Lucy Lawless Hangs Up Xena's Chakram

By Ian Spelling
(Ian Spelling is a New York-based free-lance writer.)

The sun is setting on the Xenaverse.

After six years of nonstop adventure, fantasy and feminism, ``Xena: Warrior Princess'' will end its run during the weeks of June 11 and 18 with the two-part ``Friend in Need.'' The episodes will close out the adventures of Xena (Lucy Lawless) and her loyal companion Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) in grand style, Lawless promises.

``Xena comes full circle,'' Lawless says by telephone from the Los Angeles home she shares with her husband, ``Xena'' producer Rob Tapert, and their children. ``She was somebody who was afraid to love and trust another single human soul, and now she is somebody who's comfortable in her own skin, who has a family.

``I always thought the day Xena achieved redemption would be the end of the show,'' the actress says, ``and make of that what you will. The finale is enormously ambitious - it's our most expensive episode. I'd also say it's the most defiant episode we've done.

``This is one of the things I love about my husband, professionally: He is afraid of nothing,'' Lawless says. ``Nobody tells him, `You can't do that.' They might try, but he'll do it his way.

``Anyway, I love how the show ends,'' she concludes. ``I love what the ending means to Xena and to Gabrielle, particularly to Gabrielle.''

``Xena'' took chances like few series ever did. The show zigzagged from ancient land to ancient land, mercilessly dispatched favorite recurring characters, toyed with the idea that Xena and Gabrielle might be lovers and pitted its heroines against demons real and imagined. In any given week ``Xena'' could morph into a comedy, an opera, a modern-day tale. The current season is unfolding 25 years after the events of last year's season finale.

Through the years ``Xena,'' which was filmed in New Zealand, aired in more than 120 countries. It attracted an international following that attends ``Xena'' conventions - where it isn't unusual to see men dressed as the warrior princess - snaps up ``Xena'' merchandise, joins fan clubs and reads the official ``Xena'' magazine. The series may be ending, but it long since became a ``Star Trek''-like icon of pop culture.

``The show dealt with universal themes,'' says Lawless, who first played the character in three 1994 episodes of ``Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.'' ``We're not talking about jurisprudence in America and we're not a medical drama. `Xena' was never specific to any one culture - we used a lot of ethnicities in our themes and we dealt with tolerance, acceptance and the triumph of love over hatred, things everybody everywhere cares about.

``We also tried to take people on journeys that you won't go through in your own life,'' she adds. ``You're not going to battle the Hindu god of death, but we'll all battle the theme of death at some stage of life.

``I just think `Xena' had some universal relevance.''

For all of that, however, Lawless stresses that ``Xena'' would not be ``Xena,'' and Xena would not be Xena, without Renee O'Connor.

``I think of `Xena' in terms of Xena and Gabrielle,'' Lawless says. ``The more Renee and I got comfortable in our roles, the more we made the characters our own, the more the humor and our relationship, our genuine friendship, infused itself into the show.

``Renee is graciousness - to play second banana with such grace is a very tall order for anyone,'' Lawless adds. ``In fact, Renee is the athlete, and had she been taller she would have been Xena.

``She was my great friend, and she will continue to be my great friend.''

Lawless and O'Connor now face perhaps their greatest challenge: getting on with the rest of their lives and with their careers.

``The first two weeks after the show finished filming, I was learning to live as Lucy, trying to figure out who Lucy would be without Xena, without the schedule, without being in New Zealand and without the responsibility of turning up to work every day,'' says Lawless, who will make a cameo appearance as a punk in the upcoming ``Spider-Man'' feature.

``Eventually,'' she says, ``I stopped struggling to be just Lucy without Xena, because it has become so much a part of the fabric that makes up me that it was a relief to realize I didn't have to disassociate from it.

``I don't have the pathological need to cut off all my hair and dye what's left blond,'' she says with a laugh. ``But on the inside I was looking to reidentify myself as somebody without Xena. And I just don't think that's possible.''

Lawless pauses.

``Why should I?'' she adds. ``It was a wonderful time in my life.''


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