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Careers that won't quit

graphic
iconThe title role in "La Femme Nikita" seems to shadow Peta Wilson's career as her character might follow a terrorist. Even as she develops a pilot for NBC, Wilson returns to USA Network's air on Sunday night in new episodes of "Nikita." Click here for our gallery's preview of the new season.  

'La Femme' again

January 1, 2001
Web posted at: 10:37 a.m. EST (1537 GMT)


In this story:

The fans are restless

Career whiplash

'Their ends are just'



(CNN) -- "I didn't think about it, I was pleased to be finished."

Peta Wilson thought she'd left the Toronto set of "La Femme Nikita" in May for the last time, closing a chapter in her career and going on to new projects.

"It was sort of mutual for all of us: Fine, great to be moving on to the next thing."

But weeks after the cast and production-crew members had dispersed, their phones started ringing. They were asked to negotiate deals for some new episodes -- their characters were to report back to Section One for another covert anti-terrorist mission.

  QUICK VOTE
graphic Do you believe these new eight episodes are the last gasp for "La Femme Nikita?" Or do you think its cast members will end up making whole careers of return engagements?

This is it. The end. Finito. Kaput. Au revoir. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Don't ask me. I thought the fourth-season end was it.
Where have you been? As long as there are bullet-proof vests, a Section agent down is a Section agent who might get up. Watch for episodes set in the Section One Nursing Home.
View Results

 

And on Sunday, a specially prepared coda to the "La Femme Nikita" series will begin airing on USA Network. Eight new episodes have been made with an eye to tying up loose ends in the long, moody run of this sexy thriller.

Wilson says the company had parted ways in May with no hard feelings and a good long run under their belts. "No drama -- 'That was great, nice run, that's it' -- that's how I felt about it."

Almost as stealthily as the show's black-clad Section One agents move in and out of terrorist cells, USA Network and Fireworks Entertainment Productions had infiltrated a dark corner of cult-hit consciousness. "La Femme Nikita," after four years, could hold its own for sheer mannerist distinction in television melodrama with Patrick McGoohan's 1967 phenomenon, "The Prisoner."

Producer-collaborators Joel Surnow, Jamie Lee Rock and their associates started with filmmaker Luc Besson's 1990 "Nikita" and created an unforgiving world of futurist espionage: The sexually toned power plays going on inside Section One have always been far more threatening than the explosive missions carried out against enemy operatives in the field.

Much as McGoohan came out of "The Prisoner" forever tied to its fanciful coastal setting, The Village, in Portmeirion, Wales, Wilson flew to Los Angeles last summer as an enduring icon of the chilly beauty of Section One. The ebullient, athletic Australian -- while aging from 26 to 30 -- had put herself onto the international map in this constantly shifting, soulful-operative role.

"Roy (DuPuis, who plays Michael) was a joy to work with as a director. It's good working with a director who's an actor."
— Eugene Robert Glazer, "La Femme Nikita"

In earlier interviews, she has spoken of predictably torn feelings about "Nikita" -- a show that has both made her and typed her. "Creatively, television isn't the best medium for an actor," she'd told CNN.com at the end of the show's third season. "In TV, there are only so many squares for a circle to roll around in."

Nevertheless, Wilson's work so far is largely rolling around in those squares. In addition to playing a role in the four-hour "It's a Girl Thing," set to air on Showtime sometime in the coming months, "I'm developing a pilot now to shoot for NBC, shooting in March. By later in January it'll have a title. I'm taking the script home with me" to Australia "to read while I'm there."

And having often described a performance school she'd like to establish for "at-risk" youngsters, some of Wilson's goals aren't in acting at all. Psycht is a new line of watches that Wilson says she's introducing with Jasper Sceats, son of designer Jonathan Sceats. Wilson says she hopes the watches may be out later this month at Barneys and other retailers.

But as eager as Wilson is to get on with her career outside "Section," as its characters and fans call it, these past months of taping may have seemed to mimic the show's many scripted comments over the years about how operatives have no life outside Section.

"I was definitely surprised. I think it was about six weeks, seven weeks after we'd wrapped the last season before they told me" that, in reality, "La Femme Nikita" wasn't over after all.

The rest of her career would go back onto hold. Her new assignment: "Basically answering all the questions of the fans."

"Nikita -- you've seen her evolution over four years -- she's like a phoenix, she's come into a phoenix status. I think it's a natural progression. She's become 'what it is' -- you don't kill that many people and not become a little hardened. She evolved into something else."
—Peta Wilson, "La Femme Nikita"

Wilson is moving pots and pans around her kitchen as she packs up for a trip home to Sydney, to her seaside family and life there. Boyfriend and filmmaker Damian Harris is off to his own family for a bit in England. (The film they made together with Ellen Barkin and Julian Sands, "Mercy," was released last winter but found little traction outside the video-rental stores.)

A certain finality is ringing in every slam-down and placement of a utensil with which she punctuates her conversation. "I mean, that's what it was. The characters are the same. Nikita -- you've seen her evolution over four years -- she's like a phoenix, she's come into a phoenix status," rising from the victimization of the role's inception to, at the end of the fourth season, an unexpected operative, herself, of the over-agency: Center.

"I think it's a natural progression. She's become 'what it is' -- you don't kill that many people and not become a little hardened. She evolved into something else."

Wilson agrees, in fact, that this parallels the character created by Anne Parillaud in Besson's 1990 film, too. By the movie's end, Parillaud's Nikita shows little of the naïveté she had at the outset. Wilson says she felt, however, that the progression was complete for her own television Nikita last summer.

"I liked the way it ended, personally, but the fans" -- a pot clangs down -- "the fans objected. They didn't like that I didn't look back at Michael," Nikita's love interest played with show-styling impact by Quebecois actor Roy DuPuis.

graphic

The fans are restless

"Back by popular demand" is a phrase you've heard before. It's nothing new. There may have been no fonder advertising poster slogan in vaudeville days as hopeful hacks rolled back into towns they'd played too many times before. The marketing instinct being what it is, there may well have been revivals of Aristophanes' plays in ancient Greece announced as "back by popular demand."

And USA Network -- which gets credit for taking a gamble on "La Femme Nikita" and sticking with its edgy grace for four years -- is sparing no effort in beating the "back by popular demand" drum.

It's no Section secret that there's a tremendous fan base out there for the show. Producer Rock has talked about monitoring the many "Nikita" sites' chat rooms and message boards to see how parts of various episodes were playing in Poughkeepsie and all points cyber.

USA Network reports that 24 percent of "La Femme Nikita"-watchers live in households that make more than $75,000 annually. That places the "Nikita"-rati on a par with the relatively upscale audiences traditionally drawn to the Arts&Entertainment network and Discovery. Some 60 percent of the "La Femme Nikita" faithful, the company says, falls in the 18- to 49-year age bracket, beloved of advertisers. And 27 percent of "Nikita" households are led by college graduates, considered another big plus on Madison Avenue.

According to the network, more than 25,000 letters and e-mail messages from some 40 countries descended on USA Network's offices after the fourth season of "La Femme Nikita" concluded. The effort was led by a fan cell that called itself First Team.

First Team and cohorts had watched Section One's ace mission strategist Madeline (Alberta Watson) commit suicide. Communications master Birkoff (Matthew Ferguson) had done the same, but had been replaced by his twin brother Jason. Section One chief Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer) was assigned to a biblical seven more years' labor in Section One. Munitions expert Walter (Don Francks) was dispatched to teach at "the Farm." And arch-operative Michael (Roy DuPuis) had been rescued from a suicide mission but then left to his own devices by a newly glowering Nikita -- who'd turned out to be the right-hand woman of the triumphant Mr. Jones (Carlo Rota).

Not good enough, USA Network says, for the fans.

At one point in November, network officials say, the company's viewer e-mail address was temporarily shut down by the overload.

Some fans bought a full-page ad in the Hollywood Reporter, campaigning for more "Nikita" episodes to tie up ends they thought were unacceptably loose when the fourth season ended. One fan sent the network a television. Four VCRs arrived. More than 100 pairs of sunglasses were shipped to USA Network. Sunglasses have held a chic spot in the show's urbane imagery and communications tech -- and they were a decor motif on Wilson's early apartment-interior sets.

Money was flung at the company -- USA Network reports getting some $3,000 from fans and handing it over to charities. Someone sent in cookies baked with actor DuPuis' picture on them. Someone else printed about $100 of fake dollar bills picturing him.

Maybe more tellingly, the network says 24 percent of "La Femme Nikita"-watchers live in households that make more than $75,000 annually. That places the "Nikita"-rati on a par with the relatively upscale audiences traditionally drawn to the Arts&Entertainment network and Discovery. And ratings for the show when it ended were going the right way: They were 61 percent higher at the end of last summer than at the beginning.

Some 60 percent of the "La Femme Nikita" faithful, the company says, falls in the 18- to 49-year age bracket, beloved of advertisers. And 27 percent of "Nikita" households are led by college graduates, considered another big plus on Madison Avenue.

graphic
Clockwise from upper left, the original Section One careerists of "La Femme Nikita" are Eugene Robert Glazer (Operations), Roy DuPuis (Michael), Don Francks (Walter), Matthew Ferguson (Birkoff), Alberta Watson (Madeline) and Peta Wilson (Nikita)  

In other words, USA Network felt there was easily enough meaningful audience to support some question-answering additional episodes of the show.

"The fans wanted to know," says Wilson, "how I was going to take care of Michael" after Nikita had saved him in the fourth-season finale. Presumed dead by both Section and Center, Michael indeed finished up in a bind as Nikita stalked off through a yellow-luminous glade.

"I'd always loved him," Wilson says. "But I had to walk off from him like that -- one of us had to sacrifice."

Not good enough, USA Network says, for the fans.

"So the new episodes just answer a lot of questions."

graphic

Career whiplash

"I had a suspicion," Eugene Glazer kicks into the "a funny thing happened on the way to Section this morning" voice that the show's fans know as that of Operations in a light-hearted mood.

"It felt weird," when the show was wrapping late last spring, he says. "We were told there might be a couple of movies-of-the-week from the show. That's why, we were told, the sets weren't torn down.

  'NIKITA' NOUVEAU
A few glimpses of how things look in the eight weeks to come? We've got them right here for you, no special clearance required. Click here and get your weapons back to Walter before the next absolute, never-again, final, we-really-mean-it-this-time, farewell episode.
 

"The studios" in an industrial park outside Toronto "were just locked and closed. They wouldn't let me buy any of my clothes" he'd worn on the show as the Armani-horse Operations, controller of Section One and the fates of many of its agents. "We dress very well in Section," he'd once quipped to a reporter on the set with him during a shoot.

"But I couldn't even leave with a tie," in May, he says. "There was one suit I wanted, a couple of ties and a shirt. They said, 'OK, it'll cost 740 bucks.'" This was a clue to Glazer that something was afoot. Used costume pieces shouldn't have cost so much. The company was making it hard to pull apart any aspect of the show.

"They did give me a Rolex-look-alike rip-off and a pair of reading glasses."

An option on most of the cast members' contracts, Glazer says, wasn't picked up on August 15. Glazer and his actor-wife, Briani, were in the process of renovating and moving into a new house in Los Angeles. "The building department lost all the plans" just to add to the festivities of the summer.

And Glazer also points out that when a show is made in Canada -- and its people paid in Canadian dollars -- the money is no windfall. The "loony," as the Canadian dollar sometimes is called, is worth about 67 U.S. cents right now. Add to that the agents' commissions that are deducted from actors' pay. Then pay taxes.

"What it means is that I've told my Canadian agent," says Glazer, a New York native, "that if I ever work in Canada again, I have to be paid in American dollars."

graphic
Eugene Robert Glazer  

Much of the banter you get today with Glazer -- as witty a conversationalist as you may meet anywhere in Hollywood -- is about various scenarios that could be rigged up to generate even more "Nikita." This, for him and probably for most of the cast, is a kind of career gallows humor.

But laugh as he may, an unexpected extension like the new eight-episode season of the show is hard on an actor's career. Suddenly, you can't go out on audition calls for new roles. Suddenly, the role you'd consigned to your resumé as a done deal ... isn't.

His agent at LA's House of Representatives, he says, "told me, 'Well I've never had an actor say, "Don't send me out for anything."'" But that's just what Glazer ended up saying for a few months this fall as the new addendum season was being shot in Toronto. "It's been absolutely crazy."

One good thing to come out of this return engagement, however, Glazer says, was the chance to work with cast-mate DuPuis as a director. In the first four years, DuPuis, Glazer says, hadn't really felt ready to direct but was interested in trying it. This time he took on an episode.

"Roy was a joy to work with as a director," Glazer says. "A little behind schedule doing some artsy stuff" -- that Operations mischief is never far from Glazer's chat. "But I hope they keep a lot of what he did" when the show is edited. "Everybody was behind him 100 percent. It's good working with a director who's an actor."

graphic

'Their ends are just'

So many things can't be told here. The show has thrived on surprises. A character thought dead in one episode returns in another. An entire base of operations is destroyed and immediately replaced with another.

We will tell you that there are some scissors and blond hair brought together very early on in the first of the new eight episodes. "Another episode, another hairstyle" might be a subtitle to the series -- many fans can tell you which year a rerun is from simply by glancing at the hairstyles on the actors.

"My agent asked me about going out for some work in Germany. I said nein. If I go off to Germany for a job, my wife is going to say, 'Get yourself another fräulein.'"
— Eugene Robert Glazer, "La Femme Nikita"

Many will be glued to their Sunday night televisions, as that bell-like show-opening music signals that "La Femme Nikita" is once again on the prowl, anxiety-ridden pauses and ruthless self interests all wrapped up in torso-hugging black operative-wear.

But the really cool stories to come are about these actors. And where their careers take them in that elusive "life outside Section."

Eugene Glazer says he has no major projects lined up yet, beyond getting that new house in LA under control and staying put for a while. "My agent asked me about going out for some work in Germany," he says. "I said nein. If I go off to Germany for a job , my wife is going to say, 'Get yourself another fräulein.'"

And maybe after this surprise recall, Peta Wilson is less willing to say "never." She sounds as if she's talking both herself and her fans into believing that the airlocks of Section One have been sealed for good.

"The new episodes totally do their job. I wouldn't know what else to do. The way it ends," she says, "there's a lot resolved. Everything she's been asking for years is answered -- why? how come? when? what was that? That's all there."

Wilson pauses.

"Nothing is left up in the air at the end."

There's another pause.

"But, I mean, there's always a question."

And the career lives of these actors now have come rather curiously to imitate those of their characters who live on such a short leash and listen for the digital to ring. Nikita answers. Section One is calling. That French-Canadian accent, unmistakably Roy DuPuis' baritone, is on the line:

"Josephine."


graphic

 

RELATED STORIES:
Showbuzz: "Mercy' me -- why Peta Wilson conducted S&M research
January 24, 2000
Pain Perfect
August 6, 1999

RELATED SITES:
"La Femme Nikita," USA Network
The Prisoner


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