NEW YORK — As if there weren’t enough upheaval in 17th-Century Salem, Massachusetts, this haunted village is about to welcome Lucy Lawless.
Celebrated for such unflinching performances as Xena, Warrior Princess, and Lucretia in the “Spartacus” trilogy, Lawless is now casting her spell on “Salem,” WGN’s witch-war drama, as it begins its second season Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT.
Phoning from Shreveport, Louisiana (where she was midway through shooting with castmates including Janet Montgomery, Shane West, Seth Gabel and Ashley Madekwe), Lawless chatted about the show and her role on it:
The Associated Press: In the premiere you’re introduced in a brief but shocking scene that involves a bathtub and a creepy way of draining it.
Lucy Lawless: In episodes after that, you’ll be seeing a whole lot more of me.
AP: I don’t know how much more of you there is to see.
Lawless (laughing): Get your mind out of the gutter! 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.
AP: Tell me about your character, the Countess Marburg.
Lawless: 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 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.
AP: Is it hard to play someone as evil as the countess?
Lawless: 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.
AP: You’ve played a lot of powerful and often startling women. Are you tough off-screen?
Lawless: 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.
AP: Did you plan a career where you would play such groundbreaking roles?
Lawless: 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.
AP: One more question: Do you believe in witches?
Lawless: I’m quite committed to the non-woo-woo life. I really like not feeling like there’s 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!