Lawless, Lucy, and Sorbo, Kevin


Lawless, Lucy, and Sorbo, Kevin
▪ 1998

      Playing ancient warriors on the television shows "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and its spin-off, "Xena: Warrior Princess," actors Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless conquered their toughest opponent in 1997—the fickle TV viewer—to become king and queen of the syndicated small screen. The well-oiled hero and the leather-bustier-clad heroine outmuscled their competition with a combination of high camp and moral storylines that appealed to a diverse audience. The shows' phenomenal success spawned Xena and Hercules clothing, action figures, trading cards, conventions, and hundreds of Web sites and catapulted Sorbo and Lawless into stardom. As fans clamoured to see more of the actors in 1997, Sorbo appeared as a legendary barbarian in the feature film Kull the Conqueror, and Lawless made her Broadway debut as Rizzo in Grease!

      Born on Sept. 24, 1958, in Mound, Minn., Sorbo left the University of Minnesota one semester short of graduation to pursue a career in acting. Following a small role in an episode of the television series "Dallas" in 1983, he headed to Europe, where he began modeling and acting in TV commercials. Sorbo, who appeared in more than 150 television spots, moved to Los Angeles in 1986. After a number of auditions and small parts on television, he won the lead role of the Greek demigod Hercules in a series of made-for-TV movies, beginning with Hercules and the Amazon Women (1994). Their huge success led to the creation of the weekly hour-long show "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys," which debuted in 1995. The program—filmed in Auckland, N.Z.—combined, to great effect, computerized special effects, elaborate fight scenes, contemporary references, and a vocabulary filled with modern American slang. Sorbo's tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the brawny but sensitive hero—accompanied by his faithful sidekick, Iolaus (played by New Zealand actor Michael Hurst)—helped make the show an instant hit. The Xena spin-off soon followed, with a third show, "Young Hercules," in the works.

      Lawless, who was born Lucy Ryan on March 28, 1968, in Mount Albert, N.Z., first acted in school drama productions. After traveling throughout Europe and Australia, working at times as a grape picker and a gold miner, she married Garth Lawless (they were later divorced) and moved back to New Zealand. While rearing her daughter, Daisy, she returned to acting, performing in commercials and in small parts on television and in movies. Her breakthrough came with a guest appearance on "Hercules" as Xena, a female warrior whose punch was as fierce as her banshee-like battle cry: "Yi yi yi yi yi!" In 1995 a separate program was created for her character. As the statuesque warrior who vanquished evil and broke hearts, Lawless combined toughness and femininity to redefine television's version of the female action hero. Strong images of women, mixed with humour, special effects, and lesbian undertones between the warrior and her sidekick, Gabrielle (American actress Renee O'Connor), attracted a widespread audience that soon rivaled that of "Hercules" in number and made Lawless the centre of a cultlike following.

      The growing popularity of Sorbo and Lawless, however, may have signaled the end of their work as the ancient warriors. Although "Xena" and "Hercules" were renewed through the 1999-2000 season, both actors suggested that they might leave the show at the turn of the century to pursue other projects.

AMY TIKKANEN

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Universalium. 2010.

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