Rachel Nichols has worked out her own little niche: having chick fights, which she lovingly terms as “dope.” The stunning blonde actress stands 5’10” but is as gentle and open as can be. No wonder they found her to be a great match for the 6’4” Jason Momoa as they co-star in Lionsgate’s Conan the Barbarian revamp. When I sat down with Nichols yesterday afternoon, we explored what it feels like to be a first-timer at Comic-Con, girl fights, the challenges of shooting in Bulgaria, and even the other Rachel Nichols at ESPN. For my full interview transcript and audio, hit the jump.
Before we get the interview going, I want to note that I did make a large gaffe when I mistakenly referred to Nichols’ character in GI Joe as Baroness, instead of Scarlett. Why that occurred may never be known, but Nichols was kind enough to skate past my momentary confusion and I really think we started to hit a nice stride towards the end of the interview. One thing to note is that this Conan film is full of bloodshed and gore. However, it does have an interesting look and feel compared to the original. If you’re interested, look for Conan the Barbarian to be released August 19th. As promised, below you can find the full interview transcript and the audio as well.
Collider: Let’s go ahead and jump into it. How many Cons does this make for you?
Rachel Nichols: How many what does it make?
Nichols: Oh! See, that’s how you know I’ve never been here before.
Nichols: Because I was like, “Con, what is he talking about Con?” This is my first adventure at Comic-Con. When Star Trek and GI Joe were here, I was working on other stuff and this is my debut at Comic-Con.
Interesting. So are you a fan? Did you ever think about coming here or were you disappointed when you couldn’t come with the other films? Especially with Baroness, she’s such a huge character.
Nichols: I was Scarlett.
Well, yea. I’m sorry.
Nichols: That’s OK. [Laughs] Yea, I’ve always wanted to come and I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to come prior years. But I’m really proud to be here with this film because it is a Comic-Con appropriate movie. And I’m really proud of the movie as well. Not to say I wasn’t proud of the other ones, but I think it’s sort of perfect that this is my first one and I’m here with Conan.
Nichols: I got in last night and I went into the Lionsgate party and went to the Summit party…
So lots of play.
Nichols: I was playing last night, although I was in a different dress that was so tight I couldn’t eat anything…
Nichols: So I had to wait until I got home at sort of midnight last night and then I ate a gigantic club sandwich. But so that was a lot of play. And then today has been very labor intensive and I’m actually leaving for New York probably on Sunday or Monday, so I’m going back tonight.
Ah, alright. So you’re not going to be able to check out… you haven’t gone on the floor or anything like that.
Nichols: We go on the floor later this afternoon and we have a signing and that’ll be my “Welcome to the floor” sort of experience, which I am excited about. So this afternoon, I get to do a bit more fun stuff.
In this industry, Comic-Con is a very big part of the promotion and everything like that. What had you heard about Comic-Con coming in? That it was just bonkers, basically?
Nichols: Yea, I had heard that it was really fun. And really crazy. I think it’s very easy to forget how loyal and how important loyal fans are. Because yes, we are doing sort of a revamp… update of a movie that has sort of a huge following. And you want to do justice to the original but you also want to bring it into the modern sort of age. The modern era. And we’ve done that with this film and I think people, even if initially they were not interested in it, I think now, especially with Jason in Game of Thrones, they’re very interested. So I’d heard it was bonkers here, but I’d also heard that it was really fun. And everybody that I’ve seen, from the people that really put work into what they’re wearing and their makeup, I want to take pictures of all of them. It’s amazing. My hat goes off to them.
Nichols: Oh, God, I’ve seen, um… I’ve seen everyone. I feel like I’ve seen great Spocks, and I’m waiting to see a green girl. I want to see someone be the green girl.
Nichols: But that’s very labor intensive makeup, and it’s balls hot outside. So…
Yes, it is warm out. Obviously Jason got in shape for this role. Not to say that he wasn’t in shape before, but he bulked up a little bit. It’s obvious. Did you feel, “Hey, he’s bulking up, maybe I should work out a little.” I mean, you’re in great shape already…
Nichols: Well, Tamara, when you stumble across her, in her introduction she’s a monk. She’s in this monastery. And she does seem to have this innate ability to grab a knife or sword and fight and do all that sort of very physical stuff. And I didn’t exactly up my workouts or… Like, for GI Joe, I totally upped my workouts. I put on 10 pounds of muscle. I really went all out. For this one, less so, but I’m someone that works out five times a week anyway.
The girl fights are constantly brought up. This is the second straight film that I will have seen you in where you literally have a knockdown, drag out fight. Is it just something so fun about that? I mean, you’re not an aggressive person in real life?
Nichols: [Laughs] No. [Laughs]
So is it just fun to get that out?
Nichols: It’s really fun. It’s one of the most fun things. Sienna and I had the luxury of literally six weeks of training. The fight scene that we had, when they cut down and edited it, it was shortened a little bit. It was originally like a 90 move fight scene. We learned it. We had a blast… falling on each other’s faces, accidentally kicking each other. And it was great. And with that, I didn’t have the luxury of doing that with Rose [McGowan] on this film, but girl fights are dope. I love them. I think they’re cool. Boys like them. Girls like them. I like this one the best, because I get to win…
Ah, there it is. There it is.
Nichols: Sienna… Sienna… beat… really Sienna? Baroness beats up Scarlett? Really? But, yea. This one was great. Rose and I had a good time with it.
Were you a Conan fan before or was this kind of your introduction to…
Nichols: All new.
So you jumped all the way in…
Nichols: I just all the way in. Haven’t seen the original. Still haven’t seen the original. You know, Jason and I both wanted to go into it sort of blind because it can affect you if you see a movie you’re supposed to go in to revamp or update or whatever. So we both kind of went in blind. And we’re both now going to see the movie and I’m happy that we chose to do it that way so that anything we brought to the table came from within us. And Jay did a lot of research, so I have to give him credit for that.
Well, speaking of the research, how much reading were you required to do and how much did you do on your own?
Nichols: Mine was much less than Jay’s. Jay and I are both visual. I prefer to look at some of the graphic art and some of the comic books. He went all out… decorated his trailer in this way. I mean, he was in just in it. It was amazing to see because it improved my performance on set because he was so in it. There was a lot more for Conan to do.
Was there any difficulty in the shooting location? You’ve mentioned y’all shot in Bulgaria? What was that experience like?
Nichols: Um… Bulgaria is an interesting country. The people are lovely. There are potholes the size of small planets.
Nichols: And the number of stray dogs is really… I want to bring the ASPCA to Bulgaria. But it was perfect for the movie, I’ll say that. All the sets that we went to… The Black Sea, and the studio, and the locations. We were in Bulgaria for three different seasons. There was snow, there was sun… it was the perfect place to shoot a movie like Conan. I probably wont be going there on vacation, but I would go back on another film.
I just want to ask you something that has always been a personal, burning question for me. You’re name is Rachel Nichols… have you come across the fact that there is another Rachel Nichols out there?
Nichols: “Rachel Nichols, ESPN.”
There you go!
Nichols: OK, epic story about that. So, when I was shooting Charlie Wilson’s War, directed by Mike Nichols, he came up to me and said… Mike Nichols is who… I’ve worked with many lovely directors. After I worked with him I thought, “OK, I can retire now and be totally happy.” He’s lovely. He came up to me and said, “Oh, I hear you’re my daughter.” And I said, “Ha, if I was your daughter I would have used this relationship a long time ago.” The other Rachel Nichols on ESPN, I get her fan mail sometimes. And I just presented at the ESPY’s last week, and I really wanted to meet her. I thought she was totally going to be there and when I showed up the day before for rehearsals to get my lanyard and press pass, it was her face… on it. It wasn’t my… face. It was her face… I was like, “Can I keep this, but can I also have one that’s me?” So I haven’t met her yet, but I do love the odd bit of fan mail that says, “I love to see your reporting from the field. The Vikings are my favorite team. How do you feel about Aaron Rogers?” I want to send back like a signed poster that is completely… like get Regis Philbin to sign it and send it back. Eventually I hope to meet her, because everybody says she’s lovely. And she doesn’t blink, so I’ve watched her. And I’m a big football girl, so I’ve seen her many times.
Well, is that odd?
Nichols: It’s odd! “Rachel Nichols, ESPN.”
Especially since your role as Scarlett kind of boosted your name, and you played a red head in that, and she’s a red head. And it’s just like, “Woa….”
Nichols: I know! I really want to meet her. I’ve heard that she’s lovely and I’m sure… maybe she’s never heard of me, but if she has, I want to be like, “Do you ever get my fan mail? I should just save the ones I get for you…” But yea, it’s kind of surreal. It’s always funny when I wind up sitting at a sports bar, and it’s like, “And I’m Rachel Nichols from ESPN.” And I’m like, “Oh, not me… not me…”
Nichols: I leave, um…
You said you were flying out to New York, right?
Nichols: Yea, I’m flying to New York. The Madden NFL has a charity/celebrity flag football game next week.
Well, there you go. Not a bad interaction…
Nichols: I need to be around as many athletes as possible. That’s totally my wheelhouse. I want to go to the ESPY’s every year, It was super fun. Athletes are dope. But then after that, after all the Conan press, I’m going to Cleveland to shoot a movie called I, Alex Cross. Which is, Rob Cohen is directing it, and Tyler Perry will be taking over the role of Alex Cross, and it’s Matthew Fox and Ed Burns, and Jean Reno and myself and I’m really excited about it.
There you go.
Nichols: Matthew Fox fan in general… come on, who isn’t? And Ed Burns is lovely too. And I’ve heard great things about Tyler and I’m really looking forward to it.