Rachel Nichols is best known to audiences for her supporting roles in gargantuan blockbusters like the green Orion Gaila in Star Trek, Scarlett in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and the recent Conan the Barbarian reboot. She’s doing a complete 180 for the new indie feature A Bird of the Air, a small, intimate comedy-drama about two misfit souls who meet and bond around a parrot.
She co-stars with Jackson Hurst and is directed by actress Margaret Whitton. We had a lively, exclusive chat with the hot young actress (and Maxim covergirl) about male vs. female stalkers, her reading habits, and the currently-filming I, Alex Cross in which she co-stars with Tyler Perry.
ComingSoon.net: You’ve done some big behemoth movies lately. How much of a relief was it to go and do a little two-hander like this?
Nichols: Exactly. I love the big films, I love the action stuff. I love blowing things up and riding horses and killing people and hitting bloodbags and having fight scenes, that’s very much in my wheelhouse. However, this was the first time where I really could freely create a character. It was so nice to leave the guns and the fight scenes and the cavalry behind and come to this little tiny two-hander I mean, years ago I did a thriller with Wes Bentley called “P2” and that was also a two-hander.
CS: Little different tone.
Nichols: Little different tonally! That was horror, fighting for my life, and this is the slightly darker version of a romantic comedy.
CS: There’s still some screaming and crying.
Nichols: Yeah yeah yeah, of course. I can’t make it out completely unscathed. My parents at one point said, “Can you do a movie where you’re not in peril and tons of crying and sex scenes?” It’s very funny. Jackson and I have kind of a make-out scene in this, but still it’s uncomfortable for parents.
CS: It’s healthy for them to be uncomfortable. Not gonna name names, but there are some younger actresses who have these weird stage parents going into adulthood who are on set for their sex scenes and stuff.
Nichols: Yeah, creepy. Nope nope nope. Sex scenes are so awkward I can’t imagine if my mom was there, and I would hope to GOD that my father would never under any circumstances be there. When I did the cover of Maxim last month my dad was very funny about it.
CS: Your character Fiona seems to border on the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Have you heard of that?
Nichols: No, it just sounds completely correct. I actually want to write that down.
CS: It’s a very specific thing that’s talked about in movies, for example Natalie Portman in “Garden State” or Kate Winslet in “Eternal Sunshine.” Basically, a manic pixie dream girl is a character whose primary purpose in a film is to get the male character out of his rut. Your character bordered on that, but I wondered what you did to transcend those specific clichés?
Nichols: The funniest thing about Fiona, and I had this conversation with Margaret, is the first 20 minutes of the movie you don’t really like her. She kind of annoys the f**k out of you, excuse my language. In a straightforward romantic comedy, you meet the people you know are gonna end up together and wait to see how it works out.
CS: The “meet-cute.”
Nichols: Exactly, the meet-cute. She sorta barges in on his life and he’s just as annoyed with her as the audience. The audience is going, “how is this going to work?” The thing about Lyman is he is in a rut, he works all night, has taken every class at the university, and that’s all his life is. Fiona, although she is that free-spirited, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of girl, she’s also in a rut. Fiona’s rut is she’s constantly breaking away, moving somewhere else. Things get too heavy and she bails.
Nichols: Yeah. Yes she is getting Lyman out of his rut, and he gets her out of her rut, so it’s slightly different from the manic pixie dream girl.
CS: She’s a little annoying at the beginning, and very aggressive in pursuing Lyman. How do you keep things funny-cute as opposed to stalker-esque? Also, why do women get away with that more than men?
Nichols: I mean, I clearly do show up at his house one day, but most of it is usually at the library when he’s posting up signs and looking for a home for the parrot. He knows that he needs my help and I’m very crafty about how I divulge information about this phrase or this saying.
CS: It’s definitely a good angle.
Nichols: I think women can get away with it and men can’t because, even though it may seem archaic, but man is more powerful. The stalker-ish behavior in a man kind of has a violent, negative, creepy connotation because man is a ruiner, squasher, whatever.
Nichols: But have you seen “Fatal Attraction?” Chicks can also go the really insane route, but they can do the really cute, “I just like you. Like me ’cause I like you.”
CS: Louis C.K. has this great bit about how men will harm you physically, but women will s**t in your soul and ruin your life.
Nichols: Yeah, and women will get away with it, even though that’s probably worse. It’s the harm factor. You don’t think a female stalker is gonna harm a dude, especially if you put Lyman next to me, I’m not gonna win. But if Lyman’s stalking me it’s like, “Ooh, big burly man stalking sweet, innocent librarian, he might harm her.”
CS: In the movie you play a librarian, and I wanted to know what bookworm Rachel reads in her spare time?
Nichols: What don’t I read in my spare time? I try to read one non-fiction and one fiction at the same time, sometimes more than that. I just re-read a bunch of John Irving so I did “A Widow for One Year” and “Until I Find You.” I’m reading “A Prayer for Owen Meany” right now. I read anything that Michael Lewis wrote so I’ve read “Liar’s Poker” and “The New New Thing” and I haven’t read his newest book yet but I own it ’cause I constantly buy things on Amazon. I read Tim Tebow’s book “Through My Eyes.” I read anything by Chelsea Handler because I think she’s hysterical! A lot of the fiction stuff gets recommended to me, the “Life of Pi’s” and the “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s”.
CS: Pop lit.
Nichols: Yeah. I’m a big Hemingway fan, so most of Hemingway I’ve read a couple times over, Steinbeck as well. But yeah, I do the new, the old, and the non-fiction.
CS: Speaking of pop lit, you’re doing “I, Alex Cross” with Rob Cohen in Detroit and Cleveland.
Nichols: Yep, Ohio right now is giving the biggest tax breaks.
CS: What’s going to separate a Tyler Perry-led movie versus a Morgan Freeman-centered one?
Nichols: First of all, Tyler is lovely. He’s really sweet, and this is a movie where he’s playing serious, which he doesn’t usually do. I’ve always contended that anyone that can do comedy can do any kind of drama. There should be an Academy Award for best male/female comedic performance, absolutely. I went to the theater and saw “Madea’s Family Reunion.” Morgan obviously has that look and that voice and people love and idolize him as well. It’ll be different and equally as good. There’s a lot more action in this movie than in “Along Came a Spider” and “Kiss the Girls.” More explosions…
CS: As you would expect from Mr. Cohen.
Nichols: That’s the thing! Rob is bringing what could be very Tyler-oriented bits to it, and I think Rob and Tyler are revamping the franchise. I think it’s going to be guns blazing!
(Photo Credit: WENN.com)