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Q&A: 'Nikita' Star Shane West

The former teen heartthrob sure knows how to rock a suit

By Sona Charaipotra Sep 9, 2010 10:00AM
Shane West on Back in the day, Shane West was that guy who romanced the likes of Mandy Moore and Kirsten Dunst in teen movies like "A Walk To Remember" and "Get Over It." Then he donned scrubs to play Dr. Ray Barnett on the long-running "ER." Now all grown up, West -- who's also the eyeliner-rocking frontman for the Germs -- is learning how to work a suit, spy-style. And from what we can tell, he's about to steal the show on the new CW remake "Nikita," a sexed-up take on what happens when the infamous femme fatale escapes the division and goes rogue.

We caught up with West to chat about suits, grown-up roles and why TV is the place to be.

MSN TV: So this is a revamp of the classic "La Femme Nikita." How much did you know about the franchise?

Shane West: I was a fan of the film -- I own it. I'd seen a few episodes Peta Wilson's show. And I had worked with her, right when she finished the show, on "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." So this is kind of ironic. So I was familiar with it.

This was essentially McG and Danny Cannon and Greg Silverstein's re-imagining and re-telling of "Nikita." It's six years in the future, so it's what's gone on with Nikita once she's left the Division and gone rogue. So there are similar characters to the film and the original series, but there are also a bunch of new characters as well to put a new spin on it. Spy shows have traditionally done well, and for me, this felt like a no-lose situation. Maggie Q is hot and great and fun to work with. My character, Michael, is basically second in command at the division. So he has a loyalty to Percy, his boss, and to the Division for giving him a second chance in life. But also knows how corrupt it can be. So he's possibly the most conflicted character on the show, especially because he still has feelings for Nikita and whatever might have happened between them in the past. He has to keep it together and keep his eye on the ball, but he's also got that conflict with what he's supposed to be doing.

So we can expect lots of tension -- romantic and otherwise -- between Maggie Q's Nikita and Michael?

The tension from the past yet is there, but we'll see. We'll see what the audience has to say. Whether they want to see the two together, because that's a natural place for these two characters to go. But how quickly is that going to happen? I don't know. It's a new show and you can't give things away that quickly. You've got to make the audience want it.

This genre is sort of new to you. Can we expect a lot of action? Are you running around in a suit, Bond-style?

I'm doing everything! The mentality on this set is to do as much as we can ourselves, unless it's something really impossible. But I'm having a great time. I've done quite a few action sequences already, including some amazing fights with Nikita. Michael's a suit-wearer, but he's not a suit-and-tie guy. That's his way of being taken seriously, working for the man but he's a bit rebellious. Personally, at age 32, and trying to grow up -- thankfully "ER" helped a bit there -- you want to play those roles and be believable. I'm not 32 trying to play 18. I'm not 32 trying to play 21. I'm an adult now. I'll leave those roles to the people who are actually 18 or 21. I love this opportunity to sink my teeth into something, to play this guy who's the second in command of an agency bigger than the CIA, and wear suits and own it. And he has had enough life experience to earn it. I feel like I can do that now.

Speaking of suits, you're a bit of a punk. Are you still working on music?

When I can. It's not going to be for a while now. Last year, after shooting a film, I spent the year doing nationwide tour of the United States with the Germs, and we did a European tour. But at the beginning of this year, it was such an amazing pilot season. And I hadn't done a pilot season since I was 21. I didn't think I was going to do TV at this point. But I couldn't pass "Nikita" up. I gave it a shot, and I'm a little younger than they wanted for Michael -- I think they wanted like 35 or 36. So when I was able to change their mind and they were serious about me playing this role, there was no way I could say no. He's the most conflicted character on this show -- he's got so many places he can go. And it's not too bad playing opposite Maggie Q, either.

Do feel like TV now is a different animal than it was ten years ago?

Oh yeah, absolutely. Even bigger than 20 years ago. Back then it was like separated genres, film versus TV. You were a TV actor or you were a movie actor. But then the industry is practically falling apart. It's still an over-saturated market. The Internet, as brilliant as it is, has destroyed a lot of things as well. And the movie world is not doing well. When you can watch any movie, including the ones in the theater, for free, when you've got TiVo and you can watch whenever you want, it messes up the ratings system. Nothing's quantifiable anymore. It takes away the ticket-holders. It's been chaotic, hopefully they'll figure it out. But I think what's really happened is better writing has come to television -- and so the proven actors will follow that. You can, these days, become a movie star from being on TV. Look at a Jennifer Aniston or Jim Carrey. And then you've got Glenn Close, Steve Buscemi, Holly Hunter -- huge names going off to do their own shows. TV is the place to be these days.

Catch Shane West on "Nikita" tonight at 9 p.m. on the CW.

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