It has been more than 20 years since Xena: Warrior Princess ended, yet fans have kept that war cry alive. And they’ve been happy to know the bond between the show’s titular hero played by Lucy Lawless, and her partner in adventure, Renee O’Connor’s Gabrielle, also remains strong. So much so, in fact, these two stars are back on screen together. No, not in ancient Greece. But in New Zealand on Acorn TV’s mystery series My Life Is Murder.
The series, currently in its second season, features Lawless as private investigator Alexa Crowe. In the episode dropping on Monday, October 25, Alexa investigates the death of a self-help guru and finds herself in a cat-and-mouse game with the victim’s mysterious wife (played by O’Connor). Below, the dynamic duo reminisces about Xena and their anticipated reunion.
Lucy, you recently shared a photo of the two of you eating together and it pretty much broke the internet.
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Lucy Lawless: Isn’t that amazing, Ren?
Renee O’Connor: It is. I didn’t know you posted anything. I think it popped up on my Instagram feed or something. And I’m like, “Yeah, I remember those nachos.” It’s moments of time that you just appreciate. I definitely don’t take it for granted anymore now that we live so far from each other and see each other so seldomly.
Lawless: I had to go to Austin, Texas to do a little passion project and Renee came from Los Angeles [California] to be my lovely assistant. What a friend. I was really touched by that.
O’Connor: It’s funny because Lucy does stuff for everyone all the time, and I get to brag about her in interviews. This is why I get to be here. She literally does stuff for people all the time. I’m always looking for something that would be a bizarre way to reciprocate. This little moment came up. It’s not a big deal to go to Austin. It was so fun.
Renee, how quickly did you say yes to the spot on My Life Is Murder?
O’Connor: Honestly, I didn’t think it would happen. Lucy mentioned it back in 2019, or something. It was on my wishlist and bucket list for me to work with Lucy again. So, when the call came, I was stunned, to be honest, and hopeful. It was a dream.
Lawless: During COVID it was a major bureaucratic hurdle to get Renee in the country, but it was so important to the series. It was such an enormous thing for the show to have Renee and for us to be together for the first time in 20 years. To the fans, it would mean a lot. We are so grateful. It just so happens that her son is studying drama in Auckland already. We wrote him in to play Renee’s son on the show. Also, we’re all being directed by Michael Hurst, who was on Xena and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys as an actor and director. He is a very dear friend, so it was a great way of getting the team back together again.
How would you describe the dynamic between the two of you in this environment on opposite ends? It must have been fun to play off of each other in a more grounded space.
O’Connor: I love the lightheartedness of Lucy’s show, but it’s also grounded in truth. That was very clear from the beginning. Even when speaking with the producers before talking to Lucy, everything had to be played with naturalism and authenticity. That’s where I started. From there, Lucy brought her sense of humor into play on and off-camera.
Lawless: It was such a relief. A lot of my job is shepherding young actors and making sure people are feeling welcome because when people are relaxed they do their best work. A lot of my job is kind of pastoral in a way. We were working at a high level together, which was an incredible gift.
Tell me about how your friendship was born on Xena.
O’Connor: Lucy set the tone that there was going to be an egoless environment. You would be treated like family and everyone would be treated equally. The work ethic that required was extensive, but it started with Lucy. Lucy worked harder than anyone on the show. There wasn’t a lot of room for whining. Now watching her on set for this show, she is very maternal in the sense of bringing people in and having them feel like they are a part of the family.
Lawless: It was the hardship that bonded us because that show was physically uncomfortable, physically demanding. You were doing things that were way outside your comfort zone. We would put Renee on a horse that would not go slow. You would be terrified.
O’Connor: You just had to handle it. We were all so young and hungry. Knowing what your limitations were. I remember the one episode where I was just covered in mud in the cold winter. I think I lost it then.
Lawless: Ren was at the brunt of some gnarly experiences. She had hypothermia. They would be figuratively crucifying us in freezing weather. It’s snowing on us, but the snow is fake. But the chill factor was so freezing. Renee would be wearing some mid-drift top and a tiny little skirt. She was so cold that she didn’t know she was going under because she would just handle it.
Lucy, you’re front and center on My Life Is Murder in this time of women’s empowerment. Xena definitely was a different era. What do you make of the show’s impact 20 years later?
Lawless: I think what people have forgotten is [Xena] was way ahead on diversity, way ahead of depicting people of different gender identities or sexuality, female empowerment. We were so far away nobody could stop us. No big bosses tried to tame us. We were making this little show in New Zealand, but it struck a chord all over the world. It was universal. I’m really grateful for the show and the courage it gave people. It was empowering. I gave them the courage to change their state, their environment in some cases, to get help. There was an alchemy that people inferred these messages through the show that helped them to make a positive change.
What else can you tease about Renee’s character on My Life Is Murder? Things are usually not what they seem on this show.
Lawless: She is a cuddly-wuddly cult leader.
O’Connor: I’m soft and fluffy and very Southern.
Lawless: She is a steel magnolia.
O’Connor: They wrote her very well.
Lawless: And my character has to go through the muddy waters of her family.
O’Connor: I can’t wait to see it.
Did this opportunity light the spark to maybe do more together?
Lawless: I’d like that.
O’Connor: It would be super awesome.
My Life Is Murder, Mondays, Acorn TV