Rachel Nicholsí 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
Pattersonís hit novel I, Alex Cross and taking the lead role in a
buzz-worthy upcoming TV series called Continuum from the creator
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 Ė they happen.
Itís just that kind of a place. Thatís 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, ďOh, model? Sure.Ē 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 Ė
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. Iíd saved enough money so I could live in LA
for a year without working. If I didnít work, then I would go back and
either go to graduate school or take that bank job. I stayed. And I
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 Iíve 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 didnít really know what else was out there until I left and
I went to school. But when I left to go to Columbia Ė obviously, going
from Augusta, Maine to Manhattan Ė 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 Ė which I didnít read until I was in college Ė 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. [Iím] 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 Ė 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 wasnít 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 Ė that you have to
take with you no matter where you move?
Even as I sit here in
Vancouver, I have a pillow Ė a real, proper, old school, heavy feather
pillow. The thing weighs like ten pounds, and I have to travel with
it. I canít sleep without it. (laughs) Itís been all over the
world. Itís 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. Iím very good at that, so I donít 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 Ė which is not to say that I donít like living in LA and I
certainly love Vancouver. But there is this thing in New York. If you
havenít been there, people arenít going to know what Iím 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 CityÖ and Iíd just know. There is
a feeling that I have when Iím 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. Iíll never forget
that. At the time, it didnít interest me at all, but I thought it was
fascinating that everybody else was so interested. Thatís 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 Iíd think
there are so many girls that wanted to be Paula Abdul, I should choose
someone that less people wanted to be. Then Iíd 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 Iím in the shower, alone. And sheís right.
Youíve 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 Iím on
set. Right now, Iíve got everything from The ĎBurbs 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 Iím
in the mood to be scared out of my mind. I adore The Exorcist,
but it freaks me out every time. Iíve seen it 25 times. My favorite
movie of all times is Silence of the Lambs, which I know is a
weird favorite movie. Iíll watch anything. Then if I like it, Iíll
watch it over and over and over again. I love childrenís 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?
Itís an out-of-body, other-world kind of feeling.
Iím certainly not celebrating anyone whoís killed a large number of
people Ė 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. Youíre
thinking along the lines of, ďHow could a person be like this?Ē Thatís
what fascinates me, just the idea that I canít relate to them on any
level, but Iím fascinated that they are out there.
What was the first movie you ever saw that
really blew you away?
We didnít have a VCR until I was in the eighth
grade. Everybody else had one. We didnít 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 Ė obviously when you have a day off from make-up?
The Virgin Suicides, even though it doesnít
make me really cry, is an interesting sort of mind game. Itís very
depressing, but itís so beautiful in so many ways that I canít turn
myself away from it. Then, if I watch Stella or Beaches
or anything involving Bette Midler, Iíll lose my mind.
Tell me a bit about Continuum? It sounds
like a fascinating show.
Itís awesome. I read the script and I went: ďIím
in.Ē I love it. Itís great. Basically, the brief summary is Iím a
woman from the future, a future law-enforcement officer, fighting
terrorists from the future in the present day Ė after we all
accidentally go back in time. I love action, obviously, [Iíve 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 itís not just another cop show. Thereís a very big
element for me thatís new. I have a family in the future. I have a son
in the future that Iím trying to get back to. Itís a very emotional
role as well, which I really like. The cast is fantastic. Iím the only
American on the cast.
Any word on when it will be getting a US
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 Ė Iím up here shooting
ten episodes. Weíre 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, weíre shooting ten straight episodes and they are going to
sell it. As soon as I know, Iíll be shouting it from the treetops, but
right now I donít 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. Sheís much like me: Criminal Minds is about
hunting serial killers. Iíll 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 itís 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
I adored working with Tyler. You meet him and you
love him. You realize why he is as successful as he is. Heís one of
the more sincere, genuineÖ heís very quiet, but heís very intelligent.
Heís 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. Iíve 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. Thereís
a lot more action in I, Alex Cross. Itís a lot faster paced.
There are more guns and car chases and stuff like that. The storyline
is still there, obviously, because itís 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 doesnít matter how old I get
or where I live. It can be something as simple as a Yankee Candle.
They make a candle called ďChristmas WreathĒ Ė that is the scent. Itís
only on sale at Christmas. I have them all over my place in LA. When I
get homesick, thatís 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. Itís
funny what brings me back. It can be a smell in the middle of the day
in the middle of the street. I donít know what that was, but it makes
me think of home. Iíll immediately call my parents.