Relic Hunter's Weekend Worrier
Christien Anholt was somewhat better prepared for his job on Relic Hunter than his character, Nigel Bailey - the teaching assistant of Dr. Sydney Fox, who drags him halfway around the world on a regular basis. Yet Anholt is spending much of his year uprooted as well. A native of London, the actor now spends half the season in Toronto and the rest in France, shooting the new series.
"We spend two or three days a week in the studio; the rest is on location in and around Toronto, and we're going to Paris to do seven episodes there, which will be nice," explained the actor during a recent break from filming Relic Hunter, which debuted in syndication the week of September 20th. "I'm a huge fan of Indiana Jones - they're some of my favorite films - so this is a lot of fun. I miss my family and my friends, but I like Toronto, I'm enjoying the work, so I'm having a good time."
Relic Hunter stars Tia Carrere as a daredevil history professor who'd just as soon be out finding artifacts as stirring up a classroom with her unconventional methods. She takes her assistant out regularly in search of rare and dangerous objects of great historical value. Like Buffy's Giles, Nigel may be a bookish genius, but in the field is another matter - and Nigel spends a lot of time in the field.
"Nigel is basically a historian, I don't think he's ever been on a dig or anything like that," Anholt observed. "He's not too happy about bugs. He's not too happy about snakes, spiders, or being pushed through some dirty old doorway down some cellar in some jungle covered in...whatever. He's having a terrible time!"
The actor had little background in archaeology, but has found that the scripts are pretty self-explanatory in terms of what he needs to know. "Because I'm basically running around after Tia's character, all of the research is there - Nigel's sort of learning it as they go, so I do too. I think Tia's doing more of the work in the sense that she has to research the martial arts and belly dancing. I just sort of tag along, so it's quite an easy role to play without much research involved."
Described in the press notes as a "weekend worrier" to Sydney Fox's warrior, Nigel's no more at ease with Sydney's sexy earthiness than with the pitfalls of archaeological research. "She'll put him in situations occasionally where she'll ask him to undo her zipper on the back of her dress, which is just completely devastating - his hands are shaking. I think she plays with him a bit!"
In the one potential romantic situation Nigel's encountered so far, he flirted with a woman only to discover that she was a nun. "Hitting on someone is hard enough as it is, and then he finds out she is a nun! He's not at ease with women, very nervous around any kind of female contact, and generally finding himself getting into situations and putting his foot in it," laughed Anholt. "He's an intellectual, very well-educated, very knowledgeable as a historian, but he's not much of a warrior, he's not really into getting physical."
Thus Sydney frequently has to rescue Nigel, turning the Indiana Jones boy-rescues-girl formula on its head. "When we get into sticky situations, Sydney has to use her martial arts while Nigel tends to sort of cower in a corner and just watch," the actor admitted. "But he's lovable. Ditzy, but a sweet guy."
Like Hugh Grant, which was precisely what the producers wanted: the casting call was for "a younger Hugh Grant type." Is it flattering or intimidating for Anholt to be compared to the popular but controversial actor? "I don't know! He's got a lovely career ahead of him, but I think that if possible I'd like to carve out my own niche. For Nigel, I think a bit of the stuttering I've taken from Hugh, but mostly it's just sort of come out of my head."
The son of an actor who has been in the profession since the age of seven, Anholt got the role after his manager spotted the Relic Hunter breakdown and thought he would be perfect for the role. In Los Angeles, Anholt met with the producers - Jay Firestone, who also produces the hit La Femme Nikita for USA, and Adam Haight, who runs the day to day operations at Fireworks Entertainment. They asked him back to meet with Carrere.
"It was three interviews in total, two of them with Tia, which was great. I thought it was very necessary, because you've got to get the chemistry right between these two characters - even if there's no obvious sexual chemistry, there's got to get on as people. It worked: we hit it off very quickly, we work together very well. We like each other a lot. It was quite a short and painless process, though obviously there's a bit of waiting and sitting on the edge of your seat."
What about that sexual tension, hmm? It's pretty apparent in the pilot that Nigel is attracted to Sydney. "There's nothing there at the moment, but I think that's something they may develop," Anholt said hopefully. "He obviously finds her very attractive but at the moment there's nothing he can do. I think he looks on Sydney with some adoration, but also disbelief as to where she actually takes him each episode and what she actually gets him involved in."
"It would be nice to see him develop and somewhat get used to the hunt, and maybe get a little more confident with his physicality," added the actor. "But apart from that, I'm very happy playing him at the moment. We're only on episode five, so he's developing quite nicely. Obviously as time goes by it will be interesting to see if anything emerges between Nigel and Sydney. It would be nice to do more and more with it."
At any rate, he's not uncomfortable playing against macho stereotypes. "I'm sort of playing the 'chick' character and she's playing the 'guy' in many ways. It's a new concept, really, I don't see anything like this on TV - a female Indiana Jones where the roles have been switched completely. I'd love to do it for a second, third, fourth year. I like what I've seen so far, it's great fun to do, the scripts are good, and working with Tia is great."
So far, viewers have been fairly enthusiastic, and Anholt reports that guests to the set and co-stars have observed that they've not seen anything like Relic Hunter before. "There's a lot of interest in it so far. I think they are looking at a fairly healthy run." A self-confessed "great Star Wars fan," the actor laughed that he would like his own action figure, and perhaps a video game.
Brought up around performers because his father was an actor, Anholt realized at an early age that he wanted to be a movie star. "Some silly person told me I didn't need any qualifications," he chuckled, adding, "It was something I always knew I wanted to do. My parents neither pushed me toward it nor pushed me away from it, they kind of let me make up my own mind. I'd seen the pros and cons - my dad was in work and out of work. It was my own decision when I left school, and they threw their weight 100 percent behind me. They've been very supportive and very helpful. I just thank my lucky stars I've been allowed to work as constantly, and with such good people and projects as I have been."
Anholt's career started with the role of Hans in the Jason Robards film Reunion, for which he was nominated for the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. Reunion screenwriter Harold Pinter suggested Anholt for two London plays, which won him rave reviews. After starring with Judy Davis and Sam Neill in the television movie One Against the Wind, he was hand-picked by Steven Spielberg to star in the pilot Class of '61. Recently he appeared on the WB's hit Felicity.
"I'd love to do more films, most of my work has been on film, but I'm looking forward to having a long-running series," the actor said of his ambitions. "I'd love to get into directing. I'm trying to write. Producing is something I'd be interested in doing, just progressing and expanding one aspect of what I do into others, and seeing if I can take it other places. I'll work anywhere, it's one of the wonderful things about my job: I get to travel the world. I'd like to work with my dad. If the series becomes a hit and opens doors to me, the opportunity to work with some good people becomes a possibility."
Though he has mostly played heroic characters, "I played a bad guy once, and I quite enjoyed that." Although he has appeared in distinguished plays like The Lion in Winter and The Hothouse, Anholt really enjoys playing Nigel Bailey. "There's a lot of levels to him and he's also very funny. It's quite charming to play."
If Nigel can contend with Sydney's dashing ex-lovers and unorthodox methods, and if viewers appreciate the chemistry between the two, Anholt could be charmed for a long time to come. "I hope people like it," he concluded. "I think they will."