I was bowled over by Bridget Petrella's interview with Renee and emailed to thank her for the interview. Next thing I know she offered the article for the News Archive here! I wish to thank Bridget Petrella for contributing the article to The Australian Xena Information Page - Many thanks Bridget!
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'Xena' Star Renee O'Connor Deeply Soulful And Subtly Engaging
by Bridget Petrella with additional editing by Sonia Satra

There is an understated enthusiasm that literally exudes from actress Renee O’Connor. Her intrinsic wisdom and soft spoken mannerisms are profoundly meshed amid the undertones of a rather contagious laugh. It’s not difficult to comprehend why so many people instantly like her. Deeply soulful and subtly engaging, O’Connor is far more introspective and sagacious than her alter-ego Gabrielle, "the more than just significant other half" of one of syndicated television‘s most dynamic duos. ‘Xena Warrior Princess’, the critically acclaimed "cult classic" brain child of producers Rob Tapert, R. J. Stewart and Sam Raimi, now seen in more than 115 countries, is coming to an end this year, much to the dismay of millions upon millions of unwavering fans. The show itself has reached an echelon of storyline excellence that is still unparalleled by most network offerings. After six seasons of nothing less than a breathtaking excursion through life, love, death, and everything in between, the warrior princess and her battling bard will, no doubt, ride off into television history as veritable pop culture icons, a well deserved accolade, all things considered. Renee O’Connor, on the other hand, is embarking upon yet another episode in her life, quite possibly on the unmitigated threshold of a pinnacle turning point in her already noteworthy career. With two directorial credits and an extraordinary body of acting work behind her, O’Connor will, unquestionably (at least in my humble opinion) go on to achieve some fairly incredible aspirations as both an actress and a director.

A culmination of natural beauty and bona fide dedication, O’Connor personifies the definition of a true "working actress", both on and off camera. She and the rest of the ‘Xena’ cast, log in upwards of around 12 to 16 grueling hours per day on the set, an experience she compares to "Working with your brothers and sisters...". If you haven’t already concluded (by tuning in each week) that O’Connor reveals various layers of herself within her work, you need only pay attention a bit more closely. She is the epitome of compassion and sincerity. As a result, O'Connor continues to amaze and captivate her audience, catapulting Gabrielle on an passionate expedition of pure self discovery... and she does it all with such a graceful charm that it‘s absolutely seamless. I recently had the unique opportunity to speak with Renee O’Connor about an abundance of topics... the progression of her work on Xena, cooking squid with weapons, a dash of spirituality and the culmination of her thoughts on eventually leaving behind what she now feels is her second family. I must confess that when I first decided to take on this feature, I was a bit intimidated by the thought of interviewing someone of such obvious depth. I mean, after all, Gabrielle, the fictional character, was larger than life, a mythical idol of legendary status— I felt as though some small part of me would be interviewing a childhood hero of sorts... It was indeed an oddly overwhelming feeling. As a seasoned journalist, I was nervous for the first time in several interviews. But then, something rather unexpected occurred, once O’Connor and I began speaking, a mutual sense of humor gradually surfaced— and we laughed throughout the course of what followed...

UPBEAT First of all I want to congratulate you on your recent UPBEAT Entertainment News Tube File Award for Best Actress in a Drama or Comedy...
Renee O’Connor
"Thank you so much. Please tell everyone at UPBEAT that it was so nice of them to vote for me." 

UPBEAT We did a bit of research on you via the web, a while back, you wrote an article for The Austin American Statesman, it was an extraordinary piece, very insightful... In the article you describe New Zealand as being a sort of profound journey for you— What would you say has been the absolute pinnacle of your discoveries about life during your time in New Zealand?
Renee O’Connor
"Thank you. I think more than anything it’s probably the lifestyle of living in New Zealand. The people here hold such morals and values... it’s overwhelming. When you think about going back to the States you start to become more aware of the violence there and how we pollute the Earth more than the New Zealanders."

UPBEAT So it’s a very peaceful existence?
Renee O’Connor
"Yes, it’s very peaceful. It’s very beautiful as well. But still, my time in New Zealand parallels with my journey on ‘Xena’, so of course probably the most profound aspect of my being in New Zealand has been getting to know the New Zealanders who make up the crew for the show, and becoming part of their family. It’s like working with your brother or sister. It’s amazing how well we all get along. You’d think that there’d be some in house fighting or something like that, but everyone here just loves one another other so much."

UPBEAT You can see that by watching the show. It really has a beautiful synergy to it, a wonderful sort of "flow".
Renee O’Connor
"There are so many people that work on every episode. We have almost a hundred people in the office, at least, on two different units."

UPBEAT So I would have to think you will be sad to see it all come to an end.
Renee O’Connor "Oh yes definitely. I’ve grown so much as a person through playing Gabrielle, much less living in New Zealand and being with all of these people that I can’t imagine my life being any different. I mean, in essence, my life ‘would’ be so different if I hadn’t gotten this role, so it’s going to be very sad for me."

UPBEAT If you hadn’t decided to embark upon a career in acting, what would you be doing right now?
Renee O’Connor
"I always thought I would be a marine biologist because I love the sea— but considering the fact that I’ve always loved acting and the theater, I don’t think I ever gave anything else much of a chance (laughs)."

UPBEAT So the thought of something else never crossed your mind?
Renee O’Connor "As I said, I was always fascinated with the sea, but no, not enough to pursue it. I think I’ll always be a theater gypsy at heart (laughs)."

UPBEAT Any immediate plans once the show wraps?
Renee O’Connor
"We’re not quite sure yet. We’re still trying to sort out our lives. It’s going to be a huge change for me once the show’s over. I’m so used to people telling me where to go and where to be at a certain time, you know (laughs)— I’m thinking, oh my word, I’m actually going to be making these decisions for myself, so in some ways, it’s going to be fantastic, but quite a different sensibility."

UPBEAT Okay we’re going to have to ask the "obligatory" subtext question... There are numerous, which is an understatement if you’ve been online lately, ongoing "heated" discussions and debates as to the sexual preference of the two characters, you have been quoted as saying something to the effect of, "They’re soul mates who just happen to be women." Let me preface this by first saying that I agree with you, I personally do not think the relationship between these two characters is about being gay or straight, I think it goes much deeper than that... That being said, would you be willing to elaborate on your thoughts about the nature of Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship? Can you perhaps define it a bit in more detail?
Renee O’Connor "(laughs) No (laughs)... not yet— you’ll have to wait till the show’s over, or at least near the end.

UPBEAT So they’re going to define it?
Renee O’Connor
"Well you know, I don’t really know honestly, how we’re going to end the show— I mean, every episode is so organic in that each story actually takes on a life of its own. It’s still being developed right up until the time we finish filming it. It’s obviously written beforehand, but we’re always finding new ideas and new acting beats or moments, so it’s just constantly evolving. I‘m sure in some way we‘ll try to resolve it, I would think so. It would be kind of a let down to all of the fans if we didn‘t, I‘m sure."

UPBEAT I think they should just give all of the diehard ‘Xena’ fans free subtext palm pilots, so that they could type dialogue in and have it translated into subtextual meaning.
Renee O’Connor "Oh, you mean, like a little box on the screen (laughs)? Yes, but that’s the beauty of the show though— that we’ve left it up to everyone to decide for themselves what the relationship is."

UPBEAT Speaking of writing, the show’s writers obviously spend a great deal of time researching storylines, case in point, the whole Norse trilogy, there was an interesting combination of several vastly different Norse myths, all incorporated into one rather captivating story arc. In order to accomplish something of that sort of magnitude, one would have to be somewhat well versed in mythological history... We noticed a plethora of literary references, sort of a Norse mythological buffetif you willEven the fairy tale ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was tossed in for good measure... And it all works out, which is quite amazing 
Renee O’Connor
"I know Rob (Tapert) has shelves of books on mythology, Greece, I mean, every story that we’ve approached, he has several books, that he’s actually read and been through as research in order to create these stories. So I think what happens is that he usually begins with the idea and then within the group of writers, they all add to it and it becomes something else, but Rob definitely does a lot of research. It’s done so well— he’s (Rob Tapert) just been the most passionate man behind the show, even more so than Lucy and myself."

UPBEAT How would you, Renee O’Connor, end the series? I mean, if we gave you an unlimited budget and made you the executive producer, what direction would you go in?
Renee O’Connor "(laughs) I’d probably do back to back musicals."

UPBEAT I think I’d make it into a cooking show.
Renee O’Connor
" (laughs) Yes, Gabrielle cooks squid."

UPBEAT Cooking with weapons— (laughs) so you’d prefer to end the show on a musical note?
Renee O’Connor
"(laughs) I don’t know actually, I’m just being silly (laughs). It’s still so hard for me to believe that the show’s really ending. I can’t quite grasp that. I’d probably make it a musical just so that we could have a good time because it’s going to be so sad. Maybe then we could try to find some levity in it."

UPBEAT Something more positive.
Renee O’Connor
"It actually will be a very positive day, in some ways because it’s such an accomplishment for all of the people that have worked so hard on the show."

UPBEAT The USA Network show ‘La Femme Nikita’ was originally slated to end its syndicated series run this past August. But fans barraged the network with thousands upon thousands of phone calls, letters and e-mails— In fact, they actually managed to shut down the USA Network e-mail server for a few days. In response to this the USA Network opted to add 8 more fan-inspired episodes which began in January. Essentially the fans spoke and the network listened to their demands, which I found particularly interesting. Do you think it’s possible that ‘Xena’ fans, who seem to have a much stronger voice, could overturn the decision to end after this season? Would you return for a 7th season?
Renee O’Connor "I know that both Lucy and I are aware that there’s been a strong influx of letters from fans saying how much they love the show and that they would love for it to continue. Everyone who works on the show wants it to go out in the very best form that it can, and I don’t know if we can do that by continuing. Actually, I’m personally quite ready to start a family and just continue on with other aspects of my life. I mean, I love Gabrielle and I love the show, it’s been such a blessing for me..."

UPBEAT But you’re ready to move on.
Renee O’Connor
"It’s not so much that, I just don’t want to see it die, you know? I don’t want to see it go out in an awful way because I love it so much."

UPBEAT So you’re essentially preparing yourself for it.
Renee O’Connor
"Oh yeah, and you just have to think that if not everyone is going to be ‘completely’ invested in the show, then it doesn’t seem like we should continue to do it, at least that’s how I feel about it. Personally, I think it‘s time for it to go out on a high, that‘s what Lucy and I both want. We want it to just ‘explode‘ on it‘s way out."

UPBEAT Speaking of explode, you guys do tend to "push the envelope" quite a bit in several areas... Wasn’t it a while back, that some Hindu groups spoke out rather harshly about the show’s spiritual direction, what was that all about?
Renee O’Connor
"In the episode ‘The Way’, we had offended different Hindu organizations pertaining to their God Krishna, because we actually personified him as a man, and that was never our intention. Most of the time we don’t realize how far we are pushing things— and what the end result might be. We just try to tell a good story hoping that everyone will remember that we’re a television show, just trying to entertain. But sometimes, obviously, people take things the wrong way."

UPBEAT Do you watch the show at all?
Renee O’Connor "I always watch the show as soon as the episode’s been completed. For me it’s a complete circle. I finished it and I like to see what the end result is. It also helps me keep track of my character and the journey that she’s on. She’s just changed so much (laughs)."

UPBEAT Your character has literally evolved full circle, and I have to commend you for that, because most of the deeper sense of character always comes from the actor or actress playing the role— and let’s face it, you are selling a pretty tall order of fiction with ‘Xena’. I mean, you are asking the audience to believe some incredibly far-fetched stuff like, the characters slept for 25 years— and quite frankly, they’re (the show's fans) loving every single minute of it, so it’s obviously working.
Renee O’Connor
"(laughs) Oh I know... (laughs) I think everyone who works on the show, Lucy and I, Kevin Smith, Ted Raimi, Alexandra Tydings and all of the wonderful actors that we’ve had, we all try to relate to each other on a very honest level with the characters. So it’s all about people speaking to other people honestly, and I guess everyone can relate to that."

UPBEAT Okay, so at some point in your lives, you’ve slept for 25 years (laughs).
Renee O’Connor
"(laughs) I would love to sleep for 25 years... (laughs)

UPBEAT You guys also defy every single law of nature on this show. I mean, the Theory of Relativity doesn’t always apply, you visit dead relatives— There are no rules at all on this show...
Renee O’Connor
"(laughs) Isn’t it great (laughs)?"

UPBEAT Yes it is. That being the case, what topic or area hasn’t the show covered or ventured into that you would have liked to have seen explored a bit more? I mean, you’ve died, you’ve traveled through time... you've gone to hell, what haven't you done?
Renee O’Connor
"Xena and Gabrielle haven’t yet invented travel through space (laughs). That would have been interesting to see. I do think we’ve covered everything else (laughs). Wouldn’t that be funny though, seeing Xena and Gabrielle trying to build a spaceship or a rocket ship? I could just see Gabrielle messing that one up (laughs).

UPBEAT Speaking of which... Gabrielle has experienced somewhat of a wardrobe "facelift" over the past several seasons, her outfits have become much more provocative. Anyway, during those first couple of seasons, did Gabrielle ever felt compelled to turn to Xena prior to a big battle and say, "Hey, could you at least lend me a wristband or something?"
Renee O’Connor
" (laughs) Can I please take just one breast plate (laughs)? I think every outfit that Gabrielle’s been in completely suited the stage that she was in. From ‘The Little House On The Prairie’ skirt, to the present, it all suited her evolution, her innocence at the time, and then her transition into trying to be a little warrior."

UPBEAT Obviously, the outfits are designed to be much more flattering than overly practical, in terms of fighting off the elements... I mean, during the Norse story arc, Gabrielle had to have been freezing, but she had that whole "Shania Twain" look going on... 
Renee O’Connor
"(laughs) Tell me about it. (laughs) That cracks me up. I mean, I just have to laugh about it sometimes, because all of the other actors will be dressed in these possum furs, with layers upon layers of clothing, with all of this cold and snow— and then there’s Gabrielle in her little ‘disco bikini’ number (laughs)."

UPBEAT What is Gabrielle searching for and has she found it?
Renee O’Connor
"That’s an interesting question. You know I’d have to say that I think Gabrielle is probably searching for her soul mate and that she found it in Xena, actually. Having been through the entire series, she’s probably been searching for the love of her life— which is Xena."

UPBEAT So it’s been something that’s been right in front of her.
Renee O’Connor
"Yes. But it’s also something that she had to leave her home and go through all of these different tragedies to finally discover."

UPBEAT What is Gabrielle’s perception of Xena?
Renee O’Connor
"She can’t cook— she never cleans her teeth (laughs)— She’ll never quite resolve her demons, will she (laughs)? Gabrielle’s frustration (laughs). I’m kidding. Really though, Xena is the ultimate hero, isn’t she? I know Gabrielle would admire that, I’m sure."

UPBEAT Looking back on all six seasons, which episodes do you feel have allowed Gabrielle the most growth as a character?
Renee O’Connor
"In every season, my character has been through a little arc of some sort, where she’s been forced out of her comfort zone. I don’t think I could pinpoint one particular episode that I would say is her actual turning point, at least not right now, it’s still too close to me. I just believe that every year she’s been through a transition. And you know, I completely believe it, I was going through my 20s as Gabrielle, the character going from 18 all the way to now—"

UPBEAT How old were you when you first started on ‘Xena‘?
Renee O’Connor

UPBEAT So you grew up on this show?
Renee O’Connor
"I did grow up on this show. It’s so funny for me to look back on some of those older episodes, I can remember exactly what was going on personally for me at the time, and it’s really interesting to see that. It was amazing."

UPBEAT So now you’re shifting your career focus a bit to directing, what was it like to be behind the camera planning the shots?
Renee O’Connor
"It’s quite a daunting experience (laughs). The first time for me was quite overwhelming. I wasn’t used to being in charge and I took the entire episode very personally— so when I would be behind for half a day, which is actually huge in filming terms, I would try to rise above it and accomplish it all the following day, but it was always quite discouraging— However, this time around, it was just the most amazing experience to see how it can all work (laughs)."

UPBEAT I think some of the best directors in the business are actors, because they are so aware of both themselves and their craft...
Renee O’Connor
"Actually I have to say when I’m acting, I try not to think about directing at all (laughs). It doesn’t help you (laughs). I mean, if you’re trying to convince Xena not to kill someone, it’s not going to help you to think that you really should be readjusting your position. You know, it’s probably an innate sense that I have and don’t realize I might be readjusting or doing certain things, but I try not to think about it. I believe over the last six years now, I’ve been learning in between actual acting moments on the show. When they were setting up the camera or discussing lens and shots, I would always listen. But once I start acting, I have to let that stuff go."

UPBEAT When you’re directing, what would you say is your primary focus?
Renee O’Connor
"For me both episodes that I directed were so different and what I think I learned from that is each episode, as I’ve said before, takes on a life of its own, and you try to find what the energy is within the story that you’re telling. I don’t think I have a certain style already. I know there are specific things that I’ve experimented with, to see what I like and what I don’t like, but that’s just part of my growth I suppose, as a director. I mean, I could easily pick it all out if I showed you each of the episodes, i.e. oh I really wanted to see what this would look like if I tried this composition or if I contrasted this with something else, but that’s all just really in my own mind."

UPBEAT If you could direct any actor, in film or television, who would it be?
Renee O’Connor
"I love actors who are wonderful— like John Cusack and Russell Crowe, and wouldn’t be a treat to eventually direct them one day (laughs)?"

UPBEAT Well, you never know, that could happen.
Renee O’Connor
"I’m the type of person who feels I have to prove myself first. I would have to have the best story that I could ever approach them with in order to fuel it all in the correct way."

UPBEAT How would you describe yourself?
Renee O’Connor
"(laughs) As what? As a neighbor? Oh— she’s just a horrible neighbor, she’s never home (laughs)."

UPBEAT (laughs) As a person. If you were to write your own brief biography, what would you say about yourself? 
Renee O’Connor
"I believe I have a lot to learn in life, still. I do try to be the best person I can, but I still think that I have a long way to go."

UPBEAT Don’t we all?
Renee O’Connor
"Yes we do (laughs).

UPBEAT Do you consider yourself to be very spiritual?
Renee O’Connor
"I am, very personally. I am extremely spiritual."

UPBEAT I think there’s a vast difference between being a spiritual person and being a religious person.
Renee O’Connor
"Oh I agree. I wouldn’t say that I’m overly religious, but I have a pretty good relationship with my spiritual being."

UPBEAT I also believe it’s all a huge balance, and you have to be aware of it on some level.
Renee O’Connor
"Oh yes, but I think our fate is predestined."

UPBEAT Do you believe that free will factors into that equation as well?
Renee O’Connor
"Granted, I do also believe in free will as well. I just think we have a path that we might be directed towards, and it’s sort of up to us to find our way there."

UPBEAT Do you feel you’re on your path?
Renee O’Connor
"Yes, most definitely. I remember a point, when I was in California, where I almost got out of acting completely. It’s very hard to become an actor in film and television, you have to have such perseverance and you have to really believe that if you have any sort of talent at all, you will find work one day. You can’t falter. And the other thing I believe is you have to try to grow as an actor, or at whatever craft you are doing, be it acting or singing and dancing, or jewelry making (laughs). You need to constantly challenge yourself so that you grow and that’s what I’ve always tried to do, to keep myself distracted from the fact that I wasn’t working. So I do remember a point where I almost completely gave it all up, but if I had, I never would have come to New Zealand, I never would have experienced the show ‘Xena’, which is amazing for women, and very empowering. I mean, I would never have met my husband, which is why I believe I was meant to come to New Zealand. I had a path that I was meant to be on, I just had to make the right decision in order to find it, and I did."

UPBEAT As both an actress and a director, do you feel that network television has actually succeeded in creating enough strong independent female roles? 
Renee O’Connor
"Well to tell you the truth, over the last six years, I’ve hardly watched any television at all, because of the hours that I keep on the set. I come home very late at night and then I study for the next day. It’s hard to believe that I’ve missed most of ‘Seinfeld’, I’ve missed most of ‘Friends’, all of these television shows that I know have had quite an impact on our generation, on our culture, I’ve completely missed out on them. I don’t know any of the characters at all. The only awareness I do have is how revolutionary the character Xena was at the time and how she’s actually pushed the requirements even now, within the industry, to create complex women, at least with action roles, I hope. I mean, look at Laura Croft (from Tomb Raider)— I can’t imagine back when I was in L.A., that there would be a female action hero role for a film, it was just unheard of at the time. It’s incredible. I remember when Rob (Tapert) was first trying to get ’Xena’ off of the ground, I wasn’t actually with him, but I remember it was just fresh, that we were the underdogs, no one was expecting very much of us, and it’s just incredible to see what’s happened since then. We’re probably on the preface of some sort of revolutionary role for women. Perhaps the turning point has already happened, I mean, where else can women go from here? I don‘t know, maybe we just need to keep on pushing forward and see what happens."

UPBEAT I think it would be refreshing if we could turn on the set and see a female role, that makes us say, "My God, why aren’t I doing that?"
Renee O’Connor
"Oh that’s true, that makes sense. That would be nice actually, heroes who are women that we see everyday... There are so many of those women out there. It’s amazing." UB

Bridget Petrella is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of UPBEAT Entertainment News Online. At this point in her life, she's seriously contemplating a complete and unbridled abandonment of " typical" network television... opting instead for The Cartoon Network, Xena Warrior Princess, V.I.P., WWF Wrestling, Nick At Nite's TV Land, All HBO Original Programming and of course... TNN's Roller Jam.

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