Whoosh! Issue 73 - October/November 2002

AN INTERVIEW WITH RENEE O'CONNOR
By Sarah Mears
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
1758 words


Author's Note:

Renee O'Connor played Gabrielle in Xena: Warrior Princess from 1995-2001. After a break, she has returned to the acting world by taking the part of Lady Macbeth in a Shakespeare by the Sea production of Macbeth. This interview took place on July 6, 2002 before a performance of Macbeth.

Ms. Connor is modest, yet very matter-of-fact about her craft. There is also a charming mixture of seriousness and playfulness, which comes out while she is talking about her work. She takes it very seriously, and obviously works very hard at it. Yet, at the same time, you can tell how much she loves it and truly has fun with what she is doing and whom she is working with. She has great respect for the art of acting. To see her working in theatre, with this freshness and wonder, exploring this different medium -- it is like watching a kid in a candy store, with that sweet disposition, incredible twinkle in her eye, and infectious smile.



Why Macbeth? (01-04)
Preparing for the Part of Lady Macbeth (05-06)
Acting Technique (07-11)
The Part of Lady Macbeth (12-16)
What's It All About, Lady Macbeth? (17-23)
Dealing with Shakespeare (24-30)
Listening to the Other Actors (31-32)
Theatre vs. Television (33-40)
Interview Aftermath (41-42)
Articles
Biography





AN INTERVIEW WITH RENEE O'CONNOR



Why Macbeth?



Oh no! I forgot where I put the pot!

Renee O'Connor's publicity picture for the Shakespeare by the Sea 2002 production of Macbeth


SARAH MEARS:
[01] What led you to choose to do Shakespeare after Xena: Warrior Princess?

RENEE O'CONNOR:
[02] I've always loved Shakespeare. But I never really knew how to present the material before. And I took this class back in January. It's in Topanga, California. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum. They give classes for adults. So, I took these classes and I thought I should apply what I've learned. So, this is the first opportunity.

MEARS:
[03] Right away.

O'CONNOR:
[04] Yeah. I wasn't expecting to do Lady Macbeth. But, yeah. Why not? Why not jump right in. (she laughs)


Preparing for the Part of Lady Macbeth

MEARS:
[05] Speaking of the lectures, what were the most important tools you learned from them that you could apply to this production of Macbeth?

O'CONNOR:
[06] The most important tool that I've applied so far are choosing key words that help the audience understand what's going on. So that maybe they don't catch all the phrases, but they know generally what's happening by hitting a few things so that they can connect the dots then. And speaking slowly and articulating. (We laugh) Those are always good things to do.

Acting Technique

MEARS:
[07] There is an emotional depth in your work. Not just MacBeth, but Gabrielle and your previous work.

O'CONNOR:
[08] (appreciatively) That's very nice.


MEARS:
[09] Do you have any tricks or tools that you use consistently or do you gear it to the moment?

O'CONNOR:
[10] I guess I keep searching for something that's going to help me connect to the material. And if I find I can't connect with something because I've used it too much, then I just have to keep exploring something else. And I find that with Shakespeare, that the reality is so heightened, it's really hard to use anything in my life. (Laughter)

[11] Which is great as an actor, because then you get to go into your imagination. You really can explore. That's been fantastic for me to try to do.


The Part of Lady Macbeth

MEARS:
[12] In terms of Lady Macbeth, particularly, what has been the most challenging and key moments in the character itself?

O'CONNOR:
[13] (Thinks for a moment.) First, I guess, is getting beyond the phrases that I learned in high school. You know, "Out, out d-mn spot" and all those. (Laughs) Which actually isn't the correct way to say it. So I was, "What do you mean, I learned the wrong way back then?" (Laughs)

[14] But yeah, that was hard to get my head over the fact that so many people- incredible actresses-- have done this [part] before. And to not be intimidated by that. So, I finally let that go. I guess I'm so particular about trying to get things right that I wanted to apply all the tools I learned from the classes in this performance. So I finally had to let that go and say, you know, now it's just about each moment-acting moment-- and not worry about how much I've worked to get here, because for me this is the first time. My first Shakespeare ever.

MEARS:
[15] Really?

O'CONNOR:
[16] Yeah, I was really kind of nervous picking it up. But it's been fun.


What's It All About, Lady Macbeth?



Don't upstage me buster, I've handled blades for years!

Promo shot of Renee O'Connor and Patrick Vest in character


MEARS:
[17] One of the things I really love about your performance is you don't make Lady Macbeth b-tchy. Was that a conscious decision on your part?

O'CONNOR:
[18] I know at the audition I was speaking with the director, and we both agreed and talked about how the character believes that Macbeth should be a king. And it's just her desire to lift him to be that, so there's no internal ambition that propels her forward.

[19] Yes, there might be a surrounding element to that, because she goes with him. But that's not the core of why she pushes this whole thing forward. And I guess because it's based in a truth of love, that there's no bitchiness. (Another thought adjustment.) I do find that there are occasional places where I try to not hit the same note all the time, which could become a b-tch, you know. But yeah, sometimes I'll play it and I feel just *blah* (Gives a disgusted expression - vocally and facially) … just dirty… Not dirty, but … evil or… No, not even evil. I don't know what it is… Just bad! You just feel like a bad person. But I know that she's still… she means sort of well, I guess. (Laughs)

MEARS:
[20] Well, she cannot think of herself as a villain or anything.

O'CONNOR:
[21] No, of course not. She's doing what she thinks is correct. That Macbeth is a better king. So, that's the easiest way to get there. (Laughter)

MEARS:
[22] That is a good point.

O'CONNOR:
[23] (In an undertone) It's funny.


Dealing with Shakespeare

MEARS:
[24] Do you have any special methods that you've learned with this in terms of memorizing Shakespeare?

O'CONNOR:
[25] No! I have no idea. (Laughs.) You'll have to ask Patrick [Vest] that one, cause he keeps telling me that it comes so easily for him. I mean, like, come on! I tease him cause he says he has no problems with memorization.

MEARS:
[26] I want to know his trick.

O'CONNOR:
[27] Yeah, yeah. Let me know, as well. (pause) No, there's been no tricks for me in this, unfortunately. What I have looked at are the rhythm and melodies of the sentences. And that again was one of the things I learned from my classes at Will Geer, is that, there's like ten beats per line, and you can play with that if you want to. But um -- (Someone pulls her attention towards the theatre building, for a moment)

[28] Basically, I guess what I'm saying is that once I know how many beats are in a line then I can tell if I've got the right melody to help me in memorization. And the key words help to. You can kind of connect the dots as well, as you go.

MEARS:
[29] (At this point, I can tell she needs to push this along) Just two quick questions.

O'CONNOR:
[30] Yes.


Listening to the other Actors

MEARS:
[31] You are a great listener when you are performing. I noticed that as you played Gabrielle and Lady Macbeth, there are moments where you have to give the focus to the other actor for long periods of time. Is that difficult for you? And how do you keep that alive?

O'CONNOR:
[32] I'm a believer of listening. Yeah, just listening. And I think that it's important that people each have focus at different times, because you're telling a story. And each person has to tell the story in order to get the whole thing off the ground, for everyone to understand what's going on. And then, of course, on Xena -- well, I mean, you know, Xena is so formidable. She drives the whole show. So you have to, you know, just listen and respond to what they're doing. Not so much what they're saying, but what they're doing.


Theatre vs. Television

MEARS:
[33] One last question. With theatre, it is sequential and you get to ride the wave?

O'CONNOR:
[34] Yeah, that's so fun!

MEARS:
[35] How do you get that sense when you are doing television and film, where it is out of sequence?

O'CONNOR:
[36] You always have to make sure that you're aware of what happens before the scene when you're filming it, so that you know where the character is emotionally at that one moment. And that just takes homework, so that when you're on the set, it's your responsibility to know what's happened in the preceding moments. But the difficult part is that you have to do it over and over and over again… some times. (She smiles.) And where, as in theatre, you only get one shot. So, if you mess up you just have to keep going. If you flub the line? Keep going.

MEARS:
[37] You are doing a wonderful job.

O'CONNOR:
[38] Thanks. It's been fun.

MEARS:
[39] I have enjoyed your work.

O'CONNOR:
[40] Thanks, thanks.


Interview Aftermath



Here's one we sang during FIN -- What do we do with a drunken Xena, what do we do with a drunken Xena...

Renee O'Connor warming up before the audience
From Village Photos


[41] A few moments after ending the interview, Ms. O'Connor turned back to me and told me to tell everyone at the Tavern Wall, thanks for the card, and the note in the program. "That was really sweet," she smiles. I assure her it was our pleasure, and thank her again for the interview. Then off she went. [42]The Tavern Wall is a chat board I frequent. We sent in a collective donation to the Shakespeare by the Sea in honor of Renee O'Connor's performance and Lisa Coffi, the producer, graciously put a note in the program, "The Tavern Wall salutes Renee O'Connor".

Articles

Sarah Mears, "An Interview with Patrick Vest", Whoosh! #73 (10/02)
Sarah Mears, "Renee O'Connor in Macbeth", Whoosh! #73 (10/02)
Sarah Mears, "An Interview with Anna Andersen", Whoosh! #73 (10/02)



Biography

Sarah Mears Sarah Mears
Sarah hails from Ohio where she performed in and worked behind the scenes in some 50 stage productions. She's now living in Los Angeles trying to work professionally in the big, bad world of the entertainment industry. Sarah has been a faithful Xena: Warrior Princess fan since 1998. For more information about Sarah's work go to http://PrincessMoon.biz. Further ramblings from Sarah may be found at her fan website, The Acropolis, http://samxart.8m.com/acropolis.html.


Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE, ONE AGAINST AN ARMY, and FINS, FEMMES, AND GEMS
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "Lookin' good!" FINS, FEMMES, AND GEMS
First episode seen: SACRIFICE II
Least favorite episode: SOUL POSSESSION

 

 

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