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Success on 'Hercules' brings actress Lucy Lawless her own show

New York Daily News

29 November 1995

Many actors believe you'd have to be blessed by the gods to go from a guest appearance on a hit series to the star of your own spinoff. In Lucy Lawless' case, it was a demigod who made it all happen.

The New Zealand native signed on to do a three-episode arc on the popular syndicated series ``Hercules: The Legendary Journeys'' during its first season. Before her stint was over, Lawless was headlining her own actioner, ``Xena: Warrior Princess,'' which airs Saturdays nights.

Lawless first appeared on ``Hercules'' _ which stars Kevin Sorbo as the mythological half-god, half-man good guy _ as a feared, evil marauder who flattened everything in her path. Problem was, audiences loved her. So Xena did a quick 180, and now battles evil with the best of the boys.

It all came about, says Lawless by phone from New Zealand, with an incredible call from ``Hercules''' co-executive producer, Rob Tapert _ ``just a voice from America'' _ who asked her if she'd like to have a show of her own.

``I said, `Pardon?''' and he repeated it. And I then said: `Ah, Mr. Tapert, that sounds very nice. Why don't you get back to me at a later date when it's a bit more concrete?'''

Obviously, he did.

Currently, ``Xena'' is the fifth-highest-rated syndicated one-hour drama, no doubt buoyed by the phenomenal success of ``Hercules,'' which often takes top Nielsen honors.

Lawless _ who hasn't been to America since the show launched _ is still a bit shellshocked over the sudden success of ``Xena,'' which doesn't yet air in New Zealand, where the show is taped. ``If this is a big deal at all, nobody down here knows it,'' she says.

And she laughs at the idea that, before long, little fans will be acting out their own shows with ``Hercules'' and ``Xena'' action figures, which will be available in stores soon. ``It's a very odd facsimile,'' she says of the doll, ``and the body's like He-man's body in a skirt....But that's the fun of it.''

There are, she admits, clouds hidden inside the bright silver lining.

First of all, there's the loss of personal time.

``I was sitting in the looping studio late one night and I had this epiphany that they weren't paying me for my acting, for god's sake, but to own me. And from then on, it became clear and an awful lot easier to deal with ... that that's what my contract was all about,'' says Lawless, a single mother who sees her 7-year-old daughter, Daisy, on weekends. The rest of the week, Daisy lives with her father.

Then, of course, there's Xena's rigid, restrictive leather and metal costume, which Lawless wiggles in and out of.