Lucy Lawless Brings Back the Bad Girl


By Noah Michelson

The first thing you notice when you meet Lucy Lawless -- even if you consider yourself 100% gay and completely immune to the charms of the opposite sex -- is how ridiculously, supernaturally gorgeous she is. The second thing you notice is how tall she is. And the third thing you notice (if you're not too captivated by the first two) is how easy and graceful her presence is. It's as if you could plunk her down anywhere -- a cocktail party, a Congressional hearing, Taco Bell -- and in five minutes she'd have the entire room under her spell.

Earlier this week the New Zealander, most famous for playing the titular role in the campy mid-'90s lesbian favorite Xena: Warrior Princess, sauntered through the halls of Out magazine oohing and aahing over cover shots of Lady Gaga and Donatella Versace and making jokes about "knowing a thing or two about what gays like" before sitting down to chat about playing the crafty, conniving Lucretia, who owns a gladiator camp with her husband, on the new series Spartacus. In the video above and the following interview, Lawless talks about behaving badly on screen, overdosing on simulated gore and sex, gayness in the ancient world, and whether or not she'll ever pick up Xena's sword again.

Out: Why were you drawn to Lucretia? Was it the chance to play a bad girl?
Lucy Lawless: Yeah, I never had the chance to play a bad girl before [smirks]. Why is that? Why is it that, you know, if you've got a bad girl in your script who're you going to call? Call Lucy. No, I was very drawn to this character because she's a whole lot of contradictions. She's very wicked and religious at the same time. She loves her husband more than life itself, almost as much as her own self. And she'd do anything to make him happy. So she's boffing a gladiator in order to get impregnated. She's having this really abusive relationship with Crixus the champion gladiator, and is also falling in love with him so she's very conflicted and playing a very dangerous game. Because, though Roman men could stop off to see a prostitute on the way home from the Senate, Roman women were not afforded the same freedom of exploration.

Do you relate to her?
Well, I guess she comes out of me somewhere. Somehow when I put on a wig and a costume I become this other thing, but it has to be rooted in truth. You have to think How would I behave? How would I say this line in this woman's shoes? Thankfully, I will never find myself in such a dog-eat-dog world where only clawing your way up the social ladder can get you any form of stability. But I guess she must come out of me somewhere.

Spartacus is a lot less campy than Xena was and the acting is definitely more natural. How did you prepare for the role?
There's nothing nudge-nudge-wink-wink about this. Because we're asking people to buy into this great conceit that there is a hyperrealistic, graphic-novel world where there are swirls of blood kind of being thrown across the inside of your TV screens every week. They have to already come to terms with nakedness. Now, that may not shock you or the Out audience, but a lot of the world is like going to turn it off in horror. And I think they'll sneak it back in -- you know, TiVo it -- and watch it when the kids aren't there. It's not a kids' show -- not a kids' show at all.

2009 was very much the year of the vampire and it seems like 2010 is shaping up to be the year of the ancients. We've got Spartacus coming out, The Clash of the Titans, Percy Jackson and the Olympians -- what do you think it is about the genre that draws people in?
I think people want to be transported to another time. It lets you explore a really high-stakes world where every single person from the lowest slave to the richest man in town is on the brink of complete annihilation at any time. And you've got this heroism and the kindness amongst all that degradation is really, really compelling. You really feel for the slaves when they fall in genuine love. And then you see this kind of twisted love of my character and my husband, who is Spartacus's owner. And he loves Spartacus and my lover hates Spartacus and I just want him dead. So, you know, everybody needs one another and fears one another. And that's a very deadly combination.

What about for you personally? You've done Hercules, Xena, Battlestar, you lent your voice to Wonder Woman. What about the fantasy genre appeals to you on a personal level?
They want me? They pay me? [Laughs] I don't know why that is. It's not that I've ever been attracted to that genre myself quite honestly. I mean I loved I, Claudius. I was a huge fan of Rome, but those are not fantasy sci-fi shows. Somehow these kinds of shows can fit me in the screen. Whereas other shows I think people will fear that I will be overpowering. Nobody makes the best friend in a romantic comedy. Nobody's going to, you know? It's a little bit limiting when you are' I wouldn't say limiting, that's not right. Everybody's got their cross to bear in terms of their appeal on screen. But I don't know. Lucy's not always'people are always nervous to make me the wallflower. But I was one! Did you see me in Flight of the Concords? You might have seen me but you wouldn't know it. I was so successful at being a wallflower. But I'm not kidding -- I really I wanted to be that. She's just a zero of a woman, a gray little woman. When the wardrobe person called me and said we're designing a costume what are your colors and stuff, I said, 'I'll tell you what I look really bad in: I look terrible in those kind of muddy colors and light ones like very light pastel greens and yellows and beige colors. I look awful in those.' And that's all we dressed me in. And it was awesome. It's some of my most prized work where I get to be a big fat zero [laughs].