Warrior Princess, green activist, kindness advocate, terrible cook… Lucy Lawless is all of these and more. Ahead of concurrent stints as a screen witch and a nightclub diva, she focused her charm on
You might have missed it. There’s been a lot going on. And even if you were a recipient, you may not have known because that’s how The Lucy Lawless Feel the Love Week works. As it happens, we’re in the thick of it. Between September 21 and 28 every year, Lucy Lawless fans all around the world undertake random acts of kindness. Washing the neighbour’s car, putting money in parking meters, that sort of thing. It’s been huge in the Philippines, Turkey and Iran. Lawless said she heard about a Brazilian doctor who did free cleft palate operations a few years ago. That was cool.
The concept arose out of her fans’ desire to support her charities. Instead, she urged them: “Do something in your own community. Help the people around you.” That’s how her special week got off the ground. Mind you, the love could be a bit thin on the ground this year as Lawless admits the website hasn’t always had the attention from her it requires. It can be demanding feeding the appetite of devoted Xenites who have been known to make big life decisions based on her and then, if things go wrong, “it’s all my fault”.
She shrugs, mentally tosses it off. The perils of being an international superstar which she knows she is – though she’s spent the last half hour telling me she lives a low-key, humdrum life. During the week never going out, watching Masterchef, in bed at 9.30. Weekends mooching around home, helping tend the large family garden with husband Rob Tapert and teenage sons Julius and Judah.
It’s not the life she would have chosen for herself. Lawless was happy with her family in Los Angeles but when they returned to New Zealand for Spartacus, Tapert fell in love with the city that reminded him of his home in Michigan and her boys couldn’t believe they could go to a school where the teacher suggested they take their shoes off. In Los Angeles, there would have been snakes and liability issues around such a rash act. Even though she pleaded with them – “C’mon guys, let’s go. What about an adventure?” – they stood their ground. Nope, we’re never going back. Her star power obviously doesn’t count for much at home. “You bet. My kids don’t care about what I do. Not at all. They’re the stars of their own lives.”
But that desire for adventure has needled her from the get-go. “When I was a kid, I used to look up at a plane going overhead and think, ‘I want to be on that plane.’ My father told me I could. He told me I could do anything and I believed him.”
And she did, conquering the world as Xena Warrior Princess, Lucretia in Spartacus, Betty Rizzo in Grease, as a singer in Celebrity Duets and a bazillion other international film and television roles. But for now, home base is Mission Bay where Tapert does all the cooking (“I can’t. I’m a terrible cook.”) and the garden produces much of the food they eat. “I’ve always believed that what you put inside your body is more important than what you put on it.” Also not drinking. We talk a lot about not drinking. For years she didn’t, then when she returned to New Zealand, she did again with a group of friends who drank a lot but she didn’t like the way it looked on her, what it did to her skin, to her mental acuity, so she’s cut back again.
Lucy Lawless turns 50 next year. “Does ageing matter? Oh it matters. On the other hand, I thought I was 50 this year, so I’ve already adjusted,” she leans towards me, laughing at her own daffiness. “I’m the sort of person who doesn’t know what month it is. I just don’t value those kinds of things. But ageing, yeah. One of the pitfalls of living in Hollywood or Florida is that you’re surrounded by women who’ve had too much done and your sense of normal starts shifting. I haven’t had anything done but I would, sure. Plenty of actresses do. You look at photos of them in 1984 and photos now and you realise they’ve aged backwards.”
The public will have the chance to see Lawless aged forwards just a little in the film The Changeover, out this week. She plays a witch with long grey hair, though in truth I can’t detect a single delinquent strand in her brunette bob. I doubt she has any and, even if she did, they wouldn’t stand a chance.
“For women my age it’s easy to go, ‘What the hell, I don’t care,’ but I don’t want to hear that things are inevitable. I’m not going to give it away. My mobility, that’s important so I do yoga, and my liver, I don’t want to trash that. My vanity extends as far as not smoking and drinking very little.” Then she looks away and her face splits into a wicked grin, as if remembering. “But I love it though. Drinking. Oooh yes. Love it.”
Lawless does that a lot. Talks earnestly and then, with her characteristic curled-lip smile, lets slip a secretive, devilish admission. That look, signalling a barely contained sense of mischief, is why her attempt to pass herself off as a homebody isn’t entirely convincing. There’s obviously still a party in there which is why her
“When I was a kid… My father told me I could do anything and I believed him.”