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'Xena' takes on Broadway.
Lawless takes her tough act to Rizzo role in 'Grease'

USA Today

26 August 1996

Scanned/Transcribed by MaryD


By Stephen Schaefer Special for USA TODAY

NEW YORK - "People tell me I look smaller and younger and prettier, which is a way of saying on TV, I look older, fatter and uglier."

So says self-deprecating, unpretentious Lucy Lawless, the 29-year-old New Zealander who has found global fame as the mythical warrior woman of syndicated television's Xena: Warrior Princess.

Next Tuesday, Lawless might add critical respect or foolhardi-ness to her resume as she begins a seven-week run as Rizzo in Broadway's long-running Grease revival. She has never been on a stage professionally or sung publicly.

But like her physique (she's 5-foot-10 but seems more petite), her sweetly accurate alto is a surprise. Between bites of a spaghetti-and-salad lunch squeezed between nonstop rehearsals, Lawless sings a few bars, not only from Grease but also Moonshine Lullaby from Annie Get Your Gun, her favorite musical.

"I did some work with a vocal coach," she says.

Rizzo, the tough-talking "greaser" chick, has already been played by Rosie O'Donnell and Brooke Shields in this production.

Why has Lawless opted for the much less lucrative Broadway terrain than work on a movie? "This is not for the money," she says with a smile. "A good reason is to 'broaden my career base.' But the actual truth is I want to sing again. As I did as a teen-ager, just for the love of it

"Again, my choice might be naive, but I get offers to play a lesbian olicewoman or something like that That's not what I wanted to do in my hiatus (from Xena).

"Anyway, I feel a change coming in my life. I just want to do this, and my kid's coming over in a few weeks."

She is separated from Garth Lawless, whom she married in 1988, and they share custody of their daughter, Daisy, 9.
"She's not so keen on mum being famous," Lawless confides. "She likes mum being Xena and she likes me to pick her up from school, nowadays. There was a time she didn't want to share me.

"So I try to stick close to her in a crowd, keep a hand on her shoulder, so she knows she's preferred and not usurped. She's happy these days." So is Lawless, whose boyfriend is Robert Tapert, an American who's one of the executive producers of both Hercules and Xena.

"A total cliche, the producer and the actress," she says, rolling her blue-blue eyes. "But I don't think he's ever been out with an actress in his life. We're very happy."

That's all Lawless will say on the subject "I don't want to talk about that, but needless to say, it's a very healthy and natural alliance." It's obvious that the unknown who became a feminist role model, leather-clad sex symbol and lesbian heroine with Xena has not lost her moorings. "You have to choose to be happy wherever you are," she reasons.

She is one actress who has no desire to direct, to do a lucrative Playboy layout ("I don't do nudity") or even a big-screen Xena. "I am fighting them off," she reveals. "They'd really like to do a Xena movie, but I have to ask, 'At what cost?'
"If I star in something for 18 months solid with no hiatus, I'm going to be a hag, horrible to live with and unhappy. Life should be better than that, That's why T don't do it, and the cast supports me in that"

Lawless already is planning to take off from Xena; she wont go beyond the year 2000 when her contract is up. "Anything beyond will be frightening. I don't see me doing it just for money. Once you're tired, that's it.

"Rob and I have discussed it and we'll just run out of stories. You want to run out on a high note and leave a great series. "What I'd like is a juicy little bit in somebody else's blockbuster, some little scene-stealing part. Then I could take off for Tuscany."