There’s only one word that comes to mind when you think of Lucy Lawless: Xena. The actress best known for her campy ’90s series Xena: Warrior Princess is back — not just in the six-part Spartacus prequel (Spartacus: Gods of the Arena) set to bow on Starz this month but also in the freshly announced second season of the flagship series. After Season 1 ended with her character Lucretia’s life up in the air, Lawless is excited about the opportunity to return to the character in the series’ prequel — a role she says rates as one of the best and most complicated that she’s had to play in her career.
AfterEllen.com sat down with Laweless at the Television Critics Assn. winter press tour in Pasadena for an all-encompassing interview where the small-screen icon discussed what the lesbian community means to her, Xena fans and, yes, all things merkin.
AfterEllen.com: You’re a huge icon in the lesbian community.
Lucy Lawless: I’ve heard! I don’t think of them as “fans” or “lesbians.” They’re great and they’re very supportive of me as distinct from the role. They forgive me for not being the wrong [sexuality] and they accept me and I’m really grateful to them for that and for their continuing support.
AE: I tweeted a call for questions and the feedback I got was messages of how much your role as Xena influenced people during their coming out process. It prompted people to come out.
LL: I understand finally seeing someone you can relate to on TV and the visibility, and that makes sense to me. That is so profound that it validated people. Especially back then [in thes’90s]. Not only that, but they’re really active in their communities and they’re a force for good. That was the peculiarity of the Xena fandom. They were a force for good and nothing to do with being gay or of color or anything; it was just human beings spreading the love. Nobody else outside of our world is going to understand or appreciate that but I know and they know that that was a profound experience for all of us. It continues today. I’m immensely grateful for that and will always be.
AE: You have another same-sex scene coming up with Jamie Murray. What can you share about that?
LL: I thank God that it was Jamie Murray that I have to do a sex scene with because she’s incredibly beautiful and a tremendous and skilled actress. I love and trust her 100 percent. She has great ideas and does a lot of research. She ponders things a lot and comes with great ideas, which I don’t, I’m purely instinctual. She is like everything I’m not: Jamie Murray, you complete me! [Laughing.] She goes down as one of my top three colleagues ever. [Xena’s] Renee [O’Connor, who played Gabrielle] being the other, and I’m not going to say who the other was. [Laughing.]
AE: What else can you share about your relationship with Jamie’s character on Spartacus: Gods of the Arena?
LL: First you have to understand the context of the times. Women were second-class citizens, even nobelwomen. You could be rich and have a lot of status and power, but it was always about being attached to a father, uncle, husband and Gaia (Murray), to put it gently, has found herself cast adrift after her husband has died. She is being forced to a land of strangers and she comes to Lucretia’s house and asks to stay and brings some of the tricks of her trade, namely opium. They get into some old habits.
I don’t think Lucretia is gay but it’s like, “Oh, we used to do this sort of thing in college, haven’t we grown up by now? OK, just a little opium.” Then you’re completely uninhibited and them something happens. It all happens. I think Gaia is omnivorous and that continues to play on. It’s pretty interesting. Same sex, different sex, multiple sex, whatever, it all goes on. It’s ancient Rome.
AE: Is this a one-night stand with Gaia or is it something we could see more of?
LL: Not exactly! [Laughing.]
AE: Spill! Is it a season-long arc?
LL: Let’s put it this way: She’s a very good friend and a great friend of the family. [Laughing.] Honestly, if I was going to be gay, that’s who I’d marry: Jamie Murray. She rocks.
AE: Sounds like a headline to me! Is Jamie going to be in all six episodes?
LL: [Laughing.] I’m not saying anything! [Editor's Note: Starz publicist interjects, jokes that it’s ancient Rome and anyone can die at any time.] I’m on borrowed time!
AE: Let’s talk merkin. Does the merkin return in the prequel?
LL: At the end of the first season, they framed it and gave it to me. It was a virgin merkin because I never wore it the first season. I thought, “What am I going to do with this!” I stuck it in a closet. That’s ironic, right? Then they bloody asked for the merkin back for the prequel!
AE: So it is back!
LL: Yes! At some point the merkin did get used. I’m not going to say on who, but I’m just going to say it’s RED! [Laughing.]
AE: So now it’s game used.
LL: Yes, but we’re not going to say in what capacity.
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena — the prequel to Spartacus. — premieres Jan. 21 on Starz.