New Zealander Lucy Lawless became an international television icon in the 1990s as the apparently fearless star of cult hit Xena: Warrior Princess. The part seemed tailor-made for the athletic actress, who'd originally intended to be an opera singer (until she discovered that opera singers follow a strict diet and can't stay out all night). Yet after 134 episodes Lawless called it a day and has spent most of the last few years raising her three children: Daisy, 19; Julius, 9; and Judah, 6. "Now my kids are relinquishing me and I'm ready to go back to work," Lawless says with a laugh.
The actress dipped her toe in the water with a guest-starring role in the last two seasons of yet another cult hit, the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica (seen here on C4), and is now starring in her first major film role in recent years. Bedtime Stories - out in cinemas now - is a Disney family comedy starring Adam Sandler and, alongside Lawless, a cast that also includes Courteney Cox, Keri Russell, fast-rising British comic Russell Brand, Richard Griffiths and Australian actor Guy Pearce.
Adam Sandler plays Skeeter, a downtrodden hotel handyman who tells his niece and nephew elaborate stories, full of knights in armour and damsels in distress, that suddenly start to come true.
The likeable and witty Lawless, sporting a severe black bob that made her virtually unrecognisable, talked to View about her role in the film, why she loves wigs, and how she has become used to the Los Angeles smog.
View: So Adam Sandler is the put-upon hotel handyman. Who do you play?
Lawless: Guy Pearce is the hotel manager and I play his wicked and twisted girlfriend, who's also the hotel concierge. He's putty in her deviant hands of course! The original brief description of the character was that she was a "40-ish ex-model", which I changed to "bitter 40-ish ex-model" because she never saw herself as ending up as a concierge in a bloody hotel and her way of managing her disappointment is to sink her hooks into some eligible male, in this case Guy Pearce, who is wonderfully smooth and effete in the role.
View: And how about the jet black hair? Was that your idea?
Lawless: Well, it's all about the wig! And it evolved, because I had something like a flower pot on my head at one point, but once I put on this particular wig we all said, "Oh that's the one!" And personally, the moment I put on a wig I feel different, like I'm Jim Carrey in The Mask. It's very fun!
View: What was it about Bedtime Stories that made you want to get back to work?
Lawless: Part of it was just about getting out of the house. I think it's what the kids wanted! I was in my middle child's room the other night, irritating him with all these facts about chameleons, and he just asked me to leave the room. And the youngest one has repeatedly begged me to go back to work because he's quite interested in television and films and thinks I might be able to introduce him to someone famous.
View: So any film would have done?
Lawless: [Laughs] No! But who wouldn't want to work with Adam Sandler? I've always thought he's a very solid actor, three-dimensional and just real. It's not a coincidence that he's this multimillion-dollar man. The film has also got this great cast and it's a big Disney production. I'm just thrilled to be included!
View: Did you have to audition?
Lawless:Yes, of course, and Adam Sandler in particular had to strongly say "I want Lucy Lawless" because I would not have been on the list of the top 50 actresses, not even the top 100 actresses, that Disney would have thought of.
View: Is that because you've haven't worked much in recent years?
Lawless:Partly that, and that people tell me it's going to be hard to get over the Xena stigma, although I can't say I have really given that much credence. It's not like I could do anything about it anyway and, you know, Xena was a really great experience and I really lived a lot doing it and I'm grateful for everything it gave me.
View: Do you ever miss it?
Lawless: Xena was a lot of fun, but it was also hard work and I had the pressure of being the star. But I love making films and television, I love being on set and I never complain about being here, particularly not on this film. This really is the best time I have ever had in my life.
View: Why's that?
Lawless: I think it really does come down to Adam Sandler and the director [Adam Shankman]. It's like having two really benevolent dictators, because they know how they want things to go and they're here to get the job done, but they want it to be enjoyable too. So I think a lot of their casting is based on not wanting to work with anyone who's a pain.
View: Now you're planning to work more, does that mean spending more time in the States, too?
Lawless: It's where the business is, yes. I've tried to divide my time between the US and New Zealand, but it's difficult, and I suddenly realised that I like it in Los Angeles anyway. Because when you first come here, especially from New Zealand, you go, "This is the ugliest, nastiest, greyest, smoggiest town in the world", and then your scale of beauty adjusts and suddenly you think, "Oh, isn't it beautiful, not too much smog today!"
View: And do you have any other films or television in the offing?
Lawless:The oddest thing is that Court TV wanted me to go and fly a jet fighter and have a duel with Muhammad Ali's daughter. You know, a girl-fight in the air! I had to tell them I couldn't do it for insurance reasons but when I first heard about it, I was like, "Yes, I'll do that", because it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime things and I tend to jump at those opportunities. Other than that, I'm talking to people about some interesting television pilots. We'll see! I have to say that Bedtime Stories may have spoiled me a bit though because it has been such a fantastic experience. I mean, the thing is, once you've had a taste of Camp Sandler, I think it's hard to sign on anywhere else.
Bedtime Stories is in cinemas now.