Lives Life in the Continuum
by Jay S. Jacobs
Rachel Nichols’ life has taken her on a crazy ride from the catwalks to the red carpets, but amazingly she is still just a normal small-town girl. Nichols would rather be with her family in Maine than at some star-studded gala in Hollywood.
Still, less than ten years into an acting career, she has starred in huge movies like Star Trek, P2, Dumb and Dumberer, Conan the Barbarian and GI Joe. On the small screen she was a regular on Alias and spent much of the last year on the popular drama Criminal Minds. Nichols is currently hard at work on her two latest projects, co-starring in the movie version of James Patterson’s hit novel I, Alex Cross and taking the lead role in a buzz-worthy upcoming TV series called Continuum from the creator of 24.
Nichols was nice enough to give us a call recently from Vancouver, where she is filming Continuum, to tell us a bit about her life, her career and what makes her happy.
You originally went to Columbia University in New York to be a Wall Street analyst. How did you change to modeling and then acting?
One of the great things about New York City is it is one of those places where things that you never envisioned for yourself or thought could happen – they happen. It’s just that kind of a place. That’s how modeling started for me. I was in the right place at the right time. Friends of mine were at an agency that I trusted. I went, “Oh, model? Sure.” I wanted to save money to pay to go to graduate school. I started modeling. I moved to Paris. Then I came back to finish my studies. Through the modeling I started doing commercials and through the commercials I started acting – little things, here and there. By the time I graduated, I was torn. Should I stay in New York and be the banker I thought I wanted to be, or should I take a chance and move to LA? I hired a moving company and moved across the country. I’d saved enough money so I could live in LA for a year without working. If I didn’t work, then I would go back and either go to graduate school or take that bank job. I stayed. And I worked.
I remember you saying that you changed a lot when you went away to college. What were you like as a girl growing up in Maine?
I was really shy, which is sort of ironic, given the career path I’ve chosen. I was very studious. I played sports, not particularly well. I have a great family. My parents are still married after 36 years. I have a brother. I didn’t really know what else was out there until I left and I went to school. But when I left to go to Columbia – obviously, going from Augusta, Maine to Manhattan – I knew I wanted a change. I was a late bloomer. I was shy and very into books, which was awesome. It took a while for me to really grow into my personality, who I am now. Going away to school and having parents that were so supportive played a big role in that.
What were some of your favorite books and the books that stuck with you over the years?
My favorite book of all time – which I didn’t read until I was in college – is The Garden of Eden, an [Ernest] Hemingway book. Growing up, I was a big fan of reading in general. Everything from James and the Giant Peach to Nancy Drew, which I remember reading when I was in the first grade. [I’m] a big fan of Shel Silverstein. I love his poetry. I always give those books whenever any of my friends have children. R.L. Stine and Sweet Valley High – those were all book series when I was growing up. I read everything that was put in front of me. My parents were great, because they just wanted us to read. As long as we were reading, we could read whatever we wanted. And we only had four stations on our TV, so that wasn’t very fun to watch.
What were some of the other things you were passionate about growing up?
When I was in junior high, I played the saxophone, but I stopped playing in high school. I started playing sports because all my friends were playing sports. I was a dancer. All little girls in Maine take dance lessons and are Girl Scouts, little boys are in Boy Scouts and take Tae Kwon Do. I took tap, jazz, ballet and point. I was very, very active. My studies were very important to me. I certainly kept myself busy.
Do you still have any things from back then that are still sacred to you – that you have to take with you no matter where you move?
Even as I sit here in Vancouver, I have a pillow – a real, proper, old school, heavy feather pillow. The thing weighs like ten pounds, and I have to travel with it. I can’t sleep without it. (laughs) It’s been all over the world. It’s moved with me to Paris. It was with me in New York. It was with me in LA. I take it everywhere with me, unless I go home to Maine, because it has a sister there.
What do you miss most that you lost along the way?
My parents always joke that I never lost anything, not even a Barbie shoe. I meticulously kept track of everything. I’m very good at that, so I don’t remember actually losing something that I loved. I did have a few pieces of jewelry that were (whispers) stolen.
What do you miss the most about living in New York?
There are so many things to miss about living in New York – which is not to say that I don’t like living in LA and I certainly love Vancouver. But there is this thing in New York. If you haven’t been there, people aren’t going to know what I’m talking about. You could blindfold me, spin me around, fly me in a plane for 24 hours and put me in the middle of New York City… and I’d just know. There is a feeling that I have when I’m there. There is an energy. I just love it there. I love the cacophony of the city. I love how you can get anything that you want at any hour of the day.
You had told me that growing up in Maine, people did not really think about things like growing up to be an actor or model or sports star. Did you ever imagine in your wildest dreams being in the movies?
I remember when Mel Gibson came to Maine and shot Man Without a Face. Pretty much the entire state of Maine had the day off to go try to be extras in the movie. I’ll never forget that. At the time, it didn’t interest me at all, but I thought it was fascinating that everybody else was so interested. That’s very funny, given the path that found me.
Do you ever remember seeing an actress or someone and thinking I wish I could do that?
When I was in third grade, I told my mom that I wanted to be Paula Abdul. Her album Forever Your Girl was out and she was all the rage. She could dance and she was so cool. My mom will never let me forget that I wanted to be Paula Abdul. But I’d think there are so many girls that wanted to be Paula Abdul, I should choose someone that less people wanted to be. Then I’d have a greater chance of being that person. That was how my mind worked.
You could have been Stacey Q.
Paula Abdul was pretty much the only one. I grew up with the belief, because my parents were so supportive, that I could do and be anything I wanted. Aside from a singer. My mom told me I should never sing unless I’m in the shower, alone. And she’s right.
You’ve done quite a few sci-fi or horror roles over your career. As a viewer, is that the kind of thing you tend to watch, or what types of films do you enjoy?
I watch everything. (laughs) I always have movies in my trailer, especially when I’m on set. Right now, I’ve got everything from The ‘Burbs to Toy Story 3 to Bridesmaids. I try not to watch movies at work that are going to make me cry, because my make-up artists will not be thrilled with me. It just takes the right kind of mood. Sometimes I’m in the mood to be scared out of my mind. I adore The Exorcist, but it freaks me out every time. I’ve seen it 25 times. My favorite movie of all times is Silence of the Lambs, which I know is a weird favorite movie. I’ll watch anything. Then if I like it, I’ll watch it over and over and over again. I love children’s movies, too. Toy Story and Babe and all those.
You just mentioned Silence of the Lambs. I remember you telling me last time we spoke, while you were on Criminal Minds, that serial killers strangely fascinated you. Why do you think the macabre and horrible can be so interesting?
It’s an out-of-body, other-world kind of feeling. I’m certainly not celebrating anyone who’s killed a large number of people – it just seems so foreign to me. The idea that someone could have that mentality, that somebody could have the stomach to chop people up in little pieces. Or eat them, or kill them, or anything. I think a lot of people are fascinated by those intangible things. You’re thinking along the lines of, “How could a person be like this?” That’s what fascinates me, just the idea that I can’t relate to them on any level, but I’m fascinated that they are out there.
What was the first movie you ever saw that really blew you away?
We didn’t have a VCR until I was in the eighth grade. Everybody else had one. We didn’t have one until late. The first movie we ever watched on the VCR was Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which was very funny. It had just come out. As a family we would watch Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone. I always loved action/adventure movies, my brother and I both did. Back to the Future. Maybe it was the whole experience of watching movies with my family. It was great. I remember going to see Batman in the theaters and being completely blown away by it.
Is there a certain movie that if you are in a bad mood it automatically cheers you up?
When Harry Met Sally. That would be right up there with Silence of the Lambs.
Is there something you watch when you need a good cry – obviously when you have a day off from make-up?
The Virgin Suicides, even though it doesn’t make me really cry, is an interesting sort of mind game. It’s very depressing, but it’s so beautiful in so many ways that I can’t turn myself away from it. Then, if I watch Stella or Beaches or anything involving Bette Midler, I’ll lose my mind.
Tell me a bit about Continuum? It sounds like a fascinating show.
It’s awesome. I read the script and I went: “I’m in.” I love it. It’s great. Basically, the brief summary is I’m a woman from the future, a future law-enforcement officer, fighting terrorists from the future in the present day – after we all accidentally go back in time. I love action, obviously, [I’ve done] Alias and GI Joe, even Conan. I get my fight scenes and I get the real action bits that I love. I get to brandish weapons and fire guns. But it’s not just another cop show. There’s a very big element for me that’s new. I have a family in the future. I have a son in the future that I’m trying to get back to. It’s a very emotional role as well, which I really like. The cast is fantastic. I’m the only American on the cast.
Any word on when it will be getting a US release?
Graham King, who is primarily known for producing movies with Johnny Depp and Leo DiCaprio, his production company is producing the show. What they decided to do is – I’m up here shooting ten episodes. We’re going to shoot those ten. Instead of doing a pilot and then doing that whole rigmarole, they really wanted to have control. They really wanted to have power over what the show was going to be. So, we’re shooting ten straight episodes and they are going to sell it. As soon as I know, I’ll be shouting it from the treetops, but right now I don’t know where it is going to end up.
You have been in a few police dramas recently. As a viewer, did you have any favorite ones?
I love them all, which I know is super-lame to say, but I was always a huge fan. I get it from my mom. My mom loves all of those shows. My mom was a huge fan of Criminal Minds before I was on the show. She’s much like me: Criminal Minds is about hunting serial killers. I’ll watch pretty much any of those shows, because I like solving crimes.
You also have the movie I, Alex Cross coming up, based on the James Patterson novels. I know it’s sort of a reboot of the series, Morgan Freeman had played the role before and now it is Tyler Perry. What is that going to be like? How is he doing in the role?
I adored working with Tyler. You meet him and you love him. You realize why he is as successful as he is. He’s one of the more sincere, genuine… he’s very quiet, but he’s very intelligent. He’s lovely, just lovely. The same goes for Ed Burns. Ed Burns is just every bit the guy from Long Island that you would expect him to be. And I love [director] Rob Cohen. I’ve been friends with Rob for years. The franchise gets a reboot, but this will change the face of the franchise. Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls are two fantastic movies, and obviously Morgan Freeman is always great. There’s a lot more action in I, Alex Cross. It’s a lot faster paced. There are more guns and car chases and stuff like that. The storyline is still there, obviously, because it’s James Patterson and that is his most famous character. But it is an updated, action-based reboot, with the same heart that his stories usually have.
What kinds of things bring you back to the old days? What makes you nostalgic?
I never appreciated growing up in Maine until I lived in New York, California and Paris and I traveled the world. God, I love to go home. I spend every minute with my family that I possibly can. Maine will always be in my home. It doesn’t matter how old I get or where I live. It can be something as simple as a Yankee Candle. They make a candle called “Christmas Wreath” – that is the scent. It’s only on sale at Christmas. I have them all over my place in LA. When I get homesick, that’s my go-to thing. Anything Christmas brings me home, because it was always such a special time in my household. Also, for years my dad had a 1976 gigantic extended cab Ford truck. If I see anything like that, I will immediately, immediately think of home. It’s funny what brings me back. It can be a smell in the middle of the day in the middle of the street. I don’t know what that was, but it makes me think of home. I’ll immediately call my parents.
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 10, 2012.