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Xena's Home Is Where Her Heart Is

Star Week Magazine
(Toronto Star Supplement)

5 September 1998

Scanned by Roger


"One of my role models, Xena, the Warrior Princess, comes from here," said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during an August stop-over in New Zealand.

It was big news to the 3.5 million people of New Zealand, most of whom claim never to have seen a single episode of Xena: Warrior Princess - the fantasy-adventure series shot locally and starring one of their own, Lucy Lawless. But it was no surprise to the tall, dark actress whose leather-clad and sexually ambivalent character can kick any man's butt.

"I suspect that Xena is less successful in its home country that it is that it is in any other country in the world," says Lawless, 30, a mobile phone glued to her ear while cleaning the swimming pool at her spacious new house on the outskirts of Auckland. "It's funny, because the show is really big in Australia."

Lawless doesn't take personally what may be perceived as a slight elsewhere. "I think, because I've had personal experience with it, that families in small countries have difficulty accepting that their own progeny, as it were, can produce something that is genuinely good. They have a slightly patronizing or negative reaction to their own product.

"Though they don't watch the show, I think people are proud of it and proud of me," Lawless continues while removing a leaf from the water surface. "New Zealanders are extremely warm when they meet me first-hand. At my daughter's school opening, I had a conga line of 9-year-olds strapped around my waist and their parents taking pictures. Typically, I get a huge, friendly reaction from the people around me, but they don't watch the show. That's okay - we're No. 1 in Turkey, a cool country."

Born and raised in nearby Mount Albert, Lawless has her parents, six siblings and a lot of friends from childhood to keep her head on straight. "Strangers treat me oddly for the first minutes of meeting me, but everything is the same with old friends. A couple of mates go back to kindergarten. And one of my best girlfriends is married to one of the chaps who works on the show."

Hollywood television stars are famous for throwing hissy fits if the trailer is too small or the tea is too tepid, a situation Lawless studiously avoids. "There's no time to fool around on the set as the shows and casts get larger and larger - we now have three camera units working on each show," she explains.

Extremely pleased with her film crew, Lawless tries to maintain a happy family relationship on the set "by not complaining, not being a pain and not making their lives miserable. Otherwise they could just move on New Zealanders are not apt to put up with too much nonsense. Unlike the States where people will work 18 hours a
day, New Zealanders won't."

Lawless's husband, however, is frequently back in Los Angeles taking care of business as one of Xena's executive producers. Rob Tapert, 43, also executive produces Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Young Hercules along with Sam Raimi and is probably stretched to the limit on most work days.

They were married at St. Monica's Catholic church in Santa Monica on March 28, the day before Lawless's 30th birthday. "We have a truly great relationship and a great friendship because we're both from the same Irish-Catholic culture. It shocked me to find that I went to meet his family in Michigan, his Irish-Catholic family mirrors mine. That culture is most significant in our life partnership and we're very, very happy."

On her hiatus last year, Lawless spent nine weeks singing and dancing her heart out as Rizzo in the Broadway production of Grease. Absolutely exhausted from Xena's incredibly physical demand, she has no intention of working hard - if at all - when the production breaks in September. "I'm looking at a few scripts, but I would like only to do a tiny little part in somebody's fantastic film for a top notch production company. If not, I sleep in for a couple of months."

Not that she regrets burning off energy in Grease, an obvious thrill of a lifetime. "It was a scary, wild and interesting thing to do - but who in her right mind would turn down an opportunity to go on Broadway?" says Lawless.
After tinkering for sometime with the automatic pool cleaner, Lawless managed to put it back together and launch it back in the water. A split second later she is drenched in water by 10-year-old daughter Daisy, using the garden hose she just finished bathing the dog with. "Go away, you horror!" she yells, laughing. "I see you lurking behind that skinny palm and I'm gonna..." Daisy takes off, shrieking. And then they're gone.