"As soon as I put that helmet on, I'm ready to kick ass," says Yvette Nipar. Cast as Detective Lisa Madigan, Alex Murphy's new partner in the syndicated RoboCop: The Series, Nipar frequently dons the trademark police officer blues.
"I'm not crazy about the uniform," Nipar admits, "but it helps me feel that whatever we're going to do is something serious. There were a couple of times we were out on the streets shooting when normal, everyday people would see me and not know who I was. They would back up, because here I was in full dress uniform. I like to wear normal clothes, but everybody here seems to love that look. You know, 'men love a woman in uniform.' As a detective, I don't need it, but when we go in to bust some people, they'll throw me back in it. They're always thinking up reasons to put me back in it. I got really fed up with it during the pilot, though -- the belt, the gun, the finger cuff. The finger cuff is silver. It looks like a toilet paper tube, and when you put your fingers in, it goes, 'zzzt, zzzt,' and locks your fingers in so you can't do anything. I think it looks pretty silly."
The diminutive actress relaxes on the couch in her Toronto dressing room. In jeans, T-shirt and denim baseball cap, Nipar looks like anything but the tough cop she portrays on-screen. "Madigan? She's the spitting image of me," Nipar insists, laughing. "She has it together, she's smart and she's a go-getter. She doesn't mind stepping on a couple of feet to get the job done. OCP pretty much owns the police, but sometimes Madigan goes against OCP rules and loses her badge, and then gets it back in the same episode. Her sergeant is always telling her, 'Don't mess with the brass,' but she's always messing with the brass, pushing it. Thank God for sergeants, because they'll hold you back a bit. Madigan is kind of green, just learning, but she's pretty much always right. From the seven episodes that we've done, it seems to me that she's intent on being the best damn detective she can be. She always wants to do the right thing and do it well."
"She definitely has a temper, but she knows when to use it. She's never a bitch. I remember when my agent was reading me the character breakdown on her, and he said if there's one word to describe Madigan it's 'friend,' and another is 'spunk.' She is a lot like me. That's why I have so much fun playing her. It's easy to play me. There was an episode recently where I got addicted to these diet pills. That's not like me, to get addicted to something, except maybe clothes shopping, that I'll admit to. There we see another side of Madigan definitely not the tough-edged side. It was nice to play that instead of the everyday 'freeze, hold it right there' thing.
"I don't know that I want the public to know too much about her just yet. It's better to keep them guessing. I'm pretty pleased with what the producers are doing with my character."
WOMAN & MACHINE
Comparing Madigan with her film counterpart, Nancy Allen's Officer Lewis, Nipar has little to say. "I only saw RoboCop," she explains. "And I didn't really last through Robo 2. It was too violent for me. I think that Madigan and Murphy are at a much more personable level that Robo and Lewis.
"Murphy was probably Madigan's favorite partner because they connected so well. Now [as a cyborg] he's lost much of his humor. He's lost a lot of how far he can take his feelings, and he only has flashback memories. That's frustrating for Madigan to watch. She's one of the few people who knows who he is. She can't stand the fact that he won't tell his family who he really is. She wants them to have a husband and a father. There were so many moments when it would have been perfect to tell them, but all he says is, 'I will be there to protect them.'"
About her real-life partnership with co-star Richard Eden, Nipar is even more reticent. "We have a lot of laughs," she reveals, "but he's very serious. I'm serious too, but he's very serious. So, sometimes it's quiet and serious and then suddenly we'll be laughing our rears off. I'm always trying to keep it light on the set because our crew works so hard. They do all the hard stuff. We get our little rooms to hang in while they're out there working, so I always try to keep them laughing. The first couple of weeks were very serious. I remember the first big laugh we had was about 18 days into the shooting schedule. Everybody laughed for about five minutes straight and it felt so good."
Nipar's action-adventure role requires plenty of stunt work. She glances at the red "ridem" car she keeps on hand for her 18-month-old son and laughs, "Oh, boy. Your body's not the same after you have a kid. But I've always been athletic. Volleyball, that was my love. It got me through high school. Hiking in the mountains, basketball, surfing, swimming, horses, you name it. So I really get off on the action stuff. My poor double is always standing around with the wig on, ready to do my stunts, and I say, 'Sorry, I get to do them myself.' It can only make the show look better if you don't cut to someone who doesn't look like me. There are certain things that I don't even touch. There was a scene recently where I had to dive into some foam, and I chose to let her get all covered with white. Actually, I wanted to do it, but because of the shot that followed, they wouldn't let me. There was a scene the other night in which someone was driving one of those ATVs [all-terrain vehicles] right up to my character, very fast. If he didn't hit his sand bags, or if his brakes decided to go, I would have been run over. I let the double do that, while I stood back and watched."
Episodic television often imposes rigorous shooting schedules, but RoboCop is unique in having two full-time units engaged in principal photography. Nipar gives another of her infectious laughs: "It was kind of odd at first, jumping back and forth from First to Second Unit. By the time you finish shooting an episode, you forget about it and carry on to the next. Then, a week later, you're reshooting something or doing a pickup, the director's not there, and it's, 'Oh, boy, where were we on this? What episode was this and what was I thinking?' I'm just getting the hang of that. Thank God for my notebook. Shooting at night is frustrating, because you get home at 6 a.m. and I have a child, who wakes up an hour later."
"They have to use doubles of Richard because there isn't enough time to have him act in every single shot. He would be here day and night, every day. I don't have much work with the doubles unless it's a driving shot or something. I don't have dialogue with them."
Having to carry and use her police officer's gun bothers the native Californian. "I don't like it," she says emphatically. "Whenever I read [in a script] that I have to have a gun, it bugs me a bit. Before I accepted this job, we discussed the violence. I thought, 'I don't even want to do this if it's going to be all about violence and shooting people.' They assured me it wouldn't be. Every time I carry a gun, I keep it down instead of up, so it's not like I'm saying, 'Hey, look. I have a gun.'"
Nipar wasn't trained in gun handling. "I'm a natural," she insists with a shrug, grinning. "I've learned many of the formalities and logistics of being a police officer, though. For example, when you hold a gun, your finger isn't supposed to be on the trigger. It's supposed to be along the side of the gun so it won't go off by accident. They have many rules they're supposed to follow. Our producer, Stephen Downing, used to be a policeman in LA. I can go up and ask, 'Do you think I would say this?'"
"I think women bring more sensitivity to police work than men, more empathy for people and their feelings. When kids get involved in trouble, the motherly instinct pops in. I don't know that men have that as much as women. I don't want to say only a woman could understand Murphy, but she could definitely have more empathy with his feelings. She was his partner before. It's almost like she was married to someone, who became a paraplegic. I think a man probably wouldn't want to talk about Murphy's problem, but Madigan loves to."
Nipar, best known for her stint on 21 Jump Street, has acted in one other SF/fantasy project, Charles Band's Doctor Mordrid. She mostly rejects the suggestion that making the genre's conventions believable to the audience imposes special difficulties on an actor. "That's all technical," she insists. "But the use words that are obviously made up. I haven't had to say any of them yet, but when they are said to you, you're supposed to react with a straight face. That's hard. I'm always learning something about what might actually be possible in the future though, like finger cuffs."
It is the police aspect of her role rather than its SF trappings that principally pleases the actress. "A lifelong ambition for me was to play a detective," she reveals, "because of the investigating, the brain work."
"I had just started getting back into the business. I had had a son. It was about the fifth audition I had after two years off. The next thing you know, I'm relocating to Toronto, just in time for winter to start. I look around and the whole crew has goose-down jackets on, and here I am in this two-layered costume trying to act natural without my teeth chattering. It has been a challenge to 'think hot' and do the work. It drains you. But I'll take the worst winter any day over earthquakes."
"Acting was one of those things I always wanted to do and never told anybody about. Then, I started doing commercials. One day about 10 years ago, someone tapped me on the shoulder in a clothing store and asked me if I had an agent. I thought, 'Oh yeah, typical Hollywood story.' Then, I checked him out. He was very reputable, so I called him. He took me on that day and I started auditioning. It was one of those lucky things. There was a little angel sitting on my shoulder. All those years, I never wanted to do a TV series. I wanted to do features, just like everyone does. Then, you have a baby and you don't get to be so picky. When this came along, I thought it could be fun. I'm glad I'm having the opportunity to play someone at length. When I did Jump Street, it was only nine episodes. There wasn't much time to grow, because I was always doing the Deputy D.A. thing. I'm glad I didn't have a major feature in the past 10 years, because I don't know that I could have nailed it. I've grown so much as a person and an actress in 10 years. I think maybe now I'm ready to do that."
Nipar's philosophy about her job is straightforward. Unlike many TV series actors, she has no complaints about how the producers are "misusing" her character. "The first year I just want to do what they want me to do," she admits. "I'm having so much fun, and there's so much to do. I don't know that I would want anything else in there right now. That would just be more shooting days," she laughs. "I'm the first one to say to the directors, 'Oh, you're going to cover this scene? I thought it looked great in the masters.'"
And with that, she smiles engagingly and hurries off to a costume fitting.