Lucy Lawless Magazine Article
VOLUME 23, No. 4, November 1997
Transcribed by Cat (Catherine McKenzie)
Full Colour Cover Photo - Lucy Lawless as Xena: Warrior Princess
LUCY LAWLESS AS XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS
By Emma Hayes
Everyone keeps repeating that I am an extraordinarily lucky woman. This is
not something with which I'm prepared to take issue but for two weeks, the
people who were apprising me of this were not talking of my rapier wit and
celestial beauty. They were Lucy Lawless fans or Xena: Warrior Princess
fans, or both. Apparently, that I was going to interview the New Zealand
beauty was a point of great envy for my gay female friends, straight male
friends and one or two female friends who call themselves straight. Of the
latter, one tells me she, "dreams of being Gabrielle."
At the time the editor asked me to interview Ms. Lawless, I had seen Xena
but once. Of course, I didn't get to the WNBA this season. I don't play
pool and I don't have a cat, either, so generally speaking this is not an
awful transgression in the annals of dykedom. I knew, of course, who Xena
was and had even been dragged to Xena Night - by two straight girlfriends,
no less - at a lesbian club in New York City called Meow Mix. I was not,
however, one of the many, many women who would have give (sic) their eye
teeth to conduct this interview.
Still, here I am, 10th row center to see Broadway's Grease and its newest
star, Lucy Lawless. Our appointment to speak follows in a couple of days
and I want to be prepared. Every now and then you interview someone who you
just like immediately and such was the case with Lawless. We have spoken
occasionally, kept in touch while she's been in New York and she is
The beginning of the interview did not portend this connection, however.
"Emma, it's Lucy," followed by a long, noisy yawn.
"Sorry," she continues. "I'm just so fucking exhausted. I've never worked
so hard in my life." When she is thanked profusely for agreeing to the
interview, given her many commitments and long rehearsal days, she responds
with a blunt, "Yeah."
Don't gush around Lucy Lawless, it makes her extremely sarcastic. In the
last two years, during which she has turned into a major television star,
the 29-year-old actress has learned to be wary of the obsequious.
Compliments are laughed off and the adulation so craved by some celebrities
seems to bore this one.
What does not bore Lawless is discussing her role as Rizzo in the Broadway
staple Grease. She can talk about it at length, to anyone and maintain an
enthusiasm that seems uncharacteristic. "Oh, God, it's like being forced to
jump through hoops," she laughs. "I didn't think it could be much harder
than Xena, than the 12-hour, very physical shoot days that we have but it
is. It really is."
For years, actors searching for professional respect and a juicy acting
experience have turned to the boards. Lawless is well aware that this role
represents a major departure for her career and that it could go either
way. She admits it's "the scariest fucking thing" she's ever done.
"It becomes less of a fear. It better, anyway." She lets loose a throaty
laugh. "And eventually you play the mistakes. Like, I have a hoola hoop in
one scene and I can not get it going despite having won a hoola hoop
competition when I was a kid. I can not hoola hoop this bloody thing,"
Lawless yelps. "So, I just hold it. You know, Rizzo doesn't give a rat's
ass anyway. You just play the mistakes in character and you stop feeling
like you want to throw up all the time."
Still, entering the elitist world of Broadway is an audacious move. Even
her predecessors, Brooke Shields and Rosie O'Donnell, though no Bernadette
Peters, seem likelier candidates than the action star to head the cast of a
Broadway musical. But as she says in television ads for the show, "You
can't be a warrior princess all of your life."
"Look, I could do a movie which would pay a g'zillion dollars, of course,
but it wouldn't reward me. So that would cost me. I'm trying to take the
riskier option. I just feel so alive now."
The amazing thing was not that she debuted on stage but that she debuted on
stage in a musical. Lawless is surprisingly good, too. "From a small child,
really," she claims, it has been her dream to be on Broadway. "I always
used to listen to Broadway music. I loved Mary Martin and Hermione Gingold.
It was a realization of that childhood dream."
Lawless has a singer's voice, strong, confident, with interesting phrasing.
There is some awkwardness as she moves on stage, bereft of the heavily
choreographed moves of Xena but she readily admits that each day is a new
adventure in learning. "I picked up some very bad technique. I think, as a
teenager singing." She says she has worked, "damn hard" with the musical's
director to overcome this.
Lucy Lawless has become a Broadway star.
New York City's Times Square certainly isn't what it used to be. Once
nicknamed "The Great White Way," and synonymous with elegance, top hats and
tails, it rotted in the sixties, leaving behind fetid ground with seemingly
more porn per square inch than Bangkok. On the upswing, kind of, it's now
rather like one giant action pack. The theme restaurants crowd two and
three per block and there's a Disney store on every corner.
Still, at night when the Broadway marquees burn, the dirt is masked by
night and the restaurants and stores fade into the background, the theater
district not only comes alive but regains some its (sic) faded glory. With
the economy booming and Broadway producing more shows than it has in many
season, town cars clog the streets and great crowds of well-dressed theater
mavens line the sidewalks.
These are the well lit, fall nights that Lucy Lawless drives through, on
her way to and from the Eugene O'Neill theater on West 49th Street. "Oh, my
God do I love New York! What a place!"
New York quite returns the sentiment. Although sales haven't been quite
what the producers hoped, notoriously harsh critics have been very
complimentary of her performance. "It's pretty hard to believe, actually,"
she begins. "It's very hard to take it seriously because you're just you,
you know? No matter how other people see you you're just the same old
person who pulls her undies on one leg at a time."
This is the essence of Lawless, candid, funny, with a strict no bullshit
policy. At the interview's start, Lawless seems uninterested in being
there. She sounds sleepy as she answers the first few questions but, after
a brief personal conversation, she changes almost completely. Swearing,
laughing and making jokes at her own expense, she has a ribald sense of
humor and reacts better to good dish than anyone you've ever seen. This
sudden stardom is not an easy thing for Lucy Lawless and there are lots of
things she just plain doesn't understand.
As she goes in the stage door each evening around dusk and leaves each
night well after eleven, swarms of people wait for her. Many of these fans
are gay women and many of them come every night, like the woman in the pink
hair whom Lucy almost looks for now. While she understands why Xena is a
lesbian icon, and therefore so is she, she doesn't seem to understand the
abject worship. After you see it yourself once or twice, you do wonder.
Lawless is staunchly supportive of her gay fans, though, and has made quite
a splash in New York's lesbian scene. Here barely one week, she made her
first trip to the lesbian bar, Meow Mix to meet some of her more ardent
admirers. One of the many hip new places that have sprung up since lesbian
chic, Meow Mix is the haunt of Xena-philes. On the first Tuesday of each
month, the owners proclaim Xena night, playing the most recent shows in a
loop without commercial interruption. There are sword contests and slightly
reworked scene re-enactments, usually with Xena and Gabrielle ending up in
an unscripted, erotic clench.
The first night she misses the big Xena party and ends up at a benefit
filled with "funky students. Mostly men because there is this benefit going
on." Regardless, the buzz of the news that Lucy Lawless had gone to Meow
Mix fried the phone wires the next morning.
The second visit to the club was a far greater success, with Lawless
actually making Xena night. Through the thick clouds of cigarette smoke,
women and girls hovered and watched, ogled and asked for autographs. When
they approached, it was great (sic) respect and gentility. That night,
Lawless was taken there by another journalist trying to get a story. This
time, the implication was clear and the sheer manipulation of the stunt
left her angry.
"I was annoyed. I was annoyed," anger crackling in the air, "that this
person should take me as if I was a publicity stunt and I felt manipulated.
I felt he was pushing a bloody agenda and I freakin' can't understand
people spending so much time trying to out me." The anger disappears and
she smiles a bit as she continues. "So, I just came to the conclusion that
I wouldn't give him the energy, or buy into it, or worry about it."
The women there, she says, are "just great" and gay women are some of her
favorite fans. "They're not confused about a character. They don't demand
that I be the character. They're not blurred, that's all. I feel easy in
their company, funnily enough."
Since her words about the journalist had been fairly strong, I question the
wisdom of publishing her statements and give her the opportunity to bag out
of the quotation. We're not all scum, I want to say. Lucy calls the next
afternoon to say she's been thinking that maybe it's not the best idea to
attack this person.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah but, I don't know. I always feel like I should tell the
truth and just let it fall where it may. The whole point is that it's
tiresome and a waste of time for humans not to be honest with one another.
But that was damn nice of you, my God."
Fame is a dance with the Devil, at best. Level-headed and sound, there are
still too many instances beyond her control. Those are the ones she says
she doesn't handle too well. Her cult figure standing, for instance, that
has spawned some rather unsavory admirers.
"There are," says Lucy without a hint of her trademark humor, "a lot of
wackos out there. Some sections of fandom are a little confused. They think
Xena is me. Gay women, on the other hand, are so loyal because Xena is the
first strong, kick-ass woman on TV. They're just thankful to me for my part
of the show. I'm the public face."
Public or not, the celebrity thing is something she doesn't particularly
cotton to, either. "I don't like to be made to feel like a one-trick pony.
That's the reason I don't go to celebrity parties. I don't like to be some
low-ranked celebrity for hire. It's like the Meow Mix thing. If I go I want
it to be because it's my own idea, out goodwill (sic) and a sense of fun
and because I'm respectful of the women who run that place because I like
those women. Not somebody else's little piece of manipulation because that
means we're all being manipulated. And I think the women in the club are
Lawless has returned to the topic of the errant journalist and her already
sexy, low voice has dropped another two levels. The New Zealand accent has
calcified, her "a's" are so flat they get caught in the back of her throat
and the words curl around her tongue. She's pissed and she's not really a
person you want angry with you, even without a sword.
Since fame came to the leggy Kiwi "later" in life, if you can really say
that 26 is later in life, Lucy retains an edge to her personality that
hasn't been buffed off by years of being groomed for celebrity. "I often
think that if it happens too late in life it's too late to get jazzed about
it. And I want to appreciate it because it can all go away." Then she says
softly, "I want to appreciate it because to be sucked in, to believe your
own hype, it's the worst mistake. It's a come on."
Born Lucy Ryan, she is the oldest of two girls and one of seven children in
the family. Her father was the Mayor of Mount Albert, New Zealand and her
mother was a housewife with political leanings. Lucy was a tomboy who rode
the flat gray-green earth on horseback and fought with her five brothers.
There was an independent streak taking root even then, instilled by her
When Lucy was still a girl, her parents set sail for a trip around the
world, leaving the family for over eight weeks. "It must have been very
difficult for my mother," sympathizes the actress and mother of a
nine-year-old daughter. "It was a very good enlivening thing. She came back
an interesting woman. I really think that it was a brave thing for my mum
At 18, Lucy left college where she had been studying acting, to explore the
world with her boyfriend, Garth Lawless. Along the way, she pan-handled
gold, picked grapes on the Rhine and learned world-class fishing skills. In
1988 she married Lawless and gave birth to daughter Daisy that same year.
These three people, her daughter, her father and her mother, seem to form a
kind of lifeline for Lucy. Due in town that very week, she gets incredibly
excited when she discusses their visit and she has a lot planned for Daisy.
Lucy tries to manage the decades old balance of family and work that is
more successful some days than others. Daisy, however, is the constant; the
most important person in Lucy's life.
Kids are a frequent topic and reference for Lawless who manages to slip her
daughter into the conversation pretty regularly. Daisy is, "nine and
divine" according to the doting mum, although not a zealous fan of Xena.
She does manage to attend the Friday taping which gives them a little more
"I don't want to go into that too much." Then with a bit of gentle
prodding, she changes her mind. "I miscalculated and it's five weeks before
I see my daughter instead of three and a half and five weeks is way too
long in kid time, and it's way too much for me. And it's very hard," Lucy
lays on the word, a little distraught, "for a little kid to comprehend
waiting for her mum. You know," she concludes just a little out of breath,
"I miss her so much."
Mother and daughter are close and the most valuable lesson Lawless learned
about raising her daughter was handed down from her mum. "My mother taught
me a very good lesson: you mustn't give everything up for your children
because your children will go off. That's their job. It's their mission in
life. You must save part of yourself for yourself."
Lawless is nothing if not pragmatic. At times, it's a little hard to
believe that she's actually an actress which isn't meant as harshly as it
sounds. It's just that Lawless has a good sense of herself and a clear
understanding of what's important.
Recently, she announced her engagement to the American executive producer
of Xena and Hercules, Rob Tapert. The break-up of her marriage to Daisy's
father was traumatic and not a thing she expects to repeat. "He's the
sweetest guy, for one thing but also, you know, we just like being around
one another. You can say that about some guy, you marry him!"
The two, who have no trouble interacting at work and at home, have been
linked for a while now but there are those who speculate that the timing of
the engagement may have had something to do with Lucy's increasing gay
interaction. Her visits to the gay bars landed her gossip (sic) columns in
the straight and gay communities and the Web is filled with constant
speculation about her personal life.
Perhaps this confluence is the reason for a recent misstatement on a
late-night talk show. When the host asked her about a certain lesbian club
that held Xena night, Lucy tossed off his question with a laugh. Then she
claimed that she had never visited the place and the subject quickly
changed. I do not get the chance to ask about this and I can not fathom the
answer because she is basically such a straight shooter. What could she say?
Lawless has been spotted at everything in the last couple of weeks,
parties, benefits and openings. "Well," she giggles, "I'm trying to have a
good time but you know, I'm so exhausted. I sleep, then, like today, I'll
go to the gym after this. I'll try to get some food in the fridge and then
I'll have to go back to the theater."
Staying in a hotel near Central Park, Lawless has tried to explore in other
areas of the city. On one recent trip to Greenwich Village for dinner, she
ran into an actor she has "adored for years," whom it turned out, was a fan
of hers. Days later she is still giggling over the encounter.
"The waiter comes over to me and says, 'there's a gentleman that says
you're Xena. I told him he was nuts.' I said, well, he's not nuts, or maybe
he is, but I am Lucy Lawless." Meanwhile, across the room, Rupert Everett,
star of My Best Friend's Wedding, was having dinner. Lucy admits to the
biggest crush on him, ever since Another Country. "That was a big movie in
my house. So I call the waiter back over and say, 'Isn't that Rupert
Everett?" Get this, and he's like, 'yeah and he's the one that recognized
Lawless is so impressed with the whole scene that it's hard to imagine her
happier. Until, that is, I mention that Rupert is my next door neighbor.
"No way!" she shrieks. Later that day when Rupert passes by my courtyard
window with his black lab, Mo, I mention that I met a new friend of his.
"Oh God," he says as only he can. "I just love Lucy. She is so great. Love
the show, just love it."
When I tell her this she is beside herself. "Fuck! Isn't this amazing? He's
a doll! He's sweet but he's capable of being so incredibly nasty and
wicked." Actually, he's a great neighbor. I explain, but he is wicked. Then
I relate the story of how he once sent a particularly vituperative critic a
lock of his pubic hair after a bad review. She gasps and then is lost in
peels of laughter.
As Lucy's successful run on Broadway draws to a close, she prepares to go
back to work. Xena begins taping just four days from the date she leaves
Rizzo behind and the warrior princess is in for quite a season. "We're
doing a musical this year," she squeals in laughter. "A really wanky,
Wagnerian type opera Xena. It's going to be great."
Will there be any lesbian subtext, or, better yet, any lesbian sex? "Look,
it's ambiguous. That way everyone can get from it what they want. Really,
who cares anyway. Pretty nasty, dark stuff coming up this year, though, so,
don't let your children watch. This season's really got to be screened."
So fans won't be getting everything they want from the show this year but
they do have Lawless' heart. "I got this letter, though I don't usually
read my mail. I get some weird stuff. I'd have to live behind bars if I
read it all but I got this great lesbian fan letter that said how important
our show was to her. It said," she stops, still incredulous at the content,
"this girl said, 'It's so important that you're not afraid of us,'" Lucy
pauses for a long time. "Do you have any idea what that means? Any idea the
kind of existence one must have to need to say that to me. It's shitty. I
felt bad and great at the same time. Just shitty good luck is all."
Will the luck continue in the career of Lucy Lawless? She has no intention
of leaving Xena (David Caruso are you there?) and she chooses interesting
work on her off weeks. Material that she says, "stretches her," so one
imagines there is much more to come.
As always, the Warrior Actress sums it up best. "I take great pride in my
work. I don't like sloppy work and I always try to push your own
boundaries. So, I see no reason why I should just suddenly vanish in the
future. Not at all."
Emma Hayes is a New york-based (sic) writer.