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Cover: X-RATED! Lucy Lawless aka Xena on sex, love & leather

ETC Magazine

October 1998

Scaned by Roger

I love Lucy!

She's baaaack! Xena's kicking butt again. Meet Lucy Lawless - mother, newly-wed and, now, a Broadway star

Robert Tapert loves Lucy. Not only has she made him rich as the star of Xena: Warrior Princess, the show he produces, he also married her in a lavish ceremony a few months ago.

But Robert isn't the only one to succumb to Lucy's charms. It seems like the rest of the world has followed suit - men, women and kids have fallen in love with this brunette Amazon who kicks ass for a living.

You see, Lucy Lawless is BIG. Not just mortally big, though the New Zealand actress does tower at a stunning 5'11". But she's the biggest TV star on the Internet right now with more than 200 websites devoted to her and the alter-ego she portrays every week on the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess.

"And we're number one in Turkey." says Lawless, "a cool country." You can add Australia, England, Singapore, Malaysia and Iran to that list, too. "They blow up every image," she says of her Iranian broadcast. "So you only get close ups of the faces and you don't get any cleavage. It's very bizarre." What's not strange, really, is how fast the Xena phenomenon has overtaken the planet. The character started out as the enemy in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, starring the hirsute Kevin Sorbo.

But the character has become so popular with a whole range of audiences: women and girls who admire her strength, men who admire her other things, boys who love the action and, er, ladies on the other side of the fence who enjoy the ambiguous relationship between Xena and her sidekick, Gabrielle.

Lawless, 30 this year, has gone from mining gold in outback Australia (yes, you read that right) to being an international icon. Originally from New Zealand, Lawless married in Australia before returning to her home town of Auckland where she scored minor acting parts on TV and the stage.

A stint studying drama in Canada followed before she found herself home again, landing a hosting job on a travel show called Air New Zealand Holiday.

After the second season of the show, in 1994, Lawless was cast in Hercules & The Amazon Women. Guest roles followed in various Hercules eps before producers developed Xena: Warrior Princess.

The birth of Xena

In her simplest history, Xena was a peasant girl who saw her family butchered by marauders <sigh, and they were doing so well...>. So she studied the art of war and turned herself into a warrior.

The way executive producers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert (the Evil Dead trilogy and TV's American Gothic), saw it, her acrobatic jumps would spin her off to her own show. In 1995, Xena: Warrior Princess burst into living rooms across syndicated America. Ironically, Lawless didn't even know about Xena before she was cast, the original actress fell sick and Lawless stepped in.

The show clearly provokes audiences. Little girls are ripping Barbie out of her Malibu dream house and sending her off to do battle. Teenage boys are peeling posters of buxom blonde beauties off their bedroom walls and replacing them with pinups of the statuesque brunette, who was one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful stars last year.

Lucy in Leather

How does she deal with being a sex symbol? "Here in Auckland, I'm not a sex symbol. Everybody will confirm it for you," she says. "I'm no sex symbol at work either. That's the way I deal with it. I simply ignore it."

And that's probably why she's shocked when told that some women's prisons are reportedly having Xena nights. Even though Xena and Gabrielle have male lovers, their post-modern relationship is ambiguous and certainly, fantasies have been aroused. "Good lord!" Lawless exclaims. "We're happy to have every constituency under the sun but we never pander to any particular section of our audience."

But for the record, "Gabrielle is allowed to rub my shoulders but she's not allowed to play with my hair. And she can't use my toothbrush. That's reserved for the fourth season,: she adds wryly.

The audience Lawless is most pleased and thrilled about is young boys and young men. "Because whether they know it or not, they're getting to see women in a different role to what they've seen before."

Well, Ms magazine did name Xena a role model for all women. And she did come in third in a poll conducted by The San Francisco Chronicle, who asked a bunch of kids what they most wished they could be. (First Kid Chelsea Clinton came out tops, followed by golfer Tiger Woods, while Michael Jordan came in fifth.)

However, Lawless admits she's received a lot of unusual fan letters. "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.' " <Okay, one moment here, I thought her quote was 'there's an offer I CAN refuse?>

In her own life, the only girl Lawless wants is her 10-year-old daughter Daisy. A precocious child, Daisy is very pragmatic about her mother's success. Lawless remembers Daisy playing with her Xena action figure dolls - impossible to find in a regular toy store and heavily marked up at specialty stores - and remarking, "She needs to be browner and the chakram needs to be smaller."

Xena in love

By her own confession, the toughest foe Lawless had to vanquish was getting a divorce from Daisy's father in 1995, her high school sweetheart. The success of the show had nothing to do with it, she says, "It was just contemporaneous. The show helped because I didn't have time to wallow in it. I did think, 'How can such a great idea feel so rotten?' I never realised divorce was an option."

She did, however, decide to keep his name rather than go back to being Lucy Frances Ryan. "I recall sobbing (at the time of the wedding), 'Oh no, people will never take me seriously with a name like this!' (But now) it's actually a good name for somebody who plays a warrior princess." The good news, of course, is that Lawless has found love again, with Xena producer Robert Tapert. They married a few months ago with Daisy standing by her side, with Lawless in a traditional long, white gown - a far cry form her usual leather garb.

"Xena has only one costume," Lawless reveals. "She's a minimalist. Besides, you can't just buy these things off the rack."

No kidding. The Herculean prototype of her 'armour' was originally black and malevolent, with claw-like shoulder pads and a cape. "The producers thought it was too evil for a hero, so we changed it to brown and made it a little more audience-friendly. But I miss the original outfit because it was sexy!"

Lawless, who is fair-skinned in real life, admits that it is her fault Xena is so dark, thanks to the makeup artists who take all of five minutes to sponge on the tan. "I pushed for her to look like those statues in Madrid - big and curvaceous and bronzed, with a mane of hair. I imagined something Gabriela Sabatini-esque, but with brains."

Kicking butt

That aside, Xena fights with the strength and skill of a hundred men. She'll whack you with a fish, blow fire into your face with mead and a torch, swing around sideways on her battle staff while kicking. That chakram can loop your head off like a double-edged boomerang. And she can slay you with a cutting remark.

Lawless does many of her own stunts, although she had no special training in swordplay or martial arts before Xena. Since she fractured her pelvis while shooting a skit for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, however, she has had to rely more on her stunt double for the strenuous tasks <kinda makes you wonder how old are some of their info, doesn't it?>. Xena's trademark battle cry, however, that ear-piercing banshee shriek, was something Lawless came up with and will continue to do on her own.

"Our executive producers wanted the Arabic warble - the tongue goes from side to side and then up, " she says. "But this one came easily and I can do it loud and prolonged without ruining my throat. It's like Tarzan: you need a gimmick. It's the same reason Xena does acrobatic flips when she could walk."

Lawless is taking full advantage of her new career opportunities. On hiatus from TV last year, she spent nine weeks singing and dancing on Broadway as Rizzo in Grease!

"Who in her right mind would turn down a chance to go on Broadway?" she asks. "You know how they wheel in the latest celebrity? And I thought, why the heck not?" Unlike other TV stars who have tried to make the jump into the big screen and fallen, Lawless has no intention of leaping into anything she can't handle. "The smartest thing for me to do would be to have a small, but pivotal, juicy part in someone's blockbuster."