Renee O’Connor is an established actress now turned movie maker and film producer with her new entry called “Diamonds and Guns”.
A native Texan, Renee is best known for playing the role of Gabrielle on the television series “Xena: Warrior Princess” from 1995 to 2001.
Having just headlined “Genesis Code,” a SCI FI Channel original television movie due to premiere in 2008, O’Connor is thrilled to see the completion of the beloved grass roots project, the romantic comedy, “Diamonds & Guns,” set for distribution next year.
She began her professional acting career at the age of 18 with two serials for the New Mickey Mouse Club.
This led to several television movies, starring with James Garner, Ellen Burstyn, Cheryl Ladd, and episodic work on “NYPD Blue,” before coming to the attention of Executive Producers Robert G. Tapert and Sam Raimi.
They were so impressed with her performance in “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” that they signed her for a starring role in “Darkman II: The Return of Durant.” They signed her again, as Gabrielle, Xena’s battling bard, in the syndicated hit show seen in over 80 countries.
After taking time for her new family, O’Connor returned to acting to play a supporting role in the western feature film, “Ghost Town,” debuting in 2007, where she plays Little Jack, a character from the wrong side of the tracks.
Coming in early 2008, is the psychiatrist character of Dr. Jessica Ryan, in the Ghost House Pictures feature production of “Boogeyman 2,” again for Executive Producers Robert G. Tapert and Sam Raimi.
Renee put some time aside to meet with our reporter Linda Craddock and shared this interview with her for all her fans on Slice of SciFi.
Linda Craddock (SoSF): Six seasons as Gabrielle on ‘Xena: Warrior Princess.’ What would be two of the most valuable lessons about the entertainment business and as an actor you brought from that series?
Renee O’Connor (RO): From an entertainment perspective, I guess it would be having confidence in yourself as a person, whether people like you or not (laughter). That’s just a good overall life lesson. Because Xena and Gabriella were extremely confident women and I’ve tried to transcribe that into my everyday life. If you’re looking at the entertainment industry, in particular because if you can’t be happy with yourself unconditionally, the business could just beat you up so brutally.
SoSF: You are executive producer on ‘Diamonds and Guns’ which is also the debut feature for your production company Rock Pictures. Share a little insight with us about this romantic comedy, if you will.
RO: It’s about these two women who head to Las Vegas to marry off as you say in this country, and it’s a romantic farce, a self comedy in the veins of the others, like “Knocked Up” and “40 Year Old Virgin”, not that the story line is the same but they’ve got that sense of humor, absurd and funny.
SoSF: What were some of the challenges you faced as executive producer. I mean you were obviously familiar with the role of producer from your experience in the industry but what aspect really stood out more so than you expected during the process of the project?
RO: Actually I had no idea what it meant to be a producer. Even though I had a close relationship with Rob Tapert on ‘Xena,’ I watched his role as executive producer/producer and you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you’re behind the wheel yourself. Being one of the producers on the film, was a greater lesson more so than being executive producer. The executive producer basically tries to give you the money and makes sure everything is being completed. The producers, for one, have to micro-manage every detail of the film. I had no idea what it would be like to do post production on a movie at all.
SoSF: Well, like you said you have to be extremely confident in yourself to even endeavor.
RO: (laughter) Yeah, it was a huge learning curve for me. It felt like I went into film school even though I had such a wealth of information before hand. To be on the other side of the camera and see the business side was completely different for me than doing a TV show for 6 years.
SoSF: What was the toughest challenge for marketing the film as an independent?
RO: It’s funny because I’m caught in a weird place right now because there is a distributor that’s taken the film and sometime next year he’s going to be distributing it in two different places, however, I wanted to self distribute the film first so I could pay the deferred payment for a lot of the crew who worked for nothing up front. I wanted to market the film, but I had to be careful that I didn’t take away the position of the distributor as well so it’s sort of a weird situation, which is so true for all independent film making because you’re doing everything outside the box. There’s no paradigm for how to market a movie for a small film, at least not in this situation. I know I’m not unique. I know other people have done this before. It’s the kind of film you’re trying to build an audience for outside their genre audience.
SoSF: You mentioned the crew and I’ve seen some of your personal videos and I noticed a lot of your crew of which you’ve worked with on various projects, you’ve worked with them before so tell us how you reestablished that connection with your crew.
RO: About the crew, you’re probably referring to the cinematographer on ‘Diamonds and Guns’ and the editor and composer. I just fearlessly picked up the phone and called them. (laugher). All you can do is ask. Just be brave enough to ask. I’m sort of the kind of person that hates to feel that someone would do something for me out of obligation, feeling indebted to someone else so it’s a feeling that so many of my close friends of mine have done a few favors for me has kept me going on the film to be completed to make sure I can reciprocate their generosity, hopefully with monetary arrangements.
SoSF: Dawn Higginbotham is the writer for Diamonds, correct?
RO: Yes and she’s also one of the producers.
SoSF: Ok, tell us how Helena Beaven became involved with the project.
RO: It was actually Helena’s idea. Helena is a New Zealander and came to America to be an actor and she was frustrated with the system with not having any opportunities to practice her craft in acting so she read ‘Rebel Without a Crew’ and decided to make her own movie. She had already made a short film with them before and decided to step it up and make a feature film. She pulled together all the actors and put together the location of the Rivera Casino to shot in and some of crew and the director and they were basically ready to go but the lady who was to play Helena’s co-star had dropped out. I randomly ran into her at a part at the New Zealand consulate at one of their affairs so I decided to do it as an actor. I just wanted to do something that was very low keyed after becoming a new mother, after coming off ‘Xena.’ The idea of watching these two ladies put together a movie so inspired me to come along for the ride because I wanted to eventually do this myself and low and behold I ended up producing quite a bit of it myself.
SoSF: How much of the casting process were you involved with and tell us a little about the location of the shooting of the film.
RO: I was involved in none of the casting process. That was all Helena and Dawn. Helena has a dear friend who called the Rivera, he’s involved in with the Rivera financially and he asked if we could have the ability to film there and we basically seized the opportunity to film there and set the whole movie around the Rivera hotel.
SoSF: Wow, that must have been interesting.
RO: It was interesting. Again, it’s just about being fearless. You just have to do your best with all the problems that arise from being in a live environment with people walking by caring on their normal lives. There’s this one scene where two of the actors are ad-libbing coming down the hallway and they start interacting with people who are just minding there own business and we have to go back afterwards and get permission from everybody. It just had that sense of spontaneity and excitement not knowing what the day was going to bring.
SoSF: What is the official release date for ‘Diamonds and Guns?’
RO: I don’t know exactly when that will be. It’s for sale on my website.
SoSF: Yes, I saw that, in fact, Jeff Shubert, mentioned he had seen the movie when I saw your interview and I know it’s available on DVD.
RO: Yes, it’s for sale on DVD. Since I don’t know the exact release date. I’m hoping people will see the website as it helps the artist become real artists who are out there trying to make projects for each other.
SoSF: What advice would you give to a new artist or up and coming executive producer, someone who is trying to establish their own production company like you overcome based on something you’ve learned and help someone overcome that obstacle.
RO: I think it all starts with the story. If they believe in their story enough and be passionate about it, so that they will happy to be involved with it for several years, that is the greatest key and hopefully people will help fund the movie and you’ll put together a creative team which is going to elevate the process. That is what I would do next time. I would make sure the story is so solid that, well, not firing the gun before its ready. You have to know the story’s locked in before you jump.
SoSF: “Boogeyman 2”, you play Dr. Jessica Ryan. For the viewers who are not familiar with this particular film, what was Dr. Ryan’s area of expertise and tell us about the role?
RO: Dr. Ryan is trying to find an alternative way of helping people with their phobias. The whole movie is, they say it’s similar to one of the “Nightmare on Elm Streets.” Everyone is in this hospital together and it’s about their psychology problems then the horrible things start happening. She’s trying to embrace the passion and help people not run away from their fears but feel supported in looking at their psychological problems. Her nemesis in the movie is Tobin Bell’s character who is much more aggressive and I think cold (chuckle) toward the kids. It was a great cast of young people who have done a lot of other projects and who are more up and coming with new careers and it was just fun to be in a movie that didn’t feel like a slasher film until things started happening. (laughter)
SoSF: I viewed some of your personal videos on your fan club website where you were preparing to shoot scenes from “Genesis Code.” You were in an old church built in 1542. That’s incredible.
RO: I know, it was amazing, the walls were still intact and I just wound up just sitting there to feel the vibes of history in that room. I couldn’t get over it.
SoSF: I watched it a couple of times. I was in awe with you watching the video (laughter).
RO: I know, you’re surrounded by these incredible artists who replicate those things in a very, very detailed manner so that really inspired my all because of how good they were but to be in an actual environment that is real is just so humbling, you know.
SoSF: Fascinating behind the scenes stuff. Tell us about the theme of the movie “Genesis Code.”
RO: Well, for my character, it’s about finding your faith in a greater being, spiritual being. She’s on a journey with Rick, her husband and the clash between them about having faith in something greater than your self so that’s what we’re doing, Trying to find another ark of the covenant and that’s the general theme along the way.
SoSF: This is to be a SCI FI Channel original movie?
RO: Yes, it’s going to be on the SCI FI Channel.
SoSF: Great! Outstanding.
RO: I know, I was so impressed (laugher). I was so impressed with the SCI FI Channel, not only did they pull together a script that just to me meant so much more than the monsters that are, of course in most of their sci-fi movies that they put together this amazing cast of actors that immediately responded to the script and the director and I was so proud to be a part of it.
RO: I know, it’s thrilling and then to be in these wonderful monasteries along the way was over the top.
SoSF: What is the latest with the project “Judges: Devil’s Bayou” all about?
RO: You know, it’s from one of the producers of “Ghost Town” that I did last year and I don’t think it’s something that I’m too clear about. I have not read a script so I don’t really know. I have to really respond to the character and really love the character to come on board. I’m a mom and it’s so important to be available to my kids, to be part of their lives and going away to do something creatively for me, I have to love it as much as I love my kids
SoSF: I was going to ask you about “Ghost Town: The Movie.”
RO: Well, it was sort of my first baby steps getting back into work after being a mother of two. It was terrifying I had to sacrifice something, you know and it was a great experience so I thought oh, well, there is a way to do it all, to balance the career and the home life. You kind of take each project at its own face value.
SoSF: You mentioned another company picking up “Diamonds and Guns” for distribution. Do you have plans to say collaborate with another production company for future projects and that being said, tell us what director you would want to drive a really huge project you may be planning in the future?
RO: I would love to work with another production company. One of the other things I learned is to set yourself around creative people who know more, have more experience than you do. (laughter)
SoSF: It always helps (laughter).
RO: Gosh, I would love to work with someone who would sort of take me on and be more of a mentor for me. That being said I don’t know who it would be right now, just to know that would be my next goal. I do want to direct a movie. It’s not a super block buster film it’s just a beautiful story of a woman and her family but I have to try to get the rights to the book and it’s a long journey ahead of me for this but like “Diamonds and Guns” I know I have the perseverance to accomplish things so I’m not really afraid of it.
SoSF: Would you want to play another character in the likes of Gabrielle?
RO: Thereâ’s a lot of fun and depth in playing Gabrielle. It’s a stylized piece but I can see the draw for a short period of time to be able to do another character like that, but overall as an arc in my acting career, but a stylized piece like that are not necessarily the ones that draw me to act again. If I did a couple of episodes on a TV show that had that feel I would have a ball, because I love being challenged as a actor, whether it be campy or funny or dramatic or being pulled out of my own environment, and be asked to do something creative, but not for the long run, but I don’t think I’d want to play something as stylized as ‘Xena.’
SoSF: I understand you have sort of a passion for horror flicks. What’s the attraction?
RO: (laughter) Well, as kid, my stepfather, he ended up with all these movies from a video store that was closing so I had access to all these movies from the 70’s and most of them were horror films. I just wanted to see what these were and I found I loved the thrill of being frightened so I kept watching them. I was such a fan of them, my whole family, I don’t know, it was just fun.
SoSF: You were born in Houston TX, but you lived for quite sometime in New Zealand during the filming of “Xena”. Setting aside shooting schedules, what were some of the highlights you enjoyed most about the country during that time?
RO: It’s such a beautiful country, New Zealand. It’s one of the most serene, gorgeous places I’ve ever been to. I was thinking about this just the other day because it’s not an overwhelming sense of a religious kind of feeling but the country is so incredibly gorgeous and beautiful you almost don’t see to look anywhere else but to sit and enjoy what’s in front of you so, I think that’s definitely one of the highlights of being in that environment. It’s peaceful to me and it’s something that I hold very dear to my heart and always want to go back and recreate that feeling (laughter).
SoSF: Long days when you were shooting “Xena”?
RO: One of the low-lights is having to endure the elements. It is an island so was really cold and wet which are two of the things most people don’t like to be enduring for a long period of time. So if I go back to New Zealand, I’d have a fireplace in the rain (laughter). That’s the best.
SoSF: I am glad we got together and I got a chance to chat with you and I look forward to seeing your upcoming projects.
RO: Oh, thank you Linda. I appreciate it and I hope you enjoy them. That’s what it means to me to see what people like the most.