Whoosh! Issue 52 - January 2001


By Dana Hlusko
Content copyright ©2001 held by author
Edition copyright ©2001 held by Whoosh!
2511 words

LILA'S ROLES (03-05)

Gabrielle's Little Sister, AKA Willa O'Neill

Loving Sisters

Incorrectly fingered as the perp in a lineup, Lila decides to
embark on a life of making Gabrielle feel guilty.

Willa O'Neill (centre) debuted on XENA as Lila, Gabrielle's sister.

[1] Everyone agrees that family is important. Sisters are important. So it is with Gabrielle's sister, Lila. We first met Lila when Gabrielle ran away from home to travel with Xena, with grandiose dreams of becoming a warrior herself. When Lila heard Gabrielle's plan, she teased her saying, "Even I can beat you up". Lila might have been irritating to Gabrielle, but the viewer could see that Lila and Gabrielle cared about each other a great deal, just as real sisters do. You could not be mad or irritated at Lila for too long, because she was just too nice.

[2] Willa O'Neill plays Lila as a sweet village girl. As Lila, O'Neill made the character a doting little sister, willing to go along with whatever Gabrielle said. She did not even tattle on Gabrielle the night she snuck away from town. However, without Gabrielle to run interference against the bad guys, Lila had to become a leader against marauding warlords. When Gabrielle had a crisis of confidence in THE PRODIGAL (18/118), she headed home to talk it over with Lila. By now, Lila had become a tad more hardened to the realities of life. Nevertheless, she still adored Gabrielle. So much so, that she admitted she felt abandoned when Gabrielle left her in Poteidaia, six months before.

Lila's Roles

I feel pretty, Oh so -- hey!  No need to push!

Lila was also seen in THE BITTER SUITE.

[3] Lila did not appear again until Gabrielle and Xena were sent to the Land of Illusia [THE BITTER SUITE (58/312)]. There, in the mystical land, Lila was the person who signified "home" to Gabrielle, but who also encouraged her to kill Xena using a scythe. Quite a dramatic turn around from the cheery sister with whom Gabrielle grew up. In A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403), Lila failed to recognize the Gabrielle imposter. Hope, who looked amazingly like the real Gabrielle, came to Poteidaia to kill Gabrielle's family. Lila looked like a good first victim.

[4] By the end of the fifth season, Lila still adored Gabrielle and traveled from Poteidaia to Amphipolis for a surprise birthday party for her. While there, she was attracted to Joxer, a favorite comic foil, and spent most of the episode flirting with him. As we left Lila, she was still unattached and independent.

[5] Lila has dropped in on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS occasionally. She has never overstayed her welcome. Perhaps that is why it is such a delight to know she will appear again in an early episode of Season Six. Rumors have it that Lila will be the impetus for Gabrielle to attempt to extract revenge on someone for hurting/killing Lila or the family [WHO'S GURKHAN (604/116)].

O'Neill the Actor

[6] However, just because Lila was not always needed on XENA, it did not mean that the actor, Willa O'Neill, was unemployed. She played several roles on HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, including Phoebe, the Argonaut [ONCE A HERO (27/214) and THE WEDDING OF ALCMEME (H34/221)], and Althea, a fashion designer and dancer [...AND FANCY FREE (H67/408) and GREECE IS BURNING (H96/515)]. O'Neill has been acting steadily in New Zealand since she was 17 years old. She has appeared in movies shot in New Zealand and on SHORTLAND STREET, which seems to be a major testing ground for new talent. Many of the XENA alumni spent time on SHORTLAND STREET (New Zealand TV, 1992-). O'Neill is also a busy actor/director at a theatre she owns in Auckland.

An ancient Greek Klingon prothesis

As fashion designer Althea in GREECE IS BURNING, a HERC episode.

[7] O'Neill made her first trip to the United States to be a guest at the HERCULES/XENA Convention held in Pasadena in January 2000. She was funny, excited, gracious, and warm, as were the other Kiwi actors. She performed at the rock and roll concert, attended the Charity Breakfast, and was generous with her time at the autograph table. She may have been as excited to see the crowd as they were to see her. She took a picture of the audience (three pictures actually to get everyone in) to take home, "Because my friends won't believe me if I don't."

The Interview

[8] Here follows an interview with Willa O'Neill.

What did you think of the convention in Pasadena? Did you have time to do any "touristy" things?

I loved it. It was great to see the reaction to the work we do down here in New Zealand. I didn't have any time to do the tourist stuff, which was fine. I really enjoyed my first experience in Los Angeles.

[11] HLUSKO:
You took three pictures of the crowd in Pasadena, saying you had to, or your friends back home would not believe you. How did they come out, and what did your friends say about it?

[12] O'NEILL:
My friends laughed (with us, not at us) and all the shots came out great. You look FAB, all of you.

[13] HLUSKO:
What was your very first acting job? How has your family reacted to your career? What did they think of your XENA appearances?

[14] O'NEILL:
[My first acting job was] a Primary School play, TOM SAWYER. I was in the chorus. My family has always been supportive of my endeavors. We all think the American shows are very funny. It makes us laugh to hear me speak with an American accent.

[15] HLUSKO:
What has been your most difficult and easiest role? What do you enjoy most about acting?

[16] O'NEILL:
Acting for me has always been about making sense of the lines in a way to enable the audience to become emotionally connected with the story and characters. Some of the shows I work on have no need for the depth of that style. In which case I tend to just have fun with the role. Staying true to the character's morals and emotional journey can get tiring, especially if their story is one of a tough life. I do have a tendency to be silly and goof off with other crewmembers for a minute or make a joke after a serious scene to clear the air. Every role has the same attention attributed to it to enable me to be complete as that person.

[17] HLUSKO:
From the looks of your film/stage credits it appears that you have had a relatively steady career since you were 17. Is that a correct assumption?

[18] O'NEILL:
Yes, it's been steady, and tricky, and fun, and great, and diverse.

[19] HLUSKO:
What attracted you to directing?

[20] O'NEILL:
I never planned to direct. I was production manager for NOWHERE FAST, a comedy play about 8 people stuck in an old railway shed for the night when the train they were on broke down, and the director never turned up, so I got the job. It was fun, I was good, and they hired me again.

[21] HLUSKO:
What has been your most difficult directing experience? Have you had difficulties with older, more experienced actors taking direction from you?

[22] O'NEILL:
The last two plays I had the pleasure to direct were FLUSH, a comedy farce set in the women's toilet at a nightclub, and NIGEL, another farce in which a young man has a special evening planned and anything that can go wrong does go wrong. As well as directing, I played the lead role Mary in FLUSH. As exhausting as that sounds, it wasn't too bad. However when we went to work on NIGEL, I found every thing a little too easy, and I had more time on my hands. That was almost as difficult, knowing that you've done everything but still feeling like you've forgotten something because you're not dealing with acting any other role. I did have to deal with older actors last time too. We had our moments with the age/respect thing but, in the end, we all respected the strengths we brought to the production itself. I like to do that as a director, focus on the strengths of the team. There will always be a balance within the group if you cast correctly.

[23] HLUSKO:
Any possibility that you might direct a XWP episode?

[24] O'NEILL:
It would be great to direct any TV show, no opportunities yet.

[25] HLUSKO:
How did you come to own/manage The SiLo Theatre? What types of plays do you perform in/direct at The SiLo?

[26] O'NEILL:
My friend and I saw the need for a theatre like this and opened one. The SiLo is Auckland City's Fringe Theatre. We show works in progress, shorter plays, and many of our playwrights get their start at our theatre. The theatre is cheap to run, so we can keep the overheads down to minimize the hirage fee, so younger or newer artists are able to practice their trades without financial concern.

[27] HLUSKO:
When I think of "fringe", I think of things a little different from mainstream, perhaps what we might think of as avant-garde. You stated that you do "works in progress" and shorter plays – and I see you did two comedy farces. Are these representative of the work presented at the SiLo? What about dramas?

[28] O'NEILL:
All sorts of theatre work happens there, from comedy plays like mine, to full on emotional dramas. You are right about the classification "Fringe"; the SiLo is definitely on the edge of the Auckland Theatre sector.

[29] HLUSKO: Have any of the playwrights that started with you "graduated" to bigger theatres/jobs?

[30] O'NEILL:
Yes, absolutely. They have even branched into the television and film industry. My own writer Kate McDermott is a scriptwriter and editor for the NZ soap SHORTLAND STREET.

[31] HLUSKO:
What projects are you working on now?

[32] O'NEILL:
Currently I am working on myself. I am in a major process of change and am about to travel the country to visit all my family members who live around NZ.

[33] HLUSKO:
Any possibility that American jobs may bring you to the states anytime soon?

[34] O'NEILL:
I would love to work in the USA and anywhere else around the world. As I don't have a family yet I feel free to shift around and travel as I work. I would be more than happy to live in Hotel rooms. I really love hotels...bring on the travel opportunities!

[35] HLUSKO:
If you were teaching a Directing 101 class, what would you tell your students?

[36] O'NEILL:
Cast well, always warm your actors up with games and songs, trust them to come to your conclusion their way - this is better than stating the obvious because it gives the actors time to develop their conclusions themselves.

[37] HLUSKO:
Do you have an ultimate goal you see yourself doing in 10 or 20 years? Such as a dream come true part in a production, world class appearance, winning a directing Oscar or ...

[38] O'NEILL:
I would like to have the man and kids thing going on in my future. To be secure and safe and in love with life as I am now (or more). As I said before, I am in a process of change, and I am unsure at this moment that my creative qualities will really come to the fore. I know that I have a great purpose here in the world, and I want to share it – get back to me on this.


Admonishing the competition to 'kiss my brass'

Althea and The Widow Twanky in ...AND FANCY FREE.

[39] With that, Willa O'Neill is off to discover herself. In November 2000, she will again grace the shores of America with a second convention appearance in Palo Alto, California. Let us also hope we will see her at the Pasadena Convention in May 2001.


Name: Willa O'Neill
Born: 1973
Where: Hamilton, New Zealand
Co-founder/Owner/Director at the "SiLo Theatre" in Auckland City.

XWP/ HTLJ Roles:
XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS – "Sins of the Past" – Lila (September 1995)
XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS – "The Prodigal" – Lila (March 1996)
XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS – "The Bitter Suite" – Lila (1998)
XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS – "A Family Affair" – Lila (1998)
XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS – "It Takes One to Know One" – Lila (2000)
XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS – "Who's Gurkhan?" – Lila (2000)
HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS – "Once a Hero" – Phoebe (January 1996)
HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS – "The Wedding of Alcmene" – Phoebe (April 1996)
HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS – "...And Fancy Free" – Althea (November 1997)
HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS – "Greece is Burning" – Althea (1999)

AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (Jane Campion, 1990) as Edith
SECRETS (Michael Pattinson, 1992) as Vicki
SCARFIES (Robert Sarkies, 1999) as Emma
THE PRICE OF MILK (Harry Sinclair, 2000) as Drosophila

TV Series:
HIGH TIDE (1994) "La Bamba" as Trudy Carry


Dana Hlusko, "Christian Theology in THE BITTER SUITE"
WHOOSH #31 (April 1999)

Dana Hlusko, "The Way: A Spiritual Epiphany for Xena"
WHOOSH #32 (May 1999)

Dana Hlusko, "Am I Really Who I am or What You Made Me?"
WHOOSH #35 (August 1999)

Dana Hlusko, "Savior Figure: Eli or Xena?"
WHOOSH #36 (September 1999)

Dana Hlusko, "XenaStaff – You Made Us What We Are Today"
WHOOSH #38 (November 1999)

Dana Hlusko, "The Way of Friendship Defined" WHOOSH #45 (June 2000)

Dana Hlusko, "Gabrielle: Peacenik to Warrior Chick"
WHOOSH #47 (August 2000)

Dana Hlusko, "WHOOSH Started The Ball Rolling – Now It Is An Avalanche"
WHOOSH #50 (November 2000)


Hlusko Dana Hlusko

I am still struggling with the nursing profession and their use of computers. I no longer write for professional nursing journals but spend my time writing for pleasure. I am attempting to expand my writing topics from "just Xena" to other areas. (Are there any others really worthwhile?) Some of the dreams I wrote about in my original biography have had to be put on hold or deferred. I am currently working on the theology dream by taking classes to become a minister of religious education in my diocese.

Archaeology will have to wait a few years until the kids are gone (or can be coerced into digging dinosaurs with Mom –– hey, it could happen!) Moreover, alas, the time for the last dream, to visit the set of XWP, is quickly ending and was probably never possible to begin with. What was I thinking, anyway? Just an example of the extraordinary power that superb writing, acting, directing, producing, costuming, choreography, and editing can have on an ordinary human's mind.

Favorite episode: THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), FORGET ME NOT (63/317), ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313), THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202), FALLEN ANGEL (91/501)
Favorite line: Xena: "I have many skills" KING CON (61/315), THE BLACK WOLF (11/111), etc.
First episode seen: THE GAUNTLET (H12/112)
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS (105/515)

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