Want to make Lucy Lawless mad as Hades? Just ask the star of Xena: Warrior Princess about her soon-to-be-released action figure. ''It looks like they put my head on a He-Man's body!'' she huffs. ''It's got these enormously muscular arms. They could shave a few bloody cubic inches off that dolly!''
Still, the leather-clad Xena is no Barbie and neither is Lawless (yes, that is her real name). On the phone from her native New Zealand, where Xena is filmed, the six-foot actress sounds like a female Charles Barkley. ''I don't want any of this role-model nonsense,'' declares Lawless, 27, whose show is the highest-rated new syndicated series. ''I don't want anyone copying me...don't waste your time.'' She waxes tough on subjects ranging from her hair dye (''I love being a brunet. People are kind of intimidated'') to the show's kung fu-style fight scenes (''I've hit plenty of people on the set, and it's great because stuntmen don't cry'').
How'd the blue-eyed Kiwi get such brass? Her far-from-Hollywood upbringing probably has something to do with it. Lawless who recently separated from her husband and lives in Auckland with her 7-year-old daughter, Daisy took off at 18 to go ''grape picking on the Rhine,'' then headed for Australia to work in a gold mine. She eventually turned to acting, snagging spots on commercials down under before her breakthrough last year as the arch-villainess on Hercules.
Next came the Herculean task of turning the butchering Xena into a spin-off-worthy heroine. ''We're trying a 12-step program,'' says executive producer Rob Tapert. The actress, meanwhile, started a physical regimen. Once nicknamed Unco (for uncoordinated), Lawless hired a personal trainer last summer and did a stint in L.A. with a martial-arts master. But perhaps her biggest challenge has been squeezing into her costume: ''It makes you crotchety to be trussed up like a chicken,'' she says. ''I think that's why Xena's such a grump.''