Business World Online

March 26-27, 2004

Lucy Lawless: Warrior woman

originally posted to

'Strong women are beginning to be taken seriously. We just have to tell our daughters that they can achieve anything. Even a father can do that.'

By Cesar Miguel Escaņo
Wielding a broadsword and cooking dinner for her kids, Lucy Lawless epitomizes the modern kick-ass female. She earned the title of "warrior woman" as the star of the popular television show Xena: Warrior Princess.

This May, Discovery Channel Asia will release a five-part series entitled Warrior Women. Hosted by the once-warrior princess, the documentaries explore the lives of five female warriors.

The women featured in the series include Boudica, the red-haired queen who brought the Roman Empire to its knees in Britain; Wang Cong'er, the real-life Mulan who challenged the emperor of China in her search for justice; Joan of Arc, a 19-year-old girl who led the French to victory over the British only to be later burned as a witch; Grace O'Malley, the Irish pirate princess who won the respect of Queen Elizabeth I; and Lozen, an Apache shamaness and wife of Geronimo whose psychic skills enabled her to lead her people safely to Mexico.

Xena was cancelled after a successful six-year run but television audiences will remember her piercing war cry that immobilized male opponents. Ms. Lawless, 35, is the mother of two children, a daughter from a previous marriage and a son with her husband, Robert Tapert, the executive producer of Xena.

BusinessWorld had the opportunity to talk to Ms. Lawless during a teleconference call with Asian journalists while she stayed at her home in Los Angeles, California in the United States.

BusinessWorld: How are strong women today different from strong women in times past?

Lucy Lawless: Strong women in the modern world are more global in their views. In the feudal past, your reach went only as far as you could see. If you were born a pirate, that's what you'd likely be. The important thing is strong women have always existed. It°s just that we are able to do much grander things today. Women today have the potential of reaching the sky. Of course, there are obstacles that limit us.

BW: What are these obstacles that limit women today?

LL: Many things. Less jobs. Less openings for women. There are fewer female astronauts than males. There are less female CEOs than male CEOs. In entertainment, there are more actresses than actors but female roles are half as many as male roles. The limiting factors are there. The challenge is for women to dare the dream and ignore statistics.

BW: After Xena, have you heard of any change in perception for women in general?

LL: I believe the show had a profound effect on a number of people's lives. Before Xena, there were hardly any female-driven shows. Kieffer Sutherland was able to produce and release Femme Nikita because of the popularity of Xena. Studios were hesitant (to come out) with a show whose central character was female. Then Xena came along and this enabled [Femme Nikita's] producers to get the show.

BW: From what you've portrayed and from what you've learned from the shows you are hosting for the Discovery Channel, how difficult was it to be a strong woman in previous centuries, considering societies were patriarchal?

LL: Everyone had to be strong in those days, both sexes. There was always struggle. There were enormous demands to feed your family. Women were disadvantaged. There was a great amount of prejudice against them. Culture would simply not allow them outside the home. Matriarchal societies were torn asunder when Judeo-Christianity came along.

BW: Do you think strong women are seriously accepted in modern society?

LL: Yes, strong women are beginning to be taken seriously. We just have to tell our daughters that they can achieve anything. Even a father can do that. He just has to tell his daughter that "you're going to be great as long as you work hard." He becomes the ultimate role model for her.

BW: You have a teenage daughter. Is Xena a good role model for her?

LL: She thinks Xena is cool but it's just mum's job. The show was never really meant for kids. My role involved a lot of screaming. It was never really pleasant to hear screaming from the next room while we were having dinner. There would be screenings at 5 p.m. I'd tell them to turn it off.

BW: How did you get involved with the shows for the Discovery Channel?

LL: They rang me up and asked if I was interested. I said yes. It just sounded like so much fun. It was a great opportunity. The children never even knew I was gone. I agreed because I didn't have to leave my children at all.

BW: After Xena, aren't you afraid you might get typecast into playing similar roles? Which roles would you like to play?

LL: People are really curious. They think I'm a 700-pound gorilla. I want to make the audience laugh and cry. I would like the chance to play roles where I get to be really ugly or really stupid, those that involve moral peril and desperate circumstances. I love comedy. I started out with comedy.

BW: Would you play the role of a damsel in distress?

LL: I'm not really attracted to the role of a damsel in distress. It's so one-dimensional. I go for interesting roles.

BW: Who is your female role model?

LL: I'm crazy about my mother. I think what I do falls short of what she did for our family. Apart from her, I'd like to think I'm my own role model. You have to tell women today that they can be their own role models.