TV

Let's Get Physical: Casting Choices on 'Nikita'

Actors often talk about bringing an emotional authenticity to the characters they play. A physical authenticity should also be required if the part involves a weekly round of fighting off scary Russian operatives or shady government spies who know jiu jitsu.

Nikita

Airtime: Thursdays, 9pm
Cast: Maggie Q, Shane West, Lyndsy Fonseca,Xander Berkeley, Melinda Clarke, Tiffany Hines
Network: The CW
Air Date: 2010-09-09
Amazon

In the opening sequence of the first episode of Nikita, Maggie Q is wearing a slinky bathing suit while fighting bad guys. Really? She's so thin that I’m pretty sure they could just blow on her and run away. In the second episode, she's wearing more clothes but they mostly consist of skintight leggings. This only seems to emphasize that her legs are about the same size as her arms.

Despite my feelings that Maggie should gain a few pounds, this is not a piece where I want to argue about Hollywood standards of beauty. For all I know, she has a hearty appetite and an enviable metabolism. I also don’t want to debate body image as presented in the media and its effect on women. If a woman is watching Nikita and searching for a role model, she should take note that an actor of Asian descent is the lead on an American TV series. What I do want to briefly examine is the issue of physicality and its relationship to the credibility of a character and their story.

Unless the producers are trying to be ironic, putting an actor who has no muscle tone into an action part doesn’t work. Like it or not, muscles symbolize strength. This is a visual language upon which we have all agreed. We see muscular biceps and we believe that the actor who is playing the action part can actually defeat the person she or he is fighting. We need this kernel of knowledge to get us past other plot points that force us to suspend our disbelief.

These points include but are not limited to cars that fly into helicopters (See: Die Hard 4) or Army tanks that drop out of planes and fly (See: The A Team). Certainly, an actor who has never lifted a weight in the gym can shoot a gun and be believably tough. When they have to shoot a gun and deliver credible martial arts moves to stop an onslaught of attackers, they need to have a certain physical appearance that says: “This could really happen. Trust me.”

Think about the change in Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in the Terminator franchise. When she has to fight the machines, she transforms herself physically. It’s an important change because it tells us she can hold her own, but it’s also a physical manifestation of her mental toughness. Both are necessary to make us want to go with her on her journey.

Actors often talk about bringing an emotional authenticity to the characters they play. A physical authenticity should also be required if the part involves a weekly round of fighting off scary Russian operatives or shady government spies who know jiu jitsu. Unfortunately, a genuine physical presence is missing in Nikita. As a result, I’m stuck on Maggie Q the actor when I want to focus on Nikita the character.

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