La Femme Nikita
Greg Fagan, TV Guide (28 March 1998)
Pity poor Nikita. So glam and yet so glum. An amazon among antiterrorists, this reluctant assassin lives in fear that her ever-watchful superiors will have her canceled -- as in killed.
Earlier this season she told her forbiddingly stone-faced lover-mentor, Michael, who knows the risks of breaking the rules, "They'll cancel us if they know the truth."
La Femme Nikita has no such cancellation worries. This sleek and bleak series, basic cable's highest-rated original drama, earns its cult following with a sustained sense of romantic fatalism that sets it apart from and above most other high-concept genre shows.
Still, this is one no-nonsense spy thriller that could use a bit more nonsense. The solemnity is almost suffocating. You begin to wonder if the greatest breach of protocol would be to change a facial expression. Are these bad actors or masters of understatement? Nikita suffers from zombie chic.
That it works at all harks back to the Miami Vice formula of style as substance, inextricably wedded to content, with throbbing electronic music underscoring languorous wordless stretches of sinister and ambiguous behavior. Often visually striking, with extreme camera angles setting up the paranoid action, Nikita also benefits from airing directly after Fox's X-Files on Sundays, a double dose of despair. (At least Mulder and Scully have occasion to lighten up now and then.)
It doesn't hurt that La Femme Nikita's source is an exotic 1991 French film that generated art-house buzz but didn't exactly leave the series version with impossible shoes to fill. Quite a change from USA's failed Big Easy adaptation, which couldn't compensate for the absence of the source film's stars, Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin, with New Orleans flavor alone.
In fact, a star was born in Nikita's Peta Wilson, whose sullen smoldering conveys just enough mystery to offset her startling athleticism and head-turning allure. The Australian actress is both vulnerable and feisty as the former street waif framed for murder and recruited into the shadowy Section One as a living lethal weapon.
Always under surveillance by soulless bosses who scrutinize any sign of weakness or betrayal, Nikita is in perpetual conflict. "Where you see targets and security risks, I see flesh and blood," she gripes.
She's further torn between duty to and desire for the morose agent Michael, played by French-Canadian Roy Dupuis as a tragic hero who has turned himself into an automaton to survive. Having lost one woman to this violent underworld, he confounds Nikita with displays of passion tinged with manipulative cruelty. Most recently we learned of his past as a student radical, along with the existence of a sister he can never see again.
Even in flashback mode, Nikita never turns sentimental. It's not that the show lacks a heart. It just knows better than to wear it on its seductively dour sleeve.
NIKITA: A KILLER'S SITE
Like The X-Files, La Femme Nikita's intriguing complexities were made for the Web. Actually, they were made for TV. But now, says Joel Surnow, executive consultant on the USA Network drama, the show is being produced with both media in mind. "We're putting things into the show that have a life of their own exclusively on the Internet," says Surnow. Watch for close-ups of Birkoff's (Matthew Ferguson) computer screen -- there may be URLs there for you. Surnow and Warner Bros. Online hope to create downloadable 3-5 minute behind-the-scenes audio programs for the site, at www.warnerbros.com, that will bring viewers inside story meetings and other phases of production. In addition, visitors will find psychological background on the characters, prepared by the writing staff, that offer further clues as to what motivates les antiterrorists.
La La La Femme Nikita Is Jolly Great Spy TV
Jeff Simon, Buffalo (NY) News (19 April 1998)
We should have known right away from the theme music -- those sarcastic voices "do-doo-doooing" and punctuating those sudden guitar power chords. It was just too cool for a run-of-the-mill TV series -- wayyy too cool.
When "La Femme Nikita" first came on the USA Network, it seemed to be just another show in the network's merrily sleazy "Sunday Night Heat" lineup, where low-rent joshery combines with crime, punishment and effulgent images straight from the Victoria's Secret catalog.
What higher possibilities could it have, after all? It was just a TV rip-off of a French movie rip-off of the past 30 years of Amer/English spy movies, starring a drop-dead-gorgeous goddess named Peta Wilson who, by all rights, should have been no more than the Irish McCalla or Lynda Carter for the '90s.
So some of us thought, anyway. We were badly underestimating our neighbors to the North, the Torontonians. Toronto is where "La Femme Nikita" is filmed. It's also where the TV station is located that gives us in Buffalo a nice double dose of "La Femme Nikita" -- Sundays at 10 p.m. on USA, Mondays at 10 p.m. on Canada's Channel 9. (TV life in a border city is way cool, something we tend to take for granted far too often.)
Bad mistake, that. Never underestimate Torontonians. They may have created the most antiseptic of the world's megalopolises, but they've also, in their globe-trotting earnestness, created the finest film festival on the North American continent. When they do things well, they do things rather stunningly well.
"La Femme Nikita" has slowly, slyly and ever so stealthily turned into one of the best series on television. So help me.
As it's currently going, I'd put it right up there with "The X-Files," "Ally McBeal," "NYPD Blue," "The Practice," "Homicide," and the occasional "Brooklyn South" and "Millennium" when all the stars and planets are in proper alignment.
Yes, yes, we get a weekly dose of secret agent action guff -- you know, where the '90s version of a "Mission: Impossible" team steals into the embassy of Eastern Slobovia under cover of night to kidnap the grand emir of Western Slobovia and has to shoot its way out against a crack sharpshooting cadre of the Slobovian guards (who are, with immense respect the world over, known as Slobs).
Sunday night's episode, for instance, promises that Nikita and Michael -the erotic Ken and Barbie of this particular play world -- will play house as husband and wife to accomplish some spymongering or other. Devotees of the show, of course, have followed every carnal itch from knockout glam Amazon Wilson and romance paperback cover boy Michael, so any plot development that throws them into the same king-size Serta is a Sweeps Weeks bonanza, even if it is Tired Old Spy Plot 406-B.
You can bet this month's cable fee that the show, as presented, will be a good deal fresher.
What "La Femme Nikita" is turning into is a weekly metaphor for the corporate world in downsize mode.
Ostensibly, we're following a bunch of spies so ultra-secret that they're known, generically, only as Special Section (and their leader is known, just as generically, as "Operations"). So far, so French. If you translate it out of hugger-mugger, what you're usually watching is the office politics of the '90s corporation writ large and turned lethal.
Week in, week out, it's as likely as not to be a seminar in management technique, with Michael or "Operations" playing the role of dead-eyed Machiavelli and Nikita playing the spy among the spies, determined to sabotage some of the organization's efficient heartlessness and smuggle in some decency and common sense to replace it. Anyone who wants to read this as a battle between patriarchal power and matriarchal power is entitled to, I suppose, but you'll have to take a number and get in line. The show is good enough to support interpretations from here to Mississauga.
Last week, for intance, Nikita was given her biggest gig yet as a team leader in some nasty info-gathering enterprise or other. ("Intel" -- short for intelligence -- is the nicely metaphorical quest in at least half of the shows. You can take that in the CIA sense or the IQ sense.)
Here were Michael's instructions to Nikita on the art of spy team management: "Tell them only what they need to know. Establish dominance."
"In other words, treat them like animals," offers Nikita.
"Animals with guns," says Michael.
Later, they have another discussion about managerial techniques among the assassins. "The best thing to happen to a team leader is to have a rebellious operative," says Michael.
"Why?" asks Nikita, getting into the Socratic swing of it.
"Because if you control the operative, you control the team," says Michael, who then says: "Can I give you a piece of advice? It's best to be ruthless. But if you're not, it's best to appear that way."
At this point, you may well think that Michael is recycling Machiavelli's "The Prince" or maybe Sun-Tzu's "The Art of War" or some other text that's best not to leave in the wrong hands.
Nikita, of course, can't bear to "cancel" a colleague who's acting up. On the other hand, we saw at the end of the episode last week that's she's perfectly capable of snapping an enemy's little finger like a twig, just to get a piece of valuable "intel."
And that's the beauty of "La Femme Nikita." Week in, week out, it's an allegory of situation ethics in the modern corporation, a handbook of how to swim with the sharks without being eaten. It's "Ally McBeal" with automatic weaponry and torture chambers.
It's also, even in a pretty good TV era, very cool television.
Peta Wilson Interview
John Sellers, Mr. Showbiz (23 April 1998)
PETA WILSON can identify with the isolated soul of the title character she plays on USA Network's cult smash La Femme Nikita. As an army brat born in Sydney, Australia, the twenty-seven- year-old blonde moved a dozen times before she turned thirteen, including a few years when her family lived near natives outside Papua, New Guinea.
Instead of training to become an assassin, as she does every week on her series, Wilson spent her formative years in athletics, most notably sailing and netball. It paid off. Her toned five-foot-ten frame propelled her to a modeling career on two continents, and now backs up the butt- kicking bravado she displays every week as Nikita. That pretty, pug-nosed face probably has something to do with her success as well.
Inspired by the 1990 French film of the same name, La Femme Nikita gives Wilson ample opportunity to hone the acting skills she's developed during her five-year screen career. The psychologically scarred Nikita was a wrongly imprisoned convict who was freed by an American intelligence outfit called Section One in exchange for involuntary servitude as an elite assassin. Not only does she get to flex those muscles to fight terrorists, kill government leaders, and spar with her superiors, Wilson uses her earthy Australian wit and sexy feminine wiles to lure in viewers—and her supporting characters. Earlier this season, she created an Internet maelstrom when Nikita slept with her très romantique trainer Michael.
Mr. Showbiz tracked Wilson down at the La Femme Nikita set in Toronto to find out what's up with that dangerous liaison, where her name comes from, the secrets of looking sexy, and the Australian word for "babe." What we found was an unapologetically brash "piece of heaven" who tends to get endearingly confused when talking about Nikita, switching back and forth between "I" and "she." But make no mistake: this is one woman who knows exactly who she is—and who her cars are, too.
There are only four episodes of La Femme Nikita left this season. Can you tell us what's going to happen?
I can't, really, because it changes every week. But as far as the character goes, it's all starting to get to her a bit. It's like, "What the hell?" Nikita has gotten to the position where she's got a lot of disdain for the Section. They had her sort of assimilated into it, because that's where the story had to go, but I've found to play the character is quite difficult because I've got to hide all my emotions from the Section. And in doing that, too, the audience only gets little tiny bits and slivers of it. And I think the character works best when she's telling them what for. So I think that's where we're going to go. But the episodes this year on the whole—we've found it. We've found what the show is.
The rest of the season is big. We got Sean Phillips to come and do an episode. She's a big boss in the Section. Yes, there is a bigger boss. And that's all I'm saying. There's a bigger boss than Operations. And Nikita gets to know her. It's going to be a huge two parter.
Was it hard to hit a groove when you first started?
God, it was such strange territory, you know? And sort of surreal as well. And sort of realistically surreal in a way, which is weird. It's like putting some Japanese zen pop-art painter with Francis Bacon. Like, what the hell do you get?
What's up with Nikita and Michael?
God, that relationship's so weird. Those two characters are a combination of Sam Shepard and Tennessee Williams. It's sort of all over the place. It changes all the time. The relationship's now at a point where it's like, "I don't know who you are." And I'm questioning myself as to why I have this thing about him. So she's now learning a lot about herself through her attraction to him.
The show must be taxing. It's so high action.
Very high action, but hey—I'm young, I've got the energy to do it, and right now's the time. I'll never do a role like this again, probably. I mean, they won't write one. I don't know that there'll ever be one.
So, how do you feel about magazines and TV sexing you up?
Sex me up? Listen, women are really attractive and sexy. I'm a Scorpio. I'm very comfortable with my own sexuality and sex is funny, it's fun. And I don't think if I'm sexy in a photograph it means I'm a less serious actress. Every photograph of Catherine Deneuve is sexy, or Gena Rowlands. Do you know what I mean? It's the nineties. As long as you're not bullshitting—if you're going to be sexy in a photo, you'd better be thinking about sex rather than thinking about being sexy. I don't think about being sexy, I just think about however I feel at the moment. And if that comes across as sexy then that's what it is.
Have you ever done any nude modeling?
Uh, probably. I did some stuff for Harper's Bazaar actually with Natasha Henstridge. We did a beauty story together when she was a model and I was a model, and I think we're both topless. God, she's got good tits. But, no, nothing really naked. Nothing like a twat shot or anything. You know?
So you're completely comfortable with nudity?
Yeah. I'm a tomboy, man. I don't care. I was always like that. If I think someone's sexy, I go, "You're sexy." I'm not someone who's very coquettish. I can play that, but that's not how I am.
Do you think that's the Australian way?
Well, that's my way. We're pretty up front, we kind of say it like it is. And Australian men . . . foreplay for them is like, "Are you awake?"
My opinion is Australians are modern-day Vikings. I love it, because the truth is always it—if you always tell the truth and you're straight up about things, then there's nothing to be worried about. I feel that it makes sense. I like to be honest and I like it when people are honest with me. Don't you? You know what the fuck's going on. I don't like games, I'm not a game player in relationships—none of that. Just be straight up with each other.
Here are a couple of straight-up Australian questions. Can you say, "Put another shrimp on the barbie"?
We don't say that down there. "Chuck another prawn on the barbie, will ya, mate?" That's what we do.
That sounds so much cooler. What's Australian for "babe"?
"Heaven on a stick." The most common word is "spunk," as in "She's a real spunk!" My favorite, though, is "He's a bit of all right."
Who would win in a fight: Nikita or Xena?
Well, if Nikita got the first punch in, definitely I'd win. But if she did, I'd be dead for sure. Unless of course I pulled a .45 out.
What if it was like Thunderdome and you could use weapons and stuff?
Nikita's biggest weapon is her mouth, and I think she'd probably try and talk her way out of it, like, "Can't we just have a cup of coffee?"
Have you ever met Lucy Lawless?
No, I haven't.
Could you beat her up?
I'm not a violent person. I'd give her a big kiss.
I'm sure you've been asked this before, but how did you get the name Peta?
Miss Australia for 1970 was named Peta, and I think I was named after her. And my father thought I was a boy—he was out on "bush," an army game thing—and he thought I was a boy and named me Pedro. And when he got back and saw I was a girl, they changed it. Thank god, I was a girl.
So what's your stance on animal activism?
I eat lamb chops, so I don't know. I've had PETA contact me.
I'm in two minds about it. I eat lamb chops and I wear leather shoes. I wear leather boots. What do I do?
What did you say to them?
I said, "I don't want to be a hypocrite." I'm all for supporting a cause. I don't like seeing what they do to animals. Animal testing and the seal thing has gotten horrible and furs and stuff. But at the same time, how can I be really supportive of the cause when I love a good lamb chop?
See, for me personally, I don't think it's good what they do to animals, but what other human beings do to human beings, it's pretty damn bad as well. So, I'm more inclined to support causes that are going to help the kids of tomorrow with education. Maybe we can educate them to be smart enough not to do the things to animals that people do.
You seem to have had a strange childhood experience, living near natives for a while in Papua New Guinea.
It wasn't unnormal for me. When I was that age I couldn't have imagined growing up in New York. And it kind of got hard after that. I came back to Australia after that and it was traffic and cars and clique-y little groups. Free spirits were abundant in Papua New Guinea, and free-spiritedness in Australia in school is, "She's a difficult child."
Did you live in Sydney?
No, my dad was in the army. So I went to like eleven schools or something. But I still graduated with good grades.
I read somewhere that you were the best player on the Australian national basketball team.
It wasn't basketball. It was netball.
What's the difference?
In netball, you can't dribble the ball. You can't dribble and you can't run with it. Once you catch it, you've got to pass it. We've got the same court as basketball. It's a very tactical game and it's not as loose as basketball. You're only allowed to have [the ball] for three seconds. We didn't really compete worldwide then, but I was named as one of the best players.
I've never even heard of netball.
Don't worry, it'll be an Olympic sport sooner or later.
You're pretty tall, right?
Well, I wasn't really tall when I was a netball player. And when I did start to grow, I hid my height from my opponents until I wanted an interception and then I'd spring into the height that I had. I think height for people is a really good thing and you should try and keep it up your sleeve.
Can you dunk?
Can I dunk? Yeah, I can dunk.
You can throw it down?
Yeah, I can throw it down. But I'm not that tall. I'm not Michael Jordan.
I've heard that you collect cars. What kinds do you have?
I've got three cars now. I have a '57 Thunderbird. I have a '58 Chevrolet Impala convertible with 1400 miles on the clock. And I have a '38 Dodge four-door.
Yeah, I'm an old-car metal head. I love to fix them. I'm very good at fixing old cars.
How much can you do?
Well, I can do pretty much anything intricate in the engine. I'm not real good at axles and shit. I just like to tinker around in there.
Do you have a regular car, too?
No, that's it. My regular car is the '38, or the '57 Thunderbird. "Stella" is the Thunderbird, "Lucille" is the Chevy and "Burt" is the Dodge.
Sounds like the movie Christine. Do you talk to your cars?
How did you get involved in the automotive game?
My father was an ex-motorbike cop and he used to race speed cars and we always had cars. I had my father's antique Norton motorbike. He had the engine kept in my room. We lived near the speedway. We were always around cars and noise, and I don't know, I just like it.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Married with children?
Well, I probably will have children by then. In five years from now, I'd love to be living on my ten acres on the beach in Australia in my little shack and fixing my beautiful cars that I've collected from all over the world, painting paintings and reading stuff for my production company. Just basically staying creative but spending more time closer to my family.
You've already formed a production company?
Yeah, it's called Sweetlip Productions.
How did you get that name?
My favorite fish is a fish called sweetlip. It's a really tasty fish. I used to go fishing with my grandfather. I lived with my grandparents for a while when my mom was travelling. I used to fish with my grandfather every morning or every afternoon. We used to fish all the time, and we used to talk about sweetlip. But we'd never catch it off the beach.
What do you do for fun now?
I paint. I listen to lots of music. Jazz music. Blues. I like it all. I write. I garden. I tend to flirt a lot for fun. I laugh a lot. I try and find things that make me laugh. I like all kinds of things. I just live. When I'm not working, I'm living. Whatever it is next to me, I'm going to have a go at.
Peta Wilson's Still Packing Heat
Len P. Feldman, Gist-TV (1 May 1998)
"I never say no," says Peta Wilson, who plays Nikita, the government-trained killer with a conscience, on the hit USA series La Femme Nikita, now in its second season. "I find that whatever I'm given as an actress, I really like to look at, read, and go, 'All right, this is not quite what I thought of but let me find a way to make it work.'" Wilson has certainly made this role work for her. Though her character has been played by Anne Parillaud in the original 1990 French film La Femme Nikita and Bridget Fonda in the disappointing 1993 U.S. remake, Point of No Return, to millions of television viewers Peta Wilson is Nikita.
"TV is there all the time, you know," explains Wilson, 28, of the show's popularity over the films. Standing tall in her low-cut black party dress at a recent press affair at New York City's Lincoln Center, the statuesque, Australian-born blonde seems more confident with her television alter-ego than she was when she first took gun in hand to become one of TV's hottest heroines. Two seasons back, she considered herself "very green." "I was. I still am," she says modestly. "I'll be green for the rest of my life."
But Wilson's fans think she's red hot (there are over a dozen Web sites devoted to her), as Nikita, code-named Josephine, framed for murder and forced to become a covert assassin for Section One, an elite, ruthless anti-terrorist group. She must kill or be killed by her own people. Wilson has not only grown into the part but she's taken an active interest in helping her character grow: "It's a very complicated character. She's growing so rapidly because every day for her is so life-and-death oriented. The lessons she's learning in instincts are really huge. It's not like a normal work day. I have to try and express that so the audience can...relate to her and the high stakes she faces."
Playing a sexy secret agent after two seasons still appeals to Wilson. After parts in indie features like the Canadian-made The Sadness of Sex (1995), she got the chance to become a lethal heroine the likes of which has not been seen on TV seen since Diana Rigg's Emma Peel character on The Avengers in the '60s. "I enjoy it. The hours are difficult. But I don't know what else could compare to it for a breaking role. I've been very fortunate and lucky to have [Nikita] still stay on the air."
Though she's dressed to kill tonight, Wilson was quite the tomboy growing up. "Yeah. I still am," she admits. Yet this onetime army brat has become one of television's biggest sex symbols. "Really? I haven't noticed that," she says sincerely in her husky voice. "Maybe that's why people think I'm a bit of sex symbol. Because I am a tomboy. That balance of the masculine and feminine."
On one hand, the athletic Wilson is into scuba diving, sailing, swimming and water-skiing, on the other, she loves fashion and wearing alluring outfits. "I do it for myself, to be quite honest. I'm glad the people are responding to it. But it's just me being myself, doing what I feel. Sometimes if you're not feeling particularly great one day, there's nothing nicer than putting on a great dress. Because then, all of a sudden, you feel kind of fabulous."
She also feels fabulous spending her money. "It's kind of great...I bought ten acres of land in Australia. And I've been able to provide my immediate family with an incredibly interesting, colorful couple of years. Which has been really nice, spending more time with my mum, my dad, my grandmother. And driving cross-country. I really enjoy the freedom that working in this industry and the kind of money that I'm making has brought to me."
But like her character in La Femme Nikita, who could be "canceled" (Section One's euphemism for execution) at any time at her superiors' whim, Wilson realizes that the show, even though it's already been renewed for a third season with 22 new episodes to air beginning in early 1999, could one day face the same fate. "The fun that I've had has been sort of decadent and great. But it could end at any minute," admits Wilson. "I look at this whole ride like a great big surf wave, and at any single point I might fall off that surfboard and I've got to get ready to get back on it again."
In Praise of Alberta Watson
Neil Morton, Elm Street Magazine (May 1998)
Critics and college boys loved her as the sexy mom in Spanking the Monkey, she shone in Atom Egoyan's Oscar-nominated The Sweet Hereafter, and ther TV show Nikita has become a cult hit. No wonder all the talk is in praise of Alberta Watson.
1994 was shaping up as a miserable year for Alberta Watson. She was bored and lonely living in New Jersey, her seven-year marriage - to a driver for directors and actors - was on shaky ground, and she was growing inreasingly frustrated with the work she was getting in New York, bit parts in TV series like Law & Order and The Equalizer, and movies so bad she'd rather not remember them, let alone watch them.
Watson needed a little bit of luck and got it: a phone call from a casting agent working for rookie director David O. Russell. Would she be interested in playing the mother in a black comedy that Russell, who has since directed Flirting with Disaster, has described as "The Graduate moving in truly uncharted waters"? Russell, 35, had only $80,000 to work with and couldn't offer her much cash. She jumped at it.
The movie, Spanking the Monkey, was shot over 26 days in upstate New York. The cast and crew, most of whom were rookies like Russell, lodged at a Bible camp, and the woman who lent them her rundown home for the set watched many of the scenes and entertained them all with anecdotes about her life. Susan Aibelli, addicted to vodka tonics and bedridden with a broken leg after a suicide attempt. Her son, Raymond, played by Jeremy Davies, is forced to come home from college for the summer to look after her, including helping her shower, while his father is on the road selling motivational tapes and having affairs. Raymond, full of raging hormones, sleeps with his mother after a drunkfest, and then manifests suicidal tendencies of his own. (Susan interrupts one of his attempts in the bathroom to tell him the burgers are ready). "She was really excited about the role," recalls Peggy Gormley, Watson's only close actor friend. "She worked hard to make the complexities of it real."
"I like difficult subject matters," Watson explains. "When you're trying to find a character, you find yourself looking under a lot of rocks."
Shortly after returning from filming the movie, Watson tackled some difficult subject matter of a more personal kind: She decided it was time to return to Toronto, and her husband agreed it should be without him. "We haven't spoken in a couple of years," says Watson. "I said some bratty things about him on a magazine article soon after the breakup, which he took too seriously."
Spanking the Monkey debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in 1995. The movie won an Audience Award and critics raved about the sexy Susan Aibelli. Watson was a "born-again" actress.
"I became the quintessential Mother You'd Like to Fuch when (Spanking the Monkey) came out," explains Watson three years later, in her trademark husky voice. "All these younger college guys just assumed I was available to them when they would see me at functions." The 5-foot-8 Watson, dressed in black tights and a black knee-length jacket, is seated by the fireplace of a trendy Toronto restaurant on this snowy January day, in the Queen Street West area in which she recently boutht an old Victorian house for herself and her two dogs and two cats. Watson, who has softer featers in person than she does on screen, agrees that movie changed her careed drastically. "I'm offered more roles now," she says, trying not to lose herself in a sunken armchair." It's a lot better stuff than I used to get."
That said, ask about her age, and Watson says she can feel her agent saying "Don't You Dare." "Perry (Zimel, her agent) would kill me if I gave my age. To producers, ther's a big difference between late thirties and early forties - unless you happen to be Goldie Hawn" Age hasn't stopped Watson from doing nude scenes in movies such as Spanking the Monkey and The Sweet Hereafter. "Sure they're difficult and sure there is an element of vanity in that I dont't have a 20-year-old's body any more, but once I get rid of those thoughts and concentrate on what I'm doing, I'm fine."
In truth, her age has been her best card. Besides the role in Spanking the Monkey, Watson has played a protective mother in direction Iain Softley's 1995 Hackers; received in 1997 Genie nomination for her work as a middle-aged woman in the low-budget Shoemaker, co-stars, with Henry Czerny, as a pregnant wife in the upcoming The Girl Next Door; and appears on TV each week as the manipulative, "maternal" Madeline on CTV's Nikita series.
It also got her a brief fling with one of the 1996's most controversial films. "I was in Crash and now I'm not," she laughs, of David Cronenberg's movie about car-crash survivors, which was full of X-rated sex scenes. "It was neat working with James Spader, thought." Watson played a sexy secretary who has a tryst with an advertising director, the Spader role. One scene had Watson masturbating beside a voyeuristic Spader, and in another him masturbating her. While Cronenberg felt "awkward" commenting on a person he had cut from his movie, Watson chalks it up to her and Spader's having had too good a chemistry. "David came to us on the first day of shooting - we had had some rehearsals together - and said, "We have to separate the two of you more because you look like you should go off and live happily ever after." Separating them meant cutting her role altogether, news she got from Cronenberg during the editing process. While disappointed, she understands the rationale. "From what I understand - I haven't seen the movie - there are very isolated, removed, unemotional relationships going on."
She may have crashed in Crash, but certainly not in Atom Egoyan's $5-million The Sweet Hereafter, the darling of the 1997 Cannes Film Festival and Genie Awards, and nominated for two Oscars this year. Watson plays Rita Walker, a woman stuck in a terrible marriage, running a dingy motel in small-town British Colombia, her misery compounded when she loses her son in the bus accident that is the central event of the movie. Publications like The New Yorker raved about her performance.
Atom Egoyan, nominated for an Oscar for best director for the film, was impressed with Watson's work in Shoemaker and, particularly, Spanking the Monkey. "That was an extraordinarily tough role," he says, "but she was able to pull it off - she makes the unbelievable quite believable." Egoyan originally had her in mind for either the part of Wanda Otta - which ended up going to his wife, Arsinée Khanjian - or Risa. He wanted Risa to look worn and was worried Watson was too striking looking, but decided they could achieve the right look.
Egoyan recalls shooting a steamy motel scene between Risa and mechanic Billy Ansell, played by Bruce Greenwood. "When she comes into the room with her parka on to meet Billy, and then slides it off her shoulders to reveal her underwear and bra.... Alberta brings real emotional authenticity to scenes like that without saying a word." Greenwood's favourite scene with Watson takes place later on, in the same motel room. "It was the difficult one where we had lost our children and we're in the room together, discussing how we got to this place. It was a lot to chew on. But she really delivered in scenes like that."
Watson had never worked with Egoyan before and was pleasantly surprised. "He has a great dry humour," she says, Egoyan returns the compliment: "There are few actresses like her - she has movie-star elements but is completely down-to-earth."
On February 9, the night before the Oscar nominations were announced, she was with other Sweet Hereafter cast members in New York, where they were being presented with the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures' 1997 award for best ensemble performance. Nervous, Egoyan went up to accept the prize from Francis Ford Coppola. He thanked the cast, which also included the likes of Sarah Polley, Gabrielle Roy, Maury Chayking and Ian Holm, but forgot to mention Watson's name. When the other cast members at Watson's table yelled out "Alberta, Alberta", Egoyan said, "And Alberta Watson from Spanking the Monkey." Watson, relieved, stood up and took a bow. It was one of those instances she wishes she could have shared with her mother, Grace, who died when Watson was just 19.
Born Faith Susan Alberta Watson, Alberta was always called Susie when she was growing up in Toronto with Grace - who was a factory worker - and a half-brother. Watson thinks the name Alberta came from her father, Albert, whom she never knew because he abandoned the family when she was a baby. Three other half-siblings with a different father lived with her grandparents because Grace couldn't feed all those mouths. "We moved around a lot," says Watson, "usually according to finances. I have only recently started to understand the difficulty of my mother's life."
She quit high school at 15 to hang out a FOG, a theatre company at Bathurst Street United Church. "It was all this alternative stuff," recalls Watson. "I really felt like I belonged there."
But FOG disbanded and at 16, Susie Watson got sidetracked, moving to a farm outside Toronto with a 27-year-old boyfriend from the theatre, along with other friends. They were hippies, into Mother Earth. Watson got bored, broke off the relationship and moved back to Toronto at age 17 to pursue acting. The first role she ever landed in something other than a TV commercial was in a CBC movie called Honour Thy Father, based on a true story. Still known as Susan Watson, she played a Greek daughter who defies her father to date a Canadian boy, and ends up murdered.
It was around the time of Honour Thy Father that Grace died of Hodgkin's disease. "Mom was always very supportive of me," recalls Watson, tears welling up in her eyes. "It would have been nice for her to have seen my work."
In 1978, when she was 23, she landed the role of Mitsy in George Kaczender's In praise of Older Women, co-starring Tom Berenger as loverboy Andras Vajda. The movie, based on Stephen Vizinczey's 1965 novel, was filmed in Montreal and shown at the 1978 Toronto film festival. Watson, now calling herself Alberta, played a nightclub singer who has a brief fling with Andras, a role for which she won a 1979 Genie nomination for best supporting actress. A year later, she won an award for best actress at the Yorkton, Sask., festival for short films for her work in Exposure, about a man's discovery of his girlfriend's lesbianism. But the awards didn't swell her head and in 1981, at age 26, she went off to New York, where she studied with Emmy award-winning producer and director Gene Lasko off and on for 10 years. "If I know anything about acting, I learned it from Gene," says Watson. Lasko, who has taught workshops with Sigourney Weaver, regards Watson as one of his prized alumni. "I hate to be poetic, but Alberta had magical qualities to her," he says. "She had a wonderful stage presence and serious good looks."
One of her big regrets from that period is not working with Martin Scorcese on the 1988 movie The Last Temptation of Christ. Watson had landed a role in the movie in 1983, but then Paramount decided to pull the plug. By the time the project got off the ground again in 1987, Watson was busy doing series work in Los Angeles. The Last Temptation of Christ audition was where Watson first met the Brooklyn-based actress Peggy Gormley. Gormley didn't get a role. "Alberta was gracious enough to call me (in 1987) to let me know a part was available (in Last Temptation)," says Gormley. "Actors aren't usually that generous." That time around, Gormley, who now runs a production company with actor Harvey Keitel, got the part.
Watson stayed in Los Angeles for a year and a half, from 1984 to 1986, but didn't like it. She found herself worrying constantly about how she looked and hating the functions that agents told her she should attend. She fled back to New York, to the TV work and bad movies.
It's 11:30 on a dreary January morning and Alberta Watson is getting restless. She's in Mississauga, Ontario on the set for the TV series Nikita, and she's between scenes, hanging out in her dressing room. "Let's practise lines," she says, handing me the script. "You be Nikita." Except for the slippers, she's in costume for Madeline, the evil master strategist in a ruthless government organization called Section One. Based on the 1990 French film about a female street punk recruited to be a government assassin, Nikita, now in its second season, has become a cult hit, particularly on the USA Network, where it's called La Femme Nikita and where, as of February, it was one the highest-rated shows. It was also drawing more than a million viewers a week on CTV, up about 30 per cent over the first episode, which aired February 24, 1997. The show has spawned Websites and fan clubs, and there is talk of Nikita conventions. According to New York's The Village Voice, the program is "cleverer than it knows... a funhouse mirror of the dystopic '90's workplace."
"Alberta has a very compelling combination of ruthlessness, compassion and sensuality," says the show's executive consultant, Joel Surnow, of why he chose Watson for the role, adding that they get tons of E-mail about Maddie. People can't seen to understand how she can be so ruthless. It's a character Watson enjoys but doesn't find difficult to play, except for memorizing the "techno babble" lines. "She's like a cyborg," says Watson. "She gets her job done no matter what she has to do. Her outward approach is civil and respectful, but she wouldn't think twice about ripping someone's heart out."
Watson, who spends two to three days a week on set, pulls in a estimated $10,000 to $30,000 an episode on Nikita, allowing her the opportunity to pursue other projects. When Watson wanted to do The Girl Next Door, directed by Eric Till, last October, for example, she was written out of a couple of Nikita episodes to accommodate the project, which will be shown on Baton/CTV in Canada, and is slated for international theatrical release. "As soon as I knew Henry Czerny was involved, I said I'd love to work with him," says Watson. "I had seen The Boys of St. Vincent like everybody else. And Henry was a delight. He's more goofy, more of a prankster, than he comes off." Watson plays Czerny's pregnant wife. They live in a small town, and he has a brief fling with the neighbour's teenage daughter, who is subsequently murdered. Czerny becomes the prime suspect. Gary Busey plays the sheriff.
The year before, she starred in Shoemaker, about a travel agent who falls for a Forrest Gump-like shoe repairman, played by Randy Hughson. Shot in Toronto for $600,000, the movie had budget problems, running low on film at one point. Watson got on the line to David Cronenberg - Crash came in handy, after all - to ask if he could send some over. Colleen Murphy, who is a recent Canadian Film Centre graduate, directed Shoemaker. She had seen Watson in Spanking the Monkey and also in a short film in 1995 at the Film Centre called What's His Face, about a brief relationship between a man and woman who meet in a bar. "The role of (the travel agente) wasn't a meaty role, but I felt Alberta could bring it ot life," says Murphy. Watson for her part had seen a couple of Murphy's shorts at the Film Centre, and decided to take a chance on the project. Watson received a Genie nomination, but the movie, which won two German film festival awards in 1997, did poorly at the box office. Murphy hopes it will be re-released here.
Watson is working on two more projects with Murphy. One, Desire, to be shot this summer in Toronto on a $2-million budget, is already generating buzz in local film circles. Watson plays a schoolteacher who falls for a younger man who turns out to be a child molester and murderer. It's not a murder mystery, Murphy says, but a more insightful look inside the mind of a child molester. The other project, slated for 1999, which they won't talk about because of potential legal problems, is based on the life of a real person. Watson thinks that could be the role of her acting career.
Watson's ambitions aren't titanic. She prefers doing low-budget films. She believes they give her more room to manoeuvre and take chances, free of top executives breathing down her neck. She would like to try a classic someday - Gene Lasko taught her not to be intimidated by Shapespeare - and wants to do more stage work. She once did a play by Tom Noonan in Los Angeles. "We performed at a small theatre along Santa Monica Boulevard, and I played this neurotic rich diva. She was a lot of fun, and the audience loved her."
These days, Watson has "small, very normal concerns in her life," such as how to stop her two shepherd-collies from barking up a storm in the neighbourhood and whether the Nicorette gum she's been chewing will help her quit smoking. She's also finishing renovations on her house. "When you're younger, you live for your acting, but I don't any more; people change, I've changed," says Watson, who now often escapes with her "straight-ahead guy" Ken, 10 years her junior, up to her cottage in Haliburton. She met Ken at an agency party. She initially thought he was an actor and wasn't interested - "I'm enough drama in a relationship" - until she found out he was a millwright tagging along with his cousin, a writer. Something the two of them don't do too much of is go to movies. "I'm not a filmgoer," she says, laughing at the irony.
Just when she no longer takes this business of acting quite so seriously, Alberta Watson is in her prime. So why not? "Do you want to know how old I am?" she asks me suddenly in her dressing room on the Nikita set. "I'm 42." Maybe Perry Zimel won't kill her
One on One With La Femme Nikita
Mark Leiren-Young, TV Week (May 1998)
I'm sitting in a dressing room with television's most fatal femme fatale. And her mother.
La Femme Nikita, alias Peta Wilson, is pacing like a caged jaguar as she tells how she made her way from a modelling career in Australia to TV stardom in North America.
Her mom, Karlene White, in Canada to attend the Gemini Awards where her daughter was one of the nominees for Best Actress in a Dramatic Series, is listening, occasionally laughing and, at one point, looking over the notes I'm scrawling and very politely suggesting that my writing is a mess and I really ought to learn proper shorthand.
As Nikita, the killer with the heart of gold, Peta Wilson has stylishly racked up a body count that rivals that of Xena and Buffy. But while Xena is chopping down ancient warriors and Buffy is staking out vampires, Nikita is kicking, shooting and blowing up people in a world very similar to our own, albeit one with a lot more well-armed and impeccably dressed terrorists, criminal masterminds and sociopaths.
Based on the classic French action film La Femme Nikita, the series tracks the life of a woman accused of murder who is 'rescued" from a life in prison by a mysterious government agency known as Section One, which needs a few good killers. Unlike the movie heroine, however, TV's Nikita is actually innocent of her alleged crimes and it is The Section that attempts to turn her into a ruthless killer. So far, through almost two seasons, Nikita has mystified The Section by managing to save the world, slaughter the bad guys and stay alive with her soul intact. To add to her personal angst, Nikita is in love with her boss. Aside from the fact that workplace romance is frowned upon in the '90's--although assassins seldom sue each other for harassment-- the ever-brooding Michael (Roy Dupuis) does appear to have had his conscience surgically removed.
When I told friends I was interviewing Wilson, they all had the same question. And in case you're wondering, the answer is yes, she really is that attractive in real life. If Nikita aired on a major U.S. network instead of USA Network, Wilson's face would be a fixture on the cover of every American magazine, there would be a criminal investigation if she didn't make the list of People's 50 Most Beautiful People (although she was one of the candidates Internet users could vote for on People On-Line) and she would be laughing at all the fuss.
Wilson's enjoying her ride as a celebrity but she certainly doesn't seem hooked on it. "I feel like a surfboard rider and I didn't know how to surf in the beginning and all of a sudden I stood up and I'm riding this fantastic wave and it's looking like it's going to go on forever. Bit I realize it could crash any second, so I'm going to enjoy the wave while I'm on it."
This summer she'll try to stay on the wave when she films a new thriller written and directed by her American beau, Damian Harris. "I play a lipstick lesbian--a wild character who brings S and M into a small group of women. She's like a predator."
As a self-proclaimed "army brat," Wilson was used to moving around as a child. When she was eight her family moved to New Guinea, where she lived till she was 16. "I had a great childhood. We lived all over the place. We would go to the islands where they'd never seen white people before." And Wilson would have made an exotic sigh anywhere. She recalls that when she was six years old her favorite show was I Dream of Jeannie and she used to love wearing a pink harem outfit. "I wanted to be Jeannie."
Speaking of the army life, Wilson proudly declares that her father was court-martialled a couple of times. Mom gently corrects her. "Reprimanded."
"Reprimanded," repeats Wilson.
When I ask why Dad was "reprimanded," Wilson explains. "Us Wilsons say what we think." Then she laughs. "It kind of goes with the name Wilson--reprimand." her brother, who made a cameo appearance in the show's first season, now drives 38-wheelers for the army. I forget to ask if he's ever been reprimanded.
As a teenager, Wilson was a top Australian [net]-ball player and a first-class sailor. She also took up modelling , which furthered her life as a nomad. She liked the travelling but wasn't much intrigued with the profession. "I thought it was very narcissistic." But it allowed her to see the world and gave her the courage to become an actor.
In 1991, she moved to Los Angeles to study at the Actor's Circle Theatre. But unlike most models turned actresses, Wilson was interested in theatre. "For an actor, the theatre is like salmon and caviar." Because of her love for the theatre and interest in pursuing a film career, her television stardom appears to have come about almost by accident. The story of how she became Nikita should probably never be told in the presence of other actors--unless therapists are present.
After landing a few small film roles--and losing out on larger roles to big-name actresses--Wilson was leaning towards a move to New York where she could pursue a theatre career but her agent urged her to give TV one brief shot.
"Nikita was my first audition," says Wilson. "That day I had three auditions for three pilots and I got them all. Nikita, a comedy and a western." Although she's matter-of-fact about scoring three job offers after three auditions, she seems pretty matter-of-fact about everything. "I was trained and I was unknown and I was pretty. But I had trained. And it was the best thing I had ever done by staying in school."
Once she was offered the role it took her four weeks to decide whether to take it. A primary concern was from where, exactly, Section was going to be saving the world.
There was talk of shooting the series in the Czech Republic. "I was, 'Listen, if I wanted to work in Europe I'd be there, not here.' So they said 'Toronto.' I said 'That works.' I love Canada. Australians are pretty close to Canadians--once we learn manners, we could be Canadians."
Wilson says she ultimately opted for Nikita over the other series offers because, "It just seemed right and I'm so happy I did it. This character is very attractive because she's a chameleon. And the character of Nikita allowed by inexperience because she's inexperienced as well. The character is a victim of circumstance who also does her best to live with the predicament she's in."
When I was Wilson for her first recollections of being drawn to showbiz, Mom laughs again. "She's been working the room since she was two years old," says White. "Here I am! Hello!"
The two of them recall Wilson's first "public" performance. It was at a New Year's Eve party, Wilson was four years old and she jumped on stage and tap-danced. Wilson flashes a wicked grin. "They couldn't get me off the stage."
They probably never will.
Wilson Seen as the Mrs. Peel of the 90s
Sally Stone, Spokane.Net (June 1998)
Peta Wilson, the Australian-born star of USA Network's hit series, "La Femme Nikita," smiled when told her character, Nikita, has become a role model for women.
"That's nice to hear," she said. "But it certainly wasn't what I expected to happen with her when the series started. I thought, well, she's an interesting character, and I hoped, along with everyone else on the show, that people would like her and like the show, and that we would get respectable ratings."
As it turned out, "La Femme Nikita" is getting phenomenal ratings, and could eventually reach cult status a la "The Avengers" when Diana Rigg played the cat-suited Mrs. Peel who never met a villain she couldn't take out with one of her well-placed kung fu moves.
And speaking of Mrs. Peel, she and Nikita appear to have many things in common: Both work for super-secret government agencies. Both women are resourceful. And both women are beautiful, with a certain feline sexuality that may promise purring pleasure, but watch out for the unsheathed claws.
As much as women admired Diana Rigg's Mrs. Peel, the times were not yet right for her to become a role model for her generation. But it's different with Nikita.
"I think that's because we are finally accepting women on a more equal basis," Peta said. "While there are still those who think women should not be aggressive, should not be involved in situations where they may have to kill, the fact is women have always had to defend themselves in real life. There wasn't always some white knight to ride out of the woods to defend a damsel in distress."
"Of course, I don't think women would necessarily want to do what Nikita does, but I do think they like the fact that she is a strong person who can stand up for herself. And I also think they like the fact that while there are some things she must do if she is to survive, she will not exchange her soul for survival."
Peta added, "In the 1950s, there were characters played by actors such as Steve McQueen who expressed the feelings of the young men of that time. Perhaps Nikita is doing the same thing in the '90s for young women.'"
In the series, Nikita has been abandoned by her parents and is framed for a murder for which she is sentenced to death. But before she can be executed, she is "recruited" by Section 1 -- called in the series, simply Section -- a government agency so secret, only a few know of its existence. They fight against terrorists, and aren't above using ruthless tactics themselves, even against their own members who somehow "slip up." Nikita knows if she doesn't do what they expect her to do, she'll be "canceled" Section's euphemism for killed.
"She will accept the fact that she may have to do terrible things as part of Section," Peta says, "but she will hang on to her humanity; she will protect her capacity for compassion, especially for those whom she believes were unjustly killed. I think women understand this, and that's why they react so positively to Nikita.
"A woman like Nikita tells other women that we are capable of many things. We have a great range and much to aspire to. Because of centuries in which women have had to let the men take the lead, women have had to repress so much. Because she's now in a repressive situation, Nikita also has to suppress much, but she manages to express it in other ways."
It's interesting that Nikita was supposed to be changed by the people of section, but in holding on to her humanity, is it possible she'll change them?
"I think," Peta says, "that we all influence each other to one degree or another, of course. But as you'll see next season, she will find some way to hold on to who she is without wasting her energy on people who have determined they want to be unreachable."
Finally, would Peta Wilson want a friend like Nikita?
"Oh, yes. She would be a very good friend. And my grandmother -- with whom I live -- would certainly approve of her, and welcome her to our home. And, as you know, 'grans' are remarkably wise about people."
Peta Wilson Interview
Fox Entertainment (5 June 1998)
Announcer: Coming up, she's past The Point of No Return, actress Peta Wilson.
Interviewer: Welcome back. My next guest plays a grungy street punk turned glam secret agent in the third and most successful incarnation of the 1990 French Film La Femme Nikita. Like her predecessors, this Nikita is convicted of murder but gets a second chance at life as an operative of a secret and deadly government agency. This Nikita is so tough that in one episode a bad guy tells her that she's "Got the courage of a man" and says Nikita "How would you know?". Lets take a look.
(scenes from "Soul Sacrifice")
Interviewer: Joining us in our studio now is Peta Wilson. Now some actresses play tough people on TV and in real life aren't but you look as if you're not to be messed with, even in real life. Is this true?
Peta: Um. It depends. It depends on the day and how much sleep I've had the night before. But generally I'm kind of...I'm low maintenance.
Interviewer: Your voice is bothering you today isn't that right?
Peta: Yeah, I've lost my voice, I've been doing a lot of interviews in the past couple of days and just finished the show so its starting to go. I sound a lot scarier than what I really am.
Interviewer: Well, I can imagine why you might have lost your voice 'cause this work schedule that you have up in Toronto is really grueling. Because your in almost every scene. Give us an idea of what your workday is like for this show.
Peta: Well, it starts about 5, I'm in the make-up chair and then I go from about 5 to sometimes 11 at night. I usually get 12 hours turnaround but about a 14 hour day. For the first year it was about 18 hours.
Interviewer: And what do you do to keep in shape for this role?
Peta: I do a lot of homeopathy, aromatherapy, yoga. I have a personal trainer that comes and works me out at lunch time, I do isometrics. And I just generally take it easy. I try and laugh. As much as possible. And I'm not the only one working those kind of schedules. Generally on television and series people have to do that. Its like paying your dues.
Interviewer: This is really a difficult show.
Interviewer: Sort of like The Avengers. Really deadly stunts and everything.
Peta: It;s very strong. We shoot about an hour show in 7 days, and usually that kind of show takes, I'd say, about 6 months to film.
Interviewer: Now this show is really a bigger hit than either of the two movies starring Bridget Fonda and a few years ago and also the 1990 French film. Why do you think people have taken to the show so much?
Peta: Well, I think action films are entertaining but there's never really an opportunity to develop the characters, relationships between the characters because you've got an hour and a half and its action and its character. There's not enough room for both things. In a television series the actions there every week, so you really get to see who these characters are. They're evolving, people like that I think. And its also, its different. Its on television, its different. Its a female role model.
Interviewer: And this Nikita is nicer than the two original Nikitas, she didn't really kill anybody, right?
Peta: Well, I wouldn't let my children watch a woman who was a convicted cop killer and a drug addict. I don't think that's very much of a good role model for today, so a victim of circumstance or the classic "don't judge a book by its cover". And they definitely judged Nikita by the way she looked and she was, she purely became that to protect herself on the street and so they just assumed "Oh, she hasn't got any love, no one knows her". So, you know.
Interviewer: And you were saying earlier that you were paying your dues with the show and also I read one of your interviews in which you described your acting on the show as "I hit the mark and barked", basically. What did you really mean?
Peta: Well, that was the first interview I ever did and I had been working 19 hours a day and I was a little tired. So maybe I was a bit aggressive when I said that.
Interviewer: Well, you don't have any read-throughs or rehearsals; do you just show up and do it?
Peta: No, we started doing read-throughs this year, which is great. Towards the end I asked if we could do that. But usually I meet the director the day before or on the day and we don't really rehearse, we shoot about 8 pages a day so its very quick. Its very different for me, I came straight out of the theatre company so I didn't know any others so that's how, you just gotta hit your mark and do it. No "No! It has to be this, it has to be that". I really know now, becoming a bit more experienced, I'm like "Ok, I can come and hit my mark. I wont bark, but I can hit the mark."
Interviewer: Now fans of the show, I think, are interested in, there's almost a Mulder and Scully coupling with you and Michael, who plays this operative of the secret government agency, who is sort of giving you your assignments and all that. Now there's a third person who's coming to the hold, a triangle, correct? Is there?
Peta: No, he was here for a little while but he passed away. Its very... the relationship between us two is different than Scully, and uh, the other one.
Interviewer: But they sort of want each other but they cant really.
Peta: Yeah, I think they're like Dangerous Liaisons, the relationships that John Malcovich and Glenn Close in that. They can't really have each other so they try in other ways. But I look at them as Nikita's Addams Family. I feel like I'm the only normal person in there. It's like "Can I get some kind of reaction from you? Are you this cold all the time?"
Interviewer: Will she ever escape from the agency, Nikita?
Peta: Oh, you'll have to watch. The finale's very good this year.
Interviewer: And it is when, the finale?
Peta: I'm not sure. I think that the new episodes start June 14th. So we've got a while before the finale comes up.
Interviewer: And how long is your contract with this show, La Femme Nikita? It sounds like its going to be a lot of work for a long time.
Peta: I'd say it would be 4 or 5 years. I mean, I've done two so I've got a couple more. It really depends. You never know. I mean things... people might get sick of it in a year. And if I might decide I've had enough of that, I'll go away, shave my head, and do theatre in a year. Come back, and I'm a new person.
Interviewer: Either way, it sounds like your having fun.
Peta: Yes, it is. I'm really enjoying it. I'm very grateful for the success that's come with the show and that people are really enjoying the show. Thank you.
Interviewer: Peta Wilson, thanks for stopping by. nice to meet you.
Peta: Thank you.
Eugene Robert Glazer Interview
AOL Entertainment (Summer 1998)
And for those of you who like your paranoia straight up, our intrepid reporter, Dave Nielsen also got to meet Eugene Robert Glazer, the actor who the suspicious head of Section One, the nefarious amoral government agency that dispatches assassins to deal with political problems in USA's La Femme Nikita.
Does Eugene believe that real agencies like section one exist? Read on.
(Q:) TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER ON THE SHOW.
(ERG:) "Well, it's about an organization called Section 1. I am the head of Section 1 along with Alberta Watson who plays Madeline. I deal with all the covert operations stuff, she deals with the psychological torture- Madeline. So I am basically the boss."
(Q:) SHE WAS FRAMED?
(ERG:) "No, I didn't frame her, she happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She came upon a knifing, someone had knifed a police officer, she got- some way or another got involved and the knife wound up in her hand, the assailant took off, the usual, you know and there she was with the knife in her hand. Now she's under my knife, yeah."
(Q:) DO PEOPLE SEE YOU AS THAT BOSS?
(ERG:) "Well first of all, there's a two part answer on that- no one recognizes me, and the second part is no, he's not evil so much as enigmatic. You really don't get an idea of what the man is about, and one of the shows I was discussing with (executive) in charge of publicity at Warner Bros.- deals with my character- the personal side of the character, and deals with his son. It deals with part of the information I gave them in my biography about the character, about being a Vietnam vet, prisoner of war. I won't get into the whole thing but I'm avidly researching the P.O.W. issue about all that stuff, so that's part of the background of this character. There's a lot more involved in that. But he really can't be emotional about a lot of things. Things just have to be cut and dry and that's the way it is."
(Q:) DID THEY TRY TO KEEP THE CHARACTER ALONG THE SAME LINES AS IN THE FILM?
(ERG:) "No, I think we're a little more flexible. The character of operations, or I don't even know if it even existed in the French film which was brilliant, you just saw him for one moment. Most of the film was based on the character called Bob who's played by Roy Dupuis, Michael, so this character has basically been added to it."
(Q:) DO YOU THINK SECTION 1'S REALLY EXIST? (ERG:) "Well, from what I've been reading and a lot of research I've been getting in touch with... For example, yes, there is a CIA within a CIA. I spoke with a gentleman who somebody put me in touch with a little while ago who had told me that he was bringing people out of Vietnam in 1973 after the re-patriation, and I called him and I said, 'what did you do for the government?' And he said, 'Let's just say I was involved in electronics.' I said, 'So you don't want to say anything else.' He said, 'I was involved in electronics.' I said, 'O.K.' He would be in the jungle all on his own. Occasionally he would hook up with long range reconnaissance patrols. After his active duty in the service, he then said he worked in an unofficial capacity for the State Department. I said, 'What does unofficial capacity mean?' He said, 'Unofficial capacity.' I said, 'O.K., I got you, thank you.' And I asked him point blank, 'To your knowledge are there any P.O.W.s left behind in Vietnam?' He said, 'Absolutely.' I said, 'Really.' He said, 'They're not in Vietnam anymore. I hate to burst your bubble. They're in Cambodia. They're in Cambodia. They're being guarded by the Command Rouge.' And he said, 'They're worse than the Vietnamese. The Command Rouge are just... you'll never see those guys again.' But that's another story, we don't have time for all of that, yes there are governments within governments within governments that people don't even know about."
(Q:) SO YOU DID RESEARCH?
(ERG:) "Oh, absolutely, and operations, the character Operations formed Section 1 through information that he's acquired and strong-armed certain people in the government on up to the President to have his own little thing going."
(Q:) WHAT WAS YOUR BACKGROUND THAT BROUGHT YOU TO THIS CHARACTER?
(ERG:) "Well I've done a lot of theater. I do a lot of bad guys. The thing about Operations when I read for the role and then came for the call backs and met everyone, the reading was very strong, there were a lot of colors, a lot of things going on and I believe it was Joel, because usually when actors go to meet all the executives you don't remember who you met its just a blur, I don't know names, I know nothing. And he said to me, 'Just sit in the chair.' He said, 'I want you to say nothing.' And when you say that to an actor it's like, oh my God... Nothing? He said, 'Nothing.' I did it again, he said, 'Too much.' So what it finally came down to was, I'm talking to you right now, that's all it is, there's no movement, there's nothing. It's all in the eyes. That's what they want the character to be."
(Q:) WHAT'S PLANNED TO HAPPEN TO NIKITA?
(ERG:) "Don't know yet. Well, in respect to what? We're not sure. I think there are certain areas I believe where they want to peel back some of the layers in the characters they're all a little too enigmatic and they want to give you a little glimpse like... Well the show about my son. They'll say, 'Well he has a son? Oh, O.K, he wears a wedding ring, well we find out his wife is dead. Why does he wear the wedding ring?' People on the internet they're writing these stories telling why I'm wearing the wedding ring, they think that Michael is my illegitimate child with Madeline or one of the other characters... one of the deep cover spies- they make up their own stories. And some of them are interesting, they make a lot of sense, but...
(Q:) SPEND A LOT OF TIME ON THE INTERNET?
(ERG:) "When I first got on to it- I'm not a computer freak- I'm computer illiterate- and then I got on to it and got on to the P.O.W. homepages and downloading, and I started spending 8 or 9 hours, it was fascinating. I got so far as the C.I.A. and the Department of Defense homepage, especially the C.I.A. Now I've thought I'd be able to- and I'm not a hacker, so I couldn't of course get into their files, but I thought maybe... So I input some items that I researched that are covert operations and when I entered the information the modem was blinking and I was getting very excited and it was like 4 in the morning and all of a sudden it stopped and it read document complete and the screen went absolutely black. From the top of the screen it bled like black ink, and I looked at it and I said, holy shit, wow! So I put in another one and the same thing happened. I said, I think I better get off the line here. It was something that was public information, it's not that I found out something that I shouldn't know but nothing was available. Nothing that they would want."
(Q:) DO YOU GET E-MAIL FROM THE SHOW?
(ERG:) "Yeah, I've been getting some e-mail. some of the people who have web sites have been getting in touch with me and did some interviews and some of the web pages are just fabulous, I mean these people are amazing, there's sound bites and pictures and things. They know every show, every character, every episode, you name it they know it. So the show has generated a lot of interest. I'm happy, I like it, it's a good show, they have some interesting concepts and they'll be some new sets next year. Oh yes, some interesting changes."
La Femme Nikita on Strength, Stamina, & Role Model
Michelle Erica Green, Mania (16 August 1998)
Peta Wilson's about to get a break from La Femme Nikita, but she's hardly getting a vacation. "My hiatus comes in June, and I will probably go home," she says of her native Australia, where she owns property and has a large, close family. "But I might do a movie. There's a few options and I haven't committed to anything yet, it'll be one of those last-minute things."
On the phone from the set in Toronto, where the series films, Wilson does interviews while her makeup is being touched up and she hunts for fresh coffee. "This is early," she laughs of a ten-hour work day. In addition to playing Nikita, Wilson has had a stellar year in the media: on the cover of TV Guide, in People and Details, on The Tonight Show and The Rosie O'Donnell Show. "You know what I want to say to everybody? I want to say thanks so bloody much for such encouragement and support for such an unknown actress who's not American," she exclaims.
Wilson was en route to New York to study theater when she stopped in Los Angeles and fell in love, with the city and with a man she met there. So she stayed to take classes and won the part of Nikita although it was her first television audition. "I'd just come out of drama school, I'd done like three jobs before, plus six and a half years in a theater company. This was the first thing I went in on, on TV." Wilson was intimidated at the idea of playing Nikita because Anne Parillaud had been so impressive in the original French feature, but she went in and got the job.
The film and the American remake, Point of No Return, focused on a convicted murderer recruited by a clandestine anti-terrorist organization to be trained as a skilled assassin. "I wanted to know if there was a way to do the part where it was different," Wilson explains of her hesitation to accept the role, which she put off for nearly six weeks. Working with executive consultant Joel Surnow, she came up with the notion that Nikita really wasn't a killer - that her criminal record was mistaken. "I came up with the thing that she's a street kid and a victim of circumstance, and then it was all about, how do you make a hero out of this girl?"
The 5'10", athletic actress plays a Nikita who has beauty and training in common with her predecessors, but she's not as ruthless, and her outrage with the Section's methods gives her dimension. Wilson believes her own inexperience was an asset as well. "I didn't know anything about continuity, shooting out of sequence and stuff - I had had limited film and television experience. You've got to learn that, it's an art in iteslf. As I was adjusting to the medium, so was the character adjusting to her environment." Wilson has considerably more character input than many performers, working closely with Surnow, though she says the writers develop the stories and she likes to be challenged even if she disagrees with some of their decisions. "Next year I'll pitch some, I have a couple of ideas. But I look at whatever they give me as a challenge."
Comparing Nikita to Virginia Woolf or Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire, "one of the all-time great female roles," Wilson says she had a hard time finding a role model for her. "I'd say the role model was a panther," she laughs. "Cats generally are nice animals, but if you hurt them or you threaten them, they become deadly. So I just watch the Discovery Channel every week, I watch animals, and then the bad guys and good guys in Nikita remind me of certain animals." An animal-lover herself, Wilson grew up with a pet kangaroo, a Great Dane, a goat, two cats, and two wild boars, so she's entirely comfortable with seeing the show in terms of such creatures. "Nikita is kind of primal anyway, because the dialogue is so unreal," she notes. "That's interesting for an actor - the most interesting things we do as human beings [are] not what we say, but what we don't say."
Wilson says she draws on her instincts and her senses, and uses her own "masculinity" in creating Nikita's physical prowess. "I move more like a boy-girl than like a girl-girl, and that's what the character is, she's very agile and very fearless." The actress tries to do all the fight scenes herself. "When you do theater, you really get into the part and know exactly what you're doing, so I worked with an airborne ranger and got completely trained for the part...then I got up here and realized that wasn't necessary, but I'm glad I did it, because it's giving more to the character's integrity. She also worked with a stunt man, Tireon Mortell, to learn guns and tae kwon do.
"I got in touch with my strengths and weaknesses, it was really interesting," she says of all the training, adding that she continues to learn new things about herself through the character's development. Though she shares Nikita's matter-of-fact speech and doesn't mince words, Wilson has a hard time sometimes with Nikita's seriousness. "I'm a chatterbox, love to laugh, love to giggle, love to carry on, I'm a real flibbertigibbit. And Nikita is really different. The show's been great, actually, because the age I'm at, I'm really kind of coming into my own as a person, and I'm learning a lot about myself, having to work this hard and be constantly responsible, constantly in the moment. You can't help but learn a lot about yourself."
She cites two of her toughest episodes as her favorites: "Open Heart," in which Nikita has to discover the identity of a terrorist "human time bomb," with whom she bonds and shares some intense intimate moments; and "Brainwash," in which Nikita tests a device used to alter memories, but becomes addicted to its empowering effects as it rewrites her horrific childhood recollections. "I always find something interesting in every episode, otherwise I wouldn't be able to do it - you have to want the journey in order for it to be real," she notes, then sighs, "This is acting jargon, so I should just shut up." But in terms of the real-life parallels, "I think every journey is interesting because she doesn't really want to be there. So sometimes it seeps into my own life, and I say, 'Oh god, I've got to go hurt someone again?' Sometimes I get sick or really tired or beat up or I cry a lot because the character's been going through stuff, and your body doesn't know 'We're acting now,' you know? You might be acting, but your body can really tell no difference."
The operative has a complex relationship with her mentor Michael, played by Roy Dupuis: there's clearly an attraction between the two, but Michael's dark past and Nikita's distrust have kept them circling around developing a real friendship. "Roy and I were discussing that, we don't know where it's going, but we have some ideas," Wilson explains. "I believe there's going to be a real shift next season, a really interesting relationship between Michael and Nikita - I've heard it's going to go backwards but really forwards, you're going to find things out about his character that you didn't know before, then Nikita's going to find things out about his character which will really change things. We need more, we need to go deeper, and so do the writers, third season is going to be tight and sharp and push the envelope."
But Wilson is adamant that the Section's mission will never become Nikita's. "That would make her like Michael, and that's just not who she is. You can't take away her soul. If you did that, there would be no show, there would be no conflict - some women will squash themselves in order to live in the world and with their reality, but that's just never going to happen with Nikita. That's very empowering, to be able to be honest about the way you feel - Nikita is more honest about the way she felt than I am, but just by playing her so much I start to be more honest about the way I feel about things. Nikita is growing and growing and changing and evolving just like everybody, just like I am."
Wilson cringes a bit at the idea of herself as a role model for women - "I'm not a bloody role model, I'm just an army brat from Australia who had a dream and worked really hard and achieved it" - but notes that Nikita's strength and honesty have helped her with her own insecurities, and she hopes they will inspire other women to break out of their limitations. "I plan on creating my own vehicles, for not just myself but for other actresses," she reveals. "I've just set up my own production company, called Sweet Lick Productions, I really want to be a producer. I like movies that make us think for a second about someone else's reality, and I think it's a very powerful medium. So I don't think, 'Isn't it terrible there's no roles for women,' I think, 'What can I do to fix that for myself?' I always believe work begets work." The company's first property is a documentary on playwright Tennessee Williams, and Wilson hopes to work with the deaf and the blind in future projects.
"I'd direct one movie one day, just once, and I wouldn't do that till much later in life - I like being on my side of the camera at the moment," Wilson says. "I'd suggest to anyone who's ever had the desire to act that you should go to a couple of classes, because it's fun and you learn a lot about yourself. It helps open up walls in you."
A kid who performed with her brother to fill the time in television-deprived New Zealand, Wilson adds that she never really thought about making a living at it. A known model in Australia for everything from Levi's to maternity clothes (wearing a false stomach), she decided it would be easier to get training abroad, and studied at the Actors Circle Theater with Arthur Mendoza.
"He was so hard on me, it was a joke," she laughs. "He believed that I could have a career anyway, because if you're a pretty girl in L.A., you sort of can, but I said no, I want to be an actress! So he was harder on me than he was on any of the other students, and I'm so happy he was because I feel like I can really create characters now, and I'm not frightened of anything. I've got a lot of energy, and it's a wonderful place for me to put it, performing. I always was a bit of a clown - we moved around a little as an army brat, and it was a way to fit in, to be funny. It's a really great way to get it all out."
Wilson has a movie coming out later this year, One of Our Own, but laughs because the much-delayed film was actually the first film work she ever did. "I play a marine, an MP - I wanted to do it for the experience, to work away from home. It was very interesting working with Michael Ironside, and I really loved working with Marshall Bell and Frederick Forrest. When you're starting out, you take what you can get. The pot of gold is not at the end of the rainbow, it's the rainbow itself, in these kind of careers - it's the journey before you get there."
In terms of whom she'd really like to perform with, "Anyone who's willing to play ball, throw it hard and catch if fast. I'd like to work with Dennis Franz. I'd like to work with Benicio Del Toro, I'd like to work with Leonardo Di Caprio. I would love to have worked with River Phoenix. I love Gena Rowlands, she's my all-time favorite. John Malkovitch, Tim Roth, Anjelica Huston, Ashley Judd, Angeline Jolie. Director-wise, I really love Damian Harris, Roman Polanski, David Lean if he was alive, Merchant Ivory. I'll work with anyone who is passionately into what they're doing."
A collector of photojournalism, Wilson notes that old photos are an invaluable resource for an actress, "They give you a lot when you're looking for character, it teaches me a thousand stories." But her real passion is old cars: she owns a 1958 Chevrolet Impala convertible, a '57 T-Bird and '38 Dodge. "I really like to play with cars. My father used to race cars, I've just always been around mechanical things. One of the reasons I became an actress is because I saw Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and I said, I want to be Jeff Bridges and I want to have that car!" She laments that Thelma and Louise got made without her.
Wilson is a bit surprised that people are so interested in her hobbies and her life, though she's "really, really flattered" by the 70 or so web sites devoted to her. "I just thought I was going to do a TV series, I never even thought about people watching it until the reviews came out, and then I went, 'We're being reviewed by the New York Times! And they like us!'" She laughs that she was "really green" when she started, but adds, "I hope I'm green for the rest of my life, so there's always a surprise, you're always learning. When I'm not green, I won't be doing this anymore - I'll be farming peanuts on a peanut farm or something."
She reads her own fan mail and is happy to sign autographs, but seems a little uncomfortable with the adulation. "People might be inspired by you, but that must inspire them to find what makes them special. I'm not even there yet - my dream is to be happy for the rest of my life. I don't sit there and go, 'I'm a role model,' I think everyone in life should be some kind of role model, they should be good people. I don't need to be La Femme Nikita to understand that to younger people you should be a role model. It's a big responsibility. I'm not bloody Princess Diana, I'm not Mother Teresa, I'm not the president, I'm an actress for God's sakes."
The blonde stunner is surprisingly unconcerned with the fickle nature of the business and the hazards of aging for actresses. "I was sitting there today thinking, I wonder if I'll ever have a life beyond Nikita, because this takes so much out of you - I wonder if everyone will say, 'She isn't as beautiful as what she was on Nikita.' And I just thought about it, and I thought, who cares what people think? I'm going to get old one day, everyone does. Women like Gena Rowlands and Anjelica Huston, they've always kept their integrity and this sense of identity to their entire careers. As we get older, women, we're like great bottles of wine, we get tastier. With a proper diet of happiness and yoga, maybe one can sort of hold on to what's young inside them. If you can find some way to keep yourself young inside, that will always sort of sparkle through the eyes, you know?"
She laughs that she looks at her face now and finds lines that developed in the past year, "and I say oh well, that's evolution. They look like sort of happy lines. We're at the end of the season, so I'm tired. It's a lot - the interviews and there's a lot of other stuff going on - but I'm lucky to be working, so many actresses and actors would do anything to swap with me, and it's all part of the job, right? Maybe this will be the biggest I ever get, La Femme Nikita, and if it's not then that's great too, but I just sort of need to enjoy it while it's here and build a nice little house and try and set up little businesses so I have some kind of income when the face doesn't quite sell. That's basically it."
Wilson tries to spend her time not working in Australia "hanging with the family," and would like very much to have children. "I'd like to be a good mother, I'd like to be a good person," she concludes. "A lot of actors think they're more interesting than what they're playing, you know? I think a lot of this business is narcissistic, and people bring the narcissism upon themselves maybe. I'm just learning, I'm not an authority. Maybe I'll say something that one person will read and go, mmm, I hadn't thought of that. I want to work on projects that do that, which make people think a little outside themselves. People write that I'm their role model, that's great: now why don't you listen to that and go after your own dream? And find that in yourself, so you can be a role model to your kids."
Femme May Be Fatal to Her Masters
David Bianculli, New York Now (21 August 1998)
The USA Network espionage series "La Femme Nikita" ends its season with a two-parter that further escalates the dramatic tension between the title heroine and the people for whom she's forced to work. But instead of reluctantly working for them, she'll be reluctantly working against them.
Starting Sunday night at 10 and concluding a week later, the story puts Nikita at the mercy of two very different, equally ruthless masters.
Nikita (Peta Wilson), a reluctant operative for a top-secret government organization, is captured by a mysterious woman named Adrian — played by Sian Phillips of "I, Claudius" fame — who's every bit as ruthless and powerful as Nikita's own bosses. Adrian has Nikita drugged and kidnaped, then persuades her to spy on her own colleagues.
"You and I are going to destroy Section One," Adrian tells Nikita, and these two women set out to cripple the organization that, with similar tactics, forced Nikita to work for them in the first place.
The two women communicate in ways that stretch credulity — conversing by earpiece radios in the core of a supposedly top-secret, bugproof facility, and managing to meet several times without being followed.
Phillips' acting, though, is intense and involving enough to help viewers forgive the holes in the plot and concentrate instead on the dramatic tension between the characters.
With its Whom Do You Trust? storyline, this finale brings to mind the classic 1968 series "The Prisoner" — though that series, even 30 years ago, was a lot more subtle and surreal.
Shape Magazine (August 1998)
Star of USA Network's drama "La Femme Nikita", Peta Wilson plays a tough government operative who shoots, punches and kickboxes her way out of jams with terrorists. In real life, Wilson is considerably more mellow than her character. The 27-year-old Australian, a yoga devotee, begins her days with a routine that the hard-boiled Nikita wouldn't appreciate: a five-minute headstand. "It wakes me up and gets the blood going to my brain", says the husky-voiced Wilson, speaking from the show's set in Toronto.
Beginning her days with relaxation exercises is crucial for Wilson, who often works 15-hour stints. Equally important are her strength training and kick boxing workouts. "Sure, I have to look good, but that's not why I work out", she says. "The energy it gives you is unbelievable. It's good for cleaning your mind, getting rid of stress, increasing [your] confidence and allowing for more creative thought."
Wilson has to cram her fitness regimen into intense sessions with trainer Alvin Greene. The set doesn't have weight machines, so Wilson works out with body bars and weighted balls. The toughest exercise is the wall squat, a ski-training move that involves sitting against a wall, thighs parallel to the floor, and holding the position until your quadriceps burn. "I can do it for nine minutes", Wilson says. "But the whole time I'm screaming at my trainer."
Wilson concentrates all of her energy into each exercise. "I watch my muscles, really focusing on each individual body part -- my biceps, my triceps, my abs. You've got to be in the right state of mind for an exercise to be effective."