By now, television viewers and moviegoers know what the name Nikita stands for.
Action. A whole lot of it.
The franchise that made "La Femme Nikita" both a 1990 feature film and a 1997-2001 cable series (along with the 1993 movie Americanization, "Point of No Return") yields its latest iteration as the fast-paced, stunt-packed CW show "Nikita" premieres Thursday, Sept. 9. Maggie Q ("Mission: Impossible III") has the extremely physical title role of a government assassin who's gone rogue from her agency, which turned out not to be what she thought it was.
Three years into her desertion, she's still hunted by former colleagues who know she plans to destroy their operation unless they catch and eliminate her first. Shane West ("ER") plays Michael, her chief pursuer, with Lyndsy Fonseca ("Desperate Housewives," "How I Met Your Mother") as a new agent who sees both sides of the situation and isn't sure which way to go. Melinda Clarke ("The O.C.") and Xander Berkeley ("24") also are cast regulars.
"I don't do anything but sleep when I'm not working," ex-model Q says of her regimen for the series. "I have no life. I'm no fun. All I want to do is sleep and get ready for the next day." And it isn't that the actress isn't braced for the schedule, thanks to her earlier work.
"When I started in film, I was living and working in Asia," she reports. "When we did films there, it was so fast, it was much like TV. They did films sometimes in two weeks, so I actually realize now that I'm very used to this pace. I kind of enjoy focusing, getting it out of the way and saying, 'Let's move on. Let's do something cool again. Let's get going.' "
That's usually no problem, since "Nikita" was built for speed by its creative forces: executive producers McG (who directed the "Charlie's Angels" movies) and Craig Silverstein ("Standoff"), and director Danny Cannon, who helped develop the "CSI" style by calling the shots on the parent show's pilot and many episodes of all three of CBS' "CSI" series.
"My first thought was that I love 'Nikita,' " Silverstein says of approaching the concept anew. "My second thought was, 'It's been done.' Could it be done fresh? Could we have a take 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 story that's never been told -- and at the same time doing justice to the origin of Nikita, that dark fairy tale of taking a girl, changing her identity and transforming her into a killer."
Such a transformation happens now with Alex, the Fonseca character whom the experienced, vengeful Nikita hopes to steer away from the agency.
"I think we're all very excited about the notion of empowered female characters," McG reasons. "From my experience with 'Charlie's Angels' on down, I like the idea of characters that don't apologize for being beautiful but are very intelligent and multidimensional. I think Maggie nails that."
Director Cannon agrees, especially since his star is delivering what he needs visually to give "Nikita" credibility. "I'll be honest; I don't watch television," he reveals. "I got hired by (producer) Jerry Bruckheimer to do the 'CSI' pilot because he wasn't going to give me the movie I was asking for. I went out to impress him, and that's all I do now. I'll make small minimovies as quick as I can, without lowering any expectations. I'll just keep ramming my head against the wall until it looks as good as I think it should."
Another "Nikita" player often in danger of having his head meet a wall is co-star West, who stays on the move as the person charged with Nikita's capture. He says he is "a fan of the original film" and has worked with Peta Wilson, the previous television Nikita, but he "really didn't want to do too much research on the past characters because I wanted to give it a fresh take. It's also a different age."
Ultimately, whether "Nikita" works depends on whether title star Q works in it. She maintains she's happy with what it is demanding of her, day in and day out.
"I've gotten to that point where I'm so used to being sort of sweaty and sitting like a guy in boots, when I'm dressed up and people are touching me up, I'm less comfortable. I like to wear less makeup and be tougher."
"Nikita" all but guarantees that for Q, who says making the show often prompts her to remember her roots as a performer.
"When I got to America, they said, 'You're going to work 12-hour days.' I almost fainted. I'd never worked a 12-hour day ... I'd worked 16- to 18-hour days. You certainly weren't spoiled; we didn't even have trailers. I had a plastic stool, and we'd sit on the street and eat out of lunchboxes. I've been here five years, and it still blows my mind that I have somewhere to go back to when I'm not filming."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times