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A star on the strength of 'Xena'

Daily News

19 August 1996

By CHRISTY SLEWINSKI
Daily News Staff Writer

' XENA' star Lucy Lawless walks through the door, and you can't help but look behind her to see if the Warrior Princess has, by some mistake, been left behind in the lobby. Yes, Lawless is nearly 6 feet tall. But having exchanged her trademark leather-and-metal armor for an ultra-feminine lavender lace shirt and black miniskirt, the TV action hero puts even the most popular catwalk striders to shame with her graceful presence.

Just goes to show that Lawless, star of the hit syndicated series "Xena: Warrior Princess," didn't always make a living single-handedly battling Cyclopes, centaurs and armies of grimy-looking marauders. Slim and soft-spoken, the New Zealand native has settled into her one-in-a-million role. Xena was successfully spun off into her own series last year after audiences took note of the fearsome female character in a three-episode story arc of "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys."

Now, "Xena" trades off and on with "Hercules" and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" for the top spot in the weekly syndie drama ratings. "Xena," which follows "Hercules," airs locally Saturday nights at 9 on WPIX/ Ch. 11, and repeats Sunday afternoons at 2.

The show, and its runaway success, "was a complete surprise," says Lawless, 28, who swung by New York as part of a whirlwind American press tour. "I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be an action star." And the work. Lawless adds, is fun but grueling.

"I'm constantly stretched, because the writers go, 'Wow, if she can do this, then let's try this.' We all let our imaginations run wild."

Even the knowledge that she's become a popular role model doesn't bother her nearly as much as it used to.

"I used to be terrified, just terrified," she admits. "Up until I came here this week, and I met so many women and young girls who feel, to use their word and I'm a bit embarrassed, but it's a good word empowered, by watching. I realized this isn't a burden, this is an honor."

Of course, the one little girl whom Lawless wants to inspire the most is her 8-year-old daughter, Daisy, who's still adjusting to having a TV-star mom.

"She's not entirely sure that she likes Mommy being the focus of everybody's attention," says Lawless, who divorced shortly before she landed the Xena role. "She doesn't like to share me too much." After all, Daisy not only has to answer questions like "Is your mom Xena?" but, Lawless explains with a laugh, she's forced to respond to other, more ridiculous queries, like: "Is your dad Hercules?"

"She pretends that she doesn't like it," says Lawless. "But I think in her heart she does."