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Lucy Outshines Rachel

Woman's Weekly
(New Zealand)

7 July 1997

Scanned/Transcribed by MaryD

Americans are going nuts over the sword-wielding, leather-clad Lucy, opting for her down-to-earth approach rather than Rachel's model lifestyle.

New Zealand Amazonian heroine Lucy Lawless is rapidly overtaking Rachel Hunter as America's Kiwi of choice, soaring to new heights of popularity with her Xena: Warrior Princess series, fascinating Yanks, both young and old.

It's not just the jumping on and off horses, crawling through mud and defeating warlords that's got everyone's attention. It's also Lucy's open Kiwi personality that's intrigued and won the heart of America.

Unlike Rachel, who's enveloped in her own and Rod Stewart's celebrity aura, Lucy marches fearlessly through interviews telling journalists they're "nitwits" when they ask silly questions, and talks openly about both her professional and personal life, including motherhood to nine-year-old daughter Daisy and her relationship with Xena's executive producer Rob Tapert.

And unlike Rachel's glossy, impossibly-perfect, jet-setting lifestyle, Lucy's not afraid to admit her life has had its dark patches.

As she plays her role with a mixture of dour seriousness and deadpan sexiness, Americans in their millions tune in to watch the 29-year-old Lucy, who NZ Woman's Weekly readers may recall was once crowned Mrs New Zealand.

She's become both a pin-up girl and feminist role model to many fans. She's a huge hit on US chat shows with ratings soaring when she appears. And she's even bigger on the Internet where nearly 200 web pages applaud her.Additionally, prison inmates gather for "Xena nights" and the show's developed a loyal gay and lesbian following, due largely to Xena's strong female image and the ambiguous, quasi-erotic relationship between Xena's character and her sidekick Gabrielle, played by Renee O'Connor.

Even critics as divergent as Ms Magazine and Playboy have sung Lucy's praises. She was voted one of the "Most Beautiful People" of 1996, was a finalist for the People "Icon of the Year Award" and included on America's "Most Intriguing People" list.

Everybody, it seems, loves Xena, a role that's fast propelling Lucy into the $NZ1.5 million-per-week category with a hefty salary from the series, personal appearances and earnings from merchandising. This compared with Rachel Hunter's earning capacity of$NZ20,000 per day.

The show's campiness - the swoosh of Xena's sword whizzing from its scabbard, the flash of absurdly exaggerated stunts, the goofy double-entendres - is part of the appeal.

In a world where TV superheroes abound, Xena and Gabrielle are a welcome change. "She's strong. She's not a wasp-waisted beauty like on Baywatch" says Harvard media expert Karen Wood. "She doesn't need a male or a male accomplice to look after her."

In fact, some abused American women draw inspiration to stand up to their abusers, seek help and have the bad guys locked up.

"A lot of women write to me after they've been through a rape or something and they say they're not going to be victims again. I'm thrilled that's something they got from Xena," says Lucy.

There was a lot of sympathy from Americans when Lucy was thrown from a horse last year and broke her pelvis just before an important chat show appearance. Thousands of get well cards flooded the studio, flowers from admirers filled her hospital room and bulletins about her recovery were followed breathlessly by worried fans.

"Not even major American TV stars get this kind of attention, this kind of outpouring of concern," says Los Angeles critic Carla Kempton.

"Everyone here is nuts about this Kiwi and I think she could have a significant TV and film career if she comes to Hollywood.

"She's not only a good actress, she's a natural, unpretentious figure off stage and that's what we all like so well."

Lucy laughs, "We're always winking at the audience, there's a lot of satire and irony in what we do. You're silly if you take it too seriously, it's a lot of fun to watch and I just love doing the show."

And unlike greedy, fame-hungry Hollywood stars who rush from TV into multiple film projects during their show's hiatus, Lucy says she won't do that.

"Work is the second most important thing to me. But I don't want to exhaust myself when I'm not taping Xena; it wouldn't be fair to the series or to the role. I plan to continue giving it my all. And there won't be any Xena workout videos! I want to be a very happy lady when I reach old age and that's not going to happen if I work myself to death now," she says.

Lucy's now sporting a copper-plated bra. A bit different from her Mrs New Zealand days "I know I've made a bundle of money, but that's not everything. I wouldn't be a happy old lady if I hadn't spent precious time with my daughter Daisy while she was growing up, or if I lost my partner."

Lucy adds it wasn't exactly great in the early days for Daisy to have a famous mum bouncing about on TV in a miniskirt and copper-plated bra. "She's more comfortable with it these days. But for a long time she would hate me coming to her school because kids would flock around me, yell out and bug her about me all day long. Now she's realised that Xena isn't going to turn my head away from her. She's even slightly proud. She realises that it's a very cool show.
"When I first started appearing the kids would make fun of Daisy, and that hurt. But they're cooler about it these days. Now she's proud of her mum, rather than being embarrassed. She even allowed me to attend a recent school concert!"

Lucy's real ambition for the future is to become a "fine actress". But in the meantime, she's dramatically established in the American consciousness, with producers eyeing her for major film and TV roles. She admits some of the offers are tempting.

"Whether, as has been the case with Rachel Hunter, she'd be willing to leave New Zealand for a life in the US remains the big question. Somehow I think Lucy's Kiwi roots are too precious," says Carla.

"I don't think she'd want her daughter growing up in America, no matter how popular Lucy's become here. I think she remains a New Zealand girl at heart."