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People Who Are Awesome: Shane West

Brittany Frederick Brittany Frederick
March 4th, 2011 12:22pm EST

NikitaHow awesome is Shane West? He's so awesome that even though I'd already written a People Who Are Awesome column for February, I felt like I'd be doing a disservice if I didn't give him one anyway.

His performances in the Nikita episodes that aired in February were that memorable. As the plot of the freshman spy show ramped up, he took the character of Michael to a whole other level to match.

In "Coup de Grace," not only did we get to see Michael in tactical gear, but he finally started to catch on to the idea that he was being deceived. "The Last Seduction" brought us some of the most heartbreaking moments between Michael and Nikita to date, showing us both characters at their most vulnerable. Those were my favorite scenes of the season until the next week, when "Alexandra" involved that rooftop scene where the two finally had it out over Nikita's actions in "One Way" and someone almost said the L-word. And just to cap the whole thing off, Michael turned up in Nikita's loft with a very large gun at the end of "Echoes," creating the most scream-inducing cliffhanger in my recent memory.

That's a lot of material to handle, and it's also very important; Michael putting the pieces together is the show's biggest unresolved question. In the face of all that, in every scene, Shane simply elevated his game. Watch the moment in "The Last Seduction" as he leaves Alex's apartment after ruining her dinner with Nathan. As he's at the door, there's a look of regret - and perhaps even a bit of self-loathing - that perfectly conveys how Michael hates what he's just done but feels as if he's doing it for her own good. It's the simplest, most basic thing he can do, and yet it has the maximum impact.

And it's the kind of thing that he's been doing all throughout Nikita's first season. In a genre where being cold and detached is the norm, he's created a character who remains tied to his humanity (for better or for worse), which in turn draws the audience inside who he is. No offense to the rest of Nikita's cast, but while I came for the spy action, Michael is the single reason I stayed. (And I'm glad I did, but that's another column.)

That's the kind of subtle character-building that Shane has been doing for the entirety of his career. Every moment means something; he'll never be accused of being a passive actor. He's the guy who looks at what we all think a role should be, then ignores it and goes in his own direction. This makes each of his performances distinctive. Look at The Echelon Conspiracy; he had every excuse in the world to phone that one in as another technical genius with no social skills, but he didn't go there. In Once & Again, his portrayal was one of the best examples of what we go through in our high school years that I've ever seen. He was certainly one of the more unique characters during his three-season run on ER, ending with a storyline that I can say from personal experience that he got right (and that moved me to tears). And this is before I get into What We Do Is Secret, where he completely disappeared and became someone else for awhile. If I've learned anything from watching his work, it's that Shane is never going to sleepwalk through a role. Whether it's adding subleties or challenging expectations, he's always going to be an active participant, and I immensely respect the obvious passion he has for his craft.

But of course, being awesome isn't just about being a talented performer. Being awesome is also about being a remarkable person. Shane is a genuinely good guy who's refreshingly unashamed of who he is. When I interviewed him not so long ago, I got to know someone who's smart, snappy and self-confident. We ended up discussing something I'd overlooked in one of his films. He could have taken the safe route of politely ignoring my oversight, or being a complete jerk about it. He did neither. Instead, he patiently explained it to me so I understood it, and wasn't afraid to give me a good-natured ribbing either. I came away from the conversation feeling smarter and not embarrassed either, and that's because he made me feel comfortable.

I was impressed by the fact that he has the courage of his convictions; he was willing to talk about anything, and not just talk but explain his choices. That's real integrity; if the tables had been turned, there are a few student films in my career that I'd rather apologize for than stand behind. Not to mention, he's a very funny guy. He was one of the most fun people I've gotten to talk to. He's smart, he's talented, he's true to himself and he's funny. I'd gladly grab a drink with him after work, or shoot a few hoops with him on the weekend, and as a writer, I'd trust him with my material.

And why not? He's an underappreciated actor who brings an obvious passion and a sharp intelligence to everything he does. He doesn't ever settle. And as a person, he's charismatic, approachable, and has his head screwed on more properly than most of us. There's not a trace of the typical Hollywood ego in him. I've enjoyed getting to watch him every week, think he's a great person besides, and can't wait to meet him in person sometime so I can hug him and tell him how much admiration I have for him both on and off-screen. I just wish that it hadn't taken me so long to realize that he's one of those People Who Are Awesome.

For more People Who Are Awesome, check out the column archives at my blog, DigitalAirwaves.net.

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Photo Credits: The CW; Peace Arch