Still a warrior
Cult actor Lucy Lawless continues the fight in The Code
WHETHER it’s swinging a sword as warrior princess Xena, scheming as Lucretia in Spartacus, or climbing atop a ship and getting herself arrested, Lucy Lawless is formidable in a fight.
And in her role of remote indigenous school teacher Alex Wisham in new political thriller The Code, Lawless, 46, is again a force to be reckoned with.
The Kiwi actor rose to international fame as the title character in Xena: The Warrior Princess, which ran from 1995 to 2001. Subsequent roles included
Battlestar Galactica and Spartacus, and she reembraced comedy as Diana in Parks and Recreation and in the offbeat NZ hit Flight of the Conchords.
Until The Code, straight-shooting Lawless, as irreverent as she is enthusiastic, had never taken an acting gig “across the ditch”.
“It’s my first role in Australia. I saw great writing and grabbed it,” she says.
“If I had waited, bloody Cate Blanchett would have taken it.”
The Code is the story of two brothers who stumble on a secret the power brokers of government in Canberra will kill to keep.
Two Aboriginal kids are hurt in a car accident. Someone should have called for help and didn’t. Someone is wrongly blamed.
That someone just happens to be one of Alex Wisham’s students.
As Xena, Lawless wore leather overlaid with metal armour, with a sword her weapon of choice.
As Alex, her weapons are fearlessness, passion for her students and justice. The steel is on the inside. Her past is her Achilles heel.
Lawless says Alex is like no character she has played, but also the one most like herself.
“It’s important she not be the white super hero,” Lawless says.
“Oh, and she has a love triangle – with Aaron Pedersen’s character and a younger man … how awesome is that?”
Since filming The Code, Lawless has been doing a bit of theatre, writing a newspaper column, going to court, and serving her “punishment” of 120 hours community service in a dementia ward – “the most fun I’ve ever had”.
The sentence came in 2012 after Lawless – (add ecowarrior to the CV) – climbed onto an oil drilling ship with a group of Greenpeace activists and stayed for three days protesting against oil exploration. “I thought about it for a couple of minutes and then said, ‘ Yes’,” she said at the time. She pleaded guilty to trespassing, served the community service in a hospice working with the elderly and “loved it”.
“No matter where you put me I’m going to suck the life out of it,” she says.
Lawless hasn’t been arrested lately.
“I’ve been trying to keep my nose clean. Now it’s back to work,” she laughs.
Back to work means heading Stateside for her new “bad-ass” role of Agent Isabelle Hartley in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
“I split my time between NZ and the US – that’s just the reality of my life. And sometimes the relief of getting back onto a TV set is immense because it’s just another planet,” she says.
Of Xena, the role that put her on the map, she says, “It gave me and my children everything … my house and a name useful for other jobs and causes”.
“Sometimes I regret that when Xena was at her height … I wish I’d just busted up a hotel room, like a rock star. But there was never a moment. It probably comes with being a mother from a very young age.
“Maybe my rock star hotel busting days are ahead of me.”
THE CODE SUNDAY, 8.30PM, ABC
Standing firm: Below, Lucy Lawless as Alex Wisham in TheCode and inset in her star-making role as Xena Warrior Princess.