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LUCY LAWLESS - Where The Heart Is

NEXT Magazine

(New Zealand)

October 2009

Scans / Transcript by MaryD

She's wielding a word again and has her family under one wonder Lucy Lawless's
temporary relocation has turned into a permanent homecoming.

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WHEN FACES FROM HER PAST recently gathered to greet her, Lucy Lawless knew she was right where she belonged. Home.

The realisation came in a most modest - and unexpected - fashion. The sword-wielding, butt-kicking actress had taken time out of her shooting schedule to address the Mt Albert Historical Society AGM. Lucy thought about six people would turn up; instead the hall in her Auckland home suburb was full. And when she looked at the sea of old school and family friends, she knew she was in the right place - for good.

"It was the richest homecoming experience," Lucy says.

Settling back in Auckland wasn't something the 41-year-old had planned on when she came back to work on Spartacus: Blood and Sand. But being around her friends, seeing her kids thrive in their homeland and having her family together under one roof changed her mind.

As she says, "Sometimes the universe conspires to put you where you're supposed to be."

On this bright sunshiny Sunday morning, Lucy - currently filming Spartacus, in which she plays the deadly Lucretia, in a suburb of Auckland - arrives sporting a few bruises. Some are from a collision with the family dog, an SPCA 'bitzer' who, she explains, "doesn't have very good spatial awareness". The rest are the result of an on-set love scene the other day where, she laughs, she "got a bit smashed up" on the furniture.

But Lucy will be picture-perfect by the time she takes the stage in mid-September for the Starship Supernova Swing: The Starship Foundation's premier fundraising event of the year. It's a chance to once more showcase her singing talents, both solo and in duet with Peter Urlich.

As a long-serving trustee on the Starship Foundation board, Lucy's right behind the organisation's fundraising initiatives. That's why she's also offered her time as a training buddy for 50-year-old Vikki Maclean who, with Starship CEO Andrew Young, will be running the New York Marathon in November to raise more money for the country's only national children's hospital. Sometimes Lucy joins Vikki for training sessions ("I jog along behind her," the star admits). She sees the efforts of Vikki and Andrew as truly heroic - ones which will raise a lot of money for the hospital. From Vikki's perspective, Lucy has been very inspirational "and she's a hoot".

Both Lucy and Vikki are tackling 5am starts - Vikki to prepare for the marathon and Lucy for her filming demands - but Lucy still thinks she's got the best part of the deal. Of Vikki's impending marathon effort, she says, "Personally, that would be hell on earth." Lucy admits to having developed a personal hatred for long-distance running after being repeatedly forced to take part in the annual Round the Bays run when her father Frank was mayor of Mt Albert. The event always fell around Lucy's birthday and she didn't regard the run as any sort of gift.

Vikki, Scottish-born and now living in Auckland, got involved with Starship because she had Rhesus disease, where incompatible Rhesus blood types (positive or negative) between mother and baby can cause complications - it resulted in her son Ollie needing blood transfusions while still in the womb. Taking on the marathon is a huge life challenge for her, says Lucy. "But I think her husband and kids have been really supportive. I imagine it's a turning point in her life."

Being back in Auckland has allowed Lucy some unimagined luxuries; ones money can't buy. She has more time to spend with her husband Rob Tapert - an executive producer on Spartacus. For the past few years, Americar.-borr. Rob has been based in Auckland while Lucy lived a large part of each year in Los Angeles with their children - Judah, seven, and Julius, nine. (Lucy also has a 21-year-old daughter Daisy with her previous husband). She had a house in Bel Air, the most exclusive part of the city and a hang-out for the truly fabulous and famous. That meant a lifestyle of immense privilege and privacy, but also a lot of what she did not want.

"I was, for a large part of the year, a solo mother," Lucy says. Having no family around became the norm. The absence was especially profound given that she comes from a large Irish-Catholic brood. "And when I look back on it I think, Oh my God."

It took the homecoming to illustrate to her what she was missing. Lucy tells a story of a friend of her older son dropping by to their Auckland home recently. "And my son says in his American accent, 'What's wrong, what are you doing here?' In LA, if kids show up unannounced at your house something is horribly wrong. It means your nanny's had a crash and couldn't pick you up, or your mother has vanished. People do not just drop by."

There is another upside to the move. Lucy had suspected for some time that her younger son had a learning disability. Despite extensive tests in the US to identify the cause, she couldn't get any answers, even though it was accepted he had significant vulnerabilities, as well as significant strengths. "I came back here and within a week of him being at school - his local state school - his teacher said, 'You might want to have him tested for Irlan syndrome.' They had him tested and sure enough he's very much profoundly affected."

Although symptoms vary from person to person, people with Irlan syndrome may have difficulty reading and writing, due to difficulties with visual perception. Their attention span, energy level, motivation and work production may also be affected. Lucy describes her son as leading a very psychedelic life: One where everything shimmers and moves, making it hard to read printed text.

Diagnosis, plus the provision of tinted lenses (he chose blue ones), has enabled him to see life the way we do. "The colour filters out the distortion," says Lucy, adding that her son loves the way he is. "He will never be a brilliant class reader but he has a brilliant intellect."

While Lucy does a lot to help others; sometimes she also strives to get what she wants. Her appearance at the Historical Society's AGM was a favour for the former deputy mayoress of Mt Albert. But the Spartacus part was one she desperately wanted. "It would have killed me to see somebody else in it," she admits. Once more she plays a fearsome warrior woman who takes no prisoners and whose efforts will no doubt launch a thousand fan sites.

But this is not the Lucy we meet today - instead here is a thoroughly unaffected, abundantly pleasant woman who seems genuinely unsullied by stardom. Lucy, whose on-screen personas regularly strike deathly fear into her enemies' hearts, says the real talent she has in her everyday life is surrender. "That's what I'm best at. I don't waste time fighting. I don't have the energy to fight."

She does, however, articulate loudly and clearly issues that are dear to her heart. Recently Lucy hosted a barbecue at her home to launch the Greenpeace 'Sign On' climate change campaign, aimed at persuading Prime Minister John Key to sign on to a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020. As with her commitment to Starship, it's a cause she identifies with, and boned up on before committing to it. "We need to cut down on our fossil-fuelled way of life," she urges.

For her that has meant developing an organic garden, trying to persuade Rob to cut down on his preference for year-round heating and considering buying a hybrid vehicle. Needless to say, the reduction in international travel, and one less household to take care of, has helped too. Life is so much simpler now. Rob goes fishing with her brothers; her sons live a life not bound by high fences and fear. Lucy, who - until she got the part in Spartacus - says she wasn't ready to come home because she wasn't done with her adventuring, now says she is truly grateful to be here.

"The other day, my older son said, 'I feel as free as a bird.' For him to walk freely between houses and not have a minder... I'm so happy to be home."

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