Mon, Feb 15th

Talk about Hollywood in Sympatico Entertainment

Xena-mania no problem for Lawless


LOS ANGELES (AP) - Lucy Lawless is such a charming, well-spoken young woman it’s hard to imagine her as fierce, vengeful, sword-brandishing Xena. On the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess, viewers around the world see her battling bad guys with sword, shiv, crossbow or the ultimate weapon, a murderous missile called the chakram.

But in person she causes nary a stir. Maybe it was the absence of Xena’s leather battle suit, or her New Zealand accent that 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 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 said, "and that by the time I die I would have three Oscars."

Her father told her she could be whatever she wanted to be. And for a girl, she said, that’s a potent source of advice. She aimed high.

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 instalments of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. 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 said "That was a week before the shows were to start."

The production company suggested her as a replacement. Universal Studio considered five Americans instead, but 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. Now in its fourth season, the producers claim the series 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 ll.

"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 Lawless 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 actor did spend her last vacation from Xena playing Rizzo in Grease on Broadway. And she has 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."

The Canadian Press, 1999

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