Interview: Alexandra TydingsSeptember 20, 2019
Recently we had the chance to talk to Alexandra Tydings about her acting career, including her roles on Hercules and Xena from the 90’s TV series and her new film What Death Leaves Behind.
Was acting something you always wanted to do or did you fall into, like a happy accident?
Alexandra: Both, actually. I started dancing when I was younger than I could even remember and I more than loved it, that was the language that my body spoke and because of that I began performing, completely loved acting. So I did a lot of dancing when I was really young and when I was in college I studied filmmaking and film theory and had kind of forgotten about acting, I was more interested in making things, and I was also in bad, and through that I ended up performing again, mostly because my friends would put me in their movies and stuff so I kind of fell back into it when I was in college and remembered that I really loved it and realized I was having a really good time. I started thinking of it seriously by the end of my junior year and someone gave me a great piece of advice, a filmmaker I knew, and he said if you’re actually thinking about doing this then before you graduate college why don’t you take a class, think about actually giving it a real shot? (Laughs)
So I did that, I went to NYU for summer school during my junior and senior year, and I was in a class for actors for film and I friend of mine was taking a film making class and she put me in her final film. I don’t know if you remember him but Tom Hulce, he was one of my favorite actors, he played Amadeus in the movie Amadeus and he was interested in directing, so he had signed up for a filmmaking class at NYU that summer, so he ended up working with my friend, they were in the same class and she had cast me as the lead in her final film and he was working on her film as a classmate. That was so wild, I was twenty years old, acting, and Tom Hulce was part of the crew. He came up to me after one of the shoots and said, are you really serious about acting, about giving it a shot, I said yeah, I am, and he said, well then, you should give it a shot. I always remember that, keep it tucked away in my back pocket, for whenever I get frustrated.
You mentioned you were in a band. It’s amazing how many actors I talk to that have some kind of musical background. Do you think there’s a connection between the two?
Alexandra: I do, I definitely do. The sound we make with our voices is musical, poetic and the movement we make with our body is dance at its best, and that’s all actors have to work with, our voice, our body, our emotions, and imagination. Actually, it’s a lot when you add it up that way. (Laughs) We don’t have a piano or a drum set, all we have is our voice and our emotions, so it makes sense that people, who have committed their lives to explore the kind of art you can make with just those two things would take it as far as they can. Also, music is just amazing, isn’t it?
You’ve done a lot of work on television. Is that your favorite medium to work in or was that simply going where the work took you?
Alexandra: It was simply going where the work took me, to be totally honest. The reason most of us want to do the job we did is because they cast us. (Laughs) Television was my first love as a little girl, I loved and I loved Charlie’s Angels, loved it. We grew up in Washington D.C., my mom grew up in California and had lived in LA, and one time we went out to LA to visit and I got to go to the set of Charlie’s Angels and watch them film and I thought it was the greatest thing ever, I wanted to work in television, be on Charlie’s Angels! As I got older, however, I got much more interested in film, especially art house, independent film, European films, stuff like that, which is what I really had my heart set on when I went to LA. Of course, that was exactly the opposite of what I got handed to me, most of which was TV work. Now there is really not that much of a difference, as we’ve seen what is possible on Amazon and Netflix, and I think right now we’re in the golden age of TV. To think about having so many episodes to explore a character instead of two hours, that’s phenomenal, there is so much you can do with all that time.
In the late ’90s, early 2000’s, you were part of both TV series Hercules and Xena. What was that experience like?
Alexandra: Oh, that was so much fun, so lovely. When I auditioned it was just for Hercules and just for one episode, and then I found out that they were shooting in New Zealand so that just made it the thing I wanted to do more than anything else…not professionally, of course, I just wanted to go to New Zealand. (Laughs) When I got the script, my agents didn’t tell me anything about it, and I only had a vague notion of Hercules from when I was a kid, so I thought it was going to be a straight-ahead action drama, then I read the script and Aphrodite’s first line was ‘Tubular!’, and so I was very confused. I called my agent and asked if this was a comedy and she said no, it’s campy, tongue in cheek, just have a fun time and go for it, so I did and we just had such a blast. I really didn’t know that fantasy genre very much and one of the things that was so fun about it was the writers were really able to be imaginative with what they did, so along the way I got to live in alternate universes, be in people’s nightmares, be part of different versions of Cinderella, it was so much fun.
There were really strong women characters, especially on Xena. Do you think women are getting better-written characters these days or is there still a lot of work to do in that area?
Alexandra: Both, I think both. I think there are interesting characters happening for women these days, I think we’ve really grown up as a culture, even in the last ten years. I’m a mother now, I have three daughters, and sometimes we’ll watch an old show together and my kids will get a little confused and they’ll turn to me and say, is that a racist or homophobic joke and I’ll say, yeah, it kind of is and that’s what people could get away with, not that long ago, and it just doesn’t fly anymore. Sure, we still have a long way to go, no question, but I am excited to see where that leads.
Now how did you get involved with the film What Death Leaves Behind?
Alexandra: I love that question. With What Death Leaves Behind, I got that part in my favorite way I love getting a part…which was a phone call and someone saying, would you like this part? (Laughs) I knew Derek Morton, whose one of the producers, I knew him from before and he knew I was an actor and just called me out of the blue and said hey, I’m producing this little movie, we’re casting some roles, would you be interested in it? He told me about the story, who was involved, and I said yeah, I was in, that sounds great.
What did you like most about your character and working on this film?
Alexandra: As far as the film goes, what I enjoyed most about working on it were the people in it. I got to meet the cast now, and they’re lovely, but I didn’t get to work with any of them. I’m just in one scene, it’s an important scene but small, and it’s just meeting talking to the internet so unfortunately, I didn’t get to play with any of my co-stars. The crew, the producers, Rachel Ofori who is the executive producer, they were all just wonderful. Scott Hamilton, who was the director and the director of photography, he was wonderful to work with, the movie was so beautifully filmed. They were really experimental, I’m pretty sure what the filmed and put on-screen is exactly what they wrote, but they let me just go off and improvise, come up with ideas, I love all of that. I used to do improve on stage so that’s really fun for me and I really appreciated the opportunity to do that.
The movie business seems to consist of smaller indie films and big blockbusters these days, with little to nothing in between. Does that shift in the industry affect you at all as an actor, and do you see more roles opening up with all the streaming services now out there?
Alexandra: That’s a really interesting question. From the inside of the industry, I have never once heard anyone say, there are so many more roles now, they never say that. I think it’s harder to make a living because as you said, as the middle got pushed out, where are those roles now? However, anytime there’s a lot of change, creatively it’s really interesting. I remember learning in film school that the end of the studio system, there was kind of this golden era of film, where you had people like John Cassavetes making films, Anthony Hopper suddenly becoming a star, the beginning of Pacino and DeNiro, almost like independent filmmaking was happening there and then again in the 90’s, it was kind of the end of network TV and then now with all this streaming, it’s kind of like this fertile, creative moment where we haven’t quite figured out what’s happening yet so maybe anything is possible so let’s see what we can do. The streaming companies, I think it’s interesting that we’re shooting digitally now which makes is much less expensive for new, independent, creative filmmakers to take a shot at it. How you get eyes on what you film, I’m not sure about that, that becomes much more of a challenge in terms of how you get attention but really, anyone with an iPhone can make a movie now and that’s incredible.
So what other projects do you have coming up?
Alexandra: That’s a great question. My biggest project right now is I just moved back to New York City, and I mean I just moved back, I’m surrounded by boxes right now. When I first became an actor I moved out to LA and I lived there for two years and had a great, fun time and then ended up back in Washington DC briefly when I got pregnant with my first child and then I had a few more kids so I ended up staying there. It’s a great town, I grew up there, great theater and I did manage to do some work there, I did an episode of The Wire, I got this film when I was there, did a bunch of theater and started writing and directing again as well. Finally, though, I’m back in New York City and I can’t wait to see what this city has for me and what I have for this city.
I want to thank Alexandra for taking the time to talk with us