*Many thanks to Aetena for the transcript and the scans*
Dressed as Cleopatra in a toga with short black hair for the season five episode Anthony and Cleopatra, LUCY LAWLESS takes a break from filming a scene in a royal Egyptian bedchamber to give KATE BARKER the lowdown on dividing her time between saving the known world and motherhood, what goes on at the cast and crew parties and why co-star Renee O'Connor doesn't suffer as many injuries on the set as Lucy does...
XENA MAGAZINE: Are you enjoying motherhood for the second time?
LUCY LAWLESS: I'm absolutely loving it! I think being 3I as opposed to 20 is a huge advantage, because practically, you're more able to appreciate every moment. I'm better educated than I was about the course of a pregnancy... and knowing that I survived it once before has taken all the fear and the unknown quotient out of child rearing! Of course, every kid has their own quirks and will present their own problems to a parent, but I'm just loving it, every second of it.
Do you get to spend a lot of time with Julius, Rob and Daisy as a family, and how do you fit that in around the full-time job of working on Xena?
We seem to have everything. I'm in the very privileged position of being able to take my child to work, which a lot of mothers obviously can't do. I'm also in what in New Zealand is the unique position of being able to afford a nanny. So I have help from someone who I absolutely trust, someone who if I can't be there, I know will take great care, and she can keep Julius happy until I can come along and feed him. So really it couldn't be better it's an ideal situation.
Since I've always worked, I've just carried on the role. I have my social context and I have my work context, yet I'm still full-time mothering. There are very few days when I'm not with Julius every hour, where I don't have him in my arms every hour. Just the fact that I have that social and work context means that I'm very fulfilled in every way.
I remember with my first child [Daisy], when I was mothering 24 hours a day, how isolating that could be. This way, the baby gets the best of me because I'm not frustrated and I'm not over-tired. So we're very lucky.
You kept working throughout most of the pregnancy, had about six weeks off and then came back to work again part-time. How did you get back into shape so quickly?
I actually let myself not get into shape. I relaxed for three and a half months, and just let my body be a mother and fulfil its biological purpose... and I didn't rush it.
Do you do anything in particular to keep yourself in good shape?
I have to do something to keep in shape! I'm not that keen on it, frankly, but I dont worry about it too much. I just do it whenever I can. I do Pilates [an exercise technique] and I go walking with my baby when I get a late start in the mornings.
What do you do just to kick back and relax?
I come to work! I don't really have many hobbies. I have a family, and I do what I love all day.
Most people wouldn't think of coming to work every day and playing an action hero as a 'normal' job, especially if they've just become a mother all over again! But you've had five years in this position. What's it really like?
These days the working day is back to being between 10 and 12 hours, then I'll have read-throughs for the next episode, costume fittings, dialogue replacements in a different studio... that all happens after work or on the weekends. I'll probably read a script two days before we start shooting. Your brain is like a muscle, and anything you do repeatedly actually becomes an easy technique.
In the beginning, quite often I had 5 o'clock starts. These days we've all become so much better at what we're doing in terms of scheduling. The actors can get by without one another in certain scenes, so I won't have to be there for off-lines in the morning, or ReneÚ will get away at night a bit earlier. We make sure we're there for the big scenes, but generally the hours have become a little kinder over the years.
I'm always surprised at how relaxing it is to come back to work after a holiday - but I think that's because I've become institutionalised, basically! They write the schedule, they tell me what I'm going to do for the day, they tell me where I'm going to be at 5 o'clock at night, or 5 o'clock in the morning, so I don't have to think about it! I just slip back into the mode of doing what I'm told. It's become very comfortable.
Is the stunt work comfortable too? I asked you once what your worst moment of filming Xena was, and you told me about a scene with rats...
The rats, yeah! I'm also not really keen on getting hurt for a living!
Fighting other actors is always dangerous, because they don't have the experience of pulling punches. They just either go for it or theyre really lame. I guess you'd prefer the actress who goes for it and really starts whacking you with her sword rather than the one who just looks like a wimp.
Actually, it never seems to happen to ReneÚ. I never see her injured... but ReneÚ is so athletic, and I'm not. I'm always getting smacked about and getting torn ligaments... I mean, I popped a rib the other week... those sorts of things are just par for the course, it seems...
I do all the fights, but if it's [filmed] to my back, then it's a stunt double. There's no point in risking your lead actress getting a black eye... as we learned early on in the first season!
Aside from the obvious kick you get out of stunt work (pun intended), what are some of the other aspects that make your job so enjoyable?
The actors are very congenial, because we're a family here. ReneÚ and I in particular make sure that our attitude is really healthy towards work and that we don't get complacent or take things for granted or treat people badly or act like a brat, because it permeates.
If you're the 'stars' of the show, you really set the tone for everybody else. My thought has always been, why should they [other actors and crew] want to stay and work for such long hours for less pay than we're getting if we make their lives miserable? We love them - I love my crew - so I don't want to make their lives difficult. Consequently, it's just a lovely place to work.
It's got to a point, at the end of the fifth year, where it has become my social life as well. I don't fight that at all, I just go with the flow.
Actually, we've done quite a lot of stuff all together recently We just had an enormous pool party at my house; everybody brought their kids, it was a Polynesian theme and we had a barbecue - it was very relaxed. But there was no romance, funnily enough! Whenever we have a get together, there's never anybody snogging in the corner. That's always the one thing that's missing from our parties! People have paired up over the course of the last five years, but there's no intrigue on our set!
What sort of fun do you get up to on the set do you play practical jokes on each other?
I'm just hopeless at this question! It's been asked of me a million times, and I can never remember, because taking the mickey out of ourselves and each other - sending each other up - is so par for the course!
One thing that springs to mind is that ReneÚ and I will often terrorise one another not so much when the camera's rolling - and there was this one incident where we were sitting in this... soup. Ostensibly we were locked in the bow of an upturned ship. We were just sitting in lukewarm water for a week, and all the hay and the melons and the cabbages and things that were in the hold of the ship were just floating by... and by the end of the week they were just miserably rancid. We knew that Renee was particularly aggrieved by the stench of those stinky old cabbages, so in every one of Renees shots, you'll see one of them go floating past!
Anything we can do to make one another's life more difficult - or funnier - we'll do it! But it's all in good taste...
Do you enjoy the comedy in the show, and do you find it more fun doing the more comedic episodes?
I prefer comedy, because it feeds you more. I mean, I couldn't just do comedy. That would be terribly dull. But the comedies are a relief, put it that way it's comic relief over the course of the series, with the levity that it brings.
What would be your most humiliating moment?
You know, just recently Ive had flashbacks of all my humiliating moments' I just have to convince myself that nobody else can remember them. I can't remember their humiliating moments, so why should they remember mine?
Oh, I've just had dozens occur to me. But I've just been thinking lately: say you catch somebody picking their nose in their car, and then you think, 'I wonder if anybody ever caught me doing that sort of thing'. They'd be saying, 'Ooh, I saw that Lucy Lawless...' You just wonder if people are laughing at you. But that's life.
How does it feel to be known as such an icon to people all over the world?
Well, I'm not an icon. Xena is I guess. It's a little strange sometimes, because Xena means more to other people even than she does to me. To me it's a job, and it's a fantastic job, but Xena herself doesn't figure in my off hours.
if I was to log onto the internet everyday, it would be very hard to believe all the great things they say about me, because they say so much crummy stuff as well and I find it hurtful sometimes. These are the hardcore fans. They think you're an angel and they think you're Satan at the same time - consequently, we are loved and reviled out of all proportion. It's just easier not to pay attention to it either way.
I think that's why the character has succeeded so well, though. It's what people can relate to. The most attractive thing about the character of Xena is that's she's very flawed. She has a flawed past, and she has a temper and always has the devil on her shoulder. To be the best you can doesn't mean you're great - I'm certainly not great in everybody's eyes all the time - but Xena's doing the best she can.
I play her as somebody who struggles to be the best, to give 110 per cent of whatever she has, every day I guess I play her like I play my life. I come to work and do the best I can every day - so does ReneÚ, so does Rob, so does everybody else here - and that's all I can do.
Also, because we're so removed from it here - Xena doesn't currently show in New Zealand, I think it's coming back on air soon - you're not famous in your own living room. On the set, I'm certainly not an icon to any of these people. I'm 'Luce the goose'. I m 'Hey you!' We really have that kind of relationship.
How involved are you in the direction of the show at the moment?
I'm starting to read the scripts earlier now, because I'm at a point where I'm a lot less blasÚ about things and I'm more concerned with the direction that the series goes in. I felt that we suffered a little in the fifth season, not purely because I was pregnant, but because people didn't know what to do with a pregnant hero. We also had a lot of changes of writers. I'm now very interested in their contribution for the next season.
Really, Rob's the person with the grand vision and the master scheme, but I'm concerned with how they go about coming to that. I've never said that before, because I've never felt that way... but I guess I've changed my focus about what matters to me now. The quality of this show matters to me, and for this season coming up, you'd better believe I care a lot about what happens to Xena.
I want to make sure that the next season is a cracker, a really good one. I want it to be the case that when the series ends, Xena goes out in a blaze of glory... I simply refuse to see her fade away.
You obviously have some idea about where the show's going - what can you tell us?
We're on the brink of the death of the gods, and the notion of monotheism [one god], which is an interesting concept - and how Xena is a player in that. She has a child to consider, who becomes an interesting force in the show in her own right. We'll be losing some of the old foes, basically, but we'll make sure that the characters are still in danger. Also, the friendship between Xena and Gabrielle remains strong, although it does change.
During a break from Xena in 1997, you took on a role in a stage production of Grease on Broadway. Is musical theatre a genre you'd like to go back to?
Ah... not in a hurry! I really loved the experience, but I'm really spoiled here in that I have a fresh script to work on every week, and every 10 days there is new material. Doing the same piece of work eight times a week in Grease, I just about fried my brain! I played Rizzo, the bad girl. in the scene where she's boffing [having sex with] some guy down behind the bleachers at a football game, I was lying down there with my colleague, just covering my head and saying, 'this too shall pass... this too shall pass...' I couldn't believe I was doing the same thing for the 69th time!
But the New York experience is mind-blowing. I felt I was living in [the television show] Fame! There'd be rehearsals in this six-store narrow building. There'd be an opera singer in one room, ballet, a Honda commercial auditioning, all these jazz dancers, and then me rehearsing for this fun, goofy piece of Americana. New York actors will blow you away; they support one another, and they were so good to me. They were the most beautiful, amazing, talented people.
I like classics. I like Shakespeare. My favourite play is Hcdda Gabler. The truth is, I would love to revisit theatre, but I would choose my pieces very carefully.
What are your plans for the future - for Xena and beyond?
I want to have a couple more kids and be working in the best projects with the best people, whether that's film or theatre. I'm not keen to sign up for another television series in a hurry. I'm sure one day that'll seem like a great option. When my young kids are off to secondary school, I'll probably think that a nice sitcom sounds just peachy! But I'd want to spend more time with my family first.
Right now I'm still happy doing this. Actually, I can't believe I've found myself in this action genre - it's nothing I ever predicted for myself. I was always hopeless at physical things. But this is better than anything I've ever done before, because the scope of the job is unbeatable. We get to do high drama and action and slapstick and singing and you name it... there's no single role that's ever going to get me this again, and that fact is not lost on me.
But one day I am going to have to move on, and I'll be tremendously sad. I was just saying that to Rob last night, that I'll be really sad when the show stops. I'll cry for days... and then it'll feel like it's gone in a blip.
I love this - I love my friends here and I love the work. This is my dream I'm living it right now.
If you had one week where you didn't have to do anything - where you had no responsibilities at all except to yourself - what do you think you would do?
I would go crazy! I couldn't cope. I'm not a relaxer. I would be doing something in this field. I've got some friends and we have a little band... and just for fun, we have little jam sessions. That is my one hobby... that and hanging out with my children.
Those are my greatest pleasures in life. Thats how lucky I am, and I pray it continues.
Lucys legendary journeys
Name: Lucy Lawless (nÚe Lucy Ryan)
Date of birth: 29 March 1968
Place of birth: Mount Albert, New Zealand
Lucy was born to Irish-Catholics Frank and Julie Ryan as the fifth child of six and the only girl. She decided she wanted to perform at a young age, and frequently appeared in musicals and dramas at school. She attended Auckland University where she studied opera and languages, but dropped out after a year to travel the world. Lucy married high school sweetheart Garth Lawless in 1988 after she fell pregnant with her first child, Daisy. She first cut her acting teeth in a series of television commercials for New Zealand ASB Banks, and soon went on to appear in a number of television shows in New Zealand and Canada (where she studied with Bill Davies, better known as The X-files cigarette-Smoking Man), before coming to the attention of Robert Tapert and Sam Raimis Renaissance Pictures in 1994.
Lucy was engaged to Robert G. Tapert in 1997 and the couple married on 28 March 1998. They have a son, Julius Bay Tapert, born in December 1999. In 1997 Lucy was voted by People Magazine as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world.
SELECTED TELEVISION CREDITS
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