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New Zealand TV GUIDE, August 16, 1996

 

Xena Role Close To Reality For Star

 

Take a look at Gabrielle, the heroine's companion in Xena:Warrior Princess (TV3, 9:30 pm, Fridays), and you'll see an adventurous young woman with a love of poetry, story-telling and ancient history. Look inside Gabrielle, and you'll find Rene O'Connor, an adventurous young woman with a love of poetry, story-telling and ancient history.

There was, it seems, more than just acting talent at work in that bit of casting. How much more became obvious when O'Connor took time out to speak to TV Guide recently in an Auckland cafe a few thousand years away from the world of Xena. In her classic Texan tones, the actress listed the areas in which she and her character touch base. "Gabrielle is very romantic," she says. "Very sentimental, which I am, also. I love the words of poetry and stories and plays. "I see her as a journalist. Gabrielle used to do a lot of research with mythology and legends, which is fun for me to play because she knows all about them.

"If you give her one topic - a centaur, for instance - she knows their history, their background, what they look like, the names of the great leaders, and so on." That corresponds with O'Connor's own passion for ancient history, which she is planning to indulge sometime soon with a visit to Greece.

Another point at which actress and character meet is that, in a show where action and violent death play a large part, Gabrielle - unlike her friend Xena - is no fighting machine. "That's a very important aspect of her character," says O'Connor. "She sympathizes with humankind and always has that innocence. She's a more compassionate person and could never take a life.

"As my character develops, I am learning myself as an actor, so the first fight scene I had with a staff, I just felt so uncoordinated and awkward, which worked very well for the character. "Further along in the show, she's begun to develop these weaponry skills.

"I've just started working with one of our stunt men, Sam Williams. He's teaching me some more martial arts because I've fallen in love with the whole idea of having that coordination."

Although Xena started only recently on New Zealand TV screens, production is now well into the second series and O'Connor has just celebrated her first full year in New Zealand. "I keep joking to everyone that I'm an official resident now," she laughs, "and they say, Oh, no-not yet'. But I'm expecting to stay for as long as the show continues."

But this is not her first spell on these shores. In 1993, she played another role in Hercules And The Lost Kingdom, one of the original movies which spawned the Hercules/Xena TV series.

Producers Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi were so impressed by her work that they cast her in another of their video movies, Darkman II, before inviting her to audition for the role of Gabrielle.

Since then, it's been almost non-stop action and adventure in a mythical world of gods, demons and monsters. And even after 34 episodes, O'Connor still finds herself being amazed by it all.

"All the episodes are so fantastic, with such bizarre creatures and stories," she says. "It's so surreal. There's always something new on every episode that I just wonder how in the world do we produce this?

"Looking back on the beginning of the series - working 14 hours a day, five days a week - I can see that I've learned a great deal about the technical side of acting with the camera. I've come to regard it almost as a film school.

"I've also learned a lot from the actors here, because their background is mostly theatre. They have such freedom in their voices, changing them and making such variable characters.

"So I try to learn something every day; to push myself a bit more so that, when I come out of this, I'll be much better."

KEITH SHARP

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