From Amazon warrior to pop
princess, Kiwi Lucy Lawless is facing her fears - and doing it
anyway. Eleanor Black Watkin hangs out with her in LA.
LUCY LAWLESS BRINGS the party with her. Swallowed by the gloom
of Senor Fred, a gothic Mexican bar in Sherman Oaks, Los
Angeles, she heads straight for a curtained red booth - to
escape the football game blaring on the big screen - and scans
the cocktail menu. "There's no such thing as a virgin mojito, is
there?" she asks the waitress who turns up with chips and
guacamole. "Nah, it's be weird. Get me a regular."
Lucy, blonde and more slender than in her warrior princess days,
still feels the pull of New Zealand, where she maintains a home
in Auckland and strong links with Starship Children's Hospital.
But after eight years living mainly in the US, she's picking up
some native habits. "I've been here long enough that that
doesn't seem rude," she says after the waitress returns to the
bar. "If you said to someone in New Zealand, 'Give me a
such-and-such,' it would be considered incredibly rude. Whereas
here if you go, 'Is it all right, do you think I could
possibly?' they're already annoyed with you."
In her new incarnation as smouldering club singer - as
surprising a turn of events to Lucy as anyone else - she's spent
a lot of time thinking about the differences between Americans
and Kiwis, and how she might use the best traits of each to
further her career. "What's considered a strength in New Zealand
is considered a weakness here, and vice versa," she says. So
Kiwi reticence and manners are taking a back seat. Bring on the
Lucy learned her first lesson in diva-inity on Celebrity Duets,
an American Idol for those who already have a profile, in which
she came runner-up. Contestants were paired with professionals -
Lucy sang with Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick and Bonnie Tyler.
The professionals' attitude was, "If you want to be on a stage
with me, you better get to my level," she says. "You come in
like a winner, they demand that. In New Zealand we kowtow a
little bit and that's my manner too, but it doesn't help me in
the US so I've decided I'll save that till I go home."
Whenever she sang before, notably as Rizzo in a Broadway
production of Grease in 1997 and on Dave Dobbyn's summer tour of
New Zealand in 2003, Lucy says she felt like she was faking it -
"I'm quite a good mimic." But something happened as she stepped
onto the Duets stage each week, dressed in one provocative
ensemble after another. Her performance improved. She gained
confidence. And she had a hell of a good time.
"It was the very last night of Duets, when I got to do a song of
my own choosing, on my own, that I thought, Oh yeah, this is me,
this is something that's come out of me."
The song was Tell Mama by Etta James. Wearing a tiny gold
spangled number and big hair, Lucy shimmied and growled her way
into the hearts of the judges, including Little Richard and the
hard-to-please Marie Osmond. You'd never guess that minutes
before she was having "a total panic attack" backstage. "That
was the most terrifying moment of my life. I've never been
Having broken free of stage fright, and to the delight of
producer husband Rob Tapert, Lucy's following her bliss wherever
it takes her. These days that's music. She sings jazz, blues,
pop and rock. Her stage persona is bold and defiantly sexy. She
chats with the front-row chicks, a group of women who follow her
around the world, and gives fans an intimate evening with
At 39, Lucy looks extraordinary. Even dressed down in dark
jeans, a bosomy white top and cream flats with gold trim, she's
not your average mum of three. Not even in LA, land of the
perennially perfect. But for the past seven years, since Xena
put down her baddie-slaying chakram, Lucy has concentrated on
raising her two sons with Rob, Judah, five, and Julius, eight,
and daughter Daisy, 19.
She volunteers at the school library once a week, helps run
school events, and has become familiar with the process of
donating stuff to the school fair only to have to buy it all
back again in the name of fundraising.
Not that Lucy has cast aside her TV and film career. She has her
intensely loyal Xena fans to meet,
voiced several animated features including Wonder Woman, guest
starred on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and has a recurring role on
Battlestar Galactica. She also filmed a pilot for a US version
of Footballers' Wives which, the scuttlebutt goes, was not
picked up by the networks because the US National Football
League thought it would be bad for the sport's image.
"I got very hung up on that one," says Lucy. "I was very
disappointed. It's been a long time since I've committed my
heart to another character. I've really liked the diversity of
popping in here and there, and doing juicy little roles in other
people's shows. So to want to be there with one character day in
and day out potentially for years was a really big step. It was
quite a kick in the teeth, but overall I would have to say it
was not meant to be. It was not the sum of its parts."
Then there's the musical Rob has written and wants to stage in
New Zealand; the lessons with her vocal coach; Please, her
second single with OMC's Pauly Fuemana; and all those concerts.
Her debut was in Hollywood's Roxy in January 2007. It sold out.
She's sung in New York, San Francisco and Chicago. Next stop,
London in May - but before then she's making a movie with Adam
Sandier. After that? "I never have plans way ahead," she laughs.
"I'm not Scarlett Johansson. I can't afford to do that."
Lucy's accent is true-blue Kiwi with the
occasional California hard 'r', although she sometimes fakes an
American accent to make communications easier. But she can hear
a Kiwi voice in the back of her mind that keeps her honest,
saying, Don't be a traitor. Be one of us, mate. Her relationship
with Auckland's Starship began after she had a dream in which
she died with money in the bank, a prospect she finds
horrifying. The project of the moment is a retooling of the
oncology ward, where families spend weeks at a time, month after
month, year after year. The equipment and medical care is second
to none, says Lucy, but the environment could be better.
The hospital also gets a boost from Xena fans worldwide who,
once a year during 'Feel the Love Week', in honour of Xena's
relationship with companion Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor), do
community outreach. "I never once asked them to give money to my
charities. It's so touching. Show business is such a vanity
really. There are times when you despair of it, and they kind of
give it meaning."
Having fulfilled the dreams of a lifetime, what will she take a
crack at now? "That's a good question," says Lucy. "I want to
get back to it, really. I feel like I've been away from work for
a long time. I want to work with my husband again. I want to see
my kids grow up and surpass us in their achievements. I want to
own a puppy. I want to wear something sparkly. I want a house on
the West Coast, and a house in Bel Air, and Santa Barbara. I
want a pony... Yep, that's about the size of it." She laughs,
turns serious. "I want to take my parents on wonderful holidays.
I want to die having either spent everything or given it away."
Lucy's cancer campaign
A trustee of Friends of Starship, Lucy takes her role seriously,
attending board meetings when she's in New Zealand. Friends is a
charitable foundation set up to help provide extra equipment and
services to Starship Children's Hospital. It is currently
raising funds to pay for rebuilding the oncology ward.
"I was back home in Auckland recently and visited the cancer
ward, which is in dire need of expansion. Right now it's pretty
crowded, with a small room housing four patients and their
parents. This can go on for weeks on end, so there's not much
privacy and dignity. To make matters worse, kids going through
chemotherapy need a single room to avoid contamination and
infection from others, making it more of a squeeze and forcing
children to transfer to other wards.
"Each year at Starship alone, 100 new children are diagnosed
with cancer. During their treatment, which can take over a year
or longer, they can be admitted 10 to 20 times. We need to make
this ward the best it can be, so each child has the best chance
of making a full recovery.
"I hope you can assist Starship to rebuild their cancer ward. If
you can help, please make a donation at
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