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Lawless night for a good cause

Lucy gives replies with diamonds

Bay Area Reporter

25 September 2008

by Robert Sokol

The sword-and-sandal epic has been an entertainment-industry staple since the silent era, though a generally male-dominated one in which women were relegated to the roles of sultry desert sirens or evil sorceresses, both of whom had to be conquered. In the 1990s, the verdant shores of New Zealand gave television audiences a hirsute Kevin Sorbo in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, which, in good epic tradition, begat Xena: The Warrior Princess, starring an unknown lass named Lucy Lawless. Both shows were multi-season hits, and Lawless became an international celebrity and, unexpectedly, a lesbian icon, due to the deliberately ambiguous relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, played by Renee O'Connor. This Saturday, Lawless makes a rare Bay Area concert appearance at the Herbst Theatre, a benefit for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation, and she is donating her services to the nonprofit.

"I believe they have real integrity in how they spend money," she says of the long-time San Francisco fundraising agency. "I'm really careful about who I link up with. I have amazing fans who are very generous, and I'm very aware that they're not wealthy people. There's a lot of organizations out there that are, at best, not very streamlined, or just very shonky [Australian for dubious] at worst. I think my fans know that I never support a charity if I'm not, after due diligence, as certain as I can be that it's an honorable enterprise."

A conversation with any performer who has been blessed (or, in other cases, cursed) with a signature role rarely takes long to visit the touchstone, but rarely is it so timely. "Somebody just e-mailed me that Sarah Palin's supporters are calling her Xena, and I thought, 'I didn't know that Sarah Palin was a lesbian, too! In addition to everything else, she's a lesbian! How progressive of John McCain to go in that direction!'" Lawless says with mock amazement. "Curiously enough," she continues, "there is a similarity in that, in her earlier years, Xena did trade motherhood for a career as an evil warlord." Lawless resists being labeled a political animal, saying these are merely observations "from a visiting New Zealander." Not to mention a smart and very funny lady.

Lawless recently made a guest appearance as a celebrity judge on RuPaul's Drag Race. "We had to find the next drag superstar. I didn't entirely agree with the result," she laughs, "but clearly I am a visitor to that world and did not know what I was talking about!" Then she adds, "Oh, I don't know if it's been announced, but I'll give it to you: I'm going to do a guest spot on The L Word ."

Hmmmm! Long-time lesbian icon, just returned from a friend's gay wedding in Provincetown, judging a drag reality show, doing a concert in San Francisco and appearing on the leading lesbian cable-drama. Sound like a not-so-secret queer agenda? "It's all coincidental," says the twice-married mother of three, of the LGBT prevalence in her life. "It was not intended to be the focus of my year, but it's turned out that way." So will she, on The L Word, finally be portraying an out lesbian, as opposed to a possibly lesbian warrior princess? "I don't know. They've sent me several scripts, and I haven't been through them all, which I must do soon!"

"I don't think so," she responds to the question of whether turning 40 this year was traumatic. She starts chuckling with increasing vigor. "I had a meltdown a couple of years before, when I thought I was going through early menopause. I kind of wigged out then. So 40 was a bit of a relief, when I could go through it still having my period!" Voted one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in 1997, Lawless give a verbal shrug to it now. "Yeah, back in the day! Oh, I don't care. It's all bullshit anyway. But in my living room, I'm still right up there!

"My role as a mother has been overriding in my life. I would not be happy with myself if I had chosen to take roles over any of my children's well-being. My kids have had the best of me, whatever that means." That included the decision for Lawless, born Lucille Frances Ryan, to keep her first husband's name despite their divorce. "It takes two years to get a divorce in New Zealand. It was a difficult period. It seemed better for my daughter's comfort for us to have the same last name. And yes, I was known by that name, even though at first I thought it might be a bit silly and no one would take me seriously. Then I got over that and," she chuckles, "nobody does take me seriously!"

Would she ever pick up Xena's sword again, perhaps for a feature film? "I sure would have liked to have done it, but it would seem that that boat has sailed. They'll remake it at some point because it's too good a character not to revisit. Then they'll come and ask me to play her mother, and I'll say 'Fuck off!' Or worse, I'll do it!" she laughs. "I've come to realize the place of career in my life. It's a delight. I love it, but it's not where my happiness lies. It's the icing on the cake. It's crazy to think that your job is going to bring you happiness. You have to be happy already, and then you do the job."

Lucy Lawless: Come to Mama, Herbst Theatre, Sat., Sept. 27, 8 p.m. Tickets ($45-$100): ( 415) 392-4400 or


Source - Bay Area Reporter