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NPR Interview with Lucy Lawless & Rob Tapert

Profile: TV series "Xena: Warrior Princess"
Host: SCOTT SIMON Time: 1:00-2:00 PM

16 July 2001

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Xena, the warrior princess, is about to lay down her breastplate. By the end of the month, the last episodes of the six-year-old series, that's made in New Zealand and syndicated around the world, will be seen from Kansas City to Kotka, Finland. Lucy Lawless, the sculpturesque actress who is Xena, describes the show in a way that manages to convey its best quality without getting carried away.

Ms. LUCY LAWLESS (Actress): I always called it a goofy show for smart people.

(Soundbite of "Xena: Warrior Princess" theme)

SIMON: Xena began her run as a lethally sultry, raven-haired villain on the old "Hercules" series. One of the producers was American, Rob Tapert.

Mr. ROB TAPERT (Producer): They had been pushing me to come up with a spinoff show, and so I kind of went, `Well, we could spin off this character,' and they saw the footage and were very eager and it was kind of--they said, `Well, it's going to be a tough sell to do a woman warrior as its own show, but we're game if you are.'

SIMON: But first, the writers converted Xena from an evildoer to a muscular do-gooder, who delivers justice at the point of a sword. Sharon Delaney of Glendale, California, is head of the official Xena fan club.

Ms. SHARON DELANEY (Xena Fan Club): The actress Lucy Lawless plays her. She brings a softness to the strength.

SIMON: Lucy Lawless is a strapping presence, but has no background in stunts or stage fights. In fact, she trained as an opera singer.

Ms. LAWLESS: My nickname at school was Unco, for uncoordinated, and I was quite proud of that and quite comfortable with it. And then I got this job by accident when somebody else pulled out and was forced by the school of hard knocks to learn how to start to stunt fight. And nobody knows better than I that Xena's a composite character. There's about six people who go into being Xena, at least.

SIMON: The show has become noted among many women, who see Xena who' s a superhero whose powers are embellished by sheer feminine competence, but whatever the feminist and sensitive guy philosophizing, Xena succeeds by being the meanest mother on the block.

(Soundbite of "Xena: Warrior Princess")

Ms. LAWLESS: Ah! Yah!

Mr. TAPERT: We do have a formula, which is we certainly have three fight sequences in every single episode.

Ms. DELANEY: I didn't think I would like the fighting, because I' m not an action-adventure person by nature. But I did. And I suppose it's a guilty pleasure, but I found myself, you know, enjoying that aspect of the show as well, which surprised me.

SIMON: Xena often disarms her foes with a chakram, an old Persian weapon that looks like a fatal Frisbee, but it turns to Xena's hands like a boomerang. Maybe that's the New Zealand touch. Xena kicks up her show-stopping legs into the faces of assorted bad guys. There are worse ways to die. Fan Sharon Delaney says...

Ms. DELANEY: Rarely did you see blood, except when it seemed they were trying to make a point.

SIMON: And over the years, the action was increasingly punctuated by the personal story of Xena, the warrior princess, and her companion, Gabrielle the poet, played by Renee O'Connor.

Mr. TAPERT: We are in the business of making people feel something, which is your job on a television show, so I think over time, we' ve crafted the show or it's taken on more emotion between the two characters in order to hopefully make it a more satisfying viewing experience.

SIMON: The warrior showed the poet what a mess the world can be. The poet gave the warrior a reason to care enough to change it. Xena and Gabrielle traveled together, fought together, laughed together, and then some.

(Soundbite of "Xena: Warrior Princess")

Ms. LAWLESS (As Xena): Are you sitting on the soap?

Ms. RENEE O'CONNOR (As Gabrielle): I was wondering what that was. Hmm.

(Soundbite of water splashing)

SIMON: There were scenes of tenderness, as well as cleanliness. " Xena's" been called a love story. Does Lucy Lawless agree?

Ms. LAWLESS: The short answer is yes. This has always been about a tremendous friendship between two human beings and the whole experience was a labor of love for Renee and me and the crew. So anyway, yes. The simple answer is yes. Where are you going with this, Scott?

SIMON: We'll get to that. There's also been a twisted history aspect to "Xena." The stories are set in some imprecise all-inclusive antiquity. The likes of Julius Caesar, Hippocrates and Ares made guest appearances. Rob Tapert remembers...

Mr. TAPERT: We had some episodes a couple years ago where she questioned her way of the warrior, only to have Krishna tell her that that's the way of her life and there's no reason she should not excel and be everything she can be to be a warrior, since that's the path she should walk in life. So...

SIMON: When you say Krishna, you mean Lord Krishna?

Mr. TAPERT: That's right, Lord Krishna.

SIMON: Now what's he doing in Greek mythology?

Mr. TAPERT: Well, they happened to visit India, so we tried to touch on as many different religious, philosophical beliefs as we could, from going to China to Japan to India to the Norse gods.

SIMON: Xena's virtuosity in all areas encouraged those she encountered to fear gods but trust in Xena. Sharon Delaney.

Ms. DELANEY: Yeah. Xena invented the kite. She invented CPR, tracheotomies. She was the one under the table pulling back Ulysses' bow, you know. That's been a large part of the fun. The humor in the show, the humor of the writers, the producers, directors, actors, plays a large part in the fun of this show.

Ms. LAWLESS: People will ask me things about specific episodes or they'll mention the name of an episode and I'll go, `Oh, remind me what happened in that one.' And they'll say, `Oh, it was when you were kissing Kevin Smith or when you bit Kevin Smith's nipple,' and I'm going, `Tell me more,' you know. A little marker like that means nothing to me.

SIMON: A little thing like biting an actor's nipple you don't remember?

Ms. LAWLESS: Right. I can't remember that or I can't--which time was it when I gave birth to a centaur? Let me think...

SIMON: Well, now...

Ms. LAWLESS: Or crucified--I've been crucified that many times.

SIMON: The writers also borrowed another plot line from the New Testament. Lucy Lawless married Rob Tapert a couple of years ago. They got pregnant, in the parlance of our times. What do you do with a pregnant warrior princess?

Mr. TAPERT: There was no possible way that we thought we could conceal a pregnancy, so we embraced it in our storylines.

SIMON: Let me gently explore what I think you've been expecting, OK? And, look, this show is important to people all over the world. It's been important to many women all over the world. And I'm not going to shy away from saying it's been important to lesbians all over the world.

Ms. LAWLESS: I'm very proud of you.

SIMON: Well, we all know that.

Ms. LAWLESS: Hard hitting. OK.

SIMON: Do you see a special role for Xena in kind of the hopes and the enjoyment that some people have pinned on that character?

Ms. LAWLESS: Well, yes, I do. I do, because if you think about it, there's so little for the lesbian community to directly relate to on television, or has been in the past, that to see two women traveling along side by side, that doesn't involve talking about boys the whole time, so naturally, that would be very appealing. It seems that gay people think she's gay and straight people think she's straight.

SIMON: And, says Xena fan club president Sharon Delaney...

Ms. DELANEY: That's what art is all about. That's what music, a book--whatever you get from it when you read it, that's what's important, and that's what's valuable to you. So no one can possibly deny the love between those two characters. But where they might actually be in their sexual relationship, nobody really has a clue.

SIMON: "Xena" is closing down after six seasons because the producers and actors can launch the show into profitable syndication. The stars would like to take on a greater range of roles, including more face time as mothers.

Ms. LAWLESS: I'm relieved, because I'm out of energy. I'm not out of love with the show, but by golly, it's an incredible physical slog, and I've got two kids who need their mum, so yeah, it seemed right, and I feel very complete about it.

Ms. DELANEY: There's reruns. There's people just discovering the show now to whom the reruns are going to be original. But I will miss their next adventure.

SIMON: Lucy Lawless says she will miss the camaraderie around Xena and the care so many people have had for that character.

Ms. LAWLESS: But I don't even look like Xena. I'm much more slight than people expect. My hair's actually sort of a mousey brown. And I would hope that I can do a lot of different roles so that Lucy Lawless can go on and have a very diverse career. And "Xena" will just exist in time as a very special, slightly subversive, very fun show.

SIMON: Rob Tapert predicts that within a generation, there will be a `return of Xena' movie.

Mr. TAPERT: I bet they call my wife and ask her to do a small part as the mom or as a god or as something, so she would get a cameo, but I would think that in 20 years, I don't think she would want to put back on the leathers.

Ms. LAWLESS: There has to come a time when I'm allowed to say goodbye to that character. I feel a lot of pressure from a lot of the fans to play Xena forever, and I can't. You know, I just can't. Eventually, it's going to be ridiculous. I'm going to be 50 years old in a leather breastplate. It will just be tragic.

SIMON: Ms. Lawless has gotten to add some operatic touches to Xena. She sang her way through one entire musical episode, and then there' s Xena's war cry.

Ms. LAWLESS: I say `Ah, la, la, la, la' very fast and very high. But singers don't treat their bodies the way that I've treated mine over the last six years and aren't out in the rain and aren't yelling and shrieking and fighting, and I really feel that my voice went away for a few years. So now I'm hoping to get it back.

(Soundbite of "Xena: Warrior Princess")

Ms. LAWLESS (As Xena): Ahh! Ahh!

SIMON: Ms. Lawless, you've been awfully kind to speak to us, particularly so early in the morning, so I'm going...

Ms. LAWLESS: It is my very great pleasure.

SIMON: Well, I'm going to press ahead with just one request, OK?


SIMON: I understand you might not want to grant it because it is so early, but do you think we could hear Xena's yell? I mean, do you ever do it for your kids?

Ms. LAWLESS: I'll wake the children, Scott. Oh, man. I feel like a sideshow freak. Hang on.

SIMON: Now wait.

Ms. LAWLESS: Just for you.

SIMON: I don't want you to feel like a sideshow freak.

Ms. LAWLESS: Now you've made me mad. Now I'm going to have to do it. (Lawless does Xena's yell) All right?

SIMON: Oh, Ms. Lawless, I cannot thank you enough. I am...

Ms. LAWLESS: I thought you were going to ask me to sing you a song.

SIMON: Th...

Ms. LAWLESS: (Singing) `There were worse things I could do than go with a boy or two.' You remember that one?

SIMON: Yes, I do now. Yes. Well, what kind of music would you like to sing, like a musical role? I mean...

Ms. LAWLESS: You know, I always--I know it's on Broadway at the moment and I saw it. I loved "Annie Get Your Gun" since I was a child.

SIMON: Oh, (singing) `The girl that I marry will have to be...'

Ms. LAWLESS: That's right.

SIMON: (Singing) ` soft and pink as a nursery.'

Ms. LAWLESS: (Singing) `The girl to whom I propose will wear satin and ribbons and smell of cologne'--or something. Anyway...

SIMON: Right, exactly.

Ms. LAWLESS: But...

SIMON: Oh, wait.

Ms. LAWLESS: Of course, I would play the other role.

SIMON: You know--wait, wait, wait. You know what song is from that, I think? Ready? (Singing) `Anything you can do, I can do better.'

Ms. LAWLESS: (Singing) `I can do anything better than you. No, you can't. Yes, I can.'

SIMON: Hey, that's my role.

Ms. LAWLESS: Yeah.

SIMON: Yes, I can.

Ms. LAWLESS: Oh, sorry.

SIMON: Well, and then the one, (singing), `I can sing anything sweeter than you can. I can sing anything sweeter than you. No, you can' t. Yes...'

Ms. LAWLESS: (Singing) `No, you can't.' Go on, Scott.

SIMON: No, no, no.

Ms. LAWLESS: Yes, I can.

SIMON: She sure can. Lucy Lawless, Xena. Her last show will air all around the world by the end of June. You can find more information on "Xena," the warrior princess, on our Web site at

(Soundbite of "Xena" theme music)


SIMON: I'm Scott Simon.

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