Femme Fatale: Gun-Toting Peta's a Deadly Beauty
Richard Wallace, The (London) Mirror (13 September 1997)
She has the whip-thin body of a supermodel and the reflexes of a trained assassin.
Gorgeous Peta Wilson is a new TV action heroine with a major attitude problem.
In La Femme Nikita the 5ft 10in Aussie beauty stars as a small-time hoodlum who is sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder she didn't commit.
She is made an offer she can't refuse -- rot in jail or become a government assassin.
The Channel 5 series was inspired by the classic French thriller of the same name which was remade by Hollywood in 1993 as The Assassin.*
"To get into the role I hung out with street kids, learned how to take punches and kick and how to fall," says Peta. "I spent hours in video arcades playing on cops-and-robbers machines and went to gun ranges."
Peta, 26, is the daughter of an army warrant officer who moved a dozen times before she was 13.
She nearly died in 1975 when she caught malaria and she also suffered the pain of her parents' divorce seven years later.
"I had a rough time. With a name like Peta, a voice like a tomboy and being rather loud, it was difficult," she says.
In her late teens she moved to Europe to become a model but got sick of the fashion world.
"Models are about being seen but not heard and that's just not for me," she says.
Her new career is much more to her taste. "This is all new to me but I'm having a ball. Three months ago I was nothing."
* Entitled Point of No Return in the US -- jm
Girls With Attitude
Stuart Jeffries, The (London) Guardian (13 September 1997)
There is a crisis of women's representation on Channel 5. Should nineties woman go for the little black frock and the big shooter, or the medieval bustier, high boots and thongs? In short, should the thinking woman model herself on La Femme Nikita or Xena, Warrior Princess? What's striking about both these characters is that they depict (purportedly) strong women who are equipped with lots of fearfully violent skills and take special delight in symbolically castrating unreconstructed men by roughing them up. But it would be perverse to see triumphalist feminist drama in either Nikita or Xena. Rather, both are much more sophisticated, if cynical, in the way they court mass appeal.
Both shows woo a sexually polymorphous audience. Straight women get to see ballsy chicks karate-chop burly chaps into the horizontal position. Lesbians get to see powerful, fanciable women without many clothes on, as do straight men, whose domination fantasies are catered for in a cartoonishly silly manner. Gay men may well feel left out, but perhaps some of them may enjoy subverting these programmes by watching them as kitsch spectacles. Or maybe not. Both Nikita and Xena are intriguing pieces of marketing, if amazingly infantile as dramas. Channel 5, undoubtedly, is their natural home.
It's all Luc Besson's fault. Back in the late eighties, he conceived the notion for a film about a glamorous young criminal who turned assassin for the intelligence services. It would involve a psychologically troubled woman with great legs and cheekbones. For Besson, the project had additional appeal. He would be able to photograph his wife Anne Parillaud, who played the eponymous heroine, as she ran in high heels, dived down a waste disposal shaft in a short skirt and tore her clothes alluringly as she pursued the bad guys. The result was absurd, true, but tapped into the voyeuristic tradition of male directors photographing their wives in varying states of undress (the Nicolas Roeg-Theresa Russell oeuvre is a particularly fecund source in this regard).
This was followed in 1993 by a Hollywood remake, The Assassin, that revived Besson's scanty sartorial tropes, ludicrous terrorist-threat storyline and squeezed Bridget Fonda into a threadbare plot.
Now there's La Femme Nikita, which revives Besson's scanty sartorial tropes, ludicrous terrorist-threat storyline, and squeezes Peta Wilson into a size 10 when anyone can see she's at least a 12.
The twist here is that Nikita has A Past. She has been wrongly accused of murdering someone, and winds up unconscious in hospital only to be revived and confronted with an operative from a strange secret service outfit who desperately wants her to join their campaign to rid the world of nasty terrorists with unconvincing German accents.
Other operatives were confused about their goal. 'There's an alliance between anti-Western terrorist groups,' said one senior spook who was determined to neutralise this alliance with extreme prejudice. Hezbollah, Hamas and the rest, we were to believe, had united to overthrow Western civilisation. 'That doesn't make any sense. They hate each other,' said another with reason.
None of this made any sense, but who cared, so long as we got to see their new talent run down endless hotel corridors in a short skirt. Personally, I couldn't bear to watch - she was bound to twist an ankle in those heels. I've always preferred Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 - all Uzi and muscle tone, taking on all -comers, especially Cyborgs. Now that's what I call a strong woman.
Mysterious, Sexy & Single
TV's coolest covert agent is a man of steel with a heart of gold
Laura Sue Brockway, Single Living (Sept./Oct. 1997)
Intense. Calculating. Controlling. Cold. And oh-so-hot!
As Michael in the hit USA Network series La Femme Nikita , Roy Dupuis portrays a character who exudes a brooding intensity and raw sexuality. Shrouded by an aura of dark mystery, possessive almost superhuman strength, Michael is always in control. He dodges bombs, crawls out of car wrecks and gets hit by bullets, yet he seems immune to everything, especially emotions. His only soft spot appears to be for Nikita (Peta Wilson), his trainee and student. Although it is Michael's job to manipulate Nikita into performing unpleasant deeds for Section One, a gentleness that sometimes accompanies his demands suggests he's quite fond of her. And fondness is strictly taboo in Section One, the ruthless and clandestine government agency that Michael and Nikita both serve.
The connection between Michael and Nikita is a sensual cord that runs through the high-action drama. The two are fiercely independent single characters who find solace in one another as they fulfill their duties to the devious Section One every Sunday night at 10 on the USA Network.
Bad Boy, or Good Actor?
Dupuis may play a bad boy with a mission, but in real life he is a thoughtful and engaging man. While Michael never smiles, Dupuis has a great sense of humour. And if Michael is calculating, Dupuis plans his life with great joy and pleasure. Just as La Femme Nikita is billed as "a cure for the common show," Dupuis is a delightful departure from the average actor. Born in Ontario and raised in Quebec, he speaks with a deliciously lilting French accent and has a definitely French cultural sensibility. He gave great thought to every question posed by Single Living , and took the time to clarify anything that might have been misunderstood in cultural translation.
Fame Beyond La Femme
American audiences first became acquainted with Dupuis when he starred in Million Dollar Babies , the story of the Dionne quintuplets. He also had a role in the Peter Weller film Screamers And he stars with Rutger Hauer in Hemoglobin , due to be released this year.
The role that has most changed Dupuis' life (and made hanging out in public difficult) is that of Villa, the ;lead in Les Filles de Calab . Playing Villa in the romantic, artsy 20-episode series, Dupuis won Best Actor at Cannes and was catapulted to Canadian star status.
Single Living: Your character Michael is a professional killer with a heart. It's remarkable the way he faces his work without fear, even fixing his own bullet wounds. You play him like an extraordinary man who is made of steel. Do you see him like this?
Roy Dupuis: Well, I see Michael as a mind of ghost compared to normal human beings. He has to be able to kill anyone if it's demanded. He's been doing that for a long time. I guess he doesn't care anymore about the things normal humans do. So, I feel I'm a little like a ghost.
Ghost, as in shadow of a person?
Yeah. He has no emotion. He doesn't really care for anything.
Yet he seems to have a connection with Nikita.
Because she's probably the only pure person around him.
Does Michael have any history? is he single? Ever married?
He was married once.
Did he kill his wife?
She was an operative. There is an episode where she was on a mission he was supervising. There was trouble, and she didn't come out of there. Since that day he's been a bit colder.
So he shut down?
He really learned quickly. But we found out in that episode that [his wife] wasn't killed. She was just a prisoner for two years and was tortured. Nikita finds her, and Michael tries to get her out of there, but she's not herself anymore. All she wants is vengeance, to get equal with the guy who tortured her. She traps him somewhere and dies with him without my character being able to do anything about it. So, yes, he was married once.
Where does he hail from?
I don't know. I think he comes from a rich family. probably too rich, and he didn't see his parents much. And he probably did some very bad things, too. I like to think that I have made up my own story, but I don't want to reveal it, because I like mysteries.
Women love bad boys, and your character is...
A good bad boy.
How close are you to Michael? Are you at all like him?
I think I'm pretty far from Michael and the coldness of his character. But I'm playing him with my own sensibility. I play him with the understanding that I have of his character and instinct, because there's a lot of instinct in that character.
Michael is so in control. He seems to think everything out and have an answer for everything. Are you that kind of guy?
I'm a curious guy. I used to study sciences like physics and chemistry. I like to read about where the human conscience is at right now. I like the scientific sides of nature, not logic.
Is it the intangible, spiritual side of life that interests you?
I love that stuff, too. I could sit there for hours just...
...Talking about philosophy.
Yeah, just wondering how things work in the universe.
I hear you love working on your 1840 farmhouse in Montreal.
Yeah, this is new for me, all new. I've been looking for this house for six years. It's the land, too, as much as the house. I think it's the best move I've done in my whole life--buying myself a part of the planet. It brings you down to the real things. It took a while for me to figure out what the feeling was, but when you walk on your own land, it's like you have a little planet of your own, and it leads you into deciding how you want your planet to be. And of course, I enjoy the stars and the wind and temperatures and everything.
Is your home your hideaway?
Being an actor, I found that I needed something concrete to manipulate and fashion at my own will and see the result right away. The house is like that for me. For a painter it would be...
yeah, that's it. I'm working on textures and colours. I also have this project of a very modern intelligent glass house that I want to build beside the old house. When I saw modern, I mean ecologically and technologically, something that heats itself and everything.
That's interesting, a glass house. Does that mean part of you is willing to have people see inside you that intensely?
No.... I want to be able to look outside. That's why I stay in the country. I don't see anybody from my land.
You want to view the world, but from your own domain?
Well, I guess I want people to look at me, too. But I'm very known in my country, Quebec, so it's getting hard for me to do what I like, just walk outside and stuff like that. I'm kind of a shy person. It made me more shy to be so observed.
You seem like a very intense and aware person. When you're on your planet, in your house, what do you think about?
It depends. The city life stops for me when I'm there. There are--how do I say that?--three ways of timing life. There's a fast lane, a medium lane, and a slow lane. At my place, I'm more in the middle and slow ones. I like to look at the stars, and I like to read about philosophers, and then I think about the house.
I've only been there fir a year, so I've taken a year just to think about it before doing anything. The date when I will start working on it is pretty close, so that's mainly what I think about right now: the materials I want to use, the colours. And then there's my girlfriend; I give her all the time I can because I'm not there very often these days. And my friends, who sometimes visit.
You can't go out and party without attracting a crowd, right?
I've done a lot of that. I don't really like to party anymore. I prefer friends and making food.
What's your favourite dish to make?
I don't have any favourite. I make good mostly French cuisine. I have this cookbook, Douse , by a French chef, and I like to do complicated stuff and make it personal.
Do you drink at all? Do you drink wine?
Not anymore, not since two years ago. I've dropped that because of a thirst for lucidity.
You must be very clear-headed now.
Sometimes, yes. I little bit more than I was, that's for sure.
What's your biggest challenge at home on the range?
I'm digging a lake this summer. I have a two-acre swamp, and I'll be digging that up.
Are you a poetic, romantic kind of guy?
I have that side, yes. I like grand things and small things, too. It depends on how I feel.
Are you a loner?
I'm kind of a loner. I don't have many friends. I have two very good, good friends.
So, someone has to really get to know you and prove their friendship....
Since [I've become] very known, like I told you, for the last 6 or 7 years, it's been complicated to make new friends. Because you never know.
You can't trust what people want from you?
Well, it's not even the trust; it's like they think they already know you!
They think you are the character you play.
Yeah, so I stick with mostly the same people I used to know.
A cliche American question, but what's your astrological sign?
Ah, Taureans are supposed to be very practical. Taurus is the bull...
it's not a bull, it's a Taurus. They have a little more pride than a bull.
Oh, it's just not any old bull, it's a Taurus bull. But that's also an earth sign.
I'm very down-to-earth. I like to be.
Have you ever been married?
Nope. I don't believe in marriage.
Do you mind if I ask why?
Marriage comes from religion, so you can make love to a woman under the eyes of God. Today it's like a contract, politically and economically. I do not feel the need to bring a relationship down to a piece of paper. I mean, I can be faithful; I am faithful when I love. Love is more important than marriage for me. I stay with the person I love.
I totally respect that. I have done that myself.
With time I have learned to invest myself in pleasures that are long-term, not small pleasures that can hurt...
You mean like one night stands?
And other things, too.
Sounds as if you've gained a certain wisdom and maturity about being in relationships and being respectful. Is that what you mean?
Yes, we are the other person. I think we are part of one thing, which is humankind.
So, love is a state of oneness that you don't need a contract for?
Love is its own contract. I don't want to bring my relationship down to an economic level or the law. It's between me and her.
Marriage doesn't guarantee anything these days, anyway!
Not anymore. People marry for what, security? To put love into a box and say okay. And how can you say to someone, Today I will love you forever ? This is a lie right away. You don't know what you're going to be in ten years. So, to base your love on a lie or your marriage on a lie is not correct.
I'm with you on that.
it's like saying, Today I die. I will not change anymore.
Am I hearing a little existentialism in there?
I don't know... maybe.
Existentialism is about living each day to its fullest and being in the moment. In many ways, all we have for sure is the present moment.
Because nothing else exists. you may think tomorrow exists... but I think it's better to love as close to the present as possible.
Is that what makes you a good actor?
I think that's something I learned about acting, too. To be there.
When you are "in the moment" in front of the camera, are you living in the character's life, or in Roy's life as he plays the character?
It depends on the scene, mostly. If the writing and situation are strong enough to make me forget and to inspire me to be that character, it happens sometimes. I call it a moment of magic. Sometimes you're there and only there. But to see that it happens, you still have to be conscious of it.
You have to stay awake?
Acting is like a sponge, you know. If you soak yourself into this world before shooting, and then your squeeze out what you've learned while you're shooting, you just let go of what you think is good at the time. And you [release] information and feelings and pictures--real pictures, views of life.
That takes a lot of trust and confidence, doesn't it?
Yes, and it is based on that.
And you have to trust the person you are acting with.
it's the only way I can work, with trust in the other.
A Day in the Life
What's a typical workday like?
I'm on the set 14 to 16 hours. I don't even live in my house during the week, because we're shooting in Toronto. I take the plane home every week-end; it's a one hour flight.
Do you have a small singles-pad apartment to stay in during the week?
That's it. Very simple. I don't like to waste money on it, because I don't really need much.
La Femme Nikita 's Section One is what, 500 feet underground? It must feel like you're really underground when you work that many hours.
I guess so, yes. It's not hard to put ourselves in that situation! Sometimes, in the winter, we don't see the day at all.
Do you eat at home in your small apartment?
No, mostly I eat on set because we arrive at 6 in the morning and get out at 10 or 11 [ at night]. They pick me up and they drive me home.
No time to socialise?
No, it's a little but like not living for a while, except on week-ends. It gets complicated to see friends and stuff like that.
When you're not in a relationship, are you still the kind of person who can spend a lot of time alone?
I've changed a lot in the two years since I stopped drinking and going out, so I don't know. I can be at my place alone; like I said, it's my time and I have a lot to think about and do. I don't get bored, and I've got my computer and the Internet.
I don't suppose you'd reveal your [email address]?
What kind of stuff do you look at and do on the Net?
I like astrophysics and astronomy. I'm an audiophile--I'm into music. I search any question I have. Sometimes I just go and talk with people about anything.
Do you write at all?
I did start a screenplay last year, but I haven't had the time to keep it going. Sometimes I get back to it. I'll probably finish it one day.
You just finished shooting Hemoglobin ... did you have fun?
It was fun. it was my first horror film. It's the story of a guy who has this disease that nobody knows, and he's about to die, so he's done everything he could. He goes back to his ancestors' island to see if anybody has heard of his disease, and finds his family. It's a thriller, so I don't want to give the ending away, but it's very special.
Will Michael and Nikita ever consummate their affection for one another?
That's a surprise, too!
The New Femme Fatale
USA's popular Nikita an assassin with sizzle
Sylvia Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle (17 September 1997)
In thigh-high skirts and stilettos, Nikita goes where TV ``Avenger'' Diana Rigg never dared to stomp.
Australian actress Peta Wilson is television's newest vigilante, a white- blond beauty who carries a big gun in ``La Femme Nikita'' at 10 Sunday nights on the USA network. The 27-year-old star is the main reason the stylish spy show will be back for a second season in January. After summer reruns, there are three new episodes this month and next to coincide with the new fall TV season.
The stark sexuality of the original ``Femme Nikita'' performance by Anne Parillaud in the 1990 French film on which the show is based has been softened to a smoldering sensuality. Wilson knows how to narrow an eye, how to part her lips just so.
The Nikita of the movie was a punk junkie murderer turned government assassin. TV's Nikita is a street kid, falsely accused of murder, who becomes a government assassin for a creepy group called Section One.
Section One is run by humorless agents who utter commands like ``cancel him,'' then leave the room. Nikita is troubled by the carnage, yet she can't escape. (Somehow, she manages to shop; she changes form- fitting outfits for nearly every scene.) The show, which has a European, noirish quality, is shot in Toronto.
``The essence of how I play the character is to show her vulnerability and her sexuality; Nikita uses both to manipulate the bad guys,'' said the actress, who appeared in a few forgettable movies before landing her first starring part.
Women are supposed to relate to her humanity. Men are just supposed to ogle.
Wilson is a knockout even in the afternoon sunlight, dressed in a clingy blue T-shirt, pants and a black jacket. She sits down for a short conversation, cigarette in hand, denying she's a smoker.
``No, really, it's just the stress of the publicity,'' she says, lighting another. ``I feel I am supposed to be very careful about what I say, who I present myself to be. I'm very down to earth and opinionated, and so I have to be careful.''
Her friends call her Pete. After a potent handshake, Wilson sits with her legs squarely in front of her. Her husky voice just misses being too deep. Later that day she plays up her sexpot side, appearing at a USA party in Pasadena in a peekaboo dress that proves without doubt that she favors black thong panties.
Since the show's premiere eight months ago, Wilson has become a hot Internet babe. It doesn't take many clicks to find a new Web site focusing on her. Wilson will be on the cover of the October Details and has been featured in InStyle and Rolling Stone.
``La Femme Nikita'' is the highest-rated show on the USA network. Wilson spends at least a few minutes in every episode in combat boots and a leather jacket, darting through sinister-looking alleyways or buildings, blasting her way out of danger. It's never quite clear who is being wiped out in each hourlong episode, but the bad guys seem to come from super-militaristic countries.
It's not important who the enemy is, said Joel Sarnow, the show's executive consultant. ``They are covert, international villains, arms dealers, terrorists; they are not the local pusher.''
The season finale, in which Nikita is sent on a suicide mission (will she escape?), will be on October 5. The second season begins January 11.
``I love female action heroes who are very desexualized, very tough, yet we don't forget they are women,'' said Sarnow. ``Peta has that million-dollar face and that hair, but she's a big, strong girl. There is this male-female tension in her body.'' As the show's popularity builds, the dark edges are being sharpened; in one episode Nikita was tortured by rats. And the producers are upping the sexual tension between Nikita and her mentor, ace assassin Michael, played by Roy Dupuis.
Smiles are in short supply in Section One, and for good reason, Sarnow says. ``These people are all too cool for the room. We've created a severe, portentous atmosphere; that's intentional. Humor would ruin the show.''
A military brat, Wilson spent her youth barefoot on the beaches. She played championship basketball in high school and excelled at most other sports, including judo. Fearing she was too tomboyish, her mother sent her to modeling school.
She had the face and body, but emotionally, Wilson couldn't cope.She became anorexic and bulimic, losing 30 pounds in a year. Before long she moved to Los Angeles and a few months later met the man she now lives with.
After seven years with director Damien Harris, who is 12 years her senior, the idea of marriage still frightens her. Wilson says she's never gotten over her parents' divorce when she was 13. ``It was very upsetting to me,'' she says, looking away. Then she shakes it off. ``I think our relationship is more romantic this way.''
Wilson has agreed to play the slick assassin for the next four years. But at home she drops her attitude at the door. ``At home, Damien is king,'' Wilson says. ``I know that for the next few years I have to really concentrate and just work, try to maintain a balance and be a wife to my boyfriend.''
Nikita at Night Knocks 'Em Dead
Chris Kaltenbach, Sunspot (September 1997)
She kicks, she shoots, she kills. And she looks darn good doing it.
She's Nikita, a blond-haired, blue-eyed assassin whose weekly adventures on the USA network have made "La Femme Nikita" cable's highest-rated drama series. Sentenced to death for a crime she didn't commit, Nikita is rescued at the last minute by a mysterious government agency, cryptically referred to as Section One, that specializes in killing for the common good. Given the choice of either dying (this time for sure) or killing, she chooses the latter. Guided by her enigmatic superior, Michael, Nikita becomes pretty good at what she does -- while never turning down the chance to let viewers know she's far from enjoying it.
"La Femme Nikita," airing Sunday nights at 10, averages about 1.7 million viewers -- subpar by network standards, but up there in the cable universe. Its primarily adult audience is split about 50/50 between men and women, which is good news for advertisers. The actress who plays Nikita, Aussie Peta Wilson, is popping up on talk shows and in magazines all over the place -- including a 12-page spread in the September issue of In Style, where she (looking decidedly un-Nikitaish) models what a host of fashion designers regard as sexy.
And perhaps most telling of all, it's a show the critics hate themselves for loving. A recent poll listed "La Femme Nikita" as the second most popular guilty pleasure among TV critics, behind only the syndicated tabloid news show "Hard Copy" (and ahead of Howard Stern).
"I think that's probably really accurate," says Alberta Watson, who plays Madeline on the show. "We're not looking at [prestige film producers] Ivory and Merchant material here, or really some deep introspective piece of artwork. I think the show is what it is. That it doesn't pretend to be anything else is what makes it fun."
That's some reputation, but not one the show's creators are ready to embrace without reservation.
"I like to think that the show is popular because it's good and because the mood of the show is unique," says Joel Surnow, its executive consultant and writer. "The stories we tell and the characters we've created without sounding immodest, I think it's a fascinating group of people we've created."
True enough. There's Michael (Roy Dupuis), who's probably in love with Nikita but would never compromise her training or her life by letting her find out. There's Madeline, master strategist for Section One, who specializes in playing with the psyches of the recruits (and who, as a young girl, pushed her sister down the stairs and killed her, in a fight over a doll). There's cantankerous Walter (Don Francks), who has a thing for gadgets (think James Bond's Q) and for Nikita and just about anything in a skirt. There's the ruthless, mysterious Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer), leader of Section One, who decides whether recruits live or die.
There are fabulous sets, sparse dialogue (the better to get more action in) and an air of mystery and male-female camaraderie that's been a TV staple since at least "The Avengers."
There's also the hint of romance between Nikita -- who, unlike TV's high-rated Xena, seems decidedly heterosexual -- and Michael, who struggles to remain an emotionless cypher.
"Sometimes it feels like I'm playing a ghost," says Dupuis. "He has this logic thing about him that he is pretty good at; he's been living this way for a long time. He tries not to get disturbed by his emotions. There are emotions that he keeps inside, but for him, it's not anybody else's business."
Most of all, there's Nikita, and it's with Peta Wilson that the show lives or dies. Like Lucy Lawless' Xena, she's as strong as any man and takes guff from no one (which helps explain why women watch). But she's also a looker, an attribute the show uses to full advantage: A recent show featured a shower scene that came as close to frontal nudity as commercial television allows.
And unlike the movie that inspired Nikita, in which she was as guilty as guilty can be, Nikita is innocent of any wrongdoing -- a tinker that Surnow thinks makes the show far more accessible than it could have been.
"I loved the movie, but I don't think I would have loved to see that Nikita on a weekly basis," he says. "I felt distanced from her. I would never feel what she is feeling, because she's a killer. If she's an innocent person, I can sympathize with how it feels to be trapped."
Screen Style: La Femme Nikita
Betty Goodwin, Ultimate TV (October 1997)
The Setup: Criminals get a second chance at life to work as operatives for a secret, anti-terrorist government agency (as in the 1990 French movie of the same name). Nikita(Peta Wilson) is a tall, hipless, supermodel-style villain-catcher.
The Costume Designer: Laurie Drew, a Toronto-based designer, for whom this is her first series.
The Look: If you want to get a handle on the new Gucci generation, this ensemble of rescued freaks and rogues would seem an unlikely source to turn to. But they're all as sleek and slick as the silver "G" on a black leather belt, even the computer nerd.
The Rules: The aesthetic is absolute -- strict, severe, dark and extremely Italian. Blue jeans, prints, plaids and primary colors are verboten, as are pleats of any kind. ``We're into lean and mean,'' says Drew. Women eschew blouses under their suit jackets and men shun neckties. Not unlike those Gucci magazine ads, there's something almost ``Star Treky'' about the look for men and women. But you don't need spacesuits when the body-squeezing tailoring comes from Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Versace and, for at least one Nikita suit, even Gucci.
Dressing for Success: These are the suits of the moment. Nikita's mentor, Michael (Roy Dupuis), wears only Gaultier. Suits are all black, all made from Lycra stretch wool, all narrow and single-breasted, all worn with Gaultier's black T-shirts or mock turtlenecks. For Nikita, it's back to the '70s with dark, pinstriped suits with close-fitted jackets with high armholes and long, narrow sleeves that stop at the top of the thumb. Low-rise pants have a slight flare, but trousers never break at the shoe. They just clear the ankle, revealing stiletto pumps or boots. About half of Nikita's suits are custom-made knock-offs.
Inspiration: European films, as well as art and photography magazines, including Britain's The Face, plus quarterly reports on Italian ready-to-wear collections. Every six weeks or so, Drew heads south from Toronto (where the show is filmed) to New York to take in art galleries and ``absorb.''
Trend Watch: For attack gear, agents wear sturdy but narrow weatherproofed black jackets made for rock climbing by Diesel.
Bad-hair Day: The tendency to transform Nikita's long, blond hair into fantastic twisted shapes, high ponytails and braids may give her hairdresser something to do with her hands, but better to leave it long and straight -- or cut it off.
Cherchez La Femme
Kathleen Toth, Dreamwatch (November 1997)
In the midst of the rush to do a cinematic makeover of every remotely popular television series, Kathleen Toth pauses to pay homage to a rare success of the reverse impulse -- La Femme Nikita, a television series that spins off from a film. Or, in this case two films ...
It may have taken Xena to make the point with international clarity, but the Nineties seem destined to be the decade of tough female action heroines. Luc Besson enjoyed a modest hit in 1991 with Nikita, a hard-edged, kinky romantic thriller about a drug addict who kills a cop in a raid on a pharmacy and is executed for her crime. Or so it appears. Actually, the condemned Nikita awakens to find that the afterlife for her is a temporary reprieve of sorts working for a secret government program that will turn her street tough aggressiveness into professional skills as a trained assassin after faking her death. After three years of grooming by her organizational mentor, the junky wild child is transformed into a stylish, attractive woman capable of charming a target long enough to get close for the kill.
From there the story spins between the unstated mutual fascination that exists between the Eliza Doolittle-like Nikita and her mentor in sanctioned violence, and Nikita's gradually awakened yearning to live a real life free of the organisation as she takes a lover who knows nothing about her secret vocation. The French Nikita was tough as nails and obviously doomed to a bad end - but the film caught the attention of Hollywood, which wanted to remake the story rather than purchase the film. The American version of Nikita rolled out to theatres in 1993 with cult favourite Bridget Fonda going through the transformation from vicious cop killer to polished upper crust assassin under the titles 'Point of No Return/The Assassin'.
Four years later a Canadian production company has assembled a multi-national cast that makes a television series called La Femme Nikita, which has premiered to critical praise and a growing audience spreading overseas from the United States and Canada, where the first 22 episodes is just concluding. part Fugitive, part The Prisoner, part a darkly twisted Man From Uncle, this Nikita rocks to a music beat and parades a happening fashion sense, but tells a story in which the good guys are often barely distinguishable from the scum they are sworn to eradicate. With the exception, that is, of our Nikita.
The producers of this series, which films in Toronto while being vaguely situated somewhere in the United States, have a background in such shows as Miami Vice, Wiseguy and Nowhere Man, which shows in the style and moral ambiguity that assaults the viewer each week. But they are also extremely shrewd about what works in television, as opposed to sardonic French films. Producer Joel Surnow says, "I loved the movie, but I felt it was very exotic. I think in doing a weekly series, your main character has to be heroic, even if it's a twisted heroic. She needs to be a character the audience can embrace. I see Nikita as a person trying to hold onto her humanity."
For Nikita they cast an unknown and largely untested Australian actress, Peta Wilson, which has proven to be as prescient a choice as Lucy Lawless for Xena. Wilson, a tall blonde who got her unusual name because her parents were expecting a boy, called herself Pete and devoted her adolescence to sports, making the Australian national team in basketball before deciding it was time to develop her feminine wiles. This took her into modeling - and also a bout with anorexia.
At 26, she now finds herself camped out in Toronto, with her grandmother along to take care of her and see she eats properly. Before starting the filming, she says, "I worked out with an ex-marine on combat techniques and stunts. Now I work with a trainer and do yoga every day." Besides producing convincing killer moves, Wilson brings a startling variety of looks to the endless parade of different styles Nikita wears to the office and on the job (when she is not kitted up in commando gear for a midnight raid). She manages to look innocent and seductive, coltish and sophisticated by turns, while pulling a gun with authority, making her the most talked about secret agent/fashion model since Diana Rigg put peelers on the map.
Wilson's Nikita is an angel in wolf's clothing, the one person who retains a compassionate nature beneath the hard exterior her survival demands. The creators of La Femme Nikita decided that television viewers could not become attached to the adventures of an amoral hitwoman. So, Nikita Samuelle has become an unwanted child who runs away from her abusive mother to a hard life living on the streets. One night she is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and is unjustly accused of a murder she only witnessed when she tried to help the victim.
Convicted, she is brought into the super secret Section One by a man named Michael (Roy Dupuis), who tells her that her only options are to try to pass their training course to become an operative, or to accept her sentence as a convicted murderer. Michael grooms her for two years in weapons and martial arts; her scruffy image is made over by Madeline (Alberta Watson), Section One's master strategist and resident pyschologist.
Nikita is continually warned that failure will mean that she will be 'cancelled'; any attempt to escape Section One will have the same result. To add to her burdens, she and Michael exchange many meaningful looks but never speak of their feelings, although he often seems to act in ways that might be designed to protect her - yet always turn out to have multiple possible interpretations. All of them work under the watchful eye of Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer), a completely humourless and demanding taskmaster prepared to sacrifice everyone - himself included, if necessary - to complete a mission.
As Nikita informs us each week in the prologue, [sidenote here, in the UK on Channel 5 we don't get the 'I was wrongly accused of a hideous crime and sentenced ... blah ...blah ... by Nikita each week, so I guess the author of this doesn't actually watch the show in the UK.] Section One's ends are just, but their means are ruthless - and quite outside the law. Enemies are routinely kidnapped and drugged or tortured for information. Once drained of useful knowledge they are discared like last weeks newspaper. If that is not chilling enough, innocent witnesses and well intentioned outsiders who may learn too much about Section One are also slated for cancellation. Nikita must somehow make her way through each situation, mindful of the importance of stopping terrorist plots to bomb cities, crash planes, poison water supplies, steal powerful new weapons technologies, or enslave homeless children, while trying to shield good people from the harsh efficiency of Section One's operating rules - and keep an eye out for any possible avenue for her own escape from a life she never chose while working under the baleful gaze of Operations, who does not trust her.
Michael is played by Roy Dupuis, a major star and sex symbol in Canada, who has few lines but a palpable presence as the inscrutable mentor. Madeline is quite aware that on order to sacrifice or cancel Nikita will pose a personal crisis for this key operative, but neither she nor Nikita is sure how he will react.
As the season wears on, Nikita refuses to allow Operations totally eradicate her moral concerns, but she comes to be aware that everything said to the much more approachable Madeline will end up as an entry in her dossier with an analysis of its significance. But Nikita has not been simply redone as a displaced social worker. When the chips are down, she reacts with cool professionalism to save herself and her teammates. She does not always like this capability, but Madeline remarks that it proves something she has known all along - that "you are one of us".
Sooner or later it seems certain that Nikita will have to flee the Section or accept that she does, indeed, belong here with people who can coolly snip off a man's fingers one by one until he gives them what they want ...
Assassin Can't Shoot Innocent Bystander
Ong Sor Fen, The (Singapore) Straits Times (2 November 1997)
A TELEVISION spin-off of French director Luc Besson's stylish 1990 art-house hit?
After the excruciating Hollywood remake starring Bridget Fonda, this sounds like a recipe for unmitigated disaster. But La Femme Nikita, which debuts today on Channel 5 at 1 pm, is a pleasant surprise.
For the uninitiated, Nikita was an ultra-violent, ultra-slick movie, about a young junkie, played by Anne Parillaud, who is sentenced to life imprisonment for killing a cop. In exchange for her "freedom", she allows herself to be turned into an assassin by the government.
The television series recaps this in 15 minutes flat during the opening sequence.
Filmed in moody shadows with lots of neon lights and jumpy camera work a la NYPD Blue, and saturated with a thumping indie rock soundtrack, this minimum dialogue and maximum style opening is handled with panache by director Jon Cassar.
Nikita is played by the pouty Peta Wilson, who -surprise, surprise -can actually act. She gives Nikita a sullen rebelliousness dosed liberally with a little girl vulnerability that adds depth to the character.
The role of Nikita's government trainer/mentor, played by the world-weary Tcheky Karyo in the movie, goes to another unknown, at least to world audiences. Actor Roy Dupuis, an award-winning Canadian stage actor, is a study in understated charm as Michael, Nikita's mentor whose personal feelings intrude on his professional relationship.
Dupuis' quiet restraint is a nice contrast to Wilson's full-bodied, no pun intended, emoting. The two of them also manage to convey a nicely smouldering sexual tension.
There are some changes to the characters. Nikita was a lot more hard-boiled in the movie, and a cop killer. In this show, she is more a victim of circumstances, a street kid who is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The minimal plot for the pilot actually revolves around how Nikita fouls up on an assignment because she is unable to pull the trigger on an innocent bystander.
The intelligence agency is replaced by a covert operation called Section One, "the most clandestine organisation on the planet" devoted to "bringing down the criminals and terrorists that no one else can get".
Despite the paper-thin plot, the solid acting and atmosphere-drenched style promise greater things if the scriptwriters can live up to the expectations set by the pilot and deliver scripts with better content. Add the plentiful action set pieces, and you have an hour's worth of great entertainment.
Peta Principles: Nikita Star Shows Depth in 2nd Season
Jae-Ha Kim, Chicago Sun-Times (31 December 1997)
The best reason to subscribe to cable television is "La Femme Nikita."
Well-written, suspenseful and sexy, the superb drama kicks off its second season Sunday on the USA Network with an engrossing episode that reveals a turning point in the title character's life.
Based on the 1991 Luc Besson film of the same name, "La Femme Nikita" focuses on a beautiful, young woman sentenced to prison for a crime she didn't commit. Viewing her negatives as an asset, a clandestine government organization called Section One recruits her to work as an operative. If she fails to live up to their standards, she will be "canceled" -- or executed.
In the final episode of last season, Section One sent Nikita (Peta Wilson) and five other operatives on a suicide mission. Her mentor, Michael (Roy Dupuis), helped her escape, but Section One thought she had died. For the emotionally distant Michael, the act was his way of letting Nikita know that he cared for her.
Sunday's season premiere shows that Nikita has spent her six months of freedom working as a waitress in a small-town diner. Serving patrons who like to bully women, Nikita shows her strength by not taking them down. She knows her survival depends on her ability to blend in.
Michael, meanwhile, is grieving for her in his own way. He remains silent. When he must socialize, he breaks the leg of a sparring partner. Squirreled away in his ergonomically correct office, he continues to send encoded e-mails to Nikita, asking if she's alive. Finally, he gets a reply from her: "Yes."
When they reunite, there is a cool passion to their union.
"Do you know that for three years, all I did was dream about getting out of Section?" Nikita tells him. "When I did, it wasn't what I'd expected. This isn't freedom."
Nikita hints that she may want to return to the Section, but it's clear she's not sure if her actions are motivated by her love for Michael or her disenchantment with the "outside."
As far as the Section is concerned, though, Nikita is dead. So it is through intricate plot work that Michael helps bring her back in, raising the suspicions of his boss Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer). Neither he nor colleague Madeline (Alberta Watson) is convinced that the pair is telling the truth.
Right and wrong doesn't factor into Section One so much as whether the end result is the desired one. One of the leads tells an injured suspect: "The doctors say you're going to live. That's the bad news. There is no good news."
Though other actresses have played the part of Nikita on film -- including Bridget Fonda in "Point of No Return," an American remake of Besson's movie -- Wilson has made the role her own.
A former model, Wilson could've gotten by on her lethal looks. But the 5-foot-10 Aussie gives her character strength, depth and intense vulnerability. Nikita can disengage a mercenary in hand-to-hand combat but, unlike her colleagues, she shows remorse. She also conveys sympathy and love, especially for Michael, who is either unwilling to or incapable of reciprocating.
"A bond between two agents isn't always such a bad thing," Madeline will say in a surprisingly charitable moment of an upcoming episode.
Especially when it's so intelligently handled.
As a TV star, Wilson has made her impact in show business. But perhaps just as important, Nikita has proven that kindness, cunning and a sense of honor are just as appealing traits in a heroine as beauty.
Nikita Star Down-To-Earth
Michael Storey, Little Rock Newspapers, Inc. (1997)
Red-blooded, all-American boy that I am, I'll welcome any excuse to run another photo of Peta Wilson -- even one I took myself.
This snapshot was taken in July in Pasadena at the annual summer TV critics confab. What it lacks in professional lighting and other qualities (I didn't have my real journalist camera with me) is more than made up by the spontaneity and significance of the moment.
The bemused Wilson is captured striding purposefully toward the Ritz-Carlton ballroom for an interview session about La Femme Nikita, her hit show on cable's USA Network. She had just finished mugging for a gaggle of paparazzi and signing autographs off camera to the right.
I was headed out the door to see who all the fuss was over when I spotted her, hastily raised my little disposable camera and snapped the photo. We then bumped into one another. We exchanged words.
"Oh ... I'm sorry," she whispered in her husky, yet lilting Australian accent while placing a hand apologetically on my arm.
"No, no. My fault," stammered I.
Our eyes met. A hint of a smile flickered across her lips ... and she was gone.
There you have it, guys. Eat your hearts out.
The delightfully unpretentious Wilson charmed the critics at her Q&A session and later at a party thrown by USA. The lithe, 5-foot-11-inch 27-year-old is handling sudden fame with ease. She seems delightfully unfazed by the Hollywood glitz and retains more than a hint of the tomboy she was growing up in New Guinea as an "army brat."
La Femme Nikita airs at 9 p.m. Sundays and encores at 11 p.m. Thursdays. The show, which debuted in January, sort of sneaked up on viewers.
For those out of the loop, Nikita is a character given a tough choice -- join a secret, ruthless government agency, or die. Falsely accused of a crime she did not commit, Nikita does what's necessary to survive. She works as an operative for the covert Section One, yet desperately tries to create a life of her own outside. However, whenever she seems close to her goal, the phone rings and she's drawn back into the world of anti-terrorism, political assassination and spies.
There is a satisfying complexity to Nikita. The good guys are not always so noble. Sometimes the innocent are sacrificed in the pursuit of the larger picture.
Wilson brings a delightful complexity to the role and does more with a quivering lip or lowered eye than most actresses. In addition to her stunning beauty, she's a natural athlete who can karate kick and chop with the best of them.
Wilson was asked how she liked beating the spit out of a couple of guys each week.
"Generally, it kind of feels pretty empowering," she said. "It's good to get the really bad guys. Myself, I'm not really a violent person. I don't like fights -- I particularly like making up."
Wilson was asked about the show's sudden success and its effect on her.
"I'm very green," she said. "I'm very lucky to have this job at this point. It's all been pretty overwhelming, but I've great family and friends and I'm trying not to let it change things. I'm very flattered by the attention. There's about 50,000 actresses who would love what's happening to me with the show, so I'm very happy where I am."
That's a refreshing attitude in a town hip-deep in ego and superficiality. To keep herself further grounded, Wilson's grandmother lives with her when the show is in production in Toronto. Wilson admits that she got "a little bratty" last fall and "Nana" went back home for several months.
"She's going to stay with me again," Wilson said. "It was a great thing to have her there, but [the stress of publicity] became much more and I wasn't appreciating my grandmother as much as I should have been. So, I've smartened up and she's on her way."
Nikita fans are currently making do with reruns and it won't be until Jan. 4 that the new season kicks in. That's a week earlier than previously announced.
In last season's cliffhanger, it looked as if Nikita had finally gotten a chance to escape Section One by faking her death. For those who can't wait for a little tease about what's coming up in season No. 2, here's a sneak peek. It seems there's a rough road ahead in the smoldering sexual chemistry between Nikita and her trainer/mentor Michael (Roy Dupuis).
Jan. 4: "Hard Landing" -- Section One discovers that Nikita is alive but has been "kept" from returning to the agency.
Jan. 11: "Spec Ops" -- To discover the truth behind Nikita's disappearance, she is removed from Michael's jurisdiction and assigned to a special operative.
Jan. 18: "Third Person" -- Michael and Nikita's new trainer come to blows over her.
Jan. 25: Nikita will be pre-empted by a couple of movies.
Feb. 1: "Approaching Zero" -- Nikita's growing relationship with her new trainer leads to deadly consequences.
A full season of 22 episodes is planned. However, USA plans to air reruns the remainder of February and is giving fans a chance to vote for which episodes they'd like to see. Viewers can check out the Web site at www.usanetwork.com for details.