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. Part one of the interview can be found here. The second part, which delves into her post-acting career, is below.
After The Raven, the Highlander franchise got two movies: Endgame and The Source. Those films brought back Duncan, Joe, and Methos, but were notably lacking in Amanda. Was there ever any discussion of your inclusion in those films, or had that ship sailed?
You know, it took many years before the producers/owners of the franchise would allow for a television/film crossover. There was some sort of film snobbery involved, in my opinion. The television show was so much better than the film sequels. I don’t know why they didn’t get Adrian involved sooner. He could have made something fab out of it all. Because of the philosophy of how the franchise should be handled, it never crossed my mind that a minor character like Amanda would ever be part of a film. It’s a man’s world, baby. The Highlander franchise is no different. You need lots of female characters for the male character to rescue, charm and bed. It is sort of the James Bond template.
Given the critical and financial failure of the last two Highlander movies, do you feel like you dodged a bullet of sorts by not being in them?
I loved seeing Adrian on the big screen as MacLeod. I wish he could have done more. Highlander has always had an unwieldy grasp on the narrative structure of the films. So much potential. David Abromowitz, the head writer for series, had a clear vision of the myth and the journey that needed to made for the hero. There were just too many other fingers in the pie to make the films work.
If they’d have asked me to be a part of it all, I would have gladly participated. I’ll always jump at the chance to play Amanda.
In 2008, you, Peter Wingfield, and Jim Byrnes got back together for a short Highlander reunion film. How did this project come to be, and what was it like to step back into a role you had left behind almost a decade ago?
I’m not sure how that whole project came to be. I actually think I had something to do with it. I’m a somewhat obnoxious “idea” person, so I may have run it by Peter Davis and David. We tried to make it work, but that was fledgling webseries days. If they could have found a way to monetize it, we may have continued.
I won’t repeat myself too many times, but as I said, I’ll jump at the chance to play Amanda! It’s always fun to step into her shoes and see what happens. We got to play with the whole Methos/Amanda relationship a little – which was fun.
Funny story, for some reason, it was decided that Amanda should be “dirty” after her fight (off screen). I remember walking into Peter and David and exclaiming, something like, “Look at me! Amanda has never been this dirty in her life – except when she was a street urchin. This has to be wiped off, yes?” We had a good laugh and realized that Amanda was one of the “magical” immortals who never broke a sweat or got dirt under her fingernails. Ahhh… fantasy.
The Highlander reunion project had no on-screen sword fights or special effects to speak of, but it garnered positive reviews from fans despite that fact. What do you think makes that film so appealing to fans of the franchise?
I had no idea that the reunion project garnered positive reviews from the fans. That is nice to hear. I’m sure they just liked seeing those characters again. Highlander has a devoted fan base – fantastic people. It’s the romance, the fantasy, the history, the moral compass… you can never go wrong with the hero’s adventure.
There’s been a Highlander reboot in the works for years now. If Amanda were to get rebooted in the modern era, what changes do you think we would see? How does today’s view of a strong, independent heroine differ from the role you played in the 90s?
I would be so jealous if they rebooted Amanda. Ha! I think that she would need to be a much better fighter. There are just too many amazing fight scenes on film and tele now to have her be anything less than stellar with the sword. Her character is actually a lot like Black Widow in how she manipulates her surroundings to get what she needs. That could be developed even more to make her a stronger character. She would still be in a ‘man’s world,’ so she would use her arsenal of skills. All of that could be developed. I think Amanda is already complex, but her assets could be enhanced and honed to make her a great female character.
After the early 2000s, you transitioned out of TV and founded Flapper Films, which creates inspirational films and works in collaboration with the Lineage Dance Company. Could you talk about what Flapper Films does and what inspired you to move in this direction?
After I had a child – I was forty-four at the time – I really had a few years to ponder what I wanted to do with my life. Even before I got pregnant, I really didn’t have the drive it takes to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. I’d started to write when I was pregnant, and I spent a lot of time walking a beautiful park while my daughter was in half days at a kindergarten. A good friend of mine had moved into directing and encouraged me to do the same. I just knew that I needed a focus. I didn’t want to be a ‘jobbing’ director. I was more interested in creating my own content.
Luckily, around that time, I met a really talented choreographer/dancer named Hilary Thomas. We “fell in love” pretty quickly as artists and started collaborating on all sorts of projects. Her work as the owner of the Lineage Dance Company – a non-profit modern dance company that brings awareness to other charities and has a general mission of bringing the arts to everyone – was a real inspiration to me and provided a guiding light toward creating meaningful content that educates and inspires. I have a real interest in authenticity and how we discover and cultivate that in ourselves. My focus is primarily on multi-generational women, but I’ve just started another project on the world of cosplay. I think I’m drawn to the essence of creativity and expression.
Currently, I’ve just finished a documentary short called Dance for Joy, which celebrates the amazing work that is being done in the healing movement classes for people with Parkinson’s. The Mark Morris Dance Company in New York and the Lineage Dance Company in California have been doing these classes for almost 10 years. The film follows one of the class members and her wonderful relationship with one of the young instructors of the class. I just submitted it to a handful of festivals, and it’s already received an award from a documentary short festival here in LA.
I’ve also started a documentary short of Lee Meriwether! She is also a former Miss America, but has had a terrific career and life in Hollywood. I spent time with her this summer and did a series of interviews. I envision it as the first of a series of short films on amazing women over 70!
What are you able to do with Flapper Films that you wouldn’t be able to do through traditional television or film?
I define myself as a creative person – an artist. I’ve worked in a lot of mediums – filmmaking is just of them. As a visual person, it suits my sensibilities quite well. I’m not compelled to be a director for hire. My projects are usually out of the box in terms of how they are categorized. I do have a couple of feature scripts that I would like to direct, but for the moment, I work in a hybrid form. Some of the work is documentary, some are dances for camera – some of it falls in between narrative and documentary. “Doing my own thing” affords me the opportunity to develop as a filmmaker and express what is in my heart and mind. My hopes are to get major funding for some of my projects in the future, but part of me retracts from the idea, because I’m such a control freak. I hate the idea of having to compromise on vision or execution. We’ll see what happens over the next couple of years. I’m a work in progress.
In addition to Flapper Films, you also created Flapper Press, which published your debut novel Shalilly. What is Shalilly about and what sets it apart from other fantasy novels on the market today?
I self-published Shalilly this summer, and it made sense to just start my own publishing company. I’m re-launching the site in the next week as an eCommerce site – the home of art, ideas and unique merchandise. I’ll be promoting my books as well as other authors, but my main focus is on becoming a portal for one of a kind and limited edition art, jewelry, accessories, skin care products, etc. There will also be many blogs from a variety of people with unique ideas and perspectives. I’m very excited about it. I love supporting other artists and want to do all I can to promote their work.
As for my first YA fantasy novel, Shalilly – It’s all about a young misfit mystic from Archaic Greece who desperately wants to become an oracle. Her life, however, takes a strange turn, and she finds herself traveling through a portal to another dimension to bring a young warrior back to Earth before love is annihilated from the cosmos. The only problem is, when she travels through the portal, she is transformed into a butterfly girl called the Shalilly.
The book has an unusual story structure with shades of Shaharazad. It is very romantic and has a strong animal rights angle to it as well. It’s a real coming age story about a young woman who discovers the truth of her own heart and what compassion really means.
As for what makes it different from other fantasies on the market today – you’ll just have to read it to find out!
How does writing a novel compare to your previous roles as a model, actress, and director? What is it like working in a non-visual medium for a change?
To me, the work I’ve done as a creative person is all somehow connected. Every medium informs the other medium. It’s a collective expression that grows as I mature. I try to make everything count, and that means calling on the work before it – whether it’s as an actress, filmmaker, painter, etc. Writing books and scripts allow me to express visually as well. Shalilly is incredibly visual. It is illustrated by a wonderful artist named Luca di Napoli. He really brought my words to life in a way I could have never done on my own. I’m so happy with what he’s done.
One last question: I’ve seen pictures of both you and Adrian Paul, and you both look almost exactly the same as you did in the mid-90s. Are you really immortals?
Ha! You’re polishing my apples now! Thank you for your kind words. Adrian does look good, doesn’t he? I’ve pretty excited about the upcoming Highlander event in Florida in December. About a month ago, I had an idea that Adrian and I should write letters to each other as Duncan and Amanda to perform at the event – a la Love Letters. We’re almost finished with our script and will start rehearsals in the next week or so. It will be fun to act with him again – to be creative with him. We’ve always enjoyed working together. Adrian and I are very evenly matched in terms of work ethic, and we’re very comfortable with our characters and with working together. I plan to publish the Duncan & Amanda Letters through Flapper Press too, so stay tuned!
Thank you very much Ms. Gracen for sharing your thoughts in such details and taking the time to answer these questions!
Images: Elizabeth Gracen