Thomas Nicholas is well-known for his acting roles, particularly in comedies like the American Pie films. But there are lots of sides to him that film fans don’t know: serious actor, producer, musician. The first two are on full display in Adverse, the new film in which Thomas stars and also produced. Playing a ride-share driver fighting his own demons as well as the mob boss who kidnapped his sister, it’s a part you’ve never seen him play before.
He recently connected with me to discuss making the film and how wide-ranging his career has become. Learn the story of Adverse in our interview before you stream the movie or get it on DVD here. You can also follow Thomas on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Brittany Frederick: You’ve been producing films for over a decade now. How did you get into that part of the business?
Thomas Nicholas: I produced my first feature film when I was about 22; I’m 40 now. That first film was with my brother and it started with his idea. He kind of goaded me into that side of it, because at that point I’d been doing music for a while [and] even though I wasn’t producing so to speak, I was very DIY. I was in charge of what I was creating and how I was going about it. Producing seemed like a logical step for me. My brother said, what are you going to do? Just sit around and wait for work when it comes? Or are you going to go out there to forge your own path? That was the start of it.
That’s also when I first met Brian A. Metcalf, actually. He worked on [that] movie. Years later, we did another film together that was also a Lionsgate movie, a fantasy horror adventure film, if you will. That film ended up doing well. Brian said hey, Lionsgate wants to know what we’re doing next, so let’s develop some projects. We went on to do The Lost Three, which ended up going out through Redbox after its theatrical release. Then Living Among Us, which went out through Sony, and now Adverse through Lionsgate again.
BF: Is it natural for you to go back and forth between acting and producing by now? For some actors, it can be a challenge to take on a behind-the-scenes role.
TN: It kind of is. I got into music because of all my downtime on set. When I’m an actor in a film, there’s a lot of times where I’m just sitting around doing nothing. I’m just waiting for the camera to be ready, so I can to go back to work. That’s when I kind of picked up the guitar, to keep myself sane during all that downtime. Producing a film that I’m acting in just takes up all that downtime for me.
Instead of sitting in my trailer noodling on a guitar writing songs, I’m now handling decisions and putting out fires. I have all of these responsibilities as the “boss.” I am in the Producers Guild, so it’s not just a vanity title. I’m really in the trenches with Brian A. Metcalf and Kelly Arjen, my producing partners.
BF: Is there a part of Adverse that stands out to you? Because if you just hear the premise of the movie, you kind of think it’s more action-driven than it really is.
TN: It’s funny you say that because even though I love the energy of the Lionsgate trailer, the theatrical trailer encapsulates more of the tone of the movie. It is very much a character=driven drama like Taxi Driver, where you’re more focused on the mental instability of my character Ethan. We don’t really delve into his mental illness, but he is clearly not mentally well. He’s got anger issues that Lou Diamond Phillips, [who plays] his social worker, touches on right at the beginning of the film. Although Ethan has this mental illness and is unstable, he still has this focus on his sister being the most important thing to him. That’s the driving force of all of his decisions through the course of the story.
BF: How great was it for you to sink your teeth into another dramatic role, when your comedic work has been the stuff that people know you for?
TN: My main goal as an actor is to disappear into my role. As much as I appreciate recognition for my work, I’m only focused on the work itself. I feel like if I’m really doing my job, then you might not know it was me and say “Oh yeah, that was you who played that role.” I really didn’t get pigeonholed from American Pie. I went on to be in dramatic films like Rules of Attraction and Please Give. I also portrayed Abbie Hoffman in The Chicago 8, which now has been revisited by Sacha Baron Cohen [in The Trial of the Chicago 7], which I still have yet to actually watch, but I’m excited to see his rendition of Abbie. Also, Walt Disney in Walt Before Mickey. In my opinion, American Pie was so financially successful that I think it can overshadow anything else that’s going on, just because it had a wider reach.
Back in the day when I started studying acting techniques, my acting coach and mentor basically said, drama is your forte. It comes very naturally to you, but you’re only as strong as your weakest link. So let’s work on your weakest link, which is comedy. Comedy does not come naturally for me. I have to work hard on it. There was a moment in the early nineties where I screen tested for The Good Son. I was opposite Elijah Wood. I think there was about three of us that were being considered in the end after the mix and match screen test session. Then all of a sudden Macaulay Culkin got the role, but he was never even there at the screen test. He took that job from one of the three of us.
Later, I booked Rookie of the Year. If I had booked The Good Son, I would have gone down a dramatic career, but instead I booked Rookie of the Year and went after comedy.
BF: You’re a pretty busy guy, so how much work did you get done over the last year? It seems a lot of creatives found ways to keep busy during the lockdown.
TN: The lockdown started in March, just after Kelly, Brian and myself had gone to Portugal to premiere Adverse as the opening night film at Fantasportos film festival, which is where Bong Joon-ho premiered The Host and Guillermo Del Toro premiered Pan’s Labyrinth, the Coen brothers premiered No Country For Old Men. It’s a very prestigious film festival. We got to go there, we came back home, and then of course all we’ve done since then is be at home.
In 2020, I released four singles. My fifth single just dropped on the 26th of January, ironically called “Homelife.” We were handling the deliverables for Adverse, which is a laundry list. Then, my son booked an M. Night Shyamalan movie [Old] that’s being put out by Universal in July. I went with my son to the Dominican Republic for two and a half months back in September, October, November. They’ve just been starting to drop teasers of that film. My son is having a big year. He’s following in my footsteps, but I think he might be starting to surpass me because he’s got a Lionsgate movie and a Universal movie both hitting theaters in 2021.
BF: Your son Nolan River co-stars with you in Adverse. How fulfilling has it been to share that experience with him and watch his career take off?
TN: I’m super proud of my son….Nolan has a small part in Adverse playing Matt Ryan’s son. We all had a scene together, although our shining moment did get cut from the movie, in which we had a momentary interaction. I kinda want to get [that] footage so I can release it somewhere. Then he’s in Old, which hits theaters in July. I think the kid has more natural talent at his age than I did. I’m excited to see what he’s going to accomplish if he chooses to continue with it. It’s really up to him.
Adverse is now streaming and also available on DVD. You can rent, own or get the DVD now through Amazon.