Lucy Lawless on 'Sleeping Beauty,' 'Xena' and 'Agents of SHIELD'

Sleeping Beauty Pasadena Playhouse Press Shot - H 2014
Courtesy of Davidson & Choy Publicity

Sleeping Beauty Pasadena Playhouse Press Shot - H 2014

The actress is currently portraying the evil queen Carabosse in the Lythgoe Family Production of 'Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight'

Lucy Lawless is happy to spend the next few weeks getting booed nightly at the Pasadena Playhouse. Through Jan. 4 she’ll be playing the evil queen Carabosse in the Lythgoe Family Production of Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight. Performed in the traditional British Panto style, the new show encourages audiences to cheer the good guys and, in Lawless’ case, boo the bad.

Produced by Kris and Becky Lythgoe and directed by his mother, Bonnie, the new production mixes magic, comedy, song and dance, including alumni from So You Think You Can Dance. Playing alongside Lawless are Ben Giroux (Hart of Dixie), Tamyra Gray (American Idol) and Olivia Holt. “Disney kids are 40 before they hit puberty,” Lawless tells The Hollywood Reporter of Holt, who stars in Disney’s I Didn’t Do It.

On Broadway, Lawless played Rizzo in Grease for a month in 1997, and just last year appeared as Mama Morton in the Hollywood Bowl production of Chicago, but a career in theater has mostly remained elusive for the TV star. “I would love to do as much as possible. I like the informality of this one because you can really make it your own,” she says. “I’m the evil queen. I get to sing Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” which is just a fantastic and sophisticated pop song. I think I’m going to do a Kate Bush spin on it. It’s incredibly delicious and so lovely to play the bad girl. It’s one of my things that I do.”

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The other things the former Xena: Warrior Princess star does is fend off questions about a revival of the ’90s sapphic sword-and-sandal saga. She remembers getting mail from elderly judges and lawyers in the U.K. requesting that she walk on them, “in my boots. That would happen in the early days,” she laughs. Old white guys weren’t the only ones aroused by Xena; many in the gay community found a subtext that surprised Lawless. “When a lot of people see that show it has all kinds of subliminal messages I wasn’t aware of when we were playing them, all these messages about redemption and your power to change a shitty situation. And these guys went and found awesome things that came out of gay people. They got themselves out of these situations.”

As for a reboot of the show, Lawless won’t have much to do with it. Her husband, producer Robert Tapert, has been meeting with some who hope to reshape it in the image of The Hunger Games. “I wouldn’t be opposed to that at all,” she says. “Sometimes you just have to hand it off to a young generation and they know what they like.”

Lawless has no plans to return to the series, nor does she expect to reappear as the no-nonsense veteran Izzy Hartley on Agents of SHIELD. Fans were ecstatic when she joined the show early in season two, but were outraged when she was killed off shortly thereafter. But still they hold out hope that in the world of Marvel, dead doesn’t always mean dead. “I knew she was dying before I went into it,” says Lawless. “It was kind of out of respect for [producers] Maurissa [Tancharoen] and Jed [Whedon], but if she comes back it would be because there happened to be a hole in my schedule and that it was a good through line for it. Unless they’re going to bump somebody off, they’re not bringing back Izzy Hartley in a way that is substantive.”

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Lately, Lawless has been busy filming the political thriller The Code for Netflix in her native New Zealand, which kept her from her recurring spot on Parks and Recreation. These days her commitments are limited on this side of the Pacific but one place she will be for sure is Burbank in February to appear at the final Xena: Warrior Princess convention, which will mark the show’s 20th anniversary. She likened it to a recent truffle festival in Italy where she found herself surrounded by fans. “The show ended 13 years ago, but not as far as they were concerned,” she laughs about a character that has come to define her career. “It was the most bizarre and shocking and kind of delightful experience. But we were mobbed.”