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This first article is in praise of the actors, Lucy Lawless but mainly about Renee O`Connor.
When XENA was first introduced as a character on HERCULES, it is fairly well known that Lucy Lawless was not first choice. She had appeared in the first of the HERCULES tv movies as an Amazon, and had played a conniving centaur's moll in the HERCULES episode, As Darkness Falls. Vanessa Angel was all set to play Xena in the three episode arc, but after the British born actress suffered an injury, the search was on for another actress to step in. Lucy Lawless was eventually cast, and made an immediate impression as the bad girl who got between Hercules and Iolaus.
Lucy's resume as an actress was not terribly noteworthy. There were some small and fairly insignificant roles in tv series and a few films, but the only role that caught the eye at all was her role as a lesbian tow truck driver in a small arthouse New Zealand short film called Peach. Despite having only a few lines, Lucy was, at least memorable.
Renee O'Connor's resume was a little more full, although no major roles had come her way until she was cast in the new version of The Rockford Files with James Garner, and was the lead with Kevin Sorbo in the second of the Hercules TV movies. Both of these tv films showed that Renee was a talented and appealing young actress, and Renee`s comic timing was excellent. She had also appeared in several film roles - much larger and more notable than Lucy Lawless`. Like Lucy, Renee did not walk into the role of Gabrielle, although a further film role with Renaissance Picture in Darkman 2 showed they were obviously impressed with her.
When filming of the first series of XENA was underway, things must have been a touch tense to see whether these two virtually unknown actresses would gel and make the show work...
Now here we are nearly 6 years on, and we can appreciate what a success that casting was. There are many reasons for the success of XENA, but I think a huge part of it is Lucy and Renee. Firstly, both actresses have demonstrated again and again what talented actresses they are. Let`s start with a look at Renee O`Connor.
While Renee O`Connor`s comedic skills have been exercised over the years, she has been stretched as a dramatic actress hugely. The character of Gabrielle is virtually unrecognisable from that young girl of the early days of Season 1. Renee is also the possessor of the mightiest abs of them all! An extremely fit young woman, Gabrielle`s incredible shrinking clothes have been a feature of the character!
But more seriously, we have followed Gabrielle through so many great changes, and I am going to pick out a few of her acting highlights.
Altared States is a fun episode, and Gabrielle`s intoxication on henbane laced nutbread is the source of much of the mirth. Renee leads a group of rocks in choir singing, while trying to save a young boy from his nasty evil brother, and she plays the stoned bard very well. The Greater Good was an important episode for Gabrielle, in that with Xena ill, she had to take on the responsibility to help some villagers. Renee was excellent in a far more serious role, both in the grieving for an apparently dead Xena, and as a warrior out to battle the dastardly Talmadeus. Episodes like Athens City Academy for Performing Bards and The Prodigal showed that Renee could carry episodes easily.
Some of the big changes for Gabrielle began in Season 3. The rift between Xena and Gabrielle began with episodes like The Deliverer, Gabrielle`s Hope and The Debt. Once again, Renee showed her skills - but this time for the intense emotions of a girl directly affected by events. The birth of Hope and the subsequent events of Maternal Instincts and The Bitter Suite showed a Gabrielle very different from the carefree and optimistic character of Season 1. One of Renee`s strongest performances was in One Against an Army, an episode that is a favourite amongst many fans for the emotional power of the scenes between Xena and Gabrielle. Gab has been shot with a poisoned arrow and refuses to allow Xena to travel to a town for the antidote, as this would mean doing nothing about the advancing Persian army. Renee is extremely good as she shows Gabrielle`s failing health, but determination to do the right thing. Sacrifice 1&2 finally allowed Renee to get in on the lookalike act. She had the dual role of Gabrielle and her evil daughter Hope, although it A Family Affair where we saw Renee`s best performance as Hope. Season 4 was mainly Gabrielle`s way of peace - something some fans were not that keen on. However, all that changed in Ides of March when Gabrielle goes on a killing spree to save Xena. Renee`s explosive performance and the following scenes as Gabrielle and Xena face death were some of the most emotional of the whole six years.
Season 5 was a busy time for Renee, as with Lucy Lawless pregnant, much of the fighting was down to Gabrielle. Renee has always been very fit, and with a new weapon and a new shorter haircut, the S5 Gabrielle was more of a warrior than Xena in many ways. So far, Season 6 has continued Gabrielle`s evolution. Renee has done quite a bit of dancing this year too! Many fans enjoyed her performance in Who`s Gurkhan?, not just for her desire for revenge, but for that sensuous dance. The most recent episode To Helicon and Back featured one of Renee`s strongest and most gut wrenching performances, as she is forced into leading the Amazons into a bloody battle. Renee once again showed that she can handle the dramas extremely well. For the first time, I found myself watching Renee more than Lucy in this episode. I especially loved that very last scene, where a bloody and numb Gabrielle leads the call, "to a strong Amazon nation". She was fab.
Then there is A Friend in Need. While to many of us Lucy was looking very tired by ths final episode, Renee gave one of her strongest performances. This is Gabrielle as the new Warrior Princess, fighting as efficiently as Xena, using the chakram, and doing soem very nifty rock climbing - a hobby of Renee's.
Looking back from Sins of the Past to A Friend in Need, Gabrielle changed so much, and Renee's performances were excellent as the young girl, to the new warrior.
Renee got married last October, and is due to have a baby in the autumn of 2001. Her character`s metamorphosis from young naive girl, to mature young woman has been perfectly acted. Renee has also directed two episodes of the show, and hopefully, has a distinguished career ahead of her. Thanks for all your efforts Renee!!
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