Elizabeth Gracen is an actress, director, author, and the winner of Miss America in 1982. Many know her best for her role as Amanda Darieux, the femme fatale antihero from Highlander: The Series and Highlander: The Raven. Most recently, she has created independent films as the founder of Flapper Films and published her first novel, Shalilly, with Flapper Press.
Ms. Gracen was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about her part in Highlander and her transition from acting to other projects. The first part of the interview is below.
You came into Highlander: The Series as a guest star in Season 1’s “The Lady and the Tiger.” Were you cast with an eye only toward the one episode, or was there some indication that the role might become something more?
I was called by one of the producers of The Death of the Incredible Hulk (which was my first big television gig – with the great Bill Bixby!) to see if I might be interested in playing an immortal jewel thief who was over a thousand years old – the job would be in Paris. How could I refuse, right?
When I arrived in Paris, I was quickly immersed in this fantastic world of Highlander. I had wonderful costumes, a great backstory and immediate on-camera chemistry with Adrian Paul. We had a blast, and I fell into the character of Amanda pretty quickly.
Maybe it’s a good sign when you have that much fun playing a character, but I didn’t expect to ever hear from the good folks of Highlander again. I thought it was a one off gig – like most guest starring roles.
I think it was about 6 months later that they called me back and told me that the character had taken off with the fan base. They invited me back, and we had just as much fun on the second episode. I think that is the one where I sang a cabaret number. It was a dream role to get to do all those fun things!
I always say this, and I stand by it – my experience with the Highlander franchise was the best job I’ve ever had. I’m very grateful and lucky to have had that opportunity.
How much did the character change to fit your personality? Was the Amanda of the original script pretty much what we saw on screen, or did she change after you were cast?
I honestly don’t know what they envisioned for the role of Amanda, and I don’t know how much it changed once I stepped into her shoes. I just know that I “got it” – meaning I understood who she was. She was a great mix of survival skill, manipulation and wicked humor. I don’t know what that says about me, but there you go!
Every time I received a Highlander script (the first thing you actually do is check the back of the script to see if you’ve kept your head by the end of the episode!), it always seemed right in line with what I had created. I think it was just one of those things where the writers and the actor knew what to do with the character. That didn’t really change until Highlander: The Raven.
Unlike most other immortals in the series, Amanda was a thief first and a fighter second. Do you think gender politics played any role in that decision? Did you ever want more chances to take some heads in the series?
Not sure about any of that. I was never a good fighter, so it was fine with me. I always thought that Amanda got by on her wits more than anything. She was a street urchin during the Plague, so she is a scrappy character who is constantly weighing the odds. She isn’t going to pick a fight or get involved unless she really has to.
By the time we got to Highlander: The Raven, I had to fight a lot. It was pretty grueling. I seldom had a chance to rest. By the end of that series, I was fighting at least one fight an episode, which means you are learning the choreography during your breaks in between scenes. I have a lot of respect for Adrian Paul – who is a great swordsman. He had to fight all the time for many seasons – that is a lot of work.
The Season 2 episode “Legacy” gave us our first real glimpse into Amanda’s history, introducing her mentor and establishing that she was well over 1,000 years old. How did the introduction of her past change the way you played her in future episodes?
Legacy is one of my favorite episodes because it does give us a glimpse into Amanda’s past. We shot in a tiny village outside of Paris. It was incredibly cold. The set was fantastic! Mud, dirt, fake dead animals all over the place – perfect.
The best part about that episode was my relationship with Amanda’s mentor, Rebecca, played beautifully by Nadia Cameron. We hit it off immediately and had great fun with our scenes. It really cemented the character for me. You see her first real love – not a sexual relationship per se – but, Amanda’s heart. She adored Rebecca. I think that episode humanized the character and gave you sense of what she had endured over the centuries.
Season 3’s “Finale” brings Amanda and Methos together for the first time in the series. Despite the fact that Methos, the world’s oldest immortal, keeps his true identity hidden from just about everyone, there’s never a revelation scene between him and Amanda. They just sort of pal around, and Methos even quips that if MacLeod dies, Amanda will be free to date. Was this an oversight by the writers, or was there some explanation for their camaraderie that got left out of the final episode?
I don’t know if it was an oversight to not establish a stronger Methos/Amanda relationship. In my mind, they just really liked each other. Amanda’s nature is to flirt – it’s part of her survival mechanism. She doesn’t really trust anyone but Duncan, so I think she was always a little wary of Methos in those episodes. However, I think they actually were attracted to each other, but would never follow through with anything as long as Duncan was around. We toyed with that idea when we made Reunion with Methos, Joe and Amanda years later.
I always begged for them to bring Peter Winfield into Highlander: The Raven. I think there was a missed opportunity there with Methos and Amanda. He had a strong fan following, and he is such a great actor and fun to work with.
You finally got added to Highlander’s opening credits in Season 6, but only appeared in the two-part series finale. Were there plans to feature you more that got dropped?
I have no idea how that credit situation all went down. I know the last season was all about finding the spin-off for the series. They tried a lot of things before they came back around to me. If I’m not mistaken, that season was also a short one. I doubt they had plans for me other than what I participated in. More than likely, in their minds, Amanda was hooked with Duncan. They probably never considered me for the spin-off until they experimented with a lot of female characters.
In one of the Highlander blooper reels, you and Peter Wingfield wind up cracking up several times because if Duncan dies, “We get our own show!” You, at least, finally did get your own show with Highlander: The Raven, but there were a lot of troubles going on behind the scenes. Based on reports, you were being hounded as part of a probe into Bill Clinton’s affairs, were dating someone who claimed to be the US ambassador to the Cayman Islands, and had tensions with your co-star, Paul Johansson. How many of those rumors are true, and what was it like trying to handle all that while also stepping into a starring role?
Okay, well, that is all very complicated. I know that you’ve watched the behind the scenes film for the Highlander: The Raven series, so you have some of it right in your assessment. It was a crazy making time for me. I was living with a conman, a real sociopath who may or may not have been involved with getting me mixed up, even more, with the Clinton situation. It was so stressful, trying to figure out what was true and what was fiction. (I will probably never really know what went down). I’ll save all the details for my memoir (!), but suffice it to say that, because of the personal stresses going on in my real life, I was paranoid and under constant threat (perceived or otherwise) during the series.
You have it wrong that I thought Paul was some sort of spy. (Interviewer’s note: this is in reference to something I wrote on the Screamsheet, where I did indeed make that erroneous statement.) I think at the time I perceived him as someone who was trying to take control of the show’s narrative from the start. That may have been real. That’s just the way it goes sometimes between co-stars. I wanted the show to be more about the Highlander myth, he wanted his own cop show. It was not a good dynamic. It’s so much better to trust the person you’re playing opposite of – so much easier! We spoke a year after everything went down and sort of cleared the decks. We were civil and laughed that we had somehow gotten through it.
It’s funny – as difficult as it was to work on a show under those circumstances – it was a saving grace for me. It was a distraction for me to get to work, to step out of myself into a character. I also contend, that as flawed as the show was, we still pulled out some good episodes and created an unusual dynamic between the main characters. It’s really pretty amazing to me. I’m proud of the work I did on that show.
The Raven gave Amanda a boost in her sword-fighting ability and had her pick a lot more fights instead of using her wiles to avoid them. Do you think this was a positive change for the character?
I think I sort of answered most of this question earlier, but I do think it was a necessary change for Amanda’s character to be directly involved in more fight scenes. The whole problem with changing a wily, slightly amoral character into a hero is that a necessary shift has to occur before that character can take a head at the end of practically every episode. It was something we wrestled with – how to make Amanda a believable hero. I think we sort of made that necessary shift, but it took a lot of the familiar sense of fun and carefree nature out of her character. You have to make sacrifices, eh?
As for the fight scenes… I think La Femme Nikita was on around the same time as Highlander: The Raven, so the world was just getting used to kickass female characters as leads of a series. I’m pretty proud of the fact that we were the forerunners of those types of characters. Within a couple of years after that, you had the wonderful Jennifer Garner looking so badass. There are still not enough women in roles like that, but there are some pretty good ones! Black Widow, Jessica Jones and the new Wonder Woman is going to rock! We just have to keep going!
When it first began, The Raven sort of shied away from the story of immortals, with a lot of episodes playing out more like a typical detective show. As the series neared the end of its first season, it seemed to veer back toward something that was more in line with the previous series. Is this just my imagination, or was there a behind-the-scenes shift that changed the tone of the series?
I think the investors (and there were investors from many different countries involved) finally realized that it was the Highlander myth that held the appeal for the hardcore fans and the new fans. From the start of Highlander: The Raven I contended that it was the whole immortal, romantic, fantasy element that would make the show great. It just took them awhile to figure out that the world didn’t need another cop show. The world needed, and still needs, romance, fantasy, magic.
It also helped that we moved to France for the last half of the series. You have amazing locations that lend themselves to easy flashback scenes. It makes it easier on the writers too.
The Raven ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, with your co-star becoming immortal and going off on his own. Were there plans for a second season, or was it clear that the show would end on that note?
Once again, I don’t know the answer to these behind the scenes situations. I think every series wants a second season, but it just wasn’t in the cards. No matter what the series is, it is hard to roll it into that second season. A lot of stars must align to make it happen.
We had a few too many difficulties to deal with. As much as I wish I could still be playing Amanda, it would have been even more disastrous for me on a personal level. I was already in the midst of my world imploding. There is no telling what kind of damage that would have been done to me if the show had continued. By the end of the summer after the first season of Highlander: The Raven, I had to declare bankruptcy and cobble together my life amidst the ruin. I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to helm another season.
Check out part two of the interview here!
Image: Elizabeth Gracen