Even without her trusty sword, this hot-blooded warrior princess puts the hurt on us. In a really good way.
By Bob Irvy
Let's be honest: most guys would have trouble approaching Xena, Warrior Princess, unless it was to ask for a good ald-fashioned ass-whupping. Getting cozy with Lucy Lawless, the New Zealander who plays Xena on TV, however, is a different story. For one thing, contrary to popular belief, she's not actually nine feet tall. A mere 5'10" mortal, Lucy has nevertheless kept fans of both action-adventure and revealing leather breastplates in thrall since 1995 as the acrobatic wanderer who vanquishes wizards, demons, and the occasional pissed-off deity in the nation's top-rated syndicated drama. Though she's devastating in person, too, she's less likely to gut you with a broadsword than with her native kiwi accent, which can make even phrases like rotten rank cabbages sound disturbingly suggestive. Luckily, when we caught up with Lucy at her Auckland home, disintegrating vegetables was just one of the topics on hand.
Maxim: What's it like to be a butt-stomping hero to millions?
Lucy Lawless: At first I had a hard time accepting it. But now I just chill. I've never been that physically coordinated or good at sports. So the last thing I figured I'd become is an action hero. I thought I'd be doing Shakespeare.
M: Do fans think you have super powers in real life, too?
LL: People assume that I'm a total amazonlike I have to duck to get through doors. At one convention, this woman was struck speechless. She held her hands above her head, pantomiming that she expected me to be taller. Then she put her hands in front of her chest, like she expected me to have enormous bosoms. What could I say"Gee, sorry"? The secret with Xena is that we only hire very small people to play the supporting roles.
M: What do you love about the show?
LL: I have a morbid sense of humor, a twisted sensibility, and so does the series. I'm grateful that audiences "get" Xena. It's a guilty pleasure for a lot of people.
M: Speaking of guilty pleasure, what's up with Xena and her trusty sidekick, Gabrielle? Are they sharing a bearskin blanket, so to speak?
LL: Don't ask, don't tell.
M: No, really.
LL: We like to have the audience make up their own minds about that. That interpretation seems to work for some people, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Whatever turns you onhey, I get letters from judges and televangelists who want me to walk on their backs with my leather boots on.
LL: No. Just kidding.
M: DamnI was having visions of Chief Justice Rehnquist and Pat Robertson. Are you and Reneé O'Connor, the actress who plays Gabrielle, pals in real life?
LL: Oh, yeah, but on the set we try to make each other miserable. We were filming one episode set on a sinking shipwaist deep in cold water, surrpounded by floating rotten cabbage. We made a bet: Whoever complained first had to pay $5,000. Reneé was gagging on the rank cabbage smell, so I kept pushing them toward her. But neither of us cracked.
M: Do you do your own stunts?
LL: A lot of the riding and fight scenes, but since we do really crazy stuff like fly 30 feet through the air, I have about six stunt doubles. Even my stand-in has a stunt double. When they hired her, I thought, Wow, not a good way to hold down the budget.
M: Have you ever done one of those patented Xena somersaults and popped out of your leather breastplate?
LL: Believe it or not, that's never happened. The costume is well designedquite functional and, ahem, supportive. My only big flashing accident was at a hockey game.
M: How did...could you elaborate?
LL: I sang the national anthem at a Red Wings-Mighty Ducks game in Anaheim a couple of years ago. I was wearing a Playboy Bunny-type outfit, and when I lifted my arms to belt out the big finish, out Itheypopped. Hockey has never been the same for me since.
M: Are you aware that the word breastplate combines two of man's favorite things?
LL: (laughs) Come to dinner!
M: I understand you were educated mostly in convent schools in New Zealand. Did you really want to be a nun?
LL: No, I loved convent schools but thought nuns weren't really women. And with those long dresses, I wasn't even sure they had legs.
M: Before you started acting, you were a goldminer in the Australian outback. What was it like plunging into an all-male enviroment after the convent?
LL: Well, I grew up with five brothers. Nobody can say anything that embarrasses me or horrifies me. But the job was freezing, filthy work. They'd bring stacks of rock up from two kilometers down, and I'd have to sort dirt from bedrock with a huge power saw.
M: Did you ever strike gold?
LL: In an operation like that, they're looking for gold on an atomic level439 parts gold per billion or somethingthat is removed with high-tech machines. These weird geologists would come along, lick the rock, and say, "Get rid of it."
M: How do you think Xena stacks up against some of her forerunners, like Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman?
LL: It's all in the costume. Xena has a great costume; Wonder Woman had a great costume. The Bionic Woman didn't, so she's not remembered as fondly. But I don't want to dis my sisters. Chicks who kick ass rock!
M: What about supermancould Xena kick his ass?
LL: Xena would probably think Superman is a fruit. she'd distract him with something like "Hey, look at that run in your tights!" then stuff him back into his telephone booth.