By Lyria Wollich
Since 1992, when Highlander - The Series
first came on to the scene, audiences across the world have grown
enthralled and captivated by it. But Highlander was slow to take off in
the beginning. Taking it's roots and direction from the Highlander movie
series, based on the original story written by Gregory Widen, the
producers Bill Panzer and Peter S. Davis hoped to further develop a
concept which holds a fascination for all people - Immortality.
The concept of Highlander in all its forms is
a simple one. Take a race of humans who were selected by divine
intervention to someday eventually rule the rest of humanity and give them
the gift of immortality. One assumes that this is to give them time to
grow and learn far more than someone with an average lifespan. There's
only one catch to this "gift", the catch words every Highlander
fan knows - There can be only one.
So what does that mean? In essence, it suggests that
only one immortal can achieve the goal of ruler ship over humanity, and by
process of natural selection or in other terms, the strongest, fastest,
smartest immortal, will eventually win out, therefore winning the
coveted prize in what they lovingly call "The Game."
The Game is much like it's name suggests, it
is a series of rules of which immortals must abide by in their interaction
with one another. Through following the rules of the game, eventually
there will only be one immortal left alive and he will win the
"prize". So they train, learning to fight with swords - an
obvious choice for a weapon that requires skill in combat. The only way an
immortal can "die" is to have his head severed from his body,
and this seems to tie back to old legends and superstitions of witches and
vampires back in the middle and dark ages.
Suspected sorcerers and witches were often
beheaded and their severed parts buried separately so they wouldn't
Much of what Highlander speaks to is life
lessons, achieved partly through Mythological references and partly
through asking the eternal questions that every man has at one time asked.
Recently in an interview with Highlander Creative Consultant, David
Abramowitz, we discussed the Highlander Philosophy. I asked him first how
he became involved with the project and how he felt about the concepts
David first joined the series in season one,
for the sixth episode "Deadly Medicine". Before that there were
several head writers involved which led to little continuity.
"I was hired to be the show runner, which
is the head writer on the show and I came on and there was a little
disorganization and I jumped in with both feet. At first I just swam as
hard as I could just to keep afloat, and then Bill Panzer and I developed
a philosophy for the series."
That philosophy, according to David, was best
expressed by then Production Designer, Steven Geaghan to whom he had
talked to about the show over lunch one day. And what Stephen understood
Highlander to be was "A romantic Talmudic discussion with
And what that meant to David was that the
shows were about something. Even though there were some great action
sequences in it and sword fighting, at Highlander's core were basic
questions we all ask ourselves.
"They're Talmudic questions. How long do
you have to keep a promise? What is the difference between honor and
vanity? Is morality and justice fixed by time, or only in time and place,
or does it exist, the same morality - true morality; and true justice.
Justice, does it exist in the seventeenth century and that it's the same
in the twentieth century. Those kinds of questions. They were great fun to
And that type of depth in understanding is
what made the series so intriguing. At the heart of every episode was a
sort of quandary, and those questions that had no easy answers. Through
the character of Duncan McLeod, David explored his own humanity.
"I write from personal experiences. I'm Jewish and a lot of the
questions in our show are very Old Testament and some New Testament. They
have a fairly strong Judeo-Christian base - in many ways - in terms of its
value system and morality system. And Duncan MacLeod's morality is my
"It's not perfect and it's sometimes small and sometimes angry and
sometimes seeking vengeance. I'm human."
And that is what makes Highlander reachable and understandable to people.
The underlying issues we all face are expressed through characters that
are larger than life, but in essence - still human. But, beyond the scope
of life lessons, lies the difficulty in creating believable characters,
especially ones that are in the strictest terms, timeless. When asked
where someone goes inside themselves to write for these characters that
are 400 or even 5000 years old in the case of Methos, David has an easy
answer for it.
"Well, Methos was great fun because we thought, rather than playing
him as the old sage, we thought about someone who had been through the old
sage moment and through the irony moment and through all those moments in
his life for every couple hundred years and now he comes to this
conclusion that - I have to say what Methos' philosophy was. It was
"Shit happens" - and deal with it, and survive. That's what
Methos was about. "
"Duncan was much younger. He was still caught up in his own sense of
guilt and his own sense of honor. Methos was already beyond that - whether
that it was beyond that to a better place is a whole other question, and
Methos would probably cycle back into places."
"The questions that our characters ask themselves, it doesn't matter
if they're 400 or 1000 or 5000, what we posited was that whoever they were
when they were young - before they became immortal; whatever the core of
their personality was, that fairly well formed them in many
"Duncan MacLeod was born and raised to be a clan leader. To be a
leader of men and to be responsible. So there is nothing that he can do to
get away from that. He had to be that person."
"Amanda, was a character who was born in poverty and had to steal to
live, so for the character of Amanda, it didn't matter how much she stole
in her life, she would never have enough. Because the child in her really
never had enough. So that's where we go from."
David also believes on writing to an actors strengths as well. How
believable or meaningful would all the writing be if it couldn't be
properly expressed. It's pretty evident that in some way Adrian understood
David's messages about life and the angst of being Duncan MacLeod.
"After you see what an actor can play and how well an actor plays
certain moments, you write to those moments. This is especially true with
recurring characters. For example, Joe Dawson started out as a bookstore
owner. That didn't really fit Jim Byrnes' character. Jim Byrnes was more
of an aging, hip, guitar player - a blues player; and a bar owner and
that's what we made him with Joe's Place."
"The best shows, I believe go with the main strengths of what the
characters have, of who the characters are and then you play them from
It's very evident throughout the Highlander series that the writers were
very aware of the strengths of the actors who played the main characters.
Those moments David refers to are indelibly etched on our memories.
It's incredibly sad when a show like Highlander ends. It touched us with
it's richness, its characters became our friends, and in the end when the
final curtain falls, we feel much like Duncan MacLeod - sad for the loss
of something that brought us so much joy. But there is hope. Endings
always bring new beginnings. One such beginning is David's new show
"Queen of Swords".
David is very excited about this project which brings together a lot of
our "old friends" from the Highlander Series, as well as many of
the directors and writers. (For more information on Queen of Swords and
the rest of David's interview-Click
Here) Also we have the new Highlander movie ENDGAME
to look forward to currently slated for release by Dimension films on
September 1, 2000.
And so time moves on and as
surrogate watchers in our own right, we watch, we wait, and we never