Beauty, Blood and Sand
Scanned by Lori Boyles
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BY ANDREW FISH, PHOTOGRAPHY BLAKE LITTLE, HAIR RAMIRO
RODRIGUEZ, MAKEUP AGOSTINA FOR EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS STYLING
Lucy Lawless is a very different kind of beautiful. Her power
is front and center, with her broad smile and straight talk
cutting to the chase and giving the distinct impression that she
doesn’t suffer fools. The sultry star has earned a singular
place in the public eye as an image of strength, whose
characters focus a piercing fire toward such ends as kindness,
justice, and vicious retribution. As Lucretia, the fair lady of
the house of Batiatus on the Starz original series, “Spartacus:
Blood and Sand,” Lawless stops at nothing to regain the former
wealth of her husband’s ludus, where gladiators are
trained to kill and die in the arena. Set in ancient Rome,
“Spartacus” sees Lawless’s seductive matriarch use everyone
within reach to ingratiate herself and her husband, Lentulus
Batiatus (John Hannah), with those of higher station. Her
performance is a sly study in greed, betrayal, and ruthless
pursuit of socio-financial ascension.
Before she embarked on this reimagined tale of Spartacus
[played by Andy Whitfield], the enslaved gladiator who dares to
challenge the Roman supremacy, Lawless achieved stardom as the
title character on “Xena: Warrior Princess” (1995-2001). The
sword-wielding heroine on the first-run syndicated series
quickly developed a devoted following of admirers, who reveled
in Lawless’ portrayal of kick-ass, hack-’n’-slash fearlessness,
which guarded a tender core of warmth and femininity. With her
faithful companion, Gabrielle (Renée O’Connor), at her side, and
her knife-edged “chakram” disc always at the ready, Xena took
her place among the pantheon of indelible television heroes. And
while tearing through the adventure, which was shot in her
native New Zealand, Lawless also found herself a family — as she
married Rob Tapert, co-creator of the fantasy saga, and they
have two children together. Tapert currently co-produces
“Spartacus,” along with Sam Raimi, Josh Donen, and Steven S.
Amid the priorities of motherhood, which included dedication
to her first daughter, Daisy, from a previous marriage, Lawless
found time for numerous post-“Xena” projects. The statuesque
thespian appeared on “The X-Files,” “Veronica Mars,” “Burn
Notice,” and “CSI: Miami,” as well as in Spider-Man
(2002) and a hilariously deviant vignette in Eurotrip
(2004). She also offered her voice talent to the animated
releases, Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight as
Goldmoon, and Justice League: The New Frontier as
Wonder Woman. And after lending her pipes to the FOX reality
show, “Celebrity Duets,” in 2006, she took to the road for a
series of sold-out live performances in Los Angeles, New York,
Chicago, and London. As her first long-term project in some
time, Lawless recently took on the role of D’Anna Biers, a
reporter with a wicked secret on “Battlestar Galactica.” And in
a playful turn, the vivacious Kiwi showed up as the Prime
Minister’s assistant on HBO’s New Zealand-spawned hit comedy,
“Flight of the Conchords.” The actor-chanteuse, who grew up with
six siblings in the Auckland suburb of Mount Albert, where her
father was mayor, also enjoyed a stint on Broadway in 1997, as
the rough-and tumble Rizzo in “Grease.”
We meet with Lawless for brunch at Pane e Vino on Beverly
Boulevard. The renowned performer proves a consummate
conversationalist, who eschews the trivial and rolls herm eyes
when you call her an icon. Here’s what transpired:
Venice: I’m really liking “Spartacus.”
Lucy Lawless: “Sparty-Pants,” yes, it’s good!
You have a great line in one of the first episodes,
“‘Proper’ is a word used by men, who would seek to enslave us
with it.” It seemed to typify a lot of the work that you’ve
I think she’s lying, by the way. It’s complete manipulation!
She’s a great liar. Men are not the enemy. Society — men and
women — try to enslave one another, or exclude one another with
certain manners, and fashion, and you name it. They’re all
misused to exclude, or have some false sense of inclusion. So
even though she says this great line, I think it’s reaching too
far, perhaps. I don’t think she’s being wise. She’s manipulating
the person in front of her.
Tell us more about the character you’re playing, Lucretia.
She’s just a really great liar. Viva [Bianca] and I decided —
our characters are “best frenemies” — that we wanted our
characters to be the kind of people that we would want to
watch. We wouldn’t want to know, necessarily, what they’re
thinking, so that’s why our acting relationship, our characters,
are so complex and, I think, really powerful. Because they’re
such good liars that they’re almost secrets to themselves, those
girls. And they’re struggling for survival all the time.
Your character, and her husband, are going through
something that’s apropos of the times we’re in now. Their
financial troubles are really relatable to what’s going on in
our current economy. They’re trying to get back on top after
It’s almost like sci-fi, in that you have the distance
between the graphic nature of the show, and then the distance of
time, where you go, “Oh, it’s a historical drama, therefore all
bets are off!” But we still can’t help relating to those people,
can we? So that’s what makes it fascinating. It’s such an alien
environment, yet, put yourself in their shoes, and it’s a scary
place to be.
What do you enjoy about acting on screen, and on this
It just has to be real to you. That’s what I like. When the
buck stops here! [laughs] After everybody’s done the
writing, cast it, and done their business. And when it comes
down to the filming, it’s really only you and the director and
the camera. And when the camera’s rolling, it’s just you. You’re
right there on the edge, and that’s where I like to be. Nobody
else can talk. Camera’s on. My turn! Then they go and cut you
down to size, but for one brief moment, it’s all you, baby! [laughs]
And you’re out there, doing some damage.
Kind of. I tried to do this role really differently, because
I never saw myself as... Xena was a real shock to me. I never
saw myself getting into syndicated action television. It was an
accident. I fell into the role, and then had to sink or swim. I
spent two years just being punched in the face until I got good
at doing the dreaded action scenes. I realize now that anybody
can get really great at that if you are brutalized enough. Your
reflexes will pick up, you will become good because you have to.
So I fell into this funny world of Hong Kong style action and
tongue-in-cheek humor, which is okay, because that’s where I
started out, in comedy [on the sketch comedy show,
“Funny Business”]. But that was then and this is now. It’s a
completely different role. There’s a completely different tone
to this show. I’ve done lots of things in between, but this is
my first, I feel, really personal role. I guess because I
originated it more than I did on “Battlestar” where I walked
into something that was already set up, and I had to fit into
the gap that was left — whereas in this ... I didn’t know what I
was doing in the beginning. None of us did, because we didn’t
know what the show was going to be. But it was a strong start,
and it just gets better and better. You’ve got to push those
boundaries before you find out where they are.
There’s a great dichotomy on the show between the
violence, brutality, and the visceral stuff, versus the acting,
the story, and the relationships between the characters.
Lucretia can’t stand Spartacus! It’s way into the season before
you even have a one-on-one with him.
Because he’s immaterial. He’s not really a person to her.
He’s a prop that she can’t stand, because of what he signifies
to the Romans — and she’s trying to ingratiate herself with
them. So it doesn’t matter about his sparkling personality.
She’s not interested. He’s only a commodity, and he’s painful to
her. Later on, he starts to win, and her attitude toward
him changes, because now he’s not only the cash cow, but he’s
her way of paying back those little Roman bitches for slighting
her. I think, really, Lucretia thought that she was smart enough
to compete with the bright young things from Rome. And might
just be young enough — if she did her hair just so, and
spent enough money on clothes — to be a new friend. And they, at
some point, let her know that she is never going to be a
bright young thing. “You’re too old. You’re washed up. You have
no status, and there’s no way you can dress that mutton up as
lamb, thank you very much.” Which goes right to the heart of
every woman in our society. When we feel like our best is passed
— and who doesn’t feel that every other week! [laughs]
You can tell in the early episodes that whatever kind of
friendship Lucretia and Ilithyia are venturing into is going to
It’s very peculiar, isn’t it! [laughs] And they’re all
giving one another these terrible Judas kisses. And you go,
“Ugh, that ain’t right!” Whatever they do is jarring on some
cellular level. In the same way that you can’t dress up mutton
as lamb, you can’t make something so toxic appear beautiful.
There’s just no way. Everything about their relationship is
The little passive-aggressive comments, and each of them
looking for a piece of information that they can use later.
And yet, Viva and I tried to keep it, very much, that
our characters want to like one another. So that
there is some genuine glimmer of something hopeful and
pure in them, but it’s stymied by their need and their
avarice. The Seven Deadly Sins, basically, are
killing some kind of divine spark. They could be
good, and they sometimes kind of want to be, but neither
of them has the background, the self-love, the generosity
of spirit, to realize it. They didn’t grow up with Oprah
on the television. [laughs]
“Xena” had a compelling story arc. She started as an evil
character, and then did this complete turnaround, deciding to
become good and embark on this hero’s journey. I remember
watching the finale and thinking, “What a perfect ending. Xena
finally found her redemption.”
We thought there would never be any redemption for her. That
was the bit of grit in her makeup that kept her searching, and
thinking that she was irredeemable. And then we found out why
she thought it, and then she achieved redemption. Although the
fans were terribly hurt that we would kill one half of this new
dynamic duo. They took it very personally, and only recently
have people said, “Oh, I kind of like that ending!” A lot of the
fan-base were people who felt very disenfranchised, or had been
through pretty tough childhoods, and to them, Xena meant more
than just a cool hero on an action show. She was some sort of a
role model. To be honest, personally, I feel that role models
are for kids. In the end, you’ve got to be your own hero.
There’s nobody out there any better than you are, essentially.
So, basically, they felt like we decapitated their role model,
and that really hurt them, personally. Whereas, I thought,
“Guess what. Everybody dies.” Get used to it. You’ve got to look
for heroes inside yourself, and not outside. And certainly not
on television, for crying out loud. But, you know, that was the
hardcore fans’ construct, and people will always do that. If
you’re not in touch with reality, it’s going to hurt you,
eventually. You hurt yourself by doing that.
Renée O’Connor, who played Gabrielle, was great. I really
loved the dynamic between you two, and her character development
as she found her own heroism.
Yes, that’s what you learn in the end. That’s whose journey
it really was.
She inherits the Chakram.
And she’ll carry the torch. That’s kind of beautiful. I’m
glad you pointed it out to me! [laughs]
A group effort! I actually think Gabrielle’s journey is
quite role-modelly. In the beginning, she says, “I want to be
different from everyone I grew up with.”
“I’m not the little girl they wanted me to be!” Which is a
classic lesbian line, by the way. All the lesbians went, “[Gasp!]”
They saw themselves in that line.
And she runs away to figure out how to be a hero, on her
own initiative, while helping your character learn how this
whole “being-a-good-person” thing works.
Yeah, boring! [laughs] Yes, how to be a fully
operational human being.
I enjoyed your “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode.
Thank you. I didn’t do much, but I really enjoyed hanging
with that crowd. [Larry David] is so lovely. And working with
somebody whose talent you love, that’s what we all crave, isn’t
it? We all want to work with somebody whose talent we have long
You live in Auckland now?
We film “Spartacus” in Auckland, minutes from my house. I
love that! Less than 20 minutes, maybe 25 when it’s rush hour. I
left Hollywood, and my career happened. It’s typical, isn’t it?
Life got 800-percent better, at least, when I moved back to New
Zealand. Because I’d been living here [in Los Angeles] for a
long time, or I’d be in Vancouver, or New Orleans, with the kids
always with me. And Rob would be in another country, working, so
there was never any family around. And you can’t pay somebody to
be ... You know, a nanny is not a father. So I went home, and my
husband and I are under one roof, my parents live nearby, and
all my girlfriends from grade-school. There are a few people I
miss here, but in every other way, life’s just much better. I’ve
got dogs, and chickens coming. And we live right in the city!
But climate change, though...
What’s it like over there, in that regard?
It’s just disastrous. Our emissions are appalling. We got
slammed in the run-up to the World Summit on Climate Change by
critics saying New Zealand’s “clean green” image is basically a
sham and that our government doesn’t want to commit to an
emissions trading scheme that is meaningful, because agriculture
produces so much methane, and it really powers our economy. It’s
a really significant challenge for us to find ways to keep
farming going, and address the issue. And it’s all of us. Every
time we fly — I mean, I’m cringing at my own bloody footprint.
It’s ghastly. If the average car creates, let’s say eight tons
of CO2 per year, what does eight tons of CO2 look like, sitting
on your driveway? It’s a shit-load of dry ice. And when I look
at my own life, I’m horrified — as much as I try to keep the
impact down. Just flying here puts me way over an allowable,
sustainable limit for one human being. It was part of a campaign
in New Zealand, to get our Prime Minister to go to the
Copenhagen World Summit. He did go, but there was no legally
binding agreement. It was a big copout. Anyway, the work goes
You went on tour as a singer for a while. How did you
decide to put that together?
I knew some people who could put together some musicians, and
you knock it out in two days flat, and it’s rough and ready and
full of energy. It’s something you should do because you’re
alive! If you can, then do, no matter what it is! If God gave
you any talent at all ... In fact, you don’t even have to have
talent. You can see that in any karaoke bar in the world, that
it’s more about the doing than the result. People’s spirits are
really set free by singing in public, for some reason. And it
really doesn’t matter how good you are. It feels so good,
that you might as well be bloody Barbra Streisand. Some of the
caterwauling that comes out of those places! [laughs] But
it’s awesome; I love the phenomenon of it. You just do it
because you can. It’s so funny that these things are almost
taboos, like dancing or singing in public — or crying. Any of
these things that are so human and so harmless, that people look
funny at you for doing them. Like, “Who do you think you are?”
Like we ought to squish this thing that is harmless and
beautiful and liberating to the performer! “Get thee to the
karaoke bar,” I say! [laughs] It’s really important. Just
I was watching an interview, where you said that you were
tired of acting, and you were really happy as a singer now.
They had me [when I was] tired. I had been tired of acting,
and then you get back into it, and go, “This is my new favorite
thing!” I’m like that. No matter where I am or what I’m doing,
it’s my new favorite thing. I never miss stuff. People say all
the time, “Do you ever miss Xena?” I’m like, “Hell, no!” I’m so
happy doing whatever I’m doing now. [“Xena”] was wonderful. It
was rewarding at the time, and now what I’m doing is rewarding.
I’m just blessed. I’m totally happy with whatever’s going on,
for the most part.
It seems like you really go with serendipity when it
It’s about having your eyes open, and being willing to go
with serendipity, instead of being fear-bound — probably with
somebody else’s ideas, like your parents, or the teacher, or
whatever. With serendipity, I think you have to be open to it,
because that makes you deserving of its gifts. It’s not going to
happen if you’re bound up with fears, or if you’re on somebody
else’s flight path.
Are you finished shooting “Spartacus” for now?
Yes, it sounds like they’re going to push back shooting the
next season until May, and we’re in talks for me to be in the
second season — because I wasn’t supposed to be. It could all
fall apart. I might not be in it; I don’t know! We’ll see.
You have a man on the inside!
Right, but I’m not dealing with [Rob]. My deal is never made
with him. He and I manage to keep our careers and marriage very,
very separate. Very compartmentalized.
That’s amazing, considering how you met on “Xena.”
Yes, but you see, our marriage would have fallen apart if I
expected him to cast me in everything, for me to be in
everything that he did. Our marriage would not have survived. So
long ago, I made a choice that, basically, I was not going to be
in any of his stuff, so the pressure would be off him. I don’t
even ask him about work very much. And often, people want to
come to me with their ideas for something that I’d be perfect
to play in — but what they really want is my husband to come
and produce it. For us to come as a team, and to take on their
project as our project,and I have to routinely say to people, “I
understand that you want this so very badly, but Rob has his own
project in mind — and I don’t even get to be part of them
most of the time.” [laughs] You cannot sweet-talk your
way, via me, into my husband’s life. Our relationship is not a
business enterprise. We have a real, oldfashioned, love
relationship that we’ve worked hard to maintainand spruce up.
And we didn’t “literally” meet on “Xena,” because he wasn’t in
New Zealand. But I think he saw me in the casting tapes, and
went, “I’ll cast you as my wife!” [laughs] And 15
years later, we’re still together and it’s great!
And it’s important to you to maintain a traditional family
My family is my everything. I get the biggest, most jubilant
hugs from my kids every time I come home. And from my husband.
You’re a star to them. Maybe not in their minds, but you’re a
star in their hearts. [laughs]
Parenting is a lot of work.
Now that my kids have reached a certain age, all of a sudden,
I’ve found myself with more energy, and I’m going right back to
basics in my career. The things that excited me so long ago,
like Meisner and Stella Adler. I’m revisiting everything, and
now it’s my time to invest in film, and all the things that, for
the last 15 years, I’ve been too paralyzed by my role as a
mother to attend to. It’s a huge indulgence for me, because
being a mother has taken all the brainpower I have — which
wasn’t much to start with [laughs] — and now I’m free to
go back into it all. So it’s thrilling; now I’m going to go
see some films!
What are your thoughts on being considered an icon?
It’s not the reality of my life, obviously. I don’t think you
can live up to being an icon; you’d have to live down to
being an icon. You have to screen out everything that you are,
to be that little, two-dimensional image. An icon is like a
business logo. It has nothing to do with the organization! It’s
just something that you can grab at a glance. So Xena was
iconic, in that you could grab her at a glance, and go, “Oh, I
know that show. I know that person. And, by extension, I know
that actor.” But it has nothing to do with what you are, or what
you’ll ever be. I learned early on that nobody is that lacking
in complexity as to be able to live up to that. Nobody is so
damn simple as to be merely a concept. So I think the whole
thing is a little silly. But if they’re going to turn you into
something, it might as well be something positive, like
representing a different shape of woman out there, who’s tough,
and strong, and able, and unafraid.
Your “Battlestar Galactica” character was very
interesting. As a Cylon, her design wouldn’t be reproduced
because she was too strong-willed.
She didn’t toe the line. [laughs] Her fatal flaw is
her curiosity. And I am a little bit the same as that, because
I’m very attracted to things that scare me, like challenges.
They’ve thrown me out of planes, and done all this stuff; I
don’t find that stuff scary at all. I mean, a little bit. It’s
physically frightening, but mentally, spiritually, it has no
challenge whatsoever. It’s a complete bloody waste of time, as
far as I’m concerned. But performing — going out live and
risking failing on a magnificent, colossal scale, that’s where
I’m happiest. Because nothing can touch you there, man! You are
so far out over it. You’re in complete freefall, and there’s
nothing to live up to, nothing to live down, and for that time
while you’re in freefall, nothing can compare. I get such a
thrill out of doing it, that I really don’t mind too much what
other people make of it, because that’s their business. The
scarier the gig, the better I like it. Anything you do live —
theater, singing on national television... Things that are out
of your comfort zone — that’s where I want to live. And the
uglier the character. Oh, I love that stuff, because I’ll go
there! And damn the torpedoes. I’ll get therapy for it later. So
far, I haven’t been anywhere, professionally, that I couldn’t
get myself back from quite safely. But one day that challenge
will come. Bring it!
Watch new episodes of "Spartacus: Blood and
Sand" on Fridays at 10pm on Starz. Episodes replay throughout
the week, and on Starz on Demand. All six seasons of “Xena:
Warrior Princess” are available on DVD
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SPARTACUS BLOOD AND SAND