Executive Producer Craig Silverstein Interview NIKITA

     August 30, 2010

As the executive producer of The CW’s new drama Nikita, Craig Silverstein wanted to make a female action show, but knew that if he was going to tell the story of Nikita (Maggie Q), it would have to be different from what fans already knew. Instead of doing a rehash, he decided to pick up where the origin story left off and show what has happened to the character after having been in hiding for three years, allowing him to surround the familiar figure with a new, fresh cast.

During an interview to promote the action series, Craig Silverstein talked about how this new Nikita story came to be, what makes the story so compelling and the importance of always surprising an audience. Check out what he had to say after the jump:

Question: How exactly did this series come about?  Were you a fan of the previous incarnations of Nikita and wanted to do another version of it, or did you want to do a female assassin show, and they decided to put the name on it for marketing purposes?

Craig: Yeah, Warner Bros. and I were trying to figure out something to do. They said, “We have Nikita,” and I said, “That’s good. I like it.” The CW was also actively looking to make a female action show. So, from there, it was about wanting to do it and just trying to figure out a way to make it fresh.

With this version being so different, why even call it Nikita?

Craig: I had to take it upon myself to find a way that it could be done fresh, where you didn’t know how this story was going to end. That’s when I came upon the idea of following Nikita after she had left the agency, which is a chapter that’s never been told. At the same time, it does justice to the origin story of Nikita, which is that dark fairy tale of taking a girl and changing her life and her identity, and the My Fair Lady or Pygmalion aspect of transforming her into a beautiful killer and giving her etiquette lessons, and all that stuff.  We’re doing that with the character of Alex.  So, you’re following Nikita, and you’re also following Alex.

For a character that was introduced 20 years ago and that has gone through many iterations along the way, what is it about Nikita that has made her so durable?

Craig: I think it’s a mini-mythology now, like Batman or James Bond. Obviously, it’s not to that level, but people know it. It’s been done enough now that it’s got its own myth attached to it, and the powerful thing about it is that there’s a very fairytale aspect to the whole story. It’s a dark fairytale. This girl is taken from one life, her identity is erased, she’s put in another life and she’s transformed. It’s like Alice in Wonderland. She’s told, “Eat this, drink that, steal this, kill that,” and she’s not told why. And, she begins to find her own identity through that. It’s just a great story.

Did you intentionally want to skip the origin story, since it’s something that people are already familiar with?

Craig: Yeah, I knew I needed to not do a rehash. I couldn’t take Nikita and just start her over again. I needed to show the origin story to earn the title, and that’s what we’re doing through Alex, but you don’t know if she’s going to go the same way Nikita went because you don’t know this girl. You don’t know how this story is going to end.

What was it about Maggie Q that made her the perfect Nikita?

Craig: It was simply because, before we knew who Nikita was going to be, we all talked about how impossible it was going to be to cast this role. It had to be someone who was beautiful, who could fight, who you could believe holding a gun and who you believed was smart, in order to plan everything that she was doing. You’d think those things would be easy to find in an actor, and they’re not. We had actors come in and these girls would be gorgeous and smart, but you’d put a gun in their hands and it didn’t work. The second we heard Maggie’s name, Danny Cannon, our director, and I looked at each other and were like, “Yes!” It was really early on in the process.

What made you decide on Lyndsy Fonseca for Alex, since this is a very different type of role for her?

Craig: Lyndsy came in at the last moment. It was the 11th hour. We thought Nikita was going to be the hardest role to cast, and then we found Maggie early on. And then, casting Alex was a horrible, difficult ordeal. We saw so many people, and we got Lyndsy near the end. I actually wasn’t really familiar with her work. I didn’t watch Desperate Housewives. I had seen her in How I Met Your Mother, but that was it. She was intense when she came in to audition. We were like, “Woah!” I don’t think you’ll be thinking of her as the girl next door for much longer.

What purpose is Alex serving, in relation to Nikita?

Craig: With Alex, there’s a big twist, at the end of the pilot. Alex is a character who has an epic backstory that I don’t think anybody is going to see coming. It’s a backstory that we’re going to start unfolding, directly after the pilot, and over the course of the season. It also tells the story of how Alex and Nikita got together. Beyond that, I want to let it roll out.

How will this series work? Will there be a mission-of-the-week, and then the larger arc?

Crag: Yeah, there will be stand-alone mission/counter-mission of the week episodes. There is also an arc for the season that tells the story of Nikita and Alex, and also Nikita and Michael, and what happened there. All of our characters have pretty rich backstories, and we’re going to start exploring those in flashbacks that integrate in with the forward-moving stories. We have the large tent poles of our season planned out. You’re going to be able to come in on Episode 2 or 6, not having seen the show before, and hopefully you’re going to be able to follow it. You won’t be lost.

Are you going to continue to have twists throughout the series?

Craig: Absolutely. I love twists, and I love twists that make sense, when you look back at them. We’re going to be trying to deliver that.

Is it difficult to find a balance between having those twists while still answering questions for the viewers?

Craig: It is. I think about myself as an audience member, and what I would need because I’ve been turned off by shows that just keep answering questions with more questions and giving me nothing. I don’t like that. I like to have my cake and know it’s a cake. We’ll have twists, but they have to make sense. I don’t want to lose anybody.

Were you surprised that The CW was willing to embrace a show that’s so different for the network?

Craig: Yes. Early on, the first thing I said, before I even figured out what we’d do with the show, Warner Bros. said, “What about Nikita? We own Nikita and The CW might be a good place for that,” my first thought was, “Oh, my god, it’s been done so many times that I’d have to figure out a new way to do it.” But, before I even tried to figure out a new way to do it, I said, “You have to clear it with The CW because this is going to be a violent show. It’s not going to just be Gossip Girl with a gun, and if that’s what they want, let’s not even talk about it.” And, The CW said, “No, that’s okay. We’ll do that.” I said, “Really? Okay.” So, I wrote the script and they said, “This is okay.” We made the pilot and they were still good with it, and we think it’s very smart of them to try to expand their brand. It’s a darker time. With the popularity of the Bourne movies and The Dark Knight, people like dark stuff. They don’t wince away from it. When we tested with a female audience, because they knew what she was fighting for, when she fought, they liked it.

Is the show also going to have a gritty noir aspect to it?

Craig: Yes. It is going to be grittier and more noir. The hotness is already there, so you don’t need to shine it up with anything.

Where are you filming this series?

Craig: Toronto, where the original USA series actually shot. Almost all of Toronto worked on that show. The customs agent was very mean about letting us through until we said, “We’re working on Nikita.” Then, they were like, “Oh, I love that show.”

Will there be an international feel to things?

Craig: Absolutely. Toronto doubles for lots of Europe and even some of the Middle East. It’s hard to do South America, but it’s possible in a few months out of the year.

Nikita seems to have quite the wardrobe. At what point do things start to get gratuitous?

Craig: We wanted a bikini scene, early on. That was always an idea of how to introduce Nikita, before we even knew who we were casting. Beyond that, it’s more about the great clothes than it is the sexy body.

How do you make sure things aren’t too much in Nikita’s favor?

Craig: We can’t make Michael (Shane West) an ally of hers, too early on. I think that, in the first season, you’re going to see that they may come together a bit, and then a giant wedge is going to be driven between them. And then, Alex and Nikita’s relationship is also going to start to fray. There will be conflict all around.

How is the character of Amanda (Melinda Clarke) going to develop, over the course of the show?

Craig: In the episode following the pilot, you’ll see that Amanda has certain roles within Division. In the next episode, we show that she’s quite upper-echelon at Division. All of these characters have a past, so you’ll get into that as well.

Is Xander Berkeley a series regular? How do you circumvent the problem of having his character and Nikita in proximity, more than once a season, without them killing each other?

Craig: The answer to that is hinted at and is going to be expanded upon. It’s hinted at in almost the last scene of the pilot, in the alley with Nikita and Michael (Shane West), where Michael says, “No one can stop Percy.” He’s essentially got all of the dirty secrets of every job Division has ever done, hidden in encrypted files, all over the world. It works as his insurance policy so that, if anyone takes him down, he has this Pandora’s box of all of our country’s dirty secrets from the last five administrations and they are going to be released, and this country will be in conflict with every other country.