Hit-Man: Stylish, Deadly, Female
Caryn James, New York Times (13 January 1997)
She has the rail-thin body and glamour of a supermodel, plus the reflexes of a trained assassin. She is partly a female James Bond, carrying exploding lipstick to blast through locked doors. And apparently she is part sheepdog. As the heroine of "La Femme Nikita," Peta Wilson views the world from behind blond bangs that hang well below her eyes, yet she still has perfect aim with a gun. Bringing down bad guys is fine, but in this slick and surprisingly entertaining new action series, nothing is more important than style.
"La Femme Nikita" began life in 1990 as a furiously sleek French film about a beautiful, unpolished street punk convicted of murder. Instead of being executed, Nikita was forced to work for a shadowy and ruthless anti-terrorist organization. The Hollywood remake, with Bridget Fonda, was called "Point of No Return," but was more like "Movie Without a Point."
So a third try, on television, doesn't appear to be a bright idea. Yet the USA Network's "Femme Nikita" works its formula well, exploiting all the action and flair of the premise while softening Nikita's personality. Now she is good-hearted, and does her lethal job only because her employers, part of a Government organization called Section One, will kill her if she fails.
In the series, Nikita's mentor is Michael (Roy Dupuis), a gorgeous young man with flowing brown hair and his own too-hip-for-words style. With his black suit and T-shirt, he is the perfect complement to Nikita's icy blonde, leather-clad style.
They need to look good and move fast because dialogue was never the strength of any version of "Nikita." As Michael explains their duties: "Section One is the most clandestine organization on the planet. It's our job to bring down the criminals and the terrorists that no one else can."
Ms. Wilson, an Australian native without major acting credits, gets by on her pouty facial expression. The series works best when the actors keep their mouths shut and jump into the endless plot twists in a world where double- and triple-crosses are common, and even the good guys are killers.
The first episode mimics the films faithfully, sometimes scene for scene, as Nikita becomes a femme fatale. There is even the same sequence in which she is put to her first test, given an assignment in a elegant restaurant that leads to a shootout in the kitchen. This is still a tense experience, though it helps if you haven't already seen it twice.
The second episode is a better test of where the series can go, and "La Femme Nikita" comes through with a clever story about an old friend put in danger because she recognizes Nikita. The episode also hints at one of the show's major themes: equal opportunity for villains. Here women can be international terrorists just as easily as men.
Set in an unnamed city and filmed in Toronto, the series has a low-budget look. Nikita always seems to end up surrounded by villains in some tunnel, or hanging by her wrists in a basement. Those settings are dank and, probably more important, cheap. "La Femme Nikita" makes the most of its possibilities, though. The series may not be original, but it is swift, engrossing and escapist. Sometimes that's all you want.
TV series softens character of French film's La Femme
Jennifer Bowles, Associated Press (February 1997)
When television shows jump to the big screen, it can pay off handsomely. Witness "Mission: Impossible," "The Fugitive," "Star Trek" and even "The Flintstones."
Downsizing a feature film to the TV screen, however, is not always as successful. Remember "Ferris Bueller," "Baby Boom" "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and "Uncle Buck"? Don't feel bad. Those series each lasted barely a season.
Now comes the USA Network's "La Femme Nikita," a highly stylized series based on the 1991 French movie about a hedonistic young woman coerced into becoming an assassin of sorts. It premiered three weeks ago and airs in its regular spot at 10 tonight, with a TV-14 rating.
Its producers hope "La Femme Nikita" will follow the path carved out by "M-A-S-H," "The Odd Couple" and "Highlander," which all took their cues from the big screen and beat the odds to become hits.
Award-winning writer Larry Gelbart, who adapted the film "M-A-S-H" into one of the most highly regarded TV series of all time, says producers of such projects find themselves burdened with high expectations.
"It is difficult because usually you're doing it because it was popular so you know you're going to be compared to the model," Mr. Gelbart says. "It's invariably made for far less money, with far less-expensive actors. Everything really mitigates against its success. 'M-A-S-H' is a rarity."
"Nikita" executive producer Joel Surnow found he had to make several adjustments from the movie, which starred Anne Parillaud.
Softening up Nikita for a TV audience was the first priority, he says.
"I felt like the character from the movie couldn't sustain as a TV series character because she killed a cop in cold blood while high on drugs. I felt I couldn't bring her into my house week after week and just really root for her," Mr. Surnow says.
Instead, the TV version of Nikita, played by Australian newcomer Peta Wilson, is mistaken as the cop killer.
"By making her innocent and someone who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, suddenly she's any one of us who's caught up in a nightmare like that," Mr. Surnow says.
And now, in a further toning down of the movie's violence, Nikita doesn't turn into a cold-hearted assassin per se, but rather is forced into becoming a less-reviled "operative" in a covert anti-terrorist group. And if she has to kill, it's only because the victim deserved it.
"Ultimately, their means are just -- it is always to get some villain who deserves to be brought down," Mr. Surnow says. "It's always because there are innocent lives at stake."
Ms. Wilson, who won the role over several well-known actresses, shuns any comparisons to Ms. Parillaud's critically acclaimed portrayal of Nikita -- or, for that matter, to the version by Bridget Fonda, who starred in the American movie version "Point of No Return."
"If I was going to do a film version of this, then the pressure would be on me," Ms. Wilson says, "but it's TV and it had to be toned down so it doesn't really intimidate me or put pressure on me. I think that whoever plays this role is going to bring something different to it anyway."
And Ms. Wilson does.
The lean, 26-year-old blonde with ice-blue eyes fits the part perfectly. And after eight weeks of intensive training with a martial-arts expert, her physical prowess is right up there with "Xena: Princess Warrior."
Ms. Wilson derived some of her own rawness from growing up in the jungles of New Guinea, where her father was stationed in the military and there were no television sets. She and her brother learned to speak Pidgin English, like the natives.
"Most native people in communities like that, they're fearless because the environment is tough and strong and you have to adjust," Ms. Wilson says. "So it instilled a lot of fearlessness in me.
"It was a bit like 'Jungle Book,' I suppose," she says, laughing.
When Ms. Wilson isn't living in Hollywood, she's up in Toronto filming the series and sharing a house with her grandmother.
The first time she saw the movie version, she says, "I loved it. It was great. I was just so attracted to the idea of a woman being the one. It's always the men getting these types of roles, and we're just as interesting. We're actually more interesting action heroes, because it's expected with boys."
La Femme Resuscitates Female Sleuth Archetype
Lyle V. Harris, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (10 February 1997)
Not since Diana Rigg donned a black catsuit as the cool and deadly Emma Peel on "The Avengers" has television done justice to female super sleuths.
There was the long-suffering Agent 99 in "Get Smart" in the mid- '60s, the '70s jigglefest of "Charlie's Angels" and the sclerotic adventures of Jessica Fletcher in "Murder, She Wrote" in the '80s. But overall the tube has given hardcore femmes fatale fans little to sink their teeth into.
USA's "La Femme Nikita" (10 p.m. Mondays, but pre-empted tonight) could change all that.
Based on the 1993 hit French film of the same name, the TV version is a slickly packaged weekly hour of ponytails and pump shotguns that does Mrs. Peel proud.
Some of the movie's rough edges have been rounded off for television, but the setup is basically the same ---Nikita is a reluctant assassin who whacks people for the government to keep from getting whacked herself.
As played by the feral Anne Parrillaud in the film, Nikita was a ghoulish heroin addict who wastes a SWAT team member during a botched drugstore robbery and is then coerced into working for a murky government agency with even murkier motives.
But the TV Nikita, played by newcomer Peta Wilson, is a doe-eyed, Gen X drifter wrongly accused of murdering a street cop and recruited into joining a bunch of black-clad do-gooders.
Nikita becomes an operative for "Section One," which does battle with an assortment of terrorists, slave traders and computer hackers with really bad skin.
She is trained by her mentors: the sulking Michael (Roy DuPuis), who teaches her to be a killer, and the sexy Madeline (Alberta Watson), who teaches Nikita how to use her killer looks to fight crime. Imagine "My Fair Lady" meets "Die Hard."
Aside from the kick of watching a secret agent who wears high heels and packs heat, there's also the inherent tension as Nikita struggles to maintain some semblance of a normal life between assignments. She's got a kitten her no-nonsense boss wants her to get rid of ("It's a distraction," he barks at her), and a pug-nosed neighbor who wonders why Nikita suddenly pulls a fade whenever the phone rings.
Although it lacks the edgy, dark appeal of the movie, the show still works. Wilson is a credible action figure, whether she's slinking around in a miniskirt or busting shots at the bad guys with an Uzi. Be warned, though, every episode has at least one protracted gunfight and a gratuitous scene of Wilson stripping down to her birthday suit.
No, it's not "La Boheme."
But for viewers who can't stomach the campiness of "Xena: Warrior Princess" and are hankering for a contemporary heroine who cares more about saving the world than chipping her fingernails, "La Femme Nikita" has the makings of a quirky cult hit.
This Nikita Sure Packs Heat
Tim Goodman, The (Bergen County, NJ) Record (19 February 1997)
Finally, somebody who can kick Xena's butt.
Xena: Warrior Princess is one of the hottest shows on syndicated television. And it seems everyone is jumping on the action-adventure bandwagon. But no new show of that sort has as much potential as La Femme Nikita on the USA Network.
The show (10 p.m. Mondays) is based on the 1991 film of the same name (no, not the American version, thankfully). It has a lot of style and verve going for it and is something you don't see on network television. Shows like this on [the networks] aren't done with the same hipness.
The world might be flipping for Lucy Lawless as Xena, but she'd take a bullet in the head in a battle with Nikita. Yeah, it's nice to see all that horseback riding and myth-making in Xena: Warrior Princess, but Nikita is decidedly a modern girl. She packs heat. She kicks some serious behind. She's a babe. And she's just this side of totally ruthless. Of course, it's this fragment of humanity that makes her character engaging.
La Femme Nikita continues on a weekly basis to be influenced by the movie. In fact, the premise in the Nikita premiere came straight out of the movie, almost verbatim.
Nikita (played by Aussie Peta Wilson) is first glimpsed living on the streets in rags. She's dirty and grimy and without direction. She stumbles upon a back-alley knifing (turns out to be a cop) and fights with the killer, coming up with the knife just as the cops get there. She's sentenced to life in prison, then pulled out and given a second chance by the highly secretive, specialized government agency known as Section One.
This high-tech bunch looks to have fallen straight out of the Mission: Impossible movie. But they're more high-powered than the CIA. In fact, La Femme Nikita owes more to the classic James Bond movies than anything else. This is spy vs. spy all the way. No rules. No red tape. No mistakes. Just bodies everywhere and big guns with silencers going off.
After faking Nikita's death (nobody came to the funeral), Section One trains her for two years. Her cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow mentor, Michael (Roy Dupuis), is warned that she's a loose cannon. She needs to be "canceled." (Any time they use that language, you've gotta love it.) But he sticks by her, thinking that she's a coldblooded killer (never knowing that she didn't kill that cop) and will pan out.
Like The Fugitive before her, she has to play with the hand she's been dealt and go along with the plan. Soon, she gets better and better at offing the bad guys. But she's not the ruthless killing machine they think she is or want her to be. It all takes a toll. Plus, she's not exactly Bond. She makes mistakes and is still learning the trade.
And that's what makes La Femme Nikita believable. She's taking tiny steps and the writers and producers haven't transformed her into the Terminator overnight. She refuses to lose her soul, a nice complexity to a series that could have easily gone over the top. Each week, Nikita has blossomed a little more.
If you've seen the movie, you'll know that at some point Nikita is going to want out. She's going to want her life back and that gives this show great promise.
Maybe one day, Xena will time-travel and meet up with her newest action peer. Put your money on the leggy blonde with the high-caliber pistol.
The Beauty and the Brains
Claire Bickley, Toronto Sun (24 February 1997)
TV gets two new crime-fighting females tonight - one small and brainy, the other tall and brawny.
The smarts belong to The Adventures Of Shirley Holmes, on YTV at 6:30.
The style belongs to Nikita, premiering on CTV at 10.
Both have the tough task of overcoming their well-known antecedents, respectively history's most famous fictional detective, and the striking 1991 French movie La Femme Nikita.
In softening itself for TV, Nikita adds a new and interesting element to the original concept of junkie-turned-assassin. No longer the stone-cold cop killer of the film, Nikita (Aussie Peta Wilson) is now an innocent wrongly convicted. It heightens the Kafka-esque nature of her trap, forced by threat of death to work as an operative for a clandestine terrorist-fighting government agency, horrified at the thought of having to kill.
Those familiar with the film will see many similarities, even scenes almost literally lifted. Madeline (Alberta Watson), some sort of secret agent beautician, gives Nikita a makeover and teaches her social graces. "You can learn to shoot, you can learn to fight, but there's no weapon as powerful as your femininity," she solemnly tells her.
Nikita, obviously still stunned by drug rehab, doesn't fall down laughing.
Her boss Michael, played by Quebec TV superstar Roy Dupuis, appraises her with awe, saying wonderingly, "A woman with your looks who can kill in cold blood ..."
Regardless, Nikita doesn't end up beating the bad guys with eyeliner and perfume - she just drop-kicks them or, when absolutely necessary, shoots them.
Wilson needs to tone down her odd performance. We know Nikita's an ex-junkie, but Wilson portrays her as having such huge mood swings that she seems as if she's suffering from multiple personality disorder.
Nikita is loud and flashy, full of slick effects and action, and made to look and sound like a rock video. Many shots are fired, few connect.
On The Adventures Of Shirley Holmes, 12-year-old Shirley's brain is her best weapon. Carrying on in the tradition of her distant ancestor's knack for sleuthing, she carries fingerprint powder in her daytimer and checks out crime scenes on her way to school.
Plotwise, it can be pretty unbelievable, such as when Shirley is unnoticed in plain sight at a high-security diplomatic gathering, or when she performs minor surgery on her teacher.
Two episodes sent for screening, tonight's "The Case Of The Burning Building," and next week's "The Case Of The Alien Abductions," displayed some sense of humor.
When Shirley peppers a homeless woman with questions about a crime, the woman sighs, "You cops just keep getting younger and younger."
In the second episode, Shirley and her friend Bo debate whether a mark on the neck of their timid history teacher, Mr. Howie, is a lovebite or a clue to alien abduction.
"Who'd abduct Mr. Howie?" scoffs Bo.
Says Shirley: "Who'd give him a hickey?"
Fresh-faced Meredith Henderson has the title role and gives Shirley intelligence and rebelliousness, making her courageous but afraid to face the reality of her mother's death.
There's no mystery in comparing the female leads of these two shows.
Nikita would win a wrestling match.
But Shirley would win on Jeopardy.
La Femme Nikita: Not Just Another Pretty Face
Mimi Grisoli, Driftwood Newspaper (6 March 1997)
The opening episode of La Femme Nikita is a fastmoving, condensed version of the original movie (more like the remake, Point of No Return). Starring Petra Wilson, the new Nikita is a one hour, 90's cable network version of a two-hour 80's movie.
In the series, however, Nikita is not a streethardened junkie but an innocent, street youth wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to die. (This is all done in opening montage, and never fully explained to the uninitiated.) "The Section," a quasigovernmental agency working outside the usual public parameters, fakes her execution and offers her life but only as one of its operatives.
Antiterrorism appears to be the main focus of The Section's monitoring and interception efforts, and Nikita is trained to be part of an elite team of specialists including a computer whiz and a gadget designer in the spirit of James Bond's "Q." Roy Dupuis takes over the role of Nikita's mentor, Michael, whose attraction for his protégé is revealed by the third episode.
Instead of the male neighborturnedlove interest developed in the films, Nikita is provided a female neighbor-turning-buddy. Nikita's moral fiber initially precludes her from killing on command, as The Section planned. However, at the show's end, she is compelled to kill in order to save her chief comrade.
In the next episode, Nikita apparently has no residual problem with killing, which is required often in order to protect a peace negotiator. The second plot is fairly complex and contains surprise developments among its characters. One scene - a beautiful woman at the mercy of sadistic terrorists - was slightly overdone. However, considering USA's penchant for combining sex and violence, it was not unpredictable. In all fairness, the scene does contain one fairly memorable line: when one of the terrorists tells our heroine "You have the courage of a man," she replies, "How would you know?" The climax finds Nikita following her (quickly developing) instincts and (singlehandedly, of course) averting the assassination.
Use of Internet chat rooms to recruit terrorists in the third episode provides a quickmoving and contemporary storyline. The hour contains both introduction and resolution of a new, pivotal character, and develops the nonworking aspect of the relationship between the female and male leads. Aside from the fact that one pivotal scene occurs offcamera, most plot holes were forgivable. Why the producers use the entire name of the original French movie, when the series is populated by American-speaking actors, is unclear. Nikita's accent is hard to pinpoint and a little distracting.
The show's writers deserve credit for not overemphasizing her physical attributes, and for developing her character as not only sharp, strong, quick and alert, but also caring and non-egotistical. The first three episodes combined slick production values, credible support players and a modern soundtrack. If suspenseful, quick-paced espionage is to your taste, La Femme Nikita is worth sampling. Catch it at 9:00 p.m. Mondays on the cable USA Network.
Tough and Sexy
John McKay, Winnipeg Free Press (6 March 1997)
With those ice-blue eyes, blond locks, Bardot-style pout and five-foot-10 frame, Nikita has killer looks.
In more ways than one.
In the 1990 French filme La Femme Nikita (and a Holllywood remake called Point of No Return), Nikita was a disarmingly sweet-looking trained assassin, conscripted into a shadowy agency to eliminate enemies of the govt.
She had committed murder while living on the streets and under the influence of drugs and so was forced into pseudo-public service to avoid the death penalty.
But as usual, when translating a feature-film format to series TV, some watering-down was required.
Now, in the guise of lithe, husky voiced Australian newcomer Peta Wilson, 26, Nikita has been falsely accused of her crimes. And although still a lethal weapon, she serves more as a spy and a covert anti-terrorist agent. "You couldn't have a TV role model who, even though the character is great, killed a poiliceman in the original film." Wilson explained during a break in shooting on a cavernous soundstage in this bedroom community on the outskirts of Toronto.
Nikita (La Femme has been dropped from the title in Canada to ensure audiences don't confuse it with something from Quebec) is shot primarily for the USA Network on American cable, but it's also been picked up by CTV.
Publicity material says Nikita was hand-picked to work for the clandestine Section One organization "because of her striking looks and seductive body."
Ad copy for the series emphasizes the sexy-but-deadly angle with the line; "36-24-.45" Wilson sees her character as complex. "They looked at her and went, 'gee, now what a good spy she'd make. I mean, clean her up, get rid of that hair, teach her grooming and femininity and we might have ourselves a very powerful weapon.'"
Wilson spent eight weeks with a martial arts expert to hone her physique for the role. Still, she eagerly lights up a cigarette that she waves about animatedly describing what she hopes will be a breakthrough role. "The harder it is for me to stretch, the more interested I am in doing it," she says about her love for all kinds of acting.
This highly stylized series with an energetic soundtrack seems to take place in no particular country. Wilson herself compresses her Australian accent into some mid-ocean hybrid. Quebec actor Roy Dupuis, who plays her mysterious mentor Michael, does the same with his.
Following on the heels of that other campy TV success, New Zealander Lucy Lawless as Xena: Warrior Princess, one might wonder about a trend in screen heroines that are strikingly sexy but can kick the stuffings out of any man. "I think it's just entertainment, to watch a girl up there doing what boys essentially do and women normally don't." Wilson says.
And like Xena, there is the Down-Under appeal factor. "Is there something different about us? Yes, I think there is a rawness," She explains. "So far away from the rest of the world that it's kind of native in a way."
Wilson was an army brat who moved around the South Pacific. She spent her tomboy years in New Guinea without TV where she and her brother would spend their days playing with native children and nurturing their imagination with play-acting. "I had the best childhood a child could dream of," She says of what comes across as a Jungle Book-like experience. "Look[ing] back I wouldn't change a thing."
Nikita Ready for Action
Peta Wilson isn't afraid to get down and dirty in Nikita
Natasha Stoynoff, Toronto Sun (2 March 1997)
Some girls float into a room like a silk lace hanky caught in the swirl of a summer breeze.
Peta Wilson, the Aussie athlete chosen as TV's new Nikita, swaggers in like a pistol-whippin' cowboy.
"Hey, mate," she calls out to a passing grip guy on the Toronto soundstage, "Do you know what we call a cute guy back home?"
He warily shakes his head.
"We say: `What a spunky guy!'" she roars, slapping her knee.
At 26, the oddly beautiful newcomer with white-blond hair, ice-blue eyes, and a petulant pout, runneths over with her own home-grown brand of Down Under spunk.
Starring in the new CTV action/drama series based on the successful French film La Femme Nikita (and the U.S. version, Point Of No Return), Wilson's spent the last four months crawling, leaping and chasing after bad guys in her kick-ass stiletto boots as the reluctant femme fatale spy.
"She's a victim of circumstances," Wilson says of her character, a street kid wrongly accused of murder and shuffled into the world of espionage for a clandestine government organization.
"But she does what needs to be done to survive. A lot of people will identify with her in that way."
Wilson knows of what she speaks.
Preparing for her Nikita audition, the well-schooled actress, who was getting "sick of sitting on my butt, taking a number, then losing parts to big names," created a thick file of biographical notes on the character in her quest for the job.
What endeared studio execs, though, was how she strutted into USA Network offices with appropriate bad-girl attitude.
"I picked up this NBA-sized basketball and started bouncing it against the walls," she recalls.
Wilson's army brat childhood and teenaged athletics was par for the obstacle course on which her very physical character embarks.
As a champion sailor, and netball player once voted Most Valuable Player in her hometown of Sydney, Australia, she was reared in an overachieving family who encouraged morning laps in the pool and afternoon Judo throws.
"I was always taught to do my best" says the actress, a self-confessed rebel in her Catholic schoolgirl days, "and then to do better."
During a rigorous eight-week, pre-shoot training sked with an airborne ranger, Wilson learned Tai-Chi, breaking and entering techniques, and a sturdy right hook.
"If anyone grabs me, I can really hurt them," she warns.
Bruised and bounced around during her first Nikita months when she insisted on performing many of her own stunts, the actress slowed down after one mishap left her with a concussion.
"I felt really dizzy and sick," she says, after ramming her head against a tree, "but I'm not any more of a lunatic than I was before."
Getting more than her hands dirty doing hands-on street research, Wilson huddled in downtown Toronto squats with homeless kids to get a sense of Nikita's rootlessness.
"A lot of acting is observation," she says. "The world has such a weird, wrong perception of the kids that fill the streets."
Squatting in Regent Park is worlds away from the European catwalks where the 5'10" former model strutted her skinny self a few years ago.
She was sent by her mom ("She thought I was too tomboyish") to learn feminine ways and wiles at the same agency that spawned uber-models Elle Macpherson and Rachel (Mrs. Rod Stewart) Hunter. "I never made it to supermodel status because I just wanted to have a good time," says Wilson. "I'd make money and spend it on my friends and family."
Growing tired of "being judged by how I look," and growing thin from bouts of anorexia and bulimia, Wilson hung up her portfolio. "I didn't want to be a `pretty girl' any more."
Packing up and moving to L.A. six years ago, Wilson wiped off her war paint to study acting with a vengeance.
"I was really controlling in drama class. My teacher would say to me, `Pete, one day you'll direct. But for now, your job is to act!'"
With virtually little acting experience save some small parts in B-movies, Wilson began her Nikita shoot last October "nervous and apologetic," she admits, before rising to the occasion.
"She's outspoken, she's strong, and she has a direct energy that drives everyone around her," says director George Bloomfield. "She doesn't suffer fools gladly."
While her Nikita role calls for a quota of lipstick and lash fluttering in the Charlie's Angels mode of seductive sleuthing ("A woman in a sexy dress will always get her man," Wilson says), the actress, nicknamed "Jane Bond-age" by some TV critics, tries to veer away from that image.
For one teary scene, "She went off set and cried so her eyes would be all puffy and red," says Bloomfield. "She's not afraid of looking bad."
At the end of her 17-hour crime-fighting days, Wilson goes home to the comforts of her rented mid-town loft (where Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley stayed last year), and roams our streets and cafes, observing the natives.
"I love Canada," she sighs. "People here are up front and honest ... that's very Australian."
To keep her energy up for her gun-toting heroics, she can often be found on set curled up in the corner meditating or "flirting with the crew," she laughs.
Today, she is on the floor on all fours in sweatpants, giving the director 20 push-ups before a scene where she's to rappel from the ceiling.
"I have to find a way to survive," jokes the actress, out of breath, "without all this killing me."
Making the Femme Just A Bit Less Fatale
The New Nikita Is A Killer, But Sweeter
Andrea Higbee, New York Times (9 March 1997)
Peta Wilson is no Anne Parillaud. Or even Bridget Fonda. And for the new USA Network show "La Femme Nikita," that's a good thing.
"People are supposed to like her," says Ms. Wilson.
Ms. Wilson, 26, plays the latest incarnation of Nikita, the grungy street punk turned glamorous secret agent assassin, first seen in "La Femme Nikita," the 1990 French film with Ms. Parillaud, and then in the 1993 American remake, "Point of No Return," starring Ms. Fonda. Like her predecessors, this Nikita is convicted of murder but given a second chance at life as an operative of a Government agency, this time called Section One, "the most clandestine organization on the planet," dedicated to eradicating terrorists and other criminals.
Ms. Wilson (her first name is pronounced PEE-tah), an Australian, is taller, blonder and thinner than the French and American Nikitas. Her character is unlike the others in an even more essential way: She is not a murderer. People are usually slow to warm to a killer, so the television Nikita, who needs to be welcomed into viewers' homes week after week, is guilty merely of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"She's good," says Ms. Wilson in an interview from the set in Toronto, which stands in for an anywhere-in-the-world mystery city. "She's all-encompassing. Her mother really didn't want her. The guy ran off, so Nikita was punished, always, and never really loved by her mum. She was forced to live on the streets alone. She made money by squeegeeing. She would steal to eat. She wasn't going to hurt anyone. She would help somebody. She doesn't want to kill anybody. She is forced to kill villains for Section One. She's like many street kids: not bad, just unloved."
And tough. Strung up by her wrists and tortured, Nikita is told, "You have the courage of a man," by a bad guy in an early episode of the hourlong show (Monday nights at 10), which began in January. Nikita replies, "How would you know?" Ouch! Usually she just tells the people she doesn't like to "go to hell."
Nikita survives, of course. She has learned well from her mentors: Michael, played by Roy Dupuis, who dispenses tips like, "When you attack someone from behind, go for the kidneys: it disables, and you can't fight back," and Madeline, played by Alberta Watson, who instructs this femme fatale, "There's no weapon as powerful as your femininity."
The show, which has received good reviews in publications including New York magazine, USA Today and The New York Times, is like a long MTV video, with few words but lots of music and action. And everyone looks great.
"This is like a punk spy show, an alternative spy show," says Joel Surnow, the show's executive consultant, who was an executive story editor for "Miami Vice" and executive producer for "Wiseguy" and "Nowhere Man." "It's hip and has a severe look and feeling. The villains are not people you see at the mall."
"Nikita is really the ultimate reluctant hero," he adds. "The series is much further away from what the movie was, starting with the fact that she's innocent."
"I loved the movie, but I felt it was very exotic," Mr. Surnow says. "I couldn't get into the Anne Parillaud character. I think in doing a weekly series, your main character has to be heroic, even if it's a twisted heroic. She needs to be a character the audience can embrace. I see Nikita as a person trying to hold on to her humanity."
Ms. Wilson says she does not model her Nikita on the previous ones. "I saw the French version years ago," she says. "I loved it. I got a little scared when I got the role. She did such a great job. 'What will I do?' I thought. I don't remember if I saw the American version. I don't think you can compare anyone. Whoever plays Nikita will bring something different to the role because of the nature of the role. I'm not playing a handbag. It's like Angie Dickinson or Cagney and Lacey or Angela Lansbury in their shows."
Ms. Wilson grew up on army bases, spent part of her childhood in Papua New Guinea, loves Gena Rowlands, lives with her grandmother and describes herself as a "recovering Catholic." Although livelier in real life than she is on the show, she says she is like the strong, practically silent Nikita in many ways.
"I'm a little suspicious of people, and I get a little nervous about things," Ms. Wilson says, after establishing that she is nervous about the interview. "They don't teach you how to do this in school. They should. I hope I'm making sense."
"Nikita adjusts well to different people, and I can do the same thing," she continues. "Also, I was loud as a kid and got blamed in school a lot when I hadn't done anything wrong. Like the angel in the wolf's clothing."
She was prepared to bring a lot to the role. "Before I started the show, I worked with an ex-marine on combat techniques and stunts," says Ms. Wilson, who adds that this is the best job she has had. Her film credits include "Reasonable Force," "Loser" and a Fox television movie, "Vanishing Point."
"Now I work with a trainer, and we do isometrics," says Ms. Wilson, who lives in the Hollywood Hills when she's not on location for "Nikita." "I do yoga every day. I meditate. I try to keep focused. I drink a lot of water and herbal tea. Sometimes I eat meat. I eat my grandmother's lamb chops, or whatever else she cooks for me.
"I kind of have no life now. It's consumed by the series. Before, I was auditioning and studying in L.A., at the Actors Circle Theater and Tomcats. I get up every morning now and go to work and come home and go to sleep."
"I'm very pleasantly surprised that I'm getting paid to do what I love to do," she says. "It's strange. All of a sudden, this is my first taste of doing something."
Cherchez Peta Wilson
Shalmali Pal, (New Orleans) Times-Picayune (30 March 1997)
There probably are ventures "La Femme Nikita," the humane hitwoman with her own USA series, can do better than Peta Wilson, the Australian actress who portrays her. Like blow up a van full of thugs or download military secrets in seconds, for example.
But even with all her espionage skills, could Nikita prowl a convention hall full of TV executives, shaking hands, signing posters, pocketing compliments and smiling relentlessly, all while masterfully masking the fact that she'd kill for a cigarette?
In town for the National Cable Television Association convention last week, Wilson worked the bombshell angle to the hilt: The golden locks, the statuesque form, the low-cut Gucci suit, all the elements that helped convince USA to sign on for another nine episodes of the Monday-night action show.
But for those who would dismiss the 26-year-old as little more than the sum of her parts, Wilson - like Nikita - has the element of surprise on her side. Smart and savvy, words careen out of Wilson's mouth with the same velocity as the bullets that fly from Nikita's Glock.
First and foremost, Wilson is mindful that it's difficult for people to look past the obvious.
"I'm blonde-haired and blue eyed. That's generally associated with bimbos," she stated matter-of-factly. "People are going to look at me and go 'We've got Barbie here. Barbie with guns.' "
The third reincarnation of Nikita since the film with Anne Parillaud blasted onto the screen seven years ago (Bridget Fonda also gave it a shot in 1993's "Point of No Return), "La Femme Nikita" is the story of a streetwise urchin rescued from jail, only to find herself amongst the sharks of Section One, a covert anti-terrorism group.
Rather than follow in the footsteps of the other Nikitas, Wilson decided to make an impression all her own. "It's a television series and people have to tune into it every week," she said. "I've made her much more sympathetic."
Wilson said she also had to rein in the "no guts, no glory" attitude she cultivated through extensive theater training.
"When I first started I felt very responsible. I wanted the show to be great," she explained. "Then I realized 'Hold on a second. I've got executive producers, I've got hundreds of people around me, that's their job.' My job is to just do (Nikita)."
"This is a network show. They keep giving me these squares to work in," she continued, forming a box with her hands. "I have to keep doing the best I can within the square they gave me."
Not that Nikita is without quirks, thanks to Wilson. For instance, there's the penchant for eyewear.
"The Section has taken everything away from her, so one thing she has is her sunglasses," Wilson said. "It's like 'OK, I'm here, but you all look a whole better through my sunglasses.' "
Then there's the potentially explosive romance with her mentor Michael (Roy Dupuis). "I really think that if Nikita did get Michael, I think she might have sex with him. . . and then just dump him," she mused.
Such tough talk has landed "La Femme Nikita" in the same boat as "Xena: Warrior Princess," as a tribute to the pugnacious female. But Wilson is not convinced that les hommes are actually seeing the real beauty of strong-willed women.
"I think they're titilated by it," she said dismissively. "But I want women to like the show. Nikita is a chameleon and I want people to see that you can be whatever you want to be, it's just a matter of believing it."
Believing in herself is what Wilson said got her through a nomadic childhood as an army brat, her parents' divorce and a bout with anorexia as a teen-age model. Unlike the groundless Nikita, Wilson has a worldwide support system: Her parents and younger brother in Australia; her grandmother in Toronto, where the show is shot; her boyfriend, director Damian Harris ("Bad Company") in Los Angeles.
Just as Nikita looks forward to escaping the Section some day, Wilson said she would prefer to stay out of the typical Hollywood loop by opening a theater company and a dramatic arts school for disadvantaged youth.
"I'm lucky to have this opportunity," she said, "because it'll springboard me into the things I really want to do."
Sexy Nikita Makes Waves for USA
Julia Shih, The Michigan Daily Online (7 April 1997)
I am woman, hear me roar!" Peta Wilson screams through body language as her character, Nikita, annihilates the bad guys in a fury of fists and blood. Undoubtedly, this is one killing machine that can bring down armies with her bare hands - and look gorgeous as she does it.
As one of the newer and more promising series on the USA network, "La Femme Nikita" is an hour of non-stop, action-packed thrills. Based on the 1990 French movie of the same name (also remade in 1993 as "The Point of No Return"), "Nikita" picks up where the movie left off.
The story behind this femme fatale goes as follows: After being wrongly accused of killing a cop, Nikita is released from prison through a fake suicide engineered by a mysterious agent named Michael.
Forced into service by a clandestine anti-terrorist organization titled "Section One," Nikita is transformed into a highly trained, lethal agent whose purpose is to fight global terrorism. She is taught not only how to fight, shoot and react in lethal situations, but also how to be graceful, sexy and seductive as well.
As Michael sends her on a variety of dangerous missions, Nikita is often faced with conflicts where her compassion and morality butt heads with the nature of her work. She often questions whether her victims are truly deserving of the fate that she is forced to bring upon them, and resents feeling like a pawn in Section One's games. These complications with her conscience, and her stubborn adherence to them, not only threaten to botch Section One's operations, but also encourage the termination of Nikita by her ruthless boss.
"La Femme Nikita" is a fast-paced show that delivers a new adventure each week. And within each episode, Nikita is faced with a new set of moral and emotional dilemmas. Many of her emotional dilemmas stem from Michael (Roy Dupuis), from whom Nikita desperately wants affection and acceptance. Though he seems to genuinely care for her, his mysterious past makes him unable to return her affection.
Like the old "Mission Impossible" episodes we all miss so much, "Nikita" provides many intriguing story lines involving countless gadgets, which also should please all James Bond fans.
Another one of the show's interesting characters is Madeline (Alberta Watson), who is the master strategist of Section One. She concentrates on Nikita's psychological development, teaching her how to use her femininity as a deadly weapon. Wilson, as Nikita, is appealing and engaging. She gives her character a three-dimensional feel, as she portrays a woman whose life is dictated by Section One, but who refuses to give up her individuality. She is incredible to watch and establishes herself as a capable actress.
Nevertheless, "Nikita"'s lack of depth doesn't take away from the fact that it's a whole lot of fun to watch. With its bountiful thrills and superb acting, "Nikita" should please anyone who is in the need for some good, wholesome, senseless violence.
Peta Wilson Plays It Rough as Sexy Spy on Nikita
Bill Brioux, TV Guide-Canada (12 April 1997)
Peta Wilson is about to dash into a hospital room, punch a Russian army officer in the face and knock him to the ground. She gets the dash and the punch down pat. But Wilson, a 26-year-old Australian with little TV experience, isn't sure what to do next. Director Ken Girotti ponders, then says, "Give me a TV moment."
Nikita is definitely Wilson's TV moment. Based on the 1990 French film, "La Femme Nikita," the Toronto-shot thriller has Wilson in the title role, playing a streetkid turned undercover agent for a mysterious group of highly trained killers. A former model and stage actress, the stunning blond beat out 400 others for the part. She clinched it during her audition before the head of Warner Bros. - by picking up the startled executive's prized basketball, signed by several NBA stars, and bouncing it off the wall during a scene. "I wasn't intimidated, and I think that is a lot of who Nikita is as well," she says.
Wilson admits this is only her "fourth job as an actress in the film business. I'm just keeping my eyes open, listening and learning." Especially from Roy Dupuis, the Quebec TV sensation (Emily, "Million Dollar Babies") who co-stars as Michael, Nikita's mysterious colleague. "He's so beautiful and sexy - he's got a stillness about him that I'm trying to capture," she says. "She's generous ... and has so much energy," says Dupuis.
Scanning rushes on a monitor between takes, Wilson does seem incapable of doing less than three things at once. Seated on a couch, she fast-forwards through the tape, pressing the button with a broom handle, while sipping spring water and balancing a lap full of CDs. She's listening to Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love" on her headphones. "My boyfriend (film director Damian Harris) played it for me one night. When I'm missing him I put it on." The two met five years ago in Los Angeles, where Wilson lives when not on location in Toronto.
Lighting a cigarette, Wilson looks up at the billowing yellow chiffon sheets that hide the ugly ceiling tiles in her makeshift dressing room. Though she has filled three fat art books with notes about her character, the actress doesn't take Nikita too seriously. "She's an awkward panther - the Mr. Magoo of spies," she says. Her all-black wardrobe confirms the panther part, right down to the furry Prada boots.
A large map of North America adorns the door of her dressing room, a nod to the actress's love of travel. "My father was in the army, so we moved around a lot," says Wilson, who attended 15 different schools growing up. "You sort of act in a way to fit in. I would observe for a few days and then be good at what they did."
Still, even nomads need company now and then. So for the series, Wilson brought her grandmother out from Australia. "I was working 17-, 18-hour days and couldn't even run the bath, I was so tired and sore. Nana just tucks me into bed and says my prayers with me - just re-centres me, really."
So far, there's been no word on what her military dad thinks of the spy series. "My father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, they're all war men. And here I am playing a gunslinger." Wilson grins widely. "They've always thought I was a bit crazy."