It's a Friday morning in L.A., and Shane West is casually dangling from an indoor rock wall nearly 20 feet up in the air. (Picture a spider monkey with unusually good hair and cheekbones.) Apparently, the 33-year-old star of The CW's Nikita hasn't been faking his way through all the tricky stunt work required to play rogue Division agent Michael (last name unknown) on the action-packed cult fave, now in Season 2. In between cracks about the unconventional setting — we agree he looks like he's auditioning for a new basic-cable sitcom called Hang in There — West describes his climb up the showbiz ladder.
TV Guide Magazine: You seem pretty sporty — is that a pre-requisite for being on Nikita, considering your costar is martial-arts badass Maggie Q?
West: All the actors have some athletic background. Maggie does all of the stunts she can, and she's brought that out in the rest of us. Because if she wasn't involved, maybe you're 20 episodes in, it's cold, you're exhausted, you're like, "Eh, screw it." With her there, it's like, "I've got to do it. I might break my arm, but let's go."
TV Guide Magazine: Who'd win in a real fight: you or Maggie?
West: In a real fight, I'd just bear-hug her and put her to sleep. [Laughs.] No! But sparring? Absolutely Maggie. I'd never hit a punching bag until this show.
TV Guide Magazine: Ever worry about what's next, now that Michael and Nikita have gotten together?
West: I never thought they'd bring us together so quickly, but the fans wanted it — and it was the smart move. Because it's not Moonlighting, where we're in an office. We have things happen that naturally screw up stuff.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you believe they're soul mates?
West: I do. Michael ended last season changing his life and quitting Division for Nikita. Who the hell is going to compete with that? They have to be together, or someone has to die. It's such a Romeo and Juliet story. I don't know how to end the second season, honestly. I'm glad that's not my job, because I'd be having a heart attack right now.
TV Guide Magazine: Your big break was in 1999 on Once and Again with Sela Ward and Billy Campbell — did you realize at the time what a good show it was?
West: I knew right off the bat, but I was unsure about my own abilities. They took a chance on casting me because the character, Eli, really fit. The first season is almost impossible for me to watch because I can tell I'm learning on the go. That was a three-year acting class.
TV Guide Magazine: If that was an acting class, then what were your five seasons on ER?
West: A whole different ball game. Now you not only had to learn your lines, but you had to learn impossible-to-say lines and look like you knew what you were doing. I was thrown under the bus in my third episode, given a massive monologue with a million other interns behind me. Once that was done and I didn't screw up, I was kind of welcomed into the group. It was total hazing.
TV Guide Magazine: You've done a stint as the frontman for punk band The Germs — what is it with actors wanting to be rock stars?
West: It's totally different from acting, and much more exciting. There is no better experience than being live on stage. In a concert, you know if you're good or bad right away — you're not seeing your performance later and thinking, "Oh, great. That sucked, and for an entire year I thought it was pretty good."
TV Guide Magazine: Any wild stories about touring?
West: I hate to discredit the myths, but on this tour, the fans were, like, true fans of the music. It wasn't Mötley Crüe and Poison, where women with fake [body parts] were coming up to you. There was a lot of alcohol involved, but it was staying up late to talk.
TV Guide Magazine: I stumbled across an old Cosmo article where you admitted that your high school nickname was "Hopeless Romantic." Care to discuss?
West: I was very hopeless. I couldn't even speak. My first girlfriend [Rachael Leigh Cook] was after high school. I believe I was 19.
TV Guide Magazine: Second base must've been exciting!
West: Everything was exciting. First base was wonderful. I had no game at all.
TV Guide Magazine: In your industry, is it possible to meet women in a normal way?
West: I don't think you can. That's one of the sad realities. You become jaded. How do you know if they like you for who you are? [That's why] actors date each other — but most of us are mental, so that shouldn't be happening at all. The understanding is great, the emotional attachment is amazing... but beyond that, we're all very insecure.
Nikita airs Fridays at 8/7c on The CW.