La Femme Nikita
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La Femme Nikita is distinctly different from other hit shows. It isn’t about teenagers who live by a creek and talk like social workers. It isn’t just another twenty- or thirtysomething nighttime soap. It doesn’t take place in a hospital, with frenzied doctors spitting out medical jargon. Nor is it about hysterical young female lawyers.

What it is, is a sophisticated, multi-layered series, its story line a web of nuance. There’s also plenty of action, violence, intrigue, beautiful people, and sex--implied and otherwise. Add to that stories and characters inhabiting a compelling, darkly psychological world. Events take place in the present, but nothing is specific; it’s a somehow "dateless" present. The setting is somewhere in the western world where English is spoken, though some people have foreign accents. This environment is known as Section One, and the people who occupy this most secretive of off-the-budget military organizations are fighting terrorism, in all its forms, around the world. The catch is that everyone who is a member of Section One is not there by his or her own volition, and cannot leave, go home at 5 o’clock, or quit his job. If they try to leave, or escape, they will be sought out and "canceled." Each member of Section One has a story of how he got there; these stories are revealed subtly and gradually throughout the series. A common denominator for most operatives is some sort of terrible crime in their pasts, murder mostly, but nothing in this underground fortress is as it seems. Having been brought to Section from prison, or somewhere else, the soldiers of Section One ostensibly work on the side of good, but there is no absolution. Section One is a sort of Purgatory.

In their midst is a recent "recruit" to this world of intrigue, danger, and mystery--Nikita, code name Josephine. Nikita, as in the original film La Femme Nikita, did not commit the crime she was accused of--the murder of a police officer. The charges were false, yet Nikita was given a life sentence. Nikita was a young street person, into drugs, but not into murder. While in prison, Nikita is spotted by Michael, a Section One ranking operative. Once at Section, Nikita is trained to be a consummate killer, though not a willing one. She is tutored by Michael, who will become her sometimes sadistic, sometimes loving mentor (Nikita’s and Michael’s evolving story is an interesting evocation of the myth of Pygmalion). As Nikita has learned "the game," she has become very good at it. She knows the culture of the place, its politics, its danger, and she has learned to manipulate it.

Peta Wilson as Nikita

But Nikita does not abuse her knowledge. It doesn’t own her. No one does. Although she plays by Section rules, she won’t adapt to the system. Her soul cannot be sold. She alone has been able to maintain her greatest resources: humanity and heart. And that is what makes Nikita such a great character. She is complex. Forget the Spice Girls, this is real Girl Power.

She is also extremely beautiful. Cast in the role of Nikita is a talented young Australian actress: Peta Wilson. Viking tall, a perfect, beautiful, strong body, long straight white blonde hair, large luminous blue eyes, and a perfectly shaped sensuous mouth--Miss Wilson is quite a package. She’s sexy and gorgeous in the contemporary way, but there is also an element of her beauty and expression that is archetypal. She reminds me of what Robert Graves describes as the White Goddess or Moon Goddess--a female deity who existed before time was recorded, when women deities dominated, before the men took over.

La Femme Nikita posters in New York's Chinatown.

I think I’ve made the case that Nikita is more than a blonde with a gun--Pam Anderson did that and no one was interested. Nikita is much more. And as she has grown and matured in the 4 years the series has been on (this is also how LFN so distinguishes itself from other television shows; the characters actually evolve psychologically, in ways that actual people move through their lives), her outward appearance, her bearing, and her taste in fashion has changed. From the start, Nikita has worn fabulous clothes, and Miss Wilson wears clothes fabulously. But toward the end of last season, and in the current season, Nikita’s wardrobe has consisted of spectacular ultra chic couture clothing.

The woman behind the conceptualization of Miss Wilson’s wardrobe (as well as that of the other principal actors), is a talented, articulate and totally creative young costume designer, Laurie Drew. As you will see in the following interview, Laurie’s approach to costume designing is thoughtful, insightful, unique. Laurie was kind enough to have a nice long chat with me. She allows us a peek behind the scenes, and reveals her approach to the costume designing of an extraordinary television show.

Laurie_hand_out.jpg (48136 bytes)
Costume Designer Laurie Drew at her desk in the La Femme Nikita production office.  (by Harry Zernike)


The cast of La Femme Nikita.  From left standing, Eugene Robert
Glazer as Operations; Alberta Watson as Madeline; Don Francks
as Walter, Peta Wilson as Nikita, Roy Dupuis as Michael, and
seated, Matthew Ferguson as Birkoff.   (by Marnie Grossman)

FF: How did it come about that the show would have an overall monochromatic look? What was the genesis of the look?

Laurie Drew: I think it kind of evolved because we wanted to do something that had a style to it, because, I don’t know why that was, but I think it had to do with Rocco Matteo, who’s the production designer, and myself wanting to see what we could do with this particular idea. So how are you going to achieve this?

Okay, there are many different ways to skin a cat. But one of them certainly is visually, and in terms of what I’m able to contribute, you know a lot of it has to do with palette, and how they’re going to shoot it and whatnot. And the show has evolved certainly.

One thing that I notice in terms of my years of experience is that each actor and each project has their own frequency. Then, once you’ve found that beat, it has its own kind of evolution. A life of its own, in other words. And all we do is simply facilitate that.

It’s not like we come along and go, okay, boom, this is the template, this is what it’s going to be, and be very rigid about it. I don’t find, for me anyway, that’s not how I work. Usually what I endeavor to do is try to get a sense of what it is I’m working with in terms of just energy, right? And then whatever heightens that or accentuates that is what works, right?

FF: Definitely.

Laurie Drew: Yeah. And then that can change constantly too. It’s not as if you arrive at one decision and then you walk away. It’s like a living, breathing entity. It’s fluid. You have to respect that, and pay attention, and it will tell you what to do. I’ve found good success with that method.

FF: Interesting. I think that’s a very interesting approach. And so when you say the frequency of the actor, can you describe the frequency of Peta Wilson (Nikita) and Roy Dupuis (Michael), and also of the other featured cast members?

By Jeff Katz

Laurie Drew: They’re all different. Every person is. It’s almost like fingerprints. Because, you know, you could talk on the phone to an actor that’s scheduled to come into town in a week or something. And you can flip back ideas and Fedex little drawings and you know tear sheets and whatnot, and get all excited about a certain look. And then when they walk through that door, it can all go down the toilet.

So, it’s like the moment the creative process begins is when they step through the threshold. And then you take a look at them, and I think--I don’t know how you can word this--for me, it’s just going to be a very kind of primitive way of putting it, but it’s pretty rudimentary. It’s their creativity, and the same kind of force that’s your sexuality, you know?

So that kind of energy, whatever they walk through that door with, it’s like when you get them to the state where they are starting to vibrate, you know, in an almost a sexual manner, okay. Not that they’re jumping around, you know, doing lewd things, but just that you’ve found it where they start to hum. That moment. And then that’s the look.

FF: Interesting, interesting.

Laurie Drew: Acting is a very creative process. Costuming is as well. So it does have something to do with that creative flash, sexual energy, that you’re kind of working with.

FF: And do you think that because Peta Wilson, the lead character, the heroine, is such a striking, physically beautiful individual, and has a sort of majesty…I mean she’s tall, and she’s got a great body and the blond hair. Do you feel that because you have someone who is so amazing looking to work with, that it really gave you much more leeway?

Laurie Drew: Well, it does in terms of this show, because this show’s a lot about kind of fashionable looking clothes. Now, each show has its own dictates. You know in this particular one--I mean I could work with Peta on another show where she’d have to be a country housewife, and her look would be completely different, right? Nikita is particular in that sense, and we’re both happy to have all these great clothes. We’re able to use it, and it works for this show. And the fact that she wears them so beautifully. Most actresses don’t have model bodies. So you can have all kinds of ideas from magazines, but once you put them on the bod, it like kind of wilts.

FF: Sure.

Laurie Drew: So it’s not as easy to wear the stuff as it is with Pete. She wears clothes beautifully.

FF: Absolutely. I’ve been following the series since the first season …

Laurie Drew: Oh, great.

FF: ... and I remember before it even came out, I live near Central Park and there was a phone booth with a poster teasing that the show was going to premiere soon, and there was this girl--I mean, you don’t see many girls who look like that--in this great outfit. And I thought, wow! And of course I’d seen the movie, and I thought well this looks really interesting. And I saw that it was on USA and I thought I’ve got to tune in. And I’ve been a total fan ever since.

And when you shaped the Nikita character with Peta as far as the costuming went, the very high couture look emerged more and more. How did that come about? Was that something that you worked on with the directors and the writers as well as with Peta, or how did that all work?

Laurie Drew: It had its evolution. And I think in terms of the character’s origins, she’s from the street,

and she had a lot of rebelliousness in her for having been captured and kidnapped and forced under their control. So there were sort of odd and awkward and left-field kind of offshoots that would manifest in…in costume, you know.

So she didn’t know what the hell she was for the first while, you know, except that she was really good and pissed off, right? But she also had to behave in a kind of appropriate manner for certain missions, and you know that sort of thing.

So I think the first season was her more or less sort of finding herself, you know?

And in a way we were too, you know. We were more impulsive. We were more kind of emotional about the pieces we would choose for her. And then, as the second season progressed, and certainly into the third, into the third season she has more or less decided to, I think, kind of play more of a psychological game with Section One. So she can play their game now very well, and probably better than they can. So that had to kind of manifest in her appearance. Which is a little bit more sophisticated and controlled. And then from time to time when we have an opportunity, we’ll see what’s really in her soul, you know, but less and less likely around Section. She has to have a sort of appropriate look, and she does. And she pulls it off, you know, in her own fashion, which is kind of like okay, well, let’s wear it well, and let’s do it, you know. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it well.


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