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Q&A: 'Nikita's' Shane West Talks Season 2

Brittany Frederick Brittany Frederick
October 21st, 2011 4:09pm EDT

The show may be called Nikita, but it's Shane West, as the title character's partner Michael, who is the backbone of the series.

Nikita

Nothing against Maggie Q, but Shane's doing a lot of heavy lifting. In just over a full season, Michael has been Nikita's trainer, ally, one-time possible love interest, enemy, ally again, and now her current love interest. We've seen how he lost his wife and daughter, left his longtime post as right-hand man at Division after finding out that boss Percy was behind their deaths, and now he's ditched the concrete walls of the secret agency for a life on the run with Nikita. That's a lot to go through for a guy who still doesn't officially have a last name.

It's also a lot for an actor to tackle. Yet that's sort of Shane's specialty. He's been around the TV block before, on the criminally underrated Once & Again and later as Dr. Ray Barnett for three seasons of ER, so he's got plenty of experience on his side. He's also got the chops for the job: this is the same guy who disappeared into the skin of punk-rock icon Darby Crash in What We Do Is Secret, busted up The Echelon Conspiracy, and just recently invigorated the role of a tormented ghost in The Presence - with one word of dialogue. As a screenwriter, I'd be honored to work with him. He's fearless, smart, and he's one of the sharpest-witted people I've ever known.

Shane has infused all those qualities into Michael with fantastic results. Tonight, before we learn more about what makes Michael tick, I had the pleasure of speaking with Shane again to ask what's helped him continue to defy expectations in season two.

Your LSU Tigers annihilated my University of Florida Gators two weeks ago. And your New Orleans Saints got your quarterback after he left my San Diego Chargers at the end of the 2005 season. Do you want to go ahead and gloat?

No, I'm not gloating at all. I've actually never been that type. I like to wait until it's over. If we can beat Alabama and go undefeated, and win the national championship, then you might see me gloat.

Let's talk about Nikita. So much was made of it moving to Friday nights, which has usually been a TV graveyard - but were you as worried about it as the fans were?

No, not at all. It's a better day, it's a better time slot, and such a better pairing for us as well, being with Supernatural. You have a show like JAG that lasted 10 years that was on Friday. When I was growing up, Friday seemed to be more of a dead zone back then. Nowadays with DVR and TiVo and what have you, people never watch at that exact time anyway. I knew our fans had been great and loyal, and they'd follow us anywhere.

Season two had a lot of changes for the fans to process - but how was all that like for you as an actor, to handle all the plot developments?

It can be difficult sometimes. Last year, everything that happened to Michael was expected. The writers had told me in advance all the things they thought might actually happen to Michael. This year it's more fast-paced. It's much crazier. It's harder to get a sense of what's going to happen for our characters. They're trying to let us know little by little. And sometimes that's important. They want you to play things as they come.

What's something from season two that you're particularly proud of?

I think some of the storylines that are coming up with Cassandra I'm pretty proud of, because it's been different. It's really the only stuff happening with Michael's backstory this year. And some of the action scenes. I've done a lot of solo action scenes this year, where it's just me and a couple of guards or minions or what have you. They've improved Michael's fighting style; it's not quite so bar brawling, and I'm proud of those.

Is there anything you'd really like to see in the season? Something you'd like to suggest to the writers right now?

You know, they really nailed a lot of what I wanted to see last year for Michael. I'm trying to figure out what they can do. For season two, my most important thing is the protection of Michael's and Nikita's relationship. My whole thing is protecting the integrity of that relationship. I know there have to be rifts, but make sure that anything that happens to it has a reason, and a reason to come back to it.

If Nikita gets a third season, you'll have been with the show just as long as you were on ER and as long as Once & Again ran. Which got me thinking: this is a really different role from either of those two shows. How has it affected your career? Do you think people are starting to see you differently?

I think so. I think that's a natural progression with age, though. I think I was 21 when I did Once & Again and 27 when I did ER. Now I'm 33, but I was 31 when we started Nikita. They're different parts of my life.

Then you go and do The Presence, where you somehow manage to create this character with almost no dialogue. How in the heck did that happen?

I don't blink very often. I try to hold my breath a lot. There was a backstory, but the audience didn't necessarily need to know it. He had a wife that had drowned in that lake and I think that's why he inhabited the house. He was a sad, lost soul.

One of the biggest compliments that I had going into that film [was that] the directors and producers were fans enough of my work to believe that I was the right person that could pull that character off. That was a huge compliment for me. It was difficult in a different way to get through every day of work; you wanted to say something, leave a mark on the film. That whole experience - it was very hard to market. I'm glad that people understood it. What's been great is the online reviews are like 99% positive.

We have something new in common since we talked last; we're now both musicians. So I have to ask you for your musical recommendations.

I'm much more of a classic rock kind of guy. I do love, obviously, new bands. But if iTunes are going or a CD, I'm a heavy listener to The Clash, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones. Those would be my influences.

My thanks to Shane West for another fantastic interview! Don't miss an all-new episode of Nikita tonight at 8 PM ET/PT on The CW.

(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.

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