With just over a month to go until Starz premieres their highly anticipated original series, Ash vs The Evil Dead, starring Bruce Campbell, week two of my Spotlight Series for Moviepilot.com will focus on the extravagant and multifarious career of New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless. Read on to see how she went from battling the forces of evil on Xena to battling the forces of the undead on the new Starz comedy.
Born Lucille Francis Ryan on March 29, 1968, Lucy Lawless has had a career unlike that of any other man or woman living today. Her first foray into the world of TV came with a series called Funny Business. The series, like that of Saturday Night Live, was a sketch series with which she spent two and a half seasons until the show's cancellation.
Her first exposure to American audiences was with the 1994 made-for-TV movie, Hercules and The Amazon Women which served as a pilot episode for Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. On the show's first episode she played a man-hating Amazonian woman named Lysia. Her big breakthrough would come through on the same series when she was recast as a villainous warrior named, Xena for an episode titled "Warrior Princess." To make sure audiences did not confuse the two characters, Lawless's hair was dyed jet black to cover up her natural blonde she'd used during her time as Lysia. The Hercules series would welcome back Lawless for another two episodes in Season 1, showing the transition from villainess, to good-hearted heroine.
And then it Happened: The Spin-off that Changed Everything
Right alongside Buffy Summers, The Halliwell sisters, and Sabrina the teenage witch, television of the nineties said "hello" to another feminist icon with Xena: Warrior Princess. Positive fan reception of the character on the original series prompted the writers to create this spin-off specifically for Lawless. The show became a massive hit locally, and internationally, showcasing the adventures of the titular character, and her ambitious traveling companion, Gabrielle, played by Renee O'Connor. The show would go on to soar past its parent series in the ratings for the first season, and become the highest rated drama on television during the show's sophomore year.
Xena ran for six seasons, coming to an end in June 2001 with a heartbreaking two-part finale. And fourteen years since the show's cancellation, it has lived on in the hearts and minds of its dedicated fan base with comic books, Xena Cons, video games, fan fiction, parodies, and even academia. Many successful series that have run since Xena ended have credited the show's direction as a major influence in their own.
The influence is felt even stronger within the LGBTQIA community, who have seen Xena and Gabrielle as not only companions but as lovers. The writers of the show have left that possibility open, often answering the question in the vaguest of answers. Lucy Lawless, on the other hand, has come out in full support of the fan theory, stating she believes they were much more than traveling companions or lady friends who occasionally fooled around with one another. In her words:
"Nope, they were married man."
The Story Lives On!
Finally realizing just how much the fans of the show would like to see the character return, NBC announced in August 2015 that a reboot of the series is currently in development, although the participation of the show's original stars is still up in the air. Lucy Lawless herself has insisted she's perfectly fine having no part in the reboot, only that she's glad the TV networks are finally listening to the pleas of the fans.
From Ancient Greece to Post-Apocalyptic Galactic Warfare
After taking some much needed time off from acting, in 2005 Lawless landed the role of Fleet News Service reporter, D'anna Biers, for the Syfy Original series/remake Battlestar Galactica. The show itself, and particularly Lawless's arc, are worth a watch so I'll save the readers the spoiler. All I'll say is that in the series people are never who they appear to be, especially beautiful women.
From Galactica, Lawless would compete on the FOX reality show, Celebrity Duets, where she took second place to Alfonso Ribeiro. From there, she would make mainly guest appearances in shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, CSI: Miami, The L Word, and Flight of the Conchords. She also had a prominent supporting role in Adam Sandler's Bedtime Stories.
Return to the Genre, But Swapping Hero for Villain
Lucy Lawless co-starred in the Starz Original Series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand alongside veteran film actor, John Hannah. The pair portrayed the depraved, power-hungry, malicious couple who came to own the titular soldier turned Gladiator Champion turned revolutionary leader. The series marked Lawless' return to a starring role on a television series since Xena's 2001 conclusion. The show also featured Lawless going nude for the first time on screen. Due to popular demand of both fans and Starz executives, the character was brought back for the prequel series, Gods of the Arena, and the sequel series, Spartacus: Vengeance. In 2011, the show helped Lucy Lawless win the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress in a TV series.
A Wife from Pawnee, Indiana to...
A fan and actress wish come true, Lucy Lawless landed a guest-starring role on the NBC smash, Parks and Recreation. On the show, she starred as love interest and eventual wife of Nick Offerman's character, Ron Swanson. Her role on the show was critically acclaimed and beloved by fans, who were a tad bit upset when she didn't manage to show up in the series final season. She would prove to be a match for Ron in both vigor and dry humor, often pranking him to the point where he could only find room to love her more.
....an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D and on to....
Lawless's time on the Marvel/ABC series was short, being killed off in the same episode in which she premiered, however, the network and show creators have stated that her death is in no way the ultimate end of Isabelle Hartley.
....a Wicked Witch of Salem
IGN America's Salem was in a bit of a slump following the lackluster first season. But boy did that change with the introduction of Season 2's (subtitled 'Witch War') big bad Countess Palatine Ingrid Von Marburg. The sophomore effort of Salem was widely considered to be one of the best shows on television during the 2014-2015 season. This was in no small part due to the addition of Lucy Lawless. She brought so much energy and conflict to the show that really just wasn't there during the first season. The second season brought the series way up in the ratings and helped it secure a renewal for the highly anticipated season three.
And Finally, Buckets of Blood and Lots of Laughs
For her third collaboration with husband, Robert Tapert, Lucy Lawless joined the cast of Starz sequel series to The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness franchise. Bruce Campbell also stars, reprising his iconic role from the film series, Ash. Lawless stated that she joined the series for the laughs, not the action, most likely referring to her dislike of action scenes early on in her career with Hercules and Xena. In the new Starz comedy, she stars as Ruby, a woman who believes Ash is responsible for the zombie outbreak and seeks to hunt him down, hopefully bringing an end the horrible onslaught of the crazed deadites.
Ash vs. The Evil Dead premieres on October 31, 2015. That's right, best Halloween ever.
Her admirable dedication to her fans and her incomparable range as an actress will propel Lucy Lawless to even more phenomenal success in the future. Her life as a mother, and a Greenpeace activist have shown that Lucy Lawless can pretty much do it all.
And that is why Lucy Lawless is my pick for Spotlight of the week.