To say "Xena: Warrior Princess" left a lasting impression on its cultish following would be an understatement. Fans -- this Xenite included -- have followed series star Lucy Lawless, who eventually found her way back in the time of ancient gods, warlords and kings in Starz's "Spartacus: Vengeance."
Lawless has put down the body armor and weapons in favor of flowing gowns and hair accessories as Lucretia, but it's not exactly a stress-free life for the former first lady of the House of Batiatus. Lucretia has had her world turned upside down and suffered tragedies (including the death of her unborn child) that have all taken a toll on her psyche.
"She has every right to be out of her mind given that she's gone through such complete loss," Lawless told HuffPost TV in a phone interview from her home in New Zealand. "It was the destruction of her entire world, so is it so far-fetched for people to believe that she has actually lost her mind for real?"
Read the rest of the interview to find out why "Spartacus" is her biggest challenge yet, if there could ever be a "Xena" movie and Lawless' feelings on "The Real Housewives."
I just have to warn you: I may be gushing a lot, I'm a pretty big fan. "Xena" was the first show I truly got into.
Oh, awesome. [Laughs.]
My colleague interviewed your "Spartacus" co-star Liam McIntyre and he said you gave him a chakram, so I'm completely jealous because when I was like 10 years old I got a plastic chakram for Christmas.
Aw. That's probably a collector's item now! [Laughs.] Who did I give a chakram to? Liam?
Yeah, Liam said you sent him one. Anyway, I apologize for the gushing in advance.
Oh, I love it. But please, get a tissue.
Jumping right in, will we see Lucretia deal with the emotional fallout of losing her baby?
She seems to have forgotten that she even had a baby, right? She's sort of supplemented all of her interest in babies ... She does kind of get religion through this. It's a little bit that somebody [who] has lost all memory of their past sees themselves through other people's eyes, so when all the people start worshiping her, she assumes that role. I don't think it's cynical; I don't think she's putting it on; I think it's a natural human inclination to go with the crowd. They're suggesting to her that she's special, so she's like, "Oh, OK I'll just go ahead and be special then," and instinctively knows how to play to that, "I am the oracle." She does get a bit of religion and there is a prophecy afoot and that drives her. There's a prophecy.
How would you describe her path this season?
There are vipers sitting at her feet. She has to tread very carefully. At any moment she could be struck down. There's just no easy road for Lucretia, she's just had to sort of scratch for survival ... it's not been easy for her and things only get worse this season. In the end ... Lucretia ends up a winner.
What are the challenges for you as an actor in striking the balance between tormented and going off the rails?
The challenge is always to make these things real and to try to put myself in the person's shoes because very often, you've never been there, so you have to allow yourself to go to some pretty dark places. I've never been so challenged as this season. All credit to the writers ... That team of writers that Steven [DeKnight] has with him are so talented, so deep, the bench is really deep. They've just given me some real career highs. It's like the lower my character goes, it's like the higher the attainment is for me, if I do it right. Only the audience can judge that really.
Do you have a ritual for getting into character?
The whole hair and makeup is a ritual. Whether you're doing stage and putting your makeup on yourself or with film and television when somebody else is waving over you, every minute that goes by is sort of ebbing away at your real life and the entry into this virtual reality. I really feel like Lucretia is like an avatar of mine. I wouldn't have had the words to say that once upon a time, but because this character is so kind of real, I try to keep it really real. It is like me walking through an alternate life and it's kind of awesome because I feel like I'm living really richly. [Laughs.] It's like they say roller coasters are the chance to experience death ... the threat of death in a way where there is no real danger. That's kind of what being Lucretia is. I get to experience all those things that we're so voyeuristic about and all our prurient interests in very dark human matters. All the wish fulfillment of blood and guts and revenge and all that stuff that we cannot indulge in in this world, my character can kind of go there and I get a little taste of what that can be like in a way that has no consequences in my real life. [Laughs.]
Are you coming back for Season 3?
It's too spoiler-y to say what happens to her. It could be for three quarters of it, it could be for all or it could be two episodes. I'm not going to say. You're going to know Lucretia's next big plan by the end of this season and where she's heading. Lucretia's future will be revealed! She has a new status.
Do you have a favorite part about playing Lucretia?
Oh, oh yeah. It's the challenge of it: Can I make her wickedness completely real and relatable that you can see where she's coming from? If she seems like a logical person, then I can make her wickedness your problem and I relish that. I aim to make the audience complicit in my crimes by making her as fully real as possible. She's not all bad and she's not all good; she's a complete mixture because I believe we all are. It makes me cringe when people call her a villainess because she's not; she's anyone.
Wow. That's a great quote, I might use that in my headline.
Is that right? Oh, good. [Laughs.] What would the quote be?
"Lucy Lawless: Don't Call Lucretia a Villainess." I don't know. Still thinking about it.
"Lucy Lawless Contends She is You." [Laughs.]
Anything you want to add about "Spartacus"?
I think they write the best roles for women on television. The treachery upstairs in the parlor is every bit as base and rich as that down in the arena.
Is there any chance we'll see some kind of "Xena" reunion or movie?
That would have been really fun ... The whole trouble with it was there was some sort of glitch in the paperwork in ownership. The movie company doesn't own all the rights to it and they don't want to share, so -- it's just kind of gone sour for all these years. I shouldn't say they don't want to share, but there's not enough in it for them if they have to share the rights with somebody else. By the time somebody realizes it's a completely wasted franchise and they should reinvigorate it, I'm too old to play her.
You recently said that you hated the fighting on "Xena." You really don't miss that at all?
Not a bit. Not a bit. Never, never liked it. I just sucked it up and went on with it all those years on "Xena," but I was so happy to let that go and just eat figs and wear frocks. [Laughs.]
I'm sure you've had a lot of fan experiences. Do you have one that really sticks out?
I had a really great experience the other day. They had the last ever "Xena" con and I was like, "I have to go. If I'm in LA, I should stay on a few extra days and just go and thank the fans from all those years ago for being so loyal." They're such an interesting bunch of people. They've raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. They're amazing. So ... I went along and Bill Shatner was there and he was doing a documentary on the "Xena" fans and what a phenomenon they are ... It was very cool to have Captain Kirk kind of interviewing me about the fans because they are the focus ... And, for the first time in years -- maybe the first time ever -- I did photo-ops and ... there was so much love coming back at me from these people. It wasn't that I felt good about myself, it was that they had filled me with their kindness. It was a very odd experience. It was a real gift and I'm glad I did it.
Completely random question: Would you ever do "Dancing With the Stars."
No. I've been asked. I supported my friend Marissa Jaret Winokur when she was doing it. It's not for me. I did the singing one.
Right, I remember.
"Celebrity Duets." The problem with us [is] we were not bitchy and competitive enough. We were all people who actually have careers and real lives, so we were not manipulatable and that didn't make for very good television. But I got to sing for some cool people. It made me very happy! I sang with Smokey Robinson three times, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Loggins -- it was so awesome. And Richard Marx was the big surprise. That guy is fantastic. Anyway, I loved it.
Not all reality TV is bad!
No, I don't think it's bad. I feel too manipulated by it. I feel like it's the producers' trick. You're not really having something revealed to you about human nature. The producers are sort of rocking everybody up and making them behave in a hyper-natural way.
And I think all those "Housewives" should eat some pies or something. They're too skinny. "Go and eat a pie!" [Laughs.]
"Spartacus: Vengeance" airs Fridays at 10 p.m. EST on Starz.