Shane West Talks 'Nikita,' Punk Rocking With The Germs and His 'Top Gun'-ish Action Flick
by Kim Potts, posted Sep 9th 2010 2:00PM
If 'Nikita' is like 'Alias,' then 'Once and Again' and 'ER' vet Shane West is its Michael Vartan, which is just one selling point of The CW's new spin on the 'La Femme Nikita' story.
With the show set to premiere tonight (9PM ET), TV Squad caught up with West to discuss his cool, stylishly-outfitted Michael, the main handler for recruits of Division, a super secret government agency that has some hinky agendas (including abandoning its one-time star spy, Maggie Q's titular Nikita).
West, a Louisiana native who began his Hollywood career with guest stints on 'Picket Fences,' 'Boy Meets World' and 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' also talks about playing with legendary Los Angeles punk band The Germs (after playing the late Darby Crash in the 2007 Germs biopic 'What We Do Is Secret') and starring in the movie that could have been the next 'Top Gun.'
Congratulations on the new show. The 'Nikita' pilot is one of the most fun pilots of the new season.
Oh, thank you, thank you. We're pretty proud of it ... we have a good project ahead of [us]. We're into episode six, and all of them have been amazing so far. So we're very excited.
You've only been involved with really good TV shows so far, with 'Once and Again' and 'ER' before 'Nikita.' What made you sign on for this one, for more of an action role?
Well, first of all, thank you. And secondly, I wasn't even sure if I was going to necessarily do television this year, but when I had come back from Europe in the winter of last year, it became a very huge pilot season. I hadn't been a part of a pilot season since I had done 'Once and Again,' but there were so many good shows that were coming out, some that were picked up, some probably that weren't. And when 'Nikita' came along, once I found out that Maggie Q was playing it, I was sold. But also for the possibility of playing the character of Michael, which I was actually a little bit younger than I think they wanted in the beginning. But with such a multi-layered character and so much going on with him, it was kind of a character that I just felt was right for me to do.
And, you know, the right people were behind it ... it was pretty much a movie cast, and professionals that know what they're doing. And you get the action in there, I get to be wearing suits every day, and I get to be playing a character that is ... that I think I was jealous of not being able to do in the past.
Is it fun to play that kind of suave spy guy with, as you said, the cool suits and the gadgets?
It's great. I think that's what a lot of guys would like to do. You know, you're playing spy or cops and robbers or whatever it is growing up, and even superhero to an extent. What's great about playing [Michael], as you just mentioned, his style and how fun it can be, is that he's also conflicted about everything that's gone on in his past and whatever might be going on with Nikita. So even though he gets to be super cool, he's not smilin' very often.
Yes, Michael's pretty intense in the pilot, but there are definitely hints that there's another side to him, especially with Nikita. Where does the character go after the premiere?
You know, I think that after being in episode six now, [we] started it yesterday, he does get far less intense than the pilot. But that is a first episode that needs to be .. you know, things were going along. When I'm talking to Alex [Lyndsy Fonseca] and telling her what's going on with her life, that was, you know, a speech I had done by rote, to a million different recruits that had come in. But over time, you can see him caring for Alex a little bit, because she kind of becomes another Nikita, so he's protective of his star students. You can see him rebelling against Percy [Xander Berkeley] a lot. There's a lot of ... he opens up a lot more. And he's always going to be intense, but I don't think he's quite as intense as he was in the pilot.
Basically, I think the best that I can put it, or the only thing I can maybe even really say right now, is he's had his family in some sense of the word taken away from him. I don't know if that means parents or wife and kids or what, but he joined Division. He was saved by Division and by Percy, so he feels a loyalty to that. But he also knows that they're corrupt. He also knows that they do certain things that are good and certain things that he doesn't agree with. And that's where a lot of the conflict comes from.
So, by episode six, are we getting a lot more of Michael's backstory?
No. Not yet. They're leading -- there are so many story lines to do. What we've done a lot in one through six is bringing Michael and Nikita together. Part of the storyline is bringing Michael and Nikita together, and now we have to find a way to drive a wedge in between them. It's not hard to bring Michael and Nikita together. It's hard to keep them apart. So right now, we're trying to drive a wedge in between them with a few other characters, as you'll see, as the season goes on. Apparently soon, though, there's supposed to be a backstory episode. Right now it's a lot of cat and mouse.
There's a lot to set up in the pilot, in just that one episode, but it definitely leaves us wanting to know more about all the characters ...
I think you kind of get invested in every one of them, and you do want to know what their backgrounds are. And the great thing about it is, none of the backgrounds are going to be easy. They're all going to be crazy, you know, because people that work in Division have to have a pretty interesting background to have gotten in. The recruits obviously have a messed up background, considering they could be dead in their [previous] lives. So they obviously have something interesting. And Nikita did at some point. So they'll all be unique to some extent.
Does Michael become action guy as the season goes on?
Oh yeah! In fact, he's kind of calmed down in the last couple [episodes] that we've done. But pretty much from the second episode. What's kind of funny about the pilot is, the biggest joke, was I never even fired my gun. Like, no fights, had a gun a bunch of times, but never fired it. They took me to gun training, and I was just laughing. It was like 5 o'clock in the morning, and I was like, 'You guys realize I'm not firing a gun in the pilot?' And they're like, 'Oh! OK, thanks.' 'I'm going to go back to sleep. Thank you.' But it changes quickly in episode two.
Did you go through any training to do the fight sequences, the action stuff?
Not really. There are things that I'm getting into since I've been out here in Toronto [where the show films]. I found an indoor rock climbing place, which is pretty amazing, and is just great for your core and your arms. I've joined my own gym. I'm about to do some boxing classes. I think the biggest thing, and the most important thing, I think, for all of us to do is, believe it or not, more yoga or stretching. Because we're not learning to perfect these moves. We're learning to make this work correctly on film and to not hurt each other. A lot of times we're learning all of this stuff the night before we shoot, which is pretty incredible.
And thankfully all of us are natural athletes to an extent. And then hopefully you just get it from there. I could go start taking taekwondo or jujitsu or any sort of classes, just to help me out, but there's nothing to say that I'm going to need to do that on the show. So the biggest, the best, the easiest way to do it is to stay active, go to a gym, but anything active. It can just be running. And basically something to strengthen your core so that you have more endurance to deal with whatever they might throw you.
What's up with your music career, now that you're back on a series full-time? Are you still performing with The Germs? I read that Billy Corgan's label is producing a Germs box set, and that some of your vocals will be included ...
Yeah, I've heard that, too, but I don't think that's been done yet. I think that's not a possibility, because I know I haven't recorded anything yet.
Well, that's the problem. I've played so many damn shows with this band now, in the past five years, that I could have recorded something in the sense that maybe it was live and they threw it on there. So I don't know. But I had heard about that a while ago. We haven't been playing [lately], because the last time we played was in our ... we finished up our European tour in December. And Pat [Smear, Germs, Nirvana and Foo Fighters guitarist] had a baby, and I booked the show, which shoots in Toronto, so between all that, there hasn't been an urge to do it. I do know that there's a festival here in Toronto next year -- and I'm supposed to be here until April; I think [the festival] is in March -- that I'd like to see if we can do. If [the band] can come out and do that at least, start doing at least spot shows again. I know the tours have taken a lot out of them and out of me, because they're kind of ... you know, you're giving your all every night. And that particular band, giving your all is more than most.
And you have a movie coming out, 'Kerosene Cowboys'? Who's your character?
No, no, no. 'Kerosene Cowboys' will hopefully not see the light of day. It never finished shooting. Kind of a project that had so much potential that just became a disaster, because of that and corrupt producers, basically ... production company. I don't think the money was necessarily there. And it's a shame, because it looked like they were putting together a pretty good project, and there hadn't really been a 'Top Gun'-type film since 'Top Gun.' So that would have been unique. I think it would have been successful, based simply off of some of the amazing aerial stuff they got. But I can't imagine that it could come out, and if it does, then I'd be very worried, because it was not finished. So that would mean it was slapped together.
That is a shame ... you had a good cast with you, Cam Gigandet, Bill Pullman, Troy Garity, Rachael Leigh Cook ...
It did, you know, and I was into it because I got to play ... I had like a goatee and a shaved head and a different look, and I got to play basically Ice Man, you know, Val Kilmer in 'Top Gun.' Play the bad guy. And in this film, I had a lot more to do off the planes, as well, more to do off the planes than 'Top Gun' did. It had some fun scenes. I could tell you stuff, but it would give it away ... but I don't know if people will ever see it, anyway. I'll just say this much: my character doesn't survive. I end up becoming kind of the hero by saving the day and realizing that I've been not a good person for a long time. I save the day, and I take out the terrorists, and let's just say they never filmed that.
[Laughing] What's interesting is, they filmed my gravestone, with everyone, Cam and Rachael and everyone, standing around my gravestone, kind of feeling down and a couple of them crying that I'd just passed away. But they never shot me [actually] dying, so it could be interesting if they actually try and put this together and just say, 'Yup, there he is, dead. Dead on the ground.'
Haha. Viewers would just have to assume you died, huh?
Yeah, exactly. 'Let's just take out all the drama, and just put it together.' But you never know. I mean, with Cam's success and, you know, possibly the success of ['Nikita'], and whatever might happen for the rest of the actors in that film, you know, they may try to find a way to put that together someday. But I can just say that none of us will give it the approval, unfortunately.