TV Highlights

August 1998

"Xena is a woman who breaks old pattern"

An Interview with

(TV HIGHLIGHTS 8/98, p. 27-29 [a German monthly magazine focusing on sci-fi and fantasy shows])

Hardly any actress has gained a bigger worldwide audience resonance in the past few years than the New Zealander Lucy Lawless. For some she is an exceptional sex-symbol, for others the woman who flies the flag of emancipation and defies those genre supermen. Just before Lucy Lawless went to the marriage-altar with XENA-Producer Robert Tapert, RTL [the German tv-station broadcasting XWP] and TV-HIGHLIGHTS had a very interesting interview with this sympathetic power woman.

TV-Highlights: How do you like the variations in Season 3?

Lucy Lawless: There are a lot of changes, a rift, a strife between the two friends and this is going to be a big challenge for our German audience, because Xena and Gabrielle are the heart of the series, in my opinion. There are going to happen some really awful things. This is rather controversial. The whole series changes to a dark tone. The friends are going through an evolution that will be very demanding for the audience. But I think that's okay. To my mind it is good when a series proves to be provoking. A lot of it is made for adults. That's the reason why I warn people, tell them it's no kid's-show. Parents should be careful at what they let their children watch.

TV: Then you like these changes for the challenge it provides for you as an actress?

LL: Absolutely. As an actress I almost live for artistic challenge. And this show supplies me with it in abundance. I'm never bored. Sometimes it is incredibly difficult and I have to get myself together for not letting my attitude and working moral suffer. But I never get bored. This is the most demanding role for a woman on television at all because it takes so much from you physically. You are very often under emotial pressure in this role, and this I love a lot. We have a lot of fun while filming, the atmosphere at the set is extraordinarily good.

TV: Coming back once more to the physical aspect: How do you manage, how do you prepare, how do you train?

LL: I had no experience whatsoever in this regard. At school I wasn't very good at sports. They called me "Unco" because I was so "uncoordinated". It was very suprising for me to get this role. But I guess, I have a certain physical capability, a corporeality, that shows in my athletic skills. My coordination has become a lot better by now. This here is the "school of heavy punches" and if you don't improve you get hit a lot and get hurt...

TV: Then it is not true you always had a favor for martial arts?

LL: No! No, I never said something like this. I never felt interested in it, but if I can do it, everybody can do it. I'm no martial artist, I never would claim this. I have a wonderful stunt-double who does all the dangerous things. For many of the things we do around here you simply don't need an expert. I'm really no martial artist, and I don't want to be one. I want to be a real good actress, and this I pursue with all my energy. I have no attitude whatsoever to become an athlete. I have to be fit for the show... but the show doesn't make me fit.

TV: What memory do you have of your stay in Germany?

LL: I ran away from home when I was 18. [this is a literally translated statement, they really wrote she *ran* away from home!] I have been to Europe three years before that with my mother. We did an opera-tour because I was very interested in opera and foreign languages. Those were my favourite subjects at school. And at the age of 18 I got on my way, stout-hearted and without even one penny in my pocket. First I went to Switzerland, visited friends near to Luzern, after that it took me to Munich. It was a rather difficult time because I had no money. But I only have nice memories of this time. How it began to snow and I was in the Residenzstrasse - is this right?

TV: Yes, in Munich.

LL: A real nice street. It was a real hard time because I was almost broke, but I was very much alive, the whole surrounding was so stimulating and exciting. It was splendid.

TV: Did you work as an actress while you were in Germany?

LL: No. At that time acting was a far distant dream for me. I was just a wild teenager, who hung around in Germany without any money. I didn't know what I wanted to become later. When you come from such a small country like New Zealand you simply have to travel. Everybody leaves the country between 18 and 23 to see a bit of the world. And I wanted to get to Germany, this was very dear to me. I love the food and the tradition and... I hope some day I can attend Fasching [that's a colorful feast with parades where everybody dresses up, similar to Mardi Gras or Carneval in Rio - but then again totally different, wonder who ever made her curious to watch this...], I would really like to see that.

TV: Why have you decided on learning German at school?

LL: I like the intonation. I like Iwrit, Hebrew as well that has similar sounds. I just like it, I don't know why.

TV: Did you learn something about German Poets at school?

LL: We studied Schiller and Goethe, but nobody contemporary. Of course I read Kafka and at University I took German literature as a subject, but I remember only very few, I don't remember any word.

TV: Next to a totally different subject: You did GREASE on Broadway and at XENA you did the musical episode The Bitter Suite - do you plan on doing a music-CD in the near future?

LL: I don't think so. You know, I love a certain kind of music, and I get offers too. I could do it, I guess, but I m simply to tired and my voice is far from being as good as it could be because I'm simply working too much. And as a singer you have to take care of your voice, and I spoil mine a lot. I neglect it, this word tells it the best. [I'm sure she used once again one of her wonderful elaborated and distinguished expressions, but I couldn't find any suitable one myself. Sorry.] No, I have no such plans, I'm far too busy. Acting come always first.

TV: You, Renee O'Connor, Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst - are you not just friends on but as well off screen?

LL: Yes, we are, though we all live totally different. I have a child and Michael has a child and Kevin and Renee are single. Um, no, Kevin has just married. At the weekends we are with our family and friends. But on the set we are very good friends. We don't see much of HERCULES, the crews are so large that we film at totally different locations throughout the town. But Renee and I are very close friends, we are very close connected. I can't imagine anybody else in her role. Gabrielle has indeed been written for Renee and I'm very glad about it... She is fabulous, she takes care I won't lose the right way and stay highly focused.

TV: What are your hobbies, what do you do in your free time, if you have any.

LL: I spend a lot of time with my daughter. She dresses up as a "Spice Girl" all the time, she's very fond of this at the moment. She is nine. At the weekends all the other "Spice Girls" come to us... I have only one real hobby apart from my career: I like working with tools. I like building shelves, I like painting and assembling things, But apart from reading books there is not much time for other activities. I had to reduce my life. I live in a microcosm due to the long days at the set. I think we are all in the same position here.

TV: Do you get fanmail from Germany too?

LL: I don't get to see a lot fanmail anymore. Yes, I know there are those from Germany as well, but I don't get to see a lot of it because the bulk of mail has simply become too big.

TV: How do you like they even started to put you in comics?

LL: I like that a lot. Even if I don't look perfect or it doesn't look like me at all, I don't mind. I think it's all totally funny. And this is, I believe, the best attitude towards it. If you are too particular about fan merchandise you become crazy. I think it's all great. Who ever thinks of becoming a cartoon character or seeing your own face on a book or a t-shirt? Meanwhile there are such crazy stuff like magnets or halloween costumes. That's grand.

TV: How do you deal with being a sex-symbol?

LL: Ah well, here I ain't a sex-symbol. Everybody will confirm it to you. I am no sex-symbol at work or at home. So I don't know what you are talking about at all. That's the way I deal with it. I simply ignore it. I don't want to deal with it.

TV: How big is your influence on your character's evolution?

LL: Well, every role has to come from inside of you. Rob Tapert created this character, the authors give it a direction. But of course the role has to be performed from the inside, and this is my task as the actress. Thus Xena is a part of me, though I - of course - am more than just Xena, you understand? Xena is just a fraction of my personality.

TV: How would you explain the role of Xena and the approval of it?

LL: I don't know. I just do it, I go to work and do my job. I no longer try to explore what people think.

TV: But how do you explain the big success?

LL: I think everybody would like to have a friend like Xena. And everybody would perhaps like to be a Gabrielle. They all are attracted by the friendship, everybody needs a partner, everybody wants to see a hero. Apart from this young women and young men as well see a woman on tv who breaks down old pattern: she needs no man to help her, she is an indipendant woman. I think this is a good message. Besides she is a flawed heroin. She doesn't always know what is right and she hasn't an answer to every question. We see an ordinary human being who has to get on well with extraordinary situations. This happens all the time in real life. But finally there is this somebody on tv, somebody we all can relate to. Another reason for the role's attraction is we finally see a woman on the screen who doesn't care about her looks. She is a woman of deeds, a woman of few words. Sometimes I think men like her because she is a woman with whom they could hang around and drink a beer.

TV: And why do you think the show is such a success? You think there's a longing for some romance in our high-tech world?

LL: Now that's an interesting theorie once! But I don't think so. I think people love stories with a heart, big emotions. The series functions on many different levels - there is action, fantasy, but what takes people to tune in again and again is the fact the stories evoke emotions. And we count exactly on this. Despite this being a rather funny, comic fantasy genre we try to provide real drama for the audience. Sometimes we just want to make them laugh. We don't call upon the people to think about something, we convey emotions.

TV: What do you prefer then? Romance or drama?

LL: I'm not so mad about romance anymore. I'm going to marry soon and I don't like kissing people. I loathe it. But basically I like it all. First interest is acting. This is going to be my number one forever, acting, drama. But my roots are in comedy. The funny episodes are a great relief for me, because they are just fun and easy. You know, if you don't analyze that much and if you are ready to look ugly you can be a great comedian. If you worry about your looks or if the people perhaps think you're an idiot, you can forget it right away. That's not funny anymore.

TV: A last word on your mother-country. How do you like the series to be filmed in New Zealand?

LL: Oh, that's phantastic! Well, I got this job here. It's not like I have been in the US and they took me here. It's not such a big coincidence. The show HERCULES has been filmed here and then this character was introduced and a lot of US-actresses refused it because they didn't know what a huge success HERCULES would become worldwide. And so I got the role as a local resident. The rest is wonderful, glorious history...

TV: Would you like to see more movies filmed in New Zealand? It happens to be the perfect landscape for this kind of show.

LL: A fascinating landscape. It is quite original. The trees here don't have the civilized flair of northern hemisphere deciduous trees. Trees of the southern hemisphere appear more spooky. The landscape really looks great, besides I'm at home here and my family is near. My daughter goes to school here. So - yes, I would like to work here on good quality movies. Let's just wait and see what future brings.

TV: Many thanks for the open words and good luck furtheron!

There are five pictures in this article, quite funny ones:
a) Lucy with sunglasses, fully dressed up as Xena, on set rehearsing with a script and pointing to somewhere. Capture: "Perhaps we could shoot this scene over there..." - Lucy Lawless on the set of a XENA episode"

b) Lucy holding a paper cup of coffee, laughing. Capture: "Relaxed scene at the set: Lucy Lawless aka XENA enjoys a break with a coffee."

c) Lucy again with sunglasses as Xena, probably all pictures from the same break. Capture: "testing the suns intensity."

d) Lucy with Rob [it's a familiar looking picture to me, not unique to this article]. Capture: "Embracing lovingly her newly wed husband Robert Tapert - cunning device: he is as well the show's producer and thus has an important double function for Lucy....

e) Lucy standing beneath something that looks like a totem pole with a skull on it and an attached umbrella. Capture: "Under the fervent New Zealand sun... umbrellas are a quite wanted requisite in those short filming breaks."

Used and translated without permisson by the editor. (translated by Susan

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