Whatever happened to the actress who played Xena?
If you’ve watched even just one episode of the quirky cult-adventure series Xena: Warrior Princess, then there’s a strong likelihood that you became immediately and irrevocably obsessed with the charismatic star of the show, Lucy Lawless.
So much so that you may have found yourself wondering, probably out loud and at inappropriate moments, whatever happened to the actress who played Xena? Well, as it happens, a lot happened to her. And all of it is good. Though a long-speculated Xena: Warrior Princess reboot was scrapped at NBC in 2017, there’s every chance that Lawless could possibly someday return to the role.
But why wait for a whole new Xena fix when there are plenty of Lucy Lawless’ other projects to catch up on and enjoy? You’ve probably seen her in something over the years, even if you didn’t make the connection. Here’s all the great stuff that’s happened for the Xena star since the end of her iconic, breakout ’90s role.
Having forged her career as one of the greatest cult icons of our time, Lawless has managed to maintain that status by briefly appearing in dozens of beloved productions. In 2006, for example, she starred as an FBI agent attempting to extract some sensitive information from Neptune’s savviest teenage detective in Veronica Mars, and a year later she enjoyed a guest appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm as a version of herself stuck on an excruciatingly bad date with Larry David.
Lawless has enjoyed a number of unexpected guest appearances, which have included comedies like Flight of the Conchords and Two and a Half Men, dramas like Top of the Lake and Burn Notice, animations like Adventure Time and The Simpsons, and comic book adaptations like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Justice League: The New Frontier, in which she very appropriately provided the voice of Wonder Woman.
For years, many diehard fans of Xena have maintained that the rumored romance between Xena and Gabrielle amounted to more than just innuendo and queer subtext. And in 2003, Lawless was happy to confirm that the two were “definitely … gay” and said “it wasn’t just that Xena was bisexual and kinda like her gal pal and they kind of fooled around sometimes, it was ‘Nope, they’re married, man.'”
As well as enjoying a two-episode guest appearance in the groundbreaking LGBT drama The L Word in 2009, Lawless has attended various LGBT celebrations and events in proud public support of the community. In 2017, she even received the Ally of the Year Award at the 2017 Australian LGBTI Awards and in 2018 attended the inaugural New Zealand LGBTI Awards Ceremony as their proud ambassador.
While speaking about the influence Xena had in providing visibility and encouragement to the lesbian community, Lawless describes the LGBT community as being “a force for good” that she’s “immensely grateful for.” Lawless said, “Nobody else outside of our world is going to understand or appreciate that but I know and they know that that was a profound experience for all of us.”
Anyone with a fond memory of the (frankly groundbreaking) musical episodes of Xena will already be aware that Lawless is kind of an amazing singer. What you may not be aware of is just how much Lawless loves being a musician. In 2009, the actor (who has a background in musical theater) was a contestant on the Australian singing competition Celebrity Duets, where she sang opposite such musical legends as Dionne Warwick and Bonnie Tyler. She lost out on winning the competition to Alfonso Ribeiro from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
More recently, however, Lawless has returned to her musical theater roots by leading a timely show called Pleasuredome: The Musical back in her homestead of New Zealand. Billed as being a “dirty urban musical” with a queer love story at its core, the camp ’80s-set musical is produced by her husband and focuses on a female business owner (Lawless) standing up against a bigoted businessman. Lawless told the NZ Herald this “big gay musical” feels more timely than ever, since the LGBT community is “under threat like it hasn’t been since the ’70s.”
It’s clear from Lawless’ career that the actor has a real talent for comedy and a genuine love for camp. And both of those things would have put her in great stead in 2007 when she was cast as Tanya Austin in the short-lived TV show Football Wives. Intended to be a US adaptation of the trashy British hit dramedy Footballers’ Wives, the ABC show would have seen Lawless starring opposite a stellar cast of trash TV stalwarts including James Van Der Beek and Gabrielle Union. Sadly, the show was canceled before it even had a chance to get going, resulting in a standalone TV movie pulled from the show’s pilot episode.
The show was a notorious disaster, with Lawless admitting Football Wives “needed to be spoofier and really trashy,” just like the British source material was. As TV Guide puts it, the show really toned down Lawless’ character, who in the British version was a “bitch-slapping, coke-snorting, hypersexed hubby killer.” Lawless agreed: “They were never going to put all that stuff in the American version. Disney owns ABC. If you’re going to take all the bad behavior out of it, then you don’t have a show … Football Wives taught me there is no such thing as a sure thing.” What a waste!
Though Lawless has enjoyed a diverse career since leaving Xena, it’s also easy to see that the actor may have been typecast in a very specific type of role: as a strong, ferocious woman in period pieces. The actor has returned to such depictions time and again in productions like Salem and Spartacus. She’s clearly proud of these roles, but according to a conversation with Interview Magazine, these “tough woman” characters aren’t the ones that interest her the most.
Crucially, Lawless is interested in seeking out characters who allow her to reflect on her own life and identity, and from the sounds of it, much of that has little to do with being a warrior princess: “As an artist, you want to be able to explore facets of yourself. The roles that I’m proudest of … are the ones where I get to be a stain on the wall … I like to play women who are not strong at all, because there’s certainly plenty of myself that is no kind of a warrior.”
Possessing the nerd-cred that she does, it made sense when Lawless joined the cast of the Battlestar Galactica reboot in 2005. Arriving in the eighth episode of Season 2, Lawless depicts D’Anna Biers, a trashy tabloid reporter for the Fleet News Service who is filming a warts-and-all report about the Galactica. The episode is disarmingly fun and lighthearted, but it comes with a bombshell revelation at the end of it that has been called Lawless’ “most spectacular and unexpected moment of television ever” (spoilers!): D’Anna is actually Cylon Number Three. Boom!
Considering Lawless’ love for philosophy, it’s unsurprising that “the religious aspect” of some of the deeper themes of Battlestar Galactica are what drew the actor to the show. She saw D’Anna as a character “consumed” by “the nature of the philosophy of God,” Lawless told Galactica.tv, and she loved the character’s complex, questioning spirit. “She was a zealot, she was an outlaw, she was a betrayer and yet she saw herself as a great patriot in a way.”
By far one of Lawless’ most beloved roles since leaving Xena has to be as Diane Lewis in Parks and Recreation, the single mother with whom Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson falls madly in love -– and eventually marries. A self-confessed Parks & Rec superfan, the role was a huge win for Lawless, who once gushed that “Ron Swanson is sexy” (a relatable statement to anyone who appreciates the potent combination of a mustachioed man with a great love of breakfast foods and whiskey).
Lawless only appeared in ten episodes of the widely adored comedy between 2012 and 2014, but her character was pivotal in taking Swanson out of his comfort zone. Diane transformed Ron from a surly bachelor into a surly husband and father, giving the character “something he’s never had before … a real grownup relationship.”
On top of confessing that Diane is the character most closest to her own personality of anyone she’s ever played, Lawless has also copped to being a “P-and-R aficionado” who’d seen every episode of the show prior to stepping foot on set -– to the point that she was able to correct Offerman about P&R continuity during filming. Lawless told IGN, “Nick said something [about Duke Silver] … and I knew it wasn’t right.”