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Methos - The Evolution Of The World's Oldest Man: Peter Wingfield, Gillian Horvath, Donna Lettow, F Braun McAsh & Josepha Sherman

We gotta talk - DadBefore the panel itself got going, Peter was asked to come on stage to receive a card wishing him and Carolyn well on the birth of their baby. The card had been signed by many of those present and was presented to him by Naomi Rose, who acted as MC for the convention.

Peter was joined on stage by Gillian and Donna, as well as F Braun McAsh and Josepha Sherman. The discussion was led by Gillian, with contributions from the others. Gillian opened by saying that the reason they were having a mixed panel was that a good character is a combination of elements which might be brought together by the work of a hundred people. This is why magical characters in television are so rare, as you have to have or all of the elements in place - the writing, the design and, of course, the actor. She was particularly sorry that Ken Gord was not there, as he was responsible for a lot of decisions which had been made on the set about every character, including Methos. She said that the original actors considered for the role were Ron Perlman and John Rhys Davies. The genesis of Methos was in an early season 3 story proposed by David Tynan, where the world's oldest Immortal comes to MacLeod to give him his collected writings before going away to die, as he was tired of living. However, things didn't go was planned and the idea was that he would fall in love and go off to travel the world, (which sounds vaguely familiar.....) Unfortunately, there was no real plot here for a 42-minute television episode and to create tension would have required the guest star to fight the baddy, not MacLeod.

Braun, Peter, Gillian, Donna, JosephaBy the time they came to write at the Kalas Arc, only the name of Methos remained. They were searching for something for Kalas to be after that MacLeod was after as well and remembered the idea of the ancient guy. Kalas would be after him for his big old Quickening, (as the laughter started, Peter looked out at the audience and said, "stop it........."), which of course MacLeod would be determined to stop. It was Bill Panzer's decision to cast against type, as he felt they needed a young guy who would be hipper than the audience expected for someone who was 5000 years old. As a result, the script was sent to Paris with no casting instructions.

Peter picked up the story. The decision to cast him was made by Ken Gord and Bill Panzer and the first he knew of it was when he got a call from his agent, asking him he if he would like to spend two days in Paris. He said yes and was sent a few pages from the script - the river scene and the scene where he offers MacLeod his head. He went down to a little office in Soho where there was no room and auditioned in front of a camera. He was asked to go again and do the same material a few days later, but this time with a slightly different slant. He was a bit confused about this as by now it was Wednesday and they were filming on Friday and the tape still had to go to Paris for him to be cast. He said if they hadn't picked him, they would have been stuck.

He said at the what he read in the pages he been given didn't make sense - something about him being 5000 years old and somebody wanting to chop his head off. When he read the full script, he said he liked it and felt it had a couple of solid ideas and, once he understood it, it made sense. He felt that the Methos script was very clever - you watch for two or three acts and get this big build-up about this ancient Immortal, then when you meet him he's sitting on the floor drinking beer and eating pizza, which kind of jars. He said that after that, you can get away with anything. He said he can't play someone who is 5000 years old, but he can suggest it in the set-up is right. He decided it that the right thing to do was to avoid being profound and deep, but simply to just show up.

Gillian said that part of the script came from messing about with people's heads and the idea of him being a Watcher came about one morning. The two scenes in Joe's were filmed months before, before the script was written, and at the time they were talking about Meth-os, not Me-thos, and as a result, Jim Byrnes had to loop-in his dialogue later. Gillian said that once the scenes were filmed, they were stuck with them, and that they had been written by her in an afternoon.

Methos was created as a one-shot guest slot. It had been at the back of their minds for a long time that they had wanted to replace Darius and there had been a couple of attempts - Ceirdwyn and Marcus Constantine. The episode Methos was not filmed with that in mind, as previous attempt to introduce a new character, such as in Pharaoh's Daughter, had not worked. The first thing that that was filmed was the scene under the bridge where Methos offers MacLeod his head. Peter said that he turned up on the set and there were all these strange people wandering around, (at which point he tilted his head towards F Braun McAsh). Braun that said that the hardest job is to pick the weapon of a new Immortal, as that dictates the style with which they will fight. He was rarely able to meet the actor before they arrived on set and, as a result, had no idea who Peter was and nobody knew at that stage that Methos would be a recurring character. Braun knew that he fought Kalas, who used a bastard sword, and decided that he couldn't use the culture from which the character sprang, as flint axes were hard to find in Paris. He asked himself if Methos fought a lot or liked to fight, but saw no evidence of that in the script. He decided that he would use a functional sword, with no bells all whistles, and settled on a 14th century broadsword. He felt that it needed some Úlan and picked the design from the Marto catalogue. He didn't particularly like it, but it would do for an episode. If he had known that Peter was stage sword certified and would be a recurring character, he said he probably would have chosen something slightly different, as he felt slightly constrained in later episodes. When Peter arrived on the set and Braun discovered that he was right handed and sword trained, he didn't care whether he could act or not! As Peter fleshed out the character, it helped Braun develop the choreography for Methos. He said that he has to assume he's playing the role and, although this imposes choices on the actors, there is no alternative given the time constraints of episodic television. He said that, as the character of Methos grew, it made his job as swordmaster easier.

Gillian said that Highlander was unusual in that the writers would watch the episodes and the dailies. She said we would be surprised at the shows where that didn't happen. She said, for the writers, the dailies are better than the episodes, as it gives them a better feel for the actor and the character he's trying to portray. They could also be surprised on occasion - they had written the Chivalry script with one thing in mind, but when the dailies had come back, they found the that Peter had filmed the scenes giving Methos a totally different agenda.

She said she was surprised that they had stuck with the same sword, but Braun said that it confuses the audience of a character uses a different sword continually. It was rather like them carrying around a golf bag full of swords - he had actually toyed with this idea, that an Immortal would match his weapon to his opponent, as to the Immortals, they were just tools for the job, but he said that once a sword was established for a character, the producers didn't like him to change it. Peter said that the swords come from inside and are an extension of the character. Braun said that for season three, they were using Marto swords and they had a limited range available. For later seasons, they switched to using swords made in Atlanta.

Donna said that the writers were a little frustrated being on the wrong side of the Atlantic and had asked Ken Gord for a copy of Peter's audition tape, but to this day they have never seen it. As a result, there was more than normal interest in the dailies from France for Peter's first scenes. Unfortunately, it was in the fog and they couldn't see him, that they could only hear him. Donna said that all they could say was, "thank God he's not French", as from his voice and his name they were pretty sure he wasn't. Gillian said that Methos was the only character they had developed in response to the viewer reaction, but it had always been with the intention of wrong-footing the viewers. Methos had been developed in the real world, as there had been a dialogue between Peter Wingfield and the writers, starting with that first script, which had triggered Peter's portrayal, which in turn had inspired the writers.

Peter said that what was written down in Highlander script was not necessarily what ended up on screen and that this was rare. He said that the core actors on Highlander talked to each other and, if someone changed a line, the other actors would react to it, not say, "oh, you got that line wrong," or carry on regardless and say the line they were supposed to say, whether or not it made sense. He said that, on Highlander, they would film the first version of a scene as it was on the given page, but subsequent versions would be looser, with the end of a scene related to how it had been written, but not necessarily precise. They said that the dailies were odd, as everyone had a different view of what they were looking for - the costumiers were looking at the costumes, Braun was looking to see that everybody still had five fingers and the writers would often watch the dailies and think, "I didn't write that".

Donna Lettow said that J Michael Stryczynski insisted that Babylon 5 was filmed as he wrote it, but Bill Panzer had a more open architecture on Highlander and welcomed input from everyone. She said this was how the best magic got made. Gillian pointed out that if you slam the door on a fuck-up, you also stop people improving the show. As an example, she said that, in the scene where the Watchers are about to execute Joe in Judgement Day, Jim Byrnes crossed himself, which was not in the script, but when they saw it in the dailies, they thought it was wonderful.

Peter said that he always tried to bring in what was going on around him into a scene. He said it's easy to churn out television, but to make it live is hard and you rely on a good creative team to give it that life. He said that, on Highlander, they played together and would throw in ideas to see if it worked. They had to put their trust in those around them not to use stuff which did not make sense, which does happen on some shows, where the agenda of the producers is at odds with the actors and they would used out-takes to change a scene. With Highlander, he always felt he understood what was going on and there were no episodes where he felt he had been misread.

The panel deliberateBraun said that the actors could only do the job when they were trusted and that the core of characters constituted a family, which made it easier for them to make changes. As an example, he said that the fake fight between Methos and Robert in Till Death was not as it was in the script - none of it, either the actions or the dialogue, were what was written. They had used the script as a guide. Gillian said this works both ways, as the writers would write better if the actors had proved that they could deliver on a scene. She said that for them, as writers, it was a rush to trust the actors. She said a flat delivery doesn't inspire good writing.

Peter said that he didn't know much about the past of Methos, but when we all found out, it was massive and he wondered where that had come from. Gillian said that the fans had decided that Methos was a good guy and Donna added that the fans believed Methos, but they had decided to neither confirm nor deny. Gillian said that the first flashback they gave Methos had to be spectacular, as if they were going to prove that Methos had deceived MacLeod, they had to avoid Duncan looking like a complete fool who had been taken in.

Gillian wondered how the development of the character affected the choreography of the fights, but Braun said that it didn't affect them at all. The fight furthers the telling of the story, but in later episodes, he wanted to suggest that we would never be sure how good Methos really wants and to hint that perhaps he was holding back. He wanted to raise the question in the audience's mind as to whether or not Methos was suckering MacLeod and he felt they had suggested this in Chivalry. He pointed out that Methos would not have survived for so long if he wasn't a good fighter and he felt that it should niggle the audience that Methos might have let MacLeod get the upper hand when they fought in the dojo. Peter said that he still doesn't know how good Methos really is, as he feels there is evidence both ways, but, as he put it, Methos never told him. Braun pointed out that they ended the series that way, with the clouds comment to Methos that he had no idea who or what he was. Peter said that, if you spend 5000 years trying to be the meanest and the baddest, sooner or later it you're going to make a mistake. The survivor is the one who blends best and goes unnoticed, building up trust and then when the truth comes out it's a much bigger "huh?" If Methos needs to fight, he can. Braun said that successful spies look like Don Knox, not Sean Connery, and are more dangerous. He said that a real Samurai would never have been ambushed, unlike the character in The Samurai.

Josepha said that she had been preparing the scenario for The Captive Soul when she saw Comes A Horseman and she thought they were going to kill him off. Donna said that the Vancouver crew thought so as well and that, unusually, the crew demanded to know what happened in the part filmed in France. Braun said that he had told the writers that they had a character who could fight and act and if they killed him off, he would find them! Gillian said that there had been an intention to kill Methos in the last episode of season three, Dilemma. The idea was that Kalas had taken at Methos' head, but that Methos' Quickening was winning and Kalas was switching back and forth between good and evil. Then the dailies for the episode Methos arrived in Los Angeles and David Abramowitz said to Gillian, "we're bringing him back, don't do Dilemma". However, Gillian said, David had said this before and Ceirdwyn should have been back, but this had never happened, so she said, "OK, if I lose the story, but your money where your mouth is". The result was FinalÚ. This all happened before the episode Methos aired and, when the show went out, there wasn't much reaction, but there was when Finale was broadcast.

Peter said he felt that one of the reasons why Methos was so enduring was that he got all the best lines. He said if you have nothing in the script, you know you're in trouble, but with Methos, there were so many great one-liners. Gillian, (with a prior apology to Peter), said that she has seen some of Peter's other shows and which used to wonder why he was so bad in them. She said that David Tynan was a big part of Methos and the humour in those episodes and she felt that this came from David's past, as he used to write for National Lampoon. She said that this was what was missing from Peter's other shows, as although Peter is a great actor, the crew contribution was not there. Josepha pointed out that Gillian had interrupted Peter whilst he was praising writers and that she should let him talk!

Braun said that he had written for National Lampoon as well and that he had not been afraid to look for humour in the violence. He quoted Methos' line, "sticks and stones", from Forgive Us Our Trespasses and said that he had based the whole fight around that pay-off. He said that Methos was not a composite, as if Peter Wingfield was not a good actor, then the character would not work, but all the other contributions come together to make a great character.

Next, the Memorable Characters of Highlander