10 THINGS with Nick Clifford
When did you decide that acting was the path you wanted in life and what was your defining moment to do so?
Ever since high school theater, I’d known that acting was something I was really passionate about. I went to Brown, in part, to have access to their incredible theater program, even though I ended up mostly studying Financial Economics. My time at school was mainly split between applied math classes on financial markets during the day and stage productions and student television, at night. It was an incredible time, but acting had always felt like this fun hobby that I had to make time for, in my “real life”. If I had to pick one defining moment for when that thinking shifted for me and I started to think of acting as a life path, I would say that it was a small, four-person production of This Is Our Youth, by Kenneth Lonergan. It was a project that a few close friends and I put on in Brown’s Production Workshop, which was the student-run theater space. We produced the entire play by ourselves. We would stay up, sometimes until sunrise, rehearsing the play and exploring the depths of the characters. I’d never worked so hard on something in my life, and the experience of performing the play was exhilarating – unlike anything I’d ever experienced. From that moment on, I was hooked.
What was your first big acting role and how did you react when you went through the process and finally got on set?
The second time I tested for a television show, it was for the lead in a Disney Channel pilot. My close friends often tease me about how animated I am when I’m making people laugh, but that quality I think, is what made me perfect for the lead role. The broad comedy of Disney shows mixed with designer suits and martial arts fight scenes, seemed like the perfect blend of everything I wanted to do. I remember the moment I knew I’d booked the show. It was the third time they brought me back during the test, and as Julie Ashton, the casting director, is bringing me back to the network executives she says, “They want you to do it in a British Accent. You can do that, right?” I looked at her and said the only thing you can say in that situation, “Of course!” I walked into the room and did the whole audition in the most stereotypical BBC-British accent you can imagine. I cringed through the opening lines, praying it would just end quickly, but they erupted in laughter and I knew from then on, the role was mine. The experience of being on the set of a show you are starring in, is unlike anything else. I was so busy – constantly being asked to do a thousand different things, and on top of the schedule, I was the oldest person in the cast, so I had a responsibility to the kids on set to be a leader. It was a lot to handle at once, but I felt myself rise to the challenge and by the end of it, I knew I wanted to be doing this for a living.
Which actors work have influenced your career thus far and which ones would you love the opportunity to work with, if given the chance?
I admire the actors who find a way to balance their careers between passion projects and commercially-driven roles. I think that working within the confines of an industry like ours means, that sometimes you work for them and sometimes you work for yourself, and I sincerely look up to those actors that tow that line so well. The big names might be actors like Ryan Gosling, Jake Gyllenhaal and Christian Bale, but it’s the actors who are still working to make a name for themselves that I watch closely to learn from. I had the chance to spend time with the cast of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, and Scoot McNairy and Lee Pace are great examples of what I admire most in actors. A chance to work with some of Hollywood’s greats right now, would be an absolute dream. But, I’m sure one that I’ll have to work at for years, before I get the chance. I’m excited for those years of work, though. To me, admiring and learning from others and building your craft continuously over time is the real joy of being an actor – your work is never really done.
Let’s talk about the mini-series, Farmed and Dangerous. How did this opportunity come about and what made you decide to jump on board?
My manager sent the script of the pilot my way and I was really intrigued. I’m not sure I even fully understood the true scope of the project until I came on-board, but the auditions were held in the architectural behemoth headquarters of Ogilvy & Mather, so I immediately knew it was serious. In the audition room, the creative team, Tim Piper and Daniel Rosenberg, and I just clicked. They are incredible guys with amazing vision and a ton of potential. They are definitely going to change the way our industry interacts with the advertising world. Farmed & Dangerous was a bold new step and I’m really excited to see what happens next.
On this series, you played the role of Zach Mitcherson. What did you enjoy about bringing Zach’s character to life and what did you learn from being a part of this mini-series?
At the core of Zach’s character, is his ambition – it’s the driving force behind everything he does, and I found it natural to relate to him in that way. It’s easy to fall into the trap of playing him as a purely bad guy. I wanted to find his humanity and see the world from his point of view. I dove headfirst into his narcissism and megalomania, and loved every minute of it. Originally, Zach was supposed to be a much smaller character, but Tim and Daniel loved what I was doing so much, that they expanded his role from the pilot and turned him into the real villain driving the story. It was an exciting collaboration, especially with pros like Ray Wise, who played Buck Marshall, and Eric Pierpoint, who played my dad. We shot the whole series entirely on location around LA and got to see some pretty incredible places. My favorite shoot was the “dream sequence” in episode four. At one point, Karynn Moore and I were in an all-white room, I was wearing an all-white tuxedo, and there’s this black “tar” substance that is oozed out of our mouths as we spoke in gibberish while filming in slow-motion – it was straight out of a Kubrick film.
You’re now on VH1’s scripted series, Hindsight, which kind of puts your character as the third wheel in a relationship with your girlfriend and her best friend. What can you tell us about the direction of the show for the fans?
I think fans will be surprised with how real and intense the first season of Hindsight gets. It sucks you in with fun clothes and throw-back music and quirky characters. But, at the heart of the show, are real people, who are struggling with big questions. Ultimately, I think the show is really about the consequences of making decisions. In the beginning, Becca doesn’t worry about changing the decisions she made previously, because she knows they didn’t work out well, the first time. But, as the show goes on, and she makes more and more changes to her previous life, it starts to become unrecognizable from the first time around. At some point, I think Becca starts to realize that even though she can remember a future, she’s changed so much, that she’s no longer in control. There are so many twists and so much happens in each episode. The whole first season feels like a 10-hour film.
On Hindsight, you play the role of Andy. What are his good and bad sides and what do you enjoy about playing him the most?
What I love most about Andy, is just how well I know him. He is, in many ways, my alter ego. I see so much of myself in him, that sometimes it’s spooky. I think his good side makes him honest, open and vulnerable, and his bad side makes him both indecisive and impulsive. When we first meet Andy in 1995 he thinks he’s fulfilled – he’s got a great girlfriend, Melanie, and a steady job, etc. And then, Becca kisses him and everything changes. The fantasy that he never let himself believe could come true, suddenly does. My favorite part about playing him, is living in that fugue state, between the life he knows he should be leading and the life he has fantasized about since he was a child. He’s such a troubling mix of self-doubt and rash decisions. Playing him lets me exercise many of my own personal demons, but it’s always a relief when I don’t have to actually live as Andy.
As the season gets closer to the end, what can fans expect to see from your character and the rest of the cast?
I think fans will be surprised by how much Andy grows in this first season. He starts to really take control of his life – though perhaps, not in the ways we want him to. I think by the end of this season, fans will be really conflicted, and that’s where we want to leave them. Emily Fox has done an amazing job of creating the world these characters live in and giving them life. I was really lucky to get to work with such incredibly talented actors and each one brought his or her own personal touch to the character. By the end of the first season, I think people will feel like they really know these characters and want to see them continue to grow.
If you weren’t an actor, what other career path would you choose?
What I love about acting is, that it is as much a craft, as it is an art. I feel the same way about cooking. The technique and science behind it, is essential. But, what truly elevates it is, that artistic vision that comes through the food. I’ve been cooking since I was a kid and have always seen it as a second passion of mine. Laura, who plays Becca on Hindsight, and I always joked that we would open up a restaurant together some day. I think I would enjoy every aspect of it. My financial background would help the organization of the business. I’m a very visual person – my mother is an incredible artist and raised me in museums around the world – so building a menu and designing beautiful dishes would really feed my soul. Plus, I just love being in the kitchen – the chaos, the intensity, the bonds that develop there, it’s so much like being on set. But more than anything, I want a profession that crafts an experience for people that they will remember. Some of the best meals I’ve had in my life, live on in my mind, in just the same way that a great performance does. And, if I wasn’t playing a character on screen, I’d want to be cooking food with character.
We look forward to seeing how things turn out on Hindsight. What other projects do you have coming up in the near future?
Right now I’m balancing my time between building the fan-base of Hindsight and hunting for film projects that will push me as an actor. I’m incredibly happy to be in the position that I am and to have had the experiences I’ve had, and I can’t wait for what comes next.
Photo Credits: The Riker Brothers