1999, Page 1
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Back With Guns Blazing, Nikita Promises A Plot Twist Or Two In Its Third Season
Larry Bonko, The Virginian Pilot (1 January 1999)

Hello, 1999. Hello again, Nikita. Love the leather.

Peta Wilson, the Emma Peel of this decade, returns for a third season of La Femme Nikita Sunday night at 10 on USA.

Expect two jolts. Nikita's Section One bosses decide she's expendable and try to eliminate her with an air-to-surface missile strike. Boom! Nikita discovers that her mentor/lover Michael has a wife and son. Secret exposed!

Nikita escapes the trap set for her by the cold fish who run Section One, surviving to help make the West safe from terrorists. With pistols blazing, Wilson confronts bad guys based in China and financed by the North Koreans.

She crashes through a window to escape their gunfire. She pounces on the roof of their car to stop them from fleeing. Go, girl!

"I do the majority of the stunts and most of the fight sequences," Wilson says. "I'd do more, but the producers don't want me hurt for the next episode."

Cable cuts deeply into broadcast TV's prime-time audience with such edgy, original programming as La Femme Nikita, based on the 1991 French film. It's heroine as reluctant assassin, [is] played by a stunning blond[e] in pigtails who says she gives Nikita two qualities: power and vulnerability.

"My charatcer is an angel running with wolves," Wilson, an Aussie, says of Nikita's role with the we'll-gladly-kill-a-few-innocent-people-to-save-a-million-others gang of Section One.

And the cool clothes? "I love our costume designer. I trust her implicitly. She gives me exactly what I think Nikita should be wearing. I like hiding my identity in the clothes."

Upcoming plot twists: Nikita learns that Michael's father-in-law is a terrorist; Nikita meets the mother who abandoned her; Section One delives into cloning and mind control.

Nikita, Buffy and Xena: The women who kick butt and drive up ratings.

"I think it's great to have female action heroes on TV who appeal equally to 12-year-old girls and 70-year-old men," Wilson says....

Peta Kicks Nikita Up A Notch From its Film Origins
Ken Perkins, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (2 January 1999)

The story lines of the drama series La Femme Nikita are so intricate and multilayered that any viewer coming to the show cold would find it nearly impossible to comprehend. Though its murky, obscure approach is one of its enjoyable pleasures, it also can frustrate the heck out of newcomers.
For instance, a friend recently tried La Femme Nikita for three consecutive episodes in its customary 9 p.m. slot Sundays on cable's USA Network. She was rather confused, but became enamored with stories that explored the life of lethal agents fighting faceless, often nameless global terrorists in nondescript cities and villages.
I told her that in the action-adventure genre, paranoia has always been palatable (Chris Carter is a master at this with The X-Files). On La Femme Nikita, the joy is that you can't figure out good cop from bad, even after the ending credits.
La Femme Nikita, which opens its third season at 9 tonight, is one of the few series to improve upon its theatrical origins. And I'm referring to the superior 1990 French film of the same name, not the Americanized '93 remake, Point of No Return, which tried to turn mousy Bridget Fonda into a trained assassin in pantyhose.
The challenge for a TV series based on that movie, aside from re-creating its film noir style and sophistication, is the continuation of a somewhat unbelievable premise. In the film, Nikita was a drugged-out loser condemned to death for her part in a murder spree; moviegoers actually witnessed her pointing a gun in the face of a police officer and pulling the trigger. (Because television needs sympathetic characters, this Nikita was railroaded into the crime.)
Nikita's alternative to the death penalty was to work as a government assassin, to give up family, friends and any crumbs of the life known before entering what's known as Section One. It's a heartlessly violent place where dialogue is held to a minimum, no one is trusted, and almost everyone goes about his daily duties with a grim facial expression. Since membership is involuntary, you could say Section One has something of a morale problem.
Over two seasons, we've learned the inner workings of not only Nikita, played by Peta Wilson, but of the others who make up Section One. Madeline (Alberta Watson) is the master strategist who remains indifferent no matter the death toll; Walter (Don Francks), a hippie throwback who devises gadgets for the operatives; Birkoff (Matthew Ferguson), the computer genius with his hidden agenda; Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer), the Section One leader who gives the death orders; and Michael (Roy Dupuis), Nikita's trainer and stone-faced love interest.
And I use "love" loosely. Only a vampire slayer pining for a vampire represents a more doomed relationship. Yet it's been fascinating to watch Michael, a cold, calculated operative torn between being loyal to Section One and protecting Nikita.
La Femme Nikita is probably the most patient drama I've ever seen, judging from the sweet time it takes to peel off the layers of its characters, all of whom have dark pasts of some kind. (Longtime viewers will find tonight's revelations quite juicy.)
The Australian-born, theatrically trained Wilson has proved that she can embody serious grit without making you think she's merely a woman playing tough girl. As Nikita, she's found an ideal multidimensional action role, the likes of which, outside of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, are nonexistent for women.
Her first season and most of the second were spent fighting off her inner demons. Nikita constantly looked for ways to either justify her existence or make a run for it.
"Am I still human?" she asked last season behind tears. "I fear that I'll forget what it's like to feel humane."
The only unfortunate thing about La Femme Nikita is that it conflicts in this time period with another soul-searching drama, ABC's The Practice. But that's what VCRs are for.

Peta Wilson Talks to Prevue
Lisa Coleman, Prevue (January 1999)

Peta Wilson Talks to Prevue (now TV Guide Online) by Lisa Coleman. Peta Wilson took time to talk about her life on and off La Femme Nikita. We also gave her a chance to answer the critics who say the show is too dark and to talk about being an action star.

Prevue: What is your favorite aspect of La Femme Nikita?

Peta: I'm working, I'm learning and I'm gaining knowledge. I'm a person who loves to learn. I'm working in a very nice environment with good people. I'm learning a lot. That's very important to me. And getting paid is nice too.

Prevue: What is your least favorite aspect?

Peta: No balance, I'm working so much, nine months a year. That's a long stretch. I'm not able to see my family when I want since they're in Australia.

Prevue: What's it like being a female action star?

Peta: I don't think I'm an action star. I just do it. Its quite strange being recognized a lot. They don't prepare you for that in drama school. Sometimes people have this preconceived idea or notion of what they think you are like when actually it's the character you play, it's not who you are at all as a person.

Prevue: Do you feel any pressure of being a female role model?

Peta: No, I feel if one is lucky enough to be identified with that it's a big thing to take on. I'm not Ghandi; I'm just an actress. Let's set that record straight right now. I'm an actress. If people respond to the character I play, then that's wonderful. If I'm able to make them think a little bit different within their own reality though my medium of acting and emotions, then that's great. I'm an actress; I'm not Ghandi or Mother Teresa. I do feel a responsibility in this popular culture, since we are so visual, to shine a light on certain situations. If I can give back to the environment, to society that voice, that attention that is needed to bring a problem to the forefront, then that's great. I think we all need to do that.

I think that in the popular culture, we get back what we give 3x3x3. Not just donating money to charity, but to bring attention where it's needed. I feel a responsibility to do that. I love acting, I'm employed and getting paid for it. I've always tried to be a giving person; I was always getting involved, even before I was an actress. If now, I can shine a brighter light now, so be it.

Prevue: Do you have a favorite charity or cause?

Peta: Street kids, because the kids of today are the adults of tomorrow. We, the geriatric set may control the world today, but the kids will be taking over soon. The street kids don't have a role model and I think that is important. Everyone needs someone to look up to.

Prevue: What's your favorite episode?

Peta: I like different episodes for different reasons, it's hard to say. I like some of them for my work in them; I like others for the message within the show. It's really hard to pick just one. I really liked the last three episodes of this season because of the guest star. I like some because of the director, some because of the work my co-stars and others for the guest star. It's so hard because I like them all, even though I try to make each one different. I'm always trying to add something different to my character.

Prevue: What do you say to the critics who say the show is bleak and no nonsense?

Peta: I don't think I'm qualified to answer that. I'm just an actress. I come and do my job and do the best I can doing it. I think my ego is hurt when someone says that, but I have nothing to do with the way the show is shot. I don't feel responsible for that. But I would also say, why don't you guys lighten up? It's just television. It's just a little bit of entertainment. If we spent six months preparing for just one episode, like the movies do then I would have a much different answer. Someone writes the episodes and a month later they're done. Come on, we're not going to appease everybody. So just lighten up and enjoy it for bit of entertainment that it is. You can't through your life worrying what other people are going to think and a critic is just one voice.

Prevue: What's it been like to develop Nikita over the past two seasons?

Peta: Well, I'm not the type of actress who says, 'Oh, she would never do this.' I look at the script and say, 'Okay, I don't think she would do that, but if she had to, then how would she do it?' I make every day a challenge. I think everyday, 'What am I going to do here. How am I and how would she?' It's a constant thing, an ongoing process. I make myself open. She grows as I grow; I'm not locked into any one thing.

Prevue: Do you have any input into the storyline at all?

Peta: If something isn't working, we'll have a conversation, a dialogue and come to some sort of compromise. We all work together. It goes through so much; it gets washed, washed and washed. It's hard playing the same character over and over. I try not to get bored, because if I'm bored you're bored.

Prevue: What's in the future for Peta Wilson?

Peta: I don't know, I wish I had a crystal ball. I have all sorts of dreams. I want to help my family, I want to produce. There are a lot of different things I'd like to see happen. Maybe some directing, a show about my family, my childhood. I want to produce projects that may not be a commercial success but need to be seen.

Prevue: What would you like to say to your fans?

Peta: I want to thank them most graciously. I'm very grateful for the positive energy that they produce and put out there. It protects me from the ones who aren't so kind. I really appreciate the fans who stand beside me. That positive energy is why the show is the success it is.

We wish the show and Peta lots of positive energy in the future.

The Eyes Have It in Engrossing Nikita
Denver Rocky Mountain News (3 January 1999)

Tonight's third-season premiere of La Femme Nikita on cable's USA is noteworthy for a couple of reasons.
First, it's encouraging to note that the stylish - and very adult - espionage series (8 p.m. on most systems) has found enough viewing support to warrant a third season.
This means La Femme Nikita qualifies as a high-quality hit series --something rare onbasic cable television, which has been putting most of its production dollars into TV movies.
Silk Stalkings, a predictable, somewhat sleazy cop show set in the Miami area, has been around on USA for longer than La Femme Nikita. But in this case, longevity doesn't indicate high quality.)
There are a lot of reasons to watch La Femme Nikita, including the moody, futuristic production and, if you're into such things, the bruising Bruce Willis-style action scenes.
But La Femme Nikita also is a showcase for a pair of talented actresses: Peta Wilson, the alluring and athletic Australian who portrays the title character, and Alberta Wilson, the evil, calculating Madeline, a leader of the mysterious Section One, a clandestine and ruthless government organization.
Is Madeline coldblooded? She has no blood at all.
The two square off in words and stares every week.
Nikita is trying to survive while Madeline is bent on carrying out her dirty espionage work, even if it means eliminating Nikita. Without the use of physical violence, the two battle toe to toe and eye to eye. Their electric scenes together offer icy tensions normally reserved on television for macho men.
La Femme Nikita is based loosely on a 1991 French movie of the same name, which starred Anne Parillaud as a hedonistic young woman coerced into becoming a trained killer. Next came the Hollywood version, Point of No Return, starring Bridget Fonda.
Joel Surnow, the original executive producer who now serves as creative consultant for the TV series, wisely made Nikita palatable for weekly television. Nikita became more of a heroine than a killer with emotional problems.
In both feature films, the Nikita character was forced into her position because she had killed in cold blood. Viewers more attuned to dramatic heroines like Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman certainly wouldn' t adjust to that type of character on a weekly basis.
We learned during the first season that TV's Nikita was mistakenly accused of being a cop killer and was forced, by circumstances, to live outside the law.
Granted, she might have found some help with her dilemma from someone like Bobby Donnell of The Practice. But let's not ruin an intriguing TV plot with logic.
Nikita was forced into a new life as an elite operator with Section One, her past only a distant memory. This Nikita is a warmblooded woman rather than a coldblooded assassin. She kills mostly in self- defense, which is one reason she gets into regular stare-downs with Madeline. Warmth and compassion are not big priorities in the Section.Thus we have an ongoing story line dealing with Nikita's constantly having to deceive her superiors.
Peta Wilson is terrific as Nikita, with her physical performance adding depth to her character. Wilson, who performs most of Nikita' s scenes, regularly takes martial-arts training. That lithe, active figure dashing around the screen really is Wilson, who's much more fun to watch than Sammo Hung on CBS' Martial Law, a series more suited to old Saturday-afternoon movie matinees.
However, there's a serious nit to pick about tonight's season premiere. While the plot will make sense to fans who have followed the series regularly, there's not enough back story to fill in curious new viewers.
In last season's finale, repeated in December, Nikita had attempted to destroy Section One and gain her freedom. Tonight's hour deals with Section One's trying to eliminate Nikita as she discovers that Michael (Roy Dupuis), her romantic associate, has long-hidden secrets. He's been married to the daughter of a mysterious and dangerous terrorist whom Section One has been seeking to eliminate for some time. And Michael has a son by this wife.
Such discoveries really widen Nikita's pale blue eyes.
Still, there's enough espionage to intrigue fans. And it's always a treat to watch those stare-downs between Nikita and Madeline.

Remote Origins of A High-Style Heroine
Alysia Bennett, The Record Online (2 January 1999)

Army brat turned TV commando. One doesn't necessarily follow the other, but raising a tomboy in Papua New Guinea who was fond of lip-syncing Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli, Peta Wilson's parents should have seen it coming.

Looking back, Wilson, who starts her third season Sunday as star of USA Network's provocative action-drama "La Femme Nikita," sees the connection clearly. She credits those early years spent on foreign soil with guiding her to performance art.

"My brother and I were two white kids that grew up in a completely black native environment," she said. "We didn't have television or radio [but] we had our imaginations."

To a generation that could sing lengthy television jingles before speaking full sentences, growing up in that environment might be considered cruel deprivation. But Wilson said she reveled in it. As a way of entertaining herself, she often put on shows for family and friends by lip-syncing or performing skits. Falling in love with the theater, she said, came next.

Seven years after moving to the United States from her native Australia, Wilson has found success via television.

"La Femme Nikita," a staple of USA's Sunday Night Heat lineup, not only has proved to be a "cure for the common show" -- as USA Network spins it -- but also has given Wilson her juiciest role.

The part was first played by Anne Parillaud in the 1990 French movie and then by Bridget Fonda in the 1993 American remake, "Point of No Return."

"I loved the original movie," said Wilson, 28. "Thank God for [director] Luc Besson for creating this character. Any actress who would play the role of Nikita would bring something different to it. I just love the opportunity to play this wildly multidimensional character."

Wilson said she fell back on her theater training to breathe life into her role as Nikita. The methods were unconventional, but effective, she said.

"I actually worked with an ex-Airborne Ranger. I pretty well learned how to be a commando. I did tae kwon do, I did tai chi. I shot off 2,000 rounds of ammunition, played war games, [and] broke into my own house."

She also went to the zoo. The zoo?

"I tried to get in touch with the animal in me. If I was once in another life, I was either a fish or a dog. But Nikita's a cat," she explained, referring to her character, who at one time lived on the street like a stray. "Whenever I do a role, I always look at what animal would they be. 'Cause when you look at animals, there's no dialogue. There's nothing. You're purely looking at behavior."

Inspired by Besson's film noir of the same title, the series "La Femme Nikita" is high on style and sophistication, with a hip soundtrack of alternative music that lends additional intensity. In it, Wilson plays a young woman who is sentenced to life in prison for a crime she didn't commit. Given a second chance, she's forced into a new life as an elite operative for a secret and ruthless government organization known as Section One. The life she once knew is lost forever.

"I saw a lot of wonderful actresses," said Joel Surnow, executive consultant to the series, "but none of them had the [same] toughness, the exoticism, and yet the ability to be able to dress up and pull off such a wide range of things."

An executive producer of some of television's top shows, he confessed to hesitating when he was approached to develop "La Femme Nikita" as a series. "I felt the show wouldn't be worth doing if we couldn't preserve the raw complexity and sexuality of the film," he said.

The program at times includes partial nudity. And violent, coldblooded killings are not unusual.

"I think it's more ruthless at the core than any show that I've ever done," Surnow said. "I've done some tough shows. I did 'Miami Vice' and 'The Equalizer,' which had some really hard action, and I did the 'Wiseguy' movie. But the protagonists in this show operate in a way that almost appears more villainous than your antagonists.

The characters of the show's highly technical, covert anti-terrorist group include Michael, Nikita's trainer, mentor, and sometime love interest; Madeline, the master strategist; Walter, the Section One equivalent of James Bond's gadget man "Q"; Birkoff, the computer genius; and Operations, the ultimate intelligence bureaucrat and leader of Section One, who makes all the big decisions -- including who should live and who should die.

"It's not just high-tech and dark. It's very subterranean," said Surnow. "We're never outside, we're never in a bookstore, we're never in a supermarket. It's never in the mundane world. Even when we go outside to do things, we're in these sort of hard-to-reach places. You never know what city you're in ..."

Sometimes you don't know what you're listening to, either. "You'll never hear U2 on our show," Surnow joked. The score is hard to pin down -- unfamiliar, exuding the European techno-sound. A soundtrack featuring 16 songs from previous episodes was released last year.

The first season was largely experimental, said Surnow, and it took 14 episodes to "find" the show. By design, the series is actor-driven and dialogue is sparse. As the third season draws near, beginning Jan. 3, he said, there still is no formula for the show.

Peta Wilson & Roy Dupuis on the Dina Petty Show
(January 1999)

Peta Wilson enters the studio, wearing a knee length white jacket, gray sweater and white pants. The audience gives her a standing ovation.

Wilson: Oh, my God.

Petty: I would like those of you who have journeyed from the US to please stand up. There are people who have just arrived from New York, from Texas, from planes rides. They came by two or three days ago just to be here.

Wilson: I can't speak, my heart's in my throat. (to audience) Thank God, you are all right.

Petty: Now, they are staying at your house, because they are not sure about the storm. That could become a problem.

Wilson: I am very flattered. Thank you. This is kinda of amazing.

Petty: No, listen. Let me give you the feedback. I asked them what it is that they love about your show so much, here are the things I heard.

Wilson: He (Roy Dupuis) is in the dressing room, he'll be out in a minute. (laughter from the audience)

Petty: He's part of it. We haven't told him, but he has to sleep with some of them. (cheers from the female members of the audience) Sorry Roy, I promised them, cause you know, I just said. They said it is the most complicated love story. You have two figure things out. It's base on ethical, moral arguments. Did I get all three of them? Oh, clothes. Yes, and the production values was last. Did you realize that those, do you understand on that side of the camera what they love so much about the show?

Wilson: I think we do, because that's the sorta of things we like about the show. That's what keeps us there. That's what keeps us interested. That's every week, "OK, what we gonna to this week?" "Did you read the end of that script?" You know? The production designers, the costume designers, all those things are like the highest, highest quality of any show in the world. The fact the show is made in Canada, says a lot about the Canadian people. It's Canadian, everyone on that show is Canadian, except me and Ops. But the crew, everyone on that show is Canadian. So it's pretty amazing, and we make the show in Toronto, you know. But I think the story is very complicated and it becomes even more complicated. We are in the third season, and I haven't been this excited since I auditioned for the pilot of the story lines that have become so much more interesting. I mean, the relationship with Roy and I is very complicated, but now it's becoming even more complicated, because there is all this stuff from the exterior that is coming in on it. It will be something people will look years down the road, and go "Do you remember that show?"

Petty: Now, watch this. The Americans who have see the first two episodes, raise your hands. (About half of the audience raise their hands) Now the Canadians, who haven't seen the episodes, raise you hands. They are not talking to each other, because they don't want to know. Do you know they send the tapes to Canadians who haven't seen it, the Canadians get the tapes they haven't seen? Man, they have this worked!

Wilson: It's dark, so submissive, dominant. It's such a submissive, dominant relationship. I mean, it's so dark. I mean, what happens? Do you sleep well? At the beginning, it's life, it's kinda of entertaining. I looked at the show, the happy endings don't seem to work. People want the sad endings. They want me to be devastated, and my heart bleeding blind. I am very curious about the people who are huge fans of the show.

Petty: Do you have any input into the script? Do they come to you guys? Do you give suggestions? Do you like? Do you go "Ok, I'm bleeding a little too much from the heart here, could you back off?"

Wilson: Do I have to be beaten again, or is there something else? When does he (Michael) get beaten? When do I get to save him? Generally, we have a lot to say about our characters. And if either of us find a storyline that isn't working, we call the producers and say "What do you mean by this?" If it doesn't make sense to us, it's not gonna make sense to you. So that's where we work with it. But they are very good at what they do, and we are good at what we do. The combination of all make a good show. So we let them do their thing, we do ours. And we try to do the best we can and we come with something that you guys like. But I think that it changes sometimes. I just had dinner with an executive producer last week, and we both came up with what's gonna happen at the end of the season together. We sat there over dinner, "Wouldn't it be great if . . . ", and oh, my God. So it's quite collaborative.

A clip from an episode of LFN is shown

Roy Dupuis enters the studio, wearing a blue/black plaid shirt, black pants, winter boots and a black leather jacket. Peta hugs and kisses Roy on the mouth. The audience gives him an standing ovation.

Wilson: (teasing) It's a shame he's not good looking, isn't it?

Petty: Now did they tell you about the raffle? That I raffled you to one of these women, just for the weekend?

Dupuis: What's a raffle?

Petty: A raffle is when you put all the women's names in and draw the winner and the woman who wins get take you home for the weekend.

Dupuis: OK. Who won?

Someone yells from the audience, "ME!"

Petty: I should let them fight to the death for it. Do you realize where these people have travelled from? All over North America, the people from the back row, they took a bus from Florida, they just arrived.

Dupuis: They got a nice tan, too.

Petty: They are all here to see you. Let me take you back to the audition, because I read when the two of you finally net on the audition. It was a pretty magical moment, because you two connected, it worked really well.

Dupuis: Yeah. Usually, auditions are not fun things to do.

Petty: Yeah, they are horrible cat calls.

Dupuis: Once we stepped on stage, all that just kinda of disappeared. Things happened.

A series of blooper clips is shown.

Petty: Have you ever lost it completely? Just fallen over for 5, 10 minutes, absolutely in hysterics, not able to go on?

Dupuis: That was one. (Referring to the third blooper)

Wilson: It took us an hour toget back on trac, we could not stop laughing.

I don't think a lot of people know how long of a day you guys put into, 16 hours a day is not unusual, nine months a year.

Wilson: It's pretty regular.

Petty: It's pretty intense.

Dupuis: It's usually 16 [hours].

Petty: It's exhausting.

Wilson: That's why they us young, work us to the bone.

Petty: That's incredible.

Wilson: But you know what? It's a very high end show, we also don't stop until we get it right. Either Roy and I and the director are happy until we get it right.

Dupuis: We got seven days to shoot an hour show.

Petty: Is that a tight schedule?

Dupuis: It used to be eight. I heard on most shows it's nine or ten [days]. I guess it's a question of budget, I guess.

These Shows Rate
Ray Raymond, Multichannel News (8 February 1999)

La Femme Nikita
USA Network
Sunday, 10 p.m.
Debut: 1/13/97
# of episodes: 48
Producer: Fireworks Entertainment
1998 average fourth-quarter rating: 1.7
Highest-rated episode: 3.3 (1/4/98)
Approximate cost of 30-second spot: $9,800

The makeover of the USA Network that began with Silk Stalkings continues with La Femme Nikita, which USA press materials note "stars Peta Wilson as a woman forced to work for a clandestine government organization ... or be canceled." Now that's truth in advertising.

The positive buzz generated by the sexy Wilson and by the show have helped move USA further away from its onetime rep as a white-bread purveyor of warmed-over off-network reruns (and wrestling, which remains and thrives). This show is one that USA Networks Inc. chairman Barry Diller probably won't be doing away with anytime soon two years into what should be a healthy Sunday night run.

BBDO's Grubbs said, "La Femme Nikita has carried a little bit of a similar buzz to Dawson's Creek on the WB. It's not the same demo, of course. But that show has done a lot to alter the perception of the USA Network in the minds of the buyers. It shows that they really can create original programs that people want to watch."

"It's basically just a cult hit," DeWitt's Nagel added, "but in terms of quality, I would say it's comparable to, if not better than, what the broadcasters are offering in the genre."

Killer Babe
Kel Laurence, Ralph Magazine (February 1999)

La Femme Nikita assassin Peta Wilson likes to rumble with men, mess about with old cars, and kiss girls. We've got a lot in common with her. Except breasts.
She could kill you with a gun, or a well-placed karate blow to your carotid artery. Or perhaps she'd toy with you first, watching you double over in agony from a rapid stiletto-heeled kick to the groin.

Peta Wilson's Nikita puts the fatale in femme. She's been called "Jane Bond-age" - the toughest TV chick since The Avengers' original Emma Peel - an assassin who "cancels" her enemies with all the murderous skill of the best bad guys.

She's got balls, this blonde-haired Aussie babe, on screen and off. Since scoring the lead in Nine Network's La Femme Nikita, 28 year-old Peta has been shocking the world's fawning TV types with her wharfie-blue vocabulary, her disarming honesty, and her wild tales of a life spent playing with crocodiles and kissing girls.

"Good kissers, girls," she said. In her modelling days in Sydney, all the boys would eye her off, "And I would look at the boys - or the girls. I kissed a couple. It was always with my best friends, and we were all completely straight. I remember going out one evening, four boys and four girls. The guys were being really boring and macho, and I went down to the bathroom. Then my friend Kate came in, then Joey, and we all had a little kiss, and that was it. Then we went back out and stood around the boys, going, 'Ha-ha-ha, you have no idea!'"

Peta is the daughter of Australian Army Warrent Officer Darcy Wilson and caterer Karlene White, although it sees Dad wanted a son.

"My father thought I was a boy - he was out bush on an army game thing, and he named me Pedro," she said. "And when he got back and saw I was a girl, they changed it. Thank God."

She cut her hair boy-short "just to piss Mum off", and answered to the name of Pete. She helped her dad tinker with his fast cars, competed with him in sailboat races, and went beach fishing with her grandfather. Grandma would wake me up at 4am for swimming. I'd come home, and she'd feed me lamb chops and eggs, then I'd go off to netball. After school I'd practise judo." The netball training paid off - Peta was the youngest player on the Aussie national team.

She tags herself as an "army brat". Peta and her family - including youngest brother, Rob - moved a dozen times before she was 13 and spent several years in Papua New Guinea. There she once let her pet baby croc loose in a neighbour's swimming pool: "It bit his finger - didn't take it off though."

When she was 15, her now divorced mother decided it was time to turn Pete into a proper girl. She signed her up for beauty and deportment classes. "Mum wanted me to be a bit more feminine," she said.

She was sent to the same agency that created Elle Macpherson and Rachel Hunter. Like many models, she fell prey to anorexia and bulimia, her weight dropped from 63kg to 45kg. She blamed the delayed shock of her parent's divorce.

"I made a living as a model for about seven years. I did magazine work, Levi's commercials, editorials. I did pregnancy catalogues, with rubber stomachs. I got hired a lot because people seemed to like me, not because I was the prettiest girl in the room."

In a modelling slow time, she took a job on a construction site. "I lasted three days - then I realised my job ain't that bad." She's also managed to keep most of her clothes on in shoots, only stripping completely once.

"I did some stuff for Harper's Bazaar with Natasha Henstridge. We did a beauty story together when we were both models, and I think we were both topless. God, she's got good tits. But nothing really naked. Nothing like a twat shot or anything."

It wouldn't bother her to spread for a spread though. "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. 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."

She quit modelling and her then boyfriend, James Reyne in 1991, and headed for the bright lights of Los Angeles. She spent six years studying acting and found a new boyfriend, director Damian Harris. Then she scored her break in the Canadian made Nikita.

She says Nikita is "an interesting mix of masculine and feminine", not unlike her lithe 177cm-tall self. "I move more like a boy-girl rather than a girl-girl, and that's what the character is; she's very agile and very fearless. Maybe that's why people think I'm a bit of a sex symbol. Because I am a tomboy - that balance of the masculine and feminine."

Already muscly and athletic and into scuba diving, sailing, horse riding, swimming and waterskiing, Peta worked with an ex-military trainer and a stuntman to gear up for the part. "I went to gun ranges, I did breaking and entering, close combat, tai chi, karate. I got in touch with my strengths and weaknesses."

At first, Peta feared the role would label her "a Barbie with guns". She said, "I'm blonde and blue-eyed. People usually associate that with bimbos." Instead, she became a combat-hardened GI Joe doll, albiet with the odd soft spot. "I'm scared of heights, and running in heels is hard," she said.

"I really shoot a gun on the show. My father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, they're all war men. And here I am playing a gunslinger. But I get scared. Guns could kill someone. They're freaky. I won't have one in my home in LA. Hopefully, people who watch the show will take the violence as entertainment and not reality."

At times, Nikita's violence bothers her. "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. You might be acting, but your body can really tell no difference."

She consoles herself with mind-clearing yoga, weights and kickboxing workouts, plus some blokey pursuits. She owns a 1958 Chevrolet Impala convertible, a '57 Thunder - bird and a '38 Dodge four-door.

"I'm an old-car metalhead," she said. "I'm very good at fixing old cars. I can do pretty much anything intricate in the engine. I'm not really good at axles and shit. I just like to tinker around."

She intends to keep on tinkering. Her immediate future holds a film release - she plays a marine in One Of Our Own - making more movies and perhaps babies with Damian, but her grand plan is simple.

"In five years from now, I'd love to be living on my 10 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 and reading stuff for my production company."

"I sometimes wonder about life beyond Nikita, if everyone will say, 'She isn't as beautiful as she was on Nikita." But who cares what people think? I'm going to get old one day, everyone does. As we get older, women, we're like great bottles of wine - we get tastier."