WAY OF THE WARRIOR
Because you asked... Lucy Lawless takes us into the ass-kicking world of Xena: Warrior Princess
. By Jean Cummings.
GROWING up in New Zealand, Lucy Lawless was as free-spirited as many young residents of the small island nation. She sought adventure, excitement and when bit by the proverbial acting bug, Lawless would have to admit that fame had its definite attraction. Little did she realize that shed experience the excitement of adventure and fame while just in her 20s.
She was born March 28, 1968 as Lucy Ryan in Mount Albert, Auckland, New Zealand, the fifth of seven children of Frank and Julie Ryan and the oldest of two daughters. Her first real exposure to adventure came when she traveled to such European cities as Vienna, Florence and Rome with her mom at age 15.
"Florence was a very romantic place to be a young girl even though I was traveling with my mother," Lawless recalls fondly. "I had smart lines for all the boys that would chat with me."
~She has the same attachment for her second tour of Europe a few years later.
"All New Zealanders kind of escape their tiny little country at the bottom of the world and go on their OE, their Over seas Experience, to see the world. Australians do it too, before they go home and pay off their student loans and get serious about the world."
It was during this adventure that Lawless found herself, along with then boyfriend Garth Lawless, working odd jobs throughout Europe to sustain themselves. And it was while in Europe that Lawless discovered she was pregnant.
It was then time to return to New Zealand and be with family and have the child, which we did. Best mistake I ever made," she says in affection for her daughter Daisy, now 10.
Lawless married Garth and eventually the located to Auckland where she renewed her determination to pursue a career in acting. Television commercials followed as did her first real acting role at age 20 with a comedy troupe on television called Funny Business. She appeared in a number of television shows in Australia before taking the advice of an American actress whose name she never knew and whom she met but once, and moved to Vancouver, Canada to study at the William Davis Center for Actors Study (an institution that should be familiar to X-Files fans)
Eight months later she returned to her native home where she spent two years co-hosting a New Zealand travel show before being cast in what was supposed to be a small, supporting role of the internationally syndicated series
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
An American actress had been cast as Xena, the female counterpart to Hercules in three episodes of the series. However, when that actress became ill, the producers turned to Lawless to make additional appearances on Hercules. A three-part storyline turned into Xena: Warrior Princess, the series that is now in its fourth successful season.
In discussing the irony of how she captured the role, she says, "1 thought it was going to be a raging success."
She chuckles before adding, "When youre a kid from the sticks you have no expectation other than its an American show. Why wont it be. huge? So it was just a bliss of naivete and ignorance, and its been just marvelous, a once in a billion lifetimes experience."
From that experience, the actress says shes learned "Discipline, I guess. I dont think of Xena as a character. See, when you say Xena to me, well, shes part of me but shes not all there is. I think shes certainly rooted in truth, and shes who I would be if I grew up in that situation."
Yet, when asked if shes afraid of being typecast due to the role, she responds with a resounding, "Im not! Why am I not? Because thats a state of mind. I wont buckle into that one. Besides, Xena offers me a lot of scope. I get to play slapstick and I get to do musicals for goodness sake and play a lot of different characters. Plus, there are no other roles out there with this much complexity. As one guy said, Its a smart show that pretends that it isnt. And it is."
Its also a role that besides the success and stardom, its brought significant changes to the actress as well. Three years ago she and her childhood sweetheart, Garth, divorced. In the aftermath, however, she and Robert Tapert, executive producer of both Hercules and Xena fell in love and married. They married, in fact, on Lawlesss 30th birthday, March 28.
It was at this same time that Lawless discovered just how much the series success and her marriage had affected her outlook on her career.
"It has actually," she says in her distinct New Zealand accent when addressing an inquiry as to how she looks upon her career. "1 dont know if thats because I got married. I turned 30 at the same time. Im actually, since you asked, kind of at a crossroads in my life.
"Im sure others have been through this where you say, I aimed for this [success and stardom]. What now? That fame doesnt fill you up! Even money doesnt fill you up. I can have clothes. I have the man of my dreams, a happy, healthy daughter, the job of my dreams.Why am I not blissfully happy?"
"THERE ARE NO ROLES OUT THERE WITH THIS MUCH COMPLEXITY"
She pauses to allow her comments to settle into the thoughts of her listener. "I think its because that is not lifes intention," she says matter-of-factly. "So Ive been soul searching since my birthday and since I got married. And in one of my darker moments I was given some tapes from a self-help guru, an American guy, Tony Robbins. You know, the big guy with the teeth? I swear to God he changed my life.
"Ive realized that we are all a collection of atoms, and who we are is actually immaterial. Our spirits, our souls are immaterial. So whats the bloody point if were just atoms and were going to blow out of here into the cosmos!
"But then I realized that in giving our talent or receiving somebody elses, since Im not a doctor and cant save anybodys life, all I can do is this thing called entertainment. In giving my talent and in receiving other peoples God kind of grows bigger. The cosmos grows bigger!
"So I know to try and do something good with this fame phenomenon which is a happy by-product of what I do but its certainly not the end product. Its not the final reward. A lot of famous people come and go, and I intend to enjoy this journey through my life. I dont know what itll bring."
And how has this new attitude changed her?
"A great reduction in stress," she says candidly. "If Im not making a deadline, if I dont have the right shoes to wear, these things are not important. If I have to go back across town and miss a cool party because I want to pick up my husband to go to something else later, well, thats whats important.
"Its being with your loved ones. Thats vital and not cool parties and it means that Im a much happier person. Im still waiting for epiphany. Im still waiting for my last purpose to drop out of the sky, but in the meantime Im doing this. But Im a whole lot happier doing it."
The obvious question now is has her new perspective changed the relationship with her husband as to what it is now that theyre married and working together versus when they first met and were working together.
"I was looking for a new attitude in life," she says. "I was becoming trapped and a prisoner of my own making, as it were. It was a lot easier doing my job when I was falling in love with him than now when Im very in love with him simply because of this Tony Robbins approach."
Lawless is happier in her work in her marriage and as a mother to her daughter, the latter two of which are truly tested with her work being in her native home and her husband being in the States a lot of the time.
She agrees that it truly does test the stability of the marriage, but, she says, "Robs living down there more and more, were together nine and a half months a year, so thats pretty good I think. We talk at least two or three times a day. It works, and it wont be for long."
However, that doesnt mean shed contemplate uprooting Daisy and moving to America.
"Thats a very difficult thing," she says honestly. "I would say I cant yet [move to the US]. Im extremely happy that this is not an option for me at this time because my daughter has a wonderful dad who lives in Auckland. I could no more leave her than take her away from him or force that choice upon her.
"Perhaps that will be lifes lesson for me. I thought of that last night. Perhaps Im going to be forced to possibly choose between: Do I want this marvelous bauble of fame and fortune, or am I going to choose home and family?"
"FAME IS A BY-PRODUCT OF WHAT I DO BUT ITS NOT THE END PRODUCT"
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