Nick Damici has spent the past few years turning the heads of fans and critics alike with powerful roles in films like ‘Mulberry Street,’ ‘Stake Land’ and ‘We Are What We Are.’ He has even impacted the world of film through screenwriting; teaming with Jim Mickle and Joe Lansdale for the critically acclaimed flick, ‘Cold In July.’ His latest project is no less impressive and as he breathes life into a character in a way few others do. Teaming with director Adrian Garcîa Bogliano for ‘Late Phases,’ he has easily cemented his status as one of the most impressive actors working in the horror industry today (or any other genre for that matter) and adds new dimension to this awesome tale of werewolf terror!
‘Late Phases’ focuses in on the town of Crescent Bay. It is not the ideal place to spend one’s golden years, especially since the once-idyllic retirement community has been beset by a series of deadly animal attacks from the ominous forest surrounding it. When grizzled war veteran Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici) is forced into moving there by his yuppie son Will (Ethan Embry), the residents immediately take offense to Ambrose’s abrasive personality. But that take-no-prisoners attitude may be just what Ambrose needs to survive as it becomes clear that the attacks are being caused by creatures that are neither animal nor man, and that the tight-knit community of Crescent Bay is hiding something truly sinister in its midst…
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Nick Damaci to discuss his career in the entertainment industry, the process of bringing his latest character to life, his standout role in ‘Late Phases,’ his love for the horror genre and much more!
What inspired you to become an actor early on in life?
I was very young when I fell in love with movies. My father was a bartender on the West Side and, in the summertime, he would take my brother and I to work with him a lot. He worked nights and we ran the kitchen. It was a real working man’s bar. Late in the morning, we would lock up the bar and pull out the cots to go to sleep. The TV was above the bar on a phone box. We would watch the late late shows and the old movies. I just fell in love with them and thought, “Man, I would love to do that!” I knew when I was very young that it was something I wanted to do, become an actor.
Who were some of actors who impacted you?
From that era, the old school era, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Edward G. Robinson, Jimmy Cagney, all of them! You name it! Later on in the ‘70s, it was young Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson. It was the second golden age of Hollywood, you could say. That era really instilled something in me and reaffirmed that acting was something I wanted to do.
Your latest project is “Late Phases.” What was it about this project that made you interested in pursuing the role?
Number one, it was a paying job! [laughs] That is always good for an actor! [laughs] I’m just kidding! Greg Newman had sent me the script a year to a year-and-a-half before it actually happened. He asked me if I was interested. I read the script and I thought it was terrific. I thought the setup was terrific and the character would be a stretch for me, which is something all actors love. The fact that he was older was a concern. I thought about it and said, “There are ways of working around it and we can do it.” We did it!
What type of preparation goes into not only this role but any role you take on? Do you have a particular process of bringing a character to life?
It really depends on the role. Honestly, I don’t think acting is rocket science. It is a job just like being a garbage man, a plumber or a carpenter. Ninety percent of acting is yourself. It is what people really see. It is the small nuances that make it a character that is not you. A lot of that has to do with the script and the actions of the character that affects how the audience perceives it. If it calls for changing my voice, I do the best I can with that. If it doesn’t, then I don’t bother. I saw this kind of that way. It is mostly me but projecting that I am 20 years older. I had his history, which isn’t my history but that is what acting is. It’s like being a little kid where you just pretend. You hope people believe it! [laughs]
Well, I have to say you really brought something special to this character. It brought to mind my father who is of that generation with a similar background.
That is very sweet to here. I think that was part of the thing that brought me to the character, the fact that someone was pulling that kind of guy from the greatest generation out of thin air and making a hero out of him. We haven’t done that in a while and I thought it was interesting.
One of the biggest things you had to contend with in this role was the fact that the character is blind. What goes into playing a blind character?
You know, I had no idea going in the difficulty. All actors want to play a blind character at some point, if they can, because it is really fun and impressive, from Audrey Hepburn in “Wait Until Dark” on up. I did the typical actor way where I did my method thing and blindfolded myself. I said, “OK. I will do four hours this morning where I won’t be able to see. This will teach me how to be blind.” After lighting my nose on fire instead of my cigarette, spilling coffee on myself a few times and breaking several dishes trying to wash them, I said, “This ain’t working!” I realized it wasn’t about me knowing what it is to be blind because I will never know what it is to be blind unless I go blind. I realized it was about how do I appear blind? So, I approached it from a different level. I started watching videos of blind people and realized there are two types. There are people who go blind and people who are born blind. People who are born blind can’t control their eyes because they haven’t developed the muscles because they have never seen. People who had sight and lost it have developed their eye muscles. There is a different look. People who are born blind, their eyes tend to roll around a little bit and it is disconcerting. It is why they wear sunglasses, not because they are ashamed but because they know their eyes are disconcerting to people. The other people have that blank stare like Pacino had in “Scent of a Woman.” That is just a technical thing that I had to learn. I can’t focus on anything and I can’t move my eyes. You have to do this kind of peripheral thing where you just focus on the whole picture instead of just the center of the picture. When I showed the director, Adrian Garcia Bogliano, we did a few tests. It looked really good. It was just a matter of me trusting them to tell me when it didn’t work. Sometimes the lights would catch my eyes and they would move, which they are going to do. They did a very good job of catching all that and I think it worked.
“Late Phases” has a great cast of characters who are portrayed by some terrific actors. What was it like working with these different generations of actors?
It was just wonderful. I was just tickled pink to be working with all of these people, I mean, Ginger from “Gilligan’s Island!” [laugh] Lance Guest and Ethan Embry were great. It was completely generational and very, very interesting. It was funny. I was at the IFC premiere the other night and none of the cast had ever seen me without the makeup! [laughs] It was like they just knew me as this old guy! They were all like, “Holy shit! You are a young guy!” [laughs] I said, “I don’t know if I am that young but I am younger than you!” [laughs] It was really funny! The entire cast was really terrific and very easy to work with.
You mentioned Adrian Garcia Bogliano. What does he bring to the table as a director for a project like this?
Adrian is a sweetheart of a guy, ya know what I mean? That is number one with me. I like liking people. He was very easy to get along with and very collaborative. He has a lot of good ideas and he knows what he wants, which I love, but he is willing to listen to people. He will argue with you until you are blue in the face. We had some arguments about stuff in the script, the character and how it should be played. He actually enjoys that process. I am very passionate about what I do and I defend my character to the bitter end. If I don’t think it’s right, I don’t think it’s right. You have to convince me. We banged heads a few times but in a good way, not a bad way. He loved it when we got into these heated discussions. In the middle, he would stop and say, “This is why I make movies! I love this! It is passion!” I’d say, “It’s not passion! We are making a fucking movie here!” [laughs]
Over the past few years, you became closely associated with the horror genre. It has certainly given you a lot of opportunities to have an impact on audiences. What has been the most rewarding part of these films?
It is a very accessible genre and horror movies are much easier to get made than anything else at this point, unless you are a big Hollywood company. In the independent world and on smaller movies, you don’t need the big stars. People love horror movies. For me, I look at them as character pieces and the horror is just there. It is a chance to actually act more often. I love the idea that I have found some kind of a niche in the horror world because while it’s not a guarantee but it is better chance of getting work.
You have been definitely hitting the ball out of the park with stuff like “Stake Land” and “We Are What We Are.”
Thank you. That is what I want to do. I mean, if I was the next Vincent Price, I’d be the happiest guy in the world! [laughs]
Is there another genre or specific role you are eager to tackle in the short term?
I like period pieces. I would love to do a western or pioneer piece, one of those sort of things. I love to stretch as an actor. I love to do a medieval piece, I really like that world. I like changing the world and I am not a big fan of the contemporary world that we live in. I think it is kind of mundane, boring and over-technicalized. It doesn’t interest me that much and contemporary stories don’t interest me that much. It has been overdone at this point.
Looking back on your career, what is your biggest evolution as an actor?
I don’t know. I don’t know if I have evolved. I think I have gotten better. I have done film which was important. I think you are either a good actor or you aren’t. You learn more along the way. Like I said, acting isn’t rocket science. It’s like being a little kid and having the ability to say, “I’m playing here. I am just playing like this is what it is.” I think if you are willing to do that it can take you places. It’s a lot of fun, I have to be honest. For me, the most fun I ever have is when I am acting. I am not prejudice about it. I don’t think it is any special talent and we certainly aren’t brain surgeons. We are fucking actors! It’s entertainment. Not that it is a small thing but it is just a thing. For me, it is just fun. It is all about learning. Every time I go out there I try and start fresh. Otherwise, you become a parody of what you’re doing, which is something that happens to a lot of actors. That is kind of sad in a way. They start doing the same thing all the time, even if it is a great thing, you feel like you have seen it before. I just want to keep it as fresh as possible.
You also had considerable success as a screenwriter. What do you have cooking in regards to that aspect of your career?
I have a lot of sticks in the fire. The latest thing is working on a TV series for the Sundance Channel with Jim Mickle. It is based on Joe Lansdale’s series of books, the “Hap and Leonard” novels. If anyone knows Joe Lansdale, they will obviously know those books. Joe wrote “Cold In July,” which we did last year. That worked out and they greenlit the project and that is what I am working on right now. It will probably have me tied up for a little while. That is a nice little paying job.
What has been the biggest challenge of the project so far? Any obstacles that jump out at you there?
Television is a completely different beast and not one I am familiar with. I never went to college. I never went to school for much. I took a few acting classes here and there and I kind of learn as I go. That has just been my way, even in writing. This is kind of a new process where there are a lot of people involved. Normally, it is just me at 4 o’clock in the morning banging away on my computer, then giving it to Jim. He gives me some notes and I bang it out some more. This is kind of interesting. It is a little disconcerting but it is good! It is good to be challenged and to do something different. Outlines, you have to know what you are going to do before you’re going to do it. Typically, I never make a note and I just keep it all in my head. I start with a blank page when I start writing. I go back to the beginning and read what I wrote and then I continue by doing the same thing until I get to the end. I do that every time I sit down to write. So, with television, it is a much bigger process but it is nice to have that long canvas to tell a story, rather than the small frame of an hour-and-a-half movie. We are talking a series, so it is kind of new and interesting. I can’t bitch about the money! It’s good! [laughs]
If there is a lesson to be learned from your story, what would it be?
Do what you love, man. My father told me that years ago. Like I said, he was a bartender and never really knew what he wanted to do. He would tell me all the time, “You know, you are lucky because you know exactly what you want to do. Most people never really know what they want to do. If that is what you want to do and you love doing it, do it!” That is what I recommend people do. Do what you love because life is short.
Solid advice, Nick! Thanks for your time today and we look forward to spreading the word on everything you have going on!
Thank you, man! I appreciate it!
Don’t miss Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s top-nothc thriller, LATE PHASES, starring Nick Damici & Ethan Embry! The film opening in select theaters & on VOD November 21st!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.