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It's no wonder this woman has become Xena: Worldwide Cult Queen

Posted 01-12-99

The Denver Post
By Page G01
Photo: "Actress Lucy Lawless portrays Xena"

Calls WHOOSH "a rather cerebral collection of sometimes academic articles about XWP", and refers to the Carmen Carter article on visiual metaphor in the series [WHOOSH #03 (9611)].


   Not since Wonder Woman have we witnessed such a strong babe, and W.W. didn't
know from comedy. TV's reigning female powerhouse, savior of the oppressed,
crusader against barbarians and fascination of fan clubs around the world, is a
superhero with biceps bigger than Lynda Carter's.
   She's Xena. And she's killing in syndication.  
   Played by New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless, Xena first appeared in a
three-episode arc of the syndicated "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys." She
proved too big for a minor role. The character stuck, and has evolved. The brave
Xena, originally a very bad warrior princess, is now on a crusade for
redemption, having been converted to compassion and altruism. She fights in
penance for her past, forever taking the side of the downtrodden. She's a great
role model for little girls who feel less than empowered by Barbie.
   Lawless had portrayed an Amazon enforcer in an action movie, "Hercules and
the Amazon Women," so Xena was the logical next step. At nearly 6 feet tall,
she's built for the job. Her bio describes her as a former tomboy who trained
with a kung fu master to get the fighting techniques down. Herc and Xena, who
share martial-arts prowess, a mythological bent and impressive musculature
beneath leather togs, seem to have sprung from the pages of an over-the-top
comic book. But, unlike Wonder Woman, there was no comic that preceded the
screen rage.
   These perfect specimens are pure television: part camp, part live action,
part animation and all courageous.
   Double entendre and mythic escapades elevate what could have been silly
action-adventure series set in ancient times into something grander. The two are
cult hits, licensed to 15 countries through 1998, with ancillary merchandise
(logos, toys and whatnot) selling briskly. Online, a web search elicits 7,271
entries for "Xena: Warrior Princess." Among them is "Whoosh!, the Journal of the
International Association for Xena Studies," a rather cerebral collection of
sometimes academic articles about "XWP," like a recent analysis of "visual
metaphor" in the series. No joke.
   In the U.S., "Xena: Warrior Princess" airs on some 200 stations, including
Channel 2 in Denver at 4 p.m. Sunday, with reruns at 11 p.m. Saturday, and on
cable superchannel WGN at 2 p.m. Saturdays. In each instance, the "Xena" hour is
followed by "Hercules."
   Shot in and around Auckland, New Zealand, the scenery is as exotic as the
concept. Each hour boasts live action aided by animation, computer graphics and
plenty of prosthetics and makeup.
   As most of the civilized world knows, Xena recently fell on hard times. That
is, the statuesque Lawless, 28, was thrown from a horse in Los Angeles on Oct.
8, while taping a comedy sketch for Jay Leno. She was riding to "The Tonight
Show's" stage door when the horse lost its footing and fell. Lawless suffered
multiple pelvic fractures.
   "I can walk without crutches, but the specialist doesn't want me to go
without them completely yet," Lawless said by phone from her home in Auckland.
"It's a box of birds, as we say down here." (Translation: a day at the beach.
Delivered with heavy sarcasm.)
   "I can take the car to shop and muck around a bit," she said, "but I can't
walk even half a kilometer. We want to know that I am healing in the optimum
amount of time. The bones are the least of the worry, it's the soft tissue. But
I'm taking all care and swimming every day."
   She planned to return to the set this week for "light duty: I play dead."
   While mending, she says, "I've really learned about the indomitable human
spirit. Happiness is a choice. You grieve, you stomp your feet, you pick
yourself up and choose to be happy."
   Upcoming episodes are being written around her injury, so that Xena's voice
or spirit will be a presence in every hour although she may not be on camera.
   Lawless acknowledges the empowering message of Xena, particularly for younger
viewers. "She's a different kind of hero. I think it's becoming a phenomenon for
the '90s. We strongly oppose violence against women, we never play sexual
violence, it's degrading. The fastest-growing audience who are now taking
control of the remote are women," Lawless claims. "This show has caught a wave."
   That much is undeniable. When "Xena" premiered recently in France, it got a
50 share, meaning half of the country's sets in use were tuned in.
   Then there's the Gabrielle sideline and romantic subtext. A sidekick with a
powerful presence, Gabrielle, played by Renee O'Connor, is the petite,
fast-talking protege of Xena who is never far from her side. In fact, their
adoring relationship is the subject of much speculation among fans, on the
Internet and wherever the mythic heroine is worshipped.
   "We talk about it on set. We're all aware of how different sectors of our
audience perceive the show. If you're talking about the lesbian element, we are
aware and we're not afraid of it. This is a love story between two people. What
they do in their own time is none of our business."
   The producers promise a future episode will chronicle a day in the life of
Xena and Gabrielle - "what happens between the fights," Lawless said. "I'm
looking forward to it." All audience members and speculation are welcome, she
said, "as long as people aren't nutters, as long as they aren't stalkers, you
   Her only regret is that there were no Xena Halloween costumes available this
year, an absence she noticed when visiting the States.
   Resting at home, reading "The Liar's Club" by Mary Carr and listening to Nina
Simone, she continues to claim a more or less normal life for herself and her 8
1/2-year-old daughter, Daisy, who visits the set on Fridays, handing out
"biscuits" to the crew.
   "When I'm here I'm just a working girl," Lawless said. "I don't go out to
openings, I don't want to be what I call a schlebrity. You know, it's celebrity
as opposed to fame. One is hollow; one is earned." Celebrity and a certain cult
fame are both hers at the moment. However, her focus is on physical therapy.
   "I want to be a happy, agile old lady."

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