Tessa Alvarado The Queen of Swords Anthony De Longis

Behind The Scenes And on The Set With Anthony De Longis



Tessie Santiago - Tessa Alvarado / The Queen of Swords
Paulina Galvez - Marta
Valentine Pelka - Colonel Luis Montoya
Anthony Lemke - Captain Marcus Grisham
Elsa Pataky - Senora Vera Hidalgo
Tacho Gonzales- Don Gaspar Hidalgo
Anthony De Longis - Maestro Juan Torres
Enrique Rodriguez- Fernando
Teresa De Olmo - Rubia
Antonio Mayans - Carlos
Jaime Palmer Colom - Corporal Leandro
Shopkeeper - Garbriel Carcia-Santos Villodres

I just watched the pilot episode entitled, "Destiny." What a lot of memories came flooding back. I'll start at the beginning and offer you some of the details. I hope you like them.

The Alcazaba:

Entrance to the Alcazaba in Almeria. photo at left - The view outside the Alcazaba as viewed through the entrance gate.

The opening training sequence between Tessa Alvarado and her teacher, Maestro Juan Torres was a labor of love on many levels. The location was fantastic. At the top of the hill in the midst of downtown Almeria, sits the walled castle fortress or Alcazaba. Carved out of the living rock, the Alcazaba commands the same view of the harbor as when Almeria was one of the most active ports in Moorish southern Spain. You walk the cobbled path through a stone arch that used to admit merchants and soldiers into the palace and upper fortress. The path doubles back on itself for easy defense as it angles sharply upward through a series of gardens to the ruins of the outer palace. These same gardens were employed very effectively for the dialogue scene between Tessa Alvarado and Don Gaspar Hidalgo. Finally you pass over the inner moat to the fortress proper, the Alcazaba.

One of the gardens in the Alcazaba. photo at right - the flowers in the Alcazaba gardens were brilliant with roses, lantana, and other flowering plants during our shoot.

Our brilliant Production Designer Fernando Gonzalez approached me about dressing the set long before I'd had a chance to visit the castle. Fernando's list of credits are nothing short of remarkable. He worked on El Cid with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, has several Academy Award nominations and mentioned idly that the last time he shot at this location was for Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers.

As Production Designers are wont to do, Fernando drew me a quick sketch of the layout as the director, John Cassar, described how he wasn't sure what he wanted - just that it had to be flashy. There was a huge open courtyard and the stone stairs on each side, and a raised defensive walkway surrounding the walls that might be a good place for some flashy footwork and swashbuckling daring-do. Meanwhile, Fernando was describing how he had to make a platform of some sort to cover an ugly metal grating that was a gaping anachronism to an otherwise perfect location. I told him about my studies into the Spanish training system, the "Mysterious Circle," and how it inspired my development of a unique fighting style for "Tessa". I said I had diagrams and dimensions for construction of the "Circle" if he thought it might provide a pleasing design element. I also suggested the platform would make a smooth surface for the actors to fight and play the scene on. Fernando borrowed my notes for two days and the next time I looked in on his workshop, he proudly showed me the twin interlocking panels with the painted circles and lines that his artists had created.

Anthony and Mary on location scout Photo at left - Anthony and Mary during location scout. Although the stairs and walkway are dramatic, they were very uneven and narrow, making them risky for swordplay.

Since every location is a vital and active character in any action scene, a location scout was essential. Mary and I met Roberta Brown at the castle and walked around with the rest of the tourists. It was a lovely stroll through history but it became very clear that the jagged and cobbled surface of the courtyard would severely limit our movement possibilities. The "Mysterious Circle" teaching surface that Fernando created was the perfect solution. We employed the visuals of a terrific location and still had a surface that allowed Tessie and I to concentrate on telling our story without worrying about twisting our ankles - or worse.

This was only the beginning of Fernando's attention to detail. In addition to swords and shields adorning what had formerly been blank stone walls, he set up armor and fluttering pennants, as well as chairs for spectators and students to rest and observe. On an antique table stood a basin of water and towels as well as a pitcher and glasses. Rapiers stood ready in nearby racks. Finally, there was a mound of talc to keep the fingers from slipping on the handle during swordplay. Although most of this is on camera for only an instant, if at all, such attention to detail gives an actor the accuracy and environment to vividly support the imagination so you can really believe you are a character out of history in that place and time. The art is in the details. Bravo, Fernando, to you and your team.

Set at the Alcazaba

Photo above - Fernando and his crew did a masterful job of dressing an empty plaza and creating an amazing fencing salle for Maestro Torres and his students.

As you may have noticed, the choreography between Torres and Tessa employed both rapier and dagger for both characters and was very complex. The story begins in the midst of a furious exchange of blades. The audience is supposed to think they're witnessing a real battle. Suddenly our hero has a knife at her throat. Torres says, "With a flick of the wrist, I could kill you." It isn't until Tessa replies, "And lose your best student?" that we realize this is actually a very rigorous training lesson between a master and his star pupil.

Anthony and Mary during a break on the set. Photo at left - Anthony and Mary relax, protected from the unrelenting Almeria sun by an umbrella, during a break in shooting. Anthony is holding the sword loaned to production by Roberta Brown for Torres.

During our two months of training in Los Angeles I had purposely created complicated and extended phrases of rapier and dagger choreography and taught them to Tessie. Since the one thing you can count on in episodic television is that you will never have enough time, I knew these exercises could provide the core of a story as yet unformed. Sure enough, there was a month off between training and cameras rolling in Spain, with only a few days of prep before Tessie climbed to the top of a cliff to shoot her first scene in "Death to the Queen," a two-on-one fight scene in 40 mph winds. I'll save the details on that for later, but I was very glad I'd started choreographing early. With a little adjustment and fine-tuning to location and situation, Tessie herself was able to confidently perform all of her own swordplay in this opening sequence. I was proud of her and the producers were very pleased with the result. (See comments from David Abramowitz and Ken Gord)

The job of the sword double is to rehearse and be ready to make the character look good, even if you never get on camera. Roberta Brown, Tessie's sword double, worked hard to be ready if called upon to double. There was much more to the fight than appeared in the final cut, and we wanted the transition to be seamless should doubling be necessary. Thanks to our training and rehearsals in L.A., Tessie was up to the challenge. When the actress is prepared and capable, the director will always want to shoot her.

Anthony and Roberta fight for blade shots. Anthony and Roberta clash blades and cameraman Jean-Claude Couty moves the camera below and between them.

Roberta and I did get to perform one sequence of choreography together. While Tessie shot the dialogue scene with Paulina, Roberta and I centered our clashing blades above the lens while the cameraman circled his camera on wheels around and under our action by means of a long handle rigged about twelve inches off the ground. We alternated jumping over the handle each time he ran the camera full-circle beneath the action. And he did run. This was a first for both of us and earned the moniker "sprinkler-cam." What resulted was the striking insert of the blades flashing against the bright, blue sky and gave the director a dramatic additional visual element to cut into the action. Roberta was also kind enough to loan the production the use of her own beautiful rapier that Maestro Torres wielded in the scene. Tessa used one of my own personal sabres that I had brought with me to Spain. During our training it had become a familiar friend and she was comfortable with its weight and balance. The sword of the Queen would be revealed later in the show.

Anthony and Angel. Photo at left - Anthony sits in makeup as Key Makeup Artist Angel prepares him for camera.

Tempus Fugit - One final fun element to my day at the Alcazaba - my first chance to sit in the makeup chair since my arrival in Spain. This had a special significance to me. On my first day at the production office, I was approached by a member of the crew - Key Makeup Artist, Angel Luis de Diego Nieto. He had heard my voice and recognized it. We had worked together on a film called Jaguar Lives, starring John Huston, Joe Lewis, Donald Pleasance, Barbara Bach, Joseph Wiseman, Woody Strode, and a rather youngish actor, Anthony De Longis, playing the villain. Yes, twenty-three years earlier I had filmed this epic in Almeria. Angel, his partner, hair stylist Blanca Torres and I had done all this together before. Blanca was pregnant at the time, and here she was with a grown-up son. Time sure flies when you're having fun.


On to the 2nd Page of "Destiny"

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Copyright 2000 Anthony De Longis. All contents, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Anthony De Longis or used with permission of the copyright owner. All text and photos herein may not be reproduced or distributed without the express written consent of Anthony De Longis, his official representative, or the copyright owner.

The Queen of Swords is trademark of Fireworks Productions, Toronto, Canada, and is a production of Fireworks (Canada), Amy Productions (UK), Morena Films (Spain) and M6 (France), and is distributed in the United States by Paramount. The Official Queen of Swords Website can be found at


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This page last updated October 14, 2000