The VICE Interview: Lucy Lawless
The actor, activist and feminist icon on being snooped on by oil companies, why young people today are too tame and the allure of the eighties.
Lucy Lawless stars in Pleasuredome The Musical, playing now
This is the VICE Interview. We ask famous and/or interesting people the same set of questions in a bid to peek deep into his or her psyche.
Lucy Lawless is a New Zealand institution, known both for playing feminist icon Xena: Warrior Princess, and for being one in her own right—see, for proof, that time that she scaled an Arctic-bound oil-drilling ship. We submitted Lawless to the VICE Interview as her new show Pleasuredome The Musical opens in Auckland.
What would your parents have preferred you chose as a career?
My father would have wanted me to be president of the Young Nats and an MP for National.
What was your worst phase?
Running outrageously drunk through about seven years of my life, the suburban-drinking phase.
What is your strongest memory from school?
Being really bad at sports, my netball name was 'Un-co' for uncoordinated. I was just always on the social netball team and very happy to be there… I don't have a competitive bone in my body.
Complete this sentence: The problem with young people today is...
They ain't got no respect.
No, I don't really mean it, the problem with young kids today… I find them really square. Like my kids don't even drink or anything, like drinking is part of the older degenerate crowd. I'm not sure how they got that attitude but my kids call me Linda Belcher from Bob's Burgers.
So you want a little bit more degeneracy in younger generations?
No, no they're just so strict about everything.
There are studies that back that up.
Yeah, you can't crow-bar them out of the house. It's so weird. I think we've made it too nice for them. We're too respectful of their individuality, whereas my parents, my generation, you just couldn't wait to get away.
What is the nicest thing you own?
The nicest thing I own is an electric car.
What is the longest you've ever gone without sleep?
I'm gonna say 22 hours. I don't think a day goes by where I don't have a jolly good sleep. I love it: it's my favourite thing.
What in your career are you most proud of?
That I was part of this Xena fandom which became a huge support for people in their own communities. We started the 'Feel the Love Day' where people started doing random acts of kindness in their communities rather than giving to my charity or something I'm involved in. I asked them to go and do something to enrich their own communities and we did amazing things. This Brazilian surgeon went and did cleft palate operations, people worked in prisons, or even just helped the person next door. It was one week where people would go and tell you what they had done this week for somebody else or for their community. They're amazing. Xena fans are truly amazing.
Do you still have much to do with that character at all?
Yes and no. I do very few conventions and things mostly because I'm busy working, but it still exists and I've never run from the legacy of Xena and all of that. I'm really grateful for what it gave me and the work was fun and created this amazing fan base.
If you could chose to exist in any period of time, which would it be?
I'd like to go back to the 80s when we didn't know what asses we were making out of ourselves with climate change and greed and all that stuff—take me back to a time of an explosion of razzle dazzle and beauty and hedonism. I missed out, I was too young to get carried away, I was just a kid and I missed it. That's what we're doing with Pleasuredome, actually taking people back to the 80s so they can watch all the bad behaviour without getting caught up with it too much.
Which conspiracy theory do you believe in?
I do believe the Government is totally watching you and if you're an activist they're literally watching you...they really do; I've been through that.
Can you give me examples?
Statoil, the Norwegian state-owned oil giant, is paying really unscrupulous private eyes to snoop on people like me who work for Greenpeace. I feel like maybe they're just trying to catch you out doing something you shouldn't be doing so they can blackmail you. What practical reason could they ever have to be photographing me and following me in my car?
So, a hypothetical question. Say you're having a conversation with a family friend or a family member and it's Christmas or whatever and they say something racist, how do you react?
Give nothing to racism, you don't laugh, you do what Taika Waititi's done, part of that movement with the Human Rights Commission, you just let the mood in the room fly, and then they're left with this feeling, like, oh shit, nobody's enjoying me being here.
Suffer in silence, sort of?
I think it works, it just works, they don't feel attacked, they feel like they're out of step with their community.
Have you ever been truly overcome by fear?
I was doing that action climbing up on that oil rig—I never dreamed I'd get up there. I just thought the police would infiltrate the whole plan and we'd never even get on the boat but we did and you had to keep climbing up all these ladders right to get to the top of the oil rig. We were dressed like dock workers and it was ridiculous because one of the activists had these big tower dreadlocks with a hard hat on top. She looked like Marge Simpson. Man, it was hilarious. We climbed up this thing and I got to the top like I hadn't been breathing the whole way because I was so stressed—that was a pretty scary thing.
The first time you go on something like Jay Leno, you're like 'I can either run the hell away and people will never speak to me again, or I can go out there and be huge.' Those are your choices.
Have you ever done anything you truly regret?
Firing somebody because I didn't understand the mental state they were in. I really regret that. They were working in my house and they were such a downer, that I said, 'Sorry, this no good.' You can understand that right? But now I would handle things so differently. I'd get them the help they needed. I wouldn't throw them out."
How many people have been in love with you?
Oh look, millions. I don't know, two?
Would you rather change one day from your past or see one day from your future?
I don't want to see the future. That'd be horrible. I'd change one day from the past.
Just to bring the tone down as we finish: how do you think you will die?
I always imagined just tumbling out of an old wicker wheelchair, just tumbling out of it into the garden and there'd be bees and I'd be lying at grass level. It'd be warm and lovely and I'd just float out like that. And then they can just pile a heap of dirt on me. I don't want any markers, I don't want any real estate, just bloody put me in a compost and let me go.
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