BADASS

Lucy Lawless: No ‘Tits and Ass’ Allowed in ‘Xena’ Revival, and No Trump For President, Please

The Xena star makes her memorable debut in Ash vs. Evil Dead this weekend. She sat down to discuss the 20th anniversary of Xena, climate change, and The Donald.

Matt Klitscher/Starz

Lucy Lawless tears into the madcap world of Bruce Campbell’s new Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead like a one-woman army of darkness.

She descends on her prey during Saturday night’s episode and rips a Deadite (a flesh-incarnated demon) from the ground, demanding answers about Ash (Campbell, in his hammy, signature role). She’s after his Book of the Dead, the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, which he’s accidentally used to unleash hell on earth. Again.

It’s no contest: No demon from hell cuts a more intimidating figure than Lawless, coolly confident in black leather and jeans, armed with that piercing blue gaze.

“She’s driven to destroy [Ash],” Lawless says, sitting in a lush hotel suite hours before New York Comic Con-goers gather for a surprise screening of Ash vs Evil Dead’s raucous first episode. Gracious yet steely-eyed in a loose-fitting dress, her hair molded in soft curls, Lawless looks effortlessly regal. She is, after all, an ex-warrior princess.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Xena: Warrior Princess, the beloved ’90s epic which starred Lawless in the eponymous role as a villain turned hero questing across ancient Greece to redeem herself for past crimes. Over six seasons, Xena (who was first introduced as the leader of a ruthless army in the Kevin Sorbo-starring Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) and her sidekick Gabrielle (played by Renee O’Connor, whom Lawless still calls a “sister”) became symbols of girl power and campy, irreverent humor, still rabidly adored by a vocal fan base.

NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt confirmed this year that a reboot of the Rob Tapert-created series is in the works, though Lawless says it’s too early to tell whether she will be involved.

Still, she would love to see Xena ride again in the name of “honor and integrity in a dirty world.”

The Daily Beast talked to Lawless about her hopes for a Xena revival (no “tits and ass,” for one), Ash vs Evil Dead, her work drawing attention to climate change, and the terror that is Donald Trump, who says climate change is “just weather.”

One thing that surprised me about the Ash vs. Evil Dead pilot is how genuinely scary that first battle against a Deadite is.

Really?

It was for me. Are you totally inured to horror?

Immune. Growing up, I would wag [slang for “ditch”] school to watch Friday the 13th sequels or whatever. Just raised on horror. Plus my dad would tell us vampire stories from an early age because being raised Catholic meant you always had the accoutrements handy to fight a vampire. Crucifix? Check. Garlic? Check. Then we had a silver bullet, just in case a werewolf comes your way. And you can always create a stake by ripping the leg off a chair. We had it down. I was raised on horror, and knew all the tricks for getting around a vampire’s castle.

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That’s the opposite of what being raised Catholic did to me. It made me terrified as a kid of all things supernatural, including horror movies.

I love it. And there’s such scary iconography in the churches. Gothic churches in Europe, they just make you go, “This is so oppressive—and so terrifying. I can’t believe anybody thought it was a good idea to do this to their children.” But it was the 1300s.

This year marked the 20th anniversary of Xena—have you ever been surprised by how passionate fans still are about that show?

Yes and no, because I’ve stayed in touch with the fans. Their fervency doesn’t surprise me, though I suppose now that it’s getting on 20 years, it’s becoming more like, “They’re still there? And the original ones too?” The hardcore ones are still there and there’s lots of new fans if I ever go to a convention. New people are watching it; I don’t know where they’re seeing it. Young people. Now that surprises me. That show’s still got legs.

And you’re on board with the idea of a Xena revival.

I definitely think they should absolutely remake it. The time for female empowerment and self-realization and the triumph of our better instincts over base instincts is not done. Those are universal themes and it was massively successful all over the world and I think the world is still crying out for a hero.

There’s been a strong push for female heroes in particular, since some Hollywood executives still think women-led vehicles are bound to fail.

They told us Xena wouldn’t work. I remember in France, at whatever international sales thing we were at, they were saying, “No, the French will never accept a female!” And it was like, “You’re the country of Joan of Arc! What are you talking about?” And [the show] was massively successful in France, Germany, Turkey, the Philippines, it was unbelievable. And you know, Filipinos run the world. When you go to airports in Dubai or wherever it is that you are, all those big international businesses staffed with Filipinos—they can pick me out. I might be bleary-eyed, got bad hair and I’m sleeping underneath some couch to try and get away from the fluorescent lights in some waiting room, and they will pick me out and they’ll want photographs with me. [Laughs.] There are a million terrible photographs of me and Filipinos. Yeah, Xena was hugely popular.

NBC says the revival is in the works, but the most recent update I’ve read said they would have to see if there is room for you to play a role.

Well, here’s the truth: It’s too early to say whether there will be a role for me and [I have to consider], Is it in my best interest to be used to prop up someone else’s show? I don’t know. What if I don’t believe in the premise or something? It’s too soon to say whether it would be good for me, or the show. Their reason was that I might overshadow—but hakuna matata, what will be will be. I hope they make it and I hope they do it right. It’s like, to me, it’s a really fervent fan base and it would be easy to let them down. So you’ve got to hold true to the basic tenets of the show, which is about honor and integrity in a dirty world, and not just female empowerment but empowerment of the authentic self, and respect. You can’t, for instance, make it about T&A [“tits and ass”] in Xena, that would be a deal-breaker I think for the fans. You can’t do what we did with Spartacus, with Xena. That breaks a basic covenant with the fans.

So god bless them, I hope it goes well. And if I felt it really honored the show and there was a role that interested me, I may well take it—but I would be much more inclined to do a spoof one-off with the original cast. You know with, obviously, Renee O’Connor, Ted Raimi, and Bruce [Campbell]. I would love to do that. It would be hilarious, to do a comedy. That I would jump in with boots on. But a TV series, I don’t know. I couldn’t do another.

A spoof! Is Renee on board with that?

Oh, Renee and I know that we would love to work together. That’s not even a question. It’s like being sisters. We did a lot of growing up in those years together. There’s a lot of trust and respect in our relationship. And love.

You’ve also been active with Greenpeace in the last few years, even being arrested during a protest to stop Arctic drilling.

Well, only in the last four or five years have I been more active in getting the word out about climate change. But I met with the Greenpeace New Zealand people nearly 20 years ago. There was the French state-sponsored terrorism down in New Zealand where French frogmen bombed the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in our local harbor and one man was killed. I got to meet the actual crewmembers, one of whom grew up to be the director of Greenpeace New Zealand. Just really honorable, intelligent, educated, funny people with a lot of heart with great convictions and I happen to agree with them about having to get the word out about climate change and the health of the ocean.

Some of the people running for president here in the U.S. don’t believe in climate change at all.

I don’t believe that’s true anymore though. I think it’s willful ignorance. To pretend that it doesn’t exist is like some of the tobacco lobby back in the ’70s denying that smoking caused cancer. It’s the same nonsense. But we’ve seen huge changes in the oil industry and to achieve positive cash flow they need to have prices over a hundred dollars per barrel, at least. And we’re running it at $40-45 dollars per barrel—I don’t know where it’s at this week, but it’s absolutely unsustainable. Unconventional oils have cost so much. Nobody’s willing to pay that. GDP is going up, our demand for oil is going up all the time, and yet exploration is down. Shell mercifully pulled out of the Arctic. Things like Shell Oil and fracking are masking the state of affairs, but I think the need for innovation is going to hit everybody in a very big way very soon. It already is, just see the ads for solar panels. I’m very encouraged about where it’s going in terms of clean energy.

I heard Donald Trump, who is running for president, on TV the other day saying that climate change is just “weather.”

No, really? They’re still saying that? Oh, come on, America, really? Do you want that guy’s finger on the button? Honestly, it’s a little bit of a circus at the moment. The rest of the world’s looking at America going, “Are you serious? Are you serious?” It will be interesting to see how this all goes. It reminds me—you know what struck me as being very comic was in the days when everybody was poo poo-ing Al Gore for being smart. Like, don’t you want your president to be smarter than you? “No, I want some guy I feel like I can have a beer with.” Wrong! Most of the world wants somebody who is more qualified than your average Joe to run one of the largest, most complex nations on Earth.

“He says what we’re all thinking,” is what his supporters say.

[Laughs.] Yeah, if we’re all idiots. You know, for the people who are nervous about stuff, it’s kind of “hakuna matata” again in a weird way. It’s the cycle of life. And if the cycle where your nation is at collectively is like, “We have a taste for hillbillies and rich guys with a narrow point of view,” it’s gonna come ’round again, but you should definitely want your leaders to have a broader education than we have. I know I want my prime minister to be smarter than me.