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Parade Magazine

July 27, 1997

She's A Woman, She's a Warrior, She's A Wonder, She is Xena

In Step with Lucy Lawless

Yes but can she sing? When she isn't clobbering bad guys on TV's Warrior Princess, Lucy Lawless is busy pursuing a path to the Broadway stage.

Until two or three years ago, Lucy Lawless was an unknown.
Today the New Zealand actress is so famous that, when I called on her at New York's Four Seasons Hotel, I was carefully instructed to ask not for Lucy but for "Irma McHugh."

In case you haven't been watching, Lucy stars in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, part-fantasy, part-adventure, sheer fun and all Lucy. As Xena, the tall, strong, athletic beauty with gloriously blue eyes is togged out in boots, a leather miniskirt and metal breastplates that do her breathtaking body no harm at all.

This "warriorprincess" inhabits an often-hostile world in the time of ancient and largely mythical Greece. (Xena is a spin-off from Hercules, starring Kevin Sorbo.) She uses swords, staffs and the martial arts against villains both human and supernatural. After less than 50 episodes and two years on American TV, the show is fast overtaking another popular syndicated series, Baywatch, in terms of stations carrying it and in millions of viewers.

The Xena phenomenon was what had Lucy in Manhattan doing interviews, including mine, and meeting with Broadway producers. In September she'll star in Grease! in the role of "Rizzo," earlier played by Brooke Shields and Rosie O'Donnell. Oddly, O'Donnell was in part responsible for Lucy's Broadway debut. "I was on Rosie's show, and we were talking about Grease! and she said in that tough accent she puts on, 'Sing uz a song, babe.' And it went from there."

Has she done a musical before? "Only in school plays," said Lucy. "But I'm a quick study. You have to be when you do a series. There's only two weeks for rehearsals and previews, then I'll do the play for seven weeks." Does the idea of a Broadway opening night and those savage theater critics intimidate her? "No. There is a run-up to any show, even a talk show, where I realize I can go up there and be fantastic, or I can completely fail." And has Lucy ever completely failed? 'I haven't yet," she said, "but I live in fear." Funny, she didn't look fearful. And Lucy promised, "I will study hard. Voice and dance and my lines. I want to be prepared."

Talking about Xena's appeal, I suggested that she's so physically impressive, in addition to being beautiful, that she may intimidate other women, make them envious or resentful. "I am not intimidating," she quickly replied. "I am a woman's woman. I love hanging out with women. And people are really inspired by this show."

Is her daughter, Daisy, impressed by her success? "She's sort of bored by Mommy's work, that I have to go out to work every day. As far as she's concerned, I might as well work in a bank."

(Sidebar) BRADY'S BITS

Lucy's real life has had its share of adventures. She grew up a tomboy with four older brothers in Auckland, where her dad is a politician. After a year at Auckland U., she went bumming around Europe. ("My mother made me take this big, ugly, yellow suitcase -- a millstone around my neck," moaned Lucy.) When the money ran out, she headed for Australia and worked as a gold miner for 11 months. Lucy then wed her high school sweetheart, Garth Lawless, and had a daughter, Daisy. While Garth managed a bar, Lucy raised Daisy, did comercials and studied acting.

She's naturally fair-haired and dyes it black for Xena ("It's really brutal on my hair," she said) Most clips refer to her as nearly 6 feet," but Lucy told me she was five-10 to five-11." And weight? I guessed about 135. "No," she said, "about 140, and sometimes I put on five or 10 pounds." I was astonished and noted that the tennis star Gabriela Sabatini was the only other woman I'd ever interviewed who added pounds. Now it was her turn to show surprise: "But I modeled Xena on her! She's how a warrior princess ought to look."

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