Eugene Robert Glazer tries very hard to rule the world, and sometimes he succeeds. The man who plays Operations, the head of Section One on USA's La Femme Nikita, has been credited on the series with everything from keeping Saddam Hussein in power to assassinating Latin American presidents. To some, the man who leads the world's most covert anti-terrorist organization is a hero. But to most of the people who work for him, he's a ruthless, cold-hearted killer.
"I don't believe Operations rules the world -- if only he were able to, it would be wonderful," Glazer lamented recently in Toronto, where La Femme Nikita films. In the fourth season premiering this week, he must deal with meddling from Oversight and cope with the return of Section One founder Adrian whom he had tried to neutralize -- reportedly by having her cryogenically frozen. He will also have to confront some ghosts from his past as well, including memories of having been a P.O.W., that shape his current behavior.
At the end of last season, Operations and Section One strategist Madeline tried to sabotage the work of Oversight's George, who encouraged Nikita's lover Michael to undermine Operations. They nearly succeeded until George revealed that Section operative Greg Hillinger was a spy for Oversight. Operations and George appeared to be at a stalemate in their power struggle, but neither one is likely to stop scheming.
"This is something we'll be working on this season, how George is dealt with," Glazer said. "I would love to get my hands around Hillinger's neck, too. I have a feeling he most likely will be back. Though I think Nikita has earned the right...all of us have earned the right!"
Nikita, who risked her life lying for Hillinger before she knew his real mission, has earned the right to get her hands around Operations' neck several times over. Not only did he try to have her "cancelled" (i.e. executed), but he and Madeline had Nikita brainwashed to fall out of love with Michael because their relationship was causing the couple to become subordinate.
"I meet people who say, 'I really like the show, but why are you so mean to that girl?'" noted Glazer, to which he jokingly added: "Guys, it's a script. Besides, she's a pain in the ass, and she has to be kept in line!"
Operations -- whose real name is Paul, though no one ever calls him that -- is a major control freak. He has to be, to protect the world from vicious terrorists. Even so, his behavior within Section borders on outrageous, so much so that he spends a great deal of time meddling [in] the personal lives of his operatives just to keep them in line.
What's more, Operations has a relationship with Madeline that goes far beyond what's acceptable for the rest of Section. Their ill-timed affair and her subsequent accusation that he was harassing her turned out to be an elaborate trap for George, who believed he could turn Madeline against Operations last season. But Operations didn't yet know George was spying on him when he smashed through quarantine security to get to Madeline in "Inside Out," nor when he invited her to make love in the Tower in "Last Night."
Does Glazer think Operations has feelings for Madeline? "Of course, he loves her, yes!" exclaimed the actor, who nonetheless believed the couple would not have become intimate last season if Oversight hadn't been watching. "I think they had something a long time ago and decided to use it against George. Everything is kept as what you see is what you get. Nothing can really be shown."
In the early episodes, Glazer was told to play Operations even less demonstratively. "When I first started, there were one or two moments when a smile came across my face, and you'd have thought I dropped a bomb in the soundstage. They said, 'No, no, no, my God, this man does not smile!"
Glazer believes the character does have a sense of humor, "but it's very subtle. He comes in to Madeline and says, 'Let's see, we caught the two bombers that killed the 70 children, well, just another day at the office.' They're obvious lines, but he doesn't have an obvious choice for humor."
The series isn't particularly known for its comedy, but the actor finds it occasionally watching Nikita. "It's like watching a spoiled child. She's a terrific operative, but Jesis, I would have killed anyone else three minutes into the show. You have to have people really have the fear of God in them, because as in real life, you give an inch, they take a foot. If someone gets out of line, you just have to shoot them."
That philosophy seems to be Operations' M.O. "Running a place like this, he has to be absolutely heartless, unfortunately. Everyone is expendable -- everyone." As a result, Nikita makes a perfect foil for him. "There's something about her character that runs parallel to Operations. Operations can't be that human anymore. He's lost that, from everything he's been through and everything he's had to do."
Yet Operations is more prone to expressing his emotions, such as letting his feelings for Madeline leak out, than are either Madeline or Michael. "Madeline and Michael are similar. You don't see a lot [of] what's going on with them. I think Operations shows a little bit more of the human side; Madeline's character does not."
"I would sooner use a despicable terrorist, if I can kill ten terrorists by saving one through his work. It's the 'kill the few to save the many' concept," explained the actor. Glazer doesn't completely disagree with the philosophy, though he finds Operations' behavior excessive. "If I were the president, the death penalty would be instituted in every state of the Union, and if someone did a despicable crime, that's it. I'm very radical about seeing innocent people hurt for no reason. I used to be a bleeding heart, but now when a guy rapes a three-year-old and they say he was abused as a child, I say tough. Shoot him."
Operations has occasionally shown a sentimental side, like when he listened to his now-dead son talk about him. "That was really a nice soft moment." In another episode, where he had to drive his former wife insane to capture her seditious new husband, he showed some remorse. "Originally they did have a really tender scene where I tell her how sorry I am. But they cut it out because it was like a dream sequence. We're holding each other, she backs off a little and says it's okay, and there's no one left there but me. I thought it was kind of nice, but they thought it was silly."
Because Operations' backstory was not fleshed out when Glazer got the part, he created his own. The small P.O.W. pin always worn by the character was the actor's idea. "When we first started the show, I was reading a lot on the American involvement in Vietnam and the political issues and the CIA. I gave them a biography of the character. It's really a compilation of a lot of different people I've read about. His background as a P.O.W., they're going to address that in one of the shows this year."
For Glazer, the research wasn't just background for a performance; the stories of Vietnam prisoners of war fascinate and enrage him. "I have bookcases full of books I haven't even read yet, and I still order more, to my wife's dismay," he reported. "When I first got on the Internet about four years ago, I started getting into the P.O.W. sites. I would get on at ten o' clock and by six in the morning I was still on, downloading and printing. I just couldn't stop."
Though he initially worried about attracting the attention of the CIA or the Department of Defense, the actor eventually made contact with men from the Hanoi Hilton who told him their stories. "There were American soldiers who were specifically trained to assassinate U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, soldiers who were believed to be traitors. The guys they trained could take out a gnat at 300 yards. That's how good they were. But most of them since the war committed suicide. They couldn't live with the fact that they killed their own people."
Glazer is interested in writing a screenplay about people working their way through the government lies to rescue the remaining P.O.W.s in Asia. He asked La Femme Nikita's writers to work some of these issues into Operations' backstory as well. "My character was a P.O.W. I gave them a background, a history of the man, what his service record was, what he did....They based a lot of stuff for the character on it."
In Glazer's version of events, Operations founded Section. "I basically blackmailed the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that's my personal history. Of course, the writers had other ideas. They have another history, with Adrian as the founder. I was disappointed. When I brought the story to Joel [Surnow, the executive consultant] about the background, he said, 'I don't want to get involved with Vietnam. It's a dead issue. It's over and done with.' And I said, 'No, it's not. Did you see The X-Files the other night, Joel? They had a whole thing about the P.O.W.s. There are millions of people affected by this war. It will always be a live issue.'"
In addition to the P.O.W. storyline, Glazer has other ideas he would like to see pursued on La Femme Nikita. Because Operations has apparently had several wives, plus a son who died on the show, there are more possibilities to explore in his past.
"It would be really great if Operations went out on a mission and the wife is there. I'm wearing a ski mask, and from across the room, this woman turns, I turn away but she spots me, there's something about my movement. I've got the ski mask on, and she just reaches up and pulls it off. There I am faced with my history, and I have to deal with her. I thought it would be a nice moment to explore."
"I can't imagine people working in this line, not really allowing time for those emotions to get in the way, because quite obviously those emotions hamper one's judgment," Glazer added. "In that world, that's what they have to live with. I most certainly couldn't live like that."
Still, "I've always wished that I could be Operations. It would be wonderful to walk into a store and say, 'I didn't like that, take this back!' and have them say, 'Yes, sir! Could we give you anything else for free?' I do get a lot of people saying, he's a really scary guy, you know?"
For the most part, Glazer has been happy with Operations' character development, but there have been a few exceptions. In the episode "Soul Sacrifice," where a pregnant operative had to be executed for trying to escape, it was suggested that Michael might be the father of her baby. But in the original draft, the show ended with the operative walking across the floor to be cancelled as Operations watched, knowing that he was the father of the child.
"When I saw that, I got on the phone to Joel and said, 'This is absolutely despicable. The man would never do that. First of all, he wouldn't be playing around with the young operatives. Number two, you're having him kill a woman who you're suggesting is carrying his child? That's sick, Joel. I really don't want to do that. You're really hurting the character."
In the end, the writers never conclusively answered the questions raised by the episode. "They sort of left it hanging. No one ever really knows who's telling the truth, which is the fun on the show. When I went to Joel with my blond hair which later turned platinum on the show, I said, 'Well, how do you explain this?' He said, 'We don't have to explain anything.'"
Indeed, the show's cult following will explain everything for them. "The fans will explain it. You can't imagine the stories that they have generated," said Glazer, who is familiar with the fan fiction of The Twisted Romantics, The Manhattan Operatives, and other online fan groups. "They know the show better than we do. I think it's wonderful, but some of them take it very seriously."
Glazer had the opportunity to work with his wife, actress Brioni Farrell, when she played an Oversight operative spying for George. "It's always weird working with the wife," admitted the actor. "I didn't like the way they did her hair, but I didn't want to step in and be like the doting husband. And part of the direction should have been a lot more subtle. So it was really awkward, I was being a lot more tentative, and she didn't want to say anything because she thought they'd think she was being difficult."
The episode left the possibility open for the character to return, since she threatened Madeline -- who threw her out of Section -- with retribution. Farrell enjoys the show along with Glazer, though both of them have gotten a bit tired of the storyline where Operations and Madeline try to come up with new ways to drive Nikita and Michael apart.
"The last few shots, my wife said, 'Enough already, is that all you two have to do -- plot against those two?' The world is falling apart and it's 'Did he see her? He may have said something to her, let's find out, let's kill them! It's absolutely insane," said Glazer. "They get together, then a lot of things happen that pull them apart. It's a very fine line to walk. I've had to step in at certain times and say something. I said to the producers, you can't keep doing this. You're making Operations and Madeline look like putzes. All of a sudden he and Madeline are just doormats."
Though the network has not made any decisions about whether there will be a fifth season, Glazer expressed some concern about whether the show could be kept interesting for another two years. "How many times can you split Nikita and Michael apart and bring them back together? How many years can we keep this going? I thought our first year was terrific, really edgy, and the second season was pretty edgy, but by the third year we got a little lazy. It's a terrible thing to admit, but you do find yourself phoning in performances. They tell me to pace the way Operations paces. I can do that in my sleep."
Playing With Fire
Glazer is used to playing bad guys, as he does in the upcoming film New Blood with Joe Pantoliano and John Hurt. "Ive always been typecast as a bad guy. Maybe it's the scary look I have, those cold blue eyes," he laughed. Raised in the New York area, the actor went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts for a year, then "did a little dinner theater and traveled a bit" before coming to Los Angeles.
"I studied too much. There's nine ways to make a steak, it's kind of confusing when you're anxious to throw it on the broiler and let it go. I used to be a Method actor, but there are times when I just like to let myself go and take a chance at it and see which way it turns out. I think with acting it's knowing what you want in a particular scene, the intention, and if you know the situation, you just go in and do it. That's where the unpredictability comes from. If you plan on crying on a certain word, you're probably going to be in trouble."
In roles he looks for diversity -- a quality he admires in Christopher Walken one of his favorite actors, as are Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert DeNiro. "I like to play against the grain. They always have to cast me as a bad guy because they have to get someone who looks like a bad guy. You can't get someone who looks like a rabbi, you know? But it would be far more interesting if a rabbi were a serial killer. It's so obvious if Jack Palance walks in, this guy's not getting near my kid! It's always far more interesting when it's not the obvious choice."
Glazer has a long list of actresses he'd like to work with: Debra Winger, Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Judt Davis. He confessed, "You know who I would really like to work with? People knock her to death, but I just love Demi Moore." He is interested in directing and has plans to write a screenplay based on his research about Vietnam vets. "I've never written, so the discipline is close to that of a gnat, and I have so many other things going on that I can't organize my time....Ah, that's just an excuse. I'm lazy, actually, is what it is."
A fan of The X-Files -- "a good show, very taut, gets the imagination going" -- and Frasier, Glazer would like to do more comedy. But he'd be happy working less often, too. "I'd like to do a terrific movie once or twice a year and come home. I would love to be on a secluded beach, someplace with palm trees, and have scripts come to me."
If he were Operations, he might be able to pull the strings to make it happen. Of course, if he were Operations, he might have to kill ten people to pull those strings....