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Lucy Lawless’ private passion

The Kiwi actress opens up about what drove her to take a big risk.
Kiwi actress Lucy Lawless

It’s not unusual to see Lucy Lawless in track pants and Jandals, picking her kids up from their Auckland schools and chatting to neighbours. But while Lucy, who turns 44 in a few weeks, is first and foremost a doting mum, last month she revealed a previously untapped side to her character.

“I don’t think people know how completely mental I am!” laughs the Kiwi actress, who is awaiting trial after being arrested for spending 56 hours atop a tower on an oil exploration ship in  a protest for Greenpeace. “This is the first time I’ve ever actively broken the law – it’s hard to explain, but it feels like everything I’ve ever done has led up to this moment.”

It’s an extraordinary break from normality for Lucy, who is best known for her roles in Xena: Warrior Princess and as the sultry Lucretia in the sexy late-night drama Spartacus – a role which, she admits, garners her some unexpected attention. “Spartacus is apparently spicing up the lives of a few suburban parents!” says Lucy, who is mum to boys Julius (12) and Judah (9) with her American producer husband Robert Tapert, as well as to Daisy (23) from her first marriage to Garth Lawless.

“When I drop the kids off in the morning [parents] sidle up and tell me that after they put the kids to bed, they pop into the bedroom with an episode of Spartacus to get them in the mood. I just put my hands over my ears and sing loudly!”

But while Lucy says she will never be truly comfortable playing such an overtly sexual character, it’s important to her to test her boundaries – as she did when she boarded the ship in Port Taranaki to raise awareness about oil drilling in the Arctic.

“After the past few days, I’m a bundle of nerves, I’m all jangly,” says Lucy, recalling the hours she spent alone in a jail cell.

“Those hours were among the worst of my life. I’ve never been arrested or had any connection with the police – all I could think was, ‘What the hell am I, a mum, doing protesting on a drilling derrick?’ But I really wanted to stand up for something I feel passionate about.”

However, Lucy admits she’d think twice before repeating what she describes as her “Bear Grylls moment”. “Being up there, living on nuts and chocolate in a confined space, isn’t for everyone,” she says. Although a guilty verdict could seriously impair her work options overseas when her case goes to court on March 20, for now her focus is firmly at home.

“I hugged my boys so tight when I got home,” says Lucy. “All I could think about was being with them.” When you strip away the trappings of stardom that inevitably surround her, what’s left is a down-to-earth Kiwi who’s not so different to the rest of us.

“I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to go out, only to have to turn around because the boys don’t have shoes on!” laughs Lucy. “But that’s part of the joy of living here – there are no nannies and guard gates like in America.” And it’s because of her kids that she has no plans to leave New Zealand. “The boys have told me that if I ever go back to the States, they are staying here!” explains Lucy, who lived in the US for eight years before returning here in 2009.

While Lucy isn’t an overly strict mum, the boys have to play by her rules. “No Spartacus,” she says firmly. “They aren’t allowed to watch it – they are too young. It would be inappropriate.” Lucy believes New Zealand is a land of milk and honey compared to the US. But there are some aspects of being a “real Kiwi” she’s had to forego – most notably of late, alcohol.

“I had my girl to look after in my twenties and thirties, so I only really became a party girl about eight years ago,” she smiles. But after a boozy holiday season, Lucy made the decision to give up alcohol. “A group of us spent two weeks eating chipolatas and drinking wine,” she recalls. “It was great, but afterwards I felt really depressed and disgusted with myself. I realised that for me, alcohol in my forties is really different from how it used to be. It’s fun while you do it, but the payback is awful.

“It wasn’t easy – I had terrible headaches for a week,” she says. “I doubt I’ll be teetotal for life, but I’m enjoying living without the effects of the night before.” And it’s not just the hangovers Lucy’s lost. “I’ve dropped a few kilos from the gut – and the double chin,” she says happily.

While Lucy has no idea about her future, she has no regrets about her recent stand. “For the moment, I’m loving how soft my bed is, eating fresh food… after the past few days, it feels like a huge luxury,” Lucy says. “What comes next, I don’t know. But this has been a huge moment for me – it’s brought into focus exactly what’s important. Right now, I’m a work in progress.”

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