Thursday, January 21, 2010

Femme fatale: ex-basketball star Peta Wilson kills them softly asTV's "La Femme Nikita.".

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Wilson, 26, played a number of school sports such as basketball and judo before she took up modeling and acting. She is now the star of the cable TV show 'La Femme Nikita.' She is originally from Australia, and overcame a bout of malaria and anorexia before gaining success.

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It's almost as if Peta Wilson has been preparing since age 12 for her role as the vampy but highly athletic spy on USA Network's La Femme Nikita. As a schoolgirl growing up in Australia, Wilson remembers that her doting grandmother Elizabeth would "wake me up at 4 a.m. for swimming. I'd come home, and she'd feed me lamb chops and eggs, then I'd go off to basketball. After school, I'd [practice] judo." When Wilson was about 15, her mother decided it was time to temper all the jock stuff with a few courses in grooming and deportment. "Mum wanted me to be a bit more feminine," Wilson, 26, says with a smile.

Wilson's venture into modeling had some frightening consequences. But in the end her training proved the perfect recipe for the role of Nikita, a petty hood who, sentenced to life in prison for a crime she didn't commit, gets dragooned by a government group into becoming an undercover assassin. (Nikita was first played by Anne Parillaud in a 1990 European film, then by Bridget Fonda in the '93 American remake, Point of No Return.) It's a job that calls for Wilson to slither through a ventilation system suspended 30 feet above a soundstage and seduce terrorists in a gown cut down to there. "From one angle she looks like she could be on a runway in Milan. From another she looks like a street tough," says director Ken Girotti.

Wilson learned to be a chameleon early on. The army brat daughter of a retired warrant officer, Darcy Wilson, and a caterer, Karlene White (they also have a son, Rob, 25, an Australian army truck driver), she was born in Sydney but moved a dozen times before she was 13. "When you go to new schools where the kids have all been friends for years, it becomes a necessity to adapt, to act," she says. Adding to her problems was a nine-month case of malaria, caught in 1975 while living with her family in Papua New Guinea. She also had to cope with her parents' painful divorce seven years later. For a long time after they split, she says, "I'd sit and wait on a fence for my dad to come back."

As she moved around, sports were Wilson's calling card. In high school she became the youngest member and "best player" of the Australian national netball (basketball) team, she says. Her height also proved an advantage when she began modeling, and though the 5'10" beauty landed work in Australian magazines and on European runways, success came at a price. Wilson became anorexic and bulimic, dropping from 140 pounds to 110 in one year. "It was a natural neurosis from being that age, in a career built on the external, and my parents' divorce," she says. After two years, Wilson finally overcame her eating disorders through simple maturation. "I just grew out of it," she says.

Trying to decide what to do next, Wilson moved to L.A. in 1991. She rented a house with a girlfriend but didn't stay long. At a party a few months later she met film director Damian Harris (Deceived). Three months after that, they moved into a three-bedroom Hollywood Hills house. "She's very confident and has a good soul and a big heart," he says.

Finding love, however, proved easier than finding work. Intent on trying show business, she modeled occasionally to pay for acting classes. After four years and just a handful of parts, Wilson was on the verge of going to New York City to try theater--until Nikita's producers chose her last summer over 200 other hopefuls. "She came [to the audition] in scruffy jeans and had a big [appendectomy] scar on her belly," recalls Joel Surnow, the show's executive consultant. "She was really gnarly, hair flying in every direction. Afterwards, she sat on a chair...and became the most charming, chatty Australian girl."

Nervous about carrying the lead in a series, Wilson asked costar Roy Dupuis, who plays her mentor Michael, for acting advice. "She learned quickly," he says. "She's very intelligent." Wilson also persuaded her widowed grandmother Elizabeth, whom she calls Nan, to move from Australia to share her rented loft in Toronto and take care of her, just like in the old days. "I didn't think I'd be able to cope with the stress," explains Wilson. It was an inspired idea. "Every night when I come home, Nan runs a bath with my essential oils, lights my candles and has dinner on the table," says Wilson. "She wakes me up at 5 a.m., gives me a big kiss and tells me to say my prayers if I have a rough day." Of course other goals, like marriage ("I'd love to live in a villa and have 10 kids"), have been shelved while she settles into the series' 17-hour workdays. But then no one ever said spying was an easy business.

Named Works: La Femme Nikita (Television program) Personalities

Source Citation
Lang, Steven. "Femme fatale: ex-basketball star Peta Wilson kills them softly as TV's 'La Femme Nikita.'." People Weekly 14 Apr. 1997: 67+. General OneFile. Web. 21 Jan. 2010. .

Gale Document Number:A19276126

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