North City NOW
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF
LUCY LAWLESSNew Zealand's most successful female acting export tells why the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle holds little appeal for her.
Lucy Lawless says fame will never go to her head; her childhood friends won't let it. Xena: The Warrior Princess has made the talented New Zealander an international star, but she hasn't forgotten the importance of having people around her that she can trust.
"They have pulled me back in the past," she admits, "because they knew how to say, 'Hey, we deserve to be treated better'."
Lucy also credits her down-to-earth parents with helping keep her perspective; they always taught her that there was more to life than being beautiful, and that qualities such as kindness and intelligence were equally important. She says it's a lesson that has sustained her in the appearance-conscious world of Hollywood and saved her from believing her own hype.
"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."
So it's hardly surprising that Lucy still prefers to spend most of her time in New Zealand. Despite marrying Xena producer Rob Tapert in Los Angeles earlier this year, she intends to make Auckland her base. The couple even bought a Georgian mansion there recently (for $NZ4.2million) as their new family home. Besides, Lucy says she couldn't bear to uproot her 10-year-old daughter, Daisy.
"New Zealand will always be my home," she says. "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."
Now 29, Lucy got her big break in Hollywood three years ago, when she was chosen for a small role as a villainess in the hit TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. When the producers decided to create a spin-off from Hercules actress chosen to star was forced to pull out at the last minute because of illness, and Lucy got the call that would change her life. Her character mended her ways, became a heroine, and a star was born.
In the brief years since that fateful phonecall, Lucy's fame has skyrocketed. Xena is a hit in 50 countries around the world, Lucy has hundreds of internet websites dedicated to her, and the character is beloved by women of all ages. But the actress retains a refreshingly humble attitude to her massive fame.
"People are bloody good to me, I have to say," she says. "All they want is a smile, and if you don't put on airs and graces, people respond to you in kind."
Lucy believes the remarkable success of the TV show lies in the fact that it features a strong female character. She says she was initially surprised that the show had struck such a chord with women, but then discovered what a distinct lack of role models for women there had been on television in the past.
"I didn't realise there was such a need for a symbol of strength in women," she explains. "I guess I have been just going around blinkered my whole life. I realised there's a huge hole there and if they take that from Xena, that's fantastic. Somebody needed to fill that role. There hadn't been a female hero, certainly not like this."
Lucy does admit Xena has attracted more than her fair share of odd fans. Her weirdest fan letter was a poster from a girl's porn video. She had written a message on it - "Dear Lucy, I love you. Call me." In fact, Xena has become a gay icon, and attracts plenty of imitators at the Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras parade each year. But she's not bothered by her lesbian following. "We love 'em all!" she says.
"I'm just having a rich life," she adds. "I've done all these crazy, geeky, dangerous and sometimes slightly embarrassing things and I just think I'll be so glad when I'm an old woman and I can look back and say I've lived a life - put myself in some spooky situations others would not have. The payoff will be that when I'm on my deathbed I'll be going, 'Hooray, I went for it'."
Lucy has always wanted to be a star. Even as a child, her mother recalls her jumping up on tables to sing for visitors, pretending to use a shell as a microphone. But, as a teenager, the travel bug bit harder. She and boyfriend Garth Lawless decided to travel and work their way through Europe, eventually running out of money and ending up in the goldfields of Western Australia. It was there that Lucy became pregnant with daughter Daisy and decided to marry Garth. The pair returned to New Zealand and Lucy's yearning to be in the spotlight surfaced again.
She and her husband travelled to the United States so she could study acting - under X-Files star William B Davis - for a year. It wasn't her first trip to the US. She had originally travelled to Las Vegas at age 19 to represent her country as Mrs New Zealand, but lost the crown to Mrs Peru. Unfortunately, her second visit proved to be equally unsuccessful, and her marriage began to crumble under the strain.
Just when Lucy felt her life was reaching it's lowest ebb, the call came to play Xena. She's now New Zealand's richest actress, with a fortune estimated to be growing at the rate of $8million a year. She's also happily married again and planning on starting a family with Tapert - she says she'll get pregnant again when her Xena contract expires in the year 2000.
"I've always wanted three children," she enthuses. "I don't know why three, but it sounds like a great number to me." Lucy has been inundated with movie offers since Xena became a hit, but turns them down to be with her family - something she has precious little time for already, since she often works 15 hours a day, six days a week on her TV series. "It's always painful to turn down offers, but I couldn't accept anything that involves being parted from my daughter for any stretch of time," she says. "I am not prepared to sacrifice everything for a job. You can't put a price on time spent with your children. It's irreplaceable.""You don't have to go the parties; you don't have to be seen; and you don't just have to act "starry", to be a star."
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