March 14, 2018 Interview – Thomas Ian Nicholas
In the acting game since he was a young boy, Thomas Ian Nicholas has learned a thing or two through his many years of experience. First and foremost, he quickly learned not to let early success go to his head, allowing him to translate from the child star of such films as 1993’s Rookie of the Year as well as 1995’s A Kid In King Arthur’s Court to the young adult star of 1999’s American Pie and beyond. Since keeping extremely busy starring in various feature films and television series through the years, Nicholas has even produced and directed. Now a triple threat, in recent times, he has formed a creative alliance with Brian A Metcalf and Ben Chan in their movie production venture called Red Compass Media. Already putting out the festival award celebrated The Lost Tree in 2016, in 2018, their fang-bang flick Living Among Us hit U.S. theaters. Recently we caught up with the busy Nicholas to talk his career as an actor, staying grounded, his plans with Red Compass Media, his love for music, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been acting in film and television professionally since a child. Taking a list of memorable roles, first tell us, what inspired you to continue a career in acting?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – Well, I started pretty young, when I was 6. I was introduced by my mom for a casting director for Atmosphere – looking for background players on independent films. That is how I got my first taste of being on set, helping her on one early Monday morning on a Jan-Michael Vincent movie. I loved being on set so much, that was the thing that I enjoyed the most. It is definitely the thing I was addicted to, all the rest I can take it or leave it. Something about being on a set is, for lack of a better word, magical.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool. Well, you have kept very busy through the years, continuing into adulthood, which is not an easy task for many who had success as a child actor. That is a great feat.
Thomas Ian Nicholas – Thank you, I think I am part of the 3-5% of us who made it through from child actors to adult career.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, you had a great deal of success early on with films such as 1993’s Rookie of the Year and 1995’s A Kid In King Arthur’s Court. What was that like for you to see such success that young?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – It was little confusing, I think. Mainly because you achieve some recognition for your work, there is a moment in time, at least briefly, where you are kind of on top of the world. Everyone is looking at you, or at least you feel everyone is looking at you, and you kind of ride high.
The biggest turning point for me is when you come out of this sort of cloud of smoke and the dust settles, you kind of have two choices at that point, that is, “Hey, why isn’t everyone treating me like I am the best around?” Or, “That was a fun ride, let’s hucker down and work on earning the next job so I can do that again.” I chose the latter than expecting to be treated a certain way. Like I said, during success of something, you are kind of momentary royalty. You can come out of it and feel, “Hey, that is how I should always be treated,” or, “Let’s focus on the work.” I have always been one to focus on the work. That is why I say the early successes in my career were confusing.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very good work ethic. Obviously many fall into a feeling of entitlement, which you did not. You have continuously worked through the years from your roles in the American Pie films in your teens to films as an adult. Speaking of which, American Pie was a massive franchise. What led you to that part?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – That one is kind of interesting. It was just an audition, but initially I didn’t want to audition for that project. I kind of judged a book by its cover – the original title for that film was “untitled teenage sex comedy that you can make for under 10 million dollars that studios will hate but audiences will love.” It was something ridiculous like that. I read the first scene which was my character Kevin with Vicky, Vicky was instructing Kevin how to use his hand and I said, “Woah, woah, woah… what kind of script is this.” (Laughs) I threw it away, called my agent, and said no thank you. They had trouble finding the right person for the role, it trickled back around to me, and my agent said just read it. I finally read the whole story and realized how funny it was, how heartfelt it was, and realized it wasn’t just a sex movie. I looked at it a lot differently, I auditioned, and I was very fortunate to land the role.
CrypticRock.com – That is a pretty funny story! It is understandable you initially would be apprehensive about it. It is great it all worked out in the end though.
Thomas Ian Nicholas – Yea, all’s well that ends well. I am so thankful to be part of that franchise, it has opened up so many doors for me. I couldn’t even imagine where I would be at now if I didn’t have that sort of feather in my cap so to speak.
CrypticRock.com – It is certainly something to be proud of. One of your most recent roles is in a film called Living Among Us. Recently released in selected theaters back in February, and now available on VOD and DVD, what was it like working on this film?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – This one was a lot of fun because I started this aspect around 15 years where I produced and starred in my first feature film. I really enjoyed wearing two hats; I always have a lot more fun on a set when I have a lot more responsibility, call me crazy. I don’t like to sleep a lot. (Laughs) When you have two jobs on a film set, you definitely don’t get to sleep a lot. I love being on a set as an actor, but I love even more the responsibility of being in charge of it too. I have a great business partner with Red Compass Media, Brian A Metcalf and Ben Chan. This is the second of a few projects on our slate.
I was also getting to play a vastly different character than people have seen me as. That aspect was really kind of fun and not to have to just be the nice guy. Brian really wanted me to delve into my ‘meaner’ sort of spirit and kind of make me the younger, skinnier version of Michael Moore, as the documentarian I play in the film.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, your role as Mike, a young documentarian, is very compelling. It is a very different role for you, but it seems very natural.
Thomas Ian Nicholas – Well thank you. One of the things I pride myself on in acting roles is to really be the grounding force in the film. I feel like I am doing my job if I disappear in the role to where you are not really thinking about me and what I am doing. In that regard, in this film, I was able to do that by presenting my appearance different as well as my energy. It was a vastly different filmmaking process, being you want to call it Found Footage or a French New Wave film. We are more focused on it being a French New Wave film because we had a well-known cast. You can’t really have Found Footage, and if you think about the filmmaking aspect, and this is going to make me sound highfalutin, Found Footage is really derived from French New Wave. You are aware of the filmmaking process, it is a movie within a movie, but you are still drawn in. It is very long takes without cuts, and in Found Footage, you can’t have Brad Pitt starring in The Blair Witch Project (1999). So, we don’t consider Living Among Us a Found Footage film because we have an allstar cast.
Again, because of the style of it, we had a different filmmaking process where we spent a lot more time rehearsing the scenes, probably even more than shooting them, because the takes were so long. We had to rehearse them 5-7 times to get all the beats down before we shot it 2-3 times. I really pride the cast for being able to achieve something that feels very natural, but also something that was very scripted and practiced.
CrypticRock.com – Everyone did an exceptional job. It really is not a Found Footage film, as you said. If you want to call it a Found Footage film, it is a cut above what others are doing because that sub-genre has become very stale.
Thomas Ian Nicholas – Yea, I think we sort of touch on that genre in a sense we are claiming these documentarians sacrificed their lives for this footage. We definitely didn’t want to go for the you need a sea sick pill before you go watch this movie. (Laughs) We tried to keep the camera handheld and energetic without making you sick while you watch it.
CrypticRock.com – Right, and that works well. As you said, you had an allstar cast. What was it like working with everyone? This was one of John Heard’s last films.
Thomas Ian Nicholas – Yea, this was the last thing he worked on. We did ADR with him about 4 days before he passed away, which was last summer. He might have some other films in the can that maybe not have been released yet, but this was the last project that he worked on.
CrypticRock.com – It is a very sad loss, he was a very talented actor.
Thomas Ian Nicholas – Yes, I had worked with him on Radio Flyer (1992) as a little kid, 28 years ago. I remember hearing the news and thinking, “Is this even real?” I had to go check and see if it was somehow some sort of fake news. I just felt, “How’s that possible?” I was just talking and working with him 4 days ago. Yes, he was a fantastic actor. He really just knew how to turn it on when the camera was going – very layered and simplistic.
CrypticRock.com – He will certainly be missed. Living Among Us is one a few films you worked on with Brian, one of the others was 2016’s The Lost Tree. You also have a television series you are working on?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – Yes, Red Compass Media have several projects on the slate. We have a TV pilot that is technically on hold right now in the sense that we also have a Neo Noir Crime Drama which we are developing, as well as some other projects as well. We have The Lost Tree, Living Among Us is number 2, so it is really a race to see which one we are working on next. I am not sure if I can talk about the very next thing we might be doing, it might be a little premature.
CrypticRock.com – That will keep us in suspense for what is next, which is good. You would put Living Among Us under the Horror label. You did however star in 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection back in 2002. Do you have an affection for Horror?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – I definitely enjoy it. I am not a Horror fanatic, which I think lends me to try and be involved with projects that maybe have a little more to offer than a straight up Slasher. In The Lost Tree, and I would say more Brian than myself, tried to avoid the quintessential stereotype pitfalls. In that film, my car starts, the cell phone works, the internet is going, the lights are on. (Laughs) We try to steer away from the quintessential things you would expect in a Horror movie. The Lost Tree is almost like a Neo Noir Thriller with a ting of Horror. Living Among Us isn’t quite that Found Footage, it is like French New Wave meets Horror.
CrypticRock.com – It is great to see you play these types of different roles and be a part of these different projects. It shows your diversity.
Thomas Ian Nicholas – Thank you. In the TV pilot we have, Strange Ones, I am actually playing the main antagonist. That is something I have never done before. It is interesting and that is the goal Brian and I have together as partners of Red Compass, to make sure each project we do together we are not just duplicating our work again. We are intending to make each project unique and I am always presenting a new type of character, so you are not just watching me being in a bunch of different Brian Metcalf films.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and you are challenging yourself as well as the audience.
Thomas Ian Nicholas – It is a lot of fun. I have a few other projects I am developing and working on. I am going to be producing and starring in a film called BitCoin that we are shooting in New Mexico this May. I am running back to do another Sci-Fi with my friend Griff Furst this month in New Orleans.
I did one last year… you know, sometimes you have to say yes to the really funny projects, so I did one called Trailer Park Shark. I had hired Griff on his first acting job 20 years ago, so it was kind of full circle to hire me as a director on Trailer Park Shark. It was kind of like Sharknado (2013) meets Raising Arizona (1987). (Laughs) It is one of those things where I don’t try and take myself too seriously. I think you can go and make a serious film and you can go and make something that is meant to be cheesy. You can cross genres and just have fun all in the name of entertainment.
CrypticRock.com – You have to have fun, otherwise, what is the point of it all?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – Yea, totally. Why take us overtly serious for the sake of entertainment? It seems kind of like a dichotomy if you ask me.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly, life is too short to take everything so seriously. You need to enjoy it. Beyond film, you also have a love for music. Tell us a little about your music? What are some of your influences? What do you have coming up?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – I have released 6 albums over the last 10 years. This year is actually the 10 year anniversary of my first album. I have played somewhere in the vicinity of over 600 shows. I play all around the US, but mainly in the the midwest and on the coasts. I have always toured in the UK and around Europe. I am not going to be releasing a new album this year, but I am doing a 10 year anniversary tour. I have plans to go back to the UK, Europe, and obviously the midwest in the summer. I am not really sure exactly what direction I am going in next year. I just released a frat party album last year which is all my favorite songs from the American Pie movies. I had done 5 original albums and I thought, “Maybe it is time to do something fun for people.” Again, not taking myself too seriously, and people really seem to be into nostalgia right now, so I wanted to offer them nostalgia at my concerts as well. Next year, I might do a ‘best of’ compilation and press it to vinyl. I am always writing new music though and trying to figure out the direction for the next original album.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool! So music has been a part of your life for some time now?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – For sure. It is something I started doing when I was around 14 or so. I started playing and it was something that kept me busy when I was on set when I was only acting. That is what I like about producing and acting, when you are acting on set you have a lot of downtime, even waiting in between shots, setups, movie locations, etc – there is a lot of equipment and crew doing stuff. When I was only acting in the films, I would hang out in my trailer and learned how to play guitar. I think it kept me out of a little bit of trouble too. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – What better way to spend time than with music?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – I think that might be another element of it. Growing up as an actor, I was portraying other characters that were written by other people and they were their stories. There is a lot of technique and craft that goes into that, and there is still some creative outlet with that. Music, for me, became my creative outlet, my story, my writing, and a way for me to express myself and be myself.
CrypticRock.com – That is what is great about music. It certainly is different than acting, right?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – For sure. At this point, I haven’t done any live theater in my career. There have been a couple of moments where I had some close opportunities or up for some parts, but I would say obviously the main difference is the instant gratification of live performances versus acting. Especially in a film, where you shoot something and doesn’t come out for at least a year.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is a waiting game with film. With theater and music, you get that instant reaction from an audience.
Thomas Ian Nicholas – There is also something vastly exciting about not being perfect. Each moment is live, there is no take 2, especially when people are watching you live. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and anything can happen in a live performance, which makes it special. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. What are some of your favorite films in these genres?
Thomas Ian Nicholas – That is a really good question. Recently someone asked me what my guilty pleasure of Horror films is. I would definitely say They Live (1988) is one of them. I can’t tell if it is so bad it’s so good, but it is one of those films if it happens to be on TV, I can’t turn it off. As far as Sci-Fi, I was a Star Wars fan before you couldn’t avoid Stars Wars.
Now, with Disney behind it, there is pretty much Star Wars everywhere you look. During the re-release days, I went to the theater and watched all three back to back in 1997. I was up in Northern California where my mom grew up, I was at my aunt’s. I went to a theater, spending the entire day there watching all three originals all in the same day. It was crazy.
CrypticRock.com – That has to be a cool memory. Then they did Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 1999, which was not very good.
Thomas Ian Nicholas – I am a big fan of compromise breeds creative genius. I think there was a lot of compromise that went into the original Star Wars trilogy. You can kind of see the degradation of that in the sense by the third film they were going a little bit more toward merchandising and branding, but there is still a compromise. Episode 6 was originally supposed to be a planet full of wookies, and they couldn’t afford all the costumes needed. What did they do? They came up with ewoks, because you need half the amount of fur, or maybe a forth. (Laughs)
By the time they got to Episodes 1, 2, and 3, the CGI gave George Lucas the ability to be able to do whatever he wanted. The thing that I think made the first trilogy special is they were the first Sci-Fi films that didn’t focus on the technological aspects. They weren’t insanely long shots on technology because Lucas wasn’t happy with what he was able to achieve. He was just trying to show you enough so you get it, then move on, and focus on the story. Then 1, 2, and 3 focused too much on the technology I think. There wasn’t as much compromise.