From the AUSXIP
The Odd Couple
SUNDAY , 08 DECEMBER 2002
She's an international TV star. He's a Kiwi music icon. So when Lucy Lawless and Dave Dobbyn go on a rock tour together, who will be doing who a favour? Sarah Stuart talks to the newly minted double act.
She was an unknown 21-year-old rushing home to her eight-month-old baby. He was an infamous Kiwi rocker rushing past her to the bar.
"I'm Lucy Lawless and I want you to remember my name," the aspiring actor said, waggling her finger at a diminutive Dave Dobbyn. He promptly forgot it - it was, after all, free booze at an awards night in the once-glamorous Trillos convention centre in Auckland. "And I forgot almost everything in those days."
Thirteen years later and the fan is a superstar, the rocker's dry and that baby is 14 and heading out to summer gigs, much like the one her mum and Dobbyn are about to embark on. The Dave and Lucy Show will be an 11-venue celebration of classic Kiwi summer songs, as sung by a worried warrior princess addicted to risky career moves but nervous as hell.
"I'm dabbling and I admit it and I apologise to the potential audience," she says. But she wasn't going to let an opportunity like this pass her by.
Internationally famous stars of American TV cult hits guaranteed to run for decades don't need to test themselves with a new career. The wealthy Lawless, star of Xena, Warrior Princess, could be resting on her celebrity laurels in her Malibu mansion, reading film scripts. Instead she's stretching vocal cords she's a little unsure of and heading for motels in New Zealand's kitschiest holiday towns.
"I'm deeply envious of her confidence," says Dobbyn. "I have been painfully shy and had bouts of severe self-doubt which have clouded my career all through my life."
"It must look like confidence but it's not that," says Lawless, eating biscotti between rehearsals and photo-shoots. "I have a deathly fear of stagnating. It's being attracted to being afraid. I have to do the scariest thing because otherwise I'm missing out on things and I don't want to end up being an old lady with bruised shins from kicking myself."
Singing, for Lawless, is the scariest thing. Once an aspiring opera singer, a bad experience as a teenager has made her paranoid about her voice.
"I had a singing teacher who was wrong for me," she says. "I developed bad habits. But singing with Dave and working with a voice coach in LA has helped."
The tour double act was Dobbyn's manager's idea. Left-field, certainly. But with chart-topper Anika Moa as support, it's almost guaranteed a sell-out.
"She said Lucy sings," says Dobbyn. "I said, that's wacky. And now it's not wacky - it's deeply, deeply serious."
"He knew he could sing, the band could play and I was confident," says Lawless of Dobbyn's enthusiasm for the project. "I think he's bored and wants to go out and meet people."
It was almost named The Dave and Lucy Show and after only a couple of weeks working together their banter is like that of old buddies.
There's still a lot of the adoring fan in Lawless, who says she grew up with the music she's most keen to sing: Dobbyn, Split Enz, Sharon O'Neill, Space Waltz. And Dobbyn, sans alcohol, is a man who gets on with everyone.
They began planning the tour when Lawless was in LA. She sang down the phone and they talked about their favourite music. The actor decided on the New Zealand-only content.
"When I'm in LA I only wanted to listen to Kiwi stuff."
Lawless won't be singing anything too taxing. "This is not the freak-out tour. It's the touch the people tour." And there'll be a lot of Dobbyn songs - the classics and maybe a couple from the new album he'll release in April.
"Lucy's a fan of my stuff and I'll be eternally flattered about that."
Lawless has sung in public before, including a well-received stint on Broadway in Grease and the odd Christmas in the Park concert in Auckland. There have been disasters, however, such as the 1997 ice-hockey match in California when Xena was asked to sing the difficult Star Spangled Banner and accidentally exposed a breast during the performance.
"That was a terrible rendition," she says.
"But it's a very hard song to sing," soothes Dobbyn.
Besides, failure brings freedom. Both artists are keen on long careers full of challenges and the odd public stumble. "Once you've failed in a big public way, it's freeing really," says Lawless. "If you fail horribly many, many times then you're not afraid of failing."
Despite the musician's encouragement, Lawless says the tour isn't the beginning of a new career. Acting is still her gig; she's contemplating a "400-year contract" for an American TV one-hour drama show, although the hours required won't leave her much time to mother. She may aim for a reduced contract that allows as much time in New Zealand as in LA, and then there's always film.
"I've got baby vomit on my top," she said as she arrived for the interview, scratching away at the offending stain. After years of the relentless work with Xena, spending time with teenage Daisy, toddler Julius and new baby Judah is a big priority.
"When I told my daughter about this summer tour she was so excited," says Lawless. "She said Ooh Mum, I would be so proud of you if you did that'."
Dobbyn's children, nine-year-old Grace and seven-year-old Eli, were less impressed, even though Xena was joining the show.
"Ahh, they're not big on telly."
Though they have parenting, Catholic upbringings and a love of Kiwi music in common, Lawless and Dobbyn have lived very different lives. The intensely shy Dobbyn spent years hiding his stage fear behind the bottle, with a well-documented descent into drugs and alcohol that he kicked, for good, a few years ago. Lawless became pregnant at 20, married and fitted her career around motherhood and early nights.
"I've been a mother my whole (adult) life," she says. "I never did that social life thing." Instead she's found excitement in fear - the challenges of avoiding public humiliation.
"Acting is psychologically dangerous," she says. "It can put a ripple in the fabric of your being."
Performing in last year's Auckland Theatre Company Vagina Monologues with established stage actors Danielle Cormack and Madeleine Sami was terrifying. She was pregnant with Judah at the time and found herself in a very different state of mind.
"Sometimes the pregnancy runs you a bit. I wasn't Lucy. I'm getting back to Lucy now but it can take a couple of years for me, through the whole being pregnant, giving birth, having a new baby thing. It's necessary to make you happy to stay in your cave and feed and nurture your baby."
So now she's breaking out, feeling the fear and hitting the pub circuit to sing with the country's best pub rocker while she decides on her next career move.
"What's happened to me is someone you really admire says do you want to do something really scary and I'll be beside you all the way," says Lawless. "I'd be an idiot to turn it down."
a.. The Summer Holiday Tour
Dec 26 Taupo Great Lakes; Dec 27 Papamoa Sports and Recreation Club; Dec 28 Coroglen Tavern; Dec 29, 30 Tauranga Baycourt Theatre; Dec 31 Waihi Beach Hotel; Jan 2 Silverdale Wade Hotel; Jan 3 Mangawhai Tavern; Jan 4 Duke of Malborough Tavern, Russell; Jan 5 Kaitaia Community Centre, Jan 8 Parthenon, Wellington; Jan 11 St James, Auckland.