. It could be scary, and I’d say my biggest accomplishment has been to get over the fear of hurting myself or others. The whip in particular was very hard to master-and very difficult not to lose your patience with. It’s a process-one day you think you have it, the next day you don’t.”
  Budgeted at $20 million from Fireworks Entertainment and produced in association with Mercury Entertainment, “Queen of Swords” features Ms. Santiago as a heroine fighting for justice in early 19th century California. The one-hour series is now being shot entirely in Almeria, Spain.
  “Its tough being away from such a great city (Miami), leaving friends and family behind,” Ms. Santiago said. “But Spain has to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world and just gave us the most picturesque backdrop for the show. Besides, everyone I know is planning a visit to see me.”
  Most important to the actress, however, is her heritage. The Screen Actors Guild recently released a report describing Latinos as vastly stereotyped in films and TV shows, noting that two-thirds of Latino SAG members had been rejected for a role because they did not fit a Latino stereotype. Ms. Santiago said she’s made it her mission to break down those walls with this role.
  “The stereotype is definitely out there,” she said, noting that a majority of the cast for “Queen of Swords” has a Latin background. “I’ve been really fortunate landing a role of a strong woman whose not only a Latina but a fighter, and I’m hoping to start a trend.”
  Most of Ms. Santiago’s family fled from Cuba after Castro and communism took hold of the country. The first-generation American is now passionate about keeping her Cuban heritage alive and passing it on to her own offspring down the road.
  “I really hope to become sort of a role model for not only Latinos but little girls,” she said. “When I grew up, I never really had the physical education, such as karate, that other classes had. I think it’s so important for girls to do more of this stuff. There have been a number of times when some of the girls I’m working with look up after I do a stunt and ask me how I learned to do that. They just become so amazed that it’s a woman who is on the offensive.”

“Queen of Swords a TV Landmark” by Ramin Zahed for Variety

September 29, 2000

HOLLYWOOD — Senor Zorro, it took a few decades, but you finally have a fine female counterpart. Her name is Tessa Alvarado, a.k.a. the “Queen of Swords,” and the action adventuress will be swashbuckling her way all over syndication this fall.
  The plotlines of this new series may rate high on the cornball scale, but the inviting Andalusian landscapes, the well executed action sequences and the swift pace of the series could earn this newcomer a dedicated fan base in the months ahead.
  In the series opener, 19th-century Spanish aristocrat Tessa (Tessie Santiago) decides to pack her bags and go back to California, where she grew up. Accompanied by her Gypsy servant Marta (Paulina Galvez), who has a tendency to say things like “The dead don’t visit our dreams for nothing,” she arrives in the U.S. only to find out that her dad has been killed by the shady characters who run the town.
  Before you can say Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tessa has decided to wrap her mom’s shawl around her face, jump on a majestic stallion and fight the bad guys with her quasi-supernatural fencing talents. This little corner of the world attracts a surprising large number of heavies: There’s the nasty Machiavellian dictator Colonel Montoya (Valentine Pelka), the mustachio-swirling mercenary Grisham (Anthony Lemke) and the shifty spy Vera (Elsa Pataky), and these are only the ones we meet in the first episode.
  It’s only a matter of time before the town brainiacs will put two and two together and realize that Tessa and the speedy Queen of Swords are twins or something. But that’s just one of the regular pleasures of this type of Saturday matinee fare.
  Among the show’s other guilty pleasures are Alwyn Kumst’s top-notch photography (those Spanish skies never looked bluer), Philip Stanger’s electric guitar-driven music, and Evelyne Correard Trompier’s costumes, not to mention Santiago’s modern California-girl-as-19th-century-Spanish-swordfighter line delivery. It’s also nice to see a strong-minded Latina headlining a regular series. It may not be primetime, but it’s still a landmark.
  According to the colorful press kit, “the crimes against humanity, oppression and misery that surround Tessa choke her youthful idealism.” Something tells us Tessa will be choking week after week, but she’ll do it magnificently, gracefully and photogenically. And for sweeps, maybe we can have her duke it out with Xena.

“Queen of Swords” by Michael Farkash for The Hollywood Reporter

Sept/Oct 2000

While living in Spain, Maria Teresa (“Tessa”) Alvarado gets bad news about her father: He has been killed in an accident. Returning home to the primitive colony of California, Tessa learns that it was not mishap, but murder, a result of grim conditions in the Golden State. A virtual military dictatorship is in place, and the taxes on Tessa’s family rancho are well past due.
  This hourlong syndicated adventure is rendered as straight drama rather than tongue-in-cheekily. Unlike, say, “Xena, Warrior Princess,” it’s a series that wants to be taken, well, seriously. The title song, “Behind the Mask,” performed by Jose Feliciano, adds panache.
  The acting generally is decent but nothing to write home about, and the fight sequences could use some punching up. But the lead characters are somewhat engaging. One hopes the evil characters will display greater propensities for bad behavior, and that the title character, played by Tessie Santiago, will display even more derring-do (with the aid of stuntwomen).
  As a weekly adventure with swordplay, furious horse chases, trigger-happy soldiers and the beautiful queen of swords playing Robin Hood, there’s enough visual momentum to please action fans.
  As for its source of inspiration, here’s another hint: Think masked avenger.
  That’s right, “Queen of Swords” is an unabashed new take on “The Mark of Zorro,” inspired by that film (and probably the Disney TV series as well). “Swords,” however, carves out its own mythology and characters.
  Alvarado, as Tessa, seems to be the only landowner in 19th century Spanish-run Los Angeles with the courage to stand up to the evil Col. Luis Montoya (Valentine Pelka).
  But naturally, a solo “outlaw” needs discretion, and so Tessa dresses in black, which incidentally flatters her figure. She also wears a lacy mask, which is all but transparent. But hey, if we can believe that a pair of eyeglasses works for Clark Kent, we can believe the soldiers and gentry are baffled by Tessa’s disguise.
  And did we mention that Tessa defied convention in Spain by studying the art of swordplay? She’s pretty good with a blade, and of course, she’s going to play warrior outlaw princess in California.
  What’s cool and refreshing about the series is that it takes its adventure seriously. It’s not a period spoof, like “Xena.” There are also Latinos in main and supporting roles, another authentic and welcome item. And to complete the look, Almeria, Spain, serves as a stand-in for early Los Angeles.
  The nice touches include enjoyable character quirks and hints of complexity. Col. Montoya, for example, plays the violin superbly and enjoys the trappings of high culture, in contrast with his ruthless pirate heart. Paulina Galvez as Marta, Tessa’s companion, is no retiring servant of the time period, but a supportive ally to the Queen of Swords. And Anthony Lemke, as Capt. Marcus Grisham, is a wild card who is cooly amoral.
  There are sensual and sexual moments as well, although the one romantic coupling is accomplished energetically but discreetly under the covers.
  Elements that could be punched up are more references to the politics of the time and to the lands held by the Spanish during that period. Additionally, it might be nice to focus on the details of living in Los Angeles then. The crowd in the town square seems a little thin, and the premiere doesn’t focus at all on the Native Americans who lived in the area and who were drafted to work at the local mission.
  What the series could use is a bit more humor to leaven the production. Not too much, now, or we slip into “Hercules” and “Xena” territory. And perhaps Tessa could be allowed to relax more in her role as avenger of the oppressed. We know it’s life and death. And we hope her lace mask never slips and reveals her true identity.

“MAXIM’s Online Primetime” for MAXIM Magazine

October 2000

  You know her as: You don’t, since Tessie won the starring role on her syndicated series from her first professional audition. “I was a restaurant hostess; then my life changed overnight. I had a big check on the way but didn’t have 25¢ for a phone call.”
  Her series: Queen of Swords, a Xena-meets-Zorro action-adventure.
  She plays: A seemingly shallow daughter of wealth who fights for the oppressed as the Queen of Swords, a 19th-century masked avenger.
  Cruel whip: The Miami-born beauty immersed herself in sword and whip training: “The whip is tricky. You think you have it; then it snaps back and bites you at 750 miles per hour. A sound guy got in the way, and I whipped him. By accident, of course.”
  Leather and lace: “My first scene was fighting on a cliff while wearing high-heeled boots and a corset. I’ll never get used to corsets. They’re beautiful and sexy—and terribly uncomfortable to wear for 12 hours.”

Actress Tessie Santiago in a swimsuit for MAXIM Magazine

“Wearing the Mask and Wielding a Sword Looks Like a Job for a Woman” by Kathie Huddleston for Sci Fi Wire (scifi.com)

October 2, 2000

Tessa Alvarado (Santiago) is a beautiful, 19th-century Spanish aristocrat. While her father’s been away in California for the last five years, Tessa has been a busy girl. Rather than wearing dresses and attending dances, she’s been wearing pants and taking fencing lessons. She looks forward to her father’s immanent return, but is devastated to hears that he’s been killed in an accident.
  Tessa journeys to California, where further unpleasant discoveries await: Her family’s estate is in a shambles, and her father’s death may not have been accidental. Colonel Luis Montoya (Valentine Pelka), with the assistance of Captain Marcus Grisham (Anthony Lemke), holds the area in a tyrannical grip. Montoya kills any who oppose him and taxes his subjects to the point of starvation.
  When Tessa witnesses the cruel murder of her father’s former manservant, she can stand the injustices no longer. In a dream, her father tells her of an avenging angel who will bring justice to the land. Tessa realizes her true destiny. With the help of her gypsy servant, Marta, she will pose as a spoiled member of the nobility but, when necessary, she will become the Queen of Swords, protector of the innocent and avenging angel who will bring down tyranny.
  Zorro with a twist
  Queen of Swords joins the growing ranks of shows with female action leads. Produced by the creators of Relic Hunter, the two shows share a similar style and tone. But viewers must be willing to suspend more than a normal amount of disbelief to make this adventure show work. For example, the Queen wears a peekaboo lace mask but no one can figure out who she is. And, boy, the Colonel’s guards are some bad shots.
  The burden of carrying Queen of Swords rests primarily on the slim shoulders of newcomer Santiago, who won the role in a nationwide search. She is quite lovely and, for the most part, does just fine as Tessa. However, she is not convincing as the daring, sword-wielding Queen of Swords. One of the reasons shows like Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even Relic Hunter work is because the leading ladies are believable action heroes. If they hit a god, demon or even just a bad guy, he, she or it is going down for the count. However, at this early stage in the show’s development, Santiago’s Queen doesn’t give off that butt-kicking aura.
  The rest of the cast offers fine support, especially Lemke as evil hunk Captain Grisham. Peter Wingfield (Methos on Highlander) joins the cast after the first episode, and there are other Highlander connections as well. Pelka, who played the popular baddie Kronos, and Producer Ken Gord are both Highlander alumni.
  Queen of Swords has an order for a full season, so there’s plenty of time for this series to gel. Let’s hope Santiago can pull this one off. We need all the female action heroes we can get.

“Judge Sides with Writer in ‘Queen of Swords’ Duel” by Steve Gorman for Reuters

October 5, 2000

LOS ANGELES — An aspiring screenwriter has won the first round of a legal duel over the new TV show “Queen of Swords,” which she says was hijacked into syndication by Paramount Pictures two decades after she first sold the idea to ABC.
  A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Thursday ordered a halt to further broadcasts of the hourlong action drama, about a swashbuckling masked heroine, unless writer Linda Lukens receives a screen credit as the creator of the show.
  Paramount denies her allegations and will appeal the judge’s order, a spokesman for the Viacom Inc.-owned company said. Under California law, a preliminary injunction of this nature is automatically stayed on appeal, the spokesman said.
  But Lukens’ attorneys disputed this, insisting Paramount could be held in contempt for airing the show again without crediting Lukens, unless the appeals court expressly decides otherwise.
  Lukens sued the show’s producers and Paramount, whose television group distributes the series, claiming the “Queen of Swords” was lifted from her own work on a TV drama that she has been developing under the same title for years.
  The writer claims both she and the executive producer for the series were represented by the same literary agency, the Broder/Kurland Agency, which also is named in the lawsuit.
  In his ruling, Judge Morris Jones said a comparison of Lukens’ work to the series, which premiered in the United States this week, revealed “striking similarities indicative of misappropriation” and that Lukens was likely to prevail on the merits of her case.
  Besides having the same title, both Lukens’ work and the Paramount-syndicated TV show involve an avenging, masked aristocrat who, inspired by the unjust death of her father, fights evil with the help and guidance of a gypsy mystic, according to the lawsuit. Her work is set in colonial New France; the series in Spanish colonial California.
  Lukens’ attorney, Anthony Kornarens, said his client came up with the idea in the late 1970s and sold a treatment for the show to ABC, where she co-wrote a script that never was produced. After rights reverted to Lukens, she reworked the script and sought to further develop the project before it was “misappropriated” and landed at Paramount, Kornarens said.
  “This is something she’s been working on for a long, long time.”
  According to her attorney, Lukens’ resume includes a number of little-known entertainment projects, including a production credit for a 3-D women’s wrestling movie made for pay-per-view television.

“David Abramowitz is Still The King of The Blade With His Latest TV Series, Queen of Swords” by Abbie Bernstein for Eon Magazine

October 12 & 19, 2000

For a man who’s made his living with a sword for the past eight years, it has to be said that David Abramowitz doesn’t look all that lethal. Okay, he hasn’t been actually wielding a weapon himself, but he was one of the creative guiding lights from Episode Seven through the final Episode 119 of HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES and the entirety of HIGHLANDER: THE RAVEN. After spending a year away from the steel while working on the first season of THE LOST WORLD, Abramowitz is back at it — with a vengeance, one might say — as executive producer of the new syndicated series QUEEN OF SWORDS.
  QUEEN OF SWORDS stars Tessie Santiago as 19th-century Spanish noblewoman Tessa Alvarado. When her father is murdered, Tessa returns to her California birthplace to find the town in the grip of the ruthless and ambitious Col. Montoya (Valentine Pelka). Well-brought-up highborn young ladies don’t demand justice for all at the end of a blade — but Tessa’s new masked alter-ego, the Queen of Swords, does just that on a weekly basis.
  “Last year, Jay Firestone, who’s the chairman of the board of Fireworks [QUEEN production company Fireworks, which was also involved with RAVEN], came to me and asked if I’d be interested in developing an action/adventure series with a strong Latina lead,” says Abramowitz, explaining how he got the job. “[Firestone] was excited about the marketplace and the possibility of doing a period action/adventure show, filled with swords, a little mysticism, a little magic, lots of horses, shot in Spain, with great locations.”
  Leading lady Santiago had studied acting at the University of Miami, but she’d never acted professionally, much less carried a television series, before she was chosen as QUEEN. Abramowitz concedes that using a newcomer was a matter of some concern to the show’s financiers.
  “They were pretty nervous,” he admits. “But I have a long track record, Jay Firestone and [fellow executive producer] Adam Haight at Fireworks have a long track record. People decided to trust us. We cast in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. We saw hundreds and hundreds of actresses. [Santiago] had a quality that wouldn’t let us say, ‘Let’s go to somebody else.’ She’s beautiful, she looks Castilian Spanish, she speaks Spanish fluently and English fluently, she’s the right age — we wanted someone young. There was a freshness there, a newness, a brightness. And when she did her test, she gave off light. We trained Tessie for months in L.A. before she went to Spain with sword and whip and taught her how to throw a punch.”
  Santiago also had a touch of the modern that appealed to the producers. “She’s supposed to be a little contemporary,” Abramowitz says of heroine Tessa. “Certainly Xena [as a character] is contemporary. The hope was to do this as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER meets ZORRO. It can’t feel too old-fashioned.”
  The parameters provided for Abramowitz and head writer/supervising producer James Thorpe (another HIGHLANDER/RAVEN alumnus) were fairly broad in terms of developing the series’ premise. “It wasn’t very much,” he reports. “A female, kind of Xena, kind of Zorro character. But these are basic archetypes. You look at Batman — he loses his parents and comes from a family of wealth. You look at Robin Hood — he lost his father and comes from a family of wealth. The character of Montoya is the Sheriff of Nottingham. There are certain character archetypes that play out through the Lone Ranger, the Scarlet Pimpernel, through Robin Hood, through Batman, through Green Hornet. They’re classic archetypes of the orphan going to right justice and [pretending to be in society] a character somewhat different from who he or she is.”
  While he hasn’t adopted a secret identity to go about his own work, Abramowitz has been through some major professional changes over the years.
  “The segue from nightclub and saloon singer to storyteller in the schools for the National Endowment for the Arts to documentary and educational filmmaker to winning a bunch of money on a game show [TIC TAC DOUGH] to starting to write to a job as a writer took a long time,” he laughs. “I didn’t start out as an executive producer. I was doing a show for PBS and they brought in a professional grant proposal writer. She asked me to write something. When I finished writing it, she said, ‘Gee, I wish I could write as well as you did.’ A light bulb came on and I said, ‘Maybe I can write!’ Because I thought that everyone could write. It took me years to understand that not everyone can write, and I was lucky enough to have a small gift.”
  Abramowitz’s gift carried him through writing gigs on MacGUYVER, CAGNEY AND LACEY, MURDER, SHE WROTE and the alien-invasion quasi-soap V before moving on to producing with JAKE AND THE FATMAN. “It’s a natural progression,” he explains. “In this business, either you keep moving up, or you drift away. I’ve always had a fairly strong work ethic, so I just kept working and working and working, and eventually people recognized that and I got more and more responsibility. You move up slowly. I think my biggest break came with HIGHLANDER.”
  Swords suddenly became a big part of Abramowitz’s life he admits. ”I’d always liked sword and sorcery things,” he says. ”There’s a certain mystery and romance and a great sense of adventure in sword-fighting and swash-bucklers.” Away from work, Abramowitz also served as cantor at his synagogue. The producer cites a surprising but logical connection between HIGHLANDER’s action and his religious background: “HIGHLANDER was a natural for me. There’s a guy named Steve Geaghan, who was the [HIGHLANDER] production designer/art director and he said, ‘HIGHLANDER is a Talmudic discussion with ass-kicking.’ And he was exactly right.”
  “There are some similarities,” Abramowitz says of QUEEN. “It’s a lighter show. Occasionally there are flashbacks, but it’s a different genre. It’s a romantic, sexy action/adventure show with humor and some substance. [Violence] is not as graphic as it was on HIGHLANDER — although people get stabbed and cut and shot, they’re not being decapitated. [QUEEN] doesn’t play with that depth of despair and pain and adult themes.”
  However, the new series will still have the kinds of moral quandaries that appealed to regular viewers of his other sword shows, Abramowitz promises. “For example, in one of the [QUEEN] episodes, our doctor character Helm, [played by] Peter Wingfield, treats the villain and there’s a murder, and because he’s a doctor, he’s honor-bound to save his life and then refuses, because of doctor/patient confidentiality, to divulge where the bad guy is. He sets his honor and his oath above the rule of law and what is best for all the people. Now that is a really interesting philosophical dilemma.”
  It’s no accident that Wingfield, who played the usually helpful but morally ambiguous 5,000-year-old Methos in 20 episodes of HIGHLANDER, and Pelka, who was a recurring guest in six episodes of that series as the predatory Immortal Kronos and guest-starred in a double episode of RAVEN as a different villain, are both regulars in QUEEN. Abramowitz had never met either of the British actors prior to their involvement with HIGHLANDER. ”That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” he recalls. “When I was developing [the Dr. Helm and Col. Montoya] parts, Peter and Valentine were who I was creating them for. I wanted to [cast] people who I knew not only as actors, but as human beings.”
  There are a number of other HIGHLANDER veterans involved with QUEEN as well. RAVEN star Elizabeth Gracen will be guest-starring in “The Counterfeit Queen,” an episode written by HIGHLANDER staffer Gillian Horvath. HIGHLANDER guest Anthony de Longis appears in two QUEEN segments and sword-choreographed six. Directors Dennis Berry, Paolo Barzman, George Mendeluk, Jorge Montesi and Richard Martin are all helming episodes of QUEEN, and HIGHLANDER’s line producer Ken Gord is serving in his old capacity here as well. “You hire the people who worked for you in the past and did good jobs,” Abramowitz explains simply.
  The executive producer is excited about some of his new co-workers as well, especially a number of regular actors cast from both Canada and Spain. “We were lucky to get Anthony Lemke, who plays the bad guy Grisham. He has this wonderful sense of humor. Vera [Elsa Pataky, as a scheming social climber] is beautiful and she has great comic timing. Paulina Galvez [as Tessa’s confidante Marta] looks like a gypsy, moves like a gypsy — she’s lovely.”

QUEEN OF SWORDS filmed in Spain under the aegis of a Canadian/Spanish co-production deal. At one time, there was another possibility, Abramowitz reveals. “We knew we couldn’t really get the look of the show in Canada, and it was too difficult to do in the United States. We couldn’t afford to do it in the United States. We were thinking of Spain initially. It was either there or Mexico. The nature of treaties are such that if it was a Canadian/Mexican production, we could either use Canadian or Mexican actors. Shooting in Spain allows me to use British actors as well as Canadian actors.”
  On a show with “swords” in the title, British actors are particularly invaluable, Abramowitz opines. “British actors already have sword training.”
  There were many other advantages to filming in Spain as well. “People went [to scout locations] in February or March,” Abramowitz relates. “After the first episode was written, we looked around Madrid, and then we went to Almeria and saw the Sergio Leone sets.” An entire Western town from the filmmaker’s Western days is still standing in the desert. “That was the natural place. It’s the only desert in Europe. The locations are there — look at the vistas. And you have the finest horsemen on Earth, and the horses. We have an incredible horse wrangler and stunt coordinator for the horses, Ricardo Cruz, who is just magnificent, and the relationship between Spanish steeds and their masters is incredible. They stop on a dime and give you nine cents change. These horses are the best-trained, best-treated — they’re stars in their own right and really beautiful.”
  In fact, the footage of charging cavalry riders and 19th-century crowds is spectacular-looking, even before one considers that it can’t possibly have cost as much as appearances suggest. Abramowitz says the rich look is largely the result of careful planning: “You call your shots. [QUEEN has] a 20th-century episodic syndicated budget, not a network budget.” It’s also the result of line producer Gord’s expertise. “There’s a certain look he brings to it and a certain feel to the show.”
  There are a few disadvantages to the remote location, Abramowitz acknowledges. “Besides the scorpions,” he laughs, “it’s hard to get to. You have to fly from wherever you’re going to Madrid, and then wait to get another plane to Almeria. Almeria is a city of a few hundred thousand, but we shot 40 miles from Almeria in the middle of the desert. The nearest town is Tabernas, which is maybe a thousand people. It’s very small. People live all over the place. There aren’t many hotels and places to stay so the cast [and production team are] spread out over a large area. There isn’t an infrastructure of film anymore in Almeria. People had filmed there, movies had been coming in for awhile — it was still an active set. However, a lot of it was run-down, we had to completely rebuild it, and it’s different coming in for a short period of time, for three weeks [for a film shoot]. We started shooting in April and we’ll finish in December. It’s different shooting for eight months. We had to fly everyone in. You have to move a small army. [The crew is] maybe a hundred people, and maybe 100, 125 extras every show. Just getting phone service was difficult. It was building an infrastructure.”
  A further complicated life is a production/post-production set-up that spans three different nations and time zones: filming in Spain, editing in Toronto and headquarters in Los Angeles. “A show in three different countries, absolutely, is very difficult,” Abramowitz states. “When we set up the show, I went [to Spain] twice. Then I went up to Toronto, but now I’ll be over here [in Los Angeles] for awhile. [The time difference] is probably the most difficult thing of all. Luckily, we communicate in emails and through the Internet. So that makes it a lot easier, because there’s only a small window of time where you can talk to Spain. We look at dailies on tape. The film gets shot in Almeria, flown to Madrid, then flown to Toronto, then it gets processed in Toronto and the dailies then get sent down here.” Turnaround time from filming on-set to executive producer seeing the dailies: “Five or six days.” This means that if there’s something in the footage that needs changing, “You’re pretty much in trouble,” Abramowitz laughs.
  Paradoxically, he adds, here’s where the far-off desert becomes an asset again: “Luckily, because we shoot on the same location, the town, [if something is wrong in the dailies] we can go back and pick up things.”
  Most of the first series episodes are designed so that they can be seen without prior knowledge of the characters, Abramowitz explains. “When you sell [syndicated episodes], you never know how they’re going to be played, so most of these episodes stand alone. A couple of the relationships grow, like the relationship between Dr. Helm and the Queen of Swords.”
  QUEEN will have 22 episodes in its first season; ratings on the first eight will determine whether a second season goes forward. Abramowitz is optimistic, especially after viewing a cut of the first episode. “This has swords and whips and horses and chases and carriages. It’s huge. It’s 15 horsemen thundering across the plain. I was very pleased with the pilot. I thought it had a little bit of mysticism, a lot of action — stunning. I think the show is fun, it has production values that are enormous, and I think Tessie’s a star. I’m very thankful to be here.”

“WONDER WOMEN: Who needs Superman to come to the rescue? These days on TV, sisters are doin’ it for themselves” by Neal Justin for Star-Tribune of the Twin Cities Mpls.-St. Paul

November 12, 2000

Don’t even think about tying Nell to the train tracks. Nowadays, she’d probably yank a rail out of the dirt, wrap it around your neck, then stuff that mustache up your nostrils, long before the pitter-pat of some goofball Mountie’s horse. Dudley, good night. Meet TV’s new superheroes — women who will knock you out with drop-dead-gorgeous looks, followed by a roundhouse punch to the kisser.
  Xena may be hanging up her boots in the spring, but she’s spawned a legion of brazen beauties including sword fighters, bodyguards, relic hunters, computer hackers, space explorers and secret agents. It’s no longer enough for a working woman to hold down a job and get dinner on the table by 6 p.m.: She’s also got to save the world by bedtime. TV women have flexed their muscles before, but this might be the first time they have done it while flexing their minds. Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s one-liners can be more lethal than her high kicks. Contrast that with late-70s heroines like “Charlie’s Angels” or “Wonder Woman,” who could stop bullets but couldn’t start an intelligent conversation.
  “‘Charlie’s Angels’ was very enjoyable light fluff, but it was really just the world’s greatest fashion show,” said Rob Tapert, who co-created “Xena: Warrior Princess” and the new syndicated series “Cleopatra 2525.”
  If there are any bimbos in these new shows, they’re men...
“You need protecting,” coos an evil baron to the heroine of “Queen of Swords” as they sip champagne on the beach.
  “I quite agree,” she replies. “I’ll get a dog.”
A subtle brand of muscle
  One reason women warriors are ruling the airwaves is that they are not like their male counterparts.
  Female action shows don’t rely as much on reckless violence, said Morgan Gendel, co-executive producer for “V.I.P.,” a campy series about female bodyguards.
  “I used to work on ‘Nash Bridges,’ and the difference is that these shows tend to be a little less vicious,” he said. “Women seem much more reasonable.”...
The lean years
  But if women have risen so much in the last 15 years, where have they been on television? A revolution might have been brewing in 1976, the year “Charlie’s Angels,” “Wonder Woman,” and “The Bionic Woman” all premiered, but the superheroine was barely on the scene in the 1980s and much of the 1990s.
  Camille Bacon-Smith, the Philadelphia-based author of “Science Fiction Culture” and “Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth,” blames the political climate. She said the Reagan years were tough for creative women, most notably in television and science-fiction writing, where pioneers such as Joanna Russ and Marion Zimmer Bradley suddenly stopped winning major awards.
  “There was tremendous backlash that really was represented by the return of the conservative party to politics,” she said. “Women basically disappeared from recognition in many of the fields. I think it’s particularly hard in television. You can sit at home, write a book and nobody knows who you are, but television is very face-to-face.”
  There may be an even simpler answer. Television is a copycat business, and once the late-70s series ran their course, nobody followed suit. But after the success of “Xena,” which premiered in 1995, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997), everyone wanted to get back into the superheroine business.
  Those shows came at a time when executives were keen on re-energizing slumping ratings. They became aware that — surprise — young girls watch TV, too.
  “Marketing people suddenly realized there were bank accounts that weren’t being tapped," Bacon-Smith said. “There were young girls out there with lots of spending money, and there was nothing on TV they wanted to watch.”...
“Queen of Swords” star Tessie Santiago said she’s bowled over by the influence her character seems to have. “When I was growing up, I was put into ballet and piano, things that were considered to be girl stuff,” she said. “But now so many little girls come up to me on the set and say, ‘I want my mommy to put me in fencing.’”...
The jiggle factor
  Of course, not everyone watches to be empowered. A significant portion of the audience — both men and women — tune in to be turned on...
  ...the Queen of Swords’ blouses all seem to be missing the top button. Santiago admits that her character often uses her sexual charms to get an edge. “It’s just a matter of time before they say, ‘Show a little more cleavage,’” she said...
Being sexy and strong is the ultimate goal.

“Actresses Are Beginning to Get a Bigger Cut of the Action Television
‘Xena’ helped kick-start the idea of women as heroes, and new series are running with it” by Craig Tomashoff for Los Angeles Times

November 20, 2000

A devil-may-care fortune hunter fends off some thugs with a few deft punches and kicks to save this adventurer’s assistant. And on the mean streets of some unnamed metropolis, a mysterious do-gooder wearing cowl and costume and driving a super-powered car arrives with guns blazing to save a citizen in distress.
  On the face of it, there’s not much surprising about such derring-do. It’s all in an hour’s work for the heroes in television action shows. These days, however, it seems the only ones with enough grit to save our skins happen to be women. And the ones needing the rescuing are the men.
  Not that long ago, the rules for battling TV evil were pretty simple: Men did all the fighting and shooting, women all the screaming and nail-chipping. Lately, television tough guys have undergone a sex change.
  “This is the payoff for 100 years of feminism,” says Lucy Lawless, star of “Xena: Warrior Princess,” the godmother of all the current women heroes. “Women have equality on the air, and the buying power to get the shows on the air.”
  Female action heroes will soon be all the rage in movie theaters now that the film version of “Charlie’s Angels” is a $100-million hit. Yet they are already all over the television dial. The networks have series from the WB’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Fox’s “Dark Angel.” TNT will soon launch “Witchblade,” while the Sci-Fi Channel has “Lexx,” “Farscape” and the upcoming “Black Scorpion.” “Tomb Raider” has long been a favorite computer game. The Cartoon Network even starts them young, with “The Powerpuff Girls.”
  Still, it’s in syndication where women are most strongly exerting their authority. In addition to “Xena,” there’s “Cleopatra 2525,” “V.I.P.,” “Relic Hunter,” “Queen of Swords” and “Sheena.”
  “Gone are the days when the girl twists her ankle and Tarzan has to come and carry her off to safety,” says Charles Eglee, co-creator and executive producer of “Dark Angel,” the futuristic tale of a scientifically enhanced warrior who saves the world while trying to discover her past. “Traditionally, the kind of Grail quests like the one our character is on are done from the male point of view, but we’ve seen that for 1,000 years. That’s ‘Beowulf.’”...
In the Year 2525
  It’s that funny and cute part that could be considered a problem. Take “Cleopatra 2525”; the premise of this half-hour show is that a woman awakens after going to her doctor for breast implants and finds herself hundreds of years in the future, fighting intergalactic evil alongside a pair of scantily clad women. Series like this, “V.I.P.” and “Queen of Swords” (a female Zorro knockoff) feature as much female cleavage as courage.
  “Many of these current shows do provide young women with positive role models who are more independent than women used to be on television. They’re not just the stereotypical rescued princess,” says Dr. Rhonda Hammer, a research scholar at UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women. “But at the same time, there are problems. The women always seem the same: straight, white and beautiful. The shows seem to just reinforce to women how important beauty is.”
  In some cases, it’s almost like a throwback to the days of “Charlie’s Angels” and the so-called “jiggle” shows that used sex to sell their heroines. The producers of many of these series don’t deny that they want their female butt-kickers to be sexy. After all, male crime-fighters get to be sexy, and the reality is that no action show could succeed without luring in males, who make up at least half the audience for these series.
  “There is a feminist quality to our shows, but being feminist doesn’t mean being nonsexual,” explains Tapert, who also produces “Cleopatra 2525.” “That’s a battle I’ve had with hard-core ‘Xena’ fans, who say we’ve had her use sex as a weapon. I don’t think that’s contrary to her being a hero.”
  For Bonnie Hammer, executive vice president and general manager of the Sci-Fi Channel, it’s about time that women were allowed to be both heroic and sexy.
  “It’s just a taste factor,” she says. “Be responsible with your content and don’t exploit women. What these shows are teaching to both boys and girls is that it’s just as easy for a female to create world peace, discover a scientific formula or pilot a space ship. And she can still wear leather pants on the weekends.”
  UCLA’s Hammer admits that despite the cheesecake appeal of some new action heroines, “The situation is better than it was. There has been a radical shift in treatment of women in society. Things are not great, but they’re better. These new shows are at least reflecting those changes.”

“Now, it’s ‘wham, bam’—and from the ma’am” by Gail Pennington for St Louis Post-Dispatch

So much for the idea of docile, controllable females. Strong women are dominating adversaries all over the movies, TV and the stage—as well as in boxing and football.

January 28, 2001

...Female characters spent decades tied to pop culture’s railroad tracks; now, they’re wriggling loose and making the villains pay. Think Drew Barrymore, whupping her captors in “Charlie’s Angels” with her hands behind her back. The original Angels have admitted their big physical challenge was running in high heels.
 From Sigourney Weaver in the “Alien” movies to Linda Hamilton in “Terminator II” to Carrie-Ann Moss in “The Matrix,” action heroines have become a staple of the big screen. But today’s tough broads are something new for television, where female characters—even now, four decades after the birth of the women’s movement—still play the victim far too often...
 In action yarns that span history, “Sheena” throws knives, shoots arrows and charms wild animals to save her beloved jungle. The “Queen of Swords” employs not just steel but also bullwhips and her feet and fists to protect the innocent in colonial California...
 In a big way, tough heroines simply mirror modern life, where women continue to invade territory once exclusively male. Women play pro basketball and have formed 11 teams in the new Women’s Professional Football League. Like the men’s, their football is full-contact...
black and white newsprint columns clipping with promo photos of strong tough pretty female characters from various television shows and movies, St Louis Post-Dispatch A&E Section Front Page  Today’s real-world women pack martial arts classes, determined to avoid becoming damsels in destress. Along the way, they discover the sweaty joy of punching something, which their brothers always got to do but which girls were told wasn’t ladylike.
 No wonder women on screen aren’t simply standing (or lying) by their men anymore. They’re bringing home the bacon, frying it up in a pan, and in their spare time, saving the world from evil. All this plus childbirth—whoever said a woman’s work is never done got that right.
 For its part, Hollywood—where those in charge are still primarily male—likes tough women characters because they’re so useful... but women provide an inherent dichotomy. They’re soft. They’re small. They’re mothers, for heaven’s sake. And above all, they’re sweet and gentle. (“We decided to make it female,” Ben Kingsley says of the creature in “Species,” “because it would be more docile and controllable.” To which Michael Madsen responds, “I guess you guys don’t get out much.”)
 If these soft, small, sweet, gentle females can also punch out a big brute, that’s cool. Or rather, it’s hot. The sexual component here can’t possibly be ignored, especially by anyone who’s checked out the costumes on these tough dames.
 “Sheena” is typically seen in scraps of animal skin, held together by leather straps. “Queen of Swords” sports black leather and lace. The “Charmed” chicks hold hands and bare their bellybuttons while confronting demons. “Dark Angel” fans have a drinking game in which they chug whenever Max gets wet.
 And that’s one dark cloud on this otherwise cheerful scene. Many action heroines, especially on television, are still created to fulfill male fantasies. Unfortunately, these male fantasies tend to be stuck in comic book territory, where every woman is gorgeous, voluptuous and scantily clad. Women’s power lay exclusively in their sexuality for so long that even now any show of power is inherently sexual, some psychologists believe.
 Another theory, popular in feminist literature classes, is that because women are now approaching genuine power, to the point of having children with only minimal male contribution, men must continue to sexualize them to keep them from dominating business and government as well.
 Then again, there’s always the possibility that men just like this stuff because they’re perpetually teen-age boys at heart.
 In any case, feminists seeking good on-screen role models for their daughters have to look hard and make compromises to find them. Buffy is a realist teen, not a Barbie, but she does have those odd powers. In the “Indiana Jones”-like “Relic Hunter,” heroine Sidney is smart, an archaeologist, but still tends to fall out of her blouse. Xena has a strong body and quick wit, but she’s fast to pick a fight.
 Quietly, though, tough women of a different stripe are making real inroads on television...

“The Mark of Tessie” by Max Anderson for Latina. Photographs by Guy Paganini

The star of TV’s Queen of Swords goes from unknown Miami coed to international star thanks to a lace mask and a talent for revealing the unexpected

January 2001

Luck of the draw? We think not. Queen of Swords’s Tessie Santiago reveals all about her “heroic” rise to fame. La actriz cubano-americana es una heroína de capa y espada.

Thank you to Jim for the photocopy!

Actress Tessie Santiago and a horse on the cover of Latina Magazine
Tessie poses for the table of contents page, Latina Magazine
Tessie in Feathers, Latina magazine
Tessie in photo booth style spread, Latina Magazine

“The whip travels at 750 miles per hour,” she says. That fast? Really? “Yeah, it breaks the sound barrier, that’s why it makes the noise.” It’s surreal. Tessie Santiago is on a deserted Western film lot in southern Spain. It’s dusk. Nearby a Gypsy, cursing loudly, is chasing a horse. And here is this beautiful 25-year-old Cuban American, standing in the dust, revealing things — things you never knew.
  “Working with a whip is great therapy,” attests Santiago. “The whip senses your mood. If you’re in the wrong mood,” she smiles and snatches it with her hand, “it’ll come right back and bite you.”
  Plenty of young actors want Santiago to reveal the secrets of her sudden success. In December 1999 this complete unknown from Miami was chosen to play Tessa Alvarado in the new syndicated series Queen of Swords. Even more unique, she was handed a lead role written for a woman — for a Latina.
  As the sexy Saturday matinée-style savior of 19th-century California’s oppressed mexicano townsfolk, she is a coquettish aristocrat in white chiffon who manipulates the evil colonel Montoya. When in black velvet corset and lace mask, however, she parries sword and repartee, cracking wise as well as she cracks whip. The show has already been dubbed Zorra.
  Executive producer and television veteran David Abramowitz says that of the 500 actresses who would be queen, only Santiago had an inner luminescence. He knew at once that he’d found his heroine. Later, Santiago laughs, imagining Abramowitz telling the Paramount suits, “Yeah, the Miami chick with no name! That’s her! Let’s pour all the money into this one!”
  And here’s a revelation: Even though Queen of Swords is already on the air, even though the wheels of celebrity have begun to turn (Maxim, for example, has already featured her, and Playboy wants an interview), Santiago is astonishingly — generously — grounded.
  Perhaps this is because she is still filming in a semi-arid European desert, a few miles from where many gritty spaghetti Westerns were made in the 1960s. The sweet smell of success out here is an earthy compote of dust, sweat, and horse.
  “Muchísimas gracias,” she says as the Gypsy horse handler rasps advice in Spanish on how to manage Chico, the Queen’s firebrand steed. The man’s pale blue eyes swivel upward listlessly, as though in oil, to Santiago in the saddle, and the Queen — in sneakers today rather than Spanish heels — flicks her long dark hair from her eyes and wheels her charger around.
  “OK. Watch this,” she says.
  The sun is setting, a blood orange on the arid hills of Andalucía. At a hint of Santiago’s rubber heel, she and the Gypsy horse are rocketing toward the horizon.

Santiago had just graduated with a degree in film and theater from the University of Miami, when she was suddenly sucked into the industry version of action-hero boot camp. After two rigorous months in Los Angeles training in fighting, swordplay, riding, and flamenco dancing, she arrived in Spain for an eight-month, 22-episode shoot.
  So how has it been? “Exhausting,” Santiago admits. “I’m in practically every scene, the set is dusty, I am constantly dirty, I’m wearing period costume in up to 90-degree heat for up to 13 hours a day, and I do most of my own fights.” But at least she has a shower in her trailer? “A shower?!” she laughs. “Sometimes it’s hard to find a working toilet!”
  “It’s very tough to front a show,” says English actor Valentine Pelka, who plays Colonel Montoya and formerly had a recurring role as Kronos on the long-running Highlander series. “I wouldn’t have been ready for it at 24, but I think Tessie is mature beyond her years,” Pelka continues. “I was curious to know how she would cope, band I was just completely surprised. It didn’t even test her.”
  Executive producer Abramowitz also knew the pressure would be phenomenal but feels the support of her large family has helped her pull through. Santiago agrees. “My family keeps me grounded,” she says. “For them, yes, this is all wonderful, but when my grandmother sees me, it’s, “How are you? You’re looking a little thin. Are you eating right? Clean up your room.’”
  Later, walking through the faux colonial-style village plaza, Santiago turns introspective. “My grandparents are more Cuban than I am. They fled Castro; I was born in the United States. I would go to school and have classes in English, then I’d come home and have my grandmother yell at me in Spanish. I felt 50 percent American and 50 percent Cuban.”
  So which led her to strive for and seize the quintessential American dream of Hollywood stardom? Yanqui Tessie or Latina Tessie?
  “That’s a tough one.” She thinks hard. “It would be a combination of both. My mother is a strong woman, an artist, and she shares my dreams. She got me here. My grandfather, too. He was a sculptor in Cuba, and all he wanted was to be an artist, but he had to give up everything he loved to survive in the U.S. So how dare I not respect that and take advantage of the opportunities he gave me, to go to school, to make something of myself, to do what he couldn’t?
  “When my first big paycheck came through, I bought my grandfather a tool belt, all the tools he needed, and 120 pounds of clay.” She grows quiet. “He hadn’t touched clay for 40 years. He was looking at his hand and wondering if he could still make art.”
  Santiago is adamant that one day, when she has children, she will pass on her Cuban culture and “the stories my grandparents told me as a child. Like when my new baby sister had hiccups and my grandmother said to get a white string and put it on her forehead. I have a little cousin, and she doesn’t speak a word of Spanish. She can’t communicate with my grandparents, and it’s tragic.”
  Santiago honors the past but is still a thoroughly modern Latina. Whether she is explaining the physics of cracking a whip, admiring the liberalism of the Dutch, or expounding on the guilty pleasures of South Park, you feel that this educated, well-traveled woman is a force to be reckoned with. “I have ridden the Latin trend,” she says proudly. “I dyed my blond hair black — yes, I’m blond — and refused to change my surname. I was tired of people going ‘Oh, so you speak Spanish?’ I wanted to be more Latin.”
  Both Santiago and her character are sultry and strong, playing to the strengths made popular by La Hayek and La Lopez. But is the show helping to create another Latina stereotype? “Well, to some extent, but there was a time when people couldn’t even fathom the idea of a woman fighting,” she replies defiantly. “Now people love to see a woman in a position of power, kicking ass. We’re tired of seeing the Latina as a maid, or the Latino as a gangster. We want something different. I think it’s important,” she laughs out loud, realizing what she’s about to say, “to create different stereotypes!”
  Evening has fallen on the set, and the empty Western streets and whitewashed pueblos grow more eerie. The night watchman, a weather-beaten Gypsy in dirty, stained clothes, approaches. “He’s deaf,” says Santiago. She puts her hand on his shoulder and speaks carefully so he can read her words of greeting. The Gypsy unlocks Colonel Montoya’s “office,” and Santiago explains that the period prop furniture is in fact a collection of antiques. The she opens a secret door built into a bookcase. As it swivels open, the deaf man laughs delightedly, for he never knew it was there. Tessie Santiago is delighted too.
  And as she laughs, you have a feeling, a sense — a revelation — that behind this Latina unknown, there is a star.

“Another Fine Tess” by Bob Ivry for STUFF Magazine. Photographs by Joe Chaves

From cracking a whip to taming wild stallions, Tessie Santiago reveals how she earned the title of TV’s Queen of Swords.

January 2001

Tessie headshot with dramatic blue necklace, STUFF Magazine Photo Story
Tessie in black bustier and high heels on chair, STUFF Magazine Photo Story
Tessie in pink vest and bikini, STUFF Magazine Photo Story
Tessie in black leather arched over sofa, STUFF Magazine Photo Story
Tessie in pink vest and bikini again, STUFF Magazine Photo Story
Tessie sprawled on sofa in black leather and bikini top, STUFF Magazine Photo Story
Tessie in tiger print bodysuit on chair, STUFF Magazine Photo Story
Tessie in ruffled pink halter, STUFF Magazine Photo Story

  Swords, leather whips, galloping horses, everything you need to build your own romance novel. Or a career, for that matter — especially if you’re Tessie Santiago, the star of the new syndicated TV series Queen of Swords.
  Last November, the 25-year-old brown-eyed, Cuban-American was plucked off the University of Miami campus to play aristocratic Teresa Alvarado on the show, which is a kind of female Zorro set in 19th century California. At the time, Tessie didn’t know swash from buckling; after all, parry-parry-thrusting and restraining wild broncos by their manes weren’t the skills she needed in 20th century Florida. But as the Queen of Swords, she can impair criminals with a steel blade and separate a bad guy from his gun with a flick of her pretty little wrist. Can she hold her own against the snorting mustang of our intense curiosity? Let’s Z...

STUFF: Just how tough are the women in your family?
TESSIE: You don’t want to mess with them. They came over from Cuba to escape Communism. My mother can fix cars, and my grandmother taught me that if someone at school hit me, I should fight back. They’re my role models for Queen of Swords.
What would Granny think of your pictures in Stuff?
She’d kill me. I could never show her these pictures!
What if I told you that a copy of this magazine was being delivered to her doorstep right this minute?
Oh, I guess it won’t matter. She doesn’t see very well anyway.
That’s sweet. Is it true that Queen of Swords is your first acting job?
My first professional job, yes. But I was the queen of student films while I was at the University of Miami.
Student films? Is that a euphemism for hard-core pornography?
You think I’d do something like that when I have to face my grandmother?
You landed Queen of Swords even though you’d never ridden a horse?
After I got the job, they sent me off to learn to ride, in Spain, where we tape the show. My horse took off on me once — which was great, because it’s a great feeling for a horse to gallop full force while you’re on him. To get him to stop I had to pull on his mane.
How adept are you with a whip?
I use it to save people when they fall of cliffs — I pull them to safety — or I disarm bad guys with it. Then I take it back to the dressing room with me.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Do you sleep with it? Do you call it “Bad girl”?
I was just kidding. I use the whip only on the show.
So you don’t take it with you to bars? You know — to meet guys?
Bars are not a good place to meat men. I prefer bookstores or libraries or coffeehouses — places where you can talk and hear each other.
So you like men with bad breath who overpay for froufrou coffee drinks?
I guess. The most important thing in a guy for me is smarts. He doesn’t have to be book smart — street smart will do. But I like someone who likes to learn, who wants to better himself.
I’m not asking for myself, necessarily, but you’d date a hideously disfigured man as long as he wanted to learn and he favored double-decaf cappuccinos?
Well, the truth is, all my boyfriends have been gorgeous.
Have they all been straight?
What do you mean?
I mean, how do you meet gorgeous, latte-quaffing straight guys if you don’t carry a whip?
I’m very confident. If I like a guy, I’ll just introduce myself. That’s what guys should do if they think they like me, just come over and say hello.
Hypothetically, how would I know if you took a liking to me?
I get pouty when I’m flirty. I pout a lot. It’s funny, because there are pictures of me pouting as a little girl. And I don’t do it consciously. The habit got worse when I wore braces. I was 20 and I had the clear kind. Guys didn’t even know I had them till I made a couple of them bleed.
Finally! I knew there was some S&M here somewhere!
Well, I am the queen of swords.

“Exclusive: Actor Peter Wingfield On ‘Highlander’ And ‘Queen Of Swords’” by Abbie Bernstein for iF Magazine

March 23 & 30, 2001

If one looks at his entire body of work, Peter Wingfield usually isn’t playing people who carry swords in independently-made productions — it just seems that way. He made such an indelible impression as the 5,000-year-old blade-wielding Immortal Methos on HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES that his character, initially conceived as a one-time guest, was written into the fabric of the show and then into the film HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME, released theatrically last year and now out on home video. Now Wingfield is voicing the character on the new flash-animation Internet series THE METHOS CHRONICLES, while co-starring as the similarly-armed (if less indestructible) Dr. Robert Helm in the syndicated action/adventure TV series QUEEN OF SWORDS.
  For that matter, there’s a direction connection between Methos and Helm, Wingfield explains in a phone interview. “David Abramowitz [QUEEN OF SWORDS originator and executive producer] was the creative consultant on HIGHLANDER. I first met him in ’95, when I started to play Methos. He was on a HIGHLANDER convention cruise [in November, 1999] and he said he’d like to have lunch and have a chat about a new project that he was just starting up. As yet, the series wasn’t financed, but he was pretty confident that at some point down the line, it was gonna happen.”
  QUEEN, as its title suggests, centers around a female masked avenger in 1800s California, but there are still plenty of male characters. “There were a couple of roles that [Abramowitz] was interested in talking to me about,” Wingfield says. “One of them was Dr. Helm, the character that I’m now playing. The other was actually Grisham [played by Anthony Lemke], the bad guy’s sidekick. At the convention, David Abramowitz actually managed to wangle round one of the questions that the audience asked, to asking people whether they thought I worked best as a good guy or a bad guy.”
  Wingfield laughs when asked what about the response. “It was very much split down the middle. Which I guess is a reflection on the Methos character. You never really knew with him which side of the line he came down on, and there were people who liked the character for his openness, sensitivity, his vulnerability, and there were people that liked the character when, in the flashbacks, you found out he was one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the baddest of all bad guys.”
  When one looks at the big picture, there’s something appropriate about the fact that Wingfield wound up as an integral part of the HIGHLANDER universe — both the actor and the franchise have singular histories.
  HIGHLANDER has one of the more unique sagas in the annals of entertainment. The mythology of sword-wielding Immortals now includes four feature films, an enormously popular live-action TV series that lasted six seasons, a less popular spin-off that lasted one season, and now a flash-animation web series, with overlapping characters and actors.
  Wingfield has had an unusual path of his own. True, there are other actors who, like Wingfield, have come onto a series to do a one-shot role and have proved so popular that eventually they are written into the regular cast. Fewer performers, however, wind up recreating their TV roles on the big screen. Fewer still — if any — trained to become doctors before making the switch to acting.
  “I went to university at Oxford,” the Wales-born Wingfield explains. “My first three years were not part of hospital training, they were the theoretical side. All the way through that, I was in a university with people who were doing English and history and classics, so I was doing a lot of acting then. I mean, I always had this idea that I could do both acting and be a doctor, which now, looking back at it, seems ludicrous. But a famed British director, Jonathan Miller, went to Cambridge — he was trained as a doctor, but then did lots of directing in opera and theatre, and he was always kind of held up as an idol to me, that you could be a doctor, but still have a serious involvement in the arts. Back in the ’50s [when Miller started], I think about maybe a third of the people in [show] business in England had actually been through any kind of drama school training. Everyone else had either been to university, or else they came in from some other branch of the business. These days, pretty much everybody — in England, certainly — goes to drama school. I think both professions, medicine and acting, are so demanding of your time and your life that you can’t really do what was possible 30 years ago — you can’t dabble.”
  Wingfield chose acting over medicine: “I felt much more fulfilled by it. I found medicine fascinating and lots of it was extraordinary in life experience terms, but I was never deeply fulfilled. What it demanded of me was my entire life, and I didn’t want to give my entire life to what it is — in real terms, hospital medicine is very political. I had an almost evangelical belief in the role of that doctor that should be not just a caregiver, but the font of all morality and goodness. It’s about sucking up to the right people and being at the right parties. All the kinds of things that I assumed would be true of acting — that you had to be known by the right people and be part of the in crowd — I found was exactly as true of medicine. My experience of medicine and acting is that all the things that I thought would be true of actors I found were actually more true of doctors. Certainly the self-centeredness, the ambition, the back-stabbing, it was all more true of medical students than of people in drama school. And the caring and the support of people around you and being a little sensitive to what people might need was more obvious in drama students than it was in medical students.”
  The time spent in medical school was nevertheless invaluable, Wingfield feels: “My whole way of viewing the world is different — I view everything very scientifically, that’s how I’ve been trained. In terms of experience, actually being part of delivering babies and being with people when they are told that they are going to die, those things become part of you.”
  These days, Wingfield is often called upon to portray doctors, including roles in the British series MEDICS and NOAH’S ARK (as a veterinarian). Now, of course, QUEEN’s Helm. Methos has also been a doctor in a few of his incarnations. Wingfield sees certain similarities between the two: “I have to say, when I read a couple of the [QUEEN] scripts, I thought, this could be Methos in one of his sojourns. You know, he has a lot of history. Maybe he’s spent 50 years in Southern California — this could just be one of his lives. I guess on some level [Helm] comes out of Methos and the ideas that [Methos] as a character sparked in David and indeed, some of the other [QUEEN] writers who were involved with HIGHLANDER.”
  However, there are also substantial differences between Methos and Helm, Wingfield points out. “They are very different people at heart. I mean, they are both a bit acidic in their wit. I think Helm uses it as a defense much more than Methos. Right deep down in his soul, Methos likes himself.
Whereas, right deep down, Helm does not like himself and will never forgive himself for what he has been. I don’t think Methos is ever really looking for that kind of forgiveness. I’m sure there were times where his past caught up with him and he has regrets, but fundamentally, he likes himself. He’s slept easy at night. [Helm] is running away from himself. he’s trying to lock his demons in a closet, push the closet over the White Cliffs of Dover and let it sink to the bottom of the English Channel and then run away where no one can remind him that it’s there.”
  The troubled aspect of Helm was one of the things that appealed to Wingfield. “When [Abramowitz] talked to me about the character, it became clear pretty quickly that the one that would be most interesting for me playing it, and for him writing it, was the doctor. He described the character as having the heart of a warrior and the soul of a poet, which reflected his mixed background of having been a very good soldier but a killer in a very straightforward, practical sense, and having had a kind of road to Damascus moment when he saw the pain of the mayhem that he left behind him on the battlefield and couldn’t take the guilt of it.”
  Abramowitz has said in interviews that he created the role of Helm for Wingfield. The actor says, “He certainly tried to structure the writing so that it would be difficult for them to cast anybody except me.”
  This didn’t stop some of the other producers from trying to do just that. “The audition process went on for months,” Wingfield recalls. “He had hoped that he could just offer me the part and that would be that, but really, neither of us ever thought that we’d get away with that. The people putting the money up would want to see what they were getting, so I did some [audition] scenes on tape in Vancouver in a studio. The tape went to various people and they said, ‘Yeah, but what would he be like working with [Tessie Santiago as] the Queen of Swords?’ So somewhere around February or March, I went down to L.A. and did some work with Tessie, who’d already been cast. I think they’d seen maybe 15 people on tape and they’d narrowed it down to me and one other guy. After that weekend, I heard that the other guy hadn’t got it, but also, I hadn’t got it, because they said I was clearly much older than her and that I looked too angular, my face was too thin, they thought my acting was too intense.
  “So they continued seeing people on tape throughout March and April, they kept not offering me the job but also not telling me that I definitely hadn’t got it. I was actually on my way to the airport to go [from Vancouver] to England when I got a call from Abramowitz saying, ‘You can’t tell anybody this, but I think they’re going to offer you the job.’ Over the next 40 minutes, I had many phone calls from my agent, their lawyers, their producers, and finally the offer was confirmed. This was a Wednesday and I had to be in Spain to start filming the Monday 10 days later. So having known about the job and theoretically been offered it seven months before filming started, I finally had about three days to get everything organized to go and ship my family to Spain for much of the year. All the great ideas — if I’m going to do this job, I’d learn to horse-ride properly, I’d get a tan and I’d go to the gym and I’d be in good condition — yeah, forget it. Turn up, learn the lines on set.”

The Spanish horses on QUEEN OF SWORDS posed a particular kind of challenge for their human co-stars. “The horses there are fantastic,” HIGHLANDER co-star Peter Wingfield enthuses. “I’m told by people who know about these things that it’s like the difference between driving a Ford pick-up and driving a Ferrari. What I’m most aware of is how intelligent these horses are. Whenever you’re filming anything, the horse within two rehearsals knows where its marks are. And you have a hell of a job if you change the shot for any reason and you want the horse to go somewhere else, ’cause the horse just keeps looking at you: ‘No, this is where I start when they say “Action,” and then I gallop down there, and I stop on this mark when they say, “Cut.” That’s what it is.’
  “My horse [in the series], Unico, just finds the whole thing a game,” Wingfield elaborates. “There was a bit where I had to ride up to someone’s house, stop and get off the horse. Unico gathers where the start and where the stop point is and then, to amuse himself, plays this game of trying every time to get from A to B faster than he did the previous time. You have a limited number of takes, because it’s becoming dangerous. He gallops at breakneck speed, and then screeches to a halt, practically throwing me over his head. There was a scene in a previous episode where Tessie comes riding in, I run and jump on the back of her horse and we gallop out together. You get one go at that, because you don’t get to rehearse it. Because if you bring the horse in and I run up and jump onto its back, the next time that the horse comes in, he knows that I’m coming. As soon as he sees me, he moves away, because he doesn’t like somebody jumping onto his back. They’re too intelligent for their own good, frankly.”
  Working with humans can be a bit hazardous, too. “I’ve had a couple of swordfights [in QUEEN],” Wingfield reveals, “but I’ve also had a fistfight, the first one I’ve done on film. I’ve done fistfights on stage, but I have a shirt-off fistfight with Anthony Lemke, which was very, very tough. It took us five hours to film it.”
  It’s easier to fake sword blows than punches, according to Wingfield. “With a swordfight, you can swing the blade and your opponent can put up the blade and block it. Fistfights, there are some punches that you simply cannot fake without making contact. A punch to the stomach, you have to hit, ’cause otherwise it shows that you didn’t connect. A punch in the face, if you get the angle right, the angle will sell it, but a punch to the stomach has to connect.” Wingfield says that a mistake in a fistfight doesn’t carry quite the potential for catastrophe as a swordfight error. “But I tell you, a swinging fist carries a lot of power. It hurt sufficiently that you had to stop filming for a little while just to recoup.”
  Dr. Helm also gets into a few faceoffs with the local law, personified by Col. Montoya, who is played by Valentine Pelka — who appeared on HIGHLANDER as Kronos, one of Methos’ brothers-in-arms from the bad old days. “We’ve had some really nice stuff to do [on QUEEN],” Wingfield says. “There’s an absolutely conscious decision on the part of David and the other writers to try and build a strong relationship — almost antagonism, but also based in healthy respect between my character and Valentine’s, so that we have a strong dynamic that we can play.”
  Wingfield won’t say whether or not he and Pelka have any sword duels. “That would be telling. I certainly have a sword to his throat on one occasion and a gun to his head on another.” Asked if this indicates the “healthy respect” of which he speaks, Wingfield laughs. “Yes, absolutely. Why say it with weapons when you can say it with a loaded pistol?”
  The Spanish locations of QUEEN made a big impression on Wingfield and his fellow performers. “The nearest good-sized town is Almeria. From there, you drive north into the desert for 45 minutes, and it becomes more and more barren. The set is actually an entire village built for the spaghetti westerns, which we now have taken over. It’s fantastic, because rather than just have a couple of flats that you have to, ‘Okay, if we don’t walk too far in this direction, we can make it look like a street,’ you actually have an entire town square and a church and five or six streets. You can turn round and there is a street there. It’s really exciting working there.   “There’s an English guy, still in drama school, this is his first job ever — we were doing a scene inside my office and then he goes out the door and runs off down the street — there’s another camera out there, picking him up. He came back after the take: ‘I couldn’t believe it — the streets are full of Mexican peasants.’ He is used to working in theatre, where you have to imagine all the stuff and as soon as you step off the stage, there’s nothing there except 20th century life. He’d run out through the door expecting that to be there. Instead, he was in 1817 in Southern California.”
  The sensation of stepping into the past also came with the Bucharest, Romania locations of HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME. “Beautiful place, wonderful people,” Wingfield muses, “really tough place to live. I was only there a couple of weeks, it wasn’t especially arduous for me, but [the citizens] are trying to pull themselves out of a very difficult period, and the infrastructure in the country is really not up to it yet. There are so many things that we take completely for granted here that are just not possible, simple things. I was trying to send flowers to someone, but picking the phone up, calling the florist and then delivering some flowers simply doesn’t exist.”
  Even delivering actors to the ENDGAME set proved tricky on one occasion, Wingfield recalls. “The way things normally run is that the actors get picked up and taken to the location by the union drivers. This happens because actors simply can’t be trusted to wake up in time or find the location if they’re left to themselves. However, on that particular scene, we got up at five in the morning to be on the road at six, to be out at location when the sun rose, to start filming. Six o’clock, there’s no one there to pick us up, seven o’clock — all the rest of the crew are standing around in the hotel foyer, no sign of any of the drivers. In the end, they just called a taxi and they must have just told the taxi driver, ‘Take them to the cemetery,’ because he drove us around for half an hour, and finally we gathered that he didn’t know which cemetery we were supposed to be going to.”
  Finding a cemetery didn’t end the adventure. “We finally drove into this very ornate, Gothic, completely abandoned cemetery,” Wingfield continues, “no one else there. The guy stops the cab and leaves Jim [Byrnes, reprising his HIGHLANDER TV role as mortal Joe Dawson] in the back and just walks away into the mist. It’s like a scene out of THE GODFATHER. You kept expecting people to just leap up from behind the tombstones and open fire with automatic rifles. I called my family back in Vancouver, laughing hysterically, because it was so bizarre: ‘This is where I last was, this is where to start the search.’ We were not terribly far away from where we were supposed to be, so [the taxi driver] wandered off and finally must’ve found the [film] unit. And so they came back on foot to find us and then Jim and I had to walk from where we were through a forest for about 10 minutes to find the set.”
  This was no mean feat, as Byrnes is a double amputee with prosthetic legs. “Jim is incredibly able,” Wingfield notes, “but it’s on uneven terrain. Things are not easy for him and to his enormous credit, he remained very calm about the whole thing. I have met actors with two perfectly good legs who would have made a lot more fuss than he did.”
  One aspect of the shoot that was not difficult was returning to the character of Methos. “I’ve always loved playing Methos,” Wingfield states, “I always had a good time when I did HIGHLANDER. I have never been bored by playing Methos — that is always the risk of playing a character in serial television, that you tend to play the same story over and over again. I never felt that with Methos, I always feel that there is more to be explored. I’m pleased to see him again.”
  The actor doesn’t draw a distinction between playing the character for TV or theatrical features. “When I’m filming television or film, I always ask what the size of the shot is, whether it’s just on your eyes or whether it’s your whole body. I vary the intensity of what I’m doing according to [the size of the shot] on the screen. It’s about how much of you is [in the shot]. If you’re doing incredibly subtle, delicate stuff with your eyes, but you’re actually full-length in the shot, then the fact that the shot is 30, 40 feet tall — it still doesn’t read. It’s much more useful in terms of technique to know what the shot is than whether it’s for film or television. In theatre, you always know how big the ‘shot’ is, because it’s always the same.”
  Wingfield has since had the opportunity to explore Methos still further in THE METHOS CHRONICLES, a flash-animation series from Davis-Panzer Productions made specifically for the Internet, premiering at themethoschronicles.net.
  CHRONICLES producer/writer Josh Davis (son of DPP’s co-chief Peter Davis) is excited about the show’s potential. “It occurred to me that we would be able to do this on the Internet as a kind of test,” Davis says, “to see not only the reaction we would get from the community at large, but playing with ideas, a forum for experimenting with the character of Methos, an opportunity for us to really expand his character and look at the history of Methos in a way that was accessible.’”
  It also permits an ultimate degree of production independence, Davis elaborates. “Being able to do animation allows us to do it in our office. It allows us to have complete control over it, which is something that you don’t have when you go on location and deal with other companies and productions. The set and locations are modern Tokyo, ancient Egypt, modern Egypt, Cairo — we move all over the world. We have a group of both traditional animators, from New York, and flash animators, from the Pacific Northwest. This type of animation [flash] is only a year old, so what we’re doing is cutting-edge; there’s not much else out there.”
  So far, THE METHOS CHRONICLES consists of nine 90-second to two-minute Webisodes, which will premiere at themethoschronicles.net. Davis says the response will dictate what happens next. “We’re very excited about having a new medium and a new avenue to explore the characters of the HIGHLANDER legend, so if it does move forward, we would look into everything possible. We hope to create an online community, a place for HIGHLANDER on the web.”
  Having a Methos series without Wingfield as Methos is clearly unthinkable. Wingfield therefore provides the character’s voice. Davis, who wrote all of THE METHOS CHRONICLES, says, “I see Methos as an enigmatic, constantly changing and evolving character. When you’ve been around for 5,000 years, you can’t just be one person throughout time. That’s what makes him so fascinating.”
  In both QUEEN OF SWORDS and METHOS CHRONICLES, Wingfield plays characters who have, to a large degree, been tailored for him. “I think it’s a mixed blessing when someone writes for you,” the actor says, “because oftentimes, other people’s perceptions of who you are and how you relate to the world is not how you see yourself. You have to get away from the idea that what they’ve written is you, because it isn’t, it’s a character. And in many ways, it’s easier to play a character who’s very different from you. You can kind of sit down and list all the things that are not like you, and it gives you freedom. You don’t become self-conscious about betraying your deepest, darkest thoughts. Whereas the closer [a character] gets to you, the harder it is to reveal yourself and be relaxed and not think, ‘If I behave like this, will people not like me any more?’ If the character is specifically written for you, there is always that fear at some subconscious level that if the character is not popular or does things that people say are terrible, that what they’re actually saying is that you’re a terrible person.”
  Fortunately, Wingfield doesn’t think this is the case with Helm in QUEEN OF SWORDS. “I think we have a fundamental connection, but I don’t see him as being me in any more a sense than I see Montoya as being Valentine. I think because [Abramowitz] knows us very well after all these years of working on HIGHLANDER and also knows me from social connections, what he’s done is written to my strengths as an actor, rather than write the story of me as a person in a different time. There have been some brilliant scripts. I’m very proud of this show.”
  Wingfield has recurring roles on STARGATE SG-1 (as an alien) and the new Showtime series THE CHRIS ISAAK SHOW (as an auctioneer). QUEEN is still in first-run, though it has not been picked up for a second season. As for Methos, it’s likely that Wingfield will return as long as there’s a call for the 5,000-year-old man in any media. “I’ve always felt happy to see him again — and he to see me.”

“Queen of Swords’ killed” by Chris Pursell for Crain Communications, Inc

April 30, 2001

A year’s reign was enough for Paramount Domestic Television’s “Queen of Swords.” The Chris-Craft Industries stations opted not to renew the weekly action hour, and the plug will be pulled on the series. “Queen of Swords” holds a 1.3 season-to-date household rating and a 0.7 score in adults 18 to 49. Most recently the series pulled a 1.1 weekly rating for producer Mercury Entertainment and distributor Paramount.
  “We always enjoyed the series but felt that the effort required to wait for audiences to find the show would consume too much time and resources to justify bringing it back for another year,” said one program director of a Chris-Craft station in a major market. The move increases the number of holes the Chris-Craft station group needs to fill in weekend scheduling... The Chris-Craft group has, however, signed on the upcoming Mercury/Lions Gate hour “Tracker” [starring Adrian Paul of HIGHLANDER] to fill one spot.
  “Queen of Swords” starred Tessie Santiago as a masked heroine in early California. The series was shot in Spain in conjunction with Fireworks Entertainment. Episodes will continue to run through the end of the season.
  “It is highly unlikely that the series will return for another go-round,” confirmed one Paramount executive.

Articles Hosted on External Sites

Queen of Swords: A TV Series Review by Michael Shonk

February 6, 2016
READ REVIEW: http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=38308

Anthony Lemke: Interview by Steve Eramo

November 16, 2016
READ INTERVIEW: https://scifiandtvtalk.typepad.com/scifiandtvtalk/

TV Zone Magazine: Interviews with Peter Wingfield & Valentine Pelka by Steve Eramo

February 2001
READ ARTICLE: Being Many Things, a Peter Wingfield site

Sung Hi Lee: The actor posted her experiences working on the episode: “The Dragon”

October 25 & November 9, 2000
READ DIARY: sung-hi.com (auto-archived)

The Methos Mystique: Interview with Peter Wingfield by Lyria Wollich

READ ARTICLE: Highlander Fan Central

Tessie Santiago / Anthony Lemke: Paramount.com Q&A

Summer 2000 / November 2000
READ INTERVIEWS: https://www.thequeenofswords.net/interviews/