With her distinctive voice, ultra-intense eyes and statuesque frame, Peta Wilson probably could have carried her breakout television show, “La Femme Nikita,” on looks alone. Such was television in 1997. But when viewers realized that this killer- with-a-killer body could actually act, the show became the highest-rated drama on cable. Indeed “La Femme Nikita” was yet more proof that an inexpensively produced series could bypass the traditional TV networks and still make lots of money if it had something special to offer. In this case, Peta Wilson was that “something special.” Producer Joel Surnow, who later went on to produce “24,” said watching Peta Wilson as “Nikita” was “like watching lightning in a jar.” She beat out 200 actors for the role patterned after the female assassin “Nikita” in the dark French film by Luc Bresson. What set her apart from the pack were her ideas on what the Anglo version of the broody French killer should be like. In order to grab and hold an American television audience for the long term, “Nikita” had to become a very different person, Peta told the production team. Her version of “Nikita,” the drop-dead-gorgeous killer with a heart of gold, not only clicked with viewers but transcended the show and has been copied in film and TV ever since. Wilson took herself out of the Hollywood loop when “Nikita” ended in 2001 and returned to her native Australia to decompress, build her dream house and give birth to the son conceived with Damian Harris, the director-producer son of the late acting legend Richard Harris. Marlowe Harris-Wilson was born Feb. , 2002. Motherhood tempered Wilson’s instincts to jump back into the Hollywood game but the offer in 2003 to appear opposite Sean Connery in the big-budget film, “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” was something she couldn’t pass up. “Superman Returns” (2006), “Gardens of the Night” (2008) and “Beautiful” (2009) kept her on track. Born to a military family in Sydney, Wilson moved frequently as a child and is perhaps the only Hollywood star to have ever lived 8 years in Papua New Guinea. But when the fire for acting hit, there was no putting it out and her path from the Antipodes eventually led to the Hollywood studio of legendary acting coach Arthur Mendoza, a protégé of Stella Adler. Though her beauty was unmistakable, it was Wilson’s raw talent that immediately made Mendoza realize he had a serious Hollywood contender on his hands. During the six years between Wilson’s arrival in Hollywood and her role as “Nikita,” it was Mendoza who drew out and shaped the actor within.
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