Lucy Lawless On How Her My Life Is Murder Role is Different From What’s Come Before
We talked to Lucy Lawless about the new season of My Life is Murder, including her reunion with Xena co-star Renée O’Connor.
Lucy Lawless’ legion of fans have watched her search for redemption as an ancient Greek warrior princess in Xena, deceive and seduce her way to power as Lucretia in Spartacus, witch her way through Salem as Countess Marburg, and hunt down Ash in Ash vs. the Evil Dead. But while she may be best known for her roles in science fiction and fantasy, she’s also excellent at bringing murderers to justice in My Life Is Murder as Alexa Crowe, a retired police officer who continues solving mysteries.
Despite Alexa’s former profession, the show shares more with Murder, She Wrote than police procedurals. Or, perhaps “Murder She Wrote crossed with something a bit sassy, because Alexa actually gets laid on occasion, so it’s not exactly Miss Marple,” Lucy Lawless says of the show. In contrast to the more historical and fantastic roles Lawless has played in the past, Alexa is “a modern urban woman who can wear elastic and use zips instead of being laced and hammered into an outfit every morning.” Her modernity and her sexuality are unapologetically part of the narrative of the story—as are her relationships, despite the character professing that she doesn’t work in teams.
In fact, relationships are core to the storytelling, which is another factor Lawless believes is a clear contrast to the police procedural format. “We’re not cleaving to the world of police or the justice system,” she says. “It’s justice in the real world, and it has different payoff. It’s more emotional.”
Discussing the series with Den of Geek, Lawless explains the feeling of having a contract with the viewer that some things will be the same every week, and viewers depend on that. “Our show is full of color,” she says. “The city is a beautiful character that you’re going to fall in love with. There’s people you want to hang out with. And at the end of the day, goodness and justice win. That’s our deal.” That sense of justice, and that feeling that as each episode ends all is right with the world, is something that Lawless embraces as a contrast to the the news and a world facing the ongoing complications of the pandemic. “I think we’re all exhausted,” she says. The show is “a little bit of balm for a moment—a psychic holiday.”
The show itself did face some complications due to COVID-19, which led to the second season being moved to Auckland, New Zealand, where both Lawless and Alexa are from. Melbourne, the setting for the first season, was hit very hard by the pandemic. When Lawless initially pitched the idea of moving the series to Auckland, she worried they wouldn’t be able to tonally deliver the same show, especially with an all-new crew and different producers. “But we obviously migrated some key players—the head writer, the executive producers, and Ebony Vagulans, my beloved, extraordinary co-star,” Lawless says. “The rest just fell into place, so it very much feels like the first season, but in a new, glittering environment.” In fact, it worked so well that she says confidently, “We could film every season in a different location!” But while it might be fun to continue moving locations, Lawless also comments, “I love to be able to shoot in my city and show our fans that. It’s a bit of armchair tourism for people.”
Aside from Vagulans—a newcomer in the first season about whom Lawless says enthusiastically, “What a discovery!”—viewers of My Life Is Murder can prepare for a full slate of big names to appear in season two. William Shatner, Martin Henderson from Virgin River, Michelle Ang of Fear the Walking Dead, and others are all on the guest star roster. Lawless hopes that viewers will be excited “seeing these people pop up in unexpected places. It’s part of the DNA of the show that you have this. It’s quite a tall order if you’re in a little country at the bottom of the world–how do we find people that Americans and Brits and people in Finland will recognize? It was kind of a magical synchronicity allowed that to happen.”
One guest star is likely to have huge appeal for Xena fans, especially as hopes of a rumored reboot of the series were dashed several years ago. The season two finale of My Life Is Murder features Renée O’Connor, “my dear friend and colleague … who played Gabrielle on Xena for all those years,” Lawless reminisces. “That was so blessed, because at the end of a season, you’re really burnt out. You’ve been there every single day, from morning til night, and to have the comfort and the excitement of your beloved oldest friend in the business come on—it was good for my soul. We’ve been wanting to do this [reunion] for the longest time,” Lawless says.
One co-star who isn’t returning for season two is Captain Thunderbolt, Alexa’s cat, who—in addition to appearing on the live action series—had his own animated spinoff. Series creator Claire Tomkin “knew that cats are important,” Lawless reveals. The cartoon “was a way of making the show bigger without more stress on my schedule.” The cat who played Captain Thunderbolt also had a misadventure during the filming of season one. As Lawless recounts:
“Claire rang me one day in Australia [and said], ‘Oh my God, Lucy, I hate to tell you this, but they’ve lost the cat.’ I just cracked up laughing. It’s one of those times when the world is … in a tough situation generally, and we could never have foreseen that the cat wranglers would take the cat on holiday with them. In Australia, you stop to go to the bathroom on this 400 km road from watering hole to watering hole across the desert, and the cat will jump out, and you’ve lost the cat.”
With the first season still filming, it could have been a disaster, but miraculously the handlers, “these uber cat ladies” as Lawless describes them, were able to return to the same place three days later with a little dog, who located poor Captain Thuderbolt.
Lawless didn’t participate in the casting process for her feline costar—“Unlike with humans, I feel like if I’m there, the cats get way too nervous and can’t do their bit,” she says—but she is a cat person. (She’s also a dog owner; currently, she’s down from four pets to one German Shepherd. “I’ve become a dog lady,” she says. “Who knew?”) After a number of auditions, the cast welcomed a cat named Zeppelin as Alexa’s cat for season two.
While viewers will be able to tour Auckland in the series premier of My Life Is Murder season two on August 30, Lawless won’t be able to return home from Los Angeles for a bit due to New Zealand’s recent lockdown. But she’s not worried. “I’m busy,” she admits. “If I get home before Christmas that would be a miracle. If I get home by March, that would be a win.”
And if she gets homesick, she can always tune in to see Alexa Crowe’s adventures in her hometown.