November 16, 2012

Drinkin’ with a Real White Irish Drinker:
An Afternoon With Nick Thurston

Peter Travers, movie critic for Rolling Stone, poignantly writes: “Nick Thurston nails every nuance as Brian Leary.” The character in which, Mr. Thurston plays in John Gray’s 2010 film, “White Irish Drinkers.”

The 24 year-old San Francisco native, already has an impressive resume of credentials for someone his age. Having graduated from the University of Southern California, as well as received training at the American Conservatory Theater. Nick has since gone on to study at The British American Drama Academy in London, England. Many will recognize Nick Thurston from his diverse roles from such shows as: “The Ghost Whisperer” – “Cold Case” – “Reviving Ophelia” – and most recently, NBC’s new hit show, “Grimm”

But with all his recent success, this cool cat hasn’t lost his perspective in the least. Nick was kind enough to invite me over to his apartment for this interview. When I arrived, I was given a welcoming tour of his pad and introduced to his pet Chinchilla, named Hou (yes, named after the film director Hou Hsiao Hsien). In the cramped space of the front patio, both of us rigged the front gate so it would be escape proof, at least for a Chinchilla. With Hou let loose to enjoy the outside air, I helped myself to a nice glass of ice water - it was a hot summer day in the Valley. I was barely halfway through my first sip before Nick said, “Fuck it, you want a beer, lets have a beer.” “Why not,” I responded. So what if it was early afternoon on a Tuesday, it’s not like we had much of anything else going on.

We spent the remainder of the day smoking cigarettes to the butt and drinking until the fridge was emptied of all beer. Nick’s one of the most gracious guy’s I’ve come to know in this isolated town of Los Angeles. So if you’re reading this, and you got a beer in your fridge, go crack it open and come chill with us. Who gives a fuck what time in the day it is.

JM: Tell me, was going into the arts always an aspiration of yours? Did you always have a sense of knowing what you wanted to do with your life?

NICK: No actually, I realized it towards the end of high school. What I wanted to do was be a Marine. I wanted to enlist ever since I was a kid. I had done a lot of artistic stuff. The Bay Area is really friendly to the arts, so I was always surrounded by them. But the Marines is what I wanted to do. I saw a show that kind of just changed my life I guess. I was seventeen. I was in San Francisco and I watched a show that the American Conservatory’s young theater program had put on. And these were kids that were my age. And they did this show where, actually, it was basically just them singing a bunch of James Taylor music. A bunch of very talented musicians and singers. Actually, one of them went on to be in “Godspell” on Broadway and the other was Darren Criss from “Glee.”

But I went and watched that show and I think what affected me about it so much was seeing people that were my peers doing this. That had a much greater affect on me than just seeing random, you know, artists that were much older than me doing it. There was a distance between me and movies and theaters when I would watch it in the city. But than all of a sudden, watching these people who were just like me, who were able to tell a story in that compelling way, that changed my life. I was like, “I have to do that.” So from then on, I knew. I made my whole life about that. I started taking a bunch of acting classes and stuff like that. I went to USC to get my degree in theater.

JM: Now you mentioned, it was seeing your peers on stage that did it for you. Seeing people of your age in film wasn’t enough of a trigger to give you the bug?

NICK: There was just something about it that felt…unreachable… it felt like, there’s that fourth wall you know. You hear people talk about it, and for me that meant there was this invisible impossibility of getting into a movie. Movie stars do that. I don’t do that. I’m a person. And you know it’s hard to… especially growing up. I didn’t have an artistic family, my parents weren’t artists. I didn’t know any real artist that were doing that. I obviously didn’t meet any actors that had been in movies or TV or anything, so it was like, alien. Totally alien to me. It didn’t seem like something you could do. So yeah, even though I had seen performances by young people who were my age and whatnot, it just felt like they were in some different world.

JM: Looking at our current economical state, going into the arts, be it acting, a painter, whatever. That’s a huge gamble for anyone in our day-and-age. Did your parents try to persuade you to follow a different path or different career?

NICK: No…No, and the reason for that, well, my parents really, really did not want me in the military. And for them, seeing this was something I was going into instead of being in the Marines was like, “Okay… We’re gonna push that. And if that’s what he’s passionate about, we’ll go for that.” As opposed to sending him somewhere we really don’t want him to go. So I kinda almost made it easy on myself (laughing).

I’ve never really thought of it this way, but I guess… It’s funny, my parents both have lives were they took a really big risk…and so I guess it made sense. My Dad grew up, basically, kinda a…if he ever hears this I’m sorry…but basically like trailer trash in New Hampshire. And he was not only the first member of his family to go to college. But he went to Yale. He went to Yale for computer science. This is back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. When he graduated he had two choices… One of them was go back and live where he grew up. And basically try and apply himself there. Or a bunch of his friends from Yale were going to California. So he fucking got in a car with those guys and he was like, “Fuck it” and he went to California. He didn’t know anybody, he didn’t know anything, and he took this huge risk. Followed his dream really… I guess… And I was rewarded for it with the life that he’s living now. So I think that also made it more. My family wasn’t these steel workers, ya’ know what I mean. It felt like something one could do I guess. It made sense to my Dad and my Mom, so they did support me. They were very supportive.

JM: And they still are?

NICK: Yeah they still are. Yeah, I mean that’s still who I call when I don’t have anyone else to call and complain too (laughing).

JM: So would you say you’re at a point now where you’re making a steady enough living as an actor? Are you a working actor?

NICK: Yeah I am. I have not had to get a second job yet. I worked since high school and worked all the way through college as well doing other things. But since I’ve graduated, I’ve miraculously been able to keep it together doing this.

JM: That’s great to hear.

NICK: Yeah.

JM: You’re living you’re dream then, more-or-less huh?

NICK: Yeah. Ya’ know it’s…the question to the mechanic is…do I need to fix this right now? When I bring my shitty Honda to Hollywood Auto and the guy is like, “The check engine light has been on for four months.” And I’m like, “Well how bad is this?” So ya’ know…I’m not flushing…I’m still paying off massive student debt, but I’ve been able to pay rent and everything. So I’m extremely grateful for that.

JM: So would you say it’s month-by-month for you, or it’s a bit better than that?

NICK: It’s more like… It’s more like every six months or so ‘cause the way it works is, I’ll get a job and it’ll pay me enough to last me for a while. But it is sometimes so few and far in-between. I’ve gone eight months without working, so you just can’t count on it and as it get’s closer and closer, as the money starts to run out. It’s more like, okay am I gonna need it now try to find something else here. Kinda tighten my belt and not buy anything or go anywhere until something else comes along. It’s not quite month-by-month, but it’s close to that.

JM: In regards to your career right now. If this was it, if things were to remain the way they are right now. And it was never to get any better than this. Would you search for another career? Or would you continue to fight for that big break? That break out role, the dream, whatever you want to call it…

NICK: (long pause) Wow… That’s really…hard... I think I’d do something else. (sad pause) Yeah…

JM: You know what that would be?

NICK: No… I’d think I’d do something else for… (sigh, pause) aw…that’s hard. God that is a really, a really hard question to answer actually. It’s sad to say that, but…

JM: It’s hard to let go of your dreams.

NICK: Yeah… Maybe I would... It’s something I would have never thought about before. But now all of a sudden I’m getting a little bit older, and it’s time to start thinking about, well at some point do I wanna have a family? And if I do, how am I going to support the family if I can’t make due. If I wanna have a kid, well, I can’t have a kid if I’m broke. Kids go to the hospital, it needs money (laughing). Um, but at the same time, it’s like what do you sacrifice, ya’ know, would I be willing to? And this is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past few months even. It’s like well, if it came down to it, would I be willing to, which one of those two things would I be willing to sacrifice? Would I just decide…if I knew this was how it was going to go, would I just decide not have a family. Because it would allow me to have the freedom to keep perusing art.

JM: It’s tough to say right now huh?

NICK: It’s really tough to say. I think if it were to remain… If financially it were to remain the same that’s fine… I don’t need a lot to live on. If artistically it were to remain the same, I think I’d need to get some other job. Because, I can’t keep working on shitty network TV and stuff that has no value. No soul to it. I need that. My hope is it that eventually that will be easier to come by. Sorry, that was a really big roundabout answer to your question.

JM: No, don’t be. Based off what you just said, and many young people are currently at the same cross roads as well. Would you consider yourself to be in an adult, or are you still holding onto adolescence of some kind?

NICK: Well, that’s another tricky question. I think more and more in this past year, I think I’ve become an adult. I don’t think it’s as hard a line though, it can be very difficult and sometimes I still fell like a kid, very much. And other times I feel like I’m absolutely an adult. It actually makes me think of another kind of concept I’ve been thinking about a lot. This idea of “rights of passage” - which we don’t really have anymore, we used to have. Which used to be such a big part of our culture. All cultures. And now we have this amorphous…like, when you’re 18 years old, you’re an adult. Not really… ya’ know what I mean… When you graduate college are you and adult then? When you start paying for your own health insurance, are you an adult at that point? When you are out of student debt, are you an adult? Do you at some point stop calling your parents for advice?

It’s so hard to say. But, what I think it probably comes down to for me is the willingness to accept responsibility for anything I have to deal with and am faced with in my life. And I would say, that at this point, I am wiling to accept responsibility for any of that. And to at least be willing to take any of those challenges without aide. Obviously I’ll take it if it’s there, if I need to… I am willing too (laughs). I don’t fucking know man, sometimes I feel like I’m 13.

JM: You mentioned you have student loans… Did you do them through Sallie Mae and the Government?

NICK: Yeah. And I certainly didn’t have as many as some people do. But it still feels like a bombable number. I set it to automatically deduct from my account and then I just kind of treat it like rent. I try not to think about it, because thinking about it’s not going to do anything about it. But I just keep trying to make payments. If at some point I can no longer do that, well then, that’s a big issue, but right now I just kind of count it as money going out the window. You know. All though, every once in a while I look at how much it is and wonder if it was worth it.

JM: Having graduated from a four-year university and excluding the Conservatory and The British American Drama Academy, which you later attended. Do you believe that having gone to college is your reason for success? Can you speculate, had you not gone, would you be further along in your career, or behind?

NICK: Was it a negative or a positive thing for my career? Ok, I’ll put it this way, I would say at this point in time it’s probably been ultimately a negative thing. In terms of just my career advancement, I would probably be further along had I taken those four years and all that money and just spent them trying to do it here in L.A., without any degree or any training. If I had just come out of high school and said forget giving me two-hundred-thousand dollars and let me take that money and not have to worry about any other job for the next three years, and instead just try and be an actor in L.A. Devote all my time to just that. I would probably be further along for sure, because I would have been doing it since I was eighteen instead of since I was twenty-one, or twenty-two, whatever it was.

But in the long run, I think I’m better off for it. I think my career will have more longevity and I think I will feel like more of an accomplished artist and human being because of those four years I spent training at it. There is no way to replicate the time I spent doing that, I cant go and manufacture four extra years that I didn’t spend at a university to pursue acting. There is no way to recreate that training and you can’t go get that from an acting class, it’s not the same thing. Simple answer, in the long run, I think it will be a positive thing, and it will allow me to be a more generous artist when it comes to what I have to share with people I think.

JM: How did the opportunity to study over in London arise?

NICK: It was all through USC.

JM: So you take that out of the equation, you wouldn’t have been able to attend the program?

NICK: That’s another great point. I never would have had the chance to study overseas, yeah. That was my first time out of the country, period. Since than I’ve done a lot more traveling, but that was the first time I was ever out of the country and it was through USC, so I have them to thank for that too.

JM: You seem to be consistently drawn to playing characters of a sensitive, macho nature. The ‘save me, but don’t come too close’ breed. Why do you think that is? Do you search for these parts?

NICK: I don’t. I don’t look for it actively. I would say, if I were to guess, I probably might come across something like that, at times. It’s kind of a hard question to answer actually, because I need to be objective about it and think about it from the outside. But I don’t look for that, no. I look for anything that interests me and ideally I look for things that challenge me. I think maybe something about that character is accessible to me. Maybe it’s a little easier for me to play that, or maybe it’s a little bit easier for people to believe me as that character, which would make me castable.

JM: If we were to look at your performance in “White Irish Drinkers” or your part in “Grimm” - You know just how to externalize that inner turmoil of a character. That is a very difficult thing many actors strive for, you seem to do it without thinking twice, that is a natural gift.

NICK: Well there are a million things that are really, really hard for me to do that are a lot easier for other people to do. So for example, you’re not going to often see me cast as a general badass guy with a lot of bravado. There are a lot of guys who can play that very well, the kind of shoot first ask questions later kind of a character. I would love to be able to be better at that. I’m just not as good at that. So, maybe you know that is a strength of mine, but I’m not that funny most of the time. I have a lot of trouble accessing comedy. I tend to take things very seriously a lot of the time, probably in a ridiculous way. But those are things I aspire to get better at, stuff like that, that I can’t just naturally look at and go do.

JM: James Dean, Paul Newman, Joaquin Phoenix, Heath Ledger. What makes them so memorable?

NICK: They have a sense of otherness to them, which is why I think people remember them. Because there is something alien about those people, that makes them feel very identifiable, you can identify with them. Everyone can identify with them, but there is a sense of being distant from the rest of humanity. That I think is what makes them so special.

JM: Fifty years from now. What would you hope your legacy (contribution) on the industry to be? How you would like to be remembered…

NICK: I would like to think, oh man... I could already think of what it is, the impact would be, that I would strive for. I would like to have allowed as many people as possible, a window into something, that maybe they wouldn’t have found otherwise. A way to look at the world, or a way to look at a part of their own humanity, a way to feel more a part of everything. I would like to have allowed that for as many people as I possible could, but in terms of a mark on the industry, that’s a really hard question to answer so, I guess you look at people like Meryl Streep.

How many people have been able to watch those performances she’s given and think, oh, ok, I’m a little like that, and I didn’t know anybody else was like that, but she showed me that everybody is like that to a degree. And now I feel like more a part of humanity, I feel a little bit closer to the rest of everybody. But how do you quantify that you know, so I don’t know how I would express that. I’m not a genius, and I don’t think I will ever be looked at as a genius. I think Daniel Day-Lewis is a genius, there are a lot of people who are, but I’m not. But maybe the best I could do, would to be a very hard worker. Somebody like Michael Caine.

JM: Nothing wrong with that.

NICK: No. So I guess that would be it.

JM: Times are tough for a lot of people right now; any advice for those who are currently feeling a million miles from where they want to be?

NICK: Work harder. Take whatever you’re doing and work harder. You can always work harder. For those of you who are lucky enough to have a straight path forward, if you know what you want to do already, if you already have a goal in mind, then you’ve got it easy. You have no excuses, you just have to try and reach that goal. Do everything you can, everyday to reach that goal. If you have to take detours along the way, take them, but you already know where you’re going. Those are the ones of us who are very blessed, to have that direction. A lot of people don’t even have that, so their job needs to be to keep working until they find that. You’re never going to have anybody at the end of the day to blame for not reaching something aside from yourself. You’re the only one that there is. No one is going to come along and just give you your success in life, or your direction forward, those are all things you’re going to have to find. You don’t want to wake up and be halfway through life and only then realize, my god, the only person I was making excuses to was me. Take it for what it is from somebody who lives in a shitty apartment in the Valley, but I’d say yeah, just work, just work harder and find a way to believe in yourself. That can be the hardest thing, but you have to find a way to believe in yourself. Even if no body else believes in you, that doesn’t really matter provided you cant find a way to do it on your own.

JM: What are you currently up too? What are you excited about?

NICK: This movie, “Not for Human Consumption,” it should be going to festivals soon. A short film called, “The Colony,” which is a period piece about an American deserter in 1919, who heads from the east coast to the west coast in search of his grandfathers gold claim. Those are the two things I’m most excited about, and John-Michael Damato’s book, excited as fuck to read that. Cheers to “The Lean Years”

JM: Nick, I appreciate your time, thank you.

NICK: Absolutely.

Nick Thurston will also be appearing in an episode of “Castle” this upcoming season. Date yet to be announced.


  • Guest

    Awesome interview! Insightful and honest. Need more like this.

  • Guest

    Terrific interview for many of the collegiate actors to see the bridge between traditional schooling and "the next step" to a career. And for the rest of us, a look back at where our career choices may or may not have been good. Luck is always the largest part of the equation.

  • Guest

    It’s hard to let go of your dreams... yes it is... :/ I like how he's not giving up though. Good motivation for the rest of us.

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