Woman's Weekly
(New Zealand)

September 1997

Lucy Lawless - Natural Born Fighter

Many thanks to Kim for the transcript and scans


Fame drove TV's Lucy Lawless into battle - to keep her daughter's love.  Being both a superhero and an international celebrity can be tough - just ask Lucy Lawless, star of the hit sword and sorcery TV3 series Xena: Warrior Princess. While she reputedly earns as much as $30,000 an episode, 28-year-old Lucy has been paying a high price for her success.

The series, in which Lucy plays a sword-wielding she-devil who fearlessly champions good against evil, threatened to destroy her  relationship with her eight-year-old daughter, Daisy.

"At first, Daisy really hated the show," says Lucy, who is divorced from her bar-manager husband, Garth Lawless. "She wanted it all to go away and equated it with the break-up of her family. Daisy blamed Xena for the breakdown of my marriage. "Fortunately, she's much more comfortable with it now. She's realised that the show is not going to take me away from her. I put aside everything so I can have a great relationship with my child."

For Lucy, the odyssey from battling mum to warrior princess has been far from easy. "I think the toughest thing I've done in my life is go through a divorce and be a working mother," says Lucy, who is now happily dating Xena co-creator and executive producer Rob Tapert.

"You really feel as if you're losing your child and you can't defend yourself. You can't speak ill of the father. You can be persecuted, but you can't persecute. Your child thinks you don't care and there are moments when I've had to suppress every basic urge to fight back and say my piece."

A natural-born fighter with a strong streak of independence, Lucy grew up in Auckland, where she attended a Catholic school and "lived a charmed existence. I have five brothers and one sister, and my mum said I didn't know I was a girl until I was eight."

In the early days of the New Zealand-made show, which began last year as a spin-off from the successful series Hercules, Lucy had a problem dealing with her new identity. Now she is more relaxed about her alter ego.

"I felt threatened at first," she says. "I felt I had become some kind of counter-Barbie. I was infuriated at being reduced to some sort of icon. Now I find it a pleasure, and have already made a few changes in my life as a result. I used to smoke, but now I've stopped because I don't want the young women who look up to me to think it's okay. The character of Xena is a wonderful role model. There are people out there who have suffered some kind of abuse - and they relate to Xena. She's always fighting the good fight."

A kung-fu expert, Lucy admits to preferring to let the stunt experts handle the truly dirty work, and so she has had remarkably few injuries during the course of the series. Ironically, her worst accident to date happened while she was plugging Xena on America's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. She safely made her entrance on horseback but, afterwards, the horse slipped, throwing her onto the concrete of the studio's parking lot. She spent three weeks in hospital recovering from pelvic injuries.

While she describes the accident which happened a year ago, as "being like a bad dream", it did focus attention on the show. The accident was big news in New Zealand and helped boost Xena's ratings. And Lucy believes this brought her closer to her daughter. "She's a lot more proud of her mother now that the show is a success."

Crowned Mrs New Zealand in 1989, Lucy considered a career as a marine biologist before studying for three years to become an opera singer. Deciding that she didn't have the passion for it, she and her husband and daughter moved to Vancouver, Canada, where she attended drama school and won TV walk-on parts. Returning home three years ago, she was cast twice on Hercules - as Amazon queen Lissla who gave birth to a baby Centaur, and another time as a bully girl - before winning the part of Xena.

Her opera training hasn't gone to waste, though. This month, she will  star in the US in the Broadway production of Grease, taking over the role of bad-girl Rizzo from comedian Rosie O'Donnell. "My voice isn't that good," she admits. "It's not as if they offered me the Olivia Newton-John role! But I certainly never expected to get to Broadway. I'm very proud of that."

Working 16-hour days, her schedule means she only gets to see Daisy at  the weekends, while her ex-husband looks after her the rest of the time. "I wish I could spend more time with her," says Lucy, "but at least she's with her father. We're putting her needs before our own."