Lucy Lawless: Queen of Camp, Reluctant Feminist Role Model

"Give it heaps, everybody," called director Garth Maxwell in late August on the Auckland set of the 100th episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess." The star of the series gave a yodel: "Yoo-hoo! We're shooting."

That's Lucy, said Renee O'Connor, who plays best friend Gabrielle to Lucy Lawless' Xena. "Lucy's very down-to-earth for the lead of a TV show. She's juggling how to be a mom, a feminist icon and just a good Kiwi all at the same time."

The bad guys come over a hill and spot Xena: "Look here, boys, first catch of the day." Xena shifts into warrior mode and says, "Am I getting too old for this?" She tosses her head, sneering, "Nah."

Clearly, the star isn't. Even at eight months pregnant with her second child, Lawless seemed indefatigable during a cold day of shooting, setting and resetting jumps and landings for cuts to her stunt double. Now that Renaissance Pictures has produced the magical 100 episodes needed for strip syndication, however, the end of "Xena" is in sight.

"Another year would be a natural life span," Lawless said. "We were shocking at one time, but we're not cutting-edge anymore. I love going to work, but I've always appreciated that it's finite. I feel OK about that."

What has always been more difficult to accept is her elevated status as a feminist icon thanks to the enormous success of the series. "Xena" is seen in more than 115 countries and airs on about 200 stations in the U.S., all the major and most smaller markets. At least 100 Web sites on the Internet are devoted to the fearless mythic heroine.

"This whole role-model thing has been an accident," Lawless said. "I just try to do the script. It's the reality versus the ideal. We are promoting the ideal of women, or at least the new ideal."

Funny thing for a show about two women as capable and courageous as any man that only four of its 100 episodes have been directed by women. Co-executive producer Eric Gruendemann blames "the bad percentage" on the scant number of women with experience directing both action and visual effects.

"We feel bad about it," he said, "but we're not guilty because we've tried."

Camp counts, social context doesn't. It had never occurred to Lawless that this season she's been portraying an unwed mother. What's important, says most everyone associated with the series, is that people have fun and take a fantasy ride on the show.

"It will hurt people's feelings if they know that no one takes Xena less seriously than me," Lawless said. "I love her and love the show and it's given me wonderful things, but I can't handle the intensity of thinking I'm responsible for 25 million people's sense of self."

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