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Wizard World Austin 2017: Interview with actor Thomas Ian Nicholas

If you were a kid growing up in the ’90s and not living under a rock, then you would have seen Thomas Ian Nicholas in the classic films “Rookie of the Year” and “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court.” I remember watching these films a lot growing up so it was definitely exciting to chat with Nicholas about these films and current films he’s in. He’s had a career spanning 30 years!  Nicholas has been able to avoid the dreaded child actor curse and have a successful career playing many different characters including portraying Walt Disney, Frank Sinatra and now young Martin “Marty” Scorcese in the upcoming James Franco directed film, “Zeroville.” Oh, and he also has a band “The Thomas Ian Nicholas Band.” Read the full interview below!

Paloma Baeza and Thomas Ian Nicholas in “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court” | Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

You started acting really young. Can you talk about getting into acting at such a young age?

I got my first introduction because my mom was casting atmosphere for low-budget indie films back in 1986 and I basically helped her out of a jam. She got a call on a Sunday night and they needed an altar boy the next morning. She woke me up before I went to school and said you’re coming to work with mom and that was how I got my introduction of what a set was like and what it was essentially like to act. I loved it. I basically hounded my mom to do it again. She brought me on another set and I hounded her some more. It was one of those things where my mom kind of asked me every two weeks ‘Are you sure you still want to do this’ and it was always MY choice, as odd as that sounds coming from a choice of a six-year-old.

How were you able to transition from child actor to adult actor without the many pitfalls that other child actors have experienced?

When I was kid going to auditions, we didn’t have cellphones or pagers. I didn’t get a text from my mom that I had an audition. I’d be like playing with my friends on the school yard and if there was an audition that day my mom would pull up and pick me up. And some days she’d see my shoulders slump, ‘like ahh’ because as a kid you want to play with your friends. On those days she’d make it my decision and sometimes I just didn’t go, and stayed and played with my friends. Inevitably I ended up having arguments with my friends and getting my feelings hurt and I started opting more for the auditions because it was easier to hear no from a job than it was to get in a disagreement with my friends.

My mom is also a very grounded individual and there was never a different treatment depending on my success. There’s another sort of moment in this that was the deciding factor as to whether or not I was going to be a nice guy or a jerk. When you’re doing a promotion for a film you get treated like royalty by the studio and they give you anything you want. They want you to be happy while you’re doing all the publicity.  You have two choices in that moment. You can either say ‘hey, this is messed up I’m important and I deserve to be treated like this always’ or you can kind of say ‘oh, wow that’s really weird, now it’s back to reality.’ That’s the choice that I made and my mom guided me through. On my next films I didn’t even hire a publicist because I was like ‘I just want to work’ I don’t want to play the publicity game because it’s fleeting. That’s probably one of the main reasons why I haven’t been typecast because I didn’t go out of my way in my youth to promote just one idea of who I am. I’ve got these other films that I’ve produced that are coming out where I’m playing a much more serious role. I think people are not having a hard time seeing me that way. It’s not like you see it and you go ‘Oh, there’s that guy. How can I watch this film and take it seriously?’

Can you talk about how you got started in music?

When I was fourteen I started playing music, started playing guitar pretty much around the grunge days. It was right after Kurt Cobain died and there was a friend of mine in junior high school that did, like, a week of silence. He was such a big Nirvana fan and I was like that’s so crazy that this kid who really didn’t put any effort in school put effort into a week of silence, but it was important to him. It kind of caught my mind and like I looked at music a different way. All of a sudden this guitar that had been sitting in my mom’s apartment I noticed for the first time and so I started playing. I loved it because it was a way for me to express myself. I pride myself in my character work and playing different types of characters and I’m very good at not being myself. Music is a chance for me to be myself.

I’ve been an advocate for bringing music back into the public school system and I’ve worked with a couple of different organizations: one that kind of band aids the issue and another one that lobbies Congress. I think that creative expression is such an important part of our existence for everyone, no matter if you’re making a career out of it. I’m one of the lucky people that gets to call it my job and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been acting for three decades so I’ve dedicated my life to entertaining others. I think that creative outlet is so important for everyone, no matter what you’re doing with it. Just for the sake of creativity itself. That creative outlet is so key in expressing how your existence makes you feel.

I’m actually going to be playing an off-site show while I’m there for Wizard World at the Highball on Saturday night at 8 PM. There’s a band that’s going on at 10 PM but I’m thinking I’m opening up for a ’90s cover band. I have some friends who live in Austin and I was like, ‘I want to play a gig while I’m there.’ I was like, ‘I can’t go to Austin and not play a show!’

You have two films in the horror genre, “Living Among Us” and “The Lost Tree,” and serve as a producer and actor. Can you talk about that experience?

Thomas Ian Nicholas in “The Lost Tree” | Photo credit: Red Compass Media

I have a new film “Living Among Us,” which is a vampire movie that I produced and starred in that got picked up with Vision in association with Sony. That comes out in theaters on February 2. “The Lost Tree” was probably more of a drama that develops into a thriller and it kind of ends up being a horror so it’s a much slower paced, more like thoughtful movie. “Living Among Us” is straight up horror and gore and kind of fun and fast-paced. What I really love about doing these projects is it’s a different genre for me, because prior to this I’ve only done “Halloween: Resurrection,” which was back in 2002. I really enjoy the challenge of splitting my brain in two as a producer. It makes set life more exciting for me because as an actor you kind of have what I consider to be the easy job. You have a lot of downtime to go and do your job while they are setting up the shot. As a producer you sort of work in all those interim parts so I just love being busier on a set. It literally fills up all the downtime. I used to fill up the downtime with hanging out in my trailer and writing music which is why I inevitably started a band. On the films where I’m producing as well as starring in them I definitely don’t have time to write music in my trailer.

Can you talk about the upcoming film, “Zeroville” that is directed by James Franco? What was it like working with Franco and the cast in this film?

“Zeroville” marks my fourth time portraying a real person. Martin Scorcese is who I portray. It was one of those things where I got the opportunity and a couple of days later I was doing it. James knows Marty pretty well so we put some inside stuff in there because it’s a period piece. I kind of look like Marty from maybe 10 years later than we’re actually shooting it because I got the full beard and everything that he’s kind of known for. It’s set in the ’60s; he didn’t have a beard yet, so a little creative license as we say. We referenced his favorite NYU teacher and James was like, ‘you have to mention this guy,’ like when we’re doing the scene, because a lot of it was ad-libbed. He’s like, ‘Marty will just flip out because no one knows that.’

You’ve been on the Wizard World tour this year. What’s the experience been like meeting fans and visiting different cities?

I’ve been doing a whirlwind comic con tour since May. I started at Wizard World in Philadelphia and it’s been really fun. The main reason why I wanted to do it was to promote the book “Handbook for Mortals” that came out in the summer and wanted to introduce before the film so that’s been great. Fantasy is right up the alley of comic con fans and obviously I’ve been talking about other projects that are hitting theaters soon. I am one of those lucky people that get to entertain folks and call it my job and then through the comic con circuit I get to meet people that enjoy my work. It’s like, who needs a therapy session when you can just do a Wizard World comic con. If you’re feeling down as an actor just go to comic cons. Or the other way around too because it’s completely my goal to return the favor. If someone’s going to come up and tell me they loved my work, like I’m going to spend time making sure that they walk away from the moment and conversation with a smile on their face. It’s like a big group therapy session for entertainers and fans. Don’t be surprised if you see me dressed as Henry Rowengartner (“Rookie of the Year”) in a light saber battle somewhere on the convention floor or if someone’s like can you put on the jersey and the hat for this photo with me. I’m like, ‘yeah let’s do it!’ It’s all about just having a good time.

You can  meet Thomas Ian Nicholas at Wizard World Austin on November 17 – 20 at the Austin Convention Center. To get the full Wizard World Austin schedule click here

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