HOUSTON CHRONICLE, November 9, 1995.
Herc may hail from Minnesota, Xena from New Zealand, but Houston can claim Gabrielle. And as loyal viewers know, Xena's nothing but a single-dimensional sword-swinger without Gabrielle.
"She's like a comic sidekick," says 24-year-old Reneé O'Connor, who plays the character. "She seems to talk herself into trouble and then talk herself out of it."
Gabrielle also provides Xena the focus she needs to prevent her from annihilating her evil opponents. Xena's one mean dude-ess, just in case you've missed the show (8 p.m. Thursdays, Channel 39).
Xena is clearly a syndicated hit in Houston, averaging a 6 rating in October (1 rating point higher than Hercules, please note).
And O'Connor clearly revels in her role.
Gabrielle is a romantic, she says, and "everything is a storybook to her. She likes to study myths, mythology, maps, creatures, monsters and all that."
"Xena is the personification of all this. That's why she has to be a part of Xena. Through Xena she's able to live these stories."
But when it's time to draw swords, Gabrielle leaves the impaling to Xena.
Not that O'Connor is a wimp - she's up at 3:30 every morning for a pre-work jog, plus she lifts weights.
"I think she definitely needs to be strong, and I keep myself physically fit just to be able to sell the fact that she's walking all over the country."
The fact that O'Connor gets to play in luscious New Zealand is an extra-special bonus.
"It's beautiful here," she said with emphasis on the 'beau.' "It reminds me of San Francisco - and actually Houston, too. The rain passes pretty quickly."
O'Connor, born in Houston and reared in Katy, has called Auckland, New Zealand, home since June.
"We do our filming about 30 to 45 minutes from here, on farmlands and in tropical forests. There's so many types of geography around this small island. You can go to a black sand beach on one side and maybe an hour away will be a white sand beach. It's just bizarre - and so beautiful."
The beauty doesn't stop her from getting homesick from time to time. On the other hand, she's already been visited by a boyfriend, a girlfriend and her mother, Sandra Wilson, who owns, with husband Eddie, the Austin restaurant Threadgill's.
When we reached her downtown apartment recently by phone, her dad, Walter, who works at Houston's Greentree Financial Corp., was visiting.
O'Connor's route to TV started during a school program offered by the Alley Theater. From there she earned a spot at Houston's High School for Performing and Visual Arts, although she chose to graduate with her friends from Katy's Taylor High School.
Talent manager Lee Peterson got her an audition for a Mickey Mouse Club serial called Teen Angel, which O'Connor parlayed into stints in Danielle Steele's Changes (with Cheryl Ladd), a Rockford Files movie (with James Garner), a Tales From the Crypt episode (Arnold Schwarzenegger's directorial debut) and a guest spot on NYPD Blue. Producers Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi had her audition for a part in one of the pre-series Hercules movies and were impressed enough to cast her in the made-for-video Darkman II. The leap to the Hercules spinoff, Xena: Warrior Princess, was a natural one.
"They're good people," O'Connor says of her producers. "I think that's kind of rare, especially in Los Angeles."
L.A., which she now calls home, is where she hopes to be during the Christmas break. Then it's back to Auckland for as long as the series demands - she's signed a five-year commitment.
Which will keep the phone company happy. "Between my mom, dad and my boyfriend, I have these huge phone bills," she says.
Maybe she should have Xena take a look at them. She's rough on bills. And Harrys and Johns and Steves.
-- © MIKE MCDANIEL
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