La Femme Fantastique
Linda Yovanovich, Cable TV Magazine (1998)
Last November, actress Peta Wilson experienced several firsts in what seemed to be a long line of new experiences. She was invited to present a Cable ACE award with boxer Evander Holyfield; an experience she said was "pretty amazing." But it was after her duties as presenter that she really got to play superstar. "I was in the press room, and it was the first time I'd ever done it, and this little boy, who was 11 years old, jumped straight out at me. He had won the opportunity to interview me," Wilson said with a thick Australian accent in a phone interview from her home in Toronto, where "La Femme Nikita" is filmed. When the boy asked how she got interested in acting, her response was far from ordinary: "When I was about five years old, and living in New Guinea, we didn't have any television," she said, "and I went to Australia to visit my grandparents. When I came back and--remember the show 'I Dream of Jeannie'?--well, I had an outfit just like hers and I came back to the native people of New Guinea, who had given me such wonderful things, and I'd put on these shows and be Jeannie."
And such was the humble beginning of the woman who would become USA Network's phenomenon named Nikita. For Wilson, who grew up in the outback of New Guinea and Australia, imagination was part and parcel of not being spoon-fed entertainment. Her family ties were, and remain, tight. What they lacked in finances they made up for in spirit and love, fostering in Wilson an abundance of talent, charisma, humility and energy.
While her aspiration to act began when she was young, often performing for her classmates at lunchtime, Wilson said she was hesitant to become an actor. "It took me a long time before I could commit to studying acting because I thought it was very narcissistic... It's all about you." Eventually her desire to perform won out, and six years ago Wilson made a giant leap of faith by leaving her native land to come to North America to study acting full time. Over the years, she has done stage work and several small films including "Women Undone," "The Sadness of Sex" and HBO's "Going Without." Then came an audition for a new series for USA Network and Warner Bros. Television which was to be based on the critically acclaimed film by Luc Besson, "La Femme Nikita." "I auditioned like everyone else. I met the casting director and she really liked me. I had nine different meetings on it. It was a grueling audition process because it was a big series and they were a bit nervous." After reading seven scenes back-to-back with the executive producer in front of 40 Warner Bros. executives, the process was over. "I had three different cameras on me all at once. It was very new," she recalled. "And then I drove out of the Warner Brothers car park in my 1973 Cutlass," she said laughing. "So it was one of those kinds of stories." Another Hollywood success story.
As the lead character of "Nikita," Wilson has taken her first steps to super-stardom, playing a wrongly-accused street kid who was convicted of murder and forced to choose between execution and becoming an assassin for an enigmatic group that specializes in a form of high-tech [anti-]terrorism. But the girl who grew up without any television for entertainment keeps a very humble attitude toward success. "I've worked very hard," Wilson says. "I think I've got the philosophy that when things are right, they come to you. And when they're yours, you get them. When they're not yours, you weren't supposed to get them anyway--you wouldn't want the job." She continued, saying it was a combination of timing, luck and hard work that led to her getting the part of Nikita. She had been working in the industry for more than six years and had faced all facets of acting. ""All the different keys, shall we say, on the piano."
Except in television, which turned out to be a challenge in itself. Television acting is particularly different from theatre in that theatre doesn't concern itself with continuity the way film and television must. In theatre, there are no retakes and no camera angles, which means television is a whole new artform. "I came to this show very green," Wilson admitted. There are, she explained, rules and formulas that television requires actors to follow. "I was looking at some of the old episodes recently, and comparing them to the newer ones, Just in terms of the quality of the shows, I began to realize how much I've learned in the past year. I'm doing some things differently now, and I think it shows, and it's definitely for the better."
Entering its second year with a season premiere on January 4, "La Femme Nikita" has become a phenomenon for USA, posting some impressive ratings on Sunday nights. A breakout hot for the cable network, "La Femme Nikita" is an example of how something different is bound to garner attention. While it shares the film's name, the show is very different in its look, plot and characters. Wilson adds that the small screen version might even be seen as a continuation of the film. The Nikita of television is more sympathetic. She is not a criminal at heart and instead is forced to be something she is essentially not in order to survive; she is, as Wilson puts it, "an angel running with wolves."
In terms of the show's popularity, she added, "I think the reason it has done so well is because all the elements work; the style of it, the art direction, the production designs are all really good. The costumes are amazing and the music is great. All the actors are incredible." But the stories are what grab the audience most. The idea that this poor young woman is forced into an outrageous life where murder is second nature is what hooks them. It's action, adventure, intrigue and escapism. "People like to escape. And Nikita is a very good escapist kind of thing. It's a bit like fantasy." And it's a fantasy that brings the audience along for the ride, according to Wilson. "I play Nikita like I'm the audience. I want them to be with me, so that they are entering this world with me... and I think they like that because they are involved."
Audiences are falling in love with the lethal Nikita and perhaps moreso with the woman who portrays her. In the last year alone Wilson has been featured on almost every talk show as well as on the pages of Details, Us and other national magazines. All this coverage and she doesn't even have a publicist. "I don't like to keep en entourage," said the statuesque blond. "I just got an agent," she continued, "but I always thought 'Why do I need one of those?'"
Refreshingly down-to-earth, Wilson has maintained her wits even now that the spotlight is beaming in her direction. So how has the relatively new star responded to the fame that follows? "I'm grateful and gracious to everybody because without them I wouldn't be employed again this year," she said matter-of-factly. "They take the time to watch the show, and it's nice because I work really hard to make the show," she added with trademark coolness. "I'd never really done [a series] and I wasn't really expecting anything. When you don't have any expectations, you're really happy."
Not one to sit back and reflect on her happiness, Wilson has also gotten together her own production company in order to, as she puts it, "create my own opportunities... That and also produce small films maybe, because the people aren't known and can't get films made, and I want to try and help that happen."
No doubt, she will. if Nikita's an angel running with wolves, Peta Wilson is the angel leading the new rats in the race through Hollywood. You go girl!
Une Femme Dangereuse
Grant Tume, Detour (January 1998)
"Peta, Peta, Peta," as Bette Davis never said.
Not another indie-syndie cable series about a female "young beautiful, and sentenced to life in prison for a crime she didn't commit," you say! Well...yes, but Aussie actress Peta Wilson, 26, a tall tankard of frosty blondness, makes it all look brand new as the titular heroine of the USA Network's surprise hit, La Femme Nikita.
The televised Nikita has had her murderous, ruthless rage sanded down into righteous retribution ("She was in the wrong place at the wrong time...." Wilson explains); but forgot sweet nothings whispered in your ear. "You hit on the wrong girl on the wrong day," Nikita is likely to snarl to an over-ardent swain, immobilized in a headlock. Just imagine her bedside manner if she really disliked you....
Audiences are really liking la femme Wilson, commencing her second season as La Femme Nikita in January 1998, and the critics ("The best exercise in paranoia since the The X-Files!") arn't exactly sitting on their hands, either.
Comment dit-on "Freeze, sucker!" en francais?
Action, Flesh--Nikita Is Back
Tom Jicha, Knight-Ridder News Service (6 January 1998)
Cable's killer drama is back.
La Femme Nikita, which is on its way to becoming the biggest hit ever on basic cable, returns to the USA network Sunday. However, the first of this season's 22 episodes is well under way before the prime reason for the show's popularity -- the stunning Peta Wilson -- reappears.
At the end of season one, the future of Wilson's Nikita was bleak. Her ruthless superiors at the covert anti-terrorist operation Section One had dispatched her on a suicide mission. Only the secret intercession of her handler-lover Michael spared her from being engulfed in a ball of fire. Indeed, the assumption at Section One is that she is dead. Even Michael isn't sure whether she escaped the explosion.
It takes some creative writing -- a strong suit of La Femme Nikita -- to concoct a scenario under which Michael and Nikita can plausibly be reunited. It is more of a challenge to devise an explanation that will satisfy Section One as to how she cheated death and where she has been in the interim. The season-opener isn't a multiparter per se, but it will be a few weeks before all the loose ends are tied.
For late arrivals, La Femme Nikita, loosely based on a French theatrical movie, features a heroine wrongly accused of killing a cop. In exchange for not being sent to prison for the rest of her life, she agrees to work for Section One, where her drop-dead looks can be used as a weapon. Because she is innocent of the crime that brought her to this pass, she is a reluctant warrior.
The ambiguous relationship of Nikita and the suave but treacherous Michael (Roy Dupuis) teased viewers throughout the show's first season. It wasn't until he put himself on the line for her that his true feelings became known. Now, after six months of separation without communication, he is uncharacteristically frantic about her whereabouts.
The entire core cast is back: Eugene Robert Glaser as Operations, the man who calls the shots at Section One; Alberta Watson as Madeline, the strategist; Don Francks as Walter, the cantankerous guardian of the weapons arsenal; and Matthew Ferguson as Birkoff, the technology geek. Beginning with the season's second episode, an intriguing newcomer arrives on the scene -- Bruce Payne as Jurgen, a training specialist who becomes Michael's rival.
Unfortunately, Section One's nemesis, the Freedom League, is as interested as Michael in locating Nikita -- and the terrorists find her first. However, this stroke of potentially fatal fortune has an upside. It provides Michael with an opportunity to zero in on Nikita, then shore up a lie that could restore her standing at Section One.
The lovers' reunion will have romantics swooning and prudes recoiling over an NYPD Blue-ish exposure of flesh.
Those drawn to La Femme Nikita by the action, intrigue and gimmickry -- all right, the violence -- also are well served. Before Michael can bring in Nikita, he has to resort to lethal force and pyrotechnics against her captors. The body count is Tarantino-esque.
La Femme Nikita didn't really explode in popularity until USA got the inspiration to schedule it immediately after The X-Files concludes on Fox. Given the huge difference in the sizes of their audiences, obviously not all X-philes flick the remote control over to USA at 10 p.m. However, it might be only a matter of time before a lot more do.
Peta Wilson Finds Soft Side of Nikita
Eric Deggans, St. Petersburg (FL) Times (11 January 1998)
She's playing a role some actresses wait a lifetime for: bringing the homeless-waif-turned-government-killer at the heart of USA Network's La Femme Nikita to the small screen in a series lauded as one of the most popular on cable television.
But even though Australian-born Peta Wilson makes her living tossing bad guys around, the actor found she couldn't make it through filming of Nikita's second season without her most trusted friend: Her grandmother.
It seems grandma, who shared an apartment in Toronto with Wilson during last year's production, got a little irritated with her granddaughter as the show's popularity grew, and she headed back home to Australia.
"I got . . . a little bratty, and my grandmother said, "Well, you can live on your own for a winter,' " says Wilson.
"I wasn't appreciating her as much as I should have. I've now smartened up, and I'm desperate for her to come back, and she's on her way."
It might seem odd to someone who's only seen the 1990 French film or its hopelessly addled American version, 1993's Point of No Return, but Wilson's devotion to her grandmother is a sentiment right in line with TV's Nikita, a killer with a heart of gold rarely seen in previous versions.
Unlike the films, in which Nikita was a punky, drug-addicted killer forced into serving a super-secret government organization, Wilson's character is a homeless waif mistakenly accused of murder. Unable to prove her innocence, she's forced to join a band of killers recruited by the government, pretending to be the kind of heartless assassin she could never be.
Wilson says the change was necessary so that TV audiences could stand to watch Nikita over a 22-episode TV season.
"I didn't think anyone would want their kids to see (the first version)," says Wilson, forgetting that the series' occasional forays into explicit violence and sexual scenes have earned it a TV-14 rating, anyway. "But anyone can understand being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
So far, it's looking as if Nikita the series and the actor herself found the right place on the cable dial, earning ratings that would be the envy of any other non-network show.
Critics have suggested many explanations for the show's popularity, including the Xena factor: that guys who love action/adventure shows are attracted by a strong woman who can hold her own.
"I think it's the underdog thing. . . . People love to fight for the underdog," says Wilson, 27, who was an unknown with three projects to her credit when she landed the Nikita gig in 1996. "She's an antihero . . . an angel in wolf's clothing. She just wants to have a normal life and be happy, but that continually eludes her."
Unfortunately, with its action-heavy focus, those words pretty much tell you everything you need to know about Nikita.
Like Miami Vice and NBC's X-Files rip-off, Profiler, Nikita looks a lot better than it feels. It's a stylish action show that presents handsome people kicking, shooting and blowing up things, with pesky stuff like dialogue and plot tacked on as an afterthought.
As the second season begins, we learn that Nikita has been hiding from her bosses in Section One - that super-secret government organization mentioned earlier - faking her own death in order to live a normal life as a waitress.
But she is found out and forced to return to Section One, and she winds up lying to her bosses, telling them she was captured by another super-secret terrorist organization - how many of these things actually exist, anyway? - a lie backed up by her lover and superior Michael, who knows the truth.
Will Section One learn the truth and "retire" Nikita? Will Michael's role be revealed, resulting in his own death? And can writers keep enough explosions in the script to ensure that viewers will be awake to learn the answers?
Wilson promises to find solutions to these questions and more this season in the series she calls "the show that critics hate to love."
"I don't feel like I'm responsible for it being good or bad, hated or liked," says Wilson, shrugging off stories that have appeared everywhere from the New York Times to TV Guide that say the same thing: The show may be a confused, low budget mess, but Peta Wilson makes it worth watching.
Because her father was in the Australian army, she spent her first seven years growing up in rustic New Guinea, attending school in 13 different communities by the time she graduated.
"I hated it as a kid, but what a gift as an actress," she says. "I would be joining girls who had been in class together their whole lives, so I would figure out how to fit in and be that person. That made me realize there are millions of choices people can make to fit in . . . and millions of choices I can make with this character."
So far, her choices are paying off with a devoted fan base that has created dozens of sites on the Internet's World Wide Web in tribute of her tortured character.
"They call me the queen of the bloody Internet now," she says, laughing a little. "Somebody else noticed that I was a clue in the crossword for the (London newspaper) The Daily Mail. They're saying I've arrived, but I feel like I'm in the beginning of my career.
Though she fears the typecasting that can come with TV success, Wilson has already spread her wings a little, starting a tiny production company that might allow her to develop documentaries about two of her heroes, playwrights Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill.
No matter where she ends up after Nikita, Wilson is bound to keep surprising those who underestimate her - much like the character she plays on TV.
"As an actress, I decided to take what's mine - that stereotype of the blonde, blue-eyed sexpot - and use it . . . explode the misconceptions," Wilson says with a heavy chuckle. "I guess that's happening with Nikita, too."
La Femme Dilbert
Tom Carson, Village Voice (1998)
The big change Joel Surnow made in adapting Luc Besson's thriller La Femme Nikita for the home screen is that the TV version's heroine--soulfully played as the Swedish Bikini Team's revenge on the male gaze by Peta Wilson, she of the Soviet socialist-realist physique and the hurting, wary baby blues--is innocent of the crime that first sent her to prison. Now she's been sprung by the powers that be to pursue her bleak new career dispatching terrorists and other nondenominational baddies for the hush-hush, sinister, but ya-gotta-admit snappily dressed paramilitary outfit known only as Section One. Back in 1990, the movie's Nikita auditioned for the gig by killing a cop while high on drugs, an act sordid enough to certify her as primo assassin material. Her TV counterpart owes the misery-inducing government work that's been forced on her to a miscarriage of justice instead--a bum murder rap that, so to speak, padded her resume. She's a reluctant killing machine, prone to bouts of balky human weakness that imperil her less pensive teammates and leave her new masters dubious about her reliability. That's why they're often tempted to get rid of her, by the same means they use to dispose of everyone else.
Surnow has said he sentimentalized Nikita only to make the premise palatable to his own overseers at the mighty USA Network, giving fans of the froggy original their cue to scoff at TV's predictable spinelessness. But since I'm not one of them--never saw the damn thing, so sue me, nor the Bridget Fonda remake Point of No Return, for which I assume I'll be forgiven-- I've got no qualms about getting off on the travesty, if that's what this is. I'm also far from alone; the series, whose second season began on Sunday, is the sort of cult hit whose most fervent addicts post their own elaborate fictional scenarios involving Nikita and her cohorts on the Internet. I somehow doubt Home Improvement gets many of those.
At first glance, you may wonder what Nikita does to earn such devotion. As a high-tech action fantasy, it delivers the standard goods with reasonable flair--spiffy gizmos, absurd predicaments, a new global menace every week, and climactic boom-boom that makes bad folks and bystanders alike go bye-bye by the cartload. Not to mention an operational argot that, however tight-lipped, occasionally gets caught planting its tongue in its cheek--my own fave being the psychobabble loan word ''closure'' to indicate a mission's success, though ''Cancel him'' as the term of art for blowing some poor bastard's brains out probably gives the producers more giggles. Yet if that's all the show had to offer, I seriously doubt that I'd have been tipped off to watch it by a 50-year-old school principal I used to think liked her job.
At the level that its creator, whose last project of note was the posh but pointless Edward Woodward series The Equalizer, was probably aiming for, Nikita's just another entertainingly stylish, post--X-Files crock. It's the sort of show that takes a shortcut to suggestiveness by the simple device of making everyone in sight oblique and enigmatic--not just Eugene Robert Glazer as ''Operations,'' the section's chiselpuss boss, and Alberta Watson as Madeline, his eerily poised lieutenant, but Birkoff the computer geek (Matthew Ferguson), Walter the curmudgeonly ordnance expert (Don Francks), and conflicted-chinned, il miglior Fabio-maned Michael (Roy Dupuis), our heroine's team leader a/k/a the show's stud interest. This crew couldn't convene a PTA meeting without immediately hiding the agenda, and while all the taciturn menace is fun, it's not particularly fresh; you're fairly sure the producers haven't bothered to work out what the characters are keeping to themselves. As Surnow himself has remarked, even the old Patrick McGoohan series The Prisoner, to which Nikita owes a sizable debt, ran out of twists on its hand-me-down Kafkaescapades pretty quick. But Nikita's wounded ambivalence is all the new twist the show needs, and not just because her more foursquare precursors in making the world safe for commercials were never real big on self-doubt--aside, of course, from the lovely moment on Mission: Impossible when poor Peter Graves, looking even more like a loofah experiencing an anxiety attack than usual, had to muse, ''Maybe I've been too clever.''
La Femme Nikita may be cleverer than it knows. While fans obviously relate to the series as a cartoon, I bet they don't consider it all that escapist. From certain angles, it hits close to where many of them live. Upping the heroine's victimization level no doubt looked like a smart hedge to ensure that the audience wouldn't find the dirty work she does too big a turnoff. But it's a safe bet USA's honchos never counted on viewers going so far as to identify with Nikita--as scads of them plainly do, and why not? She's compelled to perform tasks she finds loathsome, in a field she's ill-suited for, surrounded by colleagues she can't trust, and at the mercy of bosses who'd terminate her as casually as changing a lightbulb the second she displeased them. Meanwhile, she forlornly attempts to salvage a few vestiges of humanity from her situation. In other words, you don't need to squint far past the gunplay, the gizmos, and those natty black fatigues to realize that this is a funhouse mirror of the dystopic '90s workplace--the show that the abysmal Fred Savage sitcom Working just pretends to be.
For that matter, since, aside from the unnerving Madeline, our heroine's also the only woman in this man's world, you could call La Femme Nikita the show that Ally McBeal just pretends to be. In feminist terms, what's striking is that the series is at once a blatant empowerment fantasy--when a neighbor's smirky boyfriend comes on to her, Nikita casually smashes his head on a counter- top before instructing him how to make amends--and one about feeling enslaved: she's only a pawn in the Section's game, and wretched enough about it to consider suicide once she learns that she'll never be free of them. The heroine of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is equally given to wishing this cup would pass from her; in both series, women finally get licensed to kill--the action-show version of enfranchisement--only to discover that someone else still calls the shots. On Nikita, this conundrum's right before our eyes--in the contrast between Peta Wilson's physical prowess and her trapped face. In a smart touch, she's been given the wan home life and drab digs of your typical office drudge, and it's also funny that, as much as Nikita resents being miscast in this line of work, she's still anxious to measure up; just like more conventional young professionals, she's scared of being found out as a fraud. And so far as funhouse mirrors go, it's hard to miss the way Madeline, whose duties include monitoring the goon squad's mental state, subliminally functions as this unhappy career gal's therapist--you know, the irritating kind who never tells you what she really thinks.
At the same time, if those Internet postings are any gauge, plenty of female viewers are also prepared to dote on Nikita as pure Harlequin romance, and swoon over the thwarted love between Nikita and her mentor Michael--which may just prove that as long as empowerment is just a daydream, all other daydreams remain in effect. I'd probably enjoy the fluffy stuff myself if Roy Dupuis weren't such warmed-over meatloaf; his jawline does some great acting, but that's because it's the only part of his face that moves. From where I sit, the sexual tension between Nikita and Birkoff the cybergeek is more intriguing, and certainly less conventional--as well as much droller, since he's a perfect stand-in for the real-life nerds who supply much of the male audience for such shows, the way Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation stood in for the Trekkies. Whatever your own nerd or dreamer quotient, you can't help but marvel at how many different audience fantasies the series is wired into. But while I'm pretty sure that Buffy's Joss Whedon does all this stuff on purpose, Nikita looks more like pure serendipity. Catch it before it goes bad.
The Brecht Girl
Shelly Lyons, Ultimate TV (1998)
USA's well-received series "La Femme Nikita" comes back for a second season of glossy existentialiasm and relationship foibles, in a post-Cold War Brechtian landscape, endured by hip spies. It's all about the weaponry, the stark, hi-tech photography and the wardrobe, and it's a hit.
Peta Wilson, looking more like an ethereal Viking than a mere mortal, heads up the drama series about a drug-addict street urchin turned reluctant agent fighting global terrorism for the clandestine and ruthless government organization known as Section One.
Armed with intuition - nay street smart, drop-dead looks, and plenty of bitchen weaponry, Nikita plays the role of ruthless killer her employers believe her to be, but is plagued with compassion and a a conscience.
In the final episode of the first season, Section One knowingly sends Nikita on a suicide mission in attempt to 'cancel' her. Soon the man with whom she oozes sexual chemistry, Michael (Ray Dupuis), lends a hand and Nikita excapes to what she thinks will be a normal life. wardrobes dark and high-spy chic.
The premiere episode of Season Two finds Nikita returning to Section One, claiming to have been captured and tortured by the nefarious Freedom League. But her sudden reappearance only arouses suspicion and Nikita tries to keep the truth hidden behind those sad baby blues.
Operations (played by Eugene Robert Glazer) and Madeline (Alberta Watson) remain certain that Nikita isn't laying all the cards on the angst-ridden tables.
Nikita is then transfered from Michael and reassigned to Jurgen (guest star Bruce Payne), a Special Operative with a mysterious past who holds a unique relationship tothe Secton. Ruthless in his quest for truth and straight-shooting, Nikita goes gonzo over him and a love trialgle soon develops involving Michael and Jurgen.
USA reveals that in upcoming episodes Operations will be seriously wounded and "temporarily replaced with another Section One leader who isn't what he seems...", Madeline is kidnapped, Nikita and Michael protect two children in the middle of a war zone, and Nikita is put in charge of a mission.
She's so Vogue.
Turn On, Tune In
Jim Swallow, Cult TV (January 1998)
The title for this slick and sexy espionage drama might leap out at you if you're a fan of French director Luc Besson - this Canadian series copies the movie's plot about a ragged junkie girl sentenced to death after killing a policeman only to be rescued from the lethal injection by Section One, a super-black secret agency that does the dirty work the CIA won't touch.
"Work for us, and you live," She's told ... The difference here is that in the movie Nikita did kill the cop, whereas in the TV version she was framed: but despite this nod to the noral majority, the show makes up for it with plenty of gunplay and high-octane action. There's also some neat cast dynamics between sexy leads Peta Wilson and her male foil Roy Dupuis, Nikita's 'handler' Michael.
Visually, the MTV-effect imagery of the show (complete with jump-cut visuals and cutting-edge pop soundtrack) is almost too glossy in places, but the taut plotting makes up for it. It's actually quite nice to see some non-Americans leading a show for a change, with Australian Wilson and French-Canadian Dupuis heading up the cast list.
The timeslot's change from Friday to Tuesday* starts as the year ends with Nikita helping the hacker Birkhoff face his worst fears in 'Noise'. 'War' sees a stolen directory from the Section being used to kill off its agents and 'Missing' features a plot to steal a microchip. Following 'Voices' and 'Brainwashed' a the end of the month, it'll be two short weeks until the kicker season finale 'Mercy' airs, with season two (and the cliffhanger resolution) set to follow later on in '98.
[* The timeslot change did not take place]
Peta the Great
Maxim Magazine (Jan/Feb 1998)
One of the perks of being an evil villain is being hunted by a sexy agent who has a bullet with your name on it. Enter Peta Wilson, an 27-year-old, 5'10", athletic beauty who plays the title role on USA Network's La Femme Nikita. We caught up with Peta in her hotel room to ask her the burning question: If you got in a fight with Xena, who'd win? "I'd have to get the first punch in," began the leggy Australian beauty curled up in her bathrobe and, quite probably, nothing else. "Then it would be all over. But if I didn't get the first punch in, she'd make mincemeat of me. Xena's a warrior," she reminded us, taking a bite of chocolate cake and wiping her delicious mouth on her sleeve. She then added, thoughtfully: "But if all that failed and she was beating the shit out of me, I'd just pull out the .45 and tell her what's up."
Femme Nikita Star Savors Success
Mark Lorando, Seattle Times (27 March 1998)
NEW YORK - For Madonna, doing "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" is about as pressure-packed as belting out "Like a Virgin" in the shower. After all, the host was Madonna's co-star in "A League of Their Own"; they're pals.
Coming on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" after Madonna, however, is an act of true show-business courage.
It requires intestinal fortitude, an adventurous spirit, a touch of temporary insanity, a good hair and makeup man, a supportive mother, a savvy publicist and a little stardust of your own.
Peta Wilson qualifies on all counts.
At a taping session for a recent show, the star of the USA Network's sizzling spy caper "La Femme Nikita" waited her turn to play the daytime-TV version of ring-around-the-Rosie. Unlike Madonna, whose attendants number in the dozens, Wilson surrounded herself with less than a six-pack of moral support: a USA Network publicist, a friend from New York, and what she calls "my Australian entourage - hair, makeup and mum."
Looking typically torrid in white leather pants and a Calvin Klein tank top with matching Converse All-Stars, Wilson prepped for the big event by cranking up the Madonna CD on a boombox, dancing around her dressing room and beyond ("I need hallway!" she yelled at one point), kibitzing with her hair and makeup guys, and talking about "Nikita" and Madonna with a newspaper reporter.
"I'm not nervous," she said. "I look at this as just part of the job. I've got my friends with me. My feet are firmly on the ground.
"And hey, let's be honest. I'm pretty interesting. But I'm not as interesting as Madonna."
USA is working on correcting that perception. When it premiered roughly 15 months ago, "Nikita" swiftly established itself as the cable network's signature series. Based on the 1990 French film, it is a weekly action-adventure-mystery series about an undercover agent whose beauty is matched by her brainpower and kick-boxing ability. She's cocky and cunning, the anti-"Ally McBeal."
The role is demanding physically, but with 37 episodes in the can and nine more to shoot before completing Season 2, Wilson says she's adjusting.
"I've got to say the second season's gone like that," she said with a snap of her fingers. "The first season I thought I was dead. I felt like I'd aged about 25 years. This year I feel like a teenager. It's been lots of fun. . . .
"The pressure's still on, but also off a little, because we're doing really well."
The network will try to do even better next season by building to "a huge cliffhanger" at the end of this season, Wilson said. "I can't give away details, but I'm really excited about it."
Doing "Rosie" generates a different sort of excitement, one that Wilson admits she's still adjusting to. "La Femme Nikita" is her first series, and the celebrity that goes along with a hit - even one with a relatively small audience of a couple of million viewers a week - can be as unnerving as it is exhilarating.
"Last year I felt like a little fish in a little fishbowl," she said. "This year I feel like a little fish in a huge fishbowl, swimming around, going, `Holy heck!' . . . I feel like I'm a bit of a surfboard rider. At any given point, I'm on the wave right now, and it could crash and I could hurt myself."
The strain didn't show during a breezy five minutes with O'Donnell, who gave her a big hug, and then something better: She showed a clip from the series.
"Rosie rocks," Wilson said. "She's amazing. She was my first talk show. I'd done nothing. She came to me backstage, where I was sitting between Mia Farrow and Randy Travis, and was so reassuring. The other ones . . . they're much more formulated. This is much more casual. It suits me better. I feel more comfortable."
It showed onstage, where Wilson and O'Donnell gabbed like best buds. It's all that Team Wilson could have hoped for: She didn't make anyone forget that Madonna was there first, but she made it easy to remember her, the dynamic star of "Nikita."
"When you're an Australian army brat," she said, "nothing much intimidates you. This all could be finished tomorrow. So I'm not going to waste my time being nervous and freaked about it. I'm just going to enjoy it while it's there."
Cathy Che, Time Out New York (26 March-2 April 1998)
"I wanted him to have a romantic look because I think of Michael as a modern knight," says Roy Dupuis, defending the Fabioesque mane he flaunts each week on the steamy USA series La Femme Nikita. Calling from the series's set in Toronto, Dupuis seems a man of as few words as the aloof "secret anti-terrorist operative" he plays on the show. Ever since Michael gave us everything but the full monty in the season opener - in which he and Nikita (Peta Wilson) got it on for the first time - Dupuis has become one of the most lust-inspiring yet loathed heartthrobs on TV.
Even over the phone, Dupuis is seductive, his voice breathy and tinged with angst. And his slight accent adds to his romantic air. "Yes," he admits, "French, not English, is my first language." The 34-year-old Montreal-based actor may have only recently begun wooing American audiences, but Dupuis has long been a big name in Quebec. Since his graduation from the esteemed National Theatre School of Canada, Dupuis has won several Canadian awards for his film and TV work. The proof of his celebrity in the Great White North is the legions of paparazzi who stalk him. Dupuis says that his life hasn't changed significantly since he started Nikita: "Let's just say I'm used to being watched."
Dupuis was recruited for the show after he'd turned down the lead in another American series "because it was based in LA, and I'd just bought an 1840s farmhouse in Montreal. I wanted to spend some time there." (Martha Stewart would approve of Dupuis's new favourite pastime - sprucing up his house and garden). Dupuis's main concern with taking the La Femme Nikita role was that the series stay true to the flavour of its namesake, the 1990 Luc Besson thriller that also spawned Chinese and American knockoffs.
So what does Dupuis think is behind the appeal of Nikita's criminals-turned-assassins premise? "I think it's the intensity of the situation. The characters are always close to death," says Dupuis. But judging from the show's dozen or so websites, the hot-and-cold relationship between Michael and Nikita also keeps people coming back for more. Dupuis agrees. "I would say the most asked question is, Does Michael really care for Nikita?" he says, "I don't know if I can or should say. Michael's gestures are clues to his feelings for her, but in the show, at any time, we could be asked to 'cancel' the people we work with. It's a rough and cold existence."
Evidence of Dupuis's growing fan base can be found in his increased presence on the show. Viewers interested in clues to Michael's psyche were treated to last week's Dupuis-centered episode "Half Life," in which his new co-workers learn all about Michael's former career as a terrorist. But now that Dupuis has reached the giddy heights of TV celebrity, he's perfectly happy keeping his head in the clouds. As soon as the season wraps this spring, he has only one major goal: "To go to Nepal for a three-week walk in the mountains."