On March 29, 1968 in Mt. Albert, Auckland, New Zealand, Lucy Lawless, best known for her role as Xena on Xena: Warrior Princess, was born as Lucille Frances Ryan. Lucy often played rough and rode horses with her five brothers and one sister. Despite this, her lack of co-ordination gained her the nickname "Unco". Her father Frank Ryan, formerly the mayor of Mount Albert, is now the Chairman of Finance for Auckland City. Her Mother, Julie, is a homemaker and an active volunteer in their community. Lucy's jobs prior to acting include grape picking, gold mining and hosting a travel show Lucy attended the Auckland University, and studied opera for several years, even though she loves jazz music, and the violin. She studied acting at the William Davis Center for Actors in Vancouver, Canada in 1991, under the direction of actor William Davis, also known as the "Cigarette Smoking Man" from the hit T.V. series The X-files. There the foundation of her abilities was laid, and now she is not only known for her dramatic strength in Xena, but from her comedic ability on Saturday Night Live, and her talent for live performance from her role as Rizzo in the broadway performance of Grease. Her remarkable acting talents are enhanced by her striking appearance, grace, humility and charm. She is 5'11" in height, and has naturally dark blond hair, which was dyed jet black for the role of Xena. Her piercing blue eyes and striking physique have not been unrecognized. Lucy was crowned Miss New Zealand in 1989, and in 1997 People magazine chose her as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World. Despite mastering an American accent for her depiction of Xena, in person Lucy has a Kiwi accent. She also speaks German, French and some Italian.
Lucy has one daughter, Daisy (born on July 15, 1988), from her previous marriage to ex-husband Garth Lawless. They married in 1987, and divorced in June of 1995. Lucy remarried on March 28, 1998, to Rob Tapert (born in 1955), the executive producer of Xena. Three hundred and forty guests attended her wedding reception in the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, including the cast and crew of Xena, an Elvis impersonator, and a 15 piece band. Lucy and Rob were proud to welcome a new son into the family, Julius Robert Bay, on October 16, 1999, and another boy, Judah Miro, on May 7, 2002.
Lucy continued to amaze fans each week for six seasons with her portrayal of Xena. She has since appeared on The X-Files, The Bernie Mac Show, Just Shoot Me and Spiderman. She has done extensive charity work in support of breast cancer research, the prevention of child abuse, the acceptance of breast feeding, and the Starship Hospital Foundation, of which she is a board member. Recently, she retuned to her singing roots and embarked on a New Zealand performance tour with musician David Dobbyn. Future plans include hosting a five part series on warrior women.
Trouble with a vengeful God? Titans destroying your village? Want to see hot justice summarily dispensed by a sword-wielding babe in a leather mini with a blood-curdling battle cry and a see-you-in-hell steely glare? Easy - call Xena, Warrior Princess. Stand back and watch the carnage.
Millions of people in over 60 countries do just that every week, making Xena: Warrior Princess, a spin-of from the equally successful Hercules: The Legendary Journeys now in its fourth season, one of the biggest syndicated television shows in the world. Bigger than Baywatch. Bigger than any of the Star Trek spinoffs. And Xena is good. Produced by savvy cult filmmakers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, creators of The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness and Darkman, Xena is smart TV pretending that it's not. Heavy on the cheese, Xena: Warrior Princess ranges from dark, surreal drama to full-tilt slapstick, often within the same episode. It's influenced as much by classic Hollywood comedy as by the Hong King action avant garde. Standing tall in the middle of it all is Xena herself, a woman with a troubled past and blood (lots of it) on her hands doing her best to be a good person in a not-so-good world.
More fun stuff about Lucy Lawless
DO WE NEED TO TELL YOU THIS? You know her as Xena: Warrior Princess.
BEFORE SHE WAS LAWLESS…: She was Lucille Francis Ryan, born in March 1968 in Mount Albert, Auckland, New Zealand.
BUT YOU CAN CALL HER…: Unco—for uncoordinated. It’s her nickname.
GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS: Before she was discovered, Lucy worked as a gold miner in the Australian Outback.
“What’s Buffy got? A wooden stake, some garlic. Xena has a full arsenal of weapons—she kicks arsenal! Xena would kick Wonder Woman’s ass because there wasn’t a bad bone in Wonder Woman’s body. Xena has base instincts and demons.”
Lawless (adj): unrestrained by law; unruly; illegal
Like most guys, I’ve fantasized about lying next to Xena, Warrior Princess, panting heavily as she clutches me close to her body. So when I found myself in this very situation, I was understandably pumped. The catch: In my dreams, we were not strapped together and suspended 150 feet in the air by a flimsy cable and harness. The reality: We are on the Dive Devil at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California. Lucy Lawless, the buff, beautiful New Zealander and star of the mother of all televixen dramas—which is winding down its fifth mammoth hit season—has dragged me here kicking and screaming to put our lives on the line. She pulls a rip cord, and suddenly we’re free-falling at 60 mph. I’m screaming like a woman, but she’s as calm as Puff Daddy on Prozac. As I stumble off the ride tasting another chunky chew of the backed-up BLT I ate two hours ago, she turns to me and says, “Whoa, that was a great organic high.” This is one cool Kiwi.
For Lucy, brushes with death are as second nature as brushing her teeth. “I once bungee-jumped out of a helicopter,” she tells me. “It was an 800-foot fall, and I wasn’t that impressed. You’re so high above the ground that you don’t get the sense of imminent death like you do when you’re jumping off, say, a bridge.” Sounds insane? Remember, she’s from New Zealand, the earth’s home office for life-threatening activity. These are the same sickos that brought us bungee jumping and zorbing (the truest test of intestinal fortitude, in which you roll down a mountain in a large, out-of-control ball). “We live at the edge of the world, so we live on the edge,” Lucy explains. “Kiwis will always sacrifice money and security for adventure and challenge.”
Xena, the TV show, has met numerous challenges and vanquished them all. Undisputedly the highest-rated original syndicated drama on the planet will end this season with an incredible cliff-hanger. Xena, the battling soccer mom, works out some family issues with her evil, but still beloved, daughter in the hopes of retrieving her from the Dark Side.
But hey, everybody’s got family problems. We’re here to have a little fun. So naturally, Lucy decides to take on Goliath, one of the fastest roller coasters in the world. As we slowly ascend toward the 255-foot drop point, I ask her how she keeps the blood flowing when she’s not hopping off helicopters or eviscerating a Visigoth. For starters, on her show, she does many of her own stunts and frequently has to endure cuts, bruises and torn ligaments. “I psych myself down,” she says. “Sometimes you’ve just got to give it a whirl. Embrace death, darling.”
Before Lucy got her big break drop-kicking demons and crushing cyclops’ heads between her thighs, she skipped around, looking to scare up some scratch. At 17, she broke her nails as a gold miner in the Australian outback. “There’s always work for Kiwis there,” she says. “We do all the jobs Australians would never do. I had to saw miles of bloody rock in half. It was the most depressing thing, because in the middle of winter, it’s freezing. You start work early in the morning, and there’s water spinning off the drill. You get sick of being cut, wet and cold. They train Marines in wet and cold, you know, because it’s such an unnatural situation for the body to find itself in. We’re not born to deal with that.”
She didn’t deal with it for long. After a few months of busting boulders, she returned to New Zealand, where she started acting. Continuing her natural evolution to warriordom, she appeared in a local comedy show called Funny Business and cohosted a travel show called Air New Zealand Holiday by 1992. Fortunately, she got the chance to flex her acting muscles with a number of guest shots as different characters on Hercules. One of them—a cute little man-eater named Xena—scored a knockout with the show’s legion of classic-literature fans. Once the producer (now her husband) got a look at the Bulgarian (don’t ask—that’s what they told us. We thought she looked Armenian) warrior’s killer moves, he gave Lucy her own series.
That was five years ago. Since then, her show has been laying waste to the competition in 115 countries worldwide from Ireland to Iran. For some bizarre reason not even Lucy entirely understands, she is particularly huge in Turkey, where 60 percent of people who watch TV, watch her. “You don’t have to be American to dig Xena,” she explains. “It has universal themes of good triumphing over evil.”
And it doesn’t hurt that the “good” looks damn fine in rawhide. I ask her if she has a problem being a sex object. “Are you kidding?” she says. “It’s great. Everyone wants to be an object of attraction.”
After achieving speeds of up to 85 mph on Goliath at a 61-degree angle, I’m hurting. I sneak some Dramamine so Lucy won’t think I’m a kiddie-park pussy. She calls me a “pasty-faced New Yorker” and buys us both a banana split. Weathering her assault on my less-than-godlike demeanor, I find myself developing an insatiable crush on her. Not just because she’s more scary-good-lookin’ than scary in person, but because she is so down-to-earth…for a warrior princess. “I understand why people like Marilyn Monroe craved fame—it feels like love,” she says. “For two seconds, you’ve got all those flashes going, people are so interested in you and it feels like love, but it’s a pale imitation.”
Unlike her alter ego, Lucy is the anti-intimidator: She’ll chat with anyone we meet. She also has a sense of humor and no qualms about laying the smackdown on herself—or others. She even cracked up President Clinton: “I met him in New Zealand and asked if he had read how Mariah Carey came into a press conference, tears on her face, and said, ‘You’ve got to forgive me because Michael, the king, has died, and we’ll never see his like again. He was a great athlete.’ And the press said, ‘Ms. Carey, you do know that it was the King of Jordan who died, not Michael Jordan?’ She just ran from the room.”
When I first meet Lucy, she’s recording a voice-over for an episode of MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch, in which she plays herself and announces a brawl between Martin Sheen and Michael Douglas. She’s wearing a hot-pink T-shirt that reads titties and beer. I ask her who’d win in a Deathmatch between Xena and Wonder Woman. “Xena would kick her” she says. Why? “Because there wasn’t a bad bone in Wonder Woman’s body. Xena has base instincts and demons.” Xena vs. the Bionic Woman? “The Bionic Woman would run from Xena.” Xena vs. Buffy? “What’s Buffy got? A wooden stake, some garlic. Xena has a full arsenal of weapons—she kicks arsenal.” Who would Xena most want in her corner with a spit bucket and a fight plan during a tag-team bout? “Judge Judy. She would throw the book at them—Judge Judy would get them to eat my shorts.”
These days, people aren’t necessarily chowing on Xena’s shorts—but they might be able to buy them. Her success has spawned a ton of Xena-related products, including clothing, magnets, cups, calendars, jewelry and tattoos. A Yahoo! search listed more than 46,000 Web sites devoted to the Princess. Plus, she slices and dices in her very own Sony PlayStation game. “I am hopeless at that thing,” she admits. “I just keep turning around and walking into walls.” I whip out the Evil Xena action figure, wearing her trademark skintight breastplate. “That’s not a bad likeness,” Lucy says. “I know some people get really upset about dolls not looking exactly like them, but it’s a doll, for crying out loud! Who would have thought that I’d be a doll one day? I’m loving every minute of it.” I tell her about a parody site called Xena, Warrior Milkmaid, dedicated to a Swedish orphan raised by a cow herder sworn to protect bovines around the world. “That’s me,” chuckles Lucy, who gave birth to a little one seven months ago and is still nursing him. “I’m the dairy queen.” She admits to anonymously logging on to a Xena chat room and starting mayhem. “They kicked me off because I said that I liked Hercules better than Xena,” she says.
Among her most die-hard fans are lesbians, who tune in to watch Xena and her sexy sidekick, Gabrielle, kick some serious male booty. “For two women to be facing incredible odds together with no male support, it’s going to appeal to the lesbian community,” she says. “Gabrielle and Xena are ‘special’ friends. Every now and then, we’ll put in a few [suggestive] ad-libs, but we’ve kind of gotten away from that.” In one episode, they committed a not-so-subtle lip lock—though Xena was dead at the time and inside a man’s body.
Still, not everyone is amused. “I met this Texan on a plane who told me that he used to watch the show until it started ‘promoting a gay lifestyle,’” she says. “I said, ‘We’re not promoting a gay lifestyle any more than we’re promoting eating meat or wearing leather.’” That said, is Xena a bit conflicted? “In a modern world, she’d be classified as having Attention Deficit Disorder and put on Ritalin,” Lucy says. We now embark on our last ride of the afternoon, Superman: The Escape (which propels up a 415-foot tower at 100 mph in seven seconds and then free-falls backward). As we descend, the force of the 41-story fall causes my camera and cassette player to fly out of my pocket onto the ground below, narrowly missing several small families and a large lawsuit. I’ve had enough. Like she has done with so many mythological warlords before me, Xena has made another conquest. In one last desperate attempt to save face, I ask, “Do you think it’s smooth for a guy to take a chick to an amusement park?” She looks at me and smiles that seductive smile. “Sure, if you’re 14.” Embrace humiliation.
Lucy Lawless is the real Princess
Xena is a hero, an idol. And Lucy Lawless, the 36-year-old New Zealand actor who plays her, is now a star.
XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, like Hercules and the upcoming Young Hercules spin-off is filmed in and around Auckland, New Zealand. The locations are not so much a secret as low-key, and the majority of the sets are constructed in a series of anonymous industrial estates in West Auckland. Inside are temples, barns, ice caverns and labyrinths, mostly made of polystyrene foam and built (and torn down) at an alarming rate.
Past a panel beater's workshop and a couple of bored-looking dogs, Lawless is shooting the series four episode "In Sickness and in Hell". Her hair is wild, sticking up and out in all directions. Xena has a nasty itch, she's lost her horse, Argo, and she's momentarily distracted from the serious business of being a hero by the overpowering need to scratch herself. Lawless is clearly playing the scene for laughs, ably assisted by the similarly-stricken Gabrielle (played by Texan actress Renee O'Connor) and the bumbling but loveable Joxer (the Mighty, played by Ted Raimi). They have developed, as American director Josh Becker points out, into a formidable comic trio.
When the scene is done, Lawless makes her way across the crowded set to introduce herself. She's tall (even in flat Xena boots she's just a shade under six feet) but not imposing and the vibrancy of her eyes and smile is startling. She smiles a lot, far more than grim old Xena ever does, and there is more than a hint of mischief about her. Her voice is full of fun too, and she is prone to exclamations such as "far out, brussel sprout!" She speaks in a clipped New Zealand accent, slightly higher pitched than the flat, mid-American voice of the Warrior Princess.
Her trailer is small and sparsely decorated. A few plastic dumbbells lie in one corner on the floor. A few CDs - Tuck and Patti, Lenny Kravitz - are scattered on a shelf. It may not be much, but it's enough to allow Lawless some rest in between shooting. Her role is a physical one and it's often tough. "It's not always fun anymore," she says. "I love the comedies 'cause they are fun. I'm at the stage now where I look back and the things I'm proudest of are actually the comedies. I don't know why but they really feed me in a way that the other ones don't. But I still love my job and I never get bored, even when it's not fun."
Lawless was born in Mount Albert, Auckland, the fifth of seven children (five boys, two girls, of which Lawless is the eldest) to Frank and Julie Ryan. Growing up with a bunch of rowdy boys "and a sister who was tougher than the rest", Lawless gained some early inspiration for the role of Xena through, of all things, fear - "the fear that so-and-so was going to get you or that you had to get so-and-so". Her mother tells a story about coming around a corner one day to find the young Lucy chanting "Got to be a strong girl, got to be a strong girl." Acting, from the age of eight in school plays and musicals, came naturally. It was around this time that she developed her first real crush on "the fey one in the Bee Gees". She's pretty sure she means Robin Gibb.
Strangely, Lawless was not exactly an athletic child. "I have no talent whatsoever for sports," she says. "I think I have always been physical, but with no . . . finesse. No aim, no balance." Her nickname at school was "Unco", for "uncoordinated". "I couldn't hit a ball with a bat. I can now, but only because the job's forced me to develop quick reflexes. I really, seriously am living proof that anyone can develop those skills if you're given enough short, sharp shocks." Literally. As Xena, Lawless has taken her fair share of knocks. "You get punched a couple of times and you learn to be really quick on the uptake if a stuntman's coming at you."
Under the tuition of martial arts master Douglas Wong, Lawless has learned basic kung fu moves and can now fight with swords and staffs. "I do a lot of the arse-kicking stuff myself," she says and she enjoys the adrenalin rush of swinging punches and high kicks in all directions during the show's many fight scenes. She doesn't do the back flips and she doesn't do reverses (if you see the back of Xena's head, it's not Lawless) but the dynamo you see on screen is mostly Lawless. Still, elements of the old "unco" girl lurk in the background. "Running on screen is my bug bear," she says. "It's pretty amusing if you really look hard."
Because she is Xena, there's a tendency to tell Lawless's life as a series of heroic adventures: running off to Europe, picking grapes on the Rhine, swinging a pick in a gold mine. "Ah, the gold mining!" she says. "People really pick up on that. It's a good gag you know? 'She went gold mining?' And people have a romantic notion that you're down shafts with canaries in cages digging for gold with a little conga line of dwarves behind you or something. And in fact, I wasn't even working in mines. I was working with my then boyfriend and we were mapping the earth, working with compasses and running from point to point taking samples."
At the age of 18, after one year at Auckland University studying Italian, French and German, Lawless took off for Europe with then boyfriend, Garth Lawless. When they ran out of money, they headed for Australia and for the gold mine in Kalgoorlie, outside of Perth. "To me the world never seemed like a formidable unconquerable place," she says. "It was really hard to die so what are you afraid of?" Lawless fell pregnant in Australia, where she and Garth Lawless were married in 1988 (the couple have since divorced; Lawless married Rob Tapert in March of this year) before returning to New Zealand. Lawless gave birth to a daughter, Daisy, now aged 10, and began pursuing a career as an actor.
She always believe she'd succeed. I've always had this unbelievable faith in myself, to the point of arrogance," she says. At 21, she snuck in to "some sort of film commission awards" and accosted New Zealand pop star Dave Dobbyn. "I went up to him and said, 'My name's Lucy Lawless, just you remember my name!" she says and bursts out with laughter. "Needless to say, he doesn't!"
Commercials and bit parts followed, as well as eight months in Vancouver, Canada, at the William Davis (The X-Files' Cancer Man) Center for Actors Study but, says Lawless, "I could never score a regular part. I truly feel that I was too big, too in your face. I don't think I probably ever came across as a team player that would just fit into a groove and stay there. I could not be trusted to stay three years in a soap, forget it. And I think they were probably right never to cast me in those things." She was working as the co-host of a travel show, Air New Zealand Holiday, and considering an offer for a tampon commercial (the offer was $60,000, she would have done it for $80,000) when she was cast (not as Xena) in Hercules and the Amazon Women. The role of Xena, originally as a three-part episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, came up a year later when American actor Vanessa Angel, originally cast in the role, fell ill. The part was offered to four other actresses, all American, who all turned it down, before it was offered to Lawless. After a quick change of hair colour (Lawless's natural colour is an ash-blonde), Xena was born.
Xena: Warrior Princess" quickly grew a fan-base from committed Hercules watchers, but also began attracting a different crowd. "Fortunately, the lesbian community in New York first hooked on to the show and started a sort of underground buzz on it," says Lawless. "Not only lesbians, but they were the most vociferous in their support because here at last were two women travelling on their own with no signs of male support. That started a kind of culty groove about it, which pleases me."
There have been reports of special Xena nights at lesbian bars and even in women's prisons. Then there was the troupe of marching Xenas at last year's Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, at which Lawless was scheduled to appear. "It was very cool. That's cool, eh?" she says. "We were so thrilled about that and we had our tickets to get on the plane and we had an accident on the set. We had, like 40,000 gallons of water burst out of this tank." No one was hurt, but filming was set back.
As for the supposed lesbian subtext in the relationship between Xena and her feisty sidekick Gabrielle (O'Connor), Lawless admits that it was something she and the rest of the crew played up to. Still, she says, "We've kind of gone beyond that. I guess we got bored with all the chat about it. We just got over it, that's all. And I always thought, you know, Xena is what she is and she's not asking to be categorised to fit in with a particular lobby group [she laughs]. And we wanted to leave it so that the audience could make whatever of it they saw fit. Sometimes we went a little overboard because it made us laugh and we thought it was a good gag. It was fun. We might have got a little carried away, but most of it was from us, on set, on the day."
Sexuality aside, it's the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle that keeps people tuning in, as well as Xena's ongoing quest for redemption. Good and evil is never black and white in the show, and Xena is constantly battling her own demons. Lawless, meanwhile, is developing into a classic, old-time star - an all-round physical performer who can sing and dance (see the surreal musical Xena episode "The Bitter Suite" or Lawless' turn as Rizzo in Grease on Broadway last year) and take a pie in the face. She knows the experience is invaluable. "I am aware that in this job I'm stretched all the time," she says. "It's a constant challenge. And the more good people I get to work with, I find that they enrich me and make me get better - Renee [O'Connor] and Ted [Raimi], Bruce Campbell [who plays the recurring character of Autolycus, King of Thieves] in particular.
"And I am sometimes struck by the irony that, for example the wardrobe department will never win an Emmy - it will always get beaten out by The Drew Carey Show or something because we don't have any members there to vote for us. I will probably never get an Emmy for it - it doesn't matter how good I am. it's not awards we're working for. It's for our satisfaction and to make us laugh. That's the way the show works, is that it's not consensus. We're only pleasing ourselves. We're not trying to please the fans, so you're not getting blancmange."
It's an approach that appears to be paying off. As the show develops more and more Xenites are attracted to the strange and wonderful world of the Xenaverse. Whatever their reasons, Lawless knows that the recipe for Xena: Warrior Princess's success is a simple one. "At the heart of the matter is, people like seeing chicks kicking butt. Sure people like the heart of the show and the relationships, but it's certainly true that chicks kicking butt rocks."
More stories about Warrior women presented by Lucy Lawless
What do Joan of Arc, Boudica, Grace O’Malley and Lozen have in common? Grit, determination and the will to achieve their ends. These iron women will be tied by the same screen thread this November with Discovery Channel launching Dangerman, Warrior Women. The series will be appropriately presented by Lucy Lawless, star of the hit TV series Xena: The Warrior Princess.
Dangerman, Warrior Women, to be beamed every Wednesday at 10 pm, uncovers the truth behind history’s most charismatic female warriors in a heady mix of historical sleuthing and provocative reconstruction. Shot on location in France, Ireland, Britain, China and the United States, the show promises to give viewers a glimpse of history with attitude.
First up, on November 3, is Joan of Arc, the 19-year-old who led the French to victory over the English, only to die at the stake.
Next Wednesday it’s Grace O’Malley, the Irish pirate princess who mastered sail and sword and won kudos from Queen Elizabeth I.
On November 17, the focus is on Lozen the Apache Warrior, a woman with multiple talents of a prophet, warrior, healer and a midwife. The last Wednesday of the month recounts the tale of Boudica, the red-headed queen who brought the Roman Empire in Britain to its knees.
Spanning almost 2,000 years, the series documents the lives of each of these iconic heroines and celebrates the popular mythology surrounding them. The show also has Lucy Lawless chatting up historians to unearth the real stories of these warrior women.