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12 May 2005


'Xena' women talk about the show's impact


Although Lucy Lawless, best known for "Xena: Warrior Princess," will appear at 5th Avenue Theatre this weekend playing the lovely lounge singer Dorothy Shaw in "Gentleman Prefer Blondes," the battle queen's legacy is never far away.

Especially this weekend. While the good-natured New Zealand native will vamp her way through the Seattle Men's Chorus/5th Avenue Musical Theatre concert staging, her "Xena" co-star and good friend Renee O'Connor (Gabrielle) is set to appear at a convention saluting strong women of television and film -- specifically, the strong women that made "Xena" the revolutionary syndicated series that it was.

The timeline-crossing warrior princess died in the series finale, which aired in 2001, but she's still kicking around on DVD. "I think Xena will come again, actually," Lawless said. "I doubt by the time it does that I'll be asked to do the role, but that character's way too good to be forgotten."

Nevertheless, Lawless doesn't believe audiences realized what a cool series "Xena" was.

Each actress is busy with other projects -- motherhood, primarily. O'Connor has one child, Lawless has three.

Lawless recently made heads turn with her guest role on "Two and a Half Men" and recently co-starred in the CBS movie "Locusts." O'Connor's dearest project is an independent film, "One Weekend a Month," which recently won an honorable mention at Sundance. (She also did "Alien Apocalypse" for Sci Fi Channel, but let's not dwell.)

We asked Lawless about the show and television's current idea of what constitutes a strong woman during a visit to a "Blondes" rehearsal, and chatted with O'Connor, who called from her Los Angeles home, on the same afternoon. The edited version of both conversations follows.

P-I: (To Lawless) How did you come to be in "Gentleman Prefer Blondes"?

Lawless: They've been trying to get me to come and work for them for years. And every time I've been hugely pregnant! They kept thinking, "She can't be pregnant forever," but they were wrong, until this year. It's great to be able to work with a world-famous choir. ... And the caliber of these people is really incredible. I wonder if Seattle knows what they've got in (producing artistic director) David Armstrong and 5th Avenue Theatre. What an amazing location, for one thing. Great city, and really classy operators.

P-I: In talking about "Xena," you mentioned you didn't think that people realized how cool the show was. Why is that?

Lawless: Because people would see a flash of the image of Xena, or they might have watched half an episode, an episode and said, "That's cool, we get it." But unless you watched several of them, you wouldn't realize the breadth and scope of the kinds of subjects and things that we were tackling. ... We were on syndicated television. If we were on network, we would never have done the things we shot. The story lines were outrageous. And I don't mean it in a silly way, but in a genius way. And that's why we get fans like (Steven) Spielberg and (Quentin) Tarantino going on the record and saying cool things, not just about the phenomenon but about the content. ... I think they admired the daring of the show. It did things that you would never do with your hero on other shows. It really explored the dark side of the hero.

P-I: (To O'Connor) Do you think people realized how cool the show was?

O'Connor: Yes and no. I think there were so many people who were empowered by it, and got out of abusive relationships. But there were people in the TV industry who didn't realize how formulative that character was in terms of changing people's lives. ... We were two women who played characters who were pretty fearless, who took a stand and didn't apologize for who they were.

P-I: When people talk about a series that had very strong female characters, a lot of intricate story lines, and exploration of darkness in its heroes, they don't talk about "Xena." They talk about "Buffy." How do you react to that?

Lawless: I don't. I have to move beyond that. Because we don't take anything away from those people. ... And you just have to be very grateful for what you had. In terms of kudos going to other shows, you are lucky to have anybody remember you.

O'Connor: We were all trying to achieve the same thing. ... We also had a different style. Our sense of humor was a little more tongue-in-cheek, and it came together with an Asian style of martial arts that was really very unique. ... I have to say, after working on "Xena," it has made me want to be a better role model within my own circle of life.

I think I would learn that more from watching a show like "Xena" or "Buffy" than any of the reality shows on right now. I love to see empowered women. And I find it sad when we choose to accept less of ourselves.

P-I: Television's image of female empowerment has changed since "Xena" was on the air. Nowadays women most relate to, and feel empowered by, the situations on "Desperate Housewives" and the like. I thought you two would be in a unique position to address that position, since you played those female action heroes and now are living the lives of supermoms.

Lawless: That's interesting. Why?

P-I: Well for one thing, Felicity Huffman said, in so many words, that "Desperate" may be the first series to really acknowledge the fact that motherhood is not always happiness, smiles and apple pie. That sometimes it can drive you nuts.

Lawless: Hang on. There was "thirtysomething." There were a lot of other shows that did that as well. But ("Desperate") is a bit of eye-candy and it makes us feel good about -- OK, it can be (expletive) at home, and at a certain time of day it's chaos. But damn, we can look good doing it. There is an element of fantasy to it, I think. Yeah. It makes the mundane look more exciting. There's a hyper-reality to it.

O'Connor: It kind of takes you out of your normal existence into another realm. With "Desperate," the only thing that I can think of is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. There's definitely an element of Xena and Gabrielle that were like comic book characters. But in "Desperate Housewives," there's definitely a lot of humor there, but I don't know whether the characters are more caricatures or not.

P-I: Could you see yourself doing TV again?

O'Connor: Never say never. But again, I just feel like life is too short and I want to play roles that I really care about. Meaning, that I want to resonate with the character's struggle and the story. It has to be something I really care about. Especially since I have a family now.

Lawless: I'd like to go with more of a comedy route, I think. I'm loving doing this, to be honest with you. I'd love to do more stage stuff. I'm working with some incredible talent with these guys. If Denny (Seattle Men's Chorus artistic director Dennis Coleman) says he wants to take me back, I'll say, "Take me baby!"


# Lawless appears in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" in five performances tomorrow night through Sunday at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave. Tickets $27-$77 at, 206 -292-2787.

# O'Connor is scheduled to appear Saturday at the Creation Entertainment Salute to Strong Women of Television and Film Convention, which takes place tomorrow through Sunday at the Renaissance Hotel, 515 Madison St. Tickets are $20 tomorrow, $35 Saturday and $25 Sunday, $15 for children 7-12 (under six is free), at the door. For more information: 818-409-0960,