BY EIRIK KNUTZEN
of my role models, Xena, the Warrior Princess, comes from here,"
said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during an August
stop-over in New Zealand.
It was big news to the 3.5 million people of New Zealand, most
of whom claim never to have seen a single episode of Xena:
Warrior Princess - the fantasy-adventure series shot locally and
starring one of their own, Lucy Lawless. But it was no surprise
to the tall, dark actress whose leather-clad and sexually
ambivalent character can kick any man's butt.
"I suspect that Xena is less successful in its home country that
it is that it is in any other country in the world," says
Lawless, 30, a mobile phone glued to her ear while cleaning the
swimming pool at her spacious new house on the outskirts of
Auckland. "It's funny, because the show is really big in
Lawless doesn't take personally what may be perceived as a
slight elsewhere. "I think, because I've had personal experience
with it, that families in small countries have difficulty
accepting that their own progeny, as it were, can produce
something that is genuinely good. They have a slightly
patronizing or negative reaction to their own product.
"Though they don't watch the show, I think people are proud of
it and proud of me," Lawless continues while removing a leaf
from the water surface. "New Zealanders are extremely warm when
they meet me first-hand. At my daughter's school opening, I had
a conga line of 9-year-olds strapped around my waist and their
parents taking pictures. Typically, I get a huge, friendly
reaction from the people around me, but they don't watch the
show. That's okay - we're No. 1 in Turkey, a cool country."
Born and raised in nearby Mount Albert, Lawless has her parents,
six siblings and a lot of friends from childhood to keep her
head on straight. "Strangers treat me oddly for the first
minutes of meeting me, but everything is the same with old
friends. A couple of mates go back to kindergarten. And one of
my best girlfriends is married to one of the chaps who works on
Hollywood television stars are famous for throwing hissy fits if
the trailer is too small or the tea is too tepid, a situation
Lawless studiously avoids. "There's no time to fool around on
the set as the shows and casts get larger and larger - we now
have three camera units working on each show," she explains.
Extremely pleased with her film crew, Lawless tries to maintain
a happy family relationship on the set "by not complaining, not
being a pain and not making their lives miserable. Otherwise
they could just move on — New Zealanders are not apt to put up
with too much nonsense. Unlike the States where people will work
18 hours a
day, New Zealanders won't."
Lawless's husband, however, is frequently back
in Los Angeles taking care of business as one of Xena's
executive producers. Rob Tapert, 43, also executive produces
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Young Hercules along with
Sam Raimi and is probably stretched to the limit on most work
They were married at St. Monica's Catholic church in Santa
Monica on March 28, the day before Lawless's 30th birthday. "We
have a truly great relationship and a great friendship because
we're both from the same Irish-Catholic culture. It shocked me
to find that I went to meet his family in Michigan, his
Irish-Catholic family mirrors mine. That culture is most
significant in our life partnership and we're very, very happy."
On her hiatus last year, Lawless spent nine weeks singing and
dancing her heart out as Rizzo in the Broadway production of
Grease. Absolutely exhausted from Xena's incredibly physical
demand, she has no intention of working hard - if at all - when
the production breaks in September. "I'm looking at a few
scripts, but I would like only to do a tiny little part in
somebody's fantastic film for a top notch production company. If
not, I sleep in for a couple of months."
Not that she regrets burning off energy in Grease, an obvious
thrill of a lifetime. "It was a scary, wild and interesting
thing to do - but who in her right mind would turn down an
opportunity to go on Broadway?" says Lawless.
After tinkering for sometime with the automatic pool cleaner,
Lawless managed to put it back together and launch it back in
the water. A split second later she is drenched in water by
10-year-old daughter Daisy, using the garden hose she just
finished bathing the dog with. "Go away, you horror!" she yells,
laughing. "I see you lurking behind that skinny palm and I'm
gonna..." Daisy takes off, shrieking. And then they're gone.