Arms and the Man

Starburst Magazine, (#234, February 1998 - Volume 20, Number 6)

Actor Nicholas Lea talks about the bizarre fascination of the X-Files' villianous Krycek.

By T. Gibson

Nicholas Lea is sitting in an oasis of calm somewhere close to Toronto's main airport determinedly sipping from a cup of goo."Does this mean that Comrade Krycek is still inhabited by an alien life form which demands this sort of sustenance?" I ask. Not really. "Actually, it's wheat-grass," he explains, "I haven't been getting a lot of rest recently and need all the nutrients I can get," I grimace suspiciously at the glop whilst Nick assures me, "It's an acquired taste."

Rather like Alex Krycek, I suspect. When he first appeared as Mulder's wet-behind-the-ears new partner, no one (except Chris Carter) could have foreseen how quickly this character would become steeped in the series' mythology. It's a development of which he's undeniably proud. "I love 'The X-Files'. I love being in the show and I'm very protective of that character. I'd like to see more of where he came from... more of him as a person as opposed to some guy just showing up and killing people."

Up in arms

From his tentative introduction in "Sleepless" through "Ascension", "Paper Clip", and "Piper Maru", right up to "Tunguska" and "Terma" (his recent Russian caper with the horrifying and, some would say, deserved comeuppance), Krycek's life has become increasingly intertwined with that of our other favourite Special Agent. Neither does this unfortunate and dramatic weight loss mean that we've seen the last of Ratboy. The good news is that he's in Vancouver for Christmas '97 before filming two more episodes of The X-Files in January. He's tantalizingly vague about the plots though. All he can say is that he will still only have one arm.

It's been well documented that Lea wholeheartedly supported the writers when they first broached the subject of removing Krycek's limb, but is this going to affect the way he portrays the character? "Of course. He's bitter and it's probably driven him deeper into a darker state of mind. I mean, he's lost a body part. I'm sure it will affect how he views the world." However, there is a ray of hope for those of us who think more kindly of Krycek. "Maybe he'll see the good side," he smiles. When pressed about the effect this amputation will have on the way an audience perceives the character, Lea is philosophical, "I guess it will change on some level. The one-armed man has long been an intriguing figure in TV folklore. It depends on how it's written, because the audience never knows whether to hate or love him." He feels this situation now adds even more mystery to the series. What about the nasty rumours floating around that Krycek is going to hite the bullet at the hands of the Cigarette Smoking Man? "Oh God," he gasps, "I hope not!"

The actor is due to film another three episodes in April. Creat news for 'Ratniks' who can look forward to a decent Krycek fix in Season Five. But does this mean that he is in the movie too? The bad news is that he is not. "We tried several different story arcs - but I was here [in Toronto] and it was impossible to get the scheduling right." When I express my disappointment, he agrees. "I'm over it now, but it would have been important to me on more than one level."

Not that he hasn't got more than enough on his plate to keep him occupied. In fact it's hardly surprising he doesn't get much rest these days. At the time of the interview he's on location every day filming Once a Thief, a comedy/drama/action series inspired by the John Woo movie of the same name. In it, Lea plays a maverick ex-cop who joins forces with two former criminals from a Hong Kong 'Family' to fight crime. When we spoke he was about to fly to Vancouver to do some PR, then down to LA for more of the same. A week later he's due back in Vancouver and yet more interviews before returning to the East Coast to resume shooting Once a Thief.

When asked if he thinks it's ironic that he moved to LA from Vancouver to further his career prospects only to find himself starring in a series in Toronto he gives a characteristic shrug, "I guess so, but I'm impatient." he replies, "I want it all to happen now." He's concerned that he's 35 and has only been in the business for 10 years. "I'm lucky in that through The X-Files I can walk into an audition and people already know who I am. But for the type of roles I want to be doing, it takes a long time for people to get to know what you're capable of."

Unspeakable evil

He is definitely capable of much more than his portrayal of the murderous Alex Krycek. Over the past two years he has demonstrated a sympatheic ability to depict an array of characters from a psychopathic killer in Maloney and a strong but tortured soul in Jake and the Kid to a cowboy who was anti-firearms in Lonesome Dove. He gave an irresistibly funny performance as a Robin Hood-type immortal in Highlander too. I can't help but observe that none of the roles he plays appears to be of the straight vanilla mainstream variety. There's something distinctly 'out-there' about all of them. Is this intentional on his part? "Well, I'm fascinated by psychology and why people do the things they do. Whether it's on the set or an the news or whatever. We are all such complex creatures with the ability to do great good or unspeakable evil. I think the audience responds to those kinds of characters." He goes on to say that he's fascinated by serial killers, "Not because they are neat," he's quick to add. "But because I'm amazed at the capacity of the human mind for good and evil." Hmm! Agent Krycek based on a serial killer!


"But I also love doing comedy" he smiles. A fact evidenced by his latest endeavour. Whilst John Woo's films are characterized by their violent traditions, Nick points out that they all - even Face/Off - have a lot of comedy in them. "At their heart there is a serious subject matter... but it's contrated with a sense of fun and comedy. It's what the writers of Once A Thief have tried to encapsulate in the series. "In fact," he continues, "when you think about the situation between Mulder and Krycek it's pretty comedic." We discuss the fact that Krycek seems to be taking the piss out of Mulder on several occasions. He laughs out loud "Yeah, and I'm going to edit together all the times I get beat up by him on this show. That should be pretty funny." He also admits that he finds the final scene in Terma (where his artificial hand is seen dipping a teabag in hot water) "hilarious".

Amidst all this frivolity, a companion comments that in Japan, his Internet nickname is not Ratguy, but Mr. Rabbit. None of us can keep from cracking up. Particularly as the 'wheat-grass' seems to be working subliminally and we are all sitting chewing grass (the garden variety) at this point. Eventually Nick stops giggling enough to remark that it's like a Monty Python skit - Mr. Rabbit Saves The World.

Talk of things on the Internet brings us round to how he feels about the fact that there are now numerous pages devoted to him on the World Wide Web with various groups discussing everything from his taste in leather jackets to his relationships with X-Files colleagues. "You know I don't feel as I'm being watched all the time, but David Duchovny [whom he confirms as being a very good friend] can't go anywhere without someone grabbing him and going 'Oh my God, its the guy from the alien thing!'"

Nick just doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. Getting serious for a moment he volunteers that on the one hand it's kind of sad that actors and musicians have become placed on a sort of bogus pedestal. That anyone who gets caught up in the silliness is delusional, but admits that it's a very complicated issue. "On a film set, people are always taking extra care to make sure that you are well taken care of. It's hard not to feel different." It's something he fights very hard against. On another level though, he's proud to be associated with a production that can actually elevate people out of their daily problem for a moment. Describing his trip to Europe in 1996 to promote the "Paper Clip" video, he said that in Belfast a little boy came up and handed him a letter addressed to Mulder. In it, the child wrote that there was evil in Ireland, that the Goverment were always in talks and the police couldn't do anything and that he'd written to the Power Rangers but they hadn't replied. He asked Mulder to please come and save them. Nick is clearly moved by this, "See that's the power of television and that's the sort of project I want to be involved in... something that actually moves people one way or the other."

His desire to further this sort of initiative does not preclude Mr. Lea being in front of the camera. One of the facets he's discovered whilst working an programmes like The X-Files and Once a Thief is that he's fascinated by the editing process. He has nothing but praise for the great editors on both shows and is full of enthusiasm about their craft. "I just love sitting watching these guys -- they take what we do and turn it into a completely different animal." By sitting up and taking notice Nick is conscious of the amount of learning about the art of film-making he absorbs just by osmosis. Inspired by a Canadian film called Hard Core Logo, he'd like to combine his five years experience with a group called Beau Monde with his directing skills to make a film about a band. It's an ambition high on his priority list. Despite the time it takes, it is obvious that he's determined to develop a sense of responsibility and integrity in the work he pursues. "It's like any art form. You have to work at it." It's hard not to applaud his sense of commitment. But with regards to our Russian friend, don't work too hard at it, Nick. We like Agent Krycek without a sense of remorse or responsibility. We love it when he's making Mulder miserable, or secreting information about Scully, or being beaten senseless by Skinner. So no more Mr Nice Guy, please - even if a man once said -- "The truth is out there."

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