TV Week
(Sydney, Australia)

July 25 – 31, 1998

In Xena’s Shadow
Meet Renee O’Connor, who plays Xena’s sidekick Gabrielle…

AS Gabrielle, the spirited, idealistic sidekick on Xena: Warrior Princess, Renee O’Connorthm_tvweek-gabrielle.jpg (13678 bytes)
looks wholesome and girlish, in a Malibu-meetsMesopotamia sort of way. In real life, she is a sophisticated and polished woman.

There are many Xena fans out there now, Filming of the fourth season is now under way and the campy syndicated action-adventure series, originally a spinoff of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, has blossomed from a cult hit into an international smash in more than 80 countries.

And while Xena (Lucy Lawless) is defeating more barbarians than ever before as she and Gabrielle wander through their mythical world, Renee’s character has done some growing up, evolving from a naive, starstruck tagalong into a more independent soul who has won Xena’s trust.

"1 love the character," says Renee, 27, a Texas native who spends nine months a year filming Xena in Auckland, New Zealand. "Last year they brought out her faults ... she did a lot of things I wouldn’t have done to my friends."

But Xena watchers don’t seem to mind - these days, Renee is inundated with mail.

Renee’s mother, Sandra,. oversees her daughter’s fan dub and knows exactly where to draw the line.

"If people want a nude photo, it’s, Tm sorry, you’re going to get my daughter’s school photo’ ," Sandra says.

Renee believes the series’ appeal is largely due to Xena, and the changing dynamics between Xena and Gabrielie have also kept fans coming back for more.

"There’s a friendship between two women," Renee says. That’s a fascination for people,"

Indeed, the season included a number of allusions - like sharing a bath, for example - to the notion that Xena and Gabrielle might be more than just good pals.

There was a time when we played with the idea, just being silly," she says, confirming that the lesbian subtext was a deliberate device.

But nowadays, she adds, the friendship "has become so profound that it’s not about a sexual relationship".

So, no more bathtub scenes? "Never say never on this show," Renee says, grinning.

Off screen, the two maintain a polite distance. They rarely socialise, but while on the set the two are the best of friends.

"She’s just a fabulous woman," Lucy Lawless says simply. "She takes on what is ostensibly the second-banana role with grace and charm. The only reason she’s not playing Xena is that I’m bigger."

Renee feels the same affection for Lucy.

"She’s cheeky with a quick sense of humor," Renee says.

Renee declines to reveal what’s in store for Gabrielie, other than that India will serve as a backdrop for some shows and that her character will "question and seek different types of religion".

In the meantime, she has embarked on a personal journey of her own. After three years of renting an Auckland apartment, Renee recently bought a house in the country, where she plans to busy herself with gardening and renovating. Her boyfriend of almost two years, Steve Muir, 30, a Kiwi who manages a boutique brewery, will be around to lend a hand. He and Renee moved in together last January, a development that took months to sink in.

"We’ve been so busy," she says. "1 finally looked at him and said, ‘Oh, my god, we’re living together’."

Renee pauses to take stock. "Life’s really good now. Knock on wood!"

TV WEEK, 25/7/98


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