May thanks to Kim Schlammerl for the following transcript
Cult Times #40
The envy of men and women the world over, the faithful Gabrielle is Xena's right-hand woman. Renee O'Connor talks about being the warrior princess's conscience.
When 23-year-old Renee O'Connor first auditioned for the role of Deianeira in the two hour action adventure Hercules and the Long Kingdom, she little dreamt that cavorting around with a mythical superhero would lead to further, bigger adventures of her own. But, in the true spirit of Hollywood, executive producers Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi were so impressed with her performance opposite Hercules star Kevin Sorbo that they signed her up to accompany another of their legendary characters, Xena, the Warrior Princess played by the irrepressible Lucy Lawless.
Three years down the line and with a new season about to start on UK television, this quietly spoken, unassuming young woman is looking forward to seeing what the writers have in store for her steadily maturing alter-ego in Season Four. Having once described the character of Gabrielle as "a romantic storyteller with a passion for adventure", O'Connor now feels that the time is ripe for Gabrielle to come into her own. "She's changed so much, especially during the third season, that it's inevitable."
Small wonder, given that her character has survived a pregnancy fraught with difficulties - well, The Furies, actually; experienced the joy of childbirth but more sensitively, the death of her daughter - and then had to seriously consider the possibility of a future without her battling, leather-clad friend. Reminiscing on the powerful story arc which saw her belief in Xena falter and led Gabrielle to eventually betray and move against her other half, O'Connor explains that the dynamics behind the portrayal were "unlike any other that I've ever been in, in my normal life and very much epitomized the relationship between them (Xena and Gabrielle) at that moment in time." It remains to be seen whether or not the rift can be permanently healed, but O'Connor feels that "for Gabrielle, the new season will be like a voyage of maturity...she's moving to a point where she either has to become more like Xena or take some kind of extreme action to preserve her own identity." Fans of the Xenaverse take note - it may not be all sweetness and wry quips this time around.
When the diminutive but spirited Gabrielle initially teams up with the larger than life Warrior Princess, their relationship was more one of the Top Dog...um Bitch...and side-kick. However, Gabrielle's gentler, more moral perspective on life often saved the quick-tempered Xena from her darker impulses, her influence changing their tentative companionship into a friendship deeper than most partnerships not just on screen but off too. "We really are good friends and she's taught me so much as a performer and as a person...Our relationship has come so far that no matter who is on what side of the camera all Lucy has to do is look at me and you'll get a reaction that's right with the context of the scene."
Perhaps predictably, the resulting affection, which shines through on screen, was soon being interpreted as an indication of a lesbian relationship between their respective characters. O'Connor is intrigued by the very suggestion; "I find the whole thing fascinating...what we have are two women with a strong friendship and people read all sorts of things into that." Relaxed about the obvious connotations, she laughs that the lesbian connection has become a cult in itself, but insists, "Renee O'Connor is very wrapped up in one particular male Kiwi."
Born in Houston, Texas and raised in the whimsically named suburb of Katy, O'Connor had her sights set on an acting career from the tender age of eight and followed that path with a dedication of which Gabrielle would be proud. She made her professional debut in 1989 starring in Disney's Teen Angel serial before moving to Los Angeles a year later. Prior to her current role she appeared in commercials; major TV series' such as NYPD Blue and featured in several made-for-television movies. Despite the easygoing, southern gal next door image, there is a lot more going on beneath the surface - a facet the actress feels she shares with her screen persona. "I'm very like Gabrielle in some respects," she maintains, "in that I'm kind of a private person who trusts my own instincts and has this burning desire to continually challenge myself in terms of my mental and physical abilities."
In common with her Xena co-star, O'Connor performs many of her own stunts and undertakes a variety of grueling disciplines to maintain her fitness level, as well as keep her figure trim for all those skimpy little costumes she wears. Citing kick-boxing, hiking and rock climbing amongst her favourite activities, she nevertheless laughs that there is one respect in which she most certainly differs from the plucky Gabrielle and recounts that on a trip to Tanzania earlier this year, she almost "tossed her cookies" having climbed (or as she puts it "crawled") to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Obviously as adventurous in real life as she appears in the show.
Surprised by the success of Xena, yet proud to be hailed as a positive role model for the way in which she depicts her character, this very down-to-earth young woman remains refreshingly un-star-like about her ascent to cult phenomenon, admitting that "it's taken some time to get used to the attention" it brings. Fortunately for her, the people of New Zealand, where the series is filmed, are very reserved in their adulation. "They're like the British," she observes. "They restrain themselves." It's a different story in her homeland where such is the response that devotees unable to get close to the real thing literally scramble to console themselves with action figures, dolls and even garments representing her screen persona. Despite that knowledge, O'Connor maintains, "I dont' consider myself a celebrity at all. I'm just thankful for the opportunities I've been given."
Certainly, more opportunities will abound as Xena, Warrior Princess begins its next 22 episode romp across three continents early next year and there's no doubt that the engaging Ms. O'Connor will be right in the thick of it.
by Thomasina Gibson, Cult Times #40, January 1999.