St. Louis Post-Dispatch

12 March 1999


Lucy Lawless is such a charming, well-spoken young woman that it's hard to imagine her as fierce, vengeful, sword-brandishing Xena. On the syndicated TV series "Xena: Warrior Princess," viewers in 50 countries and most of the United States see her battling bad guys with sword, shiv, crossbow or the ultimate weapon, a murderous missile called the chakram.

But in person she caused nary a stir when she arrived for an interview at an upscale Los Angeles-area bistro. Maybe it was the absence of Xena's leather battle suit, or her New Zealand accent, which takes over from mid-Atlantic when she's not on screen.

"Do I have privacy? Yes," she said. "I feel totally comfortable with people, whether they know who I am or not."

Some celebrities "enjoy living in a heightened reality at times," she says, but "I can't imagine being able to sustain that bubble. Sooner or later, no matter how famous you are, another generation will come along. My daughter wouldn't know who one of the Beatles was, even if she tripped over him while he was singing."

Even at home in New Zealand, she is able to avoid the Xena mania.

"I'm treated with respect, so far," she said. "I'm very recognized there. But I've felt the advantage of playing an intimidating character is that people don't see you as being approachable right away."

From Auckland, New Zealand, to worldwide fame in a brief span could be dizzying. Lawless, now 30, has survived the trip with poise.

"I believed from the age of 10 that this is what I'd be doing," she confessed, "and that by the time I die I would have three Oscars. ... Why limit yourself to thinking that you're going to be mediocre, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? You should think high.

"My father always said, 'You can be whatever you want to be.' For a girl, that's a very potent source of advice."

Thus fortified, she left Auckland University to wander through Switzerland and Germany. Her funds depleted, she hired on with a gold mining company in the Australian outback town of Kalgoorlie and worked as a truck driver and miner.

Married and mother of Daisy, now 10, Lawless returned to Auckland to pursue acting in TV and with a comedy troupe. She was co-host of a TV travel show when she was hired for a few installments of the "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" series. Meanwhile, the producers were preparing a three-parter that would feature a warrior named Xena.

"A woman who had been training for the part for about a month got sick and withdrew," she recounted. "That was a week before the shows were to start."

She said the production company suggested her as a replacement. Universal Studios considered five American actresses instead. All declined.

Lawless was tracked down on a camping trip in a remote part of New Zealand, summoned to the "Hercules" location for the three-parter, and "Xena: Warrior Princess" was born. The producers claim the series, now in its fourth season, is TV's highest-rated, first-run syndicated drama.

With all the dashing around, wielding weapons and tossing barbarians about, "Xena" was no easy assignment for a woman who claimed to have been "not physical at all."

"At least not physically gifted," she corrected herself. "After a series of hard knocks, I've learned to be much quicker on the uptake. People don't believe me when I say that if I can learn the choreography of a large stunt fight in 20 minutes, anybody of average intelligence can. You don't even have to be that intelligent to succeed at it."

"Xena" wasn't exactly what young Lucy envisioned in her early dreams.

"I thought I would be doing Shakespeare, and I still want to do Shakespeare," she said. "If 'Xena' should become unglued, I would go to New York and do the biggest, scariest Shakespeare."

It wasn't Shakespeare, but the actress did spend her last vacation from "Xena" playing Rizzo in "Grease" on Broadway.

On the day of the luncheon interview, she auditioned for a Hollywood movie.

Her husband is Rob Tapert, executive producer of "Xena," "Hercules" and "Young Hercules," whom she met while filming "Xena." Her daughter is by a previous marriage.

She would like to make films in the United States, she says, "But I will always be a Kiwi."


'Xena: Warrior Princess'

When: 8 p.m. Fridays

Where: Channel 11


Return to AUSXIP News Archive