Her screen credits are many, but Lucy Lawless captured worldwide notoriety — and many a queer girl’s heart — with one role in particular: her six-year stint in the title role of Xena: Warrior Princess. There is even a dwarf planet that was temporarily named for the character, with an orbiting moon named for her sidekick, Gabrielle. (Sadly, the name of the planet has since been changed to Eris.)
These days the mortal goddess best known as Xena plays a fetching cyborg on the SciFi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica — an upgraded and critically lauded remake of the 1970s television series.
“I can do a million shades of psychopath, so it’s not much of a stretch. I really enjoy it,” Lawless says of playing D’Anna Biers, a Cylon or virtually indestructible humanoid who can be reincarnated in another identical body if “killed.”
This season D’Anna becomes involved in a ménage a trois with fellow Cylon Number Six (Tricia Helfer) and human Gaius Baltar (James Callis), the former president of the Twelve Colonies, who D’Anna tortures. Lawless says the writers are always adding layers of complexity to her character, and the show constantly tests the range of its performers.
Much like the show itself, Lawless says, her character operates outside the norm and is a rule-breaker. Go figure.
“I’m drawn to spicy roles,” the perennial badass says. Besides playing a warrior princess, the 38-year-old actor was recently in the studio voicing the character of Wonder Woman for a Justice League DVD. “I’ve turned down just about every cop or journalist TV series,” Lawless admits. “I cannot chain myself to boredom.”
She believes there is a synchronicity to the characters she tends to play, and she’s not talking about her apt surname. Her hometown of Mount Albert, just outside Auckland, New Zealand, gets its Maori name for a legendary gender-bender. Owairaka was a female warrior, and Lawless says the name essentially means “dress like a man.”
New Zealand was the first country in the world to give all women the right to vote, and may be the only country to have all of its highest offices simultaneously held by women. (This was from mid-2005 to mid-2006, when the sovereign ruler, aka Queen Elizabeth II, as well as the governor general, the prime minister, the chief justice and the speaker of the House of Representatives were all female.)
Lawless was schooled by nuns who, she makes a point of saying, “were not lunatics.” Strength and power are qualities associated with women where Lawless comes from.
“I really am a ball buster,” she says. “I didn’t realize how scary I am, but straight men get spooked by me. It’s like they’re attracted to you but fear you. There’s definitely a dominance issue there.”
Lawless says she had never been exposed to this until recently, after appearing on Celebrity Duets. There she found herself all decked out and interacting with more straight men than she had in a long time — being away from her friends in New Zealand, who are mostly women, gay men or friends’ husbands, anyway. “People think you’re more powerful than you are when you’re all gussied up,” she says. “But it just reminds me what a great man my husband is.” She is married to Rob Tapert, co-creator of Xena, who is also known for producing the cult classic The Evil Dead.
Lawless did a lot of singing as a teenager but abandoned it in her 20s, once she was no longer enjoying it. “When Celebrity Duets came up, I thought: I’m not getting any younger, and this is something I’d regret my whole life if I didn’t get out. I had to do it.”
And she did so against the advice of her various representatives, who were all aghast. “I said, ‘They are bombing in Beirut. I am doing this. As a human being I need to do it for me.’”
Lawless doesn’t regret the decision one bit. “I am so glad and so empowered by telling everyone who is supposed to be my advisors to get out of my way and make the deal. Who works for who here?” In the end, she says, those critics have become her biggest supporters.
“It was great for me,” she says. “It’s about joy; seize the day. It’s your life — make it your sculpture and not what other people think looks pretty.”
And there’s more singing in the future for Lawless: In January she will perform at Los Angeles’ legendary Roxy. “There are going to be a lot of women in the audience,” she says, laughing. “It’s great. Lesbians are my most loyal fans.”