TV WEEK Magazine - Australia

TV Week Feb 7 - 13 1998
Article by Jenny Cooney pgs 8 - 9


(Click on the thumbnails for the full size pictures)

Fortunately for Xena: Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless, her husband-to-be - the show'sthm_TVW1.jpg (5644 bytes) executive producer, Rob Tapert - was not intimidated by her larger-than life image as the powerful mythic beauty who kicks butt with the best of them. But he's in a minority. "Unless they're extremely drunk, men won't approach me," Lucy tells TV WEEK in an exclusive interview at the NATPE (National Association of TV Programming Executives) convention in New Orleans, where she's pressing the flesh to help sell her action-adventure syndicated series, already screening in 82 countries. "I've only been asked out twice in 10 years - by Troy the refrigerator repair man and (New York mogul) Donald Trump, who asked me out for a drink. But I thought, 'Well, those are the only two guys in 10 years whose had the guts to come up and ask me for a date!"'

The down-to-earth New Zealander has a surprisingly thick Kiwi accent when she's not in character. She looks every inch the TV star, dressed in a shiny bonecolored skirt suit with matching high heels and full make-up. She's gracious and charming to the executives and fans who flock to meet her at the convention centre, aware that her three seasons as Xena have turned her into a bonafide celebrity. But she also seems completely unimpressed with all the fuss. "Maybe it's because it's happened later in life," the 29-year-old divorced mother of Daisy, 9, ponders humbly. "But I just don't get off on it. I'm just the public face for a lot of people's hard work, and, like everything else, the novelty has worn off."

Lucy is unfailingly polite and open during our interview, and is genuinely thrilled that her show has become successful in Australia - a place she has an odd history with. "It was a case of brilliant adolescent logic," she says sheepishly of her year in Australia almost a decade ago. "I was in Europe with my boyfriend and we ran out of money and we wanted to get to Russia, so I said, 'Hey let's go to Australia so we can get some money and go back to Russia!' So we lived in a caravan out in the sticks, 200km out of Kalgoorlie, and worked for a gold mine, digging the earth for samples, putting them in bags and running for miles. "That was the extent of my goldmining," she adds, as if anticipating the follow-up question. "I didn't go down a mine shaft with a canary in a cage or pick up nuggets. People often want to hear the romantic ideal of my life and they hate to be disappointed. I never make anything up, but I often feel like they really want you to be their fantasy."

It's hard to believe Lucy could disappoint anyone. Certainly not her growing legion of fansthm_TVW2.jpg (5175 bytes) world-wide who have helped make the show - initially a spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys - one of the most popular in syndication, spawning "Herc and Xena" conventions, major merchandising deals and a live attraction show at the Universal Studios theme park in Florida.

She's also not disappointing her own family. It is a decision she made early on that has kept her public appearances in her hometown of Auckland to a minimum. "I find that I need to keep rooted in my home life for my own sake and for my family - Daisy and Robert," she says. "So on the weekends we go and see 101 Dalmatians and every week I have a Spice Girls convention at my house. Daisy and her friends dress up and sing and I have to videotape their awful choreography, which brings me back to reality," she says, laughing. "I have to put my child my husband-to-be and my parents top of the list and that replenishes me, because being famous is depleting."

Since Lucy claims only two men have asked her out, how did she wind up getting engaged to another one? "Rob and I were just worlds colliding," she says, with a smile about the man she fell in love with who supervises much of the behind-the-scenes work on her show. "It happened in spite of ourselves and it was a very healthy thing. I'm not going to talk about my relationship, but we couldn't be happier.

The couple are planning a wedding later this year, but face a logistical nightmare. "Rob's family are back East (the East Coast of the U.S.), and mine are in New Zealand, so we haven't even decided on what continent to have the wedding," she says. "But New Zealand will always be my home. I dread thinking about leaving, because my daughter is still in school, her dad lives in Auckland and I wouldn't want her to have to make that decision. So for a few years at least, we'll be in New Zealand."

As Xena, Lucy inhabits an often-hostile world in the time of ancient, and largely mythical, Greece. Using swords, staffs and the martial arts against villains both human and supernatural, Xena also finds time to work on friendship issues with her sidekick Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor).

As she attends a symposium at the convention to discuss the phenomenon of her show's success, Lucy is surrounded by admiring TV executives, many of whom tell her she is an idol to their children and, in many cases, themselves. "In the beginning I really feared that pressure and thought it would be horrible to be a role model," she says. "I thought, 'It's hard enough to be a role model for my own child - I don't want to be responsible for anyone else' - but it has became an easy job to carry."

"The show has turned out to be a good bonding thing for women, because it's time women stopped hassling and tearing down each other, and Xena and Gabrielle have a good place in all that." Lucy also fights hard to raise her own daughter with those and other values close to her heart. "I want her vanity to be less than her beauty," she says, softly. "I've been careful never to make a comment about somebody's physical appearance because those things are instilled early on, and I don't want her to be critical of herself. I want her to be kinder and smarter than she is beautiful. "She's a very beautiful girl. I used to get comments about my blue eyes or white teeth, and after a while I stopped hearing them. I think that's because my mum didn't overly value our appearance, or make and issue out of it, and I hope I can give that same gift to my daughter."

Listening to Lucy, it's clear she handles her celebrity with impressive dignity. "The best thing I've discovered from this journey is that being who you are is good enough," she says. "You don't have to go to parties; you don't have to be seen; and you don't have to act 'starry', to be a star. I've also learned that you should never say a negative thing about anyone or anything, because people don't really like to hear it, and they're embarrassed by whingeing.

"People are bloody good to me, I have to say. All they want is a smile, and if you don't put on airs and graces, people respond to you in kind."

************************************************************************ and an added bonus


"I always have baked beans, chilli, soy milk and eggs in there. There is always yoghurt in my fridge. I keep on saying to the person who does my grocery shopping, 'I don't eat dairy. I don't eat dairy.' But its always there anyway!" - Lucy Lawless

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