May 15 - 21, 1999
"We Love Lucy"
Canadian TV Guide, Listings for May 15-21 1999
"Xena's flawless Ms.Lawless opens up about motherhood, stardom and her favorite self-help guru"
"From A to Xena"
"Behind the breastplate, Lucy Lawless, the larger-than-life heroine of Xena: Warrior Princess, is a delicate, down-to-earth family woman, who hasn't let fame go to her head"
by Michael Logan
As star of the hit fantasy series Xena: Warrior Princess, Lucy Lawless has emerged as a true feminist icon. In the process, she has also created one of the most imposing and strikingly original looks in TV history. You know the get-up - swinging sword, leather minidress, sexy breastplate and those butt-kicking, high-heeled boots that send her already considerable height (five feet 10 inches) soaring into the Amazonian ozone. And then there's the formidable, deeply bronzed bod and that impossibly thick mane of dark hair.
But strip it all away and you're in for a surprise. La Lawless, without her jet-black wig, warrior wardrobe and battle hardware, is actually jaw-droppingly delicate. She is quite slender, even slight, and when not sponged down in head-to-toe Xena makeup, she has a porcelain-white complexion that even a china doll would envy. Despite achieving world-wide fame on her own television series, this New-Zealand-born goddess is also extremely down-to-earth, very chummy, very vulnerable - very much like someone who could be your next-door neighbor.
"But I am somebody's next-door neighbor!" says Lawless, over a light lunch of pita bread, Middle Eastern dips and Diet Coke. "We all live next door to somebody. Being normal is no big deal where I come from. It's just not in our national character to get carried away with ourselves. If you get out of line in New Zealand, we're only too ready to say, 'Who the hell do you think you are?' " Consequently, it wasn't easy for her to accept her new-found success. In fact, it took several seasons of Xena for Lawless to finally get comfortable with her status as a sword-wielding female role model.
"At first, it felt like a burden - like a yoke I couldn't carry - and I shunned it," she says. "During our first season, Ms.magazine put me on its cover - at the very time I was trapped in the horror of being a role model! It was very disconcerting. But eventually I came to see it can be really pleasant, that people aren't expecting more of me - just that I be human."
And that's precisely the kind of heroine she admires. Says the 31-year-old star: "When I'm tempted to think of myself as successful, I think of our housekeeper. She's from El Salvador where her father was kidnapped and there were attempted kidnappings on others in her family. She has endured so much pain, so much hell, and yet she still discovered the secret of joy. Her cup is always half full. I look at her and think, 'Wow! Now you are a truly successful human being.' "
The complexities of home and family are very much on Lawless's mind these days. She and her husband of one year, Xena executive producer Rob Tapert, are expecting a baby in October (a Xena spokesperson says the pregnancy will be hidden "creatively" and will not affect production in any way).
The actress also has a 10-year-old daughter, Daisy, from her marriage to computer expert Garth Lawless whom she divorced four years ago. Because Lawless's role often takes her to the wilds of New Zealand, Daisy lives with her father during the week and spends weekends and school vacations with her mom and Tapert.
"The juggling isn't easy but we make the best of it," says Lawless. "Garth is a hands-on excellent father. We have a very co-operative relationship." She intends to pursue movie work when Xena ends its run but insists, "Career is not as important as having a long successful marriage and having more kids. If I had to choose, I'd go for the family over Oscars any day. If I didn't, I'd kick myself when I'm 80."
Lawless didn't grow up feeling this way. Her sense of drive has been developing since childhood: "From an early age, I was very aware of my mortality and felt pressured to do, do, do, achieve, achieve, achieve. As a Catholic kid, I was obsessed with the last part of 'Hail, Mary.' You know, 'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen.' I was, like, 'Our death? What do you mean death?' When you're six that's a hell of a concept! So I was always in a terrible hurry."
All of that changed in 1996 when she fell off a horse while performing a stunt during a taping of The Tonight Show. "I broke my pelvis in four places," recalls Lawless, who rarely speaks of the accident (and when she does, it's never in detail). "The best thing that came of that physical breakdown was that it made me stop and put my fears in order. It made me realize what's really important."
Interestingly, she's considerably more forthcoming about an emotional breakdown she suffered early last year. It occured during an arduous multi-episode Xena arc that was shot during an especially bad spell of weather. "We were in snow and rain and cold for months and I started to have what is called a neural association, where you associate work with physical discomfort. My non-stop thought that whole time was, 'I am in pain!' I could not bear to get up one more morning and put on that yucky brown makeup one more time. It got to the point where I could not even speak about work at home or I would cringe, which is a real problem when you're married to the producer. So, then, by association home became a bad thing. I was a mess."
Then daytime TV talk host Leeza Gibbons, of all people, came to the emotional rescue. As Lawless recalls it: "I was at a really low point one morning and just mindlessly flipping channels when a Leeza infomercial caught my eye. I thought, 'Hmm...what's Leeza have to tell me today?' Well, she was selling tapes by [motivational guru] Tony Robbins and I went, 'Oh, hell, why not? I gotta do something to pull myself out of this.' So I swallowed my pride and bought some self-help tapes." And from all appearances, Robbins' tapes did the trick. Says the 31-year-old star today: "I nipped [my problem] in the bud before I lost everything, including the respect of my colleagues and possibly my marriage."
Now the job that made her recoil helps keep her head straight. "The crew is my inspiration. They work many more hours than I, and for a lot less pay, yet they do it with so much love and joy. It's tempting when you're in my position - with people tying your bootlaces and holding an umbrella over your head when it's hot - to think you are special. You can start believing your own publicity and thinking you have feelings other people can't possibly understand. I've come to see that practising appreciation and gratitude is the way to health and happiness."
And she never forgets the miracle that brought her in touch with the American-born Tapert, who also produces Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, the show that first introduced Xena to viewers. "The role landed in my lap because no American actress would take it," Lawless reveals. "Nobody wanted to miss the Hollywood pilot season and go to a funny country and act on an unproven show - because at that point Hercules wasn't yet a hit. As a result, I got two things I didn't expect - the role of a lifetime and a husband."
The actress, who has a retreat with Tapert in Los Angeles, says her new mother-in-law also got something she didn't expect. Says Lawless, with a wild laugh: "She always used to say to Rob, 'Now why don't you bring home a nice girl like that Morgan Fairchild?"