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The Adventure Continues For Xena

Orange County Register

4 October 1996

Transcript by Erin

PROFILE: Lucy Lawless, who plays the Terminatior-in-a-bustier heroine, dishes the new season.

It ain't easy being a bona fide warrior princess -- but Lucy Lawless is finally cozying up.

"Xena is so completely unlike me, I think she's a hoot," Lawless says during a visit to Universal City, far from her native New Zealand, where the high-buzz series "Xena: Warrior Princess" -- part sexy action show, part sly pop-culture parody -- is filmed.

On TV, Xena's voice is archly American, but off-camera Lawless sounds as Kiwi as they come. And her voice is surprisingly tiny -- "I'm notoriously hard to hear."

Clad in black slacks and striped top instead of scanty leather combat gear, Lawless looks just as stately but rather less sculptured than Her Mighty Xena-ness.

"I know, I know," Lawless, 28, admits. "I don't know how to deal with that. People keep coming up to me and saying, 'I thought you were bigger.' They may think Xena is real, but she is not reality to me. I use just a sliver of myself to play her. She is just so dour and humorless, so ironical.

"But I'm not going to fight it. I guess I just have to run with it now. I, Lucy Lawless, am going to be held up as some sort of role model, along with Xena herself."

If Lawless sounds mildly discomfited by her fame as the Flamboyant Female Terminator of ancient Greece, she is clearly reaping its rewards. In Hollywood you've arrived if you're ripe for parody. And a recent send up as "Thena: Warrior Goddess" on the NBC sitcom "Something So Right," plus a skewering on the season premiere of CBS sitcom "Almost Perfect" on Wednesday, suggest that Xena, and Lawless, are ripe.

Also ripe for harvest is the growing buzz about the relationship between Xena and her faithful traveling companion Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) as the new season of "Xena" begins. Last season, "Xena" picked a peck of publicity from the duo's relationship -- lesbian if you choose to read it that way, just heterosexual friends if you preferred not.

This season the "are-they-or-aren't-they?" adventures continue.

"Well, apropos of the *special* relationship between Xena and Gabrielle -- Gabrielle gets married," Lawless begins, describing an episode slated for later in the season, as she whispers in mock-conspiratorial tones.

"As Gabrielle is saying goodbye, Xena kisses her and Gabrielle hands over the bouquet -- and Xena goes, 'Ha, ha.' "

Here Lawless gives the laugh an ironic insider twist.

"That was my idea, that one -- which is probably why I think it's so damn funny. It's just part of broadening people's horizons.

"You know, the show has been embraced by a lot of political groups with it's biracial angle" -- the show employs multiethnic casts, and white Xena has had a black male lover -- "and its feminist angle, although I've never had any political pretensions. Of course, it's the most natural thing in the world that two women would be traveling together. Then people started reading into it things where there wasn't any deliberate attempt.

"There is a huge lesbian community that's right behind us -- and we certainly don't want to lock anybody out from our show, either. Renee went home (to Texas) and said, 'You know, there's all this talk about the lesbian element,' and people said, 'What are you talking about?'

"That just made Renee and I howl with laughter. So if you don't want to see it, you probably won't. If you do" -- she adds a theatrical pause -- "you probably will. Maybe we like to give our audiences what they didn't know they wanted. Then again, just when they think they've got us pegged -- aha!"

Never bound by conventions herself, the duality of Xena's sexuality suits Lawless just fine. So does Xena's transformation from evil murderess in her murky past to today's righteous protectress of the helpless and innocent as she roams through misty -- and sometimes hilariously reconstructed -- classical mythology. It's all part of the great "Xena" goof, to which Lawless seems well-suited.

"I grew up in a family with a lot of ribbing going on," she says of her childhood in Mount Albert in "middle-middle-middle Auckland, like Middle America.

"I went to Catholic school, where at 8 or 9 I discovered how cool it was to be a dunce, because you could get away with so much by just pretending to be a dummy. The next year, I discovered acting when we did a dramatized version of the story of the prodigal son. I was the woman who met him on the road and stiffed him out of his coins and clothes -- that felt really good.

"And now I happen to be working with people (executive producers Robert Tapert and Sam Raimi) who also have that twisted humor."

Between stiffing the prodigal son and romping through ancient Greece in Xena's leather bustier, Lawless worked as a miner in a remote region of Western Australia -- "taking dirt samples, jumping over lizards and snakes and pushing ore through a diamond saw" -- and had a daughter, Daisy, now 8.

Then came comedy work on a TV skit show, "Funny Business," and a stint as co-host of the travel show "Air New Zealand Holiday."

Now "Xena" gives single mom Lawless a five-day work week, with weekends devoted to her daughter, renovating her house and reading psychology books "to see what makes people tick -- and me, too."

Lawless: "Xena's got a very wide universe, but Lucy doesn't really at all." This season, "Xena's" universe gets wider.

"If you saw Xena when she first emerged in 'Hercules,' she'd really use her sexuality. She was far more of a vixen. We go back and explore that. We meet her when she was merely imperialistic, prior to her going really off the deep end. We go back and meet the guy who really sent her over the edge -- whose name is Julius. I'm not telling you his surname."

And here's how twisted minds Tapert and Raimi will wickedly tweak "Xena" during the important ratings measurement period of November sweeps. In an episode called "Xena Scrolls," a parody of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Lawless and O'Connor play the descendants of Xena and Gabrielle in the 1940's. Here O'Connor is the hero, the Indiana Jones
character popularized by Harrison Ford, and Lawless is the sidekick, a ditzy Southern belle.

"We get all these flashbacks about how all this was supposed to happen. And they only burn Renee's character up, driving a wedge between them.

"That's another thing that will be happening this season -- there's a schism in their relationship, between Xena and Gabrielle."

In the meantime, Lawless, like Xena, has prodigious TV tasks to perform. On Tuesday she is slated to appear on NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." Watch for a silly Xena skit.

In the season premiere "Orphan of War," Xena trounces evil marauders and re-encounters her son Solan, 9 -- shades of her daughter, Daisy -- whom she left with Centaurs for his protection shortly after birth.

And in episode two, "Remember Nothing," Xena rules again -- what else? -- and is granted a fateful wish that will change the course of her life.


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