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Highlander Chronicles '98 Highlander

"Welcome to EvilCon"- Gillian Horvath

Peter Hudson Valentine Pelka Marcus Testory Peter Diamond

It wasn't the weekend when the lunatics took over the asylum, it was the weekend when the bad guys got their own back - maybe in the end, there can be only one, but everyone loves the villain before he gets what's coming. Despite the disappointment that Peter Wingfield could not be at Chronicles, the first (?) Highlander convention held in Manchester was a definite success, with the three primary bad guys turning out to be a hit and then some, as well as some surprises in Gillian and Donna's patented dog and pony show. The City In The Rain got in on the act as well, proving that its other name is well justified.

This report is from a personal perspective, as one of the fans attending, and focuses mainly on things concerning the television series. As you might expect, the pictures below will enlarge if you click on them, but not to full screen size - I'm not that good a photographer. Most of the guests had more than one session, but I've combined them together below. I hope you enjoy it - we did.


Valentine Pelka

Valentine PelkaValentine came out for his first session looking very relaxed in the same leather jacket that he wore as Kronos. He had been extremely unsubtle about liking it and Ken Gord had allowed him to keep it as a souvenir. After he had found out that he had the role, he had to get a work permit from the Canadian High Commission, but he found out the Thursday before the Monday that filming started.. He went down early in the morning to apply, only to be told at reception that it would take three weeks. After having filled in the form, he was at the back of what was now a long queue, so he waited until he saw the guy who handled the work permits, ready to plead on bended knee, but when the guy heard the story, he said “come back in two hours” and that was that.

When Valentine arrived in Vancouver, Ken Gord sent him videos of past episodes to watch, so that he could get into the Highlander spirit. He said that as soon as he and Adrian started to rehearse the fight scene in the power station, he knew he was outclassed as a swordsman, even though he’s done quite a bit of dramatic sword work. When they came to film the fight, they filmed the long sequence in one take, then did the fill in shots. Valentine said that he nearly got beheaded for real, as he forgot where he was supposed to block, going down when Adrian was going for his head, but Adrian’s control is so good that the blade stopped inches from Valentine’s head. When they did get to the scripted beheading in Bordeaux, Valentine thought, “all right, bring on the dummy, I’ll go for a cup of tea and watch the fireworks”. Adrian had other ideas, telling him that they had their dummy and he should stay there. Oh yes, and close your eyes. So Valentine had to lie there whilst they let off the explosions and he never saw a thing!

He gave us some other insights into Adrian Paul as a director. When they arrived in Bordeaux, Adrian closeted the Four Horsemen away for seven hours in his hotel room, working with them to put together their own histories. This process ended up with them becoming the Horsemen. Valentine said that when they arrived on set, it was as a gang, as the Horsemen, not as four actors playing the roles. Someone asked him abut filming in the submarine base and he said it wasn’t spooky at all, as it was never used. The Germans built it during the war, but the French Resistance dammed the river so that the water table dropped and made it unusable. It’s now a marine museum. The other illustration of Adrian as a director got cut short. Valentine talked about an unused flashback from “Revelation 6:8”, set in Capua, which had him and Peter Wingfield in dodgy wigs and skirts. Adrian had told each of them something about their motivation, but neither knew what it was. When someone asked for more details, Gillian and Donna told him to shut up before he could answer. (And yes, they were pretty blunt about it.) Turns out that they have taken everything about that scene out of circulation. More on that in the Gillian and Donna section below.

Valentine had a load of stories which came out over the weekend and these are but a taster. He talked about working on a film with Sir Alec Guinness just after he left the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. He was disturbed every evening before dinner by talking in Sir Alec’s room. Later, he found out that Guinness was learning his next day’s lines and it taught him a lesson in being prepared. He said it can lead you into trouble, though. When he was appearing in a play with Dennis Waterman, as the run came to its end, Valentine was going on to play Hamlet. He had been staying up late learning his lines for the part every night after the performance. In the play he was in, he was killed and had to lie on the stage for a long period, so he used to review his “Hamlet” lines as he did so. One night, he fell asleep and had a vivid dream about falling asleep, then starting to speak his lines from “Hamlet”. He woke up before anyone saw that he’d drifted away, but when they took their bows at the end, he asked Dennis Waterman if he’d said anything. Dennis looked at him oddly and Valentine decided he hadn’t.

Many of Valentine’s stories were horse related, coming from his various film and television appearances, such as “First Knight” and “Robin Of Sherwood”. However, he did mention that one of the Horsemen wasn’t as in control as the rest. During filming in Bordeaux, it would often be the case that the Horsemen would be over here, coming this way, but Marcus would be over there, going that way. At the end of the convention, the guests were presented with the gifts from the organisers and Valentine’s was a Leeds United FC shirt and football signed by the team, which is the yellow and blue shirt he’s wearing in the photo.

Peter Hudson

Peter HudsonIn contrast with the relaxed Mr Pelka, Peter Hudson was obviously nervous about meeting the fans. He started his first session with a bit of business about auctioning himself off, but dried up a bit after that. Although he relaxed as the weekend wore on, he was never as comfortable with the attention as the others, but he was a genuine and charming man who had plenty of time for people. If you’re going to Anaheim, treat him gentle. He was very unsure about how to answer a question about being a sex-symbol, in marked contrast to Valentine Pelka, who deflected a question about slash fiction with great grace.

Peter told us how he was injured while filming the graveyard confrontation at the end of “Counterfeit”. He was walking along before filming started, slipped and fell across a gravestone, injuring his back. This is why, if you watch it, he is hobbling when MacLeod chases him at the end - he could barely walk and he had to try to run!

Peter got into acting when he was studying the production of English-language theatre in Europe. When he was in Paris, the French director he was interviewing said that he’d be perfect for a part she was having trouble casting and asked him to audition for the role. He got it and things started from there. Although he does occasional UK television appearances, he does a lot of work on the Continent and works as a voice over artist for cartoons. He does ALL the male voices for a cartoon series based on Greek mythology and he told us how his young son recently told him that it was a great costume that he had! Two Horsemen and ArmageddonAfter Peter’s second session, he was joined by the Two Horsemen. In response to a question about whether they thought that Highlander conventions would continue, Peter commented that they’d go from the Horsemen to the Wheelchairs of the Apocalypse. Peter was clearly more comfortable in an ensemble, trading friendly jokes with Valentine, whilst Marcus let them get on with it. Once he’d decided they’d had enough of the limelight, he grabbed a microphone and gave an impromptu rendition of “Wand’ring Star”, which stopped the other two in their tracks and brought the house down. Peter said that he’d met Valentine during the filming of “Archangel” and they instantly found things in common. As a bemused Valentine looked on, he added “I don’t know his wife and he doesn’t know mine”. Things didn’t improve when someone asked what they look for in a role and Peter jumped straight in with “a sausage”. Someone presented the three of them with a bottle of beer each and Valentine tried to open his, but was defeated by the bottle cap. Marcus reached over with a Swiss Army knife and offered it to Valentine, muttering straight into the microphone, “Red, then white, then black...” Valentine got his own back when someone asked about Marcus and his horsemanship. As Marcus explained that he had found it difficult to make his horse stand still, Valentine grinned, sat back and started circling his finger round and round. Which is a good point to jump to.....

Marcus Testory

I missed Marcus’ first session, as it clashed with the long video presentation by Donna and Gillian. Marcus was a most amiable man, switching readily between English and German in his answers, which combined humour and seriousness. He started his Sunday panel by talking about how he is training as a paramedic, which is why he has grown his hair out. When people wake up in an ambulance, they don’t really need Caspian looming over them. He got the role when an artist friend who was story boarding the Horsemen episodes used his mental image of Marcus as the model for Caspian, then told the producers they should use this guy. Marcus videoed his audition in his backyard, with the bass player from his band reading Silas’ part.

He talked about the sword fight on the bridge in “Revelation 6:8”. This was his first sword fight and he made a few mistakes during filming, which caused Adrian Paul a few problems. Caspian’s sword had a blade on the guard and he cut Adrian twice with it, in error. He said that Adrian just shrugged it off and kept going. Later on, Valentine Pelka would comment about how difficult an experienced swordsman would find a two blade fight and that he thought Marcus had done exceptionally well to learn it so fast. Someone asked Marcus if he thought Caspian had any good points and Marcus said, simply, ”Yes, he’s dead”.

One lovely joke concerned an Irish pub in Bordeaux which Richard Ridings had cultivated. The Horsemen used to drink together there and Richard persuaded them to open up after they had finished filming. They also rehearsed there and Marcus said that Peter or Valentine would suddenly drop into character and the other would follow, something he initially found difficult to do. He told us that they rehearsed the First Rule Of Great Drama scene several times, until Peter Wingfield changed the line. Instead of “start small and build”, he said “suck in your cheeks”. After that, they couldn’t take the scene so seriously and, if you watch it again, you can see Richard Ridings and Marcus struggling not to smile when they filmed it..

Peter Diamond

Peter Diamond and Valentine PelkaIn sharp contrast to Peter Hudson, it was obvious that Peter Diamond was an old vaudevillian. The stage was set before he came out, with a mannequin wearing the suit he used in “Highlander”, when he played Fasil, and a Connor waxwork. Peter learnt to fence in the Army during his National Service and went to RADA when he was demobbed. During the summer holidays, he and some other students earnt a living doing a sword fighting act in music halls, which Peter choreographed. After he left RADA, work as an actor was thin on the ground, but he agreed to stage a fight for an amateur production. What he didn’t know was that it was this group’s annual West End production and after the performance, the phone never stopped ringing with people wanting him to do the same for them, only they were paying.

He showed how they mock up punches for the camera, often never being anywhere near to hitting the target, then moved on to a mock sword fight. Whilst he used a convention steward for the punching, he got Valentine Pelka to assist with the sword work. Valentine hammed it up a bit, looking very nervous and trying to sneak away at one point. They put together a few simple moves, but when they speeded it up and acted it, rather than just doing the moves, it was a great little fight.

Peter talked about his time on the film and the first season. He ended up playing Fasil because they couldn’t find anyone to play the role, so he got the dodgy wig, but he got an acrobat friend to do all the back flips. He was second unit director for the French episodes of Highlander’s first season, but left when there was a cull in the production team. He staged the fights and doubled for some of the actors during the fights. He talked of how he and his partner worked with Adrian Paul to develop a style for Duncan MacLeod that worked in with the character.

Gillian Horvath and Donna Lettow

Came a HorsemanWith these two, it’s really a question of where to start. So we’ll start where I left off during the Valentine Pelka report, with the eliminated flashback. It didn’t turn out as anyone wanted and got eliminated at the editing stage for “Revelation 6:8”. It told how the Horsemen came to split up. Donna seemed to be hinting that, if Peter Wingfield had been available for more of Season 6, they would have had more flashbacks about Methos and would have wanted to revisit this scene, to give more on the Horsemen generally. Gillian said that she felt that not having Methos in “Avatar” and “Armageddon” tightened them up and made the writers improve Joe’s part, which otherwise would have drifted.

But that was not to be, which leads us on to Roger Daltrey. They didn’t know if Roger would be able to appear in "Star-Crossed” until a few days before shooting, (and if he hadn’t, it would have been some other old and dear friend of MacLeod’s who would have been killed by Kalas). Roger was really upset at being killed and said that he wanted to be in more episodes. He buttonholed Gillian during the filming of “Till Death” and said, “I could do 5 episodes”, to which she had point out that “We didn’t think we could get you for one”. They told him it was an honour to get killed off, because the fans care about you. They said that a book was being written about “Highlander”, (as a TV series, not another tie-in novel), and when the writer interviewed Roger, he was trying to find out if he was going to be in “To Be” and “Not To Be”, because he really wanted the part he got, but his agent was playing games with Davis-Panzer and the things wasn’t as easy as it should have been. Get a new agent, Roger!

They talked about how episodes get rewritten. For example, the third act of “Not To Be” went in the bin when the phone call came that said “Stan’s signed the contract” and, intriguingly, Gillian said we would have loved it just as much as what’s in the final version of “Not To Be”. They talked about filming “The Chalice of St Antoine”. Yes, that’s right “Chalice”. It was originally a Season 2 Paris episode, but problems over who could write scripts for episodes filmed in France meant that it had to be shelved. The only problem was that Elizabeth Gracen was already booked, so they had to write an Amanda story set in France almost overnight. Which is what David Tynan did, coming up with “Legacy”. But, nothing is ever forgotten and they couldn’t just afford to trash the script, having paid for it, so it became an early episode in Season 3. As Gillian put it, “we kept the ‘Of St Antoine’ and Amanda and that was it”. The original script has Joe’s girlfriend in a long scene with him in the teaser, but it was decided that they couldn’t afford her, so the teaser was rewritten as it aired. Then Dennis Berry, the French director, saw the fort. At this point, Gillian asked Donna to tell the story, because she was better at accents, to which Donna replied “I’m not doing accents HERE!”, to the delight of the audience. Dennis also fell in love with the character of the teacher and wanted her role enlarging. Wait a minute - Joe’s girlfriend dies without saying a word, but the teacher gets her own storyline? They also had to trade the procession on horseback, (where they walk into the village and Durgan sees the Cross), for a candyglass door that Joe could break with his cane. If you’ve seen the bloopers of Jim Byrnes trying to break that glass, you know it went wrong. The candyglass broke on the way to the studio and they had to use real glass, which wouldn’t break. As Jim’s cane started to shatter, one of the crew painted a crowbar to look like a cane and that’s what Jim used in the end. As Donna put it, "they broke our horse!".

They talked about the problems of short order casting. For “The Wrath of Kali”, the actor who should have played Kamir disappeared just before filming. Whilst the guy who played Kamir in the end did a great job, his body double was cast for the original actor and was the wrong size, as you can see in the fight scenes, when Kamir seems to shrink. The first scene the new guy had to film, straight off the plane was the stickfight. That episode had other problems - the Indian costumes imported from England were impounded in Canadian Customs and ever arrived in time, so all the extras are wearing their own clothes. For “Glory Days”, they had real problems casting the part of Betsy, as no actress under 60 wanted to be cast as a 48 year old. They solved the problem by taking out references to age, bingo. Like, he’s 48, she’s his High School sweetheart, but as long as you don’t say it, it doesn’t count?

Some of the other things - they commented how a certain director, unnamed, drove the crew, so that his episodes are brilliant, but the next director has a shattered crew with no energy, so that his episodes end up flat. This also applies to the plots - they couldn’t follow the Horsemen with anything to top it, so they went for comedy with “Richard Redstone”. Sometimes, they have to do a cheap episode after an expensive one - “The Blitz” cost a lot to make, so they needed a cheapy afterwards, so “Timeless” was written. They talked about how jokes turn into plot points - Gillian said she was joking when she said “he could be Satan”. They talked about changes that are out the writer’s hands. When they were filming “Revelation 6:8”, there was a phone call from France. “We can’t find an abandoned chateau, but there’s this submarine base....” They wryly observed that if they’d said that.......

They showed us the video which has been seen at previous conventions about filming “The Fighter”. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, they show the footage that was shot, then the final version edited together with sound and music. Quite an eye opener. Then they showed something they hadn't shown before. The footage of the “Death On Horseback” scene, which was something else. It’s twenty minutes long and it’ll blow you away if you see it. I’d heard that Peter and Adrian went for it, but how much I hadn’t begun to guess. They do it differently every time, the light was fading as they kept shooting, they really had a go at each other. They were there, they were Duncan and Methos. Donna and Gillian said that they were with Lara Mazur , the editor, when the film came to L.A. from Vancouver and she was going, “what am I supposed to do with this?” Eventually, they pieced the film together, bleached and darkened it to approximate all the light, but the astounding thing is that Peter and Adrian had to dub their voices back onto the soundtrack when it was done, as none of the sound was usable. Stand out moments include Peter Wingfield sitting in the car crying at the end of one take and Adrian shouting “come on!” at him during another, really into it. Not that there weren’t problems - at the end of one take, Peter slams the car door and the window collapses, then the T-Bird wouldn’t start for a long while during the shot where Duncan drives off.

They showed us the auditions for Kronos, most of which reduced the audience to helpless fits, all except Valentine Pelka’s and one other - Andrew Bicknell, who played Devon Marek in “Black Tower”. Some one commented later how during Valentine’s audition, the camera’s on this unassuming guy, it pans away to a name card, then back and there’s this psychopath standing there. Originally Donna and Ken Gord didn’t want Valentine to get the role - Ken Gord said he was too pretty. Gillian made them see sense and Ken said, okay, if he’ll cut his hair and we add the scar.

They rounded out the video session with the Quickenings from “Revelation 6:8”. Watching 8 minutes of Peter Wingfield writhing reduced a lot of the audience to tears of laughter, and Gillian said that he was holding his sword so tightly that his arms ached for days. Then Adrian’s Quickening comes on screen and Gillian quipped “Move over, let me show you how it’s done”.

More random bits about the writing of the series. No one is admitting responsibility for “Deadly Exposure”, especially James Thorpe to whom it’s credited. Having now seen all of Season 6, I just don't see how that one slipped through. Writing credits can only go to European or Canadian writers, so sometimes the person who does most work can’t be the credited writer, as for example Donna Lettow and “To Be” and “Not To Be”. Donna is leaving Highlander because, as she put it, she has a non-sexy passport. With Elizabeth Gracen being American, that cuts down the number of available jobs for Americans on the new show. Donna said that there are no plans for any more tie-in books, but she is updating the Watcher Chronicles before she leaves Davis-Panzer. She has also prepared timelines for Methos, Amanda and Rebecca for the new writers, to give a consistency to the new show that the old one didn’t have until Season 2. As far as Methos’ timeline is concerned about 2 out of every 3 entries have a * against them and the * footnote says, “well, he SAYS he did this”. Someone asked about the definitive Methos episode and Gillian jumped in straight away with “Methos and definitive just don’t go”.

The script for Highlander 4 is being rewritten by Gregory Widen based on a draft by a Miramax staff writer. Bill Panzer is giving him all the room he needs to finish it. Adrian Paul and Christopher Lambert will be in it. They also talked about the killing of Richie. This came about for a number of reasons. Stan Kirsch wanted to go on to other things, Adrian Paul wanted to kill a major character off on the Season closer and David Abramowitz wanted a catalyst to spin the series in a new direction. They said the crew seemed to know long in advance that Richie was for the chop. Stan didn’t want to go to France at all for Season 4 and they didn't know if he would be available for much of Season 5 - he was making a pilot for a new series and wouldn’t have been available if it had sold, so “End Of Innocence” was written with half an eye to him never being in “Highlander” again. Stan didn’t want to just ride off into the sunset and, when he found out how he was to die, approached Bill Panzer at the Vancouver wrap party with his reaction - “Cool!”

They also talked about Duncan being closed and dark in Season 6 and about the problems of writing for him on his own. One questioner referred to the conventional hero mythos, that the Hero fights the good fight, then disappears. Donna replied that he certainly disappeared for a while in Season 6. This isn't something necessarily new - they said that the reason that Charlie's character got used more than originally intended in Season 2 was that they nearly killed Adrian. After Tessa was killed and Richie left, the stories had Duncan on screen most of the time. Eventually, Adrian rang the production office and said "No more running!". He had been injured in a couple of episodes, so they needed to give him space to recuperate. Hence, Charlie became more important, for example becoming Sully's tutor d'amour in "The Fighter". They talked a lot about their Toy Box, an analogy for unused plot ideas and unresolved story lines, as in “we need to write a story, what’s in the Toy Box”. The Box itself actually appeared in the Euro version of “Armageddon”, where the dwarf Ahriman pulls the toys of Tessa, Fitz and Darius from it. The dwarf, in passing, was originally supposed to be a little girl, but the French authorities wouldn’t let them show an evil child. Other things in the Toy Box are the CD-ROM in the bookstore, (“ask Adrian,” they said). They joked that at the beginning of Season 6, all they had was the Horton doll and “who put all these Barbie dolls in here?” Donna said of Gillian that “she had all the fun and I had most of the good women”. They said it was easier to write “Two Of Hearts” because there was no need to get Duncan involved, but then find a reason to keep him out of plot.

The writing team for the new series has been established as David Abramowitz, James Thorpe and Karen Harris, who wrote “Timeless” and “Rite Of Passage”. The name of the show is not finalised, but will almost definitely NOT be “The Raven”. Season 1 will be 20 episodes long and star Elizabeth Gracen.

Rebecca Neason

Last and by no means least, Rebecca Neason gave a wonderful session on the pleasures or otherwise of writing tie-in fiction, but it was definitely one for the wannabe writers amongst us. If you want to write and you get the chance, go hear her speak.

And then came Homeland '98