- Starlog Magazine
- December 2000 - Issue #181
Many thanks to Jenn for the transcript and the pics.
Lucy Lawless Wonders: Is it Time to Hang up the Chakram
By Joe Nazzaro
No one ever said playing the titular hero on Xena: Warrior Princess was going to be a glamorous job. Over the past five seasons, Lucy Lawless has endured all manner of indignities, from wrestling eels to battling head lice. Her character has been crucified, deep-frozen, covered in cake, demonized, vampirized and possessed by a Hindu deity. All told, it has been a rather uncomfortable half-decade for the actress.
To her credit, Lawless has never worried about looking undignified or even downright silly on camera, but after five seasons worth of discomfort, she is getting a bit tired. "It's six years on, and I'm so stinking sick of it," she claims, "but it's not that long to go. I'll always look back on this as having been the most amazing time of my life so far, but how long can you keep getting punched in the face? That's what it feels likes sometimes. I get home at night feeling battered on the inside."
"Not that long to go?" Sounds like there's an even bigger story brewing here. If Xena's sixth season is indeed going to be its last, then perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to confirm that news with the show's leading lady. "It's not official yet' responds Lawless, "so nobody can come out and say it definitively. I can say, however, that it is the best season ever."
In fact, the actress is taking time from her only day off this week to discuss the upcoming season. Also on hand is husband and Xena's executive producer Rob Tapert. On this particular morning, Tapert has been charged with keeping an eye on their infant son Julius, although that doesn't keep him from interjecting occasionally.
"The stories have never been so mature in terms of storytelling," Lawless continues. "We've all come a long way, and now that I'm fully physically back on board [after the birth of Julius], the writers have completely free rein to write whatever they want. And they're putting Renée O'Connor and me through the tortures of the damned to achieve it! Renée and I know that when we're going through hell, the audience loves it on screen. I have to say, we're suffering!
"Right now, we're on an odyssey up through the Scandinavian countries and we're encountering the Norse gods. We're meeting a whole slew of fresh faces, and when you get a lot of new guest actors coming in, there's always at least one terrific surprise. There's often someone who shines in what I would call a breakout part, who's just super on screen.fresh blood comes something great. You'll find that's the case this season."
Because season six takes place 25 years into Xena and Gabrielle's future, it has basically buried much of the show's original supporting cast. Most of the new episodes, therefore, focus on the two main characters. "The new shows are great, very good fun, but they're killing me!" says Lawless. "They're very Xena-heavy. Getting to work on a Monday, though, is kind of a relief because the weekends are so busy with a budding teenager and a little baby. It doesn't get any easier."
One returning character is Xena's daughter Eve (Adrienne Wilkinson). After the climactic events of last season, parent and child have reached a reconciliation of sorts, but there's still plenty of room for conflict. "Eve comes back in two episodes so far this season, and we're up to episode seven. I don't know what the plan is after that." There are also a few Olympian gods who manage to survive their apocalyptic battle with Xena in "Motherhood." They include whatever deities weren't present in that episode, as well as Ares (Kevin Smith) and Aphrodite (Alexandra Tydings), who both sided with Xena. "We had a really charming scene at the end of one of those god-killing episodes, where Ares gives up his godhood and immortality to save Eve. There was such a nice resolution to that, but they had to cut it out for time. Everybody felt its loss, because Kevin is just stupendous. He's a valued member of the family and he'll be back [in "Coming Home"]."
Another major cast casualty of last season's final trilogy was warrior wannabe Joxer (Ted Raimi), who met a tragic demise at Eve's hands. While Tapert insists there are a few stories kicking around that would allow them to bring Raimi back for an appearance or two, his absence is already being felt on the Xena set. "We definitely miss Ted; the wardrobe girls and everybody miss Ted. We were going to do a modern day episode, and he had an opportunity to come back for that, but he declined for other reasons. You just want your friends to be happy wherever they are, so if Ted is happier doing something else, then that's good. Not so good for us, but happier for him."
Lawless disputes the idea that this season's potentially serious storylines don't necessarily have a place for a comedic character like Joxer. "They're really quite serious. Although there are always comic elements with the Joxer character, Ted is quite capable of playing very heavy drama and lending poignancy and grace [to a role]. He's a very good actor, and I'll miss every second he's not with us."
Several familiar faces will be working behind the camera this season, notably Hercules alum Michael Hurst, who directs "Who's Gurkhan?" "He had one of the North African stories, the harem episode, which was spurred by Rob and I going to an exhibit at a local art gallery."
The other actor-director making an early appearance is O'Connor, who helmed DëJà Vu All Over Again" in season four and will I direct "Dangerous Prey" this time around. "Can't wait!" Lawless exclaims. "She shoots in three episodes' time. Ren feels that the first time, she could get away with being on that steep learning curve, but this time, she feels a lot of pressure. She's putting pressure on herself to get it right, but she's very smart."
It's easy to get complacent when surrounded by the same cast and crew for several years, and even Lawless can see that a major shakeup probably isn't a bad thing. "Just technically, you expect that everybody knows everything you do but when you get new people, you first think, 'Wow, they - don't know the simplest things!' Then you realize that's because this is a specialized field. Even in terms of the acting, it's a genre piece, so if it's a hero show, you have to protect the hero.
"Xena is what I call a 'Maggi Pack.' Maggi is a brand of soup down here, and in the Maggi Soup advertisement, you have the hero pack framed up large and you light it right. For Gabrielle and Xena, you have to make them very prominent. We must behave in a certain way on screen, and sometimes we forget that other actors don't [know this]. This is a whole new world for them, and sometimes they don't know how to take that hero moment. Sometimes they'll rush it, but we encourage them to take their time and love every moment they're on screen, because the better they are, the better our show is. What's good for them is good for us, so we try to be supportive of new people."
Lawless is reluctant to give away too much about the sixth season's episodes, but she's more than happy to participate in a critical post-mortem of last season. A trenchant starting point is her real life pregnancy, which was quickly incorporated into the overall story arc. "We told key people, because they had to know times, you're awfully tired or you have to go to the doctor, and they need to know about that sort of thing so that they don't fire you out of a cannon. But now, we're back to cannons, or they'll launch me out of a slingshot or something.
"At the time, I knew I was living the good life because I wasn't in harness [for the season opener, "Fallen Angel"], which is an unbelievably painful way to spend an entire day. I was still working long days, but it was fun. Frankly, I knew I was privileged to be able to be pregnant and work, particularly as an actress. Being pregnant at home can be quite isolating, and I would be bored I wouldn't know what to do with myself.
"Fallen Angel" was a milestone for the series, starting from the deaths of Xena and Gabrielle, and continuing into a massive battle between the forces of Heaven and Hell. The FX-heavy episode may have put a dent in the season's budget, but it certainly kicked things off in a big way. "I knew it would be a good one, because it was hard to shoot," Lawless says. "They spent a lot of money on the EX and the story held together, so it didn't surprise me that it turned out well. It was tough to shoot because of all the prosthetics and the rigs."
The actress is less happy with some of the more outlandish episodes that followed the departures of writers Steve Sears and R.J. Stewart, who went off to helm the new Sheena series and Cleopatra 2525 respectively. "I think part of the problem was that people couldn't wrap their heads around having a pregnant star. Physically, they're slightly limited. They can't write me belly dancing in a harem when I'm six months pregnant. Part of it was the limitations of my condition and part of it was perhaps a failure of imagination. I know I'm putting my neck on the line, daring to say that, but I did feel a little let down last year. I felt like people's hearts were not where the jobs were. I find that really hard to tolerate, because if you sign a contract, you finish it and you don't complain."
The conversation is interrupted by Tapert, who shouts something from across the room. "This is my interview!" retorts Lawless. "Rob feels that Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who produced several episodes of Xena before moving to Jack of All Trades inherited a nightmare and didn't quite know what to do with it. That's how Rob feels, but l don't know about that. I was glad to have RJ back on board later on, because he was happy to be there. You want people who are happy to be there and creatively are giving 100 percent. Unfortunately, there's just no room for less."
Perhaps the most offbeat fifth season entry was "Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire," a tongue-in-cheek rock musical that had a group of Amazons competing with Xena' s former lover Draco in a battle of the bands. "Lyre, Lyre" had its moments, including Raimi playing Joker's camp brother Jace, but Tapert says the episode was a "disaster" in terms of fan interest and ratings. "We also shot a song that we weren't allowed to use by the record company, because of a homophonic comment allegedly made by somebody at that company," recalls Lawless irately. "They said they didn't like the touching, and it was just Xena putting her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders, saying, 'Listen to. me, would you?You've got the wrong end of the stick.' They had only seen the dailies, and they thought the touching was lesbian.
"The great irony is that scene was all about homophobia. It was about how Draco treated Jace. The conflict in that scene was that Gabrielle didn't like Xena's attitude toward Draco. Xena was saying, 'Just let it go, Gabrielle, we'll deal with it later,' and Gabrielle was saying, 'No, when have we started tolerating intolerance?' Well, the person at the record company who saw the dailies thought that Xena putting her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders was too intimate, and it made her feel uncomfortable. This is the reported story, and thereafter, we were thrown up a million obstacles and could not use it in the final episode. Personally, it made me sick, and it's a shame, because it was a nice song and we were stopped from doing something decent."
Sharp-eyed viewers may also have noticed a brief shot of a scantily clad, extremely pregnant Lawless in the closing credits. "That was my idea," she asserts. "I had already wrapped, and it was our director of photography's last day. I squeezed into one of Gabrielle's double's go-go costumes. I was just being silly on one of the final takes at the end of the day, and they kept it in!"
Another fifth season milestone was "God Fearing Child," which featured a guest shot' by Hercules (Kevin Sorbo), the birth of Xena's baby and the beginning of the "twilight of the gods" storyline that would continue throughout the season. If the episode seemed a bit Xena-lite, that's because it was Lawless' first week back after her so birth. "Renée picked up a lot of the slack of course, and the various guest actors if you're going to have Hercules, you've got to use him. It was terrific of Kevin to come back.
"I was so exhausted. A baby at that age awake every two hours, and I was up feeding I him all day and night. I was running back and forth from the camper to the set looking after the baby. So yes, they had to write around me. He didn't sleep for more than three hours until he was 10 weeks old. I was at a low ebb physically, but very happy to be back at work. Physically, it's difficult, but mentally, I would say it's more difficult to be home all the time.
"Stay-at-home mothers are absolutely my heroes. I did it that way with Daisy [her first child]. I think it was easier this time, because you have a social context outside the home. You have a relationship with people other than just your baby, your partner and a few family members."
And, keeping in the motherhood vein, no discussion of the season would be complete without looking at the final trilogy of "Livia," "Eve" and "Motherhood." "It did have some pretty strong moments, didn't it?" notes Lawless. "Boy, did we get flak over that shot of the chakram hitting Gabrielle's head. It was a shame it got cut, because it was too long a sequence. I don't know if it would have explained it so much gone on to mitigate a little bit, but it was something that never got shot.
"It was supposed to be Xena seeing a silhouette of somebody going to stab Eve through a blind or a shutter. She throws her chakram through the blind and gets Gabrielle by mistake. It just didn't get shot that way, though in of the final drafts, that explanation had been lost from the shooting draft, and the director simply was not on the script that we were all finally issued.
"That was an oversight, and then the other scene immediatly following it would simply have mitigated it. What happened was that the Furies came out of Gabrielle's head, and then there was a battle with the Furies, so we had a big set-up there. That scene horribly offended some die-hard fans. I'm told that they think it's some part of a conspiracy to ruin Gabrielle's [character] or Renée's career, and it is so preposterous and hurtful, that anybody could suggest such a thing. Screw them, we do the best we can every day."
Having looked at some of the high (and low) points of the past season, the conversation drifts over to the subject of her marriage to Tapert. Normally, an interviewee's private life is considered out of bounds by STARLOG, but when the executive producer is married to his leading lady, one can't help wondering if that makes life easier or more difficult.
"I'll tell you what it is: Sometimes you just want to come home and vent, and I can't just blow my stack about work because he's killing himself as well, and it would hurt him~' Lawless says. "Things just come out of me, I'm absolutely an open book, but he's learning to deal with me. Rob is not afraid of getting angry himself, so anger is not a sin, but you simply mustn't take it out on somebody else. It's difficult to vent about work and not say something that's very personal to him.
"It's great having Rob Tapert in my life, but I don't know if I love being married to my producer. He doesn't go easy on me, because he can't. He simply can't make this show any other way. It's so hard to put together good stories week in and week out that our comfort is not much of a consideration. They do everything they can to lighten Renée's discomfort and mine, but that ain't much."
That seems to be a good time to return to the interview's original topic: Whether or not Xena's sixth season will also be its last. If the choice were left up to Lawless, the answer would be yes. "I would love to go out on a high note' she explains. "Why wait and do another year with failing energy and failing love for your task? You can't serve the audience that way. You can't make this show with anything less than 100 percent of what you have every day, and I'm running out. I'm running on empty already. I'm running on love; that's all I've got left.
"I also have a child who's going to be 18 months by the end of the show-by the end of the sixth season, I should say and a baby needs his mummy to be around. Daisy had me full time until she was six, so she had a pretty fantastically secure environment, and Julius is certainly not lacking, but I wouldn't want him to be nearly three without his Mom."
When Xena: Warrior Princess finally comes to an end, Lucy Lawless will look on that period in her life as a very special one. At that point, all the discomfort and annoyance of the past six years will undoubtedly fade into the background, to be replaced by much happier memories. "Like my kinship with these people," she considers. "It has not been an ordinary job. It has really been a legendary journey for all of us, and I feel that there will forever be this bond between this crew and me and Renée and me.
"What else? It has has been a comprehensive and profound education in every way. We've done a lot of growing up on this set, and we've learned a lot technically, philosophically. In every way, it has been one of hell of a learning curve. I really know that I've given it everything I had, and even when I was bad, I still going for it. I know that I was working very hard, and I didn't let people down for lack of trying."
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