Many thanks to Judith for the transcript

San Antonio Express-News

January 10, 2000, Monday , METRO


Pg. 4D

LENGTH: 786 words

HEADLINE: Xena pal true to Texas, sort of

BYLINE: David Martindale


Is she still a Texas girl or has she totally turned Kiwi? After five years in New Zealand as a co-star on "Xena: Warrior Princess," not even Renee O'Connor can be sure. "I'll always claim Texas as my birthright," says O'Connor, who plays Gabrielle, Xena's best friend, in what is still one of the freshest shows on TV. "But I think I've adapted to the Kiwi lifestyle quite well. "I'm always teased by my family and friends who come over because of the things I say now. They just laugh at me when I use centimeters instead of inches or when I call the trunk a 'boot.'

They look at me and say, 'Where are you from again?'" But even after five years and 100 episodes of "Xena," the young woman who grew up in Katy, just west of Houston, still experiences a taste of culture shock from time to time. "Just recently my mom sent me a care package from Texas and I made a true, Southern-style meal for my friends on New Year's Eve," she says. "I made this beef dish that was really tender with a barbecue sauce over it. And they were like, 'What is this? I've never had it before.'

"I told them it was brisket. And they all sort of coughed and looked a little pale and said, 'Um, you probably should have told us that earlier.' Turns out they serve brisket as dog food here, because it's so fatty. 'Thanks, Renee, you're feeding us dog food.'"

When she signed on to play Gabrielle on this pithy little action-fantasy series about warlords and kings and gods, O'Connor never imagined she would be spending the turn of the millennium in the country where "Xena" is made. To have foreseen that would have meant anticipating the success the show has enjoyed worldwide. The 100th episode, titled "Seeds of Faith," airs at 5 p.m. Sunday on KABB. Reruns air at 6 a.m. Sundays on USA and will begin playing on the Sci-Fi Channel on Feb. 1.

"Ten years ago," O'Connor says, "I never, ever could have dreamed that I would be living in New Zealand, living with a man who I am just absolutely crazy about, so in love with, and working on a show with people I care so deeply about. I could have never have asked for this, because this is so much better than anything I would have dreamed of." It's hard to say who has grown more through the years, O'Connor or Gabrielle.

In the early seasons, Gaby was the cute, comic sidekick, the eager protégé and often the damsel in distress. And in real life, O'Connor acknowledges she was in awe of Lucy Lawless, who plays Xena, the ultimate Wonder Woman. But O'Connor and Gabrielle aren't kids any more.

"Every year it's another metamorphosis of the character for me to play, especially this year," O'Connor says. "This year is probably the most dramatic for the character." In addition to a stunning new "I am woman" look, the once dove-like Gabrielle is now a fighter and a warrior like Xena. Similarly, O'Connor has established a life of her own quite separate from "Xena." No longer, she says, is her life in New Zealand just "an insulated friendship with Lucy." In fact, when the inevitable day arrives that "Xena" ceases production, O'Connor will have tough choices to make about her career and a lifestyle she has grown to love.

"I actually can't honestly say what I'll be doing after the show, because there are too many variables," she says. "I can see myself living in New Zealand for maybe a year or so afterward. People may not see me in anything for a while. "It's so beautiful here. If only I could pick up all of New Zealand and. ... No, reverse that, if only I could round up all my friends and family, move them here, and create an industry that would provide plenty of work for myself and other actors out this way, then I would be in heaven."

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