La Femme Nikita is distinctly different from other hit shows. It isnít about teenagers who live by a creek and talk like social workers. It isnít just another twenty- or thirtysomething nighttime soap. It doesnít take place in a hospital, with frenzied doctors spitting out medical jargon. Nor is it about hysterical young female lawyers.
What it is, is a sophisticated, multi-layered series, its story line a web of nuance. Thereís also plenty of action, violence, intrigue, beautiful people, and sex--implied and otherwise. Add to that stories and characters inhabiting a compelling, darkly psychological world. Events take place in the present, but nothing is specific; itís a somehow "dateless" present. The setting is somewhere in the western world where English is spoken, though some people have foreign accents. This environment is known as Section One, and the people who occupy this most secretive of off-the-budget military organizations are fighting terrorism, in all its forms, around the world. The catch is that everyone who is a member of Section One is not there by his or her own volition, and cannot leave, go home at 5 oíclock, or quit his job. If they try to leave, or escape, they will be sought out and "canceled." Each member of Section One has a story of how he got there; these stories are revealed subtly and gradually throughout the series. A common denominator for most operatives is some sort of terrible crime in their pasts, murder mostly, but nothing in this underground fortress is as it seems. Having been brought to Section from prison, or somewhere else, the soldiers of Section One ostensibly work on the side of good, but there is no absolution. Section One is a sort of Purgatory.
In their midst is a recent "recruit" to this world of intrigue, danger, and mystery--Nikita, code name Josephine. Nikita, as in the original film La Femme Nikita, did not commit the crime she was accused of--the murder of a police officer. The charges were false, yet Nikita was given a life sentence. Nikita was a young street person, into drugs, but not into murder. While in prison, Nikita is spotted by Michael, a Section One ranking operative. Once at Section, Nikita is trained to be a consummate killer, though not a willing one. She is tutored by Michael, who will become her sometimes sadistic, sometimes loving mentor (Nikitaís and Michaelís evolving story is an interesting evocation of the myth of Pygmalion). As Nikita has learned "the game," she has become very good at it. She knows the culture of the place, its politics, its danger, and she has learned to manipulate it.
But Nikita does not abuse her knowledge. It doesnít own her. No one does. Although she plays by Section rules, she wonít adapt to the system. Her soul cannot be sold. She alone has been able to maintain her greatest resources: humanity and heart. And that is what makes Nikita such a great character. She is complex. Forget the Spice Girls, this is real Girl Power.
She is also extremely beautiful. Cast in the role of Nikita is a talented young Australian actress: Peta Wilson. Viking tall, a perfect, beautiful, strong body, long straight white blonde hair, large luminous blue eyes, and a perfectly shaped sensuous mouth--Miss Wilson is quite a package. Sheís sexy and gorgeous in the contemporary way, but there is also an element of her beauty and expression that is archetypal. She reminds me of what Robert Graves describes as the White Goddess or Moon Goddess--a female deity who existed before time was recorded, when women deities dominated, before the men took over.
I think Iíve made the case that Nikita is more than a blonde with a gun--Pam Anderson did that and no one was interested. Nikita is much more. And as she has grown and matured in the 4 years the series has been on (this is also how LFN so distinguishes itself from other television shows; the characters actually evolve psychologically, in ways that actual people move through their lives), her outward appearance, her bearing, and her taste in fashion has changed. From the start, Nikita has worn fabulous clothes, and Miss Wilson wears clothes fabulously. But toward the end of last season, and in the current season, Nikitaís wardrobe has consisted of spectacular ultra chic couture clothing.
The woman behind the conceptualization of Miss Wilsonís wardrobe (as well as that of the other principal actors), is a talented, articulate and totally creative young costume designer, Laurie Drew. As you will see in the following interview, Laurieís approach to costume designing is thoughtful, insightful, unique. Laurie was kind enough to have a nice long chat with me. She allows us a peek behind the scenes, and reveals her approach to the costume designing of an extraordinary television show.
FF: How did it come about that the show would have an overall monochromatic look? What was the genesis of the look?
Laurie Drew: I think it kind of evolved because we wanted to do something that had a style to it, because, I donít know why that was, but I think it had to do with Rocco Matteo, whoís the production designer, and myself wanting to see what we could do with this particular idea. So how are you going to achieve this?
Okay, there are many different ways to skin a cat. But one of them certainly is visually, and in terms of what Iím able to contribute, you know a lot of it has to do with palette, and how theyíre going to shoot it and whatnot. And the show has evolved certainly.
One thing that I notice in terms of my years of experience is that each actor and each project has their own frequency. Then, once youíve found that beat, it has its own kind of evolution. A life of its own, in other words. And all we do is simply facilitate that.
Itís not like we come along and go, okay, boom, this is the template, this is what itís going to be, and be very rigid about it. I donít find, for me anyway, thatís not how I work. Usually what I endeavor to do is try to get a sense of what it is Iím working with in terms of just energy, right? And then whatever heightens that or accentuates that is what works, right?
Laurie Drew: Yeah. And then that can change constantly too. Itís not as if you arrive at one decision and then you walk away. Itís like a living, breathing entity. Itís fluid. You have to respect that, and pay attention, and it will tell you what to do. Iíve found good success with that method.
FF: Interesting. I think thatís a very interesting approach. And so when you say the frequency of the actor, can you describe the frequency of Peta Wilson (Nikita) and Roy Dupuis (Michael), and also of the other featured cast members?
Laurie Drew: Theyíre all different. Every person is. Itís almost like fingerprints. Because, you know, you could talk on the phone to an actor thatís scheduled to come into town in a week or something. And you can flip back ideas and Fedex little drawings and you know tear sheets and whatnot, and get all excited about a certain look. And then when they walk through that door, it can all go down the toilet.
So, itís like the moment the creative process begins is when they step through the threshold. And then you take a look at them, and I think--I donít know how you can word this--for me, itís just going to be a very kind of primitive way of putting it, but itís pretty rudimentary. Itís their creativity, and the same kind of force thatís your sexuality, you know?
So that kind of energy, whatever they walk through that door with, itís like when you get them to the state where they are starting to vibrate, you know, in an almost a sexual manner, okay. Not that theyíre jumping around, you know, doing lewd things, but just that youíve found it where they start to hum. That moment. And then thatís the look.
FF: Interesting, interesting.
Laurie Drew: Acting is a very creative process. Costuming is as well. So it does have something to do with that creative flash, sexual energy, that youíre kind of working with.
FF: And do you think that because Peta Wilson, the lead character, the heroine, is such a striking, physically beautiful individual, and has a sort of majestyÖI mean sheís tall, and sheís got a great body and the blond hair. Do you feel that because you have someone who is so amazing looking to work with, that it really gave you much more leeway?
Laurie Drew: Well, it does in terms of this show, because this showís a lot about kind of fashionable looking clothes. Now, each show has its own dictates. You know in this particular one--I mean I could work with Peta on another show where sheíd have to be a country housewife, and her look would be completely different, right? Nikita is particular in that sense, and weíre both happy to have all these great clothes. Weíre able to use it, and it works for this show. And the fact that she wears them so beautifully. Most actresses donít have model bodies. So you can have all kinds of ideas from magazines, but once you put them on the bod, it like kind of wilts.
Laurie Drew: So itís not as easy to wear the stuff as it is with Pete. She wears clothes beautifully.
FF: Absolutely. Iíve been following the series since the first season Ö
Laurie Drew: Oh, great.
FF: ... and I remember before it even came out, I live near Central Park and there was a phone booth with a poster teasing that the show was going to premiere soon, and there was this girl--I mean, you donít see many girls who look like that--in this great outfit. And I thought, wow! And of course Iíd seen the movie, and I thought well this looks really interesting. And I saw that it was on USA and I thought Iíve got to tune in. And Iíve been a total fan ever since.
And when you shaped the Nikita character with Peta as far as the costuming went, the very high couture look emerged more and more. How did that come about? Was that something that you worked on with the directors and the writers as well as with Peta, or how did that all work?
Laurie Drew: It had its evolution. And I think in terms of the characterís origins, sheís from the street, and she had a lot of rebelliousness in her for having been captured and kidnapped and forced under their control. So there were sort of odd and awkward and left-field kind of offshoots that would manifest inÖin costume, you know.
So she didnít know what the hell she was for the first while, you know, except that she was really good and pissed off, right? But she also had to behave in a kind of appropriate manner for certain missions, and you know that sort of thing.
So I think the first season was her more or less sort of finding herself, you know? And in a way we were too, you know. We were more impulsive. We were more kind of emotional about the pieces we would choose for her. And then, as the second season progressed, and certainly into the third, into the third season she has more or less decided to, I think, kind of play more of a psychological game with Section One. So she can play their game now very well, and probably better than they can. So that had to kind of manifest in her appearance. Which is a little bit more sophisticated and controlled. And then from time to time when we have an opportunity, weíll see whatís really in her soul, you know, but less and less likely around Section. She has to have a sort of appropriate look, and she does. And she pulls it off, you know, in her own fashion, which is kind of like okay, well, letís wear it well, and letís do it, you know. If weíre going to do it, letís do it well.
FF: And of course thereís clothes for different, you know, there are the clothes that are for a mission, and there are clothes for when youíre at Section, and thereís at home and thereís evening wear and stuff. But what do Michaelís clothes say about him?
Laurie Drew: Well, heís very non-committal. I mean, we do not know about him. Heís almost an illusion, you know. Heís done with mirrors, right? And heís not a real person. So he doesnít show anything. He shows absolutely no emotion, whatsoever. So you could, like you could project going to his house, say for example. You open the closet doors and thereíd be thirty suits exactly the same. Heís more a cartoon character in that respect. I donít know if you can call it that, but heís more two dimensional. Like heís not showing more dimension than he absolutely needs to.
FF: And you dress him in Gaultier?
Laurie Drew: Yeah, he looks really good in Gaultier.
FF: Is that primarily what he wears?
Laurie Drew: He wears Versace; also a line called Istante ...
FF: Oh yeah.
Laurie Drew: ... which he wears, and Gucci. Thatís about all we can find for him. You know, weíve really painted ourselves into a corner with him, right? Because itís got to be a uniform. But itís got to be a certain kind of body language too. Because thereís a lot of chemistry between him and Peta, and you donít see him really kind of schlumping around in loose fitting stuff, or anything too conventional. So itís got to have a bit of an edge. But it still has to be a uniform. So those are the only suits to date, anyway. Iím sure thereís other stuff out there that I probably havenít seen, but as far as what we can find and source out, itís that, you know the Gaultier--great cut.
FF: And as far as fitting and alterations, I mean because it strikes me also with this show, compared to other television shows, the way all the clothes, the menís suits too, they fit absolutely perfectly.
Laurie Drew: I think fit is so important.
FF: And do you spend ...
Laurie Drew: You could probably take any garment, and if it was properly fit you can make it look fabulous or just very, very commonplace you know? You probably could.
FF: Yes, I think thatís absolutely true. So do you have a lot of fittings with Roy Dupuis?
Laurie Drew: We usually do Roy at the beginning of the season. And then again maybe you know halfway through or thereabouts, weíll book some time with him and have another series of fittings.
Iíve got like an amazing crew here of really, really skilled people and we know him by heart to the point where any fluctuation in weight is immediately known! But theyíre very good about that; theyíre really conscious about our efforts. And therefore if, you know, they eat a little bit more over Christmas, theyíll work it off.
FF: Tell me about Operationsí suits and jackets and so forth.
What designers do you use for him?
Laurie Drew: Heís an Armani guy. You know, pretty much. Raspini, just kind of whatever ItalianÖpretty conventional, you know. Itís not hard stuff to buy. He wears clothes very, very well.
FF: Doesnít he.
Laurie Drew: Yeah he does, so you know itís an Armani kind of silhouette. And then you know we take it from there with whateverís around that kind of feels right.
FF: And Madeline?
Laurie Drew: Madelineís all custom.
FF: Is it?
Laurie Drew: Yeah, itís all made by us.
FF: I think she looks very good in clothes too. Is she tall?
Laurie Drew: Sheís average. I think sheís about five eight.
FF: Because she seems--maybe itís the silhouette, that itís a nice long lean look. And as far as Matthew Ferguson, Birkoff?
Laurie Drew: Oh yeah, heís great.
FF: I like his clothes, too. There were some really cool T-shirts last season.
Laurie Drew: Weíre using less and less of the street look. Itís got the street silhouette now, but less of the specifics, like the logos and stuff are kind of going away. I guess heís maturing too.
FF: Right, and Walter?
Laurie Drew: Don is Don and always will be. You know, he kind of came to us with his preference, which is the bandannas and the leather jeans and that, and I guess we just kind of slightly tweaked it for our show. Because thereís not a whole lot we can do with him. Heís an older person whoís kind of settled into a groove, and had grown into that groove, and embellished it over the years. And he doesnít have a lot of versatility. I donít know how you can say this in a nice way. Itís certainly not meant to be not nice. But itís just--in terms of creativity itís pretty limited with him.
FF: And would you say that in the psychological aspect of how the character Nikita dresses, do you feel that, particularly when itís a so-called office dress or whatever, is she dressing for Michael?
Laurie Drew: No. I donít think so. Sheís got a lot of intrigue.
I donít think she really cares one way or another. I mean itís a little deeper than that in terms of their relationship. Itís maybe even more twisted than that. I donít think itís as easy for them as like, oh, she wears a pretty dress one day, sheíll get him. You know itís a lot more complicated than that. And she sticks to her guns, no pun intended, just in terms of who she is, and sheís dealing in real truths with him. And I think thatís their weakness and strength together. I donít know, itís hard to say.
FF: Well, itís the tension that makes it so interesting, I think, too.
Laurie Drew: Yeah, yeah. And itís the tension based on pretty heavy duty stuff; life and death kind of stuff, like he was her savior, yet her captor.
So I donít know. I donít think itís got much to do with clothes. I think the clothes kind of indicate their personalities and their characters, so in that way thereís an interplay.
FF: And is Nikita dressing now in a more sort of corporate culture savvy way, because sheís ambitious? Is it with mixed feelings?
Laurie Drew: I donít think sheís ambitious to climb in Section; I think sheís ambitious for herself. I think the one thing about Nikita is, despite all odds, sheís got some vestige of hope left, and thatís what keeps her fire burning. And itís like sheís not a Hamlet type of person. Sheís not like, should I or shouldnít I, to be or not to be. Thereís nothing ambiguous about her. Right? Sheís in your face, she says what she thinks, and you know damn the torpedoes kind of thing, right?
Laurie Drew: So I donít think sheís actually aspiring to climb the corporate ladder in Section. I think if she has any aspirations at all, itís to live what mere kind of shreds of a life she has left, with some form of integrity.
FF: Yes, yes.
Laurie Drew: So yeah. Sheís ambitious in that, in terms of like okay, I can play this game too. And if Iím going to make something of myself, and my own personal battle of life, you know, then Iíll use whatever resources I have. And if I can be smart enough to fool these guys, then you know maybe thereís hope.
FF: I understand you often pick clothes for a scene right before itís shot.
Laurie Drew: Yeah.
FF: So that meansÖ Wow.
Laurie Drew: We only get seven days to shoot a whole show, and invariably Petaís in every script day, and you know thereís nine, ten, eleven different script days per show. You know it starts to mount up.
FF: I bet.
Laurie Drew: And she needs her sleep. She needs to have a bit of a life. So itís like the fittings now have just come down to the point where everything that is an option, I present to her already altered and ready to the point where it can go.
FF: I see.
Laurie Drew: So we just haul in a rack.
We have various outfit choices that are completely altered and accessorized and everything. And then itís just a matter of her going through the blocking, which is something they do prior to rehearsals. Like theyíll sort of go to the set with the director and a few of the key set people, and theyíll walk through their lines and kind of get a feel for the mood of it.
And then sheíll come back to change, and then sheíll know, okay, the feeling is this. Because you can read the script, you know Iíll read the script and know it inside out, but not until they actually block it and they have those dynamics in place do we really know what the hell weíre doing.
So then thatís when the decision is made as to the feel of it. And then we choose accordingly.
FF: And the fittings, since everything has already been fitted ahead of time, when has that occurred? How long before you actually start production do you fit Peta for a whole bunch of wardrobe?
Laurie Drew: Weíve got a whole kind of form of her. So we ...
FF: Oh great. Cool.
Laurie Drew: Yeah, itís something that my seamstresses have. Weíve got one full time lady working with us, Natasha, who works here at the studio constantly.
And then weíve got another lady, Tamio, whoís brilliant; and sheís got her own studio downtown. And we do contract work with her. She builds for Peta and for Madeline. We have their forms, so we donít need to access them in actual flesh and blood ever.
FF: Interesting. And do you have duplicates of clothes?
Laurie Drew: Yeah. When called for, if itís a stunt doubling situation, we have to have double, yeah.
FF: So a large bank of clothes has been accumulated at this point.
Laurie Drew: Yeah. But stuff that looked great six months ago, I wouldnít want to touch it you know. Thatís what I mean it has a life of its own.
FF: Can you give me an example of something that doesnít look right any more after six months?
Laurie Drew: Yeah, like last year we were into the Costume National kind of silhouette. Very tight with zippers up the back as the pant leg that spreads out over the high heel boot, right? And it looked like so great and so right. And we did a lot of that. And now itís like hmmm, you know.
FF: There was a spread last week in Sundayís New York Times, and there were Costume National clothes in the spread. It was a spread on Carrie Donovan. And what theyíre doing now is completely different. Pastels and the whole thing.
Laurie Drew: And thatís the danger.
Because weíve got distribution in Europe, and theyíre seeing like two years ago. Itís embarrassing, you know. But I suppose it still may work.
FF: It does.
Laurie Drew: You go with the character then. And what we have is what goes with the character now.
FF: How do you go shopping?
Laurie Drew: I mostly have it brought to me.
I canít seem to get out of the office as much as I used to. And I thought that as the series progressed I would get into a nice groove, and that would give me more free time, but it doesnít seem to have worked that way. Itís really demanding still. So Iíve got two mean shoppers who go out and pull in anything thatís out there on the racks that is looking like it might have a potential here.
Theyíll bring it in to me, and we have really good close relationships with a lot of the boutiques and stores in town. And you know, we pull stuff in from them, and take a look at it or show it to Peta or the other actors, and then return what we donít use. And then they also are always scouting for fabrics and elements that might be interesting, right? And then bring some of that stuff in and oh, we can make such and such out of this you know.
So thatís how we kind of keep it going.
Weíre all pretty hands on, and weíve got like an amazing department actually. If we had more people then we might be stumbling all over each other. I mean we all work really, really hard, probably too hard. But, I donít know.
FF: Itís a crack team, right?
Laurie Drew: Weíre sick individuals.
FF: I understand that Peta comes to New York often and goes shopping, and on these trips she picks up things possibly to wear on the show, or for herself. What places does she visit? Does she visit stores or does she go up to ateliers?
Laurie Drew: She has been invited to a lot of ateliers actually, and there have been a lot of people interested in working with the show; but itís funny because we work so fast that to call, say, Gianfranco Ferre and say, oh, can we have that great coat? By the time it gets through Customs and all that stuff itís like, itís a pain. And weíve all been struggling, them on their end, we on our end, you know trying to get this working. But itís just like logistically itís a nightmare.
And you know Peteís not a sample size necessarily either, because sheís a bigger gal, right?
FF: Right, right.
Laurie Drew: So we canít always use samples, and oh, just getting the stock in, and itís all kind of seasonally...itís really been hard for us. I think if we were located down in New York doing the show down there we could nick over and grab stuff and it would be much easier. But this way itís very difficult.
FF: And how tall is Peta?
Laurie Drew: Sheís five ten.
FF: And when she shops for herself, what designers does she favor?
Laurie Drew: She goes in and out, and it just depends on whoís doing what. As we know, you could love a designer one season and the next season youíre going ...
FF: For sure ...
Laurie Drew: ... what? But pretty consistently Dolce & Gabbanaís pretty fabulous, and she likes sort of the more sophisticated couture houses. I think sheís really partial to the French couture as well. And she wears it really interestingly. Like sheíll wear it offbeat kind of.
Laurie Drew: Sheís not all sort of ladylike in those terms. Sheís got a completely different energy. But she can certainly wear clothes, and itís kind of interesting to see her put stuff together. You know, sheíll put it all together in a way that would probably have people freaking out. But she pulls it off.
FF: So she has a real fashion sense herself.
Laurie Drew: Oh boy, does she ever. She has an amazing eye.
FF: Wonderful. And when you say she favors the French couture houses, what others? Is it like Galliano or ...
Laurie Drew: No, not Galliano because heís so out there right now. More Givenchy and Balenciaga and those ...
FF: Oh great ...
Laurie Drew: But you know the really good cuts like Mugler and those people who are really strong, she can wear that stuff.
FF: And what is your--both of you--what is your interest in vintage clothing?
Laurie Drew: Used to, although itís not as important at the moment. You know like maybe in ten minutes it will be, but like right now itísÖI mean the thing is when youíre poor and you know you really need to sort of pull a look together, you know vintage can often be a great refuge.
FF: It sure can.
Laurie Drew: If you know, if you have an eye, because God knows, if youíve got that quality in something made today it would cost you a fortune, right?
FF: Yeah, and sometimes you canít even find it.
Laurie Drew: Exactly, you know. So thatís a great thing about vintage. But weíd used a lot of vintage in the first season, less in the second and none in now.
FF: Because here itís gone crazy in Manhattan for...
Laurie Drew: Oh has it?
FF: ... for some reason. And of course also the very, very high end stuff that they auction off at the various auction houses. But itís very big with the very rich Park Avenue ladies, as well as people who can findÖyou know, there are places in Chinatown that are great resources for very, very inexpensive but good quality vintage clothing. So itís interesting that thatís sort of taken off here.
FF: Then I wanted to ask you about a few of the clothes in recent episodes. I think it was last Sundayís episode there were some--I mean I love everything, but I saw very distinctive stuff. Nikita was wearing a sweater--itís almost a sweater set, but whatís interesting is thereís like a finger loop to the sleeve that almost makes it look like a half glove.
Laurie Drew: Oh yeah, it could be, actually. Yeah weíve got a few sweater treatments with long sleeves in a thumbhold.
FF: Yes, yes exactly.
Laurie Drew: Long sleeves are kind of interesting right now, and that wrist area is kind of interesting...
FF: Very. Now, are you doing that yourself?
Laurie Drew: Uh huh.
FF: So the sweater is not necessarily that way.
Laurie Drew: Right.
FF: Oh interesting. Very interesting. And then there was a sort of cranberry red dress at the end of the show with aÖI believe a gray coat over it.
Laurie Drew: Right. I think thatís Susan Lazar.
FF: Very pretty color. And I think what I really, really, really adored was in the first episode of this season, where thereís that whole action scene in Shanghai, and itís a wonderful stunt sequence as well, and she starts out wearing like ...
Laurie Drew: The coolie outfit.
FF: ... exactly, and then out comes this sensational mission outfit.
Laurie Drew: Itís sort of like the bulletproof layer thatís worn presumably under disguises.
FF: Right. I think itís so iconic, really.
Laurie Drew: Yeah. In a way without being too cartoonish.
Laurie Drew: You have to be careful.
FF: No, I think women would go out and buy that.
Laurie Drew: Oh, do you?
FF: Oh yes, I do. I actually think Nikitaís influence on dress is very powerful.
Laurie Drew: I have a feeling it is.
FF: I went past the Gap in my neighborhood yesterday, and in a very--of course, you know things get watered down so people can understand it--but thereís a photograph of a young girl in pigtails wearing a wind breaker. But thereís something evocative of the show in it. And I thought, this is very interesting, because I think itís emerging in some way.
Laurie Drew: Yeah. Well sheís a hero--a heroine to us in a way. Because of her strange situation, the ability to filter into places and to meet people that are very exotic, that we in our little ordinary lives could never possibly you know get to, right? Or meet.
Laurie Drew: And then her approach to all those people, and her function in those environments, is kind of intriguing.
Laurie Drew: Yeah, so we watch her for that kind ofÖjustÖjust the experience is kind of traveling on her coattails, right? And seeing what sheís seeing, experiencing what sheís experiencing.
FF: And I think also at the same time itís accessible because in a sense, what sheís struggling against in the structure that sheís in, is sort of a metaphor for a lot of peopleís jobs.
Laurie Drew: Exactly. We all feel kidnapped.
FF: Screwed over and everything else.
Laurie Drew: I know. What the hell.
FF: Except this is much more glamorous.
Laurie Drew: Yeah, and a lot of it could even be of our own making. You know, such a big machine. How do we know until itís almost too late to change it, right?
FF: Yeah, how it all works. And so that mission outfit, did you design that and make it yourselves, or was that pieced together?
Laurie Drew: We did piece it together. We designed the pants. The top we used the arms of a downhill ski underpadding garment, and then the vest is whatís called an armadillo. Itís a standard piece used by stuntmen. And we took out pieces of it, and just kept basic elements of it, and it kind of worked.
FF: Itís brilliant. When that whole sequence went by, and I saw that costume, I really just think itís really up there with the memorable outfits on stars in movies that you love. You know itís got that real wow power.
Laurie Drew: Amazing.
FF: I think it does have that strength. And now, just a couple of questions about last season.
FF: In the final two episodes Nikita was wearing a very beautiful black dress that had a very sort of geometric cutout in the back; it was almost backless. Whose dress was that?
Laurie Drew: Thatís a local designer from Toronto called Crystal Siemens.
FF: Wow, very nice. Very talented.
Laurie Drew: Yeah itís beautiful.
FF: Iíd like to know where you were born.
Laurie Drew: In Ontario here. Not far from Toronto; a small town.
FF: A small town?
Laurie Drew: Uh huh.
FF: And what did your parents do? Were they in a related field or not?
Laurie Drew: Not at all. No. My mother was a school teacher; my father was a cop.
FF: Oh great.
Laurie Drew: Later a businessman, but you know when I was growing up he was OPP, Ontario Provincial Police.
FF: And did that make it hard for you in a small town, that you father was a ... ?
Laurie Drew: Oh God. Did it ever!
FF: You studied at, is it Brock University?
Laurie Drew: Yeah, and oddly enough, I took courses in drama. So that was the real first indication to me that I had an interest there, because, of course, small town Ontario, growing up in the Sixties, you know itís like thatís not even part of your universe. You know itís not even an option. And we didnít watch a lot of television in our home. You know it was school work and playing outdoors a lot and activities and stuff like that. We werenít really brought up on TV like a lot of kids are today, and maybe were then; I donít know. But you know we could watch Walt Disney Sunday night; that was about the extent of it. When people would come to me and say, well, what do you want to be when you grow up, I was always miffed. I had no idea. Because the options that were available to me didnít interest me at all. You know?
But when I did go to university they had a great drama department there that was just newly built. And so that was a big plus for that university. And also it showed me that world for the first time.
And in fact, the theatrical world really was very intimidating at first. The professor and the green room and his little kind of group of favorites and all that. And I was very country kind of naive you know, and I was pretty intimidated by all of that, but still fascinated.
What really turned me on, though, was the actual work on stage, though I didnít do much. We built costumes, we built sets, we mounted entire productions. I think the one I remember most was Moliere--what was that one? And I played a member of the Italian commedia dellíarte.
FF: Oh yes. Oh neat!
Laurie Drew: I played the old guy, and I just loved it. So I think probably from then on I started developing this interest in the arts, the lively arts.
FF: It must have been fun doing costumes for that production.
Laurie Drew: Oh yeah it was; it was great. And then I came to Toronto, having left home, and you know left home early, as early as I could basically.
You know and I just came and started working at odd jobs in Toronto. And eventually, though, got into the film business.
A friend of mine, Robert Lantos, is a producer up here, and he was just starting out at that time. So they didnít have a lot of crews at that time in Toronto. And they were starting to really produce much more. So it was a perfect time for people without a lot of skill and experience to start in.
FF: Right, get in on the ground floor.
Laurie Drew: Exactly. And my boyfriend at the time was an artist and Robert was buying his paintings. And so at one point Robert said well listen, Iím going to start producing my own films; do you want to art direct? I got into costume that way. And apprenticed. So basically my whole background is apprenticeship in terms of this. And Iíve been doing it for twenty years.
But I found that itís a really, really good way of learning. You know, I think you can probably learn a lot in school, and I would never discourage anyone from going to school to study it, because you know thatís more formalized, and you get a lot of information that way. But in terms of apprenticeship, thatís where you really get the experience.
FF: Oh definitely.
Laurie Drew: In the sense of actually working with people and the dynamics that are at play in the film production. It is experience that really, really counts for you.
FF: Definitely, definitely. And during this time, even when you were still at home, and then when you went to college and were just starting out, what was your interest in clothes just in a general sense for yourself? Did you make things--design things for yourself? Were you gravitating in that way?
Laurie Drew: No, not at all. And itís funny because again you know that whole world didnít even really exist, like haute couture and high fashion and all of that in a small town scenario. Itís something that never really existed.
I think my interest for costume is moreÖpsychological. Yeah ...
FF: Very interesting.
Laurie Drew: Yeah, itís like what makes the character tick, you know. Like when I traveled to Europe when I was in my formative years as a kid, was like wow, I could sit in a café, you know, for hours just watching people. You know? So I think, what components really put together a specific personality, and how you can translate that into costuming, right?
FF: Right. I think thatís great, and I think you achieve that brilliantly on the show. Itís just fabulous.
FF: And when you were in Europe you say sitting in cafés was also sort of an inspiration to develop this sort of psychological aspect of dressing. What were some of your favorite countries? What were some of your greatest influences or moments there that really stand out for you?
Laurie Drew: Well the thing is, it really opened my mind and I think, you know, for any kind of artist, travel is vital. At a certain juncture in your life youíve got to go; itís almost like a rite of passage. Youíve just got to do it. Because I think weíre very one dimensional in America. Weíve had, I donít know how many years of civilization here; not too many. And itís all been mostly in the modern age, right?
Laurie Drew: Thereís not a lot of reflection on the past, whatís come before, the origins of things. All of that. And that has always kind of fascinated me. You know when they say the news on TV, itís like, yeah, the news. The news is boring. What about the old stuff? What brought us here? How do we make a decision without knowing all the variables that have caused us to arrive at this point? You know?
Laurie Drew: Why do we just respond toÖto whatís news? We could be making the same mistakes over and over again without ever knowing it. We just donít reflect, right?
FF: Right. Itís the old Lily Tomlin joke. I think she says, history would stop repeating itself if we listened to it.
Laurie Drew: Exactly. Oh yeah, thatís brilliant. Wow. So you know that kind of thing really blew my mind in Europe, because those people have been around. Theyíve suffered a lot. And because of that I think their value system is, is muchÖhow shall I say, maybe I think theyíve figured out whatís really important in life. And itís pretty much the simple things you know. Itís beauty--beautyís a big one.
Laurie Drew: Pleasure; and that can take many different aspects. I think itís probably the simplicities of life, you know? And they make a space in their world for the development of anything beautiful, whether it be food or clothes or lifestyle or art appreciation or music or anything. Those things--here they donít really have a monetary value, therefore, you know, if you canít really make money out of them, itís not worth the exploring, or spending time on.
But there in Europe money is only to get you the time so that you can enjoy the finer things of life, right? So thatís what really, I think, changed me and turned me right around with like wow, you know, thereís an actual pursuit of an esthetic that can be a lifelong endeavor.
FF: Yes, I was struck by that too when I first went over. I spent a lot of time in Italy because I have family there. But itís true in many, many places. What were some of the spots that are in your heart still?
Laurie Drew: Well unfortunately I still havenít been to Paris, so thatís a place I still have to go to. But mostly I spent a lot of my time in Spain and in Italy and in Hungary. Because my ex-husband was Hungarian. Itís a very, very beautiful country.
FF: Oh yes, I hear Budapest is gorgeous.
Laurie Drew: Yeah it is. And the countryside is gorgeous.
FF: Oh how wonderful!
Laurie Drew: Austria is beautiful. So Iíve done a lot of sort of--Germany Iím not so mad for. It is absolutely gorgeous. Iím just not as crazy for the people. But I love Italy. I suppose Italy is first and foremost, and next Spain. Spainís prettyÖpretty amazing. You know thereís so many regions of it and theyíre all quite different in vibration kind of like. Thereís Seville, very sensuous, and Madrid is very formal, and the north is pretty gorgeous in terms of the topography and all of that. Portugal: I spent a lot of time there, too. Belgium and Holland I really enjoy. I like the people in Northern Belgium and Holland. I love the Dutch; theyíre gorgeous people.
FF: Arenít they beautiful? Yes, Iíve been struck by that too. And tall!
Laurie Drew: Yeah. Thatís true. Theyíre very sophisticated people. I feel like a country bumpkin when Iím there, because theyíve got something figured out. Extremely civilized people.
FF: So are you multilingual?
Laurie Drew: No, not really. I have an affinity for languages, and I do speak a bit of French being Canadian, but I pick up Italian very easily when Iím there, to the point where I can pretty much manage. But then I lose it when Iíve left. I think with languages, you know, I donít pursue it. I donít study it, because I just donít have time. But when Iím there I kind of pick it up quickly.
FF: Oh thatís great. Thatís wonderful. And then it said in your bio that after your tour of Europe, your multiyear tour, you went to Key West.
Laurie Drew: Oh yeah I did.
FF: And what -- what triggered going to that particular place? What was the thought process?
Laurie Drew: That was personal. Again, it was just a friend of my ex-husband, who was another painter and had a house down there, and we were invited down there for the winter, and stayed for three years.
FF: Oh nice.
Laurie Drew: Yeah.
FF: Did you like it there?
Laurie Drew: I loved it there. Yeah, it was right down the street from Jimmy Buffet, and the whole temperament there in the Seventies was really incredible, because a lot of the gays from Fire Island would come down there in the winter time, and they developed really fabulous restaurants and clubs. And there was a free rolling feeling happening down there, and it was just so kind of isolated from the rest of the country. It sort of had its own rhyme and reason, right?
Laurie Drew: It was neat. It was very, very great.
FF: Sounds kind of electric too.
Laurie Drew: It was. It was really great. But then you know whatever, Iím not American and eventually did have to come home, right?
Laurie Drew: So thatís when I got into the film business actually, when I left Key West.
FF: And you designed swimwear while you were down there?
Laurie Drew: YeahÖyeah I did.
FF: And that was for both men and women, or just women?
Laurie Drew: Mostly women, yeah.
FF: What did the swimwear look like?
Laurie Drew: Well we brought the tanga (a kind of bikini) into Florida and did very well with it, too.
Laurie Drew: Yeah, and we sort of introduced the high cuts and the tanga. And we wholesaled it, and had great success with it actually.
FF: I bet.
Laurie Drew: But I had to walk away from it, because I just couldnít get it organized in terms of, you know, being a Canadian down there.
FF: I see. So you returned home.
Laurie Drew: Yup. I returned home upon invitation to do a film.
FF: And that was in Montreal?
Laurie Drew: Yeah.
FF: And which film was that?
Laurie Drew: Oh God, I canít remember. That was many years ago.
FF: Okay so you settled then in Montreal for a while or ...
Laurie Drew: Yeah, uh huh.
FF: And how many years did you live there?
Laurie Drew: Oh, maybe ten.
FF: Ten? And you did a variety of costume, both contemporary and period work or ... ?
Laurie Drew: Iíve done very little period work. Iíve really just designed one period miniseries and got a Gemini (Canadaís Emmy award) nomination for that. And it was the Margaret Sanger story.
FF: I saw that. That was lovely.
Laurie Drew: Yeah, but it wasnít called that finally. I think when they actually did run it they called it something else.
FF: I think youíre right, because I think I saw it on Lifetime maybe a couple of years ago, and I did think it had another title, but I recognized it.
FF: And then, after the ten years in Montreal, what happened next?
Laurie Drew: I was invited down to Toronto to do a cop series, and so I came down here to do that and just stayed, pretty much doing TV and what that was, for us here, was pretty much movies of the week. So we would pop out these mini movies for television in like six weeks. Itís just like a kind of mill. But it was a great school for learning.
FF: I bet.
Laurie Drew: So it was tough in many, many ways, but a good experience I guess on hindsight.
FF: And the cop series; what was the name of that?
Laurie Drew: You know what youíll find with me? That my memory in terms of work is really selective, and itís embarrassing sometimes because I just donít remember stuff. As soon as Iím finished, boom, I put all of my focus on the next project, or the current project. I completely just forget all the rest.
FF: And you yourself, who are your favorite designers?
Laurie Drew: Well, itís funny, because, you know what? I live mostly in just active wear. Kind of like, we have a store up here called Mountain Co-op, and thatís what I live in. And I live in boots, ski pants, thermal zipper jackets, and thatís it. Because we have to be up at five in the morning, be on set. And this is now my third year, right? So I gave up dressing, and I just dress for comfort.
But when I go out and stuff, I like to make things. The dress for the Geminis was a make, and the stuff I wore at Christmas I made. You know, or had made, right? Just go out and buy fabric andÖbut as far as designers go who I really love right now, and couldnít possibly afford, you know, because I mean if I dressed in the clothes that I like, Iíd be a pauper. Iím intrigued by Yamamoto right now this season.
FF: Iíve noticed some really nice shoes and boots on Peta.
Laurie Drew: Yeah. Sergio Rossi sent us a whole bunch, which was really nice of him. So theyíre really gung ho for this show. He just sent us up a whole box.
FF: Oh, how wonderful.
Laurie Drew: Can you imagine?
FF: I can just see designers dying to dress her.
Laurie Drew: Yeah, itís just the logistics of it has been weird. I think itís probably a first for TV, you know, where couture people take an interest on that level. I mean I donít know of any other show myself.
FF: Without a doubt.
Laurie Drew: I mean on film, yeah. Obviously you know everybodyís into film. And itís much more workable with film, because youíve got a lot more prep time. But on TV I donít think weíve ever seen the caliber of dress that we have on Nikita.
FF: I completely agree. I occasionally watch Melrose Place, which Iím sure has quite a large budget, I really feel the clothing on that show is fairly banal. I mean it really isnít very distinguishable year from year or from character to character for that matter.
Laurie Drew: Yeah. Like they might be dressed off set by designers, right?
FF: I donít know. I donít know how it works on that show. But also I think all the girls are rather petite, so theyíre probably harder to fit.
Laurie Drew: Yeah thatís it. With actresses it is. Itís a real limitation.
FF: And they donít fit the way the clothes on your show do either.
Laurie Drew: Well like I said weíre sticklers for fit. We love fit. So whatever we can do to achieve that weíve pretty much tried to.
FF: You should be really proud of the work because itís superb.
And finally, can I ask you a little bit about your personal life? Are you married, do you have children?
Laurie Drew: No. I donít.
FF: No to both.
Laurie Drew: No not married, but living with someone. No children ever.
FF: And do you have any pets?
Laurie Drew: Oh yeah, Iíve got two Jack Russells.
FF: Oh, I love them. Do they come to the set?
Laurie Drew: Yeah, yes.
FF: Oh excellent. Thatís nice.
Laurie Drew: Not all the time. From time to time, because theyíre like little terrors.
FF: Theyíre really smart.
Laurie Drew: Oh theyíre great, theyíre great animals.
FF: Thanks for speaking with us, Laurie. Youíre doing great things