Renee O’Connor is best known for the six seasons she spent playing Gabrielle, the scene-stealing sidekick to Lucy Lawless’ Xena on the wildly popular television series Xena: Warrior Princess.
The series’ two strong female lead characters — and the unabashedly loving relationship between them — earned Xena a huge and very loyal lesbian following. And even now, nine years after the series ended, those fans keep the story and its characters alive through online fan sites, online fan fiction and conventions.
But it would be a huge mistake to just think of O’Connor forever as Gabrielle, the spunky bard, according to Benjamin Dane, a North Texas-based actor who is producer of Beyond the Farthest Star, a movie in which O’Connor co-stars.
The movie, which has been filming on location in Leonard, Texas, is the story of a minister (Todd Terry), who was a child prodigy preacher, and his wife Maureen (played by O’Connor), who is trying to come to terms with some long-held secrets as her husband is forced to decide between rekindling his once-promising career and mending his family as it frays and begins to fall apart.
"She is so talented," Dane says of O’Connor. "She is just so wonderful to work with. And she really digs deep into the character to bring out all the layers."
O’Connor says she was drawn immediately to the character of the preacher’s wife.
"The script is just amazing. It is so unusual to find a lead female character that is so deep and complex," she says. "I was really affected by Maureen’s feeling of not being worthy of being loved by God, by her feeling that she doesn’t hold much value in the world. But the great part is that she is able to find her true self."
O’Connor is thrilled to be able to work with the cast and crew on Beyond the Farthest Star, especially its writer/director, Andrew Librizzi.
"Andrew is an amazing director," she says. "I would say I have worked with less than five directors who are as good as he is. He has an incredible gift. A lot of times as an actor, you’re on your own [when it comes to fleshing out a character]. But Andrew not only respects the actors’ work, he also takes it and lifts it up to another level."
O’Connor has been busy since her post-Xena days. Some recent projects include a starring role in Fitful (described as "suspenseful thriller with a dark comedic twist"), a part in the action movie Bitch Slap (alongside Xena alum Lawless) and a starring role in the comedy Diamonds and Guns.
She has also been just as busy behind the camera. She wrote, directed, produced and acted in the short Words Unspoken, now making the rounds on the festival circuit, and she directed and produced Diamonds and Guns.
O’Connor credits her loyal fans from her days as Gabrielle with helping make it all happen.
"The fans have been so kind to me, and I can’t say enough how grateful I am that they are still following my career. They are so very strong and loving and kind," she said. "Not everyone will respond to everything I do. But I believe it is because of those fans that I have been able to do so much."
But she’s not quite sure what’s up next for her.
"I’m working on several projects right now. Two are almost done. I’m just waiting to see what pops first," she says. "I’m looking for character pieces filled with real people with real, human obstacles to overcome. But I like romantic comedies, too. I am surrounded by so many creative people, you just never know what’s going to pop up next."