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Jeff Grant (River Phoenix, l.) gets a lot more than he bargained for when he submits an application to the Air Force Academy to undercover FBI agent Roy Parmenter (Sidney Poitier, r.) in Columbia Pictures' "LITTLE NIKITA." The taut drama of international espionage and family honor was produced by Harry Gittes and directed by Richard Benjamin from a screenplay by John Hill and Bo Goldman, based on a story by Tom Musca & Terry Schwartz.
About the Production...
"Little Nikita" is a stylistic departure from Richard Benjamin's previous films, and he admits that the emotional power of the story is what drew him to the project. "It's about family and the sanctity of the family, and those are values I believe in," Benjamin emphasizes. The director, who is married to actress Paula Prentiss and has two children -- a son, Ross, and a daughter, Prentiss -- adds that "having children is the extension of two people in love and the movie is about that. Sidney plays an FBI man who uncovers a dark secret and must make the choice between making points for himself or destroying this family.
"For Roy Parmenter, we needed someone with tremendous emotional power, with a solid center, somebody who knows who he is and someone who projects this authority and warmth at the same time," Benjamin says about the decision to cast Poitier in the role of the FBI agent. "Sidney has the authority of a real movie star."
Benjamin says it was exciting to have the dynamic energy between a veteran and a young rising star. The director praises Phoenix: "He is a young actor who stayed right up with Poitier all the way. They have great chemistry. River has wonderful instincts. He is not only a superb actor but he is real. He cannot fake; that's not in River, only the truth is in him, and it's wonderful to see. He has one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood."
Poitier adds another compliment for his young co-star: "I feel River Phoenix is one of our finest young actors and destined to leave an indelible imprint on American films." Those are high marks, indeed, from Poitier, winner of a Best Actor Oscar for "Lilies of the Field" and Academy Award-nominated for his performance in "The Defiant Ones."
The filming of "Little Nikita" evolved in the same pattern as the script's conflict. "The picture is very light in the beginning and slowly builds tension as it moves along," Benjamin comments. "In the beginning it's fun, and then it reaches down into the heart of the matter, almost destroying a family. This structure is what appealed to me about the story."