October 11 - 17, 2003
Ex Warrior Princess Lucy Lawless is now in Toronto, playing Tarzan's aunt in an all-new urban adventure. But an upcoming Discovery Channel history series shows she hasn't quite abandoned her warrior ways
Where in the world is Lucy Lawless?
Ostensibly, she's right here in Toronto, shooting the new WB series Tarzan, which contemporizes the classic jungle hero, a la Superboy in Smallville, and moves him to the big city.
Our big city, as it turns out, doubling once again for New York.
Which is where Lucy Lawless was yesterday. The real New York, that is. Today, she is in L.A. Neither of which makes it terribly convenient for a prearranged sit-down interview.
Fortunately, just a few weeks ago, she did find a few minutes to talk to my L.A. colleague, Eirik Knutzen.
By phone. From an airport lounge in Phoenix, Ariz. In transit between Toronto and Albuquerque, N.M., where she was off filming yet another new series, the historical documentary Warrior Women which debuts next month on the Discovery Channel.
Though she may no longer be occupied defending Ancient Greece from mythical beasties, barbarian armies and the wrath of the gods, the former Xena, Warrior Princess is still one very busy lady.
She joins the Tarzan cast on-air this week as Kathleen Clayton, the hero's benevolent, protective aunt, and thus opposite number to Mitch (The X-Files) Pileggi's evil uncle Richard.
'The character didn't even exist (in the pilot)," she told Knutzen. 'They were shooting long before I got involved. I come on in the second episode.
"They felt Tarzan needed a home base and ally - he couldn't be wandering around on rooftops forever. They wanted him to stay somewhere comfortable rather than somewhere out in the concrete jungle. He now lives in her (climate-controlled) greenhouse on top of the building. He finds it a very pleasant place to hang out.
"Kathleen also fulfills the role of a friend, really the only friend he's got. She is also the audience's voice, as Gabrielle was in Xena. Tarzan is the mysterious stranger."
With her own cult-hit series now relegated to television history (and several collectible DVD boxed sets), Lawless has traded in Xena's thigh-high boots and bronze-and-leather bustier for high heels and an Armani suit. "They make me look so pretty that I can't believe it!" Lawless laughs. "I've been wearing pigskin and fake blood for so many years now that this is a radical departure.
"They make me wear beautiful, fairly classic suits and dresses. I've been trying to twist (Kathleen's style) more and more; I think they're going more edgy, evolving into more of my personal style."
When she is in Toronto, the New Zealand-born Lawless isn't quite the stranger in a strange land one might assume.
For one thing, she's lived in Canada before, having studied acting in Vancouver under William B. Davis (the former "Cigarette Smoking Man" - yet another X-Files connection).
For another, she has some "Down Under" company: series star Travis Fimmel, a former Calvin Klein underwear model, is from Australia. Not that they had ever met before. "No (we hadn't)," she allows, "but I feel like he's been following me all around the world.
"Shooting my documentary for Discovery Channel, Warrior Women (debuting November 23), I've been to China, France, Wales and the southwest in the U.S. - and he stares back at me from posters in duty-free stores at airports around the world. There seem to be thousands of posters of him pushing Calvin Klein underwear and fragrances."
Not, perhaps, the most obvious preparation to play the "Lord of the Urban Jungle." But Lawless has nothing but admiration for his efforts.
"He's great," she enthuses, "really good. They were so smart in casting him. He supercedes anything I ever did physically (as Xena). Physically, he's explosive. And he's working very hard, trying to bring some sort of authenticity to the role. He has studied absolutely everything that affects his character, including chimp behaviour.
'Travis is deeply committed to his craft. He wants to be a great actor, period. And as far as I'm concerned, he's right on track. And he's a good guy. He's a really good kid and a really hard worker, which I appreciate.
"We don't know each other off the set yet, mostly because I was doing 15-hour days during my first week in Toronto. But we became good friends on the set because we're Down Under people who understand one another.
"When you're working on a set surrounded by 'foreigners' all the time, you have to make certain mental calculations about what to say and how to say it," she laughs'. "Or the way American or Canadian figures of speech.
"And, of course, there are women hanging around there who call him 'beautiful' and all that. So you can count on me to call him 'Monkey Boy.' Just to keep his head straight."
As you might imagine with Lawless's hectic world-travelling schedule - not to mention her young family (sons Julius, four, and Judah, two, with Xena producer Robert Tapert, and a 15-year-old daughter, Daisy, from an earlier marriage) - her commitment to Tarzan is somewhat conditional.
"At the moment, I'm in for 10 episodes of the first 13; and if it's picked up, I'll be in a bunch of the back nine -as many as seven. And seven next season, if they're picked up.
"I know I won't be sick of it by then. They're so lovely to work for. I'm so thrilled. And I'm always comfortable working in Canada. Toronto crews are very relaxed compared to those in L.A. or New York."
There is just time before her flight to discuss Warrior Women.
"Its a romp through history about ballsy women who effectively led up to 100,000 men, and who were, in effect, written out of history or neglected by historians.
"And there are an awful lot of them (including Queen Boudica - see sidebar below - whose story airs Nov. 24). I found most of them very interesting, real-life characters.
"Yesterday, I had a bit of a shock seeing my name in the title."
But really, who else could have hosted this series? Who else has the unique combination of charisma, poise and first-hand experience to not only narrate the tales of these women, but at one point in the episode that I previewed, take on and beat an Irish weapons expert in mock hand-to-hand combat, and then casually remark to him, 'Well, these are much shorter and lighter than any sword I've ever worked with before'."
Only a former Warrior Princess.
Lucy Lawless's first Tarzan episode airs Saturday at 8 p.m. on Global, and Sunday at 9 p.m. on the WB. The five-part Warrior Women documentary series airs Nov. 23-26 at 8 p.m. on Discovery.