It’s turned out to be hard not to love a scheming, unfaithful, bisexual, sexually manipulative Roman noblewoman – at least, the way Lucy Lawless plays “Spartacus’” Lucretia.
As the Starz series begins its second season – now titled “Spartacus: Vengeance” – Lawless joins PopcornBiz for a lengthy chat about sinking her acting claws into conflicted schemer, enjoying her third series that boasts a legion of deeply devoted fans, and yes, those boundary-busting sex scenes.
You just keep finding these shows that attract such passionate fan bases.
They find me. I mean, well, two of them were given to me by my husband. But I don't know – They find me.
How much is strategy and how much is luck?
Not strategy. I don't know how much luck there is either in having your husband, you know. Well, he didn't write the role for me. He awarded me with it, but they could easily have nixed it. So I've never had a strategy. I've always just floated on. I would say that I'm like a cow grazing on the side of the road. 'Oh, this looks good. I'll do that.' And strangely enough, it works out just as well as being somebody who goes gunning for things, spends a lot of energy chasing things up. I'm just not that kind of person – and I have often chided myself for not being, but it seems to work out okay.
As you "floated" into this role, and it keeps going on, what is really captivating you about being Lucretia as the character evolves?
It's the chance to bring humanity to what could easily be a villainess role. And I want to make it understandable. I want to at least make you understand her. Maybe love her, but relate to her. And that's such a pleasure for now. Just to inhabit the role: this is who I would be if I had these words to say and if I was in this situation. You have to make it as if that is you. Usually I sort of cogitate on what would make me say these things, but I generally only do research if something specific is required that I've never been exposed to – like, in this case, madness at the beginning of season two. But I'm not sure that that helped me, to be honest with you. Because sometimes real madness doesn’t help with the process of shooting madness.
Tell me what you can tease about the upcoming season.
I will say that through many trials and tribulations, Lucretia gets everything she ever wanted. Or no, let me say that again: Through trials and tribulations, all Lucretia's dreams come true.
Is that ultimately always a good thing for her?
Well, that's very subjective isn't it? I don't know. But as an actress it's a very good thing, because the cause of true love or good luck in our show never runs smooth. So it's been a very textured ride, meaning that I've gone to some really dark places sort of beyond my own personal experience. So I thank them for that, a role that has been that demanding.
How about just plain fun? When you first saw something on the pageant thought "Oh, I've never gotten to do that before. That's going to be incredible. That's going to be a great day of filmmaking?"
Well, I have a very perverse sense of humor so usually the most terrible stuff is what makes me laugh the most. So there were quite a few laughs this season, I must say. And sometimes it's a very rueful laughter because, like I said, I went to the heart of darkness in season two. But in the end, for Lucretia, it all turns out worth it.
How much does it dominate your mind that you never know when you're going to have to drop the robes for one of the show’s signature sex scenes?
Not too much. See, when you're the cow on the side of the road you just go along and you deal with problems as they crop up. So there's not too much anticipation. Though I have always known Lucretia's arcs because in this show you're future arc is very important to the way that you're playing thing. And I guarantee that by the time you see the last episode you're going to say, "Oh, my God." And you're going to go back and watch the whole thing again with new eyes.
Tell me about any of the behind the scenes challenges of completing this season?
There weren't any. This was very kopasetic, I must say. At least in my role where I got to work very closely with Nick Tarabay, who plays Ashur. He's absolutely genius. So it was wonderful to work with an actor who will feed off you. And will take one another to new heights. And he's one of those. Also, Lucretia enters into a sexual relationship with someone. And that's going to be a tricky one to ride out.
You also have been involved in several shows that have unusually passionate fan bases. What's that experience been like to go, not just from one show like ‘Xena’ where everybody saw you as that character and adored you as a character, but to go through a few now?
You know, it's amazing. I was just at the Consumer Electronics Show. I went to this meeting of Washington and technology sector –so they're all Washington technology lobbyists – and the leaders of Best Buy and Amazon and you name it were all in this room. And when people figured out who I was – because I don't look like my characters necessarily – I had a lot of people come up and ask for photographs and I would say, 'So what do you know me from? Where does this love come from?' And they will say whether it is 'Xena', 'Battlestar', or 'Spartacus,' so it's interesting that those three have very different appeal. And some people like both but very often they fit into one or the other. And they're really, really zealous. And I love that. It's like I'm not just cannibalizing the same fan base but actually growing it. So I know with women Xena was heavily female skewed. 'Battlestar', heavily male skewed, and young men. And 'Spartacus' is a much broader thing and also male skewed [Sounds like: a ton]. So I've got this wonderful panopoly of fans now from all different walks of life.
Among the famous people you've encountered who has been the most surprising fan of your work? Somebody who you admire and they came up and said, 'I love "Xena"' or 'I love "Galactica"'?
Rupert Everett was one, because I was so madly in love with him when I saw 'Another Country' way back when I was a teenager, and he just blew my mind. Who else? Oh, Madeleine Albright. That was a surprise. I've never met her, but apparently she was called 'Xena' around the office.
What does the average 'Spartacus' fan want to know when they get a chance to ask you about the show? And what do you tell them?
They just talk at me, which is really nice, or they'll say, 'So what is it like to do the sex scenes?' I suppose. And the answer is, ‘Horrible. Don't do it. Don't do it. Unless you're really jacked up on opium.’
"Spartacus : Vengeance" premieres tonight, January 27th, on STARZ. But you can watch the first episode online now.