An Interview with Thomas Nicholas
Updated: Feb 23, 2021
Thomas Nicholas is an actor, producer and musician. Having begun his career at the age of 6, Thomas is known for his work on acclaimed films including Walt Before Disney, Rookie of the Year, The Rules of Attraction, and for his portrayal of Kevin Myers in the American Pie film series. I spoke with Thomas about his work as a musician, portraying Ethan in Adverse, and how his son Nolan is following in his footsteps.
As well as an actor you´re also a musician. Did you always want to pursue a career in both fields?
It’s hard to answer that considering I have been pursuing the acting career since 1986. For the first 6 years of my life it was a primary focus. In all reality I do sort of discover the drive for it on the daily and this stems from some of my early times when I was acting as a kid. Every couple of weeks my Mom would always say, ‘hey are you still wanting to pursue this?’ She never wanted to be pushing me forward toward the career, which I hope to do the same for my son who is 9 and following in my footsteps a little bit right now. He’s got a small role in Adverse and also is in the Universal M. Night movie, Old.
How did you land your first acting role?
The first experience I had on set was as a background artist. That was a bit of a nepotism. My Mom was casting for a couple of these lower budget films and so there was an opportunity and also, I got her out of a jam. She needed to cast an altar boy on a Monday morning for a 6am call and got the call Sunday night at 10pm, so even I didn’t know. She woke me up before school and said, ‘you’re coming to work with me!’ I loved being on set, so after that it was just a question of finding an agent and I’ve lost count of how many auditions I probably went on before I landed my first gig.
How have the roles you’ve been offered changed since you started out?
In the beginning it was more like guest spots on television and things of that nature, then obviously I transitioned more to feature films. I really had a forte in drama and started out in some more dramatic roles, with small parts in films like Radio Flyer and The Fear Inside with Dylan McDermott and Christine Lahti. It was only when I started working on my weakest link (as my acting coach and mentor called it), which was comedy, that I wound up in a comedic feature film career for ten plus years. Now I’m getting back to my roots of drama and that’s really my focus and what I love the most. I love comedy, but drama is a lot more intense and I love revealing the layers of a character. There is something about the build of that character that’s exciting for me.
Which would you say is the most challenging for you as an actor?
For sure it’s the comedy because it’s not my natural sort of tone. In my real life I’m pretty light-hearted and my 4 year old daughter thinks I’m pretty funny. Really harnessing that comedic timing is a lot more challenging for me than unearthing the layers of a character or designing why they make the choices that are so wrong for them. Showing the frailty of humanity is a lot easier than making someone laugh.
You’re also a producer, as well as an actor and musician…
It’s really all encompassing, it definitely means there is a lot less down time when I’m on set, which I like. Don’t get me wrong, if I didn’t have all the downtime on set, I’ve had previously I wouldn’t be a musician because that’s really where I learned to play guitar and write songs. As a Producer you are busier and so you don’t have that “boredom” if there is such a thing on set. Also, I get to then be more in control of what I’m getting to do. It’s one thing to say yes or no to projects that are pitched to you, it’s another to say hey let’s create this project together that’s in this genre.
Do you think that helps you as an actor?
I think that having worked on both sides of the camera and really having an awareness of that from the very beginning, with my Mom being in casting, makes you appreciate all the work that goes into it. I think just as a director might study acting so that he can direct actors better, I think it would be an important experience for actors to experience what it’s like on the other side of the camera so that you can just appreciate your role in that and be aware of what’s going on. It doesn’t make it easier because it definitely puts a lot more responsibility on my plate.
You portray Ethan in Adverse, which you also produced. Can you tell me more about how you approached the role?
When my business partner, Brian A. Metcalf, who’s the writer and director of Adverse, showed me the script for the first time I was really compelled by the story and this character of Ethan. It’s not defined but he’s really suffering from mental illness. He’s got some serious anger issues based upon his upbringing and I was really compelled to bring this character to life. Brian was unaware that drama was my forte, even though we’d done some genre films together. He agreed to do some work sessions with me. For years, he had studied sort of a different technique of acting, more of the Meisner technique and I studied Stanislavski. We kind of went head to head in these work sessions and I would say that for the first time I was developing a character with another person. We wanted to change the way that he looked to be different from me, the way that he spoke, sounded and moved, his thought process and everything about him. It was an intense process for weeks to define this character and then a lot of rehearsals to make sure that I could make all those choices and be consistent so that there wasn’t any fluctuation. That also stemmed from a lot of rehearsals with Kelly Arjen our other producing partner who plays Mia, Ethan’s sister. Their relationship in the film is probably the most important because it is the only thing driving him forward and keeping him sane.
Do you ever have discussions with actors about different acting methods when you’re on set, and do you ever clash?
It’s not necessarily something that is discussed or clashed from actor to actor. Certainly I studied and developed to my technique, mainly motivated to Stanislavski. Anyone who studied Stanislavski will call that method the original copy and will refer to Meisner as the copy of the copy because Meisner is based off being taught by Stanislavski. Maybe I’m getting this wrong, but that’s sort of how the Stanislavski crew sort of view it. I know that Brian and I clash, and I was very adamant about how to use my focus of attention and not really giving validity to repetition and handling props. Brian talked me into it and we did some tests where we would do a scene and I would use solely my method and then we would do a scene where I would utilize the focus of the props at hand. We would tape them and watch them back and sure enough some of those Meisner techniques really worked but I was still infusing a lot of my own techniques, being that it is so much a part of me. I’ve been acting for 34 years, so it’s impossible for me to shed my method, so I would say that I sort of came up with a hybrid. Jokingly, I will tell Brian from time to time that he tricked me into Meisner.
This is your fourth collaboration with Brian A. Metcalf. Do you plan on collaborating again?
We are in the process of developing a TV show. I can’t really say anything as of yet, but it’s going to be awesome and there are some great people already interested in the project. I’m really hopeful that we get to bring this one to life.
Do you prefer working with people you’ve worked with before?
I want to say that Brian A. Metcalf is one of the only directors I’ve worked with multiple times. Certainly there are other directors that I would love to work with again. I’d love to work with Roger Avary again, or the Weitz brothers. Brian is the only one that’s had me back, so maybe I should have let the other ones trick me into Meisner too.
Is there anyone who has particularly influenced your work as an actor?
Joseph Gordon Levitt and I were in acting class together and we were the two youngest actors that got accepted into the master class. I think we were the only two that couldn’t drive ourselves to master class because we were too young. The whole semester was us building a character with a mental illness. At the final sort of session, Dr. Waldschmidt, who was a real-life Psychiatrist, would come to the class and she would do a group therapy session. All the class, in character, would do dramatic improve. I think that was the first time I really started to focus in on fully developed characters totally outside of myself, but more in a lead position. So, I would refer to it I guess specifically as a character lead, so you have Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, and in another sense, though his fame proceeds him at times, Johnny Depp. That’s my goal for as long as I can remember now, since before I could drive.
I want to ask about your work as a musician. Is there anything you are currently working on?
I just released my fifth single. I’m working on my seventh studio album. I just released the fifth single, ironically called Homelife. I released four singles last year, a Patreon page that I’ve been doing and I’ve done forty consecutive concerts since April or so. I have a couple more singles that are coming out in March and April. About every six weeks I’ll be dropping a brand new song and will keep on playing these concerts to identify just how long we have been in lockdown. For as crazy and isolated as it has been it has also been some of the busiest times I can remember.
It must be very strange on a film set in these times…
It was a different experience entirely and my first time being on-set Dad. I did it once before on the set of New Girl, my son’s first job. Then on Adverse it was a small role, one scene. I was sort of set Dad and we were in a scene together. This time it was a long time being a set Dad and really it was the whole mask situation. At least Nolan got to take off his mask to do the scene in front of the camera. I was eight hours a day, mask on…
It’s great to see Nolan going into the same field.
It’s exciting and I’m proud of him. Initially it only started with putting him in acting classes and doing some voice over auditions because I felt like it was a good skill to have. I consider our voices like an instrument, to communicate properly you have to have some sort of control. We do that in life and get that education as we grow up, but acting sort of gives you a leg up on that technique and how to communicate and really portray what it is that you want. I think is something that a lot of us, no matter where we are in our lives have trouble really communicating.