He’s been at the top of my Interview Wish List for five months – and that day has come. This afternoon, Nikita star Shane West and I sat down to dish about Michael’s various and sundry character quirks, the show’s rumored tonal shift, and what we may have missed, just ahead of tonight’s all-new episode of the CW spy drama.
First, I should get this off my chest: when Nikita premiered, I was a little hard on your performance. Having seen more of your work since then, though, I should say that I was wrong and you were right, and I’m quite impressed with your work.
Really? Well, this is a character who’s obviously been played by three other people. So I took a lot from some of those characters. If you look in my past, you can see a lot of similarities, but this isn’t a character I’ve played before, so that’s refreshing.
You and I seem to keep missing each other. We were in the same room at Comic-Con because Nikita had its press room right before Human Target, and I was there for that show. I had no idea I’d end up covering your show.
Tell Mark Valley I said hi. Mark Valley was a recurring on Once & Again, and I used to see him a lot.
I haven’t had a pilot season since Once & Again. There were three or four shows I could’ve done, but Nikita was the one that stood out to me because of the character. I loved [Roy Dupuis] and his take on it, but what I wanted to add to it was a little bit more heart and soul.
You’ve certainly done that. The character of Michael is, to me, the most fascinating on the series because he hasn’t picked a side yet. He exists in a kind of grey area. How long do you think he can stay loyal to Division without looking stupid?
He’s stayed loyal to Division for a very long time. He’s been involved with them for awhile. I think that [the events so far are] just kind of the catalyst that’s going to bring him to the realization that most of what he’s doing is a little off.
With stuff like this, you could write this for years. All the stuff that’s happened in half a season of this show could’ve happened in a few years. It’s going to be hard if I were to ever join [Nikita’s] side. It’d be hard to replace Michael. If they did have a guy to come in to be the new Michael, he’d have to be somebody with an interesting background.
There are a few interesting quirks with his character that I have to ask about. You’ve perfected that permanently annoyed look. Michael has seemed disgruntled even in the flashback episode (“Rough Trade”).
I like that they introduced the flashback sequences. They show that he was a little lighter in the past. You’re not going to see much of Michael being truly happy because that was pre-Division. He was suicidal before he was brought in by Division. It’s not a pretty world for Michael. He’s not where he needs to be.
[Rough Trade] It can’t help that Percy never listens to a word he says. Michael always seems like he should be saying “I told you so.” One of these days, is he finally going to let his boss have it?
Isn’t that true for every second in command? It’s true, but Percy’s coming from a whole different world. He’s only half listening to Michael because while he knows Michael might be right, Michael’s speaking from the heart. Percy doesn’t think with his heart, he thinks from reality. There’s only so much he can listen to. But you’re going to find out very soon why Percy allows Michael to be as strong and sarcastic as he can be. He can get away with some stuff.
Then there’s his wardrobe. You seemed to have only four outfits in the first six episodes. Do we need to take Michael shopping?
What you might be seeing is the limited color palate, but it’s been a different suit every episode. I probably change at least twice an episode; we just pick these monochromatic colors that seem to match well with Division.
The show’s certainly unique because of that darker tone. One of the things fans are worried about is that network mandate to lighten the series up; we’re worried that we might see Gossip Girl with a gun. Have you seen major changes from your perspective?
Let’s just put it this way: the cast believes the same thing. Maggie said, “Don’t think about that, otherwise I won’t return.” We are very loyal to the fans’ thoughts. We are very loyal to the script, to the series and the concept of the series. It hasn’t happened. I think they’re essentially taking out the entire recruit unit, and by taking that out, that does go against the rumor that we might be getting softer, because the recruit system is a little bit more Gossip Girl-y.
Let’s talk about the rest of your career. Here’s one thing that’s bugged me: in The Echelon Conspiracy, your character’s being pursued across the globe by very sophisticated technology. So why on Earth are you looking up into every single security camera along the way?
That was the point of it. The point is that I’m being watched by the people I’m starting to help out, so I’m looking at it on purpose, because I know Ed Burns and those guys are watching.
That makes a lot more sense. The other thing that amuses me to no end is your uncanny resemblance to Justified‘s Timothy Olyphant. Did anyone ever tell you how much you two look alike?
Yes. What’s funny is the wardrobe guy, the other day, was at a video store and saw some video and he thought it was me, and it was Timothy Olyphant from Justified. I get that a lot. I knew him for a little bit. What’s funny is I tried to get in on The Crazies.
You also had that great exit storyline on ER that really captured my attention.
It was wonderful. You want those challenges as an actor. It’s a good example of having a good relationship with the writers and the producers. It was a dangerous time for ER; no one was signed for the very next year. They didn’t even know how long the show was going to go.
What was really unique about it was that apparently in Season 14 they talked about me a lot. They didn’t have to [bring me back]. ER lasted so long that when it started, I was in high school, so to think years later that I’d be on it was kind of a trip.
What shows are you watching?
I’m generally late with things. I’m an avid “buy the DVD, watch them all at once” guy. I’m not the person that’s ever helping anyone with ratings, that’s for sure. I like the Walking Dead, big fan of Dexter – usually the cable shows.
Are there any shows you’d like to appear on?
I was a big Sopranos fan; I would’ve loved to have been on that show. I got hooked on Lost; I had a meeting with J.J Abrams for Star Trek to play Captain Kirk before Chris Pine got it. I’d rather start with a new show with something to build on.
My thanks to Shane West for an awesome interview – well worth the wait! Don’t forget to catch Nikita Thursdays at 9 PM ET/PT.