The Importance Of Being Xena, Warrior Princess
By Al Weisel
ON PLAYGROUNDS, GIRLS ARE SELLING THEIR Malibu dream houses and sending Barbie out to battle evildoers. In lesbian coffeehouses they've dropped their Betty and Wilma fantasies to cheer a TV heroine actually kissing her gal pal. In teen-age boys' bedrooms they're ripping down pinups of blond, eyelash-batting babes to make way for posters of a blue-eyed brunette who can slay them with a cutting remark or a swift kick. What's behind it all? (Cue the ear-piercing banshee shriek.) It's Xena: Warrior Princess!
Now, you might think the woman who plays Xena couldn't possibly live up to her onscreen image. And while it's true that statuesque New Zealander Lucy Lawless, 29, can't subdue men with a single, lethal touch, she is in many ways deserving of the title Warrior Princess. Pursuing a successful career while raising a 9-year-old daughter (Lawless was divorced in 1995) is surely enough to guarantee her the honor. But she is also an accomplished singer who is making her Broadway debut as Rizzo in Grease! She is a champion angler who once caught a world-record-breaking 44-pound pargo (a kind of red snapper) in Mexico. She has mined gold in the Australian outback and picked grapes along the Rhine. And despite a nasty fall last year that fractured her pelvis while she was shooting a Tonight Show skit, she's a proficient horsewoman, though she vows never to canter on concrete again.
Reached by phone at her Auckland, New Zealand, hideaway, Lawless is busy rousting daughter Daisy and boyfriend Rob Tapert, an executive producer of Xena, for a weekend outing to fish for their dinner.
What do girls watching Xena today have that you didn't have growing up?
Well, I did have it growing up - a female role model who says, "I can." I did have that, because I had an interesting, wacky mum. And my father very importantly told me at a young age, "Lucy, you can be anything you want to be."
How is your mother interesting and wacky?
She's quite eccentric and political, without aligning herself to any particular party. New Zealand was the first place where women got the vote. She wanted to commemorate women's suffrage, so she raised $18,000 for a statue. She [also] dresses in a kooky fashion, unconcerned about any convention.
What does your daughter think of the show?
She's never home when it's on. She comes to work with me on Fridays. But she's very proud of her mummy. Hold on. [Addresses her daughter] Daisy, it's time to get ready. [Daisy, in background: "I'm tired."] How do you feel about the show? [Daisy gets on the phone: "I like how they do the weird moves and things, and how they throw people back."] Initially she was afraid that the kids wouldn't like me and she was going to be rejected. And when they came to school and really liked it, it was a big weight off her little shoulders.
You have brothers?
Yes, four older, one younger. My mother had so many children, she couldn't remember our birthdays. The greatest mother in the world, but there were too many kids. [But] I was a horrible little sister. I managed to get up their noses regularly.
In your own life, what is the toughest foe you've vanquished?
[Whispering] Gotta move out of the child's hearing. I'd say, getting a divorce was a biggie. I'm glad that's all over.
Did the show have anything to do with it?
No, it was just contemporaneous. The show helped, because I didn't have time to wallow in it. I did feel, how can such a great idea feel so rotten? It was a long time coming. I never realized that was an option, 'cause all I'd ever seen in life were happy 40-year-old marriages still going strong. I was the first one in the entire family. But it worked out how it had to, and I'm very happy.
Any feelings about the show's lesbian following?
At first it was a surprise to hear that people were throwing a loopy slant on it just because two women were traveling around with no visible means of male support. We kind of laughed and played along with it. That was a long time ago, and since, we've moved on. I think the characters transcend labeling, just like gay people don't want to be identified solely by their sexuality. They contribute so many things to society that to limit it to their sexuality is unimaginative.
Do you get many weird fan letters?
I get a lot. Probably the weirdest one was a poster from some girl's porn video. She had written on it, "Dear Lucy, I love you. Call me. I only do girls and my husband." I thought, wow, there's an offer I can't refuse.
Is it difficult dating someone whom you work with on 'Xena'?
No. We don't talk about work a lot. Occasionally, he wants to direct, and then I have to see him as the director and not whoever's cooking dinner tonight. He's a great chef. He makes good trout. Actually, we're going fishing for fresh trout tonight.