02-lucretia smallSunday Mail; Glasgow (UK)
May 2010

Actress Lucy Lawless would be the first to defend her army of fiercely loyal - some might say obsessive fans - but even she draws the line at tattoos.

It used to be enough for people to get a signed photograph, but more now feel the need to get Xena Warrior Princess immortalised on their bodies - and Lucy isn't impressed by the results.

She said: "I hate it when people get tattoos of me. I've seen full colour tattoos of Xena and Gabrielle on people's back.

"I've signed people's arms and they have run off to the tattoo shop and had my signature tattooed.

"They then come back to show me and I think 'Why did you do that?' I feel weird signing t-shirts in case people's mothers want to kill me, so to get a tattoo of me, I just hate it."

But if fans have gone to extremes to show their devotion in the past, tattoo parlours should be braced for big business after Spartacus: Blood And Sand hits screens in the UK.

It is billed as a historical epic about the legendary fighter who led a slave uprising against the Romans. But before it's arrived from the US, it has caused controversy with its scenes of graphic violence and sex.

With huge set pieces filmed against green screen to create packed Roman fighting arenas, and a massive special effects budget, it's been described as a cross between Gladiator and 300 and is breaking the mould in making a historical TV series.

Some actresses might have their doubts about signing up to such an graphic version of history, but Lucy had the inside track - her husband Rob Tapert is the show's executive producer.

"I knew when he presented it to me that it was something I couldn't afford to turn down," she said. "I wanted to be part of it."

I know it was Rob's intention to have something happening in every episode.

There are lots of times where I throw the script down and say 'you are not going to do that' and invariably they do. It's usually some horrible joke where they are using me like a bendy toy."

Taking on the role of Lucretia, she is the wife of gladiator trainer Lentulus Batiatus, who is played by Scots star John Hannah.

It's fair to say you have seen neither actor or actress like this before. At one point she and Batiatus are seen having a deep discussion while each is being pleasured by one of their servants.

Orgy scenes were regular occurrences at the Roman court and red hot sex scenes were part of daily life - just as much as no holds barred gladiatorial combat.

Lucy, 42, who appears in her first ever nude scene, admitted her husband stayed away from set when she filmed sex scenes. Despite her far from prudish attitude, Lucy still found them awkward.

"Even though theoretically I don't have any issue with it, I like to think I am a modern young woman," she said. "It is really uncomfortable. You have to make the unsexy look incredibly sexy."

Lucy's two youngest children - Julius, 11, and Judah, eight, - have maintained a lack of curiosity about their mum's work. Her 21- year-old daughter, Daisy, from her first marriage, works in production on the series and has never mentioned her mum's onscreen escapades.

Lucy revealed: "She is boringly professional. She hasn't mentioned a thing to me. The boys have no curiosity. I might as well work in a bank."

The series has seen Lucy move back to New Zealand with her family, somewhere she hasn't lived full-time for 16 years.

Lucy first found fame in comic book TV series Hercules as warrior woman Xena, but quickly got her own spin-off show which lasted six seasons.

It became a cult hit with fans and the show turned her into an international star.

She went on to appear in Grease on Broadway and guest-starred in shows such as The Simpsons to Curb Your Enthusiasm. She has a recurring role in Battlestar Galactica and starred in the shortlived US remake of British hit Footballer's Wives. Along the wayshe competed in Celebrity Duets - a reality show that teamed up stars with professional singers and also produced two albums and a sell- out concert tour as a result.

The work has never stopped coming and Lucy admits she had mixed feelings when she had to choose between her life in California and moving back home.

She said: "I was a bit nervous about coming home because it felt a little like that's what you do when you retire.

"New Zealanders go off for a long time and go home when they are done with their adventuring, but I wasn't. I was still having a great old time in America. But it is a funny thing - if you give in a little, you sometimes get everything you ever wanted."

That includes a role that is more than just a villain. Lucy admitted she has struggled against being typecast as a tough bad girl since Xena, so she was determined Lucretia - whose flame red hair signals her fiery character - would have some shades ofgrey.

As it becomes apparent, Lucretia is the power behind her husband's throne and the actress has put a great deal of work into making her character someone people can relate too.

Lucy said: "She becomes more Machiavellian as things go against her and her husband. She thinks she's right all the time. She's forced to do terrible things, but she doesn't have a choice.

"If someone does something to upset the family business and her husband, then somebody has to die for it.

"She's going to enable and cover and carry it off. It's about survival of the fittest and she loves her husband. The fact they're so damn dysfunctional just adds a twist to the drama."

The real life drama for the cast and crew is that Andy Whitfield, who plays Spartacus, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma just as the series launched in the US.

Production was put on hold while he began cancer treatment and now the show's bosses are talking about creating a prequel to fill the void until Whitfield is ready to return to work.

Lucy said: "There is every reason to think Andy is going to be fighting fit. He's a young man with a great attitude and lots of support."

This means Lucretia might have to look younger as the series delves into everyone's past. And for Lucy that means getting into shape.

She said: "I am working out. If they shoot the prequel, I'll have to look five years younger.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand is on Bravo on Tuesday, May 25, at 10pm.