The star of CTV's Once A Thief sometimes despairs about the quality of what's shown on TV. But Nicholas Lea believes passionately in TV's potential to bring light into people's lives -- and that makes his efforts worthwhile.
Sun Television Critic
Vancouver Sun
December 2, 1997

IN A SNARL: Vancouverite Nicholas Lea doesn't like Toronto -- but that's where the film-makers are, he says.
Nicholas Lea is feeling introspective on this grey, wet Vancouver day. He leans out the open fifth-floor window of an old brick office building overlooking Granville mall and takes in a view of street kids and panhandlers pressing pedestrians for spare change.

"The amount of money that goes into television these days is obscene," he says. "And, so often, what comes out the other end is not worth the labour you put in, especially in this day and age when there are people out there asking for change on the street.

"You have a responsibility to do something worthwhile with your life. Otherwise, what's the point?"

Lea, star of the Toronto-made CTV series Once a Thief and a prominent part-time player in The X-Files, is quietly reflective as he recalls an encounter with a five-year-old boy in Northern Ireland, who shyly pressed a handwritten note into Lea's hand during a recent publicity appearance there for The X-Files.

"It said, basically, 'I'm five years old. There's evil in Ireland and the government keeps having talks and the police can't do anything and I wrote to Power Rangers and they never wrote me back and would you come to Ireland and save us?'

"It made me cry. But it also nailed home for me the power of television You go to Northern Ireland, with everything that is going on there, and you see the true power of television and the light it can bring to some people's lives."

The New Westminster-born, Kitsilano-raised Lea will return to his recurring role of turncoat FBI agent Alex Krycek in a two-part episode to be filmed in February. Lea's other series, the CTV action drama John Woo's Once a Thief, is on hiatus until January.

Lea is candid in his assessment of Once a Thief.

"I see the potential of the show. And I think sometimes it scratches around the edge.

"But I also think it could meet its potential a lot more often than it does.

"It's born of John Woo, but it's not John Woo's. It's John Woo-like. It has the basic essence and framework of a John Woo work, but it's certainly not the real John Woo.

"I think you can have a show that is visually poised, is funny, is dramatic, has deep characters and does all those things equally well. There's no reason why that can't happen."

In the original TV movie, adapted and directed by the Hong Kong-born Woo from his 1990 Chinese-language thriller, Lea was introduced as Victor Mansfield, a former undercover police operative recruited to lead an elite team of reformed criminals against the Chinese triads.

But Lea had little idea Once a Thief would be picked up as a series.

"As an actor, you can't ever worry about what people are going to think about the film or TV show you're doing, because there's no point. Hopefully, you've attached yourself to something you're proud of. And hopefully, when it's finished, you're proud of the work that you did.

"That's all you can do. The editor is going to get hold of it after that and change it into something else. That's the beauty and the curse of the job. You do what you do, and after that it's out of your hands."

Despite the presence in Vancouver of high-profile U.S. series like The Sentinel and Millennium, Lea says the reality for anyone working as an actor in the Canadian production industry is that most of the casting and financial decisions are made in Toronto.

"[Success] is a combination of luck and hard work. There are certainly actors in [Vancouver] that are equally as talented as I am, if not more so, and yet they can't get a job."

Lea has been living in Toronto for the past six months. It his not his favourite place.

"It's too urban, and I'm just not an urban person," he says.

"Unfortunately most of the very interesting film-makers, like Atom Egoyan and Bruce McDonald, have their offices out there, and that's where they tend to concentrate their energies."

In his younger days, Lea served in the Canadian armed forces, fronted an alternative rock band called Beau Monde and studied illustration at an arts college before finding his vocation in acting at the relatively advanced age of 25.

He would like to step behind the camera one day. But for now, he is content to field whatever acting offers come his way.

"I want to make a career out of different and unusual things, things that will create something good in the world. I don't think those are high aspirations."


Lea has a starring role in the CTV series John Woo's Once a Thief, which will return to CTV in January with 13 new episodes (Mondays at 10 p.m.) He also has a recurring role as turncoat FBI agent Alex Krycek in The X-Files.

Lea played police officer Enrico Caruso for three years on the ABC series The Commish. He has also made guest appearances in Moloney, Jake and the Kid, The Burning Zone, Highlander, Lonesome Dove, ENG, Sliders, The Marshal, North of 60 and Taking the Falls. As well, he had a feature-film role in the Ellen Barkin thriller Bad Company.

"I love playing bad guys, low-lifes and misfits," he says. "It's always gratifying to find the heart and heroism in a character where you least expect to find them. It's easy playing a hero, but it's more of a challenge to find the heart of a [villain]."

This article appears courtesy of The Vancouver Sun