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Goodbye Xena, Hello Lucy Lawless
From Warrior Princess To Pop Queen

DIVA Magazine

March 2007

Scanned by Kirsty / Transcribed by MaryD

She's Played An Amazon, A Greaser Girl, A Valkerie, and a Goddess. Now She Faces Her Biggest Challenge to Date - The Fickle World Of Pop. Lucy Lawless Chats To Bryony Weaver

'DO I MISS XENA ?' THERE'S A PAUSE AT THE OTHER END OF the line from LA. 'I'd say no, I don't. That was then.' Lucy Lawless is in a mellow mood. We've just swapped pleasantries about each other's Christmases, and it sounds like much of her big family holiday - she has five brothers, one sister, a hubby and three kids -was spent outdoors.

'That's the problem with your Northern Hemisphere holidays,' she quips in a soft Kiwi twang. 'You're stuck indoors, huddled over a single radiator - you can't get away from each other. In NZ, we're out, on the beach... it's so easy there, I'm telling ya!'

We get back to Xena, and while it's clear that Lawless is over the leathers, she's polite about it. 'I don't hang around. I loved the variety, the fact that I got to fight, to sing... but it was a hard job. Everyday I had to do incredibly physical things—'

A bit like an assault course, I suggest. 'Yeah!' There's a bark of laughter. 'It was!" She thinks for a moment. "1 miss the character, though. She was such a challenge. Everything else has been incredibly down-to-earth since then/ Xena Warrior Princess {XWP to the HCNBs [Hard Case Nut Balls], Lawless' nickname for Xena observes) was the answer to a lesbian subtext hunter's dreams back in the day. At the height of its fame (1998-2001 in the UK) there were few designated lesbian couples of note on TV. Sure, Helen was making eyes at Nikki in Bad Girls, but there was no over-the-prison-clothes action between them. Lesbian sci-fi babe Original Cindy hadn't turned up in Dark Angel yet, Buffy's Willow was still into boys with severe shaving problems at full moon, and Babylon 5's Commander Susan Ivanova was bisexual.

Renaissance Pictures, the company that made XWP for Universal Studios, realised it had an avid lesbian audience late in Series One, and, with openly-gay co-executive producer Liz Friedman having input, it began making occasional oblique reference to a possible closer-than-closc relationship between its leading characters.

In the Series Two episode The Quest, the scriptwriters had Xena give sidekick Gabrielle a long, loving kiss - though, to keep younger viewers and parents happy, she had to do it while inhabiting the body of a semi-regular male character. References to Xena and Gabby's soulmate status were peppered throughout the show's six series, in acknowledgement that we were watching. XWP's hints at a possible-maybe kept many fans hanging on for 'the big revelation scene' they hoped was coming. Gareth McLean, The Guardian's TV critic since 1999, and TV editor since 2003, believes he knows why we thought we had a live one. 'Xena was a strong female lead in the essentially male-dominated sci fi/ fantasy genre. While Xena was eye candy, she was also feisty, capable and well equipped to deal with physical challenges. She rarely needed saving and when she founding another stereotype. And, of course, that signature yell - she could do amazing things with her tongue...'

Lawless, however, isn't convinced that Renaissance deliberately played to the gay gallery. 'I don't think episodes were aimed at any sector of the audience. That would be rather cynical, and I don't see there's particular gain to be had through that,' she says thoughtfully, then continues with a smile in her voice: 'They might have been simply doffing their caps at certain people...'

Whatever the intention was, Lawless has had queer appeal ever since. She appeared on a parade float with Renee O'Connor (Gabrielle) at Sydney's Mardi Gras in 1999. In the US, she was in The Advocate twice in 1999, and on the cover of Lesbian News magazine m 2003 — more than a 'doffing' of the cap; more like an open thank you for the fact that we'd been along for the ride in our thousands, worldwide.

But as Lawless says, that was then, this is now. Gone is the black hair dye, and she's back to a natural mid-blonde, with far more curls than Xena (or Gabrielle, come to that) had time for, and a penchant for outfits that would wouldn't have lasted two minutes in pre-Mycenaean Greece.

Post-Xena, farther tough girl roles were offered, and Lawless had a blink-and-you miss her moment as a punk in Spiderman, dropped into one ep of The X-Fdes as an indestructible super-soldier, and most recently joined
Series Three of the sexy, updated Battlestar Galactica.

In BSG, Lawless plays a Colonial Reporter for the Fleet News Service called D'Anna Biers, who is actually Humano-Cylon Number Three. D'Anna is brought in by the leader of the Battlestar fleet to make a 'human interest' story about the personnel, but as a Cylon plant, she has other agendas. Lawless, never one to shrink from playing dark, complex characters, eats up the role.

McLean is enthusiastic: 'Biers is strong, unapologetic, evil and manipulative. It'll be interesting to see where they take her, and how Lawless goes with it."

Spoiler Alert- look away now if you're a BSG fan, and join us again two paras down: D'Anna is terminated by two of her Cylon buddies and may not be regenerated, so, it looks like Lawless' spacewalk was a one-hit gig, but she's upbeat about it.

'It absolutely could happen that she's brought back, she says emphatically, 'but they've spent so much time away from the human story, they have to go back to pouring the love into the popular characters, If we did a really fascinating, deep story arc — but that's me as a producer's wife speaking - I have no idea what they have planned.

What she has planned seems to be not to return to screen roles for a good while. In 2005, she began to think seriously about linking into her other love; singing. 'Singing's so scary, such a challenge, I'm kind of drawn to I it... and I've become addicted to live performances. I just can't help myself. It's like no other drug on Earth.' So, in another nod to her queer fans, she got her agent to land her a slot at I.A's Girl Bar.

Lucy performed at Girl Bar in LA for our 15th Anniversary and she absolutely packed the place. She has some very loyal fans,' explains I Robin Gans, co-owner of the Girl Bar franchise and co-producer of one. of the US' biggest lesbian circuit parties, the Dinah Shore Weekend - extended to the Girl Bar Dinah Shore Week, thanks to its popularity.

"It was a riot," Lawless agrees."There were go go dancers shakin' it and the place just went off! So Robin and Sandy asked me to sing at the GBDSW, which I couldn't that year but this year it fits with commitments. It's a midnight gig, so the place should already be hopping!'

Gans and co-producer and partner Sandy Sachs are excited about Lawless' appearance. 'Lucy's such a lesbian icon; we thought it would be a real treat for the women to see her live, confirms Gans. 'She's performing at the Pure White party at the Hotel Zoso, Palm Springs, on March 30th. It's one of our best events and we know she'll draw a large crowd.'

'I got to know Lucy a little bit before she performed for us the first time adds Sachs. 'She puts 110% into everything. She's just appeared on Celebrity Duets here in the States and almost won - and she was up
against stiff opposition.

Yes, but is she staying around for the pool parties? 'There's no telling what Lucy will do - she's great with her fans. 'We hope so, Sachs hedges, but she's on a tight schedule, so we'll see. Love to see her in a bikini, though. Ok, so we know Lawless will likely wear white on the night, but will she be singing the dance single she's reportedly recorded, and is it going onto her new CD?

"People keep saying I've got a new CD out - stop| saying that!" Lawless laughs. "I'm working on making that happen, but it's not like "Hey, it's coming out!" - I've not got the greatest organisational brain, so it's coming together slowly. Maybe I'll be doing a couple of songs from it...I'm not sure."

Before March, however, there's the little matter of a one woman show in LA at The Roxy Theatre, Sunset Boulevard, on January 13th/14th, just before DIVA went to press.

'I'm doing the "Come to Mama" show! Lawless laughs again, obviously loving the raunchy overtones of the title. "We just made it happen. I met so many great people working on Celebrity Duets (the US equivalent of Just The Two of Us - Lawless came second, fyi).' She seems genuinely stoked as she talks about it: "I got to sing with Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, and - I have to say, Wynonna Judd [Country singer sister of Ashley] is an incredible human being. I loved being around her. Everyone involved was amazing. The backing singers - they're the top in their field. I can't believe they're deigning to do my little Roxy gig for practically nothing... I've got so much talent and spirit behind me, it's very humbling.

And she does come over as pretty humble, despite the fame and notoriety. When not with her family or working, she spends time on her favourite children''s charities, including NZ's Starship Foundation children's hospital on its Board of Trustees - and World Vision. 'Well, we all start as kids,' she says, and it's so difficult, particularly if they're damaged, if they start their lives feeling bereft or ashamed.'

In March 2006, at the Starship's Charity Ball, Lawless auctioned herself off and was won by a bakery in Auckland, where she helped bake pies and sell product over the counter. Can't see Angelina or Madonna doing that, eh!

For Bangladesh. WV is there to empower people to help themselves.' And now, this great fan of Chrissie Hynde, Etta James and other powerhouse female singers - 'Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin; they just rock my world' — is looking forward to finding her own voice.

Music's where the excitement currently is for me. I'm a good mimic, so I'm used to replicating other people's sounds, if you like. Finding my feet, style and vocal place - that's what this year's about for me.'

Her voice drops a couple of octaves as she gets serious, and it could almost be Xena talking. 'You've just got to make it happen for yourself; nobody ever hands you anything on a plate, no matter who you are. No way, man You have to fight for everything. There's always someone new coming up behind you, so you just keep reinventing yourself- take the longrange view, and have courage.'

Yep, Xena would have said the exact same thing.

• Girl Bar Dinah Shore Week 2007, www.dinahshoreweekendcom

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