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Recreating Greek Myths For the '90's with Hercules and Xena
Lucy Lawless - Xena
She first appeared in Hercules and now she's got her own series... Lucy Lawless talks about life in leather.
It's fairly obvious how a fictional leather-clad sword-wielding warrior princess can become a major sex symbol for the '90s, but a role model? The actress is still trying to figure that one out herself. "I have to say I've really shunned the whole notion up until now... But I'm realising it's just another factor I have to deal with, so I don't fight it anymore."
"There are a lot of women who write letters saying, 'I've been empowered to go out and buy myself the Harley I've always wanted.'That can only be a good thing. They've always wanted to do this, and some character on TV has given them the presence of mind to go out and do what they've wanted."
As Lawless relates, the reason she's resisted the whole role model shtick is because Xena is actually the composite of a lot of people's work. "There are make-up artists, designers, writers, stuntwomen and all the rest... I don't mind if women think that way about Xena, but Lucy Lawless is a standard human being. I don't look like Xena when you meet me. She's a bronzed, leather-clad beauty and I'm pale and not that large."
Landing the role of Xena was a classic Hollywood story of being in the right place at the right time. Lawless had already appeared as different characters in the two-hour "Hercules And The Amazon Women" and the centaur episode "As Darkness Falls," and her name was mentioned again when the girl who was originally to play Xena in the three-part season finale to Hercules's first year fell ill.
"She'd been training for a month, so they said, 'Why don't we just use Lucy Lawless? She was in the last episode and we think she can do it' The studio said, 'Are you out of your minds? You've just used her! Here's a list of five other actresses. We want you to track one of them down, bung her in the role.'
"One actress after another turned it down, because it was three episodes in an unknown series called Hercules, shooting in New Zealand during pilot season.That was the clincher, because they wanted to stay there and score a pilot that would hopefully become a series... Luckily, I was on a camping trip in New Zealand at the time..."
Naturally, Xena's tight-fitting leather costume has gone down well with the show's more hormonally-challenged male viewers. "There are a lot of judges who want to be spanked," she jokes. "Lawyers want me to walk on them with my boots; they think I wear them home." But it's not all good news. "Sometimes I go into my camper in the morning, see that bloody thing waiting
for me and say/Oh God, not today!' There's rain and hail coming down and you're on the side of a cliff, about to jump onto your horse and trying to look good at the same time."
Although Xena was a hit right from the start, the producers and their leading lady continue to tinker with the formula. "It constantly evolves. We're always throwing twists on some line or some plot, so the writers feel free now to write what they want to. We don't aim to be politically correct... Just as the audience gets comfortable, we turn it around on them."
A prime example of that anarchic streak has to be "Is There A Doctor In The House?" a mythological E.R. episode which proved too intense for Universal, who buried it amidst Summer repeats. "It was a five-day shoot, and one of the most intense five days of my entire life. We had to cut a lot out of that, because it was too bloody and intense for the sponsors. Fortunately, the composer, Joe LoDuca, managed to glue everything together with music, so that it had all this poignancy and suspense and drama. He filled in the gaps and helped make the episode stunning."
With the first half of Xena's second season in the can, Lawless promises some interesting moments for the fans, including an episode where Xena and Gabrielle dress up as Bacchae... "Things get even dicier than that. It's quite an exciting Halloween episode, and in the best tradition of vampire movies it has that very sexual energy. We also do an episode where I play three characters,The Warrior, The Princess and The Tramp. I play this raunchy bar-hag who's got a real thing for Joxer,Ted Raimi's character. He and I were just firing off one another."
As for the future, Lawless has a few thoughts about where Xena might go in upcoming episodes. "The truth is, I would like to see Xena go a bit darker. Just when people think they've got her pegged as the 'man in the white hat,' I'd like to shake them out of their comfort zone and display more of the anti-hero... I think this will come through in the schism between Xena and Gabrielle. I've discovered that one of the nice qualities about Xena is that even when she's bad, you love her."