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'Xena' actress goes to bats. Her crew got a real-life jolt from Katrina

The Fresno Bee

28 October 2005

Byline: Rick Bentley The Fresno Bee

Forget blood-sucking vampire bats. It was Hurricane Katrina that scared actress Lucy Lawless.

The New Zealand-born Lawless, best known for "Xena: Warrior Princess," worked on the new CBS made-for-television movie "Vampire Bats" in New Orleans. There was one week of creepy filming left in the Big Easy as Hurricane Katrina rushed toward the Gulf Coast.

"We were going to sit it out. It wasn't until Sunday morning, just 23 hours to go, that I woke up and heard it was a category 5. We left town," Lawless says in a telephone interview to discuss the TV movie.

The travelers hoped to be in Los Angeles by the next day. That might have happened if the real Xena had been in the car, but the mass exodus from New Orleans (Lawless calls it "controlled panic") slowed the escape plans. Lawless says the group was happy to settle for a 60-mile trek to Baton Rouge before the hurricane hit.

Lawless had been to New Orleans before. But during previous trips, she was helping sell "Xena" to television stations across the country. She got to see very little of the city.

The weeks spent filming in and around the French Quarter gave Lawless a chance to learn more about the city and its people.

"People of the South are amazing. The people of Louisiana have an unfailing generosity. It is truly a part of American culture worth saving or regenerating," Lawless says.

The 37-year-old actress has since seen photos of locations where the movie was shot. Houses, a boat dock and other filming locations were either gone or underwater.

There was great concern after Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans flooded that the production never would be completed. Equipment, costumes and props were feared lost.

Four days after Katrina passed, the cast and crew discovered the materials had been moved to higher ground. Everything had been saved.

The cast moved to Nova Scotia, where the same production company was wrapping up filming the CBS made-for-TV movie "The BTK Killer." That crew was hired for an additional week to finish filming "Vampire Bats."

In the TV movie, Lawless plays Maddy Rierdon, a teacher who hunts down vampire bats with the help of her students. These aren't ordinary bats. They are a deadly species responsible for a series of bizarre murders.

Lawless liked reprising the role she had played in "Locusts" for the new film. She has no idea if the character could eventually become the star of a weekly television series.

The actress and mother of three is not too interested in getting involved with another TV series at this point in her career.

She's concentrating on movie roles and recurring television characters, such as the one she plays on the new "Battlestar Galactica."

Given the choice, Lawless would prefer to do more comedy work.

"It is just more fun. It is harder if people don't know how to set the right atmosphere. You have to be relaxed. Comedy is bad when it gets out of control," Lawless says.

Being so close to the disaster in New Orleans had an affect on the way Lawless looked at her career. She was "bummed out" for about a month.

"I kept thinking, 'Does this seem to be important?' We are making fluffy pieces of entertainment. I finally got to a place of peace about it. I decided everyone needs it," Lawless says.


Show info
"Vampire Bats":
9 p.m. Sunday on KGPE, Channel 47