Now in her third season playing Xena, the 5'11" Lawless is still trying to understand the phenomenon. "I wasn't in need of a female role model," says the daughter of a former mayor and a homemaker, "so it really shocked me that people were looking for me to be one for them." Although she took time to do a turn on Broadway as Rizzo in Grease!, Lawless is happily committed to playing the mythological gladiatrix until 2000. For one thing, Xena is filmed just a short ride from the Auckland home that she shares on weekends with Daisy, 9, her daughter by ex-husband, bar manager Garth Lawless. (He takes care of Daisy on weekdays.) For another, Lawless plans to marry the show's executive producer, Rob Tapert, 42, next year.
"Lucy has a natural intelligence and wit," says Tapert. "That creates an element of intrigue." Maybe, but sometimes fame's a drag. "I can be 'on' for about two hours," says Lawless, "then I have to do something real—like clean the grouting."
AMERICA LOVES LUCY—Lawless, that is. With a high-pitched yelp and flashing broadsword, she has taken the country hostage. Xena: Warrior Princess, the nation's most-watched syndicated drama series, enthralls some 6 million viewers a week, and the 29-year-old New Zealander in the formidable leather minidress is a cutting-edge female icon. Week after week the warrior princess beats the Stuffing out of thugs to protect the defenseless, a proactive stance that has struck a fractious nerve. Teenage girls delight in Xena's powers, and a gay cult following applauds her purposely vague relationship with sidekick Gabrielle. Even serious-minded Ms. magazine crowed, "Many feminists have been dreaming of mass-culture moments like this since feminism came into being."