Lucy Lawless on swinging from ''Xena'' to ''Tarzan.'' The former ''Warrior Princess'' star says she's happy to put down her sword to watch over Travis Fimmel on the WB's new series

By Liane Bonin
October 03, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
Travis Fimmel and Lucy Lawless: Timothy White/Bruce Macaulay

The second-season DVD of ”Xena: Warrior Princess” hit stores in September, but Lucy Lawless isn’t strapping on her leather breastplate for a reunion of the syndicated series. Instead the New Zealand-based actress has signed on to a different action series, the WB’s ”Tarzan” (premieres Sunday, Oct. 5 at 9 p.m.) — but as the Lord of the Apes’ refined aunt Kathleen, introduced in episode 2, she’s leaving the grunt work to star Travis Fimmel. talked to Lawless, 35, about why she’s happy to pass the sword (for now), her plans for a new TV series, and all those reunion rumors.

Now that you’re on ”Tarzan,” tell us: Could Xena whip Monkeyboy’s butt or what?
I’m gonna have to go with Xena there, but don’t tell Travis I said that or he might hit me. Xena has her dirty tricks and a lot more experience. I think he’d just be standing there like a monkey scratching his butt and Xena would be kicking it all over the place.

As Tarzan’s high-class, newspaper-publisher aunt, you don’t get to kick much of anyone’s butt. Do you pine for an action scene?
I love that I just mince around and look good now. Some of the girls on set were saying, Oh, it must be hard going from having a really action-oriented character to doing what you’re doing now! And I said, Are you kidding? This is the greatest thing in my life! I get to wear modern, really gorgeous clothing and it’s so civilized I can’t believe my luck. I just sit in the limo and go ”tee-hee-hee”!

So what was it like to return to your natural light-brown hair color and lose the ”Xena” bangs?
All the crew here on ”Tarzan” were really excited that the woman who played Xena was going to be on the show, and they kept looking for me. They didn’t realize I’d been there for three days and that they just didn’t recognize me. I don’t look the same, and I always have to go through that conversation of ”I can’t believe you played Xena!” I don’t mind the average person on the street saying it — they’re just being sweet — but people in the industry know actors don’t look like their characters, don’t they?

Other than some ”X-Files” episodes and a cameo in ”Spiderman,” we haven’t seen much of you since ”Xena” went off the air (in 2001). Where have you been?
I had another baby [with husband and ”Xena” producer Robert G. Tapert], and that took quite some time. I’ve got three kids now, so to live in New Zealand and spend as much time with them as possible has been invaluable. I probably should have been capitalizing on ”Xena” [Lawless recently sued Universal Studios for breach of contract, claiming the company owes her 5 percent of ”Xena”’s gross receipts], and making strategic moves for the future of my career — but sometimes you’ve just got to choose life. I highly recommend it.

Speaking of strategic moves… Any details on your future with the WB?
Initially I was asked to come in and read for the part [on ”Tarzan”]…and that led to a couple more meetings and a development deal. I’m trying to find a project to do with them, because they’re young and hip and smart. Whatever it is, it will always have comic elements, though it won’t be an all-out comedy. I’ll produce and star, but you’ll have to get back to me in a couple of months.

In the meantime, you’ve worked on the commentary to the ”Xena” season 2 and 3 DVDs (season 3 will be released Jan. 4). Stir up any fond memories?
Watching the DVDs was so charming. I don’t generally like to watch myself, but I was amazed at how well they stood up, especially the comedies. I got to do the commentary with Renee O’Connor [”Xena” sidekick Gabrielle] and Bob [Tapert], and it was lovely to see Renee. We’re like sisters, in that even if we don’t talk all the time, we’re very close. But looking back, I have to say the second-season episode ”Warrior… Princess… Tramp” was one of the highlights of my life. I got to play two characters, and one of them, Meg, represents a certain side of my personality that keeps popping out. She has a heart of gold, really, but she can’t keep herself out of trouble.

Since you’re feeling a little nostalgic, are you warming up to the idea of a reunion?
There’s always a lot of chatter about that, but I think it’s just too soon. And possibly by the time it does come along, they’ll want somebody else to play Xena because I’ll be 60 years old or whatever. But I’ll play Xena’s grandmother.