Lawless is best known for her six years as Xena: Warrior Princess, now a project well down the list of resume credits, after it wrapped in 2001. With roles in Battlestar Galactica, Parks and Recreation, Spartacus, Veronica Mars, Burn Notice, Curb Your Enthusiasm, CSI: Miami, The L Word, Top of the Lake, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD -it’s clear Xena‘s global success was never at any risk of seeing her stereotyped.
“I should be so lucky to be stereotyped, because it means you were part of something successful. Xena was so good to me in terms of the fanbase, the house that it bought me and the husband and children that came with it. It was certainly a worthwhile trade-off and I’m not sorry,” she told TV Tonight.
“I’ve never been someone who controls their image at all. I don’t even look at photo approvals much or any of that sort of stuff. I don’t have much ‘control’ over my career. Or the times I did it failed because it’s not a natural part of who I am, so I just drift from what seems like the next cool, fun thing to do. And it’s worked out ok!”
That next cool thing was the six-hour political thriller by Playmaker Media, starring Ashley Zukerman and Dan Spielman. Set in Sydney, Canberra and Broken Hill it tells the story of two very different brothers who unearth information that those at the highest levels of political power will kill to keep secret.
Lawless plays outback teacher Alex Wisham in the saga which won the top prize at the Australian Writer’s Guild Awards last week.
“I was sent the script by Playmaker and I was the first one (to sign) on, which normally would make you a bit nervous. But the writing was so good, that I had to jump on because otherwise that Cate bloody Blanchett will want it!” she laughs.
“(Alex is) a teacher who falls in love with her school children who from the Aboriginal community. One of the gets in trouble with the law, she feels very much she has to protect them against her ex-boyfriend who is an Aboriginal cop.
“Things look very bad for the kid but she believes in his innocence. So it’s her and the kid against the world.”
The cast also includes Adele Perovic, Adam Garcia, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Paul Tassone, Dan Wyllie, Aden Young, David Wenham and Aaron Pedersen.
“The story is about the two brothers. There’s three components: one is the Canberra corruption and machinations, one is the red earth and the warm tones of the outback where I exist, and the rest is the cyber world of internet journalism. So it’s three distinct worlds that the two main characters move in and out of.
“I was lucky enough to be part of the outback world which was such a rich experience on every level. I’m so glad I did it.
“It was one of the highlights of my career and I’d love to go back there.”
With much of the plot aggressively following the thriller genre, Lawless’ role as a school teacher gives an emotional strand to the script by Shelley Birse, Blake Ayshford and Justin Monjo.
“You have to have somebody to cheer for. You have to be ‘pulling’ for the kid, a human story where there is something to lose. That’s the boy’s innocence and the cultural significance of the Aboriginal (community),” she insists.
“You want to protect good and vulnerable children from being abused. This comes out as a mass exercise of abuse, which you will see it play out in the final episodes.
“It’s what I call the ‘heart’ story. You have to make people care as much as you make them think.”
Whether Lawless will get return to the outback anytime soon remains to be seen. With bases in both Auckland and Los Angeles, she is in demand, most recently appearing in a recurring role on Parks and Recreation.
“They’re always ringing up to ask ‘Are you in town?’ but I’m going back to the States shortly to resume my career. I’ve been in NZ of late.
“But I have to stay in chunks because I’m an environmentalist, so I can’t just flit around the world. So it’s problematic. But Auckland is where my family is.”
The Code will likely see her in further demand. The drama has already been sold to the Sundance Channel in Latin America, The Audience Network in the US and Denmark’s public broadcaster DR.
“I have to congratulate Australia for the depth of talent you have there with the writers and The Code is something I hope you’re all really proud of because it sold overseas immediately, months and months ago,” says Lawless.
“They immediately recognised it as world class, cutting edge television.”
The Code premieres 8:30pm Sunday September 21st on ABC.