Lucy Lawless has been at the center of a whirlwind of promotional activity trying to make everyone aware that her provocative new series “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” premieres Friday on Starz.
The former “Xena: Warrior Princess” star was in Pasadena at the Television Critics Association winter press tour Saturday, where she chatted a bit with Fancast.com. She then called a few days later for follow-up from New York City where she is doing a flurry of television appearances and radio, print and online interviews.
“I’m doing everything,” she said from New York Tuesday. “I’m really thrilled that we can give this show this big launch. I feel like, ‘Oh thank God!’ Let’s put it out there and into the hands of the people and let’s see how excited we can get them. I think it really can deliver.”
“Spartacus,” produced by Sam Raimi and Lawless’s husband Rob Tapert, is already riding a wave of buzz because it is filmed in New Zealand almost entirely in CGI and features large doses of bloody violence, nudity and graphic sex.
“If you take away all the blood and sex, the special effects, you still got a rockin’ yarn,” the actress says. “They’re great stories and very gracefully told. I knew that this was going to be a new force in television just like “Hercules” and “Xena” which brought Hong Kong action to television. This will do the same thing. It’s edgy and intense.
For the 41-year-old Lawless, the role of Lucretia is a real acting feast.
“The role is just a knockout,” she says. “My character is the ultimate manipulator and her ambition knows no bounds. She’s full of contradictions. She loves her husband more than life itself, she’d go to the ends of the earth to please him even to the point of sleeping with a gladiator to try and provide my husband with a son.”
Lucretia is the manipulative owner of a gladiator camp along with her husband, Batiatus (John Hannah) and is equal to her spouse in cunning. Among the gladiators they own is Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) who they hope will help them out of hard times by restoring them to their previous lofty status in the world of gladiator contests. Still, she thinks of Spartacus as an uncontrollable beast and fumes when her husband does things like play chess with him.
“Every character fears annihilation at any moment and that’s how it was in ancient Rome, it was not a kind society,” Lawless explains. “They couldn’t dumb themselves down with television, they were out scratching and clawing for some kind of security or safety. …it just makes everything have really high stakes. What happens with the characters is everyone needs one another desperately and fears one another. Everything that makes for a really edgy scene. If you need something that you fear, then you are drawn to it.”
Lawless, who most recently appeared in a recurring role on Sci-Fi Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica,” had to get used to doing some of the show’s scenes involving sex and nudity including one where Lucretia and Batiatus are casually being sexually serviced by their slaves while they are having a conversation with one another.
“I’m allergic to boredom and I want to do things that are kind of edgy,” she says. “I like to scare myself or play something I haven’t played before.”
Lawless is forever grateful to Starz for greenlighting the series: “Everyone else wants a companion piece to fit into what they already have and have decisions by committee and that doesn’t really work when you have something this hardcore. You’ve got to have someone with a singular vision.”
The 13-episode series has already been renewed for a second season even though it has yet to make its television premiere. Is the actress hoping for as long a run as she had on “Xena” which lasted six seasons?
“I say good luck with that these days but I hope so,” she says. “We’ve seen really tremendously good series go out in two or three years. “Deadwood” broke my heart that it vanished in three.”
Lawless darkened her naturally blond hair to play Lucretia and resembles her former Xena self now. It makes a big difference when she leaves the house.
“For eight years I was blond or had red hair and the minute I dye it back, all of a sudden, bam!” she says. “I had gotten used to being unrecognized. I realize that it’s currency. There are roles where you will vanish into a character but out in the world, being recognizable is currency.”
It’s also just plain nice most of the time.
“I always get a great reaction,” she says. “I think it’s because [fans] don’t know too much about me, even though I played a character that was kind of iconic. I really have a tremendous fan base and they’re smart. God bless them.”
Season two of “Spartacus” is scheduled to begin shooting in her native New Zealand – where “Xena was also shot – in April making it easier for the mother of three to juggle parenthood with the demands of her profession.
“I have spent most of my time in the last seven years being a very hands-on mother,” she says. “Even though people think I’ve been working a lot, I don’t feel that i have at all. I feel like my kids are pretty darn solid and happy and healthy. We’ve got bees and we’re getting chickens and a truckload of animals, not as many as we had in the states. My house is full of kids at all times and kids and people and animals and god knows what. I don’t have any time to spare., It’s a full life. There’s also six siblings and parents. My life is very rich.”
But Lawless, who is an experienced singer sho has appeared on Broadway in ‘Grease,’ would make the time to do a guest spot on say, Fox’s “Glee,” should someone ask her: “Everybody wants to do Glee! I’d love to give Jane Lynch a run for her money. (laughs). Love that woman. I love all of them. Matthew Morrison is actually a friend of mine. What a magnificent cast and show. Joyful.”
Fancast hosts a live chat with Lawless on Thursday at 2 pm et/11 am pt.