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Actress Lucy Lawless Plays Not My Job

Lucy Lawless

hide captionLucy Lawless stars as Lucretia in the new Starz program Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

Starz

Lucy Lawless is kind of like King Midas, but for nerds: pretty much every sci-fi or fantasy thing she touches turns to gold. Xena: Warrior Princess and Battlestar Galactica are true classics — the kinds of programs nerds will tell their children about ... if they ever manage to reproduce.

Lawless is starring in the new Starz program Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which guarantees that pasty people will be dressing up as its characters at conventions for decades to come.

We're asking Lucy to play a game called "We didn't have the chance to say thanks." Three questions about great American innovators who died recently.

This segment was originally broadcast on Jan. 9, 2010.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

CARL KASELL, Host:

From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell, and here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.

PETER SAGAL, Host:

Thank you, Carl. Thanks everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: You guys are great. Listen, what we're doing is we are listening back to our favorite TV and movie star interviews. And now we come to Lucy Lawless, who for many years was the star of the cult adventure TV show, "Xena: Warrior Princess."

KASELL: On our show that day in January of 2010, we had Kyrie O'Connor, Paul Provenza and Paula Poundstone with us, as Peter asked Lucy if any of her fans were intimidated to meet her in person.

LUCY LAWLESS: I don't know, but I would think they'd like that.

SAGAL: They like - yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAWLESS: I do. I used to get a lot of letters from, like, judges and lawyers who wanted me to stomp on them in my boots. So I understand, I hope my...

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

PAUL PROVENZA: Where's the convention for that?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So I know you get this question a lot, but how much of Xena was you? Are you the kind of tough person who can like leap five feet over walls and beat up people left and right?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAWLESS: If provoked, I reckon I could.

SAGAL: If provoked. OK, I understand. But we understand you did your own stunts? You were...

LAWLESS: Not really. I mean I did everything when the camera was on my face, but I had an amazing stuntwoman called Zoe Bell. So, she was really a good - at least a third, if not a half of Xena.

SAGAL: Right. But the war cry was yours though, right?

LAWLESS: All mine, baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Does being Xena, or having been Xena ever become useful in real life?

LAWLESS: Only if I need to shut up a whining child in the back of a car.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PROVENZA: Does the wardrobe...

SAGAL: All right, all right.

PROVENZA: Does the Xena wardrobe ever come in handy?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAWLESS: I'm wearing it now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: She dresses that way for all interviews. At this point, I think we need to hear it. So your kid's whining in the back of the car and you turn around and you go?

LAWLESS: (Xena war cry)

SAGAL: I'm scared.

LAWLESS: I hate to say it, it makes them cry, but it's the only ace card I have.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I totally understand. And Xena, we have to talk about this, had a certain rabid following among very different demographics. There were a lot of women who were very enthralled with your relationship with Gabrielle.

LAWLESS: Yes.

SAGAL: Is that something you guys intentionally played up?

LAWLESS: Well, it wasn't initially, but I now know for sure that it was not lost on the producers when they were putting the character together. In fact, one of the producers, Liz Friedman, is a proud lesbian. And it was always part of her intentions. So we didn't know it at the time but...

PROVENZA: I knew it.

LAWLESS: You knew it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KYRIE O: Some of us knew it.

SAGAL: Some of us knew it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Let's talk about the new show, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand." This is, of course, an updating, shall we say, of "Spartacus," which was, of course, a famous movie with Kirk Douglas many years ago. This is slightly different. I don't remember as much nudity in the Kirk Douglas version as there is. The new show is great. I got to watch some of the episodes. It's a lot like the movie "300," though not so restrained and subtle.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: But you learn so much about ancient Rome in this show.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: For example, I did not know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PROVENZA: Yeah.

SAGAL: I did not know...

PROVENZA: That's like saying that you read it for the articles.

SAGAL: I did.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PROVENZA: Yeah, yeah.

SAGAL: No, I'm just interested in the - I wanted to get some more details.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: Yeah, you've really tapped into the main purpose of the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You play the wife of the owner of the slave training school, the gladiator training school.

LAWLESS: Yeah, I play this woman who's desperate to have a baby, and her husband's not doing it for her. So she has this...

SAGAL: No, don't tell me what you're going to do. I want to be surprised.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I can't imagine...

LAWLESS: Well, a gladiator comes into it.

SAGAL: Does he really?

LAWLESS: Yeah, she's boffing the gladiators, she's abusing them...

SAGAL: I understand.

LAWLESS: My character is worse than ever. My characters are badder than ever.

SAGAL: So I mean you're playing a villain, which is fun. You played a villainous Cylon in "Battlestar Galactica," but you're like - are you getting into full-on evil at this point?

LAWLESS: Well, it appears to be. But my aim is to make you absolutely feel like you would do the same thing in my shoes.

PROVENZA: I just want to point out "boffing the gladiator" is a great name for a band.

SAGAL: That's true.

CONNOR: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAWLESS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

SAGAL: Before we go on, I wanted to go back just a second and ask you about something we read about the very beginning of your career. Because if it's true, it's a great story. What we read was that you got the job of Xena back when because the original woman cast in it got ill.

LAWLESS: Yeah, I was the lucky local kid on the spot who got the gig and I've very grateful.

SAGAL: They were filming, I think it was "The Legendary Journeys of Hercules," the other show, and Xena...

LAWLESS: Right.

SAGAL: Was going to be a character on that show.

LAWLESS: Right.

SAGAL: And so somebody else cast. They said oh my god, she can't be here. She's sick or something else.

LAWLESS: Right.

SAGAL: Who can - you, you woman over there, you can be Xena, step over here.

LAWLESS: That's right. The lucky local kid, man. Just a classic story, and yeah, lucky me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You're like Ruby Keeler on Broadway but with a broadsword.

LAWLESS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: That's great.

LAWLESS: And big boots.

SAGAL: And big boots. Boot, she said.

PROVENZA: Boots.

SAGAL: Boots.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PROVENZA: Boots.

SAGAL: Lucy Lawless, we are thrilled to have you with us. We have asked you here to play a game that this week we're calling?

KASELL: We didn't have the chance to say thanks.

SAGAL: As the new year gets started, we wanted to take a moment and pay tribute to three under-recognized geniuses who recently left us. We're going to ask you three questions about great American innovators. If you get two right you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is actress Lucy Lawless playing for?

KASELL: Lucy is playing for Rachel Huffine(ph) of Portland, Oregon.

SAGAL: All right, ready to do this?

LAWLESS: OK, Rach.

SAGAL: First off, Al Bernadin. He was an unsung innovator who came up with many boons to modern life. But chief among them was what? A: the McDonald's Quarter Pounder? B: the quadruple bladed disposable razor? Or C: the bobblehead doll?

LAWLESS: The bobblehead doll.

SAGAL: You want the bobblehead?

LAWLESS: Yes, because I have one.

SAGAL: You have one.

LAWLESS: I have one.

SAGAL: Thus you're choosing - so you're choosing the bobblehead doll.

LAWLESS: Because I...

SAGAL: No, it was the Quarter Pounder. He invented the Quarter Pounder, and he just died. He was a dean at McDonald's Hamburger University.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: He helped to contribute to the development of the Filet-O-Fish sandwich and the frozen French fry, but his masterpiece...

LAWLESS: What a guy.

SAGAL: I know, but his masterpiece was the Quarter Pounder. He said, quote...

LAWLESS: Yes, indeed.

SAGAL: He said of his invention, quote, "I felt there was a void in our menu vis-Ã -vis the adult, who wanted a higher ratio of meat to bun.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: That's how they talk at McDonald's.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: The next question. Scientist Robert Rines died in November. He was a renaissance man. He developed radar technology for the army. He composed scores for more than ten Broadway and off Broadway shows. But the one thing he was really passionate about the last 30 years of his life was what? A: perfecting a recipe for Long Island Iced Tea? B: finding the Loch Ness monster? Or C: he was the world's foremost collector of "Three's Company" memorabilia?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAWLESS: Wow. That is random, man.

SAGAL: It is random, but one of those things...

PROVENZA: I think there are a few bobbleheads in that collection.

SAGAL: One of these things was his obsession, Robert Rines, who just died.

LAWLESS: I'm going to go with the Long Island Iced Tea.

SAGAL: That he spent 30 years trying to perfect...

LAWLESS: It's A again, but yeah.

SAGAL: He spent 30 years trying to perfect the formula for the perfect Long Island Iced Tea?

LAWLESS: Yeah.

SAGAL: I'm afraid it was the Loch Ness monster.

POUNDSTONE: Aw, man.

SAGAL: I tried. He said he saw something while sitting next to the lake in 1972. Spent 30 years, using all his technological expertise to try to find it, including strapping cameras to dolphins. But all he ever got was a grainy picture of a flipper.

LAWLESS: Don't you think it's rude to put a dolphin in fresh water?

SAGAL: They don't care.

LAWLESS: Anyway...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Do they? Maybe that's why he didn't find it.

PROVENZA: What you don't know in this story is that over the course of that 30 years, he was drinking Long Island Iced Teas constantly.

SAGAL: There you are.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, let's see if we can get one right here. On December 15th, we lost Curtis Allina. He didn't invent something, but rather improved it. What was his great innovation? A: he put heads on Pez candy dispensers? B: he invented the mute button for remote controls? Or C: he came up with the silver reclining lady logo for truck mud flaps.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONNOR: He's a god, whichever one he did.

SAGAL: Whichever one it was.

PROVENZA: Any three of those is something to be proud of, any one of those three.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAWLESS: B.

SAGAL: You're going to go for B, he invented the mute button?

LAWLESS: B, yes.

SAGAL: That would be a boon to mankind, wouldn't it? But I'm afraid it was A, he put the head on Pez dispensers.

CONNOR: Yes.

POUNDSTONE: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Allina was the marketing manager for the very proper Austrian company that made Pez mints, when he approved putting little heads on the dispensers to appeal to kids. And the rest is history. Carl, how did Lucy Lawless do on our quiz?

KASELL: Lucy came up empty, Peter. No correct answers, no prize for Rachel Huffine.

LAWLESS: Sorry, Rachel. Thank you so much for having me.

SAGAL: Oh thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Lucy Lawless stars as Lucretia in the new series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand." It is an awful lot of fun, and Lucy, you are great in it. Lucy Lawless, thank you so much for joining us.

LAWLESS: Thanks for having me.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.

LAWLESS: Bye, Peter. Cheerio.

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