PASADENA, Calif. — Lucy Lawless, who played “Xena: Warrior Princess” for six years, is a warrior in her own right. A New Zealand scrapper who doesn’t acknowledge borders of any kind, she’s managed to be true to herself in spite of the notoriety that show brought.
When “Xena” ended she wasn’t worried, she says, in a small dressing room at a hotel here. “Because I live in the moment. There is no past, there is no future. I wish sometimes I could plan something, but more than a week ahead, I have no idea. I’m not made to multi-task, organize. The greatest talent I have is the talent to surrender to the demands of whatever comes along,” she says.
Lawless has always been like that ever since she quit college to experience “adventures” in Europe. “There are a lot of people who multi-task – they’re on the phone, they’re arranging things,” she says.
“It’s too hard for me. My brain would explode if I had to do any of that stuff ... Sometimes I wish I could do that because my life is quite full of chaos. I keep it really simple. I have, like, a dirt-track of a brain. If it’s not on the dirt-track it might as well not exist. I really think this is in my genes. It’s a problem sometimes, but not for me because I’m still on the dirt trail,” she laughs.
Lawless finds herself on a new kind of dirt trail in Starz’s series, “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” premiering Jan. 22.
“I play Lucretia, kind of the Lady Macbeth character,” says Lawless, leaning on her elbow. “And my husband owns the gladiator school and the gladiators are fancy horseflesh, and I’m desperate to provide him with an heir. I love my husband, but we’re political animals and the fear of annihilation is really high — in Roman society it’s dog-eat-dog.”
Her real-life husband, Robert Tapert, is executive producer of “Spartacus,” which was shot in New Zealand. They have two sons, 7 and 9.
At first Lawless didn’t want to do “Spartacus.” “I fought it tooth and nail. I was so happy in Los Angeles with my wonderful friends, and the kids were in school but they needed a father and he was committed to New Zealand,” she says.
“I’m so grateful. See, if I had my way nothing would’ve worked. Somehow the universe knows and takes you where you should be, and this role is dynamite. The show is dynamite.”
Lawless met Tapert on “Xena.” She had been married before at 18, a union that lasted for seven years and resulted in a daughter, now 21. But she thinks she and her first husband were far too young.
“I ran off to Europe ... (and Australia) to avoid finishing college. My boyfriend followed me out, and one thing led to another, and I was living in the Outback working for a gold mining company. And we were running through Australia mapping the Earth, taking dirt samples and digging trucks out of dry river beds and jumping over snakes. It was a great and wild existence ... So that was a sidetrack, and then with the baby, reality came home.”
She was 19 when she had her daughter. “The very first week after having her I was struck with a huge surge of creative energy and wrote out a script and produced an audition tape. And I was misshapen — had just had a baby — and I was young and wearing a leotard, like pantyhose, and kept dancing in my Chuck Taylor basketball boots. I just had no shame. It was hilarious to me, so I did it. Somebody saw it and thought, ‘That girl’s mad. Let’s put her in a television commercial.’ It began.”
It was a steady climb for her after that, mining parts in “Hercules,” “Tarzan,” “Battlestar Gallactica.”
The toughest time was Episode 6 of “Xena,” says Lawless, 41. “Because it’s very difficult when you’re a star of a series to keep your love, keep your motivation, your gratitude. And where I come from it’s not acceptable NOT to have a good attitude. Because you’re (uppity) and people will let you know. ‘We’re working the same hours and we’re getting paid not a tenth of what you’re making, so shut up.’ And you get on and do your job and be happy. That’s really a choice. That’s the hardest thing. And sometimes you just run out of skills. By 6 I just needed to get some therapy,” she laughs.
“You do get burnt out. We were filming nine months a year and it was very physical. I didn’t appreciate it at the time I was so used to doing it, but I wouldn’t ever want to do it again.”
“The Simpsons” will be celebrating a TV record on Jan. 10, with its 450th broadcast and 20 years on the Fox Network. With the TV event, “The Simpson’s 20th Anniversary Special: in 3-D! On Ice!” the network honors the world-famous yellow people of Springfield and the goofy nuclear family that has entertained two generations.
Nancy Cartwright, the voice of mischievous Bart Simpson, was originally supposed to read the part of Lisa, Bart’s little sister. “I looked at this character Bart, and I go, ‘Hm-m-m-m, a 10-year-old boy, huh. Getting into trouble, huh. He’s like a go-getter. He’s like a pistol. I think I can relate to that. I like Bart. I want to do Bart.’ I did Bart, and I got Bart. Just like that.”
Dan Castellaneta, who plays doofus father Homer, says of his character: “I think he’s a very likable and amusing guy. One of the writers described him as a dog trapped in a man’s body. He’s incredibly loyal, not entirely clean, but you gotta love him. Kind of dumb and hard to train, but he’s good-hearted.”
USA Network has been smart by not starting or reinstating its original shows in September, the way most of the other networks do. So during the dregs of January, USA will perk up the nights with the return of its caper series “White Collar” on Jan. 19. “Psych’s” ebony-and-ivory crime-fighting team will return Jan. 27 and “Burn Notice,” the thriller about Michael Westen, the blacklisted spy, will be back Jan. 21. Sharon Gless, who plays Westen’s mother, will be reunited with her old “Cagney & Lacey” costar Tyne Daly on the season premiere.
Everybody seems to be crazy about competitive dancing these days, so why not ice skating? ABC is betting on that with its new “Thin Ice” competition show, which premieres in March. Talk-show hostess Elisabeth Hasselbeck and four-time world champion skater Kurt Browning will cohost the show, featuring skaters Dick Button and Kristi Yamaguchi as judges. The winners will go away with more than sore ankles: Top prize earns $60,000 per couple.