Edward Gross, Cinescape, Vol. 2, No. 10 (July 1996)
After reviving Wiseguy and searching in vain for Nowhere Man, TV writer-producer Joel Surnow turns to the Gallic cult classic La Femme Nikita to bring the edge back to his work.
Wanted: Female, twentysomething. Must be fit and athletic and possess haunting beauty. A vertible chameleon, the successful respondent is sophisticated but also exudes schoolgirl innocence. Must have compassion and nurturing skills, and be able to slit a man's throat without thinking twice about it. A sense of the ironic a plus.
Casting the lead role of USA's series La Femme Nikita was among the toughest assignments of Joel Surnow's career.
"I knew this was going to be an extremely difficult role to cast," says Surnow, executive producer of the show, which debuts next January. "Nikita has to be young, she's got to be incredibly attractive and she has to be able to run the emotional gamut from raw, violent anger to soft, tender intimacy. We searched all over the place and, as it turned out, we ended up casting the third girl we saw."
Based on the 1990 French film of the same name and its 1993 American remake, Point of No Return, the series deals with a violent, rebellious young woman recruited against her will into a secret government organization and trained as a deadly assassin. Portrayed by Anne Parillaud in the gritty original and by Bridget Fonda in the glitzedup Hollywood version, Nikita will be essayed for the tube by newcomer Peta Wilson, an Australian who surfaced from the jungles of New Guinea a few years ago (her father is an itinerant adventurer Surnow compares to The Mosquito Coast's Allie Fox) to become a teenage fashion plate Down Under. Next stop was New York, where she honed her thespian skills at Julliard before an attempted mugging sent her fleeing to the City of Angels.
"She thought she'd be safer here," Surnow laughs. But, safe or not, he's glad she made the trip. "Everyone who sees her," offers the producer, "says, 'My God, there's something special about her.'"
And for the man who has given the young actress her soon-to-be prime-time break, that something special jibed perfectly with his conception of Nikita. She's bright and open and thoughtful, but there's also a secret darkness, a hardness, to the character that Surnow connects with another of his TV favorites, Ken Wahl's Vinnie Terranova, whom the 41-year-old producer recently brought back from the series graveyard in a two-hour Wiseguy telemovie.
"Interestingly, a lot of the same qualities and shadings that you find in Wiseguy you find in Nikita," says Surnow. "The whole idea of a tortured soul is very important. You're dealing with a government operative who moves through a dangerous, violent world while trying to carve out and save a little piece of humanity for herself."
Surnow, who also served as executive producer of UPN's Nowhere Man during its first season, admits that Nikita was not an easy sell to network execs, who typically expect their heroes to be straight-arrow, apple-pie types. To placate the USA brass, some subtle changes were proffered and the series was finally given the green light by CEO Rod Perth.
"The chief alteration for the series is that she's not the psychotic criminal you see in the film," Surnow now explains. "She's a street girl, but it turns out that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was accused of killing a cop, which she didn't do. So she comes out of the 'program' after all this training, and she isn't aware that they had found out she was innocent but didn't do anything about it because she's so talented and special. She is eternally trying to get out of this situation and have a real life for herself, but she can't. They have a hold on her, a sort of blackmail. I call it an action tragedy."
Though the inspiration for this "action tragedy" was drawn as much from Wiseguy as it was from the original French movie, La Femme Nikita nevertheless will not utilize the plot concept that set Wiseguy apart from other cop shows in the '80s. The acclaimed CBS series pioneered the ongoing, multilayered story arc, wherein resolutions came maybe two or three times each season rather than in every episode. This extended-plot technique is now used by shows ranging from Murder One to Babylon 5, and though its dramatic impact is undeniable - allowing characters to develop and reveal themselves logically over time - its success as viewer bait is still suspect. "USA doesn't want to do two-part episodes," Surnow laughs. "I think on this show we can do B-story arcs, at the very least. But, at any rate, our show - unlike Wiseguy - isn't going to be about how interesting the criminals are. Nikita has to be the most interesting person on the show, and, in a way, her trying to forge a normal life for herself and being slammed down each week is going to be interesting to watch. It's conceivable [that] we can have, for example, a boyfriend arc over several episodes that runs parallel to each week's stand-alone crime story. These elements would continue, showing personal growth, and it'll be rather poignant to see her put so much effort into this emotional, normal side of her life and then see [her handlers] ultimately take it away from her."
But all of that has yet to be worked out, he admits. "We're at the early stages of development, and one of the questions we're exploring is exactly what types of situations she'll get involved with. There is a concern that the American audiences don't really respond to complex international spy stories, that they like their crime stories neat - you know, 'He's the bad guy, he's hurting this person, go get him.' When it gets into Le Carre' territory with, 'Who's the good guy and who's the bad guy in this shadowy, gray world?' some people tune out. I think what we are going to try to do is kind of visceral CIA stories. Like hostage situations, terrorists and international drug dealers - maybe on a bigger scale, but still accessible and morally unambiguous. We will be doing some undercover material. I think we have to use the fact that this is a young, beautiful woman and would be the last person you'd think who would go into the world of terrorists, or whatever. I think we can't use the unexpectedness of her being this lethal weapon."
Like a taller, balding Nikita, Surnow himself is an unexpected lethal weapon - along with people like The X-Files Chris Carter and NYPD Blue's David Milch. These writers and producers are leaders of a quiet creative renaissance that's lifting up the television industry and threatening to make big screen look miniscule in comparison. Surnow, a UCLA film school grad, got his first big break as a writer of the ultra-glitzy Miami Vice in the '80s and then moved on to the prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest - both of which are a far cry in theme and content from his more recent work.
"I got hooked into Miami Vice, where I became head writer the first season and literally wrote almost all of that show," Surnow explains. "There was no writing staff because Michael Mann kept firing everybody." He then shifted over to the Edward Woodward starrer The Equalizer, before taking up Falcon Crest, where he was given creative carte blanche over the struggling series.
"We did the best season of television ever produced," he smiles. "We outdid Twin Peaks with the crazy stuff we did. It wasn't as obscure as Twin Peaks, but it was really a wild season."
Tweaking soap-opera conventions was fun, but it wasn't what Surnow had in mind for a career. So after stints on the short-lived TV version of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Covington Cross and The Commish, he became supervising producer of Nowhere Man. The UPN show - which chronicles the adventures of photographer Thomas Veil (Bruce Greenwood), whose existence has been "erased" by an all-encompassing conspiracy - got off to an impressive start, garnering solid ratings as well as critical kudos as an innovative twist on the paranoia trend that has flourished in the wake of the X-Files. But the show which has seen its ratings dive in recent months has failed to grow, and seems caught in an endless creative cul-de-sac. If nothing else, the frustrating experience has made Surnow realize that he wanted to tackle series development himself.
"Nowhere Man grew to piss me off," says Surnow with unusual vehemence. "Honestly, I don't know if there was enough on the concept to do 25 episodes. I felt like we should have done a couple of episodes a la The Prisoner, then we'd move into a Three Days of the Condor government conspiracy kind of thing. But that's not what we did - we just stayed with the initial premise, which doesn't suggest a ton of material. I think there's a reason that a show like The Prisoner only ran for 17 episodes - I'm sure they ran out of ways to jerk the audience around. Nowhere Man is like that - it has nowhere to go. [Series creator] Larry Hertzog looks at the show as The Prisoner; he doesn't think it needs to go anywhere - or he didn't. He just wanted to be allegorical and didn't feel that they needed to have a linear progression. As a result, the show was limited."
And that brought him to La Femme Nikita, which he feels puts him in control of his creative destiny. "You basically have to reinvent yourself in this business sometimes, which I did. Now I am on Nikita, doing a good one-hour action show. It feels really great."
Asylum Entertainment's Review of La Femme Nikita
She's beautiful, she's deadly - and boy, does she do that pouty lip thing well.
She is La Femme Nikita! We've been a fan of 'La Femme' ever since the original French film.
Usually the weight of being based on a popular, ultra hip movie is more than a series can bear. But this series rises to the challenge. It's managed to reinvent the edge of its cinematic forebear, chiefly through the soulful performance of Peta Wilson as Nikita, a woman convicted of a crime she did not commit.
Once in prison, Nikita is forced into joining a super secret anti-terrorism unit - Section One. Criminals that the law can not or will not deal with are the cases that Section One "disposes of," by any means necessary. The brutal 'kill-or-be-killed' law of the jungle governs more than the assignments around Section One.
The only trouble is: she still has a conscience - a luxury, which could prove to be fatal. And this is what really sets "La Femme Nikita" apart from the pack for me. There's a sense of paranoia about the job almost as strong as the FBI of X-FILES. Nikita never knows whether an assignment is just an assignment or whether it is another test for her. And we all know what the price of failure will be for her.
Peta Wilson Interview, Ultimate TV News
She's the beautiful, brooding star of USA's "La Femme Nikita," and we asked Peta Wilson some questions from UltimateTV and UltimateTV readers.
Q: Do you follow a particular acting method?
P: No, the best of all methods: Whatever's real works, whatever's not, discard. Tell the truth.
Q: What was your first acting job?
P: I played a tree in the school play; and then a troll the following year.
Q: Have you ever done any modeling?
P: Yes, I wasn't ever really that high profile. I made money and traveled.
Q: How do you stay in such great shape?
P: Yoga, eating healthy, high metabolism. I try to find outlets for my abundance of energy; laugh as much as possible.
Q: What do you think of the movie versions of "La Femme Nikita?" (The Hollywood version is called "Point of No Return")
P: Both are appealing and distinctive in their own way. The French version was superb.
Q: Did you study the two lead actresses, Bridget Fonda ("Point") and Annie Paillard? (The original French version) How did you approach the role differently?
P: No (she didn't study the leads), but I liked their work. (She approached the role) As if it had never been done before; I did the same work I do in prepping for a theatre piece...made it breathe.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
P: Performing and producing original and distinctive theatre and films; working with my friends; trying to add to the cultural equation in any way I can.
Q: What's the difference between U.S. and Australian audiences?
P: Big difference. Aussies don't idolize their celebrities in the same way as the U.S.
Q: (from reader Dave Pollard) What do you see as the foundation on which the show is built? It seems very much to be an updated version of "The Prisoner," but also draws heavily at "VR5" in its style and the slowly resolved mystery of the female protagonist's history.
P: If you say so. But I don't think there's any particular derivitive influence.
Q: (D. Pollard) What female leads have inspired you in crafting your character?
P: I looked within to craft my character, although I was inspired by strong female role models in my life. There are several actresses I admire: Marlene Dietrich, Catherine Deneuve, Sissy Spacek, Wendy Hughes, Anne Bancroft, Gena Rowlands, Liv Ulman, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Meryl Streep.
Q: (D. Pollard)... and does the struggle of heavy dramas with female leads for audience ratings in the past concern you?
P: No, hopefully times are changing.
Q: This is a very serious program, especially for USA Network. Will the show keep the edge it has, or will it lighten up over time?
P: I don't believe they're mutually exclusive. It can lighten up from time to time without losing its edge. It's all about the writing.
Q: (from reader Joe) Do you have a boyfriend?
P: Do you?
Q: (from reader Kelly) Who's the biggest babe in the business? (Male)
P: You mean besides Roy DuPuis? (plays her mentor/trainer Michael)
Q: (from Camille) What magazines do you subscribe to?
P: Vogue -- USA, Australian, Italian, National Geographic, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar.
Q: What directors would you like to work with?
P: Roman Polanski, Terrnace Malik, Damian Harris, Sean Penn, Jamie Foley, Martin Scorcese, Angelica Huston.
Q: Do you cruise the Net? What sites do you usually visit?
P: I just got a computer; I'm sure I'll cruise it all.
Q: UltimateTV loves "The Avengers." Are you familiar with the show? Which of John Steeds female counterparts was your fave? Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), Tara King (Linda Thorson) or Purdey (Joanna Lumley).
P: I like them all for different reasons. I really like Modesty Blaise, the comic book heroine.
Entertainment Weekly's Review of La Femme Nikita
Hollywood already remade Luc Bessonís stylish 1991 film LA FEMME NIKITA (USA, Mondays starting Jan. 13, 10-11 p.m.) once, as the forgettable Bridget Fonda vehicle Point of No Return. Now the USA Network is trying to turn the story of a homeless urchin-turned-high-fashion assassin inot a weekly series. Aussie babe Peta Wilson takes over the role originated by Anne Parillaud, and French-Canadian Matthew Fox look-alike Roy Dupuis plays her spy master (Gabriel Byrneís part in Return). With incessant music-video montages, Nikita strives to re-create Bessonís hyper-kinetic visuals but winds up looking more like Silk Stalkings gone grunge. Still, itís a lot better than the networkís other attempts to turn movies into series, Weird Science and The Big Easy.
Nikita Series is Delicious, Action-filled Eye Candy
The Austin (TX) American-Statesman (12 January 1997)
Luc Besson's 1990 French thriller La Femme Nikita this week finally completes its metamorphosis, turning into a TV series for a U.S. cable network that's made in Canada, starring an Australian who grew up in New Guinea.
Along the way, Besson's film also became a popular 1993 U.S. action film, Point of No Return, starring Bridget Fonda.
Quite a pedigree for an idea that was rather specious to start with and only worked because Besson and the glamorous original star, Anne Parillaud, kept viewers too excited to think about the absurdities of the goofy story line.
La Femme Nikita comes to U.S. television right at the time when networks are supposed to be reining in the violence. That's too bad for this idea, which depends on violence, lots of it. The compromise: It has cartoon-style violence with lots of gunfire, but little gore.
Nikita (Peta Wilson) is a street girl who has fallen into the punk subculture and is arrested for a vicious murder she didn't commit. Because she's street scum, nobody gives a damn about her, and she's sentenced to life in prison.
But that's exactly the sort of person they're looking for at the mysterious secret government organization known as Section One. They like to take killers without hope and turn them into secret operatives by offering them a second chance at life.
This process occupies a good deal of the two feature films about Nikita, but USA whisks us through it so fast we hardly know what they're talking about. Nikita keeps telling her shadowy superiors she really isn't a killer, but they ignore that as typical prison blather.
"You're sick," Nikita tells Michael (Roy Dupuis), her mentor at Section One. "You don't want a person. You want a machine. I can't do that."
But Michael assures her she can and arranges to prove it. He takes her out to dinner after she completes her two years of secret training in martial arts and armaments and hands her a graduation gift. It's an automatic weapon with an ammunition clip. He tells her she has to kill the guy at the next table, that the place is surrounded with his paid killers, and she only has five minutes to complete the job or she'll miss her ride home. To escape, he tells her, she must exit through a small window in the ladies' room.
This was the big scene in both movies, and it's the big scene in the opening episode. Nikita not only discovers that she can kill if she has to, but also finds out her own people like to give her certain obstacles to overcome without fair warning.
Newcomer Wilson is blond and statuesque and, perhaps most important, an athlete. She was on the Australian national basketball team -- they call it "netball" over there -- and is a world-class sailor, a sport she learned sailing with her father and brother in the waters off New Guinea.
All this gives Wilson's physical emoting as Nikita certain flavor of reality. She does not, however, look comfortable holding machine guns and pistols, but that may be acting, too, since this Nikita is supposed to be a very reluctant killer.
Wilson also brings a certain Baywatch flavor to this series, which depends a lot on her display of pulchritude to enchant, dazzle and distract the scummy guys she's assigned to kill. Her "teacher" at the secret training center, Madeline (Alberta Watson), pretty much puts Nikita straight on this topic.
"You can learn to shoot, you can learn to fight, but there's no weapon as powerful as your femininity," Madeline says.
That ought to endear La Femme Nikita to the feminists who may have been looking forward to the arrival of a strong female action series that doesn't take place in ancient times. Obviously, this Nikita is looking for the same USA viewers who watch the fights on Tuesday night.
By the way, if you're wondering exactly what Nikita's Section One is up to, you still may be wondering by the end of the premiere episode. Nikita and the gang are supposed to be combating world terrorism, but they're clearly following the example of Ollie North & Co. by doing things outside the law in a style that seems more appropriate to Zorro, the Green Horney and Batman than your standard government agency.
That doesn't matter, though. La Femme Nikita is not for people who worry about legal niceties any more than it's for people who worry about dumb plot lines. It's fast-moving eye candy, and that's about it.
French Thriller La Femme Nikita Becomes New USA Series
Jay Bobbin, Buffalo News (12 January 1997)
It's nothing new for popular movies to be turned into TV series, but sometimes the choices can be surprising.
Case in point: "La Femme Nikita," French director Luc Besson's internationally acclaimed 1990 thriller about an amoral young woman convicted of a cop-killing, but secretly reprieved and trained by the government to serve as an elite assassin.
Remade in 1993 as "Point of No Return" (with Bridget Fonda in the central role), the film is now the basis for a filmed-in-Toronto USA cable series that premieres at 10 p.m. Monday.
Seen in last week's Fox remake of "Vanishing Point," Peta Wilson stars as the lady sprung from a life sentence to work for a covert federal bureau as an anti-terrorism agent. Uncomfortable with the measures expected of her, she uses her wits to find different ways to accomplish her assignments . . . and stay out of prison.
Roy Dupuis ("Million Dollar Babies") plays Nikita's mentor and immediate boss, with Alberta Watson ("Gotti") as the division's strategic expert.
"I just loved the movie, especially the first half," says producer Joel Surnow ("Nowhere Man," "The Equalizer," "Wiseguy"), who is serving as "La Femme Nikita's" executive consultant.
"There was such an imbalance in this woman's life, and she wasn't quite as heroic as we'll ultimately make her in the series. She will be on the side of the angels while dealing with this organization known as Section One; they're good guys, but ruthlessly so, and she'll have to struggle to hold onto her humanity. I think we did that with 'The Equalizer' as well, since he just did what he knew how to do, by executing CIA methods that were sometimes less than humane."
To convert "La Femme Nikita" into a weekly offering, two major alterations were necessary, according to Surnow. "The first thing we did was to make her not guilty (of killing a policeman), then we didn't make her an assassin. I think we're faithful to the spirit of the character, with that sort of raw street sensibility and her unpredictability, but she's not a cold-blooded killer. Though the first couple of episodes have touches of that background, we're sort of maturing her, though this won't become anything as light as 'The Avengers.' We still have to keep the urgency and the intensity, so she's still lethal while being appealing."
Surnow hasn't seen "Point of No Return," but he maintains that isn't intentional . . . or it wasn't initially, at least. "Once we started this, I just made it a point not to. When I was casting the role, I found that American actresses didn't capture just the right spirit. They came off almost shrill when they would try to play the anger and the belligerence. There's a real European quality to this, and Peta's slight Australian accent gives her sort of an exotic, international quality that I think the show needs."
That also extends to the program's title, and Surnow points out that "La Femme" was added to the original "Nikita" when the movie was released in America "so it wouldn't sound Russian. It's just a cool title, though we toyed around with changing it. It's a concern that it may confuse people who don't know anything about (its background), but hopefully, it will take on a life of its own."
Though he hasn't had direct contact with filmmaker Besson since the series version of "La Femme Nikita" was originated, Surnow originally was partnered on the project with Gaumont, the French studio for which Besson has worked frequently.
"I don't think he was real keen on there being a series," Surnow allows, "and the only time I heard anything at all from him was when an actress came in to read for a part. I think she brought a recommendation from him with her."
Usually, Surnow has been involved in shows that have been generated from square one, rather than being based on already existing material. Still, he maintains that "La Femme Nikita" is "something very different by the seventh episode, and that's a function of my influence on it. I'm faithfully serving the premise in the pilot, but I've departed from that by using what I've learned about making television. You see what works and doesn't work, you watch what the actors do, and you determine what you can do within the constraints of production . . . then you make the show."
Surnow concedes that elements of "Nowhere Man" -- which had only a one-season run on UPN, despite considerable critical praise -- may be evident in "La Femme Nikita," reasoning that "A lot of times, you're influenced by the last show you do. Originally, I felt there was the same 'Prisoner'-like aspect to this, but that's kind of drifted away. 'Nowhere Man' was a very self-centered show, but 'La Femme Nikita' has more to do with her going outside the boundaries of what Section One wants her to do, so that she can help a friend or protect someone. It wasn't conceived that way."
As a father of five daughters, Surnow has found the strong female factor in his own life playing into his "La Femme Nikita" work. "My teen-agers have had a strong influence," he claims, "just by who they are and what they're into, in terms of fashion and music. My wife and I took our 13-year-old to New York for her bat mitzvah present, and she took us to some vintage clothing shops that were very 'Nikita'-like, just in the look and the attitude. That gave me real insight into stuff I would never be aware of, so there was a youthfulness I latched onto that I think is also a part of the Nikita character."
La Femme Nikita Premieres Tonight As Small-Screen Series
Ron Miller, San Jose Mercury News (13 January 1997)
Luc Besson's 1990 French thriller ''La Femme Nikita'' finally completes its metamorphosis, turning into a TV series for a U.S. cable network that's made in Canada, starring an Australian who grew up in New Guinea.
Along the way, Besson's film also became a popular 1993 U.S. action film, ''Point of No Return,'' starring Bridget Fonda.
Quite a pedigree for an idea that was rather specious to start with and only worked because Besson and the glamorous original star, Anne Parillaud, kept us too excited to think about the absurdities of the goofy story line.
''La Femme Nikita'' comes to U.S. television right at the time when networks are supposed to be reining in the violence. That's too bad for this idea, which depends on violence, and lots of it. The compromise: It has cartoon-style violence with lots of gunfire but little gore.
Nikita (Peta Wilson) is a street girl who has fallen into the punk subculture and is arrested for a vicious murder she didn't commit. Because she's street scum, nobody cares about her and she's sentenced to life in prison.
But that's exactly the sort of person they're looking for at the mysterious secret government organization known as Section One. They like to take killers without hope and turn them into secret operatives by offering them a second chance at life.
This process occupied a good deal of the two feature films about Nikita, but USA whisks us through it so fast we hardly know what they're talking about. Nikita keeps telling her shadowy superiors she really isn't a killer, but they ignore that as typical prison blather.
''You're sick,'' Nikita tells Michael (Roy Dupuis), her mentor at Section One. ''You don't want a person. You want a machine. I can't do that.''
But Michael assures her she can and arranges to prove it. He takes her out to dinner after she completes her two years of secret training in martial arts and armaments, and hands her a graduation gift. It's an automatic weapon with an ammunition clip. He tells her she has to kill the guy at the next table, that the place is surrounded with his paid killers and she only has five minutes to complete the job or she'll miss her ride home. To escape, he tells her, she must exit through a small window in the ladies' room.
This was the big scene in both movies and it's the big scene in tonight's opening episode. Nikita not only discovers she can kill if she has to, but also finds out her own people like to give her certain obstacles to overcome without fair warning.
Newcomer Wilson is blond and statuesque and, perhaps most important, an athlete. She was on the Australian national basketball team - they call it ''netball'' over there - and is a world-class sailor, a sport she learned sailing with her father and brother in the waters off New Guinea.
All this gives Wilson's physical emoting as Nikita a certain flavor of reality. She does not, however, look comfortable holding machine guns and pistols, but that may be acting, too, since this Nikita is supposed to be a very reluctant killer.
Wilson also brings a certain ''Baywatch'' flavor to this series, which depends a lot on her display of pulchritude to enchant, dazzle and distract the scummy guys she's assigned to kill. Her ''teacher'' at the secret training center, the handsome Madeline (Alberta Watson), pretty much puts Nikita straight on this topic.
''You can learn to shoot, you can learn to fight, but there's no weapon as powerful as your femininity,'' Madeline says.
That ought to endear ''La Femme Nikita'' to the feminists who may have been looking forward to the arrival of a strong female action series that doesn't take place in ancient times.
By the way, if you're wondering exactly what Nikita's Section One is up to, you still may be wondering by the end of the premiere episode. Nikita and the gang are supposed to be combating world terrorism, but they're clearly following the example of Ollie North & Co. by doing things outside the law in a style that seems more appropriate to Zorro, the Green Hornet and Batman than your standard government agency.
That doesn't matter, though. ''La Femme Nikita'' is not for people who worry about legal niceties any more than it's for people who worry about dumb plot lines. It's fast-moving eye candy and that's about it.
USA's Nikita Softens Violence in Thriller's Spinoff
Marisa Guthrie, Boston Herald (13 January 1997)
Six years after French actress Anne Parillaud shot up the scenery in the ultra-stylish French thriller "La Femme Nikita" - about a drug-addicted street dweller forced into a government agency and trained as an assassin - the movie gets the TV treatment on cable's USA Network.
In the interim, "Nikita" was Americanized as "Point of No Return" with Bridget Fonda as the lead. USA, however, bases its TV spinoff on the original French film and casts striking Australian actress Peta Wilson in the title role.
Wilson said she didn't see Fonda's Nikita, but praises Parillaud in the French original.
"I was very intimidated because Anne did such a great job," said Wilson during a phone interview. "She played the part so beautifully. I think that movie was very good for women. And that's the great thing about this show. Besides Angie Dickinson, Angela Lansbury or 'Cagney & Lacey,' I don't know when there was a strong female lead on TV."
USA's "Nikita" does soften the movie's more violent and hedonistic tendencies. The French movie had Nikita executing a police officer, while USA's Nikita is wrongly accused of killing a cop. When she's convicted, an anti-terrorist agency makes her an offer she can't refuse: She can join them and be trained as an assassin or be executed.
"Nikita is basically a good, morally upstanding person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and so finds herself in this unreal situation surrounded by all these unreal people," said Wilson.
Since Nikita isn't the killer the agency thinks she is, she tries to carry out her brutal assignments with as little bloodshed as possible, which is tricky. She an assassin.
"She's a smart woman who uses her vulnerability as her power mechanism as opposed to using aggressiveness," she said.
Wilson grew up in Australia, but emigrated to the states in search of an acting career when she was 20. She studied with a few theater groups in Los Angeles and decided to take a stab at film and TV. She was in the running for a CBS drama and a Fox sitcom and, most recently, had a supporting role in the Fox movie "Vanishing Point."
"TV was a little frustrtaing for me in the beginning because I thought acting was the same in every medium. Theater is continual, it flows," said Wilson. "But TV is very different, there's no sequential development. So you have to live in the moment.
"I had to get used to shooting scenes out of context. First I'm doing Scene 25 then Scene 3, then Scene 52. I may have a nice loving scene with a character one moment and then the next moment I have to shoot them."
USA's "La Femme Nikita" premieres tonight at 10.
La Femme Fatale
TV Guide (13 January 1997)
Following French and American big-screen versions, USA's La Femme Nikita (Mondays, 10 P.M.) blasts onto television with the same basic premise: A secret government organization forces a junkie to become an undercover agent. But this Nikita is toned down for TV.
Aussie newcomer Peta Wilson, who plays the title role, says, "In the movie, she was a killer. In the series, I'm innocent. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time." Why is she the right woman for the part? "I think there's an element of wildness and defiance about me that is very similar to the character of Nikita."
To appear believable, the 26-year-old trained for eight weeks before shooting began. "I went to the gun ranges, I did breaking and entering, close combat, tai chi, karate." Tough as she sounds, Wilson says she can still be dressed down by her grandmother, who is living with the actress while she is working in Toronto: "When she saw me acting, I'm like, 'Nan,what do you think?' And Nan is like, 'You've already done your Oscar-winning performances trying to get out of going to school. There's no difference except you're being paid for it now.'"
Variety's Review of La Femme Nikita
Todd Everett, Variety (13 January 1997)
La Femme Nikita (Mon. (13), 10-11 p.m., USA) Filmed in Montreal by Fireworks Entertainment Prods. Executive producer, Jay Firestone; producer, Jamie Paul Rock; director, Jon Cassar; script, Cyrus Nowrasteh, based on characters created for the film "La Femme Nikita"; camera, Danny Nowak; editor, David B. Thompson; production designer, Rocco Mattco; art director, Terry Wareham; music, Sean Callery (theme, Mark Snow); casting, Deirdre Bowen. Cast: Peta Wilson, Roy Dupuis, Don Francks, Eugene Robert Glazer, Alberta Watson, Anias Grauofsky [sic], Ric Reid, Robbie Rox, Kurtys Kidd, James Vezina, Kevin Connelly, Tony Curtis Blondell, Pierre Trudel.
Sharp, sexy, innovative and witty French film becomes dull, witless, shot-in-Montreal cable series in USA's "La Femme Nikita." What was stylish in original version here becomes muddy and confusing attempt at MTV cutting and loud electronic soundtrack, and title may leave many USA watchers, accustomed to more conventional (and arguably superior) "Renegade," "Silk Stalkings" and "The Big Easy," confused. Lead character of writer-director Luc Besson's 1990 thriller, "Nikita" (original French title) was a street urchin, drug addict and killer captured and turned into a professional killer by a supersecret spy agency. Property 1991's biggest foreign-language release in the U.S. subsequently was remade, sometimes almost shot-by-shot, by John Badham as 1993's "Point of No Return" featuring Bridget Fonda in role originated by Annie Pa[r]illaud. Newest version cleans up "Nikita" character from the beginning; here, she's framed and falsely accused of murder in order to drag her into the mysterious Section One agency. Otherwise, first two-thirds of premiere episode is a gloss of Besson's 117-minute feature, again in some places (like the restaurant kitchen chase) a scene-by-scene re-creation; script then departs into a further "adventure" that leads away from film story and into what promises to be a series of escapades for punky killer Nikita. Several lead roles parallel those of film, with Roy Dupuis as her trainer, Michael (Bob in the original); Alberta Watson as Madeline (Amande, played by Jeanne Moreau in Besson's version) , Section One's resident psychologist. Don Francks plays Walter, a weapons expert that's so close to the Q character in James Bond films that Francks bears some physical resemblance to Desmond Llewellen, who continues to play in the Bond pictures. None is painted very sympathetic in the premiere episode (even less so in films), so it's up to Peta Wilson to carry that responsibility, as Nikita. In the first episode, she's more confused than anything else, though the producers' decision to make her reluctant to actually kill probably is a good idea. Not that she doesn't kill when forced to. After she's cleaned up for re-entrance into Real Life (where she'll lurk, waiting for her next assignment), Wilson's Nikita remains more punkish than Pa[r]illaud's, probably an effort to appear au courant; the same notion that finds most of the Section One staff dressed in black. The "twisted little Dutch girl" look (long blond braids, leather jacket) that Nikita effects in one sequence is something to see, though. It's hard to tell where Section One is, though they're apparently good guys or as "good" as such a sinister-acting bunch of dirty-tricks and wet-work experts can be (at one point, it's made clear, at least, that they aren't the CIA). Several cast members speak with Canadian accents, and Wilson is Aussie. Locations are nondescript, with darkish production design and lighting suggestive of some unnamed European country.
The Knock on Nikita: She Does What She's Told
Ted Cox, (Arlington Heights, IL) Daily Herald (13 January 1997)
One of the most popular French film imports of all time is not an airy-fairy art-house period piece but La Femme Nikita, a thrilling, violent, Hollywood-style action movie with a distinct French twist.
Nikita is a raggedy young woman...accused of murder and rehabilitated by a shady organization which considers her hidden beauty and ruthlessness to be perfect attributes for a trained assassin. It's Cinderella meets The Terminator.
That may seem an absurd hybrid, but the French have a flair for this sort of thing, for allowing a woman to be both glamorous and assertive. And it's on formidable display in La Femme Nikita -- the movie version, that is. Americans haven't been able to carry the same thing off, not in Point of No Return, the Hollywood remake (which squandered the considerable appeal of Bridget Fonda), and not in the new La Femme Nikita TV series, which debuts at 9 p.m. today on the USA cable network.
Australian Peta Wilson stars in the title role. She has the rough-edged look of a true gamin, along with a surly, slouching, athletic posture. (At one point, she was the youngest member of the Aussie women's basketball team.) She's an impressive Nikita, but that doesn't mean the series can't find other ways to corrupt itself.
American entertainment vehicles, for the most part, have a tough time letting a woman be both beautiful and strong. At some point, strong women have to be humiliated, embarrassed, taken down a peg. That tone crept intoMr. & Mrs. Smith, the failed CBS series starring Scott Bakula and Maria Bello, and it inflicts USA's Nikita from the get-go.
This series isn't about equality; it's about ogling. In the grand USA tradition, it's about watching a woman in a miniskirt sprawl on the floor as she shoots at a bunch of oafs.
Now that's sophisticated U.S. entertainment. And it's no mere coincidence that Nikita has been handed a time slot meant to attract male viewers suffering depression from the end of the Monday Night Football season.
Roy Dupuis stars as Michael, the man who holds all the cards. He "recruits" ("extorts" is more like it) Nikita into Section One, a covert crime-fighting agency, and instantly becomes her Svengali. He secretly loves her, but the only way he can express that is to use her.
So, he takes her out to an elegant dinner and gives her a burnished wood box as a gift. Inside, of course, is a gun, and she is assigned on the spot to whack the guy eating over in the corner.
From there we get the same kitchen shoot-out, the slow-motion rocket and the escape via garbage cgute that the original Nikita had and that Point of No Return copped almost frame for frame.
This Nikita is actually quite meek and peaceful. "You don't want a person," she tells Michael. "You want a machine." But, by the end of tonight's premiere, she has learned how to kill -- hooray for her. Unfortunately, it never enters her pretty little skull that she might actually turn her newfound talents against the people who are really bugging her -- the guys bossing her around at Section One.
Where USA's Nikita really betrays itself is in the character of Madeleine [sic], played by Alberta Watson. She is supposed to be a worldly wise adviser, but the only advice she has for Nikita is to behave the way the men in the agency (and, of course, the men watching at home) want her to behave.
"If you want to live, it has to be on their terms," she says. "There's no weapon as powerful as your femininity."
Translation: As long as you look good in slinky skirts and undersize T-shirts, you won't get canceled.
For all its flaws, La Femme Nikita ought to do fairly well for a prime-time cable series. Its production values are solid (Mark Snow of The X-Files and Millenium does the theme music), and for action and sex appeal it's hard to beat. You have to admit, where guys sitting at home, drinking beer and pining for a little football are concerned, La Femme Nikita offers a whole lot more than Chicago Hope.
Christine Lahti's Dr. Kathryn Austin may be a strong, assertive female character, but they don't give her much opportunity to fire a gun while wearing a miniskirt on the show.
Nikita: She's Just Your Kinder, Gentler Assassin
John Levesque, Seattle Post-Intelligencer (13 January 1997)
The premise of the TV version of La Femme Nikita is rather engaging, a sort of Eliza Doolittle meets Dirty Harry. In it, a clandestine government organization called Section One recruits a punkish woman off death row, assuming that a convicted killer would jump at the chance to go free and have a license to kill with impunity.
The trouble is that the convicted killer is no killer. But avoiding execution seems like a no-brainer, so she accepts a couple years of intense training in martial arts, the handling of firearms and the wearing of the little black cocktail dress.
This latter refinement is essential, for an agent never knows when or where she'll be called on to dispatch an adversary. Besides, James Bond proved that black-tie killings are so veddy civilized.
Upon graduation, Nikita also gets a nifty apartment. It's hard when the neighbors ask what she does for a living, but Nikita just doesn't say much. Neither does anyone else in this show, whether it's Nikita's trainer/mentor Michael (Roy Dupuis), master strategist Madeline (Alberta Watson) or the head honcho known simply as Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer).
The minimalist script allows the show lots of opportunity to score style points, and stylish is a word that many will no doubt use to describe La Femme Nikita. But a show rises or falls on its writing, and there certainly isn't enough quality writing in tonight's premiere episode to recommend a return visit.
Also, Australian native Peta Wilson plays Nikita a little too icily, considering that she was wrongly convicted of murder and is really someone with a conscience and a moral center.
In the 1991 Luc Besson film, Nikita (Anne Parillaud) was indeed a criminal, so her lack of ambivalence about becoming an assassin was understandable. Same goes for the 1993 American remake, Point of No Return, which starred Bridget Fonda.
It's a tough sell, and Wilson may have a hard time finding any buyers.
New Cable-Version Nikita Softened For TV Series
Lon Grahnke, Chicago Sun-Times (13 January 1997)
As a homeless woman groomed to be an anti-terrorist assassin, Peta Wilson emerges as a high-caliber action star.
Joining "Dangerous Minds," "Clueless" and the quickly canceled "Party Girl" among the 1996-97 television series based on wide-screen films will be the second remake of "La Femme Nikita," premiering tonight on cable's USA channel.
French filmmaker Luc Besson wrote, produced and directed the original "Nikita," a psychological thriller released here in 1991. Anne Parillaud played the heroine, a strung-out cop killer who escapes a death sentence when a covert government agency recruits Nikita and trains her as an assassin.
Director John Badham shot an American version of the violent French drama in 1993, with Bridget Fonda starring as the convicted cop slayer in "Point of No Return."
USA's new series softens the Nikita character in tonight's debut. Nikita, a homeless woman, has been living on the streets for years. Nikita's mother had a low-life lover who despised her daughter, so Mom evicted her only child to keep her man.
Section One, a clandestine anti-terrorist organization, has been searching for a young woman with killer instincts. An icy agent known as Michael thinks Nikita fatally stabbed a cop in cold blood, so he arranges her release from prison by faking her suicide. Michael doesn't know that Nikita was wrongly accused. She's innocent.
"I am not a killer!" she insists. Michael doesn't believe her. If he did, Section One would "cancel" Nikita -- permanently.
Peta Wilson, an alluring actress with the bearing of an athlete, gradually gives her skittish character a sense of confidence during Nikita's two years as Michael's trainee. She learns how to fight, shoot and react in lethal situations. She redefines herself, taking pride in her accomplishments.
Sophisticated Madeline, an expert strategist, concentrates on Nikita's psychological development. The objective mentor transforms the scruffy blond into a stunning beauty who knows how to present herself as a graceful, cultured lady or a sexy distraction.
"There's no weapon as powerful as your femininity," Madeline tells Nikita. The Section One veteran also warns her pupil: "They own you now."
"I didn't know I was for sale," Nikita says.
"If you want to live," warns Madeline, "it has to be on their terms."
The chief of Section One operations wants to terminate Nikita. "She lacks discipline," he tells Michael. "If we start making exceptions, we're no better than the CIA. . . . If she fails, you fail."
Her stubborn streak compels Nikita to preserve her original identity, even as she reaches for higher levels of self-esteem. She wants approval and affection, especially from Michael. He responds by deceiving Nikita and rushing the recruit into her first real assignment -- a high-risk operation culminating in a do-or-die shootout vs. a gang of professional gunmen with automatic weapons.
"We had to see if you could improvise," Michael tells Nikita, who realizes that Section One considers her an expendable operative.
"You don't want a person," she says. "You want a machine."
Nikita's reward for passing her trial by fire: a secret life of danger in Section One (code name Josephine), a cool apartment, a fresh set of credit cards and a lonely future beyond her control.
Wilson's charisma should attract viewers from 9 to 10 p.m. Mondays. USA has ordered 13 episodes, co-starring Roy Dupuis as mysterious Michael and Alberta Watson as manipulative Madeline.