December 1-15, 1997. Volume 6, Number 4.

Princess Xena... She-Herc

Many thanks to Minsky for the transcript


One woman's loss is another woman's gain. This statement readily described how Lucy Lawless, unwittingly, became the most popular TV actress (next to The X-File's Gillian Anderson) on Planet Earth.

Revealed Xena: Warrior Princess writer John Schulian, "The actress we originally cast to play Xena in the Hercules three-oart story was Vanessa Angel (Weird Science TV Series). She got sick and we couldn't find a replacement for her over the New Year's weekend."

Lawless was actually surprised when she got the call to try out for the role of the Warrior Princess because it was only a few weeks earlier that she guest-starred on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys as the scheming, centaur-loving Lyla.

"I had just been in the previous episode, 'When Darkness Falls', so I think the execs were saying, 'Oh no, we can't use her because we just used her. Here's a list of five other actresses you should try."

The actress explained wryly in a fanzine interview, "For some reason, every one of them pulled out. Pilot season was coming up, so they decided, 'Oh no, we don't want to go down to the bottom of the world in pilot season and do a 3-week stint that will come to nothing, when we could stay here in Los Angeles and do a pilot that could possibly become a series.' "

"I had been on a camping holiday, so they had to move heaven and Earth to find me. I flew to L.A. and had my hair changed. They made the costume up for me and then I was shooting. It was a huge twist of fate or good luck, or whatever you want to call it, but here I am."

But Lawless admitted it wasn't all that easy. "I was never a sports freak or anything like that. Unlike Kevin Sorbo, who is a sportsman from way back, I need to get my skills up and keep them up, because it doesn't come naturally to me."

Luckily, the actress had a good teacher in the person of martial arts master Douglas Wong, whose working credits include Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. He taught her basic kung fu and fighting techniques with swords and staffs. Plus, the producers had her enter an actor's workshop.

"It was like the old studio system," Lawless described. "they took me to L.A. for training in dialogue, kung fu, personal training and film technique. It was just wonderful and really kick-started me again. After I left acting school four years ago, I had kind of plateaued. It took me four years to understand I had been taught, and then to think, 'Holy guacamole, WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?' "

It certainly didn't take long for her to figure out the answer to that question. "I was sitting in the bus of second assistant director Rob Tapert when it was hinted to me that Xena might have her own spin-off series. I was trying to be all cool about it, saying, 'Yeah, yeah, we'll believe it when it happens, and I'll talk to you later, thank you, Mr. Tapert.' I went away and had lunch on my own, and tried to pretend I hadn't heard what I heard. Anyway, the upshot is, four months from that day, the series was happening. It seems like forever ago."

Now about to enter its third season, Xena: Warrior Princess has emerged as one of the top shows on syndicated television, sometimes surpassing Hercules : The Legendary Journeys in the ratings war. But the actress declared there was no rivalry between the two shows.

"Because we screen at different times," Lawless explained, "there's no point in being in competition. We don't really compete because the flavors of the two shows are so distinct from one another. There are things that happen on Hercules that will never happen on Xena, and vice versa. There's no point in competing. I also think we're working way too hard to be looking at each other's shows."

She also revealed that the casts of Hercules and Xena are like one big happy family. In fact, she only has high praises for her fellow actors.

"Kevin Sorbo really hasn't changed very much," the actress described her male counterpart. "he's a nice guy and good to work with. This has, in a funny way, become Kevin's home, and I think he's already bought a place here in New Zealand. he has a lot of friends here, and it's quite enriching, living in another country for a period of time. he seems to be handling it fine, and because he's here, he doesn't have people hounding him every two seconds. It's like a beach holiday."

Then there's Michael Hurst (Iolaus). "We did develop a really good rapport early on. I don't think it had anything to do with the fact that he's an established New Zealand actor, because we were only barely acquainted before that, but we really hit it off. Most women love talking to Michael. I think he gets a lot of mail already, but he's a pretty good guy, and would never get uptight about it. He and his wife drafted out some replies, but at this stage, I think the load has gotten too heavy and they just won't be able to keep doing that. He's such a busy man, directing plays and all sorts of things. 

What about her own sidekick, Renee O' Connor? " I have a huge respect for Renee as a person. She's easy to listen to in film acting terms, and that's the magic: if you're actually listening and talking in somebody's face. That's real acting."

In truth, Lawless regrets not being able to spend some time with Renee off the set. But during filming, the duo have been engaging in a competition of sorts on the number of bruises they could get while filming the fight scenes.

"I've actually gotten much better about the fight sequences," the actress bragged. "I just got five bruises today, and I don't even know how they happened."

Despite all that rambunctious female energy on the set, Lawless admitted that there is a downside to filming all those long hours. Her job made it hard for her to find time for her personal life. She divorced her husband, Garth Lawless, in 1995. But she does have custody of their daughter, Daisy. Besides that, she recently got engaged to Rob Tapert.

"It is difficult sometimes, but we're managing," she revealed in one magazine interview. "Initially, Daisy was afraid that the kids wouldn't like me and she was going to be rejected. And when they came to school and found out they really liked the show, it was a big weight off her little shoulders. Sometimes, Daisy comes down to the set with me on Fridays."

Being a concerned mother, the actress was once worried about letting her daughter watch Xena because of the violence and the supposed lesbian 'tinge' of the show. "I might have had a question mark regarding the violence on Xena before but I think yes, I would, because all the sound FX and speed ramping make the fights cartoonish."

"Daisy could see Xena even if people label it a lesbian show. She has seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and we're a bit less inhibited about those things here in New Zealand. We just had a festival which is like Mardi Gras, and I was surprised at how shocked our American friends were at all the naked breasts walking around in the main street, but that's New Zealand."

"But, to be honest, at first, it was a surprise to hear that people were throwing a loopy slant on it just because two women were traveling around with no visible male support. We kind of laughed and played along with it. That was a long time ago, and since, we've moved on. I think the characters transcend labeling, just  like gay people don't want to be identified solely by their sexuality. They contribute so many things to society tat to limit it to their sexuality is unimaginative."

Through it all, Lucy Lawless doesn't have any regrets because she loves her popular TV character. "If you're going to play a character for a couple of years, the I can't think of a better character to play than Xena. She has such duality and complexity that I should consider myself a very lucky actor to play her."


--By Rory Pascual


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