There is an understated enthusiasm that literally exudes from
actress Renee OConnor. Her intrinsic wisdom and soft spoken mannerisms are
profoundly meshed amid the undertones of a rather contagious laugh. Its not
difficult to comprehend why so many people instantly like her. Deeply soulful and subtly
engaging, OConnor is far more introspective and sagacious than her alter-ego
Gabrielle, "the more than just significant other half" of one of syndicated
televisions 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 OConnor, 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, OConnor will, unquestionably (at least in my humble
opinion) go on to achieve some fairly incredible aspirations as both an actress and a
A culmination of natural beauty and bona fide dedication, OConnor 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 havent already concluded (by tuning in each week) that
OConnor 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 its absolutely seamless. I recently had the unique opportunity to speak
with Renee OConnor 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
OConnor 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 OConnor "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 OConnor "Thank you. I think more than
anything its probably the lifestyle of living in New Zealand. The people here hold
such morals and values... its 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 its a very peaceful existence?
Renee OConnor "Yes, its very peaceful.
Its 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. Its like working with your brother or sister.
Its amazing how well we all get along. Youd think that thered be some in
house fighting or something like that, but everyone here just loves one another other so
UPBEAT You can see that by watching the show. It really has a beautiful synergy to it,
a wonderful sort of "flow".
Renee OConnor "There are so many people that
work on every episode. We have almost a hundred people in the office, at least, on two
UPBEAT So I would have to think you will be sad to see it all come to an end.
Renee OConnor "Oh yes definitely. Ive
grown so much as a person through playing Gabrielle, much less living in New Zealand and
being with all of these people that I cant imagine my life being any different. I
mean, in essence, my life would be so different if I hadnt gotten this
role, so its going to be very sad for me."
UPBEAT If you hadnt decided to embark upon a career in acting, what would you be
doing right now?
Renee OConnor "I always thought I would be a
marine biologist because I love the sea but considering the fact that Ive
always loved acting and the theater, I dont think I ever gave anything else much of
a chance (laughs)."
UPBEAT So the thought of something else never crossed your mind?
Renee OConnor "As I said, I was always
fascinated with the sea, but no, not enough to pursue it. I think Ill always be a
theater gypsy at heart (laughs)."
UPBEAT Any immediate plans once the show wraps?
Renee OConnor "Were not quite sure yet.
Were still trying to sort out our lives. Its going to be a huge change for me
once the shows over. Im so used to people telling me where to go and where to
be at a certain time, you know (laughs) Im thinking, oh my word, Im
actually going to be making these decisions for myself, so in some ways, its going
to be fantastic, but quite a different sensibility."
UPBEAT Okay were going to have to ask the "obligatory" subtext
question... There are numerous, which is an understatement if youve 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,
"Theyre 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 Gabrielles relationship? Can you perhaps define it a bit in more
Renee OConnor "(laughs) No (laughs)... not
yet youll have to wait till the shows over, or at least near the end.
UPBEAT So theyre going to define it?
Renee OConnor "Well you know, I dont
really know honestly, how were going to end the show I mean, every episode is
so organic in that each story actually takes on a life of its own. Its still being
developed right up until the time we finish filming it. Its obviously written
beforehand, but were always finding new ideas and new acting beats or moments, so
its just constantly evolving. Im sure in some way well try to resolve
it, I would think so. It would be kind of a let down to all of the fans if we didnt,
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
Renee OConnor "Oh, you mean, like a little
box on the screen (laughs)? Yes, but thats the beauty of the show though that
weve left it up to everyone to decide for themselves what the relationship is."
UPBEAT Speaking of writing, the shows 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 buffet if you will
Even the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty was tossed in for good measure... And
it all works out, which is quite amazing
Renee OConnor "I know Rob (Tapert) has shelves
of books on mythology, Greece, I mean, every story that weve approached, he has
several books, that hes 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. Its done so well hes (Rob Tapert)
just been the most passionate man behind the show, even more so than Lucy and
UPBEAT How would you, Renee OConnor, 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 OConnor "(laughs) Id probably
do back to back musicals."
UPBEAT I think Id make it into a cooking show.
Renee OConnor " (laughs) Yes, Gabrielle cooks
UPBEAT Cooking with weapons (laughs) so youd prefer to end the show on a
Renee OConnor "(laughs) I dont know
actually, Im just being silly (laughs). Its still so hard for me to believe
that the shows really ending. I cant quite grasp that. Id probably make
it a musical just so that we could have a good time because its going to be so sad.
Maybe then we could try to find some levity in it."
UPBEAT Something more positive.
Renee OConnor "It actually will be a very
positive day, in some ways because its 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 its 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 OConnor "I know that both Lucy and I
are aware that theres 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 dont know if we can do
that by continuing. Actually, Im 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,
its been such a blessing for me..."
UPBEAT But youre ready to move on.
Renee OConnor "Its not so much that, I
just dont want to see it die, you know? I dont want to see it go out in an
awful way because I love it so much."
UPBEAT So youre essentially preparing yourself for it.
Renee OConnor "Oh yeah, and you just have to
think that if not everyone is going to be completely invested in the show,
then it doesnt seem like we should continue to do it, at least thats how I
feel about it. Personally, I think its time for it to go out on a high, thats
what Lucy and I both want. We want it to just explode on its way
UPBEAT Speaking of explode, you guys do tend to "push the envelope" quite a
bit in several areas... Wasnt it a while back, that some Hindu groups spoke out
rather harshly about the shows spiritual direction, what was that all about?
Renee OConnor "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 dont 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
were 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 OConnor "I always watch the show as
soon as the episodes been completed. For me its 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 shes on. Shes 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 lets 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, theyre (the show's fans) loving every single minute of it, so its
Renee OConnor "(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 weve had, we all try to relate to each
other on a very honest level with the characters. So its 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, youve slept for 25 years (laughs).
Renee OConnor "(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 doesnt always apply, you visit dead relatives There are no rules
at all on this show...
Renee OConnor "(laughs) Isnt it great
UPBEAT Yes it is. That being the case, what topic or area hasnt the show covered
or ventured into that you would have liked to have seen explored a bit more? I mean,
youve died, youve traveled through time... you've gone to hell, what haven't
Renee OConnor "Xena and Gabrielle havent
yet invented travel through space (laughs). That would have been interesting to see. I do
think weve covered everything else (laughs). Wouldnt 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 OConnor " (laughs) Can I please take
just one breast plate (laughs)? I think every outfit that Gabrielles 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
Renee OConnor "(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 theres Gabrielle in her
little disco bikini number (laughs)."
UPBEAT What is Gabrielle searching for and has she found it?
Renee OConnor "Thats an interesting
question. You know Id 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, shes probably been searching for the love of her life which is
UPBEAT So its been something thats been right in front of her.
Renee OConnor "Yes. But its also
something that she had to leave her home and go through all of these different tragedies
to finally discover."
UPBEAT What is Gabrielles perception of Xena?
Renee OConnor "She cant cook she
never cleans her teeth (laughs) Shell never quite resolve her demons, will she
(laughs)? Gabrielles frustration (laughs). Im kidding. Really though, Xena is
the ultimate hero, isnt she? I know Gabrielle would admire that, Im
UPBEAT Looking back on all six seasons, which episodes do you feel have allowed
Gabrielle the most growth as a character?
Renee OConnor "In every season, my character
has been through a little arc of some sort, where shes been forced out of her
comfort zone. I dont think I could pinpoint one particular episode that I would say
is her actual turning point, at least not right now, its still too close to me. I
just believe that every year shes 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 OConnor "24."
UPBEAT So you grew up on this show?
Renee OConnor "I did grow up on this show.
Its 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 its really interesting
to see that. It was amazing."
UPBEAT So now youre shifting your career focus a bit to directing, what was it
like to be behind the camera planning the shots?
Renee OConnor "Its quite a daunting
experience (laughs). The first time for me was quite overwhelming. I wasnt 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
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 OConnor "Actually I have to say when
Im acting, I try not to think about directing at all (laughs). It doesnt help
you (laughs). I mean, if youre trying to convince Xena not to kill someone,
its not going to help you to think that you really should be readjusting your
position. You know, its probably an innate sense that I have and dont 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, Ive 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 youre directing, what would you say is your primary focus?
Renee OConnor "For me both episodes that I
directed were so different and what I think I learned from that is each episode, as
Ive said before, takes on a life of its own, and you try to find what the energy is
within the story that youre telling. I dont think I have a certain style
already. I know there are specific things that Ive experimented with, to see what I
like and what I dont like, but thats 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 thats all just really in my own
UPBEAT If you could direct any actor, in film or television, who would it be?
Renee OConnor "I love actors who are
wonderful like John Cusack and Russell Crowe, and wouldnt be a treat to
eventually direct them one day (laughs)?"
UPBEAT Well, you never know, that could happen.
Renee OConnor "Im 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 OConnor "(laughs) As what? As a
neighbor? Oh shes just a horrible neighbor, shes never home
UPBEAT (laughs) As a person. If you were to write your own brief biography, what would
you say about yourself?
Renee OConnor "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 Dont we all?
Renee OConnor "Yes we do (laughs).
UPBEAT Do you consider yourself to be very spiritual?
Renee OConnor "I am, very personally. I am
UPBEAT I think theres a vast difference between being a spiritual person and
being a religious person.
Renee OConnor "Oh I agree. I wouldnt say
that Im overly religious, but I have a pretty good relationship with my spiritual
UPBEAT I also believe its all a huge balance, and you have to be aware of it on
Renee OConnor "Oh yes, but I think our fate is
UPBEAT Do you believe that free will factors into that equation as well?
Renee OConnor "Granted, I do also believe in
free will as well. I just think we have a path that we might be directed towards, and
its sort of up to us to find our way there."
UPBEAT Do you feel youre on your path?
Renee OConnor "Yes, most definitely. I
remember a point, when I was in California, where I almost got out of acting completely.
Its 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 cant 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 thats what Ive always tried to do, to keep myself
distracted from the fact that I wasnt 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 OConnor "Well to tell you the truth,
over the last six years, Ive 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. Its hard to believe that Ive missed most of Seinfeld,
Ive missed most of Friends, all of these television shows that I know
have had quite an impact on our generation, on our culture, Ive completely missed
out on them. I dont 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 shes 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 cant
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. Its incredible. I remember when Rob (Tapert) was
first trying to get Xena off of the ground, I wasnt actually with him,
but I remember it was just fresh, that we were the underdogs, no one was expecting very
much of us, and its just incredible to see whats happened since then.
Were 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
dont 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 arent I doing that?"
Renee OConnor "Oh thats 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. Its 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.