When Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie makes her grand return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2021’s Thor: Love and Thunder, she’ll do so as the first openly LGBTQ superhero in the franchise’s decade-long history. The actress herself dropped that piece of intel at Marvel Studios’s star-studded Comic-Con panel, and Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige quickly confirmed it.
It’s a bold leap forward for the Disney-owned MCU, one that was made possible, in part, by the arrival of another bicurious woman warrior a quarter-century ago. In 1995, Lucy Lawless donned the armored chestplate of the Grecian warrior princess Xena for an episode of the syndicated series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. That guest spot led to an ongoing series that ran for six seasons, and introduced the world to one of fandom’s most endearing — and enduring — same-sex couples: Xena and her companion, Gabrielle (Renée O’Connor).
Speaking at a Yahoo Entertainment-moderated BUILD Series interview, Lawless demurred when asked whether she thinks that Xena and Gabrielle walked so that Valkyrie could run to find her queen. “I’m a little goldfish. ... I only know what I’m doing right now,” joked the New Zealand-born actress, who is currently executive producing and starring in the new Australian crime-solving series, My Life Is Murder. (Watch the interview above.)
“Everything paves the way for everything else, but it can contract, too,” Lawless continued. “To be honest with you, my inspiration [for Xena] was Ripley from the Alien movies. And Joan of Arc was there long before us! Interestingly, enough, when we started making Xena, the French syndicators at the time were like, ‘The French will never accept a female warrior!’ I was like, ‘Joan of Arc?’ There was a lot of resistance generally to a female action hero, and I think we put a nail in that argument. ”
While some fans saw the groundbreaking nature of Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship right away, Lawless says that she and O’Connor were slower to pick up on the cues. The actress specifically credits former Village Voice writer Michael Musto with cluing a wider audience into the show’s positive messaging about female love. (Musto interviewed Lawless for a 2003 issue of Out magazine where she openly declared that Xena and Gabrielle were in love.) “I’m really grateful to have been part of something that did that, to let people feel like they were seen for the first time onscreen. The show was great for ethnic diversity and empowerment generally.” To this day, Lawless regularly appears at gay pride events. “I’ve always tried to pay back, because they’ve been so great to me personally and professionally, and I thank them and love them for it.”
She’s also willing to pick up her chakram again should a Xena reboot become a reality. Watching Linda Hamilton back in action as Sarah Connor in the Terminator: Dark Fate trailer sparked an idea in Lawless’s brain. “I saw Linda being amazing, and I’m like ‘Why can’t we do that?’ Bring back me and Renée and reboot Xena!” But here’s the caveat: it would have to be a one-off movie that passes the torch to another generation. “I always hated the action, and I don’t want to live that life,” she says, laughing. “But for a movie, I can do a little bit! And it’s about handing over the baton to Junior Xena or whatever. If you need mine and Renée’s help to do that — let’s talk.”
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