In the horror fantasy Fading of the Cries, from writer/director Brian Metcalf, actor Thomas Ian Nicholas plays Michael, an author who moves into the old Echling Manor to work on his next novel, and unintentionally raises a malevolent evil named Mathias (Brad Dourif), from the depths of hell. When Michael gives a powerful, ancient necklace to his young niece, Mathias curses his entire bloodline, dooming them to fight demons that are both real and internal.
While on location in Georgia for the filming of American Reunion, which reunites the entire American Pie cast for their 10-year high school reunion, Thomas Ian Nicholas did this exclusive phone interview with Collider, in which he talked about how he came to act in and produce Fading of the Cries, how fun it is to play a character with such a dramatic arc, the challenges of creating a fantasy film on a limited budget, and why he and Brian Metcalf compliment each other so well. He also updated us on how American Reunion is going, what it’s like for the cast to be working together again, how his character is now married and is the one that encourages them all to attend the reunion, and how much improvising they’re doing versus working off of the script. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
THOMAS IAN NICHOLAS: It all stemmed from working with Brian [Metcalf], and that evolved from hiring Brian to do some visual effects on my directorial debut, which is a film called L.A. D.J. We had 25 effects shots and some green screen stuff, and I really got along well with Brian. He talked about Fading of the Cries, and as a return favor to him, and also my interest in the project, we put together the original trailer for the movie. That was the trailer that we shot in a weekend in Brian’s garage, on a wall that he had painted green, and did all the visual effects for it. That trailer was what garnered all the interest and eventually got the film financed. When the film did end up getting financed, I ended up playing a different character in the feature than I did in the original trailer, and I also ended up being a producer on it. That came about, just from my experience on films, as far as principal photography. Brian had worked a lot in post and wanted me to come on board and help with the principal photography, and bring my knowledge to the table.
Your character goes through the emotional ringer in this film. As an actor, what’s that like to go through? Is that fun for you, or do you find that draining?
NICHOLAS: It’s definitely fun. One of the most challenging things, of any acting role that has such a dramatic arc, is to be able to make that arc smooth. You’re shooting everything out of order, so you always have to know where you are and the curvature of the character’s journey. That way, when it gets edited back, it makes sense. I’m over-organized, when it comes to things of that nature, so that’s a fun challenge for me.
NICHOLAS: I personally didn’t do any noir research, but I’m familiar with noir, just not overly familiar. I couldn’t have an intelligent conversation about it. I really just put my performance in the hands of Brian. Having worked with him on the trailer, I saw what he turned a green garage wall into, so I knew that the final product was going to be amazing. The more depth I gave to every moment, I knew he was going to answer back with the scenes, visually. I had an upper hand on the set, already knowing what he was going to do and trusting what he would do, more implicitly than everyone else did. Once they saw it, they couldn’t help but be amazed. I already knew I was going to be amazed.
How was it to work with Brad Dourif?
NICHOLAS: He is a character, for sure, in and of himself. It was cool. I always love working with actors that have been doing it longer than I have. Now, after 25 years of acting, it’s safe to say that’s becoming farther and fewer between, but Brad had me bit. Just to soak in the resonance that they have and the command that they have, when the camera is rolling and when the camera is not rolling. There’s something that it’s just fun to stand in the wake of.
NICHOLAS: I knew that Brian was going to make it look beyond reality with his art, in the post side of things. The only strange thing for me was having to be a producer, in and amongst doing those things, so it would literally cut, and then the phone would come out of my pocket and I would be handling business and making sure that, if there was an issue, it was getting solved. And then, it was like, “Okay, Tom, you need to put your phone away because we’ve got to shoot another take.”
What is it about you and Brian Metcalf that makes it so easy for the two of you to work together?
NICHOLAS: I think it’s just that we both respect the experience that the other has, and we both have different experiences and talents, so we work very well together. We compliment each other, in that way. Both Brian and I have egos, but we know how to keep them in check. Because of our respect for one another, we allow that space for our talents to flourish, as opposed to competing with each other. We didn’t do that, at all. We just trusted that the other was going to handle what we knew they could do.
What were the biggest challenges of creating a fantasy film like this, on a limited budget and with the time constraints that you had?
NICHOLAS: With every film, there’s always challenges. Right now, we’ve got a huge budget, in comparison, on American Reunion, and we still have to change the schedule around, based on weather. It’s rainy season, and we’ve got a lot of outside shots that we have keep moving around. Scheduling is always tough, no matter what the budget size is, and we had our own run-ins with that, on Fading of the Cries. We had to rearrange our schedule for the big fires that were a few years ago. But, the biggest challenge is, when you do that, what it does to the expenses. The bigger the budget, the more you can afford to compromise with Mother Nature. The smaller the budget, the more you’re like, “Okay, well, we have to do this, but how can we afford to do it.” That’s when you have to get really creative on the business side, as far as making compromises.
Compromise is the key element. The more constraints you have, the more compromise you have to have. But, I personally believe that, when that happens, you have to get more creative and you end up with something that is even better. I believe that creativity comes from compromise. If you could have everything you ever wanted, it doesn’t always work. If I had 10 ideas and people said yes to all of them, half of them could be crap. But, if I’ve got 10 ideas and we really only have the budget for one of them, then we have to pick the best one that is our most creative element. There’s something I really love about independent filmmaking. Everyone is a little bit more close-knit and you rely on people a little bit more. The bigger the budget gets, the more everyone toes the line in their department.
NICHOLAS: Certainly. I’m happy that we are. If you would have told me, when we finished the third one, that there would be a fourth one, I would have been like, “Nah, that’s it.” I always used to joke that there would be American Geriatrics. I’m thankful that we’re not that old yet, although we’re close. But, it’s only the 10-year high school reunion, so we can’t be that old. We’re not even up to the 20-year yet.
When you started out on the first film, could you ever have foreseen that it would become such a loved and enduring film franchise?
NICHOLAS: No. Whenever I’m doing any film, I’m always just happy to have a job and I always just put 110% of myself into it. That’s not really something that you think about. I don’t think I’ve ever been one to take a job and be like, “Well, this is going to be amazing!,” because there’s always three different things. There’s the script, which is really just a blueprint. And then, you shoot the movie and it’s an entirely different experience than you would expect from reading the script. And then, there’s the whole post process and the editing, and it becomes something else entirely. You’d have to have ESP and be able to tell the future, to be able to see whether or not something is going to turn out amazing. Certainly, with American Pie, I had no idea. I was just happy to have a job, just like I’m happy to have a job right now.
NICHOLAS: It’s one of those funny things where I felt like I had really matured and grown, as a person, just in my own life. And, now that I’m back with everyone, I realized just how much the same I am, 10 years later. I didn’t really have the entire high school experience. I’ve been working since I was six years old, so I didn’t go to the classic high school. I didn’t have a 10-year high school reunion because there’s no reunion to have, so I have to assume that it would be somewhat similar. If you took the same group of people from when you were kids, and then put everyone together 10 years later, you might suddenly go, “Wow, I’m exactly the same, just a little bit older.” That’s how I feel right now. It’s also just a trip to see everyone ‘cause everyone has done so well in their careers and I’m happy for everyone’s success, so it’s cool that we’re all back together. It’s really the first time that all of us have been in one place, at the same time, since that first film.
How much improv is there, versus working off the actual script?
NICHOLAS: Well, it’s Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who did Harold & Kumar, and they’re huge fans of the franchise. They know that we know the characters very well and have given us free rein, but at the same time, they’ve also written a great script. Sometimes we’ll try to throw things in and realize that, if we just go with what they’ve got, it works better. Sometimes they want us to try those things, just to see what we can pull out of our hat, so to speak. We came up with a funny bit when I was doing this scene with Seann [William Scott], who plays Stifler. It wasn’t scripted this way, but he did one thing and then I had an idea on top of that, and we came up with this bit, and Jon and Hayden loved it. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a really free, open experience on the set.
NICHOLAS: He’s married now and works as an architect, which is a pretty bad-ass job. He works from home, and he still stays in touch with everyone. Like in the first two films, where Kevin was the guy behind the pact, or at least the motivator of the pact, he’s like, “Hey, let’s go to the reunion. Let’s hang out and have a weekend with the guys.” That’s where he’s at. And, I’m also sporting a beard ‘cause that shows that 10 years have passed, and that I can grow a beard. I didn’t actually know I could grow a beard. Jon and Hayden were like, “We want you to have a beard,” and I was like, “All right, let me see if I can do it.” I’ve been clean-shaven for so long, but here I am with a beard.
Did you show up on set with the beard and have people say, “Who are you?”?
NICHOLAS: It has been a little bit like that. I’ll be like, “Yeah, I’m doing American Reunion,” and people are like, “Oh, really? What are you doing in the movie?” I’m like, “Well, the original cast is back,” and they’re like, “Oh, really? So, what do you do?” And I’m like, I’m part of the original cast,” and they’re like, “Really?!” Then, I’ll smile and they’ll be like, “Oh, I see it now! I couldn’t tell with the beard.” Now, I’m giving away my incognito look. The film is going to come out and people are going to see me with the beard, and I won’t be able to hide behind my beard. Now, I’ll shave and people will be like, “So, who are you? Why didn’t you go back to the new movie?”
NICHOLAS: Oh, yeah! There’s a lot of new cast members. There are some interesting surprises.
Having tried your hand at writing and directing, and also having worked as a producer now, is that all something that you’re looking to do more of, so that you can be more involved in the development of stories and characters?
NICHOLAS: Yeah, I’m totally up for that challenge and I see myself doing that, in future projects. The difference is that, as an actor, I have it easy ‘cause I can jump onto a project and be done with it in a few months, whereas developing something or especially writing a movie is a much longer commitment. I’ve just learned that, in order for me to do that, I have to really, really be emotionally invested in the idea and what it’s saying because it’s anywhere from a three to five year thing for me, when I start on a project. So, I’ve got a couple things that I’m in development with, or that I have synopses or treatments for, and then it’s really just a question of when I’m going to delve down that path of twists and turns in time. That’s always the biggest decision. Making a movie is like getting married. You’re like, “Am I going to marry this project? Am I ready for that kind of commitment?” I would do them all, all day long, every day, all at once, if I could. The main thing is that I have so many interests because I like to stay so busy. The most I’ve ever done in my entire career is three or four movies in a year, which still only takes up half a year, at most. So, I’ve got this other half a year and what am I going to do, play video games? That worked when I was 15, but I’m about to be 31, so I can’t really spend six months playing video games anymore. So, music works and producing works, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to direct again soon.