Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
December 10, 2007.
It takes a rather special person to run CTU – the fictional super-secret
counter-terrorism agency that is the focus of the popular
Kiefer Sutherland adventure series
Which brings us to Marisol Nichols, the actress and philanthropist
season six of the show as Nadia Yassir, the beautiful and competent agent
who took over the organization when the former head had to retire due to
The role was yet
another step forward in the career of Nichols.
She has been working in films
and television for over a decade. It was also one of the most intense jobs
she has taken so far. She spent the entire year living out one single day.
Of course, a CTU day isn’t like a normal day for the rest of us. There are
nuclear detonations, kidnappings, firefights, hostage situations, torture,
car crashes, assassination attempts and the threat of World War III.
For several months, as
Nadia, Nichols had to try to keep it all under control without ever once
cracking under the pressure. Perhaps the weirdest part of the whole thing
is she spent the entire time wearing the same outfit.
“Oh, my God, I learned that lesson,” Nichols chuckles. “I didn’t think
[about that] when I first got [the role].”
However, being boss had its good points, Nichols assures us.
did have one downside, though. Since Nadia was trying to run the whole out-of-control
situation, she never got out of the walls of the agency. So as much fun as
it was portraying a strong, conflicted, over-her-head career woman, she did
not get into as much of the action as she would have liked.
“Everybody wants to get out of CTU Headquarters,” Nichols says. “All I
wanted to do was get out of CTU and go fight bad guys. Fortunately, Kiefer
gave me that great scene where I got to take out the bad
guys with him in CTU. And I think that the next best thing to getting out
of CTU would be running CTU.”
It was a role that Nichols was able to pull off in stride. The actress has
had a bit of an odd career dichotomy. On television this was just the
latest of extremely dramatic roles she has played. She had starring roles
on the respected-but-short lived dramas Resurrection Road and
Blind Justice. She was saddened that the shows didn’t last longer,
however Nichols is philosophical about it.
“It always is
[disappointing], I think. I guess it’s sort of like dating,” Nichols
laughs. “You find one that fits and that’s the one that you stay with. I
kind of learned not to be heartbroken over series getting cancelled –
because there is always another one around the corner that is great and that
I will fall in love with. I’m like, okay, then I’ll go do this. Otherwise
I think I would have quit this business a long time ago.”
Other dramatic TV roles have included a middle-eastern princess who gives up
her life to move to the US with her lover in the acclaimed TV movie The
Princess and the Marine. She also played the mentally-ill and suicidal
ex-lover of Danny Pino’s character in the first season of the popular series
“I played an old best friend-slash-fiancée love of Danny Pino’s life,”
Nichols says. “She had schizophrenia. She was in and out of hospitals.
Finally he had to sort of let her go. It was heartbreaking.”
However in the many films that Nichols has done, she has always worked on
much more broad comic films – including portraying the final Audrey Griswold in
the Vacation series (Vegas Vacation) and playing love
interests in Delta Farce and Big Momma’s House II.
Nichols has no idea why her career has worked out this way, either. While
she loves comedy, she wants to be taken seriously as an actress – on the big
screen as well as on television.
“It’s just happened that way,” Nichols explains. “I finally just finished a
drama that’s a movie. I’m going; thank God! Because I kind of want to do
the work in television dramatically, but in film as well, so to transfer
over there was really good.”
That dramatic film is Felon. “Well, it’s a great, great film. The
best script I’ve read in several years. It’s by Sony. It stars me, Stephen
Dorff, Val Kilmer and Sam Shepard. Anne Archer plays my mother. It’s a
hell of a cast. Also Harold Perrineau from Lost.
“It’s extremely dramatic,” Nichols continues enthusiastically. “It’s
basically about… my fiancée is Stephen, who in order to defend his family
from an intruder kills the guy – by accident. In California, that’s an
automatic murder charge. Automatic million-dollar bail. He gets thrown in
jail and it basically shows what prison life does to someone going in – and
also me on the outside. It shows how it affects both sides of the family.
And it exposes… if you remember several years ago, 60 Minutes and
20/20 did a full expose on Corcoran Prison [in California] and how the
guards were placing bets – having prisoners fight each other. It’s loosely
based on that corruption that was going on in Corcoran Prison at the time.”
However, she still has a soft spot for 24. At the time of the
interview, the show is not in production due to the on-going Writer’s Guild
Strike, and Nichols is still in limbo – not sure whether or not Nadia will
be coming back to CTU.
She is not in the episodes that were filmed for season seven before the
break, but the series has a long history of bringing characters in and out
of the storyline throughout the season.
“I think they’ve gotten about ten episodes done,” Nichols says. “They sort
of restructured the whole show. With the writer’s strike, it’s sort of on
hold. So, who knows, I could get a call saying, ‘Yes, please come back.’
Or not. I don’t know.”
It would be a shame if she doesn't return, because after a harrowing start she grew to
love the experience of filming 24.
“You know, I would think that they – [director] Jon Cassar and probably a
few others – would be like: ‘Oh, she fit in right away.’ Inside I’m
going: Am I doing all right? Are you going to tell me off? Is this okay?
Is this how I should do this? You know, I’m still trying to figure out how
to do it. It took me a couple of months to get totally
However, once she did get comfortable, she grew to cherish the fast-paced
and varied rhythms of the series.
“It was something that had gigantic turns for me,” Nichols says, “but I
loved it. I loved the challenge. I love the show. I love the people I
work with. It’s one of the best filming experiences I’ve had. It was just
great… I think the most challenging thing was the fact that it [all
happened in] 24 hours. I had never done that before.”
Another thing that made it more comfortable – and in some ways more
uncomfortable – was the fact that many of Nichols most dramatic scenes were
played against Eric Balfour, formerly of Six Feet Under.
“Oh, he’s awesome,” Nichols says. “I’ve been friends with Eric for about
ten years. So to work together was great. The only thing that was funny
was the kissing scene. I’m like; I can’t kiss you. It’s weird. Okay, all
right. All right, come on.” She laughs. “It was very funny. He’s great.
He’s an awesome guy to work with. He’s real nice and very fun.”
Her character of Nadia – much like the character she played in The
Princess and the Marine years before – was of Middle-Eastern descent.
Nichols is not, however she doesn’t feel like she’s being typecast, nor did
she feel uncomfortable playing the role at all. She’s open for any sort of
role and while she isn’t necessarily looking for this ethnicity, she will be
happy to take roles if they work for her.
“It’s only the second one, because Princess and the Marine was the
first one,” Nichols says. “Unless I’m forgetting, which could be possible.
That does happen with me. But, basically, it doesn’t surprise me. I’m
half-Mexican. I’m Hungarian and Romanian. I’m a mix of ethnicities. So I
can go back and forth in a lot of different characters.”
Beyond her acting career, Nichols has also been very active in social and
political issues. She is grateful for the higher profile her acting career
affords her because it gives her an opportunity to promote causes that she
feels are special.
“I’ve been doing that for about the last ten years,” Nichols says. “It
really makes me happy that being on shows or films that are liked and
watched sort of opens the door to talk about things that I think are very
important. You can really make a difference. I feel really grateful to
do 24 for that. I recently went to Washington DC with one of my
organizations – CCHR [The Citizen’s Commission for Human Rights] – and I got
to meet anybody I wanted to. It just opened the doors to so many senators
and representatives that I could meet with. As a result, it helped getting
a bill passed. Those doors wouldn’t have been open if it wasn’t for being
on 24 last year.”
Another cause near and dear to Nichols’ heart – and very personal to her –
is helping people with alcohol and drug abuse. When she was younger,
Nichols had substance-abuse problems herself. Therefore, it is vital to her to get
the word out to people who are caught in places that she had escaped – that
the addictions can be beaten.
“I tell people all the time that you can get past that – without using
drugs,” Nichols says. “The problem with most – and this is my opinion – but
the problem with most of these quote-unquote drug rehabilitation places is:
great, now you’ve thrown them into therapy. Now all their problems are
right in their face. Giving them no solutions. Telling them they are going
to have a problem for the rest of their lives. Your choice is: be
miserable or you can do these psych drugs now. That’s not your choices.
“There is a great place called Narcanon that gets people off drugs without
the use of drugs – with just vitamins and minerals. Their success rate is
through the roof. There are obviously great, great solutions. I’ve been
drug-free and alcohol-free for a very long time. My life has been
spectacularly better – without going to therapy or substitute drugs or any
of that. From coping, you know what I mean? Those aren’t your only
choice that Nichols no longer buys into is the whole glamorous Hollywood
party lifestyle. Been there, done that. Nowadays, her life is much more
settled, if – as she acknowledges – a little more tame. She now enjoys
working, helping her causes and being with friends.
“I’m a total geek,” she acknowledges, good-naturedly. “I’m a complete
geek. I’m a sci-fi freak. I love science fiction. I read all the time. I
don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I’m a geek. And I’m goofy. Goofy as hell.”
This legacy of being able to help people is as important to Nichols as her
legacy as an actress, where Nichols hopes she will be remembered as “a true
character actress, who was extremely successful in her career and kept her
integrity the whole time – because you can do that.”
Mostly, though, Nichols just hopes though, that people will chase their
dreams. There is an insidious belief out there that it is nearly impossible
to make it in the arts. Nichols thinks many people get frustrated or
frightened of the idea of following their muse. In fact she is living proof
that the opposite is true. You can make a living in the arts.
“There’s this whole thing about it [being] really, really hard,” Nichols
says. “It’s really difficult. I think it takes a lot of people away from
actually trying to fulfill certain things. I think it’s like any other
business, if you work really hard and you dedicate yourself and you try to
keep your life clean – it’ll work out. I think there’s a lot of
people that wanted to be out there – musicians or artists – that
didn’t and were turned away by that sort of false thinking that was put out. That it was impossible. It’s not. Not if you really dedicate
yourself and you really work hard. I think you can do anything.”
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