New Zealand Herald
June 18, 1998

States of Mind

Warrior princess Xenaıs sidekick Gabrielle talks to Frances Grant about life beyond the forest.

Life is a journey for the travelling companion and best friend of a wandering warrior princess. Young Gabrielle has come a long way since she first set off on her odyssey with the sword-spinning, high-kicking Xena.

And Renee OıConnor, the Texan who plays Gabrielle has covered quite some distance of her own for the role in the action adventure series which is filmed in New Zealand.

For, at the showıs base in West Auckland, shooting is months ahead of local screen-time. From her vantage point in the future OıConnorıs looking back down a steep learning curve for Gabrielle.

³Its so funny to see how naive, how young my character is on television now compared to what Iım doing at the moment² says OıConnor, fresh from a morningıs hard work on set.

³Sheıs change so much. And sheıs moving to a point where she either has to become more like Xena or leave Xena because sheıs losing her own identity²

Gabrielle is at turning point, a stage the Houston-born actor is all too familiar with. Both acts of her overseas experience in New Zealand have had one.

She first came here to play the young Deianeira in the feature-length Hercules and the Long Kingdom.

³When I came in 93 I had a change in my life that was extremely profound...a dear friend of mine passed away while I was here and it was extremely frustrating because I was so far away.

³That sense of isolation, yet being with people who were incredibly supportive and understanding. They just took you as you were, and were there if they needed to be. And I loved New Zealand because of that. New Zealand had left such an impression on me when this job came up I thought I wonder if Iım going to have another turning point in my life. Sure enough, Iıve met this incredible man who I know Iıll spend a long time with²

Before she met her New Zealand boyfriend (no, heıs not part of the film and television industry) the role had a strong attraction. It have the actor, then in her early 20s, a chance to move away from playing teen to something more challenging.

³I thought it would be a great way to got to another country to practise my craft and to basically grow up and mature. I donıt know if I have- Iım still here²

Accent aside OıConnor suddenly sounds like one of us. That last quip was pure self-depreciating Kiwi.

As well as mastering new skills for the role, there was an alien mentality to come to grips with . OıConnor had to pick up the local sense of humour and the shock of being called ³Shorty²

³I didnıt get it at first and I took things literally. Then I realised that when someone is putting you down itıs actually a compliment in a strange way. Theyıre just teasing you because youıre one of the group. Everyone was just trying to make me fell comfortable.

I found that with my boyfriend as well. The first couple of times I met him he would say something and I would go extremely quiet, you know²

Once she got her humorous barbs sharpened, OıConnor found there were other combat skills to acquire. Sheıs been honing her fighting moves now Gabrielle is getting a taste for battle. But she still knows what sheıd do in an ugly situation in real life - run.

³But if that ever were to happen, I Œd probably try to bluff my way out saying ŒIım on the show Xena: Warrior Princess², you better leave me along or Iıll take you out!ı- and then run²

Her character may have a new-found maturity but there are limits to her aspirations. OıConner says Gabrielle definitely does not harbour any breastplate envy over her bosom buddy Xenaıs armour- plated front guard.

³Breastplates! I donıt think so, I canıt imagine that. It would be like a tortoise shell or something. No no no. What would I have? Probably just height envy,² says the woman who make Lucy Lawless look Amazonian.

But Gabrielleıs kit has got sassier. And along with the upwardly mobile hemline, her fan base has shown some interesting shifts.

³It started off with young girls writing to me and it ended up being strange men in prison in the States. Now itıs mothers whose children are watching the show, wanting to let me know how much they appreciate the influence on their children²

What did those prison guys appreciate? ³ŒWe like the fact your skirtıs getting shorter.ı No, actually they like my vulnerability, which is very scary, very scary. We try to keep a lid on that.²

Thereıs no such lid kept in the showıs lesbian following. ³Weıre very grateful for they because theyıve helped us develop another layer of the show. If youıre looking for the subtext itıs there and weıve definitely cater to their needs.²

Having said that , OıConnor is keen to emphasise Xena is a family show. And she does wonder whether the really avid fans- the sort who treat her like a rock star at those Xena conventions in the States - are not a bit soft in the head.

³I think itıs quite strange because Iıve never been like that over a television show. And itıs hard for me to be that polite and gracious and say, ³thank you, I appreciate it,ı when Iım thinking, you know, ŒAre you OK?ı

Itıs an extreme world to come to from New Zealand²

Some legs on the journey can end in weird places, but hasnıt OıConner got her perspective inverted? Thatıs Stateside sheıs calling strange.

After three years in New Zealand the Texan appears to have more that adjusted, spending most of her time here. With the job, her boyfriend and the new house in the country, things are looking stable.

³Itıs just another part of the States to me,² she says, then pulls herself up. ³Oh I donıt know how people will take that.²

You know what she means. OıConnorıs feeling right at home.

(Accompanied by medium colour photo of ROC as Gabrielle kneeling with her staff)

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