Interview Date: 07/23/2010
Run Date: 01/20/2011
If anything has been proven by post-2001 events, it’s that there is a lot more to the lovely and talented Lucy Lawless than "Xena: Warrior Princess." She's done zany comedy opposite Larry David and the "Flight of the Conchords" gang. She's been an inhuman member of the press in "Battlestar Galactica." She sings and practices philanthropy. The product of a large New Zealand family, Lawless is also a working mother of three, married to "Spartacus" and "Xena" executive producer Rob Tapert.
As the saying goes, there's absolutely nothing wrong with nepotism, as long as you keep it in the family. Her scenes as Lucretia opposite John Hannah, who plays her lovably immoral gladiator-owning hubby, Batiatus, are good fun. So much fun, in fact, that her previously scheduled death in a season ending slaughter was canceled and she is set to return in season 2 of Starz's "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," from veteran TV writer Steven S. DeKnight. The heavily stylized, ultraviolent and, at times, extremely sexual "hard R" show will be returning for a second season proper later on, with a recently announced new lead, Liam McIntyre. Original star Andy Whitfield, who was originally set to return in the role, was unfortunately sidelined due to an unexpected relapse of his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
In any event, the mood was extremely upbeat last July when Lawless met with a table full of writers at Comic-Con. Shooting was about to begin on "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena," a special prequel miniseries created to bridge the gap to the delayed second season which premieres Friday, January 21, and Lawless was eager to talk up the project. Blessed with a blunt but charming sense of humor, the actress also proved to be just about as much fun to chat with as you might expect.
Journalist: You've got an exciting prequel miniseries coming up. What are you most looking forward to about it?
Lucy Lawless: I haven't read all of it, I don't even know if it's all been written. I'm looking forward to seeing all the characters as they were before they became a train wreck. You see them sort of hopeful, idealistic, with a lot of plans. The audience feels so smart because they're so far ahead. But we're still gonna surprise you. We still know how to twist it up. Nothing is going to be as you would predict. I think it'll be cool to see Ashur [Nick Tarabay] before he was made lame and when he's a young recruit; Crixus [Manu Bennett] sort of seconded into the [gladiatorial] business with Lucretia and Batiatus, before they'd ever killed anybody.
Journalist: Is this going to be more of an early part of [Lucretia and Batiatus's] relationship? Are they going to be meeting here?
LL: They're already married, but all the relationships are different. Solonius [Craig Walsh Wrightson] and Batiatus were great friends once. It's so fun to the audience because they're ahead of everybody else. I think that's really good writing when you make the audience feel smart because they're figuring stuff out.
Journalist: Is it going to move straight up to season 1, or is going somewhere beyond that?
LL: I don't know the answer to that. There are only six episodes. I would rather they kept it tighter because, if it's only six episodes, you don't want to be leaping over huge things. What's great about the series is the richness, right? But I know nothing about story. I'm not a writer on any level. Ask that other guy, Steven, he'll know all that stuff.
Journalist: It would be funny if those six episodes ended with Batiatus and Lucretia saying, "Everything's gonna turn out great!"
LL: [Singing] "The sun will come out, tomorrow..."
Journalist: What's it like working with John Hannah? You guys have such a great relationship onscreen.
LL: He's so much fun, for starters. Just look at him. He's really smart and he's really professional. He helped anchor the whole production. We had a lot of actors who were on their first gig ever. To have somebody like John come in and just set a tone of complete professionalism was just bloody wonderful.
Journalist: He took the pressure off you, didn't he?
LL: Well, it takes more than one person to set a culture.
Journalist: After you guys finish the prequel, what are you looking forward to about season 2?
LL: Oh, that we'll get Viva [Bianca, who portrays upper-cruster Ilithyia] back, who’s been such a buddy to me on set. There's so many cool things coming up; I'm not allowed to tell you anything. But there's great acting challenges.
Journalist: From the first season, what scenes were the most challenging to you, in terms of getting into the role with absurd things going on around you, or the language in some of the lines?
LL: I quite liked that my character didn't have to swear all that much. It's nice that she's one of the ones who just doesn't. She could be so arch. It could be "Dynasty" or something. I don't think that would have the same tension. I liked that she has some redeeming qualities. Then, when she does swear, you really notice it. I actually found them quite hard to say, some of those terrible images she threatens the girls with. Horrible. Of course, sex scenes are difficult, but we're figuring out a protocol for those things. So, it all gets much easier and really prescribed.
Journalist: Was there anything that you felt pushed the envelope too much?
LL: In the pilot, there were some scenes where the sex was like, "Okay, that's enough of that. It's not advancing the storyline any more. Let's bloody cut that short!" There you go, you live and learn. Pilot-itus.
Bullz-Eye: I'm sure you'll be delighted to know that, while getting up to speed for this, I Googled your name and immediately came up with probably one of the edgier scenes, where you [and Batiatus] both sort of have your respective fluffers going on both of you before having sex with each other.
LL: We try to pack at least one, and hopefully three, water-cooler moments in every episode, where you go, "I have never, ever seen that on television before," so that people are at the water cooler the next day going, "Oh my God! Have you seen that?" That's the aim. Don't bore 'em. Not these days. You can't afford to. Everything's very democratized with the Internet and what not. You've got to capture your fans firmly. You've got to knock them between the eyes to get any kind of chatter out there, these days. I so think we achieved that. I'm so happy to be part of it.
Journalist: The writing is really strong.
LL: Yeah. Because everybody wanted to think it was like a T&A show. They had no idea. We were trying to tell people [it wasn't]. Fortunately it all came through. [Noticing a writer sniffling] Have you got allergies?
LL: Yeah. Other people have been complaining about that too.
Journalist: Coming from such a strong base that you have from "Xena," what have the fans from this show been like? Have they come up to you?
LL: Well, they don't know what I look like, which is good. I just get out of the car and make a beeline. [Laughs] People are expecting red hair or blonde hair or something else, but the reaction is really great. I feel so lucky. With "Xena" catching a huge female audience, a huge minority audience -- African-Americans really love that show, especially the women, also Hispanics -- lots of countries. "Battlestar" brought young males. I was like "Oh my God! All these men at my gigs." All these guys started showing up and they were the "Battlestar" fellas. Now with "Spartacus," the women seem to be a little bit older, The others are all watching "True Blood" or "Twilight" or whatever -- those vampire shows. Dudes and wives will watch "Spartacus" and they just love it.
Journalist: You're sort of conquering the world, demographic by demographic.
LL: Your words, not mine. [Laughter]
BE: Speaking of conquering the world, you've been making some forays into comedy.
LL: No, I started out in comedy but, well, go on...
BE: No, tell us about that -- but I mean I saw you on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and was very impressed. Of course, you're playing yourself there, which is interesting.
LL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BE: I missed it, but you impressed a lot of people in "Flight of the Conchords," too.
LL: Even if you saw it, you could miss it because I'm playing such a wallflower. I actually relished the chance to be a wallflower. They don't want people to come on their show and stick out like dog's bollocks. A lot of big stars wanted to appear on the show and they were, like, "You'll chew up the scenery, it's not about that." So, for them to let me come on was [very cool]. I just had sort of mousy hair. They said, "Well, what do you like to wear?" I said, "I'll tell you what I don't like to wear. I look really rotten in beige and light washed out green and sort of doozie pinks," and [the costumer person] was, like, "Great! That's what we'll dress you in." So we went out of our way to make me wan and a zero. To just be a zero on screen was totally amusing to me. Ugly is even better. It's a freedom, instead of trying to be bloody beautiful all the time, which is so -- stressful.
BE: So, I didn't realize you started out in comedy.
LL: And I have to try very hard not to be comic on the show, because I just want to make everything a joke. It breaks the wall.
Journalist: One of the things that we loved was [seeing you] and John Hannah together as a couple. You guys were just great.
LL: I'm so not done with it. I'm so glad that John's available and up for it because he's the workingest actor in town. He could be working anywhere...He immediately said, "Yes." He didn't dick them around. It was so wonderful because it wouldn't happen without him.
Journalist: Does it ever blow your mind that you're actually portraying real events?
LL: No, because they're not entirely. We're not making a documentary!
Journalists: But some of the characters themselves like Crixus and Batiatus [are based on real figures].LL: I've got to say, no, it doesn't blow my mind.