Thanks to Kate Paulin for transcribing this article.

New Zealand Herald
29 August 1998

(Kate's explanatory comments are in square brackets, and evidently "doco" is Kiwi for "documentary". {I would have expected "doccy"} ;-)


Appeared in the New Zealand Herald, 29/8/98, p. D1

_The WARRIOR strikes back_ Xena star Lucy Lawless talks to _Beven Rapson_ about a child-abuse documentary, atavism, and finding her limits.

You could have forgiven Les Mills a shiver down the spine. Placidly enjoying a school hall opening in Mt Albert, the Auckland Mayor was suddenly invited to contemplate some truly frightening competition.

"Hey Les!" rang a distinctive voice, "Xena for mayor!"

Trailing swarms of excited children, Lucy Lawless-- television's warrior princess-- was having a wee joke. She has no leanings towards politics, but politicians in election year aren't always the best audience for such drollery.

After all, plenty of other powerful men have had their comeuppance at the hand of her famously breastplated character; and the road from showbiz to politics is well-worn. Think Ronald Reagan, Sonny Bono, Glenda Jackson and well, Gray Bartlett. [a country singer]

And Lawless is of political stock (she's the daughter of former Mt Albert mayor and present Auckland councillor Frank Ryan) and was this month associated with a couple of causes far removed from Xenadom.

The first, non-Warrior utterance came when the visiting United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, suggested Xena might not be anti-nuclear.

Reporters sought a reaction and Lawless obliged, penning a surprisingly florid statement on the back of a Xena script. She's anti-nuke, that's simple enough, but _Herald_ readers-- and writers-- were sent scurrying for their dictionaries to decipher her declaration that the New Zealand stance was not "hostile atavism."

The second cause to lure her from a normally low-profile off-screen routine is child abuse, the subject fronted by Lawless on TV3 next week.

To promote the programme, _Love Hurts_, she issued a brief statement and agreed to this interview, conducted in her campervan-refuge during a lunchbreak on the west Auckland set of Xena.

In full makeup and costume, 30-year-old Lawless looks every bit the princess of ancient times, but her motivation for speaking out is set firmly in New Zealand of 1998.

The documentary is about parents who have abused their children, and lets four parents explain why they abused, and why and how they stopped.

The actor says she had long thought that if there was anything good in what she calls "schelbrity," it was the chance to draw attention to this issue. "Its just so immediate and so prevalent," she says. "If it's not your house, it may be your neighbours or it might be somebody four doors down, but it's definitely happening in your neighbourhood."

She doesn't claim to offer instant answers but believes it's time to put her hand up. "I love my country but I think we've got a real problem with apathy and smugness. And we're all too busy, all way too busy, and I thought this was one thing that I would not be too busy to deal with."

Viewers will relate to the perpetrators of domestic violence they see in the documentary, she says. "These people are not monsters, they are people with inadequate skills to cope with the stresses of parenting."

She reckons she has learned something from the show-- that when your child does something silly, rather than say, "Don't be silly," you can say "That's a silly thing to say." Then the child doesn't feel attacked and won't be combative in return.

Lawless contacted the maker of _Love Hurts_, Trisha Stratford, after seeing an earlier Stratford documentary on Tania Witika, who is in prison for manslaughter of her daughter Delcelia. [this doco made it clear that Tania did not physically harm her daughter, rather she did not protect her daughter from her male partner, due to the effects of battered woman's syndrome]

"It just moved me, moved me to go and do something about it," says Lawless. "I wanted to help this film-maker tell us about ourselves."

She says the violence in _Xena_ is "sufficiently cartoony" that it shouldn't interfere with her ability to speak out. "I don't think you're going to get a resurgence of broadsword fighting or fighting with stilts or flame-blowing."

She says she has to pick her projects and she's aware that celebrities can spread themselves too thinly. On the nuclear issue, however, the Albright exchange forced her hand.

"When journalists started ringing up asking for a comment then I felt I should say what I felt. I was kind of surprised to find myself issuing any kind of statement at all."

And "atavism"? It's something she loves about English. "There's a word for absolutely everything, and if a word exists you can use it. Don't let everything fall into disuse."

Turns out she's a dab hand at an amusement game called the Oxford Word Game. "Nobody will play with me any more".

But an interest in issues combined with a love of language doesn't automatically make for a lover of politics.

She's always disliked it, she says, possibly because of all the phone calls to her father during her childhood. "The best of it was, 'What are you going to do about my drains?'-- at three in the morning." Then there's the occasional caller who'll "want to firebomb your home."

She also recalls her father poring over dozens of agendas-- he still does it. "It's not an exciting lifestyle, so I warn all those people who are trying to contend the mayoralty that it's just a lot of drudgery."

So, showbiz it is. "Ideally I'd like to do two movies a year and raise my kids and live with my husband... and you know, all I want is everything."

This last line is delivered with a self-mocking chuckle that seems far more Mt Albert than Hollywood.

Lawless reports that Les Mills greeted her Xena-for-mayor suggestion with a "Don't be cheeky."

And seriously Les, she is not interested in politics, although that assurance is followed by a "never say never."

If we could just get her interested in drains...

[accompanied by larger colour photo of LL in a green cardie] *****************************

[Accompanying article, that contains a tiny spoiler for season four (well some might consider it a spoiler)]:

_Relentless pace takes its toll_

Forget the superwoman, Lucy Lawless has discovered her limits. The 30-year-old says that a gruelling spell on _Xena_ in recent months left her at the end of her tether. "I just ran out of love for the job," she says. "I didn't know why I was doing this any more. I mean, I love the people I work with, but the well was dry."

She had planned a busy trip to Los Angeles, appearing on the _Tonight Show_ and on the cover of the mass circulation _TV Guide_ and meeting people about possible movie roles. But the demands of _Xena_ took their toll.

Shooting was in mud and up mountains and solidly centred on Xena rather than her sidekick Gabrielle. The scripts were emotionally charged.

Lawless decided to pull out of the trip to America. "I knew I was very close, I was on the brink of something kind of serious, physically and emotionally, and so I cancelled the trip. And it was the best thing I ever did."

For two years, she says, she had used her time off to "buzz off to New York or somewhere and return to start work. She also got married to _Xena_ producer Rob Tapert.

By calling off her LA sojourn she could take a week off just to unwind. "For the first time I stayed home and did nothing. It was quite life-changing, actually."

Since then, she says, she's been on "a 12-step recovery programme to enjoying life" and feels pretty good.

She wouldn't change anything and would do it all again. "But I'm very happy at this point now where I've discovered my limits."

Part of her "reawakening" was a realisation that with Xena she has hit a jackpot. "I'm incredibly lucky to have this role. I will never get a role that has this much scope."

And she knows it won't last forever. "If it lasts five or eight years, that's not still long it terms of a lifetime and I certainly don't intend it to be long in terms of my career either."


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