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Life With Lucy
Australian Woman's Weekly
(New Zealand Edition)
Lucy Lawless On Her Family Crisis, Her Precious Children and Celebrity Life in LA
Photographer: Ross Coffey
Scans contributed by Calli
Transcribed by MaryD
After Lawless Learned her beloved father was ill. she gathered her great big family around her and fed them comfort food.
Tradition in in Lucy's family dictates that when the going gets rough, the Ryans go then the bombshell dropped go fishing. So when the bombshell dropped that her dad Frank Ryan had cancer, Lucy and her husband, Hollywood producer Rob Tapert, put on a "fish fry" at their sprawling Auckland home above Mission Bay for her parents, her brothers and sister, and all their children. On the menu - battered snapper just hooked from the Hauraki Gulf.
"It's what we do." Lucy explains. "My husband is quite a cook, so everyone piles over to our place, swims in the pool, plays tennis and eats fish. Rob and Dad. and two of my brothers. Bill and David all go out fishing together. It's great that they're such good friends."
And when their father's life hung in the balance, Lucy, her five older brothers and one younger sister all banded together. "We are real close, all of us." she says.
When I meet her by the beach at Mission Bay, it is less than 24 hours since doctors told Lucy her father's operation to remove the cancer had complications, and he was clinging to life in Auckland Hospital. Yet she is still happy to sip a soy latte and talk about the feverish working year ahead - a television series, a New Zealand movie musical and the release of a new song.
And then she chats about the family she adores - the young-at-heart parents who inspire her, a loving husband who encourages her, and three children who make her laugh.
She begins by apologising for being a little disoriented, spiralling in her own cosmos right now. She calls it Planet Lucy, a world slightly removed from here, yet who can blame her?
Despite everything that's happened to her father in the last few weeks, there's still a sparkle in her eyes and she can giggle about her kids - Daisy's green mohawk; the boys' love of food but their distaste for Mum's cooking.
Lucy, Rob and their two sons, Julius, six, and Judah, three, stayed in Auckland longer than planned on this late-summer visit, so they could be beside her parents. It meant delaying the trip to Vancouver where they are going to live for four months while Lucy films the sci-fi hit television show Battlestar Galactica. But staying on in Auckland was worthwhile, to see her strong-willed father slowly improve each day.
"It's been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for Dad. but now he's definitely on the upward climb all the time," Lucy said a few weeks later.
"I'm just so thankful we'll be able to take our beloved Dad home. In a few months he should be playing tennis again."
Frank was disappointed that he was not well enough to go to Government House to see Lucy become a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for her services to entertainment and the community. "But Mum and I went to see him in hospital right afterwards. He was so pleased and he asked for a tomato sandwich," Lucy laughs.
She has always been close to her parents - Frank was the mayor of Auckland suburb Mt Albert as she grew up; her mother, Julie, is a compassionate, community-minded woman who has obviously passed on the same traits to her daughter.
"Mum and Dad are extremely low-maintenance people. They're tennis players, church-goers, and they go off on their little excursions around the world. They came to the Caribbean at Christmas, and Dad was cycling around Jamaica. It's just a pleasure to hang out with them," Lucy says.
Staying in New Zealand longer also meant Lucy could spend more time with her daughter, 17-year-old Daisy, who has chosen to stay in Auckland rather than Los Angeles with her mother.
"She has no desire to move. She loves New Zealand, she loves her friends - she's very much a homebody - but she comes over to the States and goes to rock concerts and things. I think, like me, she enjoys having the best of both worlds," Lucy says.
When Lucy and her first husband. Garth Lawless, divorced when their daughter was six, Daisy would live with her father during the week while Lucy filmed Xena: Warrior Princess in Auckland, and stay with Lucy on weekends.
"It just feels like a continuation of that. Now she's with her Dad for six weeks and comes over to me for two or three. It's hard to believe she's nearly I7, with a green mohawk and a boyfriend, and going off to film school," Lucy laughs.
"People say she is like me - sometimes I fear she is! She's great, I like her so much."
When on-location shoots don't drag them away, Lucy and Rob divide their time between Auckland and their Spanish-style home in Hollywood Hills, where 1950s heart-throb Rock Hudson once partied.
'It's hard to get them into schools, and there's so much homework; my six-old will have an hour of it every He's very gifted, but I still don't if that much homework is healthy at his age," she says. When I went to school, I didn't even know what the alphabet was. I heard all kids singing the 'L M N O P' song, and I wondered 'how do they all know It?" But it didn't do her any harm - she was head girl at Marist College in Mt Albert, before starting a degree in languages at Auckland University.
So when she brings the boys home to New Zealand, Lucy Lawless, actor, becomes Mrs Tapert, open-air school
teacher. "We took them out of school to come here, so I bought them a microscope. We made slides of moss -and then they wanted to look at my blood," she says in horror.
She takes the boys on outdoor adventures on the volcanic paths of Rangitoto Island, through the Auckland Domain, to a farm to milk cows and along the wild beaches of the west coast to run them ragged on the black sand.
"I have to take them on these long excursions, because they have so much energy and if they don't burn it, it can turn to really bad behaviour," she says.
"That's where Auckland is fantastic. I love this glittering city, it has such a wealth of community resources. Oh my God, we are so lucky here. If you're in LA, you go to the beach at Malibu and have to park a mile away, it's too cold to swim, and then you're not allowed to sit on the beach because some snotty homeowner will chase you off. It's appalling!"
Wherever she lays her hat is her home, but New Zealand is where, Lucy says, her body is most relaxed. "When we land at Auckland Airport, it's so nostalgic, it smells like a racecourse by the sea, like wet horses," she laughs.
"I once described Auckland as the Scarlett Johansson of cities, it's young, unpretentious and it's so full it's practically falling out of its dress. It's a most divine city."
Despite her years in the United States, she still speaks "Kiwi" - the accent more Ml Roskill than Melrose. Her friends know her as Dot in the States, a name she adopted because "it's easier to spell when you order a takeaway coffee".
She's even been asked to keep the accent for her Battlestar Galactica character, D'Anna Biers - an android masquerading as an investigative reporter. She had cameo roles in earlier series, but will star in 10 episodes of the third.
Vancouver is where she went to drama school 15 years ago as a "penniless" young wife and mother. This time it will be a genuine Canadian experience, the family choosing to live "in the boondocks", with bobcats and bears.
"I'm not looking to make everything comfortable for my kids. When we were in Louisiana last year, out in the alligator-infested bayous, the boys were catching frogs as big as your head." she says.
Lucy hasn't ruled out a return to the cut, thrust and mid-air spinning kicks of Xena yet. There's talk in Tinseltown of a
Xena: Warrior Princess movie, and she would do a backward flip to hold onto her alter ego.
"If there's a Xena movie I would definitely be up for it that character has a lot of life left in her. I hope they do it soon, because if it's not in the next few years it won't be me." says Lucy.
Fitting back into the leather and copper costume, now housed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, would be no problem. She's in great shape, doing yoga at least three times a week, but not sure she wants to be Xena at 40.
The Xena fan clubs are as robust as ever, and Lucy still has a strong following from the lesbian community which turned Xena into an icon.
"I've come to really respect them -they're kind and very generous. It's the show that they love - they understand that Lucy and Renee [O'Connor] are completely different human beings to Xena and Gabrielle."
Five years after filming of the Xena series wrapped up in Auckland, Lucy and Renee remain good friends. Renee had a baby daughter. Iris, while Lucy was in Auckland, and the Tapert-Lawless clan gave her a special gift.
"We have a woman in LA who comes and cooks for us three nights a week. So we sent her to Ren's to cook and clean for her while we've been away," Lucy says.
"I love having someone to help do the cooking. My kids have cottoned on to the fact that Mum just doesn't cook well. Julius has asked that I don't make his sandwiches anymore because 'they just don't taste right".
"It's a relief. Feeding three kids, they keep asking for food and you go 'oh my God, haven't you just finished eating? You want feeding again?'"
Lucy and Rob are determined to keep home life as normal as possible for the boys trying to ensure one parent always sleeps at home each night. Julius is going through a phase where he doesn't like his mother going out. which isn't easy when she has a list of singing engagements, meetings with the board of the Starship Foundation in Auckland, interviews and movie premieres. "Sometimes he rejects me a little bit, the other day he called me a ding-a-ling behind my back. We are trying to set the bar really low for cussing in our house," she smiles.
A former Mrs New Zealand, Lucy refuses to wear the crown of charity queen, even though her contributions to worthy causes here and overseas are boundless.
She's not only on the board of the Starship Foundation, but she has done work to support breast cancer research, prevent child abuse, and promote breastfeeding. She made a documentary for World Vision on the plight of Bangladesh, and sponsors a child there. Last year she supported fundraising efforts for New Orleans, after being evacuated from the film set of tele-horror movie Vampire Bats when Hurricane Katrina hit.
"I don't really think of myself as a charity queen. It's easy to help, because it feels right. You're doing God's work," Lucy says. "I don't know if it's particularly my Catholic upbringing, but my mother was a big influence - she was always bringing home people who had nowhere else to go. At the Ryans' place, it would never be Christmas if you didn't have a few batty old ladies with outrageous behavioural disorders.
"I'm just like Mum. I have three homeless people living in my house at the moment two Kiwis and a girl from New Orleans who are all starving actors. I'll have to kick them out soon, because my husband needs to be able to get his car out of the garage.
"Rob's a really generous man, but I think I've really pushed the boundaries this time. And I realise this is how my father felt all those years."
Rob and Lucy, who met on the set of Xena: Warrior Princess, are about to work together again, this time on a movie musical, Welcome To The Pleasure Dome. For the past three years, Rob has been creating the script with Kiwi director Mark Beasley (Savage Honeymoon, Outrageous Fortune). It's the story of an over-the-hill disco diva, played by Lucy, forced to contemplate her life.
"It won't be Rocky Horror, but it will have the same fun quotient. It's a big and fabulous risk, but you've got to live it," Lucy says.
"We're Kiwis, so it will be wild and creative, done on the smell of an oily rag and tied together with number eight fencing wire."
While Lucy cannot relate to the character, who has lived life hard and fast, she's seen it all in Hollywood.
"I 'm 38 now, and if I was a hard-living gal like this character, it would be time to start thinking about my life," Lucy says.
"It must be so hard for people who have placed so much on the physical realm, on how they look, because at some stage there's got to be a shift in your consciousness.
"I have no intention of ever becoming an A-list celebrity. I want to be an A-grade human being first. 1 know I still exist even if I'm not in the magazine pages, and that's why I'm not jealous of anyone in Hollywood. 1 went away for years after Xena, and I know I'm a way better person for it."
Hollywood is not such a bad place, she concedes, and it's a matter of spotting the phoneys and keeping your distance. "Half the people are struggling to live on that really facile plane, and the other half are really real. They know what matters and are really fun to hang out with," she says.
"If I have any great talent, it's for making friends. Wherever I go, I always find people to laugh with. You know who is phoney baloney - the cling-ons don't stick to me. I don't feed them on whatever they're looking for."
Two of her closest friends in California are Broadway singer-actress Marissa Jaret Winokur and her neighbour, vocal coach Eric Vetro. Eric has just produced an album, Unexpected Dreams, featuring major film and TV stars singing lullabies and nighttime ballads accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Lucy sings a song on the album, written by Eric, called Little Child: "a beautiful song about the love of a parent for a newborn," she says.
Lucy admits she doesn't sing her own children to sleep - it makes them too sad. "My singing makes Julius cry, he's always been a very emotional boy. He used to howl when Ernie off Sesame Street sang to his rubber ducky, and evidently my voice has the same effect," she says.
"Yet when Daisy was little, we used to sing all the old jazz songs as I would ride her around Mt Albert on the crossbar of my bike."
Lucy is trying to keep her singing up, performing now and again at clubs in Hollywood, and has released a dance track, Come To Me, with drag queen RuPaul. "Acting is always my main engagement, but I try to keep my vocals in shape. It's good for my confidence," she says.
"In the future, I want to do a bit more singing, a little more acting, a lot more yoga and have even more fun. I really want to continue what I'm doing now I'm pretty blessed, man.
"I don't know that we will have any more kids - I would be pretty surprised if we did. I adore my little family as it is. You realise, in a few years, I could be a grandmother. Imagine that - a grandmother before I'm 45!"
Even if Planet Lucy has spun a little off-course, it's still a warm, caring and hilarious place to be. ■
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