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Lucy Lawless discusses her new character in Salem

Lucy Lawless, left, and Janet Montgomery in Salem. William Lothridge / courtesy WGN America / AP Photo
Lucy Lawless, left, and Janet Montgomery in Salem. William Lothridge / courtesy WGN America / AP Photo

As if there weren’t enough upheavals in 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts, the haunted village is about to welcome Lucy Lawless.

Celebrated for such unflinching performances as the title character in Xena: Warrior Princess, a vicious Cylon in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica and as the scheming slave-mistress Lucretia in the Spartacus television drama, Lawless is about to cast her spell over Salem, the witch-war drama from the American television network WGN.

The first season of the show just ended on OSN this month, but fans won’t have long to wait to see Lawless make her debut on the show in season two – although an exact date has yet to be set, it is scheduled to begin here next month.

We caught up with Lawless on the set of the show in Shreveport, Louisiana, to get the low-down on the drama and her role in it.

In the season two premiere, you are introduced in a brief but shocking scene that involves a bathtub and a creepy way of draining it ...

Boy, oh boy – it’s going to get much worse. This is absolutely the strongest, most twisted character I’ve ever played. This show is not a history lesson – it’s a new way of presenting horror. For people who are squeamish, I’d recommend that you do not watch. For everyone else, it’s a terrifying thrill ride.

Tell us about your character, the Countess Marburg

I’m playing one of the last of the original witches. She’s thousands of years old and has had many incarnations. She often died horrible deaths. She’s a real survivor. She now has stumbled across Salem and Mary Sibley [Salem’s most powerful and ruthless witch, played by Janet Montgomery], who is the most fascinating person the countess has met in hundreds of years. She becomes fixated on Mary, which means, inevitably, that I must consume her. But Mary’s not going to go easily.

Is it hard to play someone as evil as the countess?

It’s fun. You play everything as if it’s absolutely real and normal, and that’s what makes the character so bizarre. The horror of each situation is all in the audience’s reaction.

You’ve played a lot of powerful and often startling women. Are you tough off-screen?

It took me years, decades, to learn to be soft. I was raised [in New Zealand] with a lot of brothers. I didn’t know I was a girl until I was about 8. But if that’s my lot in life, I’m not one to grumble. It’s been pretty good.

Did you plan a career where you would play such groundbreaking roles?

I float through life with no plans at all. I am in awe of those actors who are always doing stuff to promote themselves with videos and a website. That ain’t me. I just kind of float on. But I have to say, in retrospect, I don’t think I could have been any luckier.

Do you believe in witches?

I’m quite committed to the non-“woo-woo” life. I really like not feeling like there are ghosts and goblins around. Why do you want to be scared all the time? I feel like maybe it’s a choice whether you think they exist or not and I choose not to engage in all that kind of stuff. I’m very happy with the practical world. Life is complicated enough.


Updated: April 18, 2015 04:00 AM