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TV Guide (US)

3 May 1997

TV's Triumphant Warrior Princess and Her Wild Ride To The Top

Yes, she is the Warrior Princess. And in a revealing talk, Lucy Lawless shares the trials and triumphs of Xena mania
She Plays the mythic hero but lives in the modern world. Somehow she seems to have the perfect balance

by David Rensin

The Woman Behind the Warrior



She plays a mythic hero but lives in the modern world. Somehow she seems to have found the perfect balance.
Xena the Warrior Princess may have only a horse to get around the ancient world, but when she's in Los Angeles, Lucy Lawless, the 29-year-old New Zealand-born actress who plays her, rates a limo. In fact, because of her jam-packed schedule, the stretch Lincoln's back seat is the only place Lawless can fit in a chat about being a role model, a mom (to 8-year-old Daisy), and a mythic hero who can kick anyone's butt and still find time to work on friendship issues with her gal pal, Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor).

Lawless' day so far has included a long outdoor photo shoot, promos for an animated direct-to-video Hercules and Xena movie (due out this fall), and an appearance on the NBC sitcom Something So Right (which aired April 29). Now all she really wants to do is head home and have dinner with her boyfriend, Xena cocreator and executive producer Rob Tapert. But for the moment, cruising along Mulholland Drive at dusk while sipping a rum and Coke seems like a pleasant way to unwind.

TV Guide: In your cameo on NBC's Something So Right, you confronted their Xena rip-off character, Thena. That must tell you something about how well your show is doing.

Lucy Lawless: It says our show is really having an impact. Of course, my personal goal is to totally infiltrate popular culture.

TVG: In other words, world domination.

LL: In a nutshell.

TVG: Do you feel more empowered?

LL: The whole fame thing makes me giggle.

TVG: Your previous attitude was more sober.

LL: Yes, I used to be more afraid of being famous, but now I'm determined just to roll with the punches. I'm not going to suffocate and fall down dead.

TVG: Initially, you felt awkward being an instant role model, right?

LL: I've relaxed tremendously about that. I finally realized that being a role model doesn't mean people are encouraged to be like me - they're encouraged to go out and be more of themselves. Before, it was too much responsibility to ear because it's all I can do to be a good role model to my kid. I don't need other people's kids on my plate.

TVG: Who in your business inspires you?

LL: Susan Sarandon and Helen Mirren. I also think Madonna's an admirable creature, but I don't intend to model my career on hers. Xena's breastplates will not suddenly go all pointy.

TVG: You weren't the first choice for Xena. The original actress got sick and had to drop out. Did you ever meet her?

LL: Once, and to my everlasting shame I was kind of a smart-ass. She didn't know who I was and I knew full wel who she was - Vanessa Angel - and she was working on the Universal lot in Weird Science. I leapt off this Universal tram and said, "Oh, can I have a photo with you?" Now I have this photo with her being so genuine and me having a smart-aleck look on my face. She was so kind to someone she didn't even know.

TVG: Apology noted. How, in your life, have you had to be a hero?

LL: By being a working mother and going through a divorce [from Garth Lawless, a bar manager]. You feel you're losing your kid and you can't defend yourself. You can't speak ill of the father. You can be persecuted, but you can't persecute. Your kid thinks that you don't care. There have been moments when I've had to fight every natural urge to strike back. Xena does the same thing, fights urges.

TVG: How has your daughter reacted to your show - especially since it's now on in New Zealand - and your celebrity?

LL: At first, she really hated it. Wanted it all to just go away. She equated it with the breakup of her family. In fact, the two were completely unrelated. [pauses] She's much more comfortable with it now. she's realized that Xena is not going to turn my head away from her. She's even slightly proud. She realizes now that it's a cool show. When it finally aired in New Zealand, the next weekend - she stays with me on weekends - I asked her, "Did the kids say anything about the show?" She went, "Yeah, they really liked it actually!" She kept using the word "actually."

TVG: You've talked about Xena's dark side. She's been bad, and now she's good. What urges are buried inside that she's still trying to resist?

LL: She may be good, but she doesn't feel she's good. Xena's agenda is just to get through the day without killing someone.

TVG: So Xena is just fated to keep wandering around the ancient world?

LL: Yes. She keeps moving. If she puts down roots, she might have to face herself. She'll never have a home. She's a misfit - and that's where we are similar.

TVG: Why do you think you're a misfit?

LL: I have chosen to live in a rarefied atmosphere. People react differently now that I'm on the telly. I become more of a misfit all the time, but I suppose that's what I wanted to be.

TVG: How would you characterize your relationship with Kevin "Hercules" Sorbo?

LL: I would characterize it as [leans close to the microphone and smiles]: We have no competition going on whatsoever. He's my big brother, and I love him. Just because Xena came from Hercules' rib doesn't mean I want to knock him off.

TVG: Xena has switched bodies with her archenemy, Callisto. What if you switched bodies with Hercules? What would you do with a day in his skin?

LL: I would totally corrupt Herc's reputation, no doubt! Not deliberately, of course. The possibilities are mind-blowing. I suppose I might also be very freaked out and looking for a surgeon. Boy, would he be sorry when I changed back!

TVG: In the firect-to-video animated Hercules and Xena movie you not only do your character's voice, but you also sing a song. Will your voice be balm or blasphemy to your fans?

LL: All the hard-core fans know that I sing. The song is a real kid-pleaser. It's a pop ballad.

TVG: So should we expect an album of Lucy Lawless singing Greek classics?

LL: Yeah, I'm thinking of doing Sappho's greatest hits.

TVG: I hear that you'll be segueing from one Grecian formula to another in the fall, playing the part of Rizzo on Broadway in "Grease." How did that happen?

LL: It was a complete surprise. When I did The Rosie O'Donnell Show last August, I also sang. During our chat she told me she'd been in "Grease." I asked her what role, and she scoffed and said, "What role do you think I played? Rizzo, of course. Do you think they're going to cast me as Olivia Newton-John?" A couple of months later the offer came through. Apparently the play's producers just happened to be watching at the right time. I think it's ironic that even in my time off from being a bad girl who wants to be a saint, I play a bad girl.

TVG: What modern, indispensable comfort would Xena kill to have?

LL: Tampons.

TVG: Well - you're clearly a lot saucier than that stern spoilsport Xena.

LL: She can be lots of fun. In an episode this season Xena went undercover at a beauty pageant. You see her dumb and blond. You even see her uncovered. [Smiles] I walk up the ramp, and as I pivot at the end, I give a little flick of my tush, and you get to see right up Xena's skirts. It was a happy accident, and the angle was good, so I didn't mind.

TVG: Is there anything you'd like to change about your regular costume?

LL: I wish it was a caftan, but you can't high-kick someone in a caftan.

TVG: Xena is more experienced with men than her pal, Gabrielle. What advice is she dying to give her young friend?

LL: She's not really in any position to give advice. Recently we had a guest star who had a problem with her man because he was in love with Xena. Xena decided to give her some womanly tips. Next thing, the woman comes out wearing some sort of Neanderthal dominatrix outfit. That was Xena's advice!

TVG: What criticisms of the show have you heard that you just don't get?

LL: I say, Lay the hell off Joxer. I think many of the die-hard fans dislike him because they think that Xena and Gabrielle dislike him. That's an affront to a wonderful actor, Ted Raimi. He's comic relief, and the show needs that because Xena cannot fill that role. Nor can Gabrielle. Neither of us is allowed to look silly. Joxer is a good vent for the audience because everyone loves seeing him get hurt. So stop being nasty about him on the internet. I am offended on behalf of a friend and colleague.

TVG: Heaven and hell have their ancient equivalents in the Elysian Fields and Tartarus. Where is Xena going?

LL: I think she will find, to her great surprise, that she gets pushed through the cat flap in the door of the Elysian Fields. She'll get in by a whisker.

Xena's Naughty Nymph

Battling grotesque mythical beasts can wear a warrior princess down, but no one is more bothersome than comely psycho-babe Callisto, who's played with lip-smacking zeal by Hudson Leick. "I love playing Callisto. I lo-o-ve it!" says the Los Angeles-based Leick.

"When I'm her, I can do no wrong. Through her I can spit and I can scream. Callisto is just so yummy!" Her character's frothing-at-the-mouth fury is fueled by revenge: After Callisto watched a pre-heroic Xena and her renegade army annihilate her entire family, she made it her mission to rid the ancient world of the warrior. Ironically, Callisto's fantasy became Leick's reality—at least temporarily—when Lawless fractured her pelvis during a Tonight Show stunt last October.

Since Lawless and Leick had just finished a two-part body-swapping episode, the solution seemed simple: Leick would once again step into Xena's shoes (actually, Xena's spirit would once again step into Callisto's body] while Lawless recuperated. "It's really hard to play someone else's character," says Leick. "I had to imitate Lucy Lawless playing Xena—and that's a tough rote to play," And after playing a raving maniac, the idea of playing a hero just doesn't appeal.

"It's hard not to make heroes boring. It's much easier to play a bad guy. When you're a good guy. you have to constantly be aware that you can never look dumb. It's just too many things to think about."—Jose A. Martinez

Two Who Trounced Trek

Toppling the Star Trek ratings empire was not a job for mere mortals. Since 1987, the inter-galactic dynasty has dominated the syndicated-drama charts: not even Baywatch's leggy lifesavers—who bobbed in second place for four seasons—could attract a larger audience. That's what makes the recent triumph of Xena and Hercules over Star Trek: Deep Space Nine seem so, well, Herculean. The Star Trek franchise seemed so invincible that when executive producers Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi launched Hercules in 1995, they didn't even bother reaching for the stars.

"Our initial goal was to bump off Baywatch as the number-two show," says Tapert, overjoyed with their mythic conquest. This is something I never expected to accomplish." — Elisa Zuritsky


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