I grew up watching Xena: Warrior Princess. Not deliberately, at first. It was always on in the afternoon, and I would channel-surf while my favorite cartoons were on commercial. Eventually I began to watch Xena and switch only when it went to commercial. As to why that is, I can only blame the sheer coolness of Xena herself, whose sword-wielding skills and sheer badassery came just at the right time: girl power was becoming a thing, and the word “slay” had yet to have a sigil.
Fast forward to more than a decade later, and another show turned me into a fervent disciple: Parks and Recreation. One of the recurring characters is Diane Lewis, a vice principal and single mom who had the surly Ron Swanson wrapped around her finger. Then I realized, Oh my god, it’s Lucy Lawless aka Xena aka the coolest person ever. And now I hear she’s slaying even more baddies as Ruby Knowby in the new series Ash vs. Evil Dead, and that I’m going to get to talk to her about it. (Cue: Single White Female soundtrack.)
Through a brief chat over the phone, with Lucy all the way in the States and me in my pajamas (just… don’t tell her that, lest I seem like a dork), we talk about her new show, horror movies, and if Ron and Xena could ever have a shot at love, Tila Tequila-style.
YOUNG STAR: Hi, Lucy! I’d like to ask you about your newest project first, Ash vs. Evil Dead. What made you go onboard for the series?
LUCY LAWLESS: Oh, it’s big stupid fun. Ash (Bruce Campbell from the Evil Dead movies) is now a 50-something-year-old man. He’s still a doofus, he’s a little bit racist, he’s a misogynist, and he’s gotta save the world. It’s kind of funny to have the actress formerly known as Xena hunting him down, I guess. (Laughs)
Have you always been into the horror genre as a viewer?
Well, as a matter of fact I was raised on horror. I grew up Catholic, so my father would always tell us vampire stories. And I watched all the movies late at night. And we’d always have crucifixes nearby, know what I mean? (Laughs) And then there’s garlic… you’ve got all you need to fight vampires. I think it really plays right into that Catholic ethos. So yes, I did grow up with horror, lots of it. But now, I’m done being scared! The world is scary enough. But the nice thing about Ash vs. Evil Dead is that it’s funny. The horror is real, but the humor is just hilarious.
Is that why you think the franchise has endured for so long, that sort of ridiculous humor it’s always had?
I think it’s something about Ash, though. He’s of average intelligence, you know, and he’s a bit racist and he’s a misogynist. But then he kind of rises to the occasion, and maybe there’s something in the average person that loves seeing an average guy go save the world. Ash and Bruce (Campbell’s) fans just worship him. They’re like, “Bruce, help me! How do I get a woman?” And he’s like, “Read my book. Learn the Bruce Campbell way!” And they just adore him, it doesn’t matter what you say.
I also wanna talk about your character Ruby, and how she has a very singleminded, almost myopic, determination to take down Ash. The grudgiest of grudges. Was that something you could understand about her, or did you have to internalize a very different mindset?
Oh, I liked that. Well, there’s a reason behind it because her father — her entire family — was eviscerated by Ash. And now she’s absolutely gonna pummel him into the ground. So it makes sense to me. I think she’s an entirely reasonable human being. The world must be eradicated of demons and also Ash. But I guess he can’t die, because then it would be called Ruby vs. Evil Dead. (Laughs)
Do you think she could ever take down Ash?
Hell, yeah. Hell, yeah! If she had her own way, she would take him out at the first opportunity.
Another iconic female fighter you’ve played, of course, is Xena. I understand that one of the reasons Xena became quite popular is because it pioneered a new age of female action heroes at the time (well before Buffy the Slayer). Was there a female heroine/action figure that inspired you for the role?
Actually, I played it like a man. I have five brothers, and I didn’t really realize that I was a girl, that I was different, until I was eight. Also, I come from a very… not only egalitarian society but also a very egalitarian family. So it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do anything that boys did. So playing Xena was entirely natural. In fact, I had to learn how to be feminine. Took me, like, 40 years. (Laughs)
One of my favorite roles you’ve ever done is Diane on Parks and Recreation. I loved how no-nonsense she is while still being funny. Was the character already sketched out for you, or did it involve a bit of improv?
Hmm… The character was not sketched out. You’re given the role and you have to make something of it, and I found that quite a difficult process, to be honest. Especially if you’re worshipful of a production, it’s very difficult to come into it and take charge, you know? It would be much easier if you didn’t care for it much, but I’m really such a fan of the show. And also, the people, as good as you hope they are — we actors are often walking disappointments — but Amy Poehler’s gang is as fabulous in real life as you imagined they would be. And Nick Offerman (who plays Ron Swanson) really giggles and is just as charming and is the opposite of what he is onscreen.
Do you think Ron Swanson and Xena would ever get along as a married couple?
Oh, that’s a good question. Not Xena, maybe Ruby. They would have a really hot but passionate and not-all-that peaceful relationship.
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