ImageShe became an icon on the campy but highly successful television series "Xena: Warrior Princess" (1995-2001). At 43, Lucy Lawless remains fit for battle -- or, in the case of her current series, "Spartacus: Vengeance," nudity. Among the New Zealander's other assets is her voice. She once considered opera as a career path.

Although Lawless is heterosexual, married twice with three children, Xena's sexuality was always suspect. In the last episode, the Warrior Princess basically came out of the closet, which garnered Lawless a loyal lesbian following. Currently, she is playing Lucretia, a Roman woman who has lost everything and stops at nothing to regain her power and position.

"Spartacus: Vengeance" airs on the premium channel Starz at 10 p.m. EST Fridays. Nudity, violence and a lot more make it appropriate for mature audiences only.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: Were you into science fiction or mythology as a child?

A: No -- zero. We did lots of acting, my friend Michelle and I. We were always adapting fairy tales and things and putting them on for the old folks. My mother ran the senior-citizens brigade or whatever it was called. So we would do that sort of thing all the time as play. I don't know how this happened to me.

Q: I also read you were interested in opera at one point, but decided against it because you didn't like the lifestyle.

A: Well, I thought I'd have to be a big fatty. No, no, really, the truth is that's not my gift to sing that way. So even though I love singing to this day, not opera but other things, acting just comes first.

Q: How comfortable are you doing the semi-nude and nude scenes?

A: Not at all, zero comfortable. Oh, God, it makes me sick.

Q: It doesn't get easier?

A: No, it doesn't. You'd think it would, but it doesn't. But you know what? You believe in the role, and you just soldier on through and be as professional as you can because the scenes are not about sex. I don't care what anyone says, it's not porn. There's a transaction of power going on. Somebody's getting screwed, and it's not about sex. (Laughs).

Q: So with that said, there has to be pressure to stay in shape.

A: Yes, I try, but (laughs) that's a mystery to me, that whole discipline thing. I do work out with a trainer, but I don't know. You can go 10 pounds up and maybe 3 pounds down but tend to stay in a certain zone.

Q: Is your character on "Spartacus" more challenging to play than Xena was?

A: Yeah, because Xena had a moral compass that we relate to. Lucretia doesn't. I think if you live in a society where subterfuge is the order of the day, then there is no morality. Everybody is stabbing one another in the back. It's stab or be stabbed, and she's survived a long time. She's got her work cut out for her this season because things get really nasty. She is going to have to be extremely vigilant and clever to survive.

Q: Does it enhance your acting if you know the arc the character will be taking a few episodes ahead?

A: I think it's really important to know. You don't telegraph that to the audience, but I think it's very important to know. I remember on "Xena" we would set up for something being a fact and true and all your acting would sort of cleave to that rule, and three episodes later you are doing something completely the opposite. (Laughs) It kind of makes a liar of you.

For instance, in the last episode when they almost explicitly came out and said that Xena was gay, I was cross with them. All these years, they could have told me that ahead of time that they were going to do that. I wouldn't have had to sort of obfuscate. In this case ("Spartacus"), it was extremely important. By the end of this season when you see the final episode, I guarantee you're going to say, "Oh my God, now I have to go back and watch it again from the beginning." It's like a feature film.

Q: With the sex scenes, do you find it easier to do them with a man or a woman, or does it matter?

A: I find it easier to do with a man. To me, a man feels like I expect they are going to feel (laughs) and a woman doesn't. (Laughs) Even fat dudes feel differently to me than a woman. (Laughs) Just when you touch the flesh, it's different. I guess that means I'm straight.

Q: You have fans in both camps.

A: I know. I love them. But I know all I need to know. (Laughs)

Q: What about the choreography? Is it as complex as a fight scene?

A: Oh, it's much more complex.

Q: What about your sons? Do you think about them seeing (the sex scenes) someday?

A: Oh, I do. I think about them a lot. One of them is a very sensitive person, and he knows academically that I have to do those scenes. It's part of a role. But he does not want to see it. He does not want to see any part of it.

The other one is like his dad. He's just a moviemaker. Even though he's younger than the other boy, he's much more able to cope with everything to do with acting. When he gets old enough to see it, I will be less worried about him.

My daughter works on the show. I think at 23 years old it still grosses her out. When those scenes are on, she turns her back or she's not on the set. She doesn't punish me at all for it. She's very professional.