Craig Silverstein (Terra Nova, Bones) and McG (Charlie’s Angels, Human Target, Supernatural) have teamed up to produce an updated version of La Femme Nikita for The CW.
Maggie Q stars as Nikita, who as a young girl was trained by Division to be an assassin. But she did what no other trainee has achieved – she escaped, and now is seeking retribution. Percy (Xander Berkeley), Division’s top authority, and his lieutenant, Michael (Shane West), are determined to track her down.
There have been two movies and a TV series of Nikita, and the disaster that was Dollhouse, which had a similar premise. Why even call this Nikita, it’s such a different animal?
Craig Silverstein: Warner Brothers had that title, and my first thought was that I love Nikita. I loved all the iterations of it.
My second thought was it’s been done. So I took it upon myself to ask, could it be done fresh? Could we have a take where you didn’t know how this story was going to end? And that’s when I came upon the idea of following Nikita after she had left the agency, which is a chapter that’s never been told.
At the same time I wanted to do justice to the origin story of Nikita, that dark fairy tale of taking a girl and changing her life, changing her identity, transforming her into a beautiful killer.
We’re doing that with the character of Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca). You’re following Alex and Nikita’s stories. You don’t know which way Alex is going to go. You don’t know how the story is going to end. So it’s not a rehash.
McG: Also I think we’re all very excited about the notion of empowered female characters. And you meet someone like Maggie, who is extraordinarily talented and you get excited about the notion of a show like this being on the air.
From my experience with Charlie’s Angels, on down, it’s just I like the idea of empowered female characters that don’t apologize for being beautiful, but are very intelligent and multi-dimensional, and I think Maggie nails that.
I’m sure you were in development when Dollhouse crashed and burned. Did you look at that and go, ‘Uh-oh?’
Craig Silverstein: Not really. Dollhouse is, to me, science fiction. This is set in the real world. We’re much more of a Jason Bourne type of tone, in that type of world. So I don’t really see the overlap besides just being a female action lead.
Nikita is not like the character in Dollhouse who doesn’t know who she is. Nikita knows exactly who she is and what she wants.
When you do action, kick-ass movies, you have a lot of time and a lot bigger budget. What are the constraints when you try to do, literally, a little mini action movie every week?
McG: For me, the number one problem solved is to hire the most talented people. We feel like this is going to be successful cinematic television week in/week out, and I say it with the greatest respect to the movies. What’s happening every night on television, both with the networks and with the cable outlets, supersedes what’s going on on Fridays in the theatres.
I think the most talented voices are working in a television construct, and you’re seeing filmmaking of the highest caliber.
Where are you filming the series?
Craig Silverstein: Toronto, where the original USA series shot. We run into a lot of people who worked on the show, almost all of Toronto. The customs agent was very mean about letting Maggie through until she told him she was working on Nikita, and they were like, ‘Oh, I love that show.’
Is Xander Berkeley, who plays the head of Division, a regular? And if he is, how do you circumvent the problem of having him and Nikita in proximity more than once a season without them killing each other?
Craig Silverstein: The answer to that is hinted at in the last scene of the pilot, in the alley with Nikita and Michael, where Michael says, ‘No one can stop Percy.’
He’s essentially got all of the dirty secrets of every job Division’s ever done hidden in encrypted files all over the world. That works as his insurance policy. If anyone takes him down this Pandora’s Box of all of our country’s dirty secrets from the last five administrations are going to be released, and this country will be in conflict with every other country.
Can you talk a little bit about Lyndsy’s character?
Craig Silverstein: Alex is a character who has an epic back story that I don’t think anybody is going to see coming. And it’s a back story that we’re going to start unfolding directly after the pilot and over the course of the season, and it also tells the story of how Alex and Nikita got together.
Pilots traditionally are loaded up with a lot of action to impress the networks, and then there’s a falloff. Have you learned tricks over the years as to how to do action sequences in an affordable way? Is the day of loading up an action series with pyrotechnics pretty much over?
McG: I think it’s over. It’s a tribute to Danny (Cannon, the director/producer of Nikita) and his creative team. I did the pilot for Chuck, and I think Chuck is doing great creatively and hasn’t fallen off at all, which is a tribute to Josh Schwartz, who runs that show.
I think that creativity is the mother of invention, and sometimes if you have a big, fat circus behind the camera, that’s not in the interest of great stuff going on in front of the camera. There’s nothing I would change if this had a $150 million budget for Danny to play with. I think it looks absolutely immaculate.