Interview: Lucy Lawless Tones it Down For “Spartacus”


Lucy Lawless is back!

Actually, she never really left. Since hanging up her chakram as Xena, Warrior Princess, in 2001, she’s kept plenty busy, appearing in roles like the Number Three cylon on Battlestar Galactica and her crowd-pleasing runner-up finish on Celebrity Duets in 2006. She’s also popped up in television guest spots on everything from The L Word to CSI: Miami.

But now she’s back to episodic television full-time, in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, a CGI-intensive retelling of the story of the rebel slave Spartacus, premiering January 22nd on the Starz network, a premium cable channel.

While her role as the wife of the owner of a gladiator school is very unlike that of Xena, and the show itself has a far more serious tone, Spartacus is very much another high fantasy series set in the ancient world. It was co-created (along with Spider-Man director Sam Raimi) by her husband Rob Tapert, also the man behind Xena.

Lucy says, "People in Hollywood were like, ‘Why? Why are you
doing that? Spartacus sounds like Xena again. It’s like you’re going
backwards.’ And I was like, ‘It’s really good. Really
Good.’ They couldn’t know what I know
about my husband."

Recently, I sat down with Lucy to talk about the show and her status as a gay icon. And while I wasn’t at all surprised to find how eager she is to embrace her gay fans, I was pleasantly surprised by her irreverent, almost impish sense of humor.

AfterElton: Lucy, why do you think you’re a gay icon?
Lucy Lawless: Is it because people think I’m a man? [laughs] A drag queen or something?

AE: You’re obviously a lesbian icon, but you’re empowering for a lot of gay men too. I’m wondering if you’ve ever given that any thought.

I think it’s that heroism of the ordinary person in Xena. You’re talking about Xena, as opposed to me. The character is about doing the right thing even though it hurts. I think in this world, even in Los Angeles, you have to be so brave to be out. I went and protested for No on 8, and we were at the overpass downtown, and I couldn’t believe how much hate was being directed upwards from the cars underneath. These guys were like, "Ah, whatever." But I was shocked. This is Los Angeles!

I know it became a sort of religious, and ergo ethnic thing in Los Angeles, but I went to the Mayan Temple once, and I saw plenty of [gay] people of all colors, great big buff guys. So if people of any ethnicity want to think it’s nothing to do with them, I want to tell you, gay is here, and it’s always been here. Do you want your children hiding, to feel they can’t live out in the open? You want them to be afraid and disenfranchised? That’s just a tragedy. Who wants to bring up your babies like that?

AE: You touch upon the idea that in the time this new show is set, there’s really not a concept of being gay, per se, it’s just part of the spectrum. Do you kiss any girls in the first season?

There’s this one character who keeps kissing me, and my character is like, "What? What’s that about?" [laughs] I didn’t expect it, because I can’t figure out what politically is motivating this young woman. She’s sort of a Paris Hilton character. I’m trying to figure out how to make her my BFF, and it’s a little bit of come-here, go-away.

[But] we’re not making my character gay. I doubt that. I don’t think that works for the series. There may be some, John Hannah, who plays my husband, was in a bath with five naked women, so there’s plenty of things for people who like bosoms, and there’s plenty of things for those who like naked male bodies. However, all that stuff is meaningless unless you care about the character. That’s essential. It’s not about what body you’re in. It’s about just souls trying to get by.

AE: How is your role as Lucretia different from Xena?

The part is challenging for me, because I tend to go in a comedic direction. Just naturally, I want to make everything just [crazy noise]. I just want to party all the time. There’s really no room for that in this show. It has to be very minimal and very naturalistic to sell this world, to be really super believable, because in the show all the people take for granted things that today are very taboo.

Like homosexuality, one of the gladiators is gay and has a relationship with one of the young men who works there, and there’s no stigma attached. They don’t demonize it. They don’t make him mince in a boa. There no bloody, glittery, bejeweled g-string on the guy. There’s nothing funny about it. It’s just like that’s the fact of life back then. In fact, he’s lucky because he gets to have his partner in the Ludus, which is kind of jail. All the other people are looking at their wives through the grill, but these guys have a very tender relationship.

AE: You said it’s the healthiest relationship?

Yeah, it is. It’s healthy and it’s manly.

Next Page! Wherein I geek out with Lucy about Xena!

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