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Flirting With The Xenaverse

Adelaide Advertiser

14 January 1998

Scanned/Transcribed by MaryD


THERE'S no accounting for taste. Just ask Renee O'Connor, who plays plucky sidekick Gabrielle on Xena: Warrior Princess.

"The first season, I was getting these letters from men in prison," O'Connor reports. "I'm thinking 'Hang on! It's Lucy who plays a barbarian who's exotic and sexy and dresses in leather'."

Her co-star, Lucy Lawless, is the title character on this internationally syndicated cartoonish action hour. But O'Connor, as Xena's friend and travel companion, has conquered fans of her own. And her admirers include prisoners less enamored of a lusty Amazon than O'Connor's cheery image.

The fact that O'Connor is admired by anyone still catches her off-guard, she confesses. For instance, when she appeared at her first Xena fans' convention, she faced an adoring crowd of 1500. "They knew the show inside and out. It's still too profound for me to absorb right now, because I'm in it," O'Connor says of the phenomenon. "Maybe later on, I'll be shocked."

Well, anyone might be startled at the following Xena has won since its launch three seasons ago. A huge ratings success, this spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, is a fancifully feminist romp enlivened by derring-do, special effects and, with frequency, a sly wink.

Apart from the TV series, there is a movie, a cartoon, action figures, trading cards, magazines, CD, clothes and a Xena ride at Universal Studios. In countless fan mags, clubs and the Internet, every aspect of the "Xenaverse" is discussed.
In between righting wrongs, Xena never hesitates to laugh at itself. Where else could you hear in the space of one hour "Round up those virgins!" and "We've got to talk"; "I dropped my prayer scroll" and "You wuss!" It touches all bases.
Indeed, this is a series that, along with its idiot-proof themes of good and evil, carries a whiff of cheeky ambiguity for those inclined to give the question a moment's thought: exactly what is the nature of this friendship?

A number of audience members love to read into Xena certain Sapphic overtones. Barbara Farrelly, editor of the US magazine Lesbians on the Loose, says Xena has been a lesbian icon for years. O'Connor says people make what they want of the relationship.

"We've had a good time with that, actually," she admits. "Not that Xena and Gabrielle are necessarily companions sexually. We just decided to add a new dimension to our relationship: before, we were like sisters. This is something a little companion, Gabrielle more flirtatious and playful."

Born in Houston, the 26-year-old O'Connor appeared in the New Zealand-shot pilot of Hercules. Then she was cast in Xena. She had four days to stash her things in Los Angeles and get bark to Aucklinid, where filming was about to begin with 29-year-old Lawless - who was born in and lives in Auckland.

Initially, Gabrielle was meant to be a sort of teenage daughter figure. "When she first started following Xena around, no one watching the show wanted this little pesky person bothering her," says O'Connor.

"But since Gabrielle started holding her own ground, people respect her more, which is great for me: I used to have to cry in every episode. Now the producers let me fight."

Gabrielle has grown up in another respect. Her earliest costume -with a skirt so long it dragged in the mud - got shorter and shorter until finally being modified to her present wraparound skirt and halter top.
"Oh, boy, is it better?" she laughs. "Before, the skirt would ride up, and that would be embarrassing." Her Gabrielle garb is a fine complement to Xena's bad-mama leather gear. But the two mythological hotties are a grand fit, too.
"We're sort of like opposites that balance each other, aren't we?" says O'Connor happily.

Xena: Warrior Princess, ADS 10, 7.30pm Saturdays.

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