March 7, 1999
Contributed by Liz/Sojourner
Lucy Lawless tells MICHAEL IDATO about her life, her mum and the army of lesbian fans who love her alter ego Xena: Warrior Princess.
Lucy Lawless, alias Xena: Warrior Princess, grew up believing women could achieve anything. Just as Wonder Woman was inspired by her mother, the Queen of the Amazons, so too did the New Zealander Lucy Lawless look to her mum, Julie Ryan.
"She's quite eccentric and political, without aligning herself to any particular party," Lawless says. "She wanted to commemorate women's suffrage, so she raised $18,000 for a statue. So I guess I grew up feeling there was never anything women couldn't do, but I have to say my father was also instrumental in that."
Barely 30, Lucy Lawless has come a long way since she was an upcoming Kiwi actress auditioning for a guest role in Hercules, the US action series shot on location in NZ. Stepping into Xena's shoes - she previously appeared in Hercules as a character named Lyla - she became an instant phenomenon. But deep within the cyclone, things are as calm as you would expect them to be. Her life is very ordinary, says Lawless, whose alter ego has extraordinary super powers and fights all manner of evil on-screen. As Xena she is known for her leather outfits, high kicks, mean left hook and her sometimes ambiguous friendship with Gabrielle, played by actress Renee O'Connor. Off-screen, she is a feisty lady, with a good sense of humour, an overwhelming sense of reality and a left hook more at home gutting a fish than throwing a punch.
Lawless and her American husband, producer Rob Tapert, and daughter Daisy often go on fishing trips, casting lines for their dinner, while in distant Hollywood lesser stars are having theirs served on silver platters. “For me, fishing is something my family does. It’s extremely therapeutic for my husband. I like the results and I’m sure good at gutting a fish,” she says, laughing.
But she’s being humble. A quick scan about the tens of thousands of clippings about her reveals she once caught a record-breaking 19.8 kg pargo – a type of snapper – on Mexico. She’s also mined gold in the Australian outback – “Actually I worked in the office of the mining company,” she says – and pick grapes on the Rhine.
She’s such an ordinary lass, it’s difficult to get a grasp on the size of the whole Xena following. There are books, comics, magazines, toys, dolls, web sites and even Sydney’s Marching Xenas, an army of loyal fans who donned Xena uniforms to march in the gay and lesbian Mardi Gras. Which brings us to the most interesting side effect of the show’s huge following – the vocal and loyal army of lesbians who embraced Xena like a modern-day goddess.
“We kind of laughed and played along with it,” Lawless says. “I think the characters transcend labeling, just like gay people don’t want to be identified solely by their sexuality. They contribute so many things to society that to limit it to their sexuality is unimaginable.”
Lawless made it to this years’ gay Mardi Gras parade in Sydney after weeks of speculation over whether she would turn up.
“I love them,” she shrieks at the mention of the Marching Xenas. She admits to feeling a bit nervous about attending the parade in case the crowds looked at her and thought “we’re over you, you are so last year!”.
And although there is nothing in the scripts to play on the friendship between the two characters, Lawless admits she and O’Connor occasionally lend the script a little more meaning than intended.
“We like to shock, but not too much. We don’t want to alienate. We don’t have to be moralistic either. We’re not trying to change the world, we just want to entertain.”
Lucy Ryan, as she was born, was the fifth of seven children of Frank and Julie Ryan. Frank was the mayor of Mt Albert in Auckland for 22 years. Feminist Julie organised for the construction of the aforementioned bronze statue in a park in honour of local suffragettes. After a Catholic education, Lucy left school with a desire to act but ended up with a part-time job as a waitress in Auckland’s Club Mirage. There she met barman Garth Lawless and together they traveled to Italy – where she pursued a love of opera singing. Then they moved to Australia and were married. It was in Kalgoolie that Lucy took a job with a gold-mining company. The couple returned to Auckland where Daisy, now 10, was born and Lucy began doing television commercials which led to acting parts on Comedy Show Funny Business. The it was off to Canada for eight months to study acting. She returned in 1992 to co-host the Air NZ Holiday show.
In 1995, Tapert, who was already an executive producer of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Young Hercules, cast her as Xena: Warrior Princess. She says it is one of the best roles in television for a woman in the past three decades and it has earned her an estimated $10 million. Lawless and Tapert married last year.
Title: Inside the Xenaverse
Xenamania was spawned five years ago after a leather-clad Lucy Lawless appeared before an unsuspecting planet in an episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Now the Auckland actress is a world-wide phenomenon.
Fans have christened the world she inhabits the Xenaverse. It’s a colourful and magical realm where everyone from Julius Caesar to Jesus Christ can – and will – make an appearance. In Turkey and the Philippines, Xena: Warrior Princess is the most popular programme on TV. Even the Muslim stronghold of Iran has caught on to the fad. Red Cross workers in Afghanistan were surprised to learn that Xena was being beamed from Russia into Northern Iran via satellite.
It is the United States, of course, which has really taken to Xena with a vengeance. Students can take their pick of 101 course on Xena at American universities. There are Xena dolls, calendars, videos, games, glasses and jewelry. Xena has chat rooms galore and there are over 100 web sites on the show.
One of them is rather charmingly named after the sound Xena’s chakram makes as it slices through the air – Whoosh: Journal of the International Association of Xena Studies ( http://whoosh.org )