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THE KATY TIMES (Katy, TX), April 27, 1997. 

Dave Mundy, Managing Editor.

 

The Kid's Doing Great!

Taylor grad still awed by Xena success

 

Some people worry about it raining on their homecoming parade. Rene O'Connor takes just the opposite view.

"This is great! The weather in Houston is everything I remember," O'Connor sniggered, tongue-in-cheek. "It's like I'm 16 all over again. It's fantastic being here, rolling in the rain."

Those who might not immediately recognize the name of the 1989 Taylor High graduate certainly wouldn't doubt the wry comment coming out of the mouth of O'Connor's "other" self, however. O'Connor stars as fast-talking young Gabrielle, Xena's plucky traveling companion and devoted best friend, in the hit syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess. She flew into Houston Friday afternoon as part of a whirlwind visit which included dropping by the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where she studied her sophomore and junior years before finishing at Taylor, for that school's 25th anniversary celebration.

"This evening, I want to spend some time with my family, eat some Mexican food, all the things you remember," said O'Connor in a telephone interview. "It'll be great to see some of my old teachers at the reunion tomorrow afternoon, and I'll probably try to visit a few friends in Nottingham.

"It's such a short trip, so I want to spend as much quality time with my family as I can," she added. "It's just so great to be back."

She remains startled by the spectacular success of Xena, but gives credit to the writers for good stories and the show's star, Lucy Lawless.

"I had no idea this would be such a success. The writers are constantly challenging us," O'Connor said. "We're not proper Shakespeare or anything, but we're still dealing with human elements that can be challenging. It's more of a stylized version of the world and the story of a friendship between two women."

She describes Gabrielle as something of an adventuring poet.

"I was excited about the chance to play a spirited girl like Gabrielle," she said. "She's more of a storyteller, but she's the sentimental side to Xena."

She said she prefers the more comedic episodes of the series, her favorite being one entitled "A Day in the Life." "Lucy and I basically played off each other's characters. That is so hard to match your words and movements to what someone else is doing."

The role in Xena, is far from O'Connor's only credit, however. In a relatively short time, she's done an extensive array of work in both television and feature films. O'Connor first came to the attention of Xena executive producers Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi when an audition won her the role of the young Delaneira in their two-hour "Action Pack" adventure Hercules and the Lost Kingdom. They were so impressed by her performance opposite Hercules star Kevin Sorbo, they signed her for a starring role in Darkman II: The Return of Durant, a feature released on home video in July 1995.

Prior to that, she co-starred with Ellen Burstyn and Sheryl Lee in the ABC movie Follow the River, portraying a young woman captured by Shawnee Indians, and played a woman who hires Rockford as her bodyguard in CBS' The Rockford Files: A Blessing in Disguise, which was initially broadcast in May, 1995.

She began studying acting at the age of 12 at Houston's Alley Theatre, and later attended Houston's High School of the Performing and Visual Arts before spending her senior year at Taylor.

She signed with Disney during her senior year at Taylor in 1989, starring in the Teen Angel serial, which was featured on The Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse Club, and went on to star in Match Point, another serial. That same year, she moved to Los Angeles and soon landed a featured role in the episode of Tales from the Crypt that marked Arnold Schwarzenegger's directing debut.

O'Connor went on to portray Cheryl Ladd's daughter in Danielle Steel's Changes, and appeared in the NBC movie The Flood. Her most recent theatrical film role was that of Julia Wilkes in Disney's The Adventures of Huck Finn, starring Elijah Wood. She also guest-starred as the daughter of a murdered couple in an episode of the acclaimed ABC television series NYPD Blue.

Nowadays, the production schedule in Auckland, New Zealand, where Xena is filmed, doesn't allow much time; a three-week break in April and an eight-week break in August. She's taken up horseback riding, rock climbing and kickboxing. She jogs and lifts weights to keep in shape for her work on the show, which has become increasingly more physical as her character has gradually learned to defend herself under Xena's tutelage.

When not in Auckland, she makes her home in Austin, where her mother and stepfather, Sandra and Eddie Wilson, own the famous Austin restaurant Threadgill's.

O'Connor said she hasn't made plans beyond Xena.

"I feel I've learned so much in the last two years, I'd like to stay in television," she said. "Actually, it just depends on the work, as long as the writing is quality material and you feel passionate about the character."

--DAVE MUNDY, MANAGING EDITOR

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