Like most guys, I have fantasized about lying next to Xena, Warrior Princess, panting heavily as she clutches me close to her body. So when I found myself in this very position I was understandably pumped. The catch: In my dreams we were not strapped together and suspended 150 feet in the air by a flimsy cable and harness. The reality: we are on the Dive Devil at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California. Lucy Lawless, the buff, beautiful New Zealander and star of the mother of all televixen dramas - which is winding down its fifth mammoth hit season - has dragged me here kicking and screaming to put our lives on the line. She pulls a rip cord and suddenly we`re falling at 60mph. I`m screaming like a woman but she`s as calm as Puff Daddy on Prozac. As I stumble off the ride tasting another chunky chew of the backed up BLT I ate two hours ago, she turns to me and says "Whoa, that was a great organic high." This is one cool Kiwi.
For Lucy, brushes with death are as second nature as brushing her teeth. "I once bungee jumped out of a helicopter," she tells me. "It was an 800 foot fall, and I wasn`t that impressed. You`re so high above the ground that you don`t get the sense of imminent death like you do when you are jumping off, say, a bridge." Sounds insane? Remember she is from New Zealand, the earth`s home office for life threatening activities. These are the same sickos that brought us bungee jumping and zorbing (the truest test of intestinal fortitude, in which you roll down a mountain in a large, out of control ball.)
"We live at the edge of the world so we live on the edge." Lucy explains. "Kiwis will always sacrifice money and security for adventure and challenge."
Xena, the TV show has met numerous challenges and vanquished them all. Undisputable the highest rated original syndicated drama on the planet, will end this season with an incredible cliffhanger. Xena, the battling soccer mom will work out some issues with her evil, but still beloved daughter in hopes of retrieving her from the Dark Side.
But hey, everybody`s got family problems. We`re here to have a little fun. So naturally, Lucy decides to take on Goliath, one of the fastest roller coasters in the world. As we slowly ascend towards the 255 foot drop point, I ask her how she keep the blood flowing when she`s not hopping off helicopters or eviscerating a Visigoth. For starters, on her show she does many of her own stunts and frequently has to endure cuts, bruises and torn ligaments. "I psych myself down," she says. "Sometimes you`ve got to just give it a whirl. Embrace death darling."
Before Lucy got her big break drop kicking demons and crushing cyclops` heads between her thighs, she skipped around looking to scare up some scratch. At 17, she broke her nails as a goldminer in the Australian outback. "There`s always work for Kiwis there," she says. "We do all the jobs Australians would never do. I had to saw miles of bloody rock in half. It was the most depressing thing, because in the middle of winter it`s freezing. You start work early in the morning and there`s water spinning off the drill. You get sick of being cut, wet and cold, you know because it`s such an unnatural situation for the body to find itself in. We`re not born to deal with that."
She didn`t deal with it for long. After a few months of busting boulders, she returned to New Zealand where she started acting. Continuing her natural evolution to warriordom, she appeared in a local comedy show called `Funny Business` and cohosted a holiday show called `Air New Zealand Holiday`, by 1992. Fortunately she got to flex her acting muscles with a number of guest shots as different characters on `Hercules.` One of them - a cute little man-eater named Xena - scored a knockout with the show`s legion of classic-literature fans. Once the producer (now her husband) got a look at the Bulgarian (don`t ask, that`s what they told us. We thought she looked Armenian) warrior`s killer moves, he gave Lucy her own series.
That was five years ago. Since then, the show has been laying waste to the competition in 115 countries worldwide from Ireland to Iran. For some bizarre reason not even Lucy entirely understands, she is particularly huge in Turkey, where 60 per cent of people who watch TV watch her. "You don`t have to be American to dig XENA," she explains. "It has universal themes of good triumphing over evil."
And it doesn`t hurt that the `good` looks damn fine in rawhide. I ask her if she has a problem being a sex object. "Are you kidding?" she says. "It`s great! Everyone wants to be an object of attraction."
After achieving speeds of up to 85mph on Goliath at a 61 degree angle I`m hurting. I sneak some Dramamine so Lucy won`t think I`m a kiddie-park pussy. She calls me a `pasty-faced New Yorker` and buys us both a banana split. Weathering her assault on my less than god-like demeanor, I find myself developing an insatiable crush on her. Not just because she`s scary-good-lookin` more than she is scary in person, but because she`s so down to earth... for a warrior princess. "I understand why people like Marilyn Monroe craved fame - it feel like love," she says. "For two seconds you`ve got all those flashes going. People are so interested in you and it feels like love, but it`s a pale imitation."
Unlike her alter-ego, Lucy is the anti-intimidator: she`ll chat with anyone we meet. She also has a sense of humour and no qualms about laying the smackdown on herself - or others. She even cracked up President Clinton. "I met him in New Zealand and asked if he had read how Mariah Carey came into a press conference, tears on her face and said, `You`ve got to forgive me because Michael, the king, has died and we`ll never see his like again. He was a great athlete.` And the press said, `Ms Carey, do you know that it was the King of Jordan who died, not Michael Jordan?` And she just ran from the room."
When I first meet Lucy, she`s recording a voice over for MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch in which she plays herself and announces a brawl between Martin Sheen and Michael Douglas. She`s wearing a hot pink T shirt that reads TITTIES AND BEER. I ask her who would win in a deathmatch between Xena and Wonder Woman. "Xena would kick her ass," she says. Why? "Because there wasn`t a bad bone in Wonder Woman`s body. Xena has base instincts and demons." Xena vs. the Bionic Woman? "The Bionic Woman would run from Xena." Xena vs. Buffy? "What`s Buffy got? A wooden stake, some garlic? Xena has a full arsenal of weapons. She kicks arsenal." Who would Xena most want in her corner with a spit bucket and fight plan during a tag team bout?" Judge Judy. She would throw the book at them - Judge Judy would get them to eat my shorts."
These days, people aren`t necessarily chowing on Xena`s shorts - but they might be able to buy them. Her success has spawned a ton of Xena related products, including clothing, calendars, cup, magnets, jewelry and tattoos. A Yahoo! search listed more than 46,000 web sites devoted to the Princess. Plus she slices and dices in her very own Sony Playstation game. "I am hopeless at that thing," she admits. "I just keeping turning around and walking into walls."
I whip out the Evil Xena action figure wearing her trademark skintight breastplate. "That`s not a bad likeness," she says. "I know some people get really upset about dolls not looking exactly like them, but it`s a doll for crying out loud! Who would have thought I`d be a doll one day? I am loving every minute of it."
I tell her about a parody site called Xena Warrior Milkmaid dedicated to a Swedish orphan raised by a cow herder, sworn to protect bovines around the world. "That`s me," chuckles Lucy, who gave birth to a little one seven month ago and is still nursing him. "I`m the dairy queen." She admits to anonymously logging onto a Xena chat room and causing mayhem. "They kicked me off because I said I liked `Hercules` better than `Xena`" she says.
Amongst her most die-hard fans are lesbians, who tune in to watch Xena and her sexy sidekick Gabrielle kick some serious male booty. "For two women to be facing incredibly odds together with no male support, it`s going to appeal to the lesbian community, "she says. "Gabrielle and Xena are `special` friends. Every now and then we`ll put in a few suggestive ad-libs, but we`ve kind of gotten away from that." In one episode they committed a not-so-subtle lip lock - though Xena was dead at the time and inside a man`s body.
Still, not everyone is amused. "I met this Texan on a plane who told me he used to watch the show until it started `promoting a gay lifestyle`, " she says. "I said we`re not promoting a gay lifestyle anymore than we are promoting eating meat or wearing leather." That said, is Xena a bit conflicted? "In a modern world she`d be classified as having Attention Deficit Disorder and put on Ritalin" Lucy says.
We now embark on our last ride of the afternoon, Superman: The Escape (which propels up a 415 foot tower at 100mph in seven seconds and then free falls backward.) As we descend, the force of the 41 storey fall causes my camera and cassette player to fall out of my pocket and onto the ground below, narrowly missing several small families and a large lawsuit. I`ve had enough. Like she has done with so many mythological warlords before me, Xena has made another conquest. In one last desperate attempt to save face, I ask, "Do you think it`s smooth for a guy to take a chick to an amusement park?" She looks at me and smiles that seductive smile. "Sure, if you`re 14." Embrace humiliation.
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