On The CW’s highly anticipated drama Nikita, actor Shane West plays Michael, a top lieutenant in Division, the secret organization that former assassin Nikita (Maggie Q) has vowed to destroy. Michael trained Nikita when she was a recruit and is now faced with the responsibility of tracking down his renegade student. At the same time, he is also in charge of training Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), Nikita’s young replacement, along with other recruits.
During a recent phone interview, Shane West spoke exclusively to Collider about what attracted him to this re-imagining of the Nikita story, how much he enjoys working with Maggie Q, the physicality of the role and how good it feels to know that so many people are interested in tuning in to the series. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: What initially made you want to get involved with this show and this character, considering all the preconceived notions people will have with this being another version of the Nikita story?
Shane: I had no worry about it. It’s not a remake. Consequently, I think that’s why there’s a lot less worries. Maggie is not worried. None of us really are. Thankfully, there’s an amazing cast with a great team of producers and writers. We’re on Episode 6 right now and they’ve just put together amazing scripts, one after another. With it being a re-imagining and a re-telling, four years or so into the future, it’s different. It’s held onto certain beliefs, situations and characters from the original, but it’s added a bunch of new characters as well. And, having McG headline the whole thing, you know its’ going to be an action-packed extravaganza, and it seems to be so far.
Had you been looking to do another TV show, or was it specifically this project that interested you?
Shane: It was specifically this project. I was looking at other TV shows. It was the first pilot season that I was a part of, since I did Once & Again. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted. I just wanted to get in there and see what was going on because so much on television has been kicking butt lately and the film world has been falling apart, in a lot of senses in the world, and trying to recover. That’s why you see so many amazing actors and so many film actors on television now. The writing is better and it’s just working.
Obviously, Nikita stood out to me. Being a fan of the original film, I had to at least read the pilot and figure out what they were trying to do with it. When I realized that they were making the character of Michael a little bit younger than the original film, and I had the opportunity to do that, most other television shows went along the wayside for me because it was such a great character to have the chance to portray, as well as a great situation for me, in my acting career, at age 32, to play someone that was around my age and to play opposite someone as great as Maggie Q.
How do you view this guy, as a person and in relation to Nikita? Where do you think his loyalty ultimately lies?
Shane: I think his loyalty ultimately lies with Division right now. I think and hope that will change, but currently I think it lies with Division. You’ll find out more of Michael, what’s happened to him in his past and why he has a sense of loyalty to Division. Percy (Xander Berkeley) basically saved his life. As much as he doesn’t approve of some of the goings-on in Division, he sometimes turned a blind eye. He is such a confused character and he is messed up, but he’s inherently a good guy, and we’ll figure that out as each episode goes along.
Without giving anything away, what can viewers expect from Season 1 and from your character, and what do you think people familiar with the previous versions will find most surprising about this?
Shane: What I think they’ll love is the opportunity to see where some of the characters that they were in love with before have gone and where they could go to, which they couldn’t in the original film or when the original series ended. This is something that can go beyond anything that they could imagine, and I think that will be exciting for the old fans.
For the new and old fans, what you’ll see in this season is that it’s a first season, so it’s got to be a lot of chaos and a lot of development of characters. It may not be too in-depth because they can save that for a second season, but a lot of development in the broader sense for the characters. There will be a lot of cat and mouse because this is that type of show. It’s very easy to bring Nikita and Michael together. It’s hard to keep them apart, and that’s the difficulty of what we have in store for us, with this first season.
What’s it been like to work with Maggie Q? What sort of dynamic does she bring to the show, in terms of your work together and the relationship between the characters?
Shane: Maggie is just a wonderful human being, period. She’s pretty amazing at making you feel bad about yourself. She’s such a lover of humanity, of animals and of all walks of life, and she’s such a giving person, and that transcends to her acting. She’s very giving, in every sense of the word, and she’s kind of a smart ass, and so am I. We get along that way, and that’s huge for Michael and Nikita, and for Shane and Maggie as well. We already care about each other a lot as actors, and I think that will show itself on screen. We have a show to protect, and it’s something that we’re very passionate about and hope that people will be passionate about as well.
Shane: It’s great. I couldn’t ask for a better cast. They really did a great job. That’s usually one of your worries, when you’re getting involved in a project, if you’re one of the first people to sign. Maggie was the first and I was the second, and then you wonder, “Well, I hope they cast people that we like for the rest of the show,” but they really did. Xander Berkeley and Melinda Clarke are great professionals that have done this for a long time, especially Xander. They’ve just done everything and they’re amazing to work with.
Aaron Stanford has been around, and I was a big fan of his work before. And there’s the young ones, with Lyndsy Fonseca, Ashton Holmes and Tiffany Hines. They’ve personified these great characters for these recruits. I was friends with Ashton for a long time, but everyone else, I got to know in L.A. after the pilot, so going back for Episode 2, we had known each other for six months, at that point. Everybody lived in L.A., so when we went back home from the pilot, we spent a lot of time together.
What has it been like to film in Toronto?
Shane: It’s always hard to be away and relocate. When you relocate for a film, there’s an end in sight. You know that you’ll only be there for a few months. Here, especially with Season 1, we’ve got no idea. We know we’ll be here until December, but we could be here until April, and then you never know. We could be here for 10 years, or three years, or two years. But, thankfully, it is a city that is a lot of fun with great people, and a lot of us are growing to like it. It didn’t take me long to like it, but certain people have families and they have their kids out here, and some people miss their lives back home. It is what it is. We’re a part of a good project and we’re in a fun city that has everything that you need, so we couldn’t really ask for anything more. It could be far, far worse. We’re very happy to be here.
Does the physical aspect of the show get any easier as you go along, or is it a challenge each time because it’s always something new?
Shane: That would be a better question for Maggie to answer. That poor girl. We started joking around, but only half-joking, and said, “You need to have an episode with her not fighting.” She needs to do something that doesn’t have her in an incredible fight, in every episode. For me, it hasn’t been that hard. I’ve had a few ridiculously difficult fights, but I’ve actually had a couple episodes off from fighting, in the sense of a huge choreographed thing. I was always with a gun, running or doing something like that. When the days happen, it’s tough. There’s nothing like it. But, we’ve all been a little more fortunate than Maggie has.
Do you enjoy getting to do the physical stuff and the gun work on the show, or has that taken some getting used to?
Shane: It’s a lot of fun. It’s great. It’s like being a kid again, and yet it’s also being an adult and getting to be second in command of this CIA type of agency. I get to wear the suits, I get to fire the guns, I get the respect of someone who is in command. It’s a blast. And, beyond that, it’s such a multi-layered character that it’s a blast to go to work every day.
It’s obvious in the pilot that Nikita and Michael have a history. Will there be any flashbacks to show that history, or will things be learned more through dialogue?
Shane: I think it will be both. We did do a flashback episode. There will be flashbacks often, but we did a flashback episode of Michael and Nikita, and you get to see how strong they were together. Not together as in holding hands or kissing, or anything like that, but as in being in each other’s presence while at Division. It was just basically a glimpse of that past. I’m sure there will be more. We have quite a few episodes left to put those in there.
Shane: It feels like it’s been filled with twists and surprises. I think we’re going to be looking at a fool season of that.
How does it feel to know that Nikita is one of the pilots that’s on everyone’s list of the most anticipated shows of the fall season and everyone is excited to watch it?
Shane: It feels very good. That’s how we wanted it. That’s what Maggie expected and hoped for, and that’s what I wanted as well. I looked at a lot of shows, and I was looking at some other ones too, but I told my representation that this was the one that I wanted a shot at. Because I felt, with The CW’s power and their amazing advertisement – they’re second to none, in that department – and our opportunity to do one of their first adult, kick-ass shows, it was a no-brainer. It felt right four months ago, so when it got picked up and people started talking about it, and we started doing interviews and photo shoots, it just felt right. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of two amazing shows already, so we’re hoping this will be the third.
Are you hoping to balance this with doing film roles during hiatus, or do you think you’ll just want to take a vacation, once the season is over?
Shane: I don’t know. It depends on the time. When I did Once & Again about 10 years ago, I did a movie each hiatus for the three years we did the show, and I had hardly any time in between. I would do the movie, I’d come back and have two weeks, and then I’d start the show again.
With E.R., I was in the living hell of trying to put together this film that I ended up being very proud of, called What We Do Is Secret, about The Germs. I did E.R. for three years, so during the hiatus, I worked on shooting bits of What We Do Is Secret, getting more financing and trying to put it together, so I had plenty of downtime. I didn’t fill it up with movies every time because I was trying to just film one damn movie, but that’s the heartache of independent films.
So, I don’t know. It hasn’t been since doing Once & Again, where I’ve had that time. It’s barely three months that you have off. If we end in April, we’re back in July. That’s ridiculous. Certain people just go home and veg out, certain people go travel the world and certain people are like, “Screw this, I’m going to work the entire time.” I think it also depends. If there’s something good, then I’m going to want to work. If there’s something that I feel like I’d be compromising myself on, then I’d pass.
For more interview from Nikita: