The Lucy Lawless Interview

XENA Warrior Princess
The Official Magazine
#1 Premiere Issue

Comic book-style superheroes may come and go, but realistic, fleshed-out characters are eternal. That's the philosophy of Renaissance Pictures, creators of TV's reigning king and queen of mythological muscle, Hercules and Xena. And it's a philosophy actress Lucy Lawless wholeheartedly endorses.

"Compared with Wonder Woman, Barbarella, and the rest, Xena is a real, three-dimensional character," she observes. "And that goes back to the way she's written, the way the producers conceived and developed her. They've been very far-sighted and very generous and we've risked all to make this character really live. Frankly, I think it's the best role for a woman... ever!"

It's certainly one of the most influential. Not satisfied with conquering U.S. TV syndication (beating out Star Trek and Hercules), Xena is now poised to take over the world: the show is currently broadcast in 80 countries, from the Dominican Republic to Dubai. "I'm thrilled," the down-to-earth Lawless admits. "I just wonder where my life is going to go next!"

One of those places is Broadway, as the 28-year old New Zealand native stretches her creative muscles, taking on the singing role of "bad girl" Rizzo in Grease. "I love to do dangerous things, things that are risky for me personally," she explains. "I'm incredibly rusty now when it comes to the singing ­ I let it fall pretty much by the wayside for ten years. And even if I don't succeed, at least I tried. And that's really the whole secret. It's all a matter of courage and living your life to the fullest. We're only here once, you know."

THE FISHER PRINCESS: It's quite a catch by Lucy Lawless, taking a well-deserved break from her Xena responsibilities. In addition to fishing, Lawless enjoys a number of outdoor sports and even worked briefly as a gold miner in Australia.
The road to stardom traveled by Lawless was a curious and unpredictable one, filled with odd detours and few cliffhangers worthy of her small-screen counterpart. Educated primarily in convent schools, the youthful Lawless soon developed an active imagination and a passionate interest in play-acting. After attending Auckland University, she took off for Europe and spent time (and the remainder of her money) in Germany and Switzerland before heading for Australia and signing on with a gold-mining company. One of the few women miners, she wound up doing the same grueling work as the men ­ digging, mapping, and driving trucks. Excellent basic training for a future Warrior Princess.

After giving birth to daughter Daisy in 1989 and jump-starting her acting career (see separate sidebar), Lawless eventually became a Renaissance Pictures favorite, winning the Xena role and enduring yet another change in hair color (she's ash-blonde by nature). What began as a one-shot role over the course of three Hercules episodes soon evolved into a pop cultural phenomenon. In '96/'97, Xena: Warrior Princess reigned supreme, a unique series with a loyal and remarkably diverse fan audience.

"I used to marvel at this last year," the actress reflects, noting that the nature of her series and character allows for an unusual range of performance. "Everything I ever learned in my life, everything I ever studied, every weird experience I had, every encounter with aggression, has been useful for this job. It's as if all the threads of my life have come together; and at the axis is this role, Xena.

Of course, every fantasy superheroine is something of a feminist icon, and Lawless understands the importance of this... and the danger. "Women are finally beginning to achieve some kind of equality," she observes. "But with equality comes a great deal of responsibility, and you have to be prepared for that. Personally, I think there are going to be some unforeseen ramifications of genuine equality down the line."

For the most part, equality in the Xenaverse has more to do with human-god relationships than any kind of gender issue, and that in itself adds to the show's unique appeal. "Xena's about the end of the Greek gods, the denouement, when human beings are really starting to fight back against their supernatural oppressors," she says. "I think that the evolving nature of human psyches would eventually bring about the demise of these gods. As a matter of fact, this year on the show, the gods are under actual attack!"

Xena and sidekick Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) wander across a young earth, battling adversity in its many forms and learning some important life lessons along the way.
Speaking of the supernatural, many fans have speculated that Xena may have been sired by Ares, the God of War, who turns up periodically as a villain and/or love interest. "We really toyed with that idea," Lawless mentions with a sigh "We actually wrote an episode in which the question of her parentage ­ the question of who her father is ­ comes up. But we decided it was not good for the character to be a demi-god, in spite of all the amazing things she does. The strength of this character is her mortality, and that's what people relate to."

Even so, Xena: Warrior Princess is clearly a flamboyant fantasy, with some of the wildest concepts and notions ever conceived for a TV series. What are the folks at Renaissance doing right that so many others before them have screwed up?

"Let's face it: fantasy speaks to the child within all of us," Lawless declares. "It's true that the essence of the show is very pure to the human condition, with real emotions being explored. But if people can suspend their disbelief about how we get there, we can make them 'feel.' I think it's easier for viewers to suspend disbelief in a totally ridiculous scene, such as we are routinely providing, than in a comparable scene for, say, a cop show. I mean, there are some brilliant cop shows out there, but not everybody can relate to that."

Human or demi-god? "The strength of this character is her mortality," observes Lucy Lawless, "and that's what people relate to."
At some interesting creative juncture, outlandish fantasy ideas meet the realistic, conversational dialogue that has become the trademark of both Hercules and Xena (not to mention the countless period imitation shows that have followed in their wake). "There's a danger with that kind of dialogue," Lawless admits. "We try to keep a lid on it so that it doesn't become too self-indulgent. The minute that starts to happen, the audience pulls back emotionally... it doesn't provoke a response. So we try line readings a few different ways, before settling on what works best."

With Season Three now fully underway, things couldn't be better for this dedicated Warrior Princess and her team of screwball filmmakers. And it'll only get screwier. "There's no holding the writers back, they're so wild and creative," Lawless laughs. "We're doing a musical in the next couple of weeks. Then there's an episode where I'm wearing nothing but chemo-body paint, moving through the dark like a bloody spider up the wall! There are so many kooky ideas being implemented here that I'm just being carried along on the tide, really. I'm always trying to keep up."

"Xena is a fabulous role for a woman," says actress Lucy Lawless, now an international celebrity.
In the meantime Lucy Lawless can't help wondering what the future has in store for her. Years of hard work and determination have indeed made her an international celebrity. But she's also a mom, and family always comes first, which is something she learned from her own family many years ago in Auckland. "We're all questing for an understanding of why we're here," she observes just a little wistfully. "At a certain point in our lives, we start to look for ways to be happy, ways to heal ourselves. In the end it comes down to choice... you choose to be happy. You can either sit in a room and sulk or get off your backside and do something about your life."

And, as every Xena fan knows, Warrior Princesses haven't the time to sulk. They're too busy changing the world.

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