Interview / Heather Seidler
Photographs / Teren Oddo
Thirty three-year-old Shane West has been familiar to television fans since his early days on ONCE & AGAIN and subsequent years playing doctor on ER. With a plethora of film roles under his belt, West has proven he has the wherewithal to reinvent a well-known character in a way that makes us keep watching.
West is currently known for his proficient ass-kickery on CW’s top-rated show NIKITA, a revamped, progressive reimagining of the NIKITA franchise. Currently in its second season, the lady-spy series is unique in its darker tone with a buffet of high-octane action and inceptive plot twisters. West clocks the hours as Michael, a highly-trained operative in a shady government agency of clandestine ex-criminal assassins.
Onscreen he doles out some pretty intense badass-ness without breaking a sweat and juggles a far from docile romance with Nikita, being her trainer turned enemy turned ally turned lover. West has a specialty for seat-of-your-pants hardcore butt-kicking without looking like a big bag of biceps while doing it. Not to mention, his character is essentially the backbone of the series and one debonair harbinger of justice. Though in real life, West hardly comes across as an undaunted assailant ready to gut-punch your daylights out, which isn’t to say he can’t look intimidatingly cool and fearless when he needs to.
The Baton Rouge native moved to Los Angeles in 1991 and booked his first film role in LIBERTY HEIGHTS in 1999, which is around when I first met him. Over the years I’ve experienced how pleasantly laid-back he is, how sharp-witted yet silly he can be and how dedicated he is to his craft and to his friends. Oh and also, when he’s in the room, women notice. Which is a whole other kind of article. I had the pleasure of talking to him about his role in NIKITA and life outside his work.
LADYGUNN: Obviously, you’re no stranger to TV, but this role is different from anything else you’ve done. Do you enjoy all the gun work and physical stuff? I’m sure you had to go through specific training, tell me about that.
SHANE WEST: It’s such a different experience between my real life and my career. To be in my thirties and get a job like this is amazing. To have a shot at playing a role like this is so exciting. The character was supposed to be older originally, but then I took a stab at it. With all the training and fighting and guns…it never gets boring that way. When you’re out of town for ten months shooting in another country—it can kind of get old. But I show up to work, and they teach me this crazy new fighting trick, like something involving fire and it’s like being a kid again. You get to live out your childhood fantasies.
Do you guys ever get to sit down with the writers and flesh out what develops with your characters and what direction the story takes?
Well I’m sure Maggie gets to do more than the rest of us. But we’re very fortunate, the writing on the show is incredible—the creators and the producers—have certainly proven themselves. They’re very good at what they do, and one of the exciting things about the show is that there’s always two or three twists in every single episode—we do twenty two episodes a year. Everything they told me that was going to happen to Michael in the first season did, so I trust them. They have a master plan. It’s been exciting every time I get a new script. We can suggest what we like, and then they’ll try and do it. The creator of NIKITA has already semi-planned out the first three years of the show, so if we can get past season three, it might be more open to suggestions.
In my research I found there are so many fans in the blogosphere who speculate about the outcome of the show & its characters. They even surmise Michael and Nikita might eventually run Division. It’s interesting to see fans weighing in on the show’s direction. With most CW shows you don’t get that kind of fan interaction.
The fans are, of course, the most important part of our show. We keep trying to make it interesting for them and ourselves. We want to continue to make each episode like a movie, which is a difficult thing to do. We basically have a nine-day shooting schedule instead of an eight-day—per episode. That can be difficult. It’s a show that’s new to the CW. They haven’t had anything like this in the past—even when it was the WB. It’s different, its wings are all over the place. I don’t pay attention to ratings anymore, but I do know that we have diehard fans. We’re more worried about quality and production in terms of the show. If the show went on for ten years, then that would be great. If it goes three, then we’ll try and make it the best three years it can be, no matter how many views it gets. It’ll just drive you crazy otherwise. We read somewhere online that the number one DVR’d show or show watched online is MODERN FAMILY then NIKITA, so you never know. That might have changed the next week, but it just shows you how all over the place ratings are now-a-days with internet streaming and everything.
A lot of TV actors these days are graduating into directing or producing episodes of the shows they’re on. Do you have any plans for that in the future?
I’ve never really had the urge to direct. I’ve had a lot more of an urge to produce, but I think we’re pretty set with producers on NIKITA. I have my own production company and have been developing a couple projects with my friends. I definitely think producing in my future is something to think about, but more for films.
What have been some of your favorite scenes to film in this season?
I’d have to say, aside from the obvious fun, macho scenes with a myriad of weapons that my character has to fire—which has been a lot of fun—it would have to be the exploration of Michael and Nikita’s relationship. What’s been exciting and difficult is trying to keep them together as a couple, while at the same time, stopping these injustices in their lives and around the world. That’s been difficult. That’s the most difficult thing to maintain is this kind of off-and-on relationship.
The story points just come along naturally with this show. One of the best parts of this show is that they have these natural conflicts, but they don’t let it get in the way of their battle with the evil that they are already signed on to deal with. You get some episodes where they don’t even talk about their emotional troubles, but then you get some that are mostly about that. That’s definitely what’s been the most fun for me.
Can you give us any hints of the progression of the next few episodes?
I can tease that—hopefully I won’t ultimately get in trouble [laughs] there will be a lot of resolution to most of the conflict that’s been going on. There will be a reappearance of Katya. There will be a resolution to their relationship, and another appearance of Cassandra and Max—my ex and my son. Because it’s the end of the year, there will be a lot of reappearances of characters. Owen will also come back, and I think that we’ll have some sort of ending that will be similar to that of season one. We will be resolving a bunch of things while opening up another bunch of doors. You kind of have to do that a lot with shows these days, because you never know if you’re going to be picked up for another season.
When you’re not filming what do you do in your down time in Toronto?
I’ve managed to keep myself busy at the gym. I’m also very much a movie and literature addict, so I make sure I keep my bookshelf filled with books and am constantly ordering movies on Amazon. A friend of mine who works for Playstation just sent me some games. I kind of retired from video games five or six years ago, but I figure during this cold weather it’s something good to keep you occupied. It’s
-20 degrees F outside! We’ve been organizing a lot of cast dinners lately—the food in Toronto is amazing. You never get bored with the food. We get everyone together so that they can get things off their chest and bond without having to be at work.
Speaking of movies, what was the last movie to make you cry?
Besides UP? [Laughs] I don’t remember the last time I truly cried in a film, but I watched THE DESCENDANTS recently. I’m from a difficult family background myself, and it kind of hit home watching what the kids were going through and what Clooney’s character was going through. The whole thing with finding out his wife was having a relationship with another guy contrasted with a lot of his own screw-ups. It got to me a bit, but unfortunately, I didn’t cry.
What other movies have infiltrated your heart this year?
I’ve seen so many! I’ve been watching all of the Oscar movies lately. THE DESCENDANTS, THE ARTIST—I just watched IRON LADY with Meryl Streep, which was just a wonderful acting role for her. I loved SHAME with Michael Fassbender. That was one of my favorite movies this year for sure. It’s raw. It was unfortunate it got snubbed at the Oscars. I mean, I enjoyed a lot of the films that were nominated. THE ARTIST was great. It was the route its producers wanted to go with for a sure-fire Oscar nomination. They did it very well. I loved the movie, but it was such a dark period of time that they just kind of glossed over. They could have made a very edge version of that time that I would have enjoyed more.
The theme for this issue of LADYGUNN is Obsession, so who was your first obsession? And who or what is your current obsession?
I’d have to say when I was younger, because of my upbringing with my parents, I was exposed to a lot of music. I was pretty obsessed with The Clash and The Kinks growing up. Anything that involved them—I listened to their records over and over again pretty much until it was my life. [Laughs] Also I had a major crush—I don’t know if you could call it an obsession—on Courtney Cox growing up. It would have to be Courtney and Mia Sara from FERRIS BUELLER. I just had a massive crush on both those two.
I’d say now—at least from a crush perspective—I don’t really have those anymore now that I’m thirty-three. I’m about to sound really corny, but when I hit thirty, things changed for me. I kind of became obsessed with health whether it be eating right, working out regularly instead of once every year, making trips to the doctor to make sure things are going well, and all that. I’ve also become kind of obsessed with my career, choosing the right jobs, making sure my production company gets off the ground, and being a part of that side of the industry. Family and friends have always been really important to me even more so now as my friends have started to become my family. I think that would be more currently what I’m obsessed with.
We were just talking about punk rock earlier. It reminded me of your band [JOHNNY WAS] from earlier days. I’m sure with all of your acting work and your production company that has had to be pushed aside, but do you have any plans in the future to be in a band again or work on soundtracks?
I’d love to. I wish I was talented enough to do soundtracks…[Laughs] I’d like to be more creative instrumentally. JOHNNY WAS was a lot of fun. Actually, we just released our first set of songs on iTunes. I’m going to release the second half in the next year or so. I had a dream come true getting to play for six years with THE GERMS and being a part of that true punk rock world. That’s always been an obsession of mine. It’s been difficult keeping up with it though. I know THE GERMS will play another show again; I just don’t know when. I’ve been in Toronto for two years on NIKITA. As far as my career in music beyond that, I’m still in-talks with some friends of mine from JOHNNY WAS, about creating some more music, maybe under a different band title and seeing where it goes.
Okay, you’re stepping on a time machine and it’s taking you ten years into the future. What will we find Shane West doing then?
I guess this goes back to the obsession question with my future—I think that ten years from now the classic answer would be to say a wife and children, which would be great but I would never pressure it. I think that it would be more along the lines of what I’m actively pursuing today, hopefully further along in my career and being more involved in production. I just want to be able to continue doing the jobs that make me feel stimulated as an actor. I want to create meaningful relationships along the way.
Look for more on Shane West in Ladygunn’s upcoming Obsession+ Confession Issue.