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Nico Cortez GALACTICA.TV interview
Written by Marcel Damen   
Saturday, 28 August 2010

Marcel Damen had a chance to talk to Nico Cortez, better known to the Battlestar Galactica 2003 fans for his role of the young Lt. William "Husker" Adama on the Razor flashbacks (webisodes) and the Battlestar Galactica: Razor movie. He talked about how he became an actor, his part on Battlestar Galactica and of course the possibility of him reprising the role of Husker on the new Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome webseries.

I couldn't find a lot on you on the internet. Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself? Where do you come from and how did you become an actor?

I'm originally from the Midwest. I went to college in Indiana. When I was growing up I was always a huge lover of movies and film. I didn't realize, right away, what a passion I was developing. It was something I enjoyed very much, more as a hobby or something I was into. After college finished I was a little bit lost. I finished my degree, because people said if you get a degree in anything you'd be fine, but I then realized that that wasn't so true. I didn't have any other ideas or plans and sunk down pretty low in trying to figure out what to do with my life. It was a crossroads that everybody reaches.

One night I was at home and watched a couple of movies back to back. I watched Scent of a Woman with Al Pacino and the closing scene where he gives a speech at the boy's school just really struck me right to my core. Pacino has such tremendous power and presence. It sounds silly, but at that moment I had an epiphany and said: "That's what I'm going to do." Then the more I thought about it, the more I realized it had always been there. How could I have been so blind and not seen it? So I packed up my little Nissan Sentra. I had $300 in my pocket and I pointed the car West. I was just crazy enough to head out. I had nothing to lose and never so inspired in all my life prior to that point.

 

actor Nico Cortez

actor Nico Cortez

 

Did you have any former education?

No, when I arrived in LA I had no training whatsoever and I realized that very quickly. I managed to get a manager very quickly through a friend of mine that I met at a job when I first got out here. The first few things I went out for -- I was terrible and I knew I had to get some training. I found one of the top places out here in LA to study acting. Together with my manager, I decided I wanted to go out very little until I was ready. I just immersed myself in classes and studying since I didn't really have anything else going on. I did that for three years and got a scholarship there eventually. At first, my classmates didn't care for me all that much. They thought I was too intense and completely obsessed with no outside interests. I don't blame them. I used to call scene partners and berate them if they were not taking "our scene" seriously enough. I wasn't playing around and for people dabbling, that's not a fun guy to be around. But, you get back what you put into it. I still believe that with all my heart.

Then, when I started putting up good work, suddenly everyone was like, "Hey, we should work together next." I did some things outside that Studio as well. I did courses with a local Shakespeare company. I also did Alexander Technique with various teachers and Voice with others, so I kind of created my own Drama School. I did that religiously for a good 3-4 years. Once I had some technique and realized what I was doing, I started booking work.

Was that in theatre, film, television...?

I was theatre trained. They train you for the theatre and they say the only difference between theatre and screen is how loud you are talking. You just apply it in television. You play things closer to the chest or you can because the camera will pick it up. I wanted to do theatre, because I fell in love with the process. But your life unfolds as it does, and I just happened to keep getting work in television. I tried doing theatre, but LA is difficult. A lot of people say it's not a theatre town. There is some here, but I actually found it was harder to get theatre auditions than to get television auditions. At least, in my experience it was.

IMDb says your first role was a guest part on Beetleborgs Metallix. Is that true? How did you get that part? Were you nervous?

Yes, I did do that. That was one of my first, early jobs. I played a witch doctor. I was pretty nervous. Obviously I was getting better as an actor and also in the auditioning process, but when you study and you train, it's in the comfort of a theatre setting with all your peers. The first time you're thrown onto a set, you realize that everything that's going on has nothing to do with you and there are so many other more important things going on. Then, finally, when it's time, you get to your moment, they just want you to step up, do your thing and then disappear. It was a bit of an eye opener.

Luckily, it was a smaller role and I didn't have too much of a burden on me, but it definitely made me realize that on a set you have to really figure out how to pace yourself, how to do your work internally, so you're ready exactly when they need you. They're not thinking about you at all until the moment that they need you and as soon as they're done, they're on to something else.

On those first roles you're credited as Nico Samano? Why the name change to Cortez?

My manager was having a lot of trouble getting me work. At the time there was a big influx of people wanting to hire Latinos and it has been for the last 10-12 years. It suddenly increased. At that time a lot of casting directors thought I was Italian. They were giving my manager a hard time, even though he said I spoke Spanish and the name is actually a Spanish name. Eventually, we just got tired of beating our heads against the wall and I just made the decision to change my name. It was affecting my ability to get roles. I decided to pick this Spanish name that really spoke to me and legally changed it. Some people pick a stage name next to their real name, but I felt I wanted to make it legal. It's been a lot easier for me since. It instantly fit. It just felt very right. I'm a big believer in following your heart -- your gut.

Great. You were also in Pensacola: Wings of Gold. Did you meet Michael Trucco (Sam Anders on Battlestar Galactica) on that?

My scene was with Kenny Johnson and Trucco's wife, Sandra Hess, so I didn't get to work with Michael, but I did see him on the set a couple of times -- I remember that. I ran into him in Vancouver, right outside our hotel. I was getting dropped off and he was getting picked up and I told him that I did this episode on Pensacola and he asked me which one. He said he totally remembered that episode because one of the guys from his band was in that episode as well. He said: "Look at you now. You're up here, doing this. That's awesome." He was very nice to me.

 

actor Nico Cortez

actor Nico Cortez

 

You played an Undercover Crossdresser on 3 episodes of Manhattan, AZ. That must have been fun to play?

Yes, that was a fun job. I had trouble booking work for a couple of months when this audition came up. I was working at a post production house -- every actor has to have a 9-5 job. They had some wardrobe in one of the back rooms -- they were going to shoot some children's video. I went in the back the night before the audition and saw these dresses. I was desperate and needed to shake things up, I needed something to get their attention. Or maybe I was just venting frustration?

So I tried on a couple of the dresses and one of them fit. I told my buddy that I worked with: "I'm going to wear this to the audition." The funny thing is that I had to drive down to San Diego, which is a three-hour drive from LA. I rode in the dress and prayed to God that I wouldn't be pulled over. I did the audition in the dress and found out a couple of days later that I got the job.

The executive producer was great. He came up to me when we were shooting the pilot and said: "I just want to let you know we didn't hire you because you wore the dress to the audition. We hired you because you were the best actor. " So I did the pilot and then they called me towards the end of Season 1 and said they wanted my character to recur in Season 2. I went down to San Diego again and we shot the first two episodes of Season 2. Before they even aired the second season, it was announced that they cancelled the show. The last two episodes I was in never aired.

I saw that you're often cast as a cop/detective/swat leader. Is that coincidence or are those roles you particularly like to play?

Especially, in the beginning of your career as a young guy in LA you will read a lot for cops or detectives as you get a little bit older -- detectives tend to be more mid thirties. I was glad to be a part of Alias. It was the season opener of the final season. It was again a smaller role, but I was glad to be a part of the show. Ken Olin, one of the executive producers who was directing that episode, actually hired me. It is always nice when a former actor and producer is directing and he says, "I want that guy for my episode." That felt good.

Had you seen the original Battlestar Galactica from 1978 or the new series before you were on it?

No. I remember hearing about it. I never saw the original and I was aware they were remaking it, but it's something that I never ended up catching on television. When I got the audition for Battlestar Galactica, I borrowed the Miniseries from a friend of mine. So, I watched the Miniseries, went in, read and got a call back about a week later. The producers liked me, but they wanted me to read it again like Edward James Olmos would do. So I tried doing it like him. Not exactly like him, but I tried to suggest his overall energy. They obviously liked it and they hired me.

 

Nico Cortez as William 'Husker' Adama on the Battlestar Galactica: Razor set

Nico Cortez as William "Husker" Adama on the Battlestar Galactica: Razor set

 

When I got to Vancouver they gave me Seasons 1 and 2 and they gave me a tour along the sets when I first arrived. Glenn Campbell the costume designer took me around and showed me everything. She was very sweet. I came in for a wardrobe fitting on Friday and I wasn't shooting until Monday. I holed up in the hotel in Vancouver, and pulled a marathon over the weekend. By the time Monday morning arrived, I was a huge fan. When you watch the show in a marathon like that, it has such a visceral and emotional effect on you, rather than watching it week to week over the airing schedule. I was pretty jacked up on Monday morning!

Since you played a younger version of Edward James Olmos' character of William Adama, did you study his characteristics, his style of movement, way of talking, etc.?

Yes. Definitely. The one note that I received was to watch and do it like him. I knew no matter what else I did, they needed to see that. I was careful in not doing an impersonation of him, because he's a lot older than I am, so for me to do that would sound silly. A lot of people thought I did it pretty well, but many probably didn't realize that at times, I was also injecting Jamie Bamber's voice and how he plays Lee into parts as well.

After I talked to Mr. Olmos, I actually put some of the attitude you see in Starbuck as well. When I first talked to Mr. Olmos on the phone one of my questions to him was: "Do you think he cuts Starbuck a lot of slack, because he sees a lot of himself in her?" and he agreed. Starbuck is pretty gung-ho. She sometimes doesn't think and simply follows her instinct, so I thought Bill Adama could have been like her when he was younger. I also saw that in the script. There are times where they tell him: "Don't be a hero." and he still goes off by himself to do what needs to be done. To me that also resembled a lot that Kara Thrace does. She doesn't listen to people and simply does what needs to be done.

 

Nico Cortez as William 'Husker' Adama on the Battlestar Galactica: Razor set

Nico Cortez as young William "Husker" Adama on the Battlestar Galactica: Razor set

 

What else did you discuss with Edward James Olmos?

We didn't talk a whole lot. We had about a 20-minute phone conversation. He mainly talked about the show. The only advice he gave me was to take a look at the Season 3 episode "A Day in the Life" which goes into Bill Adama's personal life a little bit. And he said: "If you get in trouble, just remember all your life experiences and breathe." He didn't really give me a whole lot of advice because he probably figured that if I got the job there wasn't a whole lot he could tell me to make my performance better.

How was it to work on the series? The actors? The crew? Directors Felix Alcala and Wayne Rose?

It was a blast. I have never had an experience like that since. I'd never been to Vancouver and the crew was amazing. I felt a little intimidated, because they'd done Season 1, 2 and 3. I was merely an afterthought and I didn't know how I would be received. I didn't know if people thought it was a dumb idea. I had to live up to the role of Edward James Olmos. But the cast and crew that were there really made me feel like I'd been there the whole time. They were very welcoming and inviting. Everybody was incredibly supportive and that really helped me a lot. Felix Alcala was great to work with, as was Wayne Rose. Very different styles as directors, but I am always to ready to work within whatever environment I'm given.

A lot of the cast wasn't there, because they weren't all in Razor. Jamie Bamber and Katee Sackhoff were there, Eddie Olmos and Mary McDonnell showed up a little bit later. I got to become friends with Stephanie Jacobsen. Jamie is a very nice guy, Katee is a hoot. I was working on another set but we passed each other on the lot. What really mattered was the crew. They created such a warm and creative environment for me, so I could just concentrate and try to do really good work. Well, I hope it was good work. (Laughing)

Well, most fans think you did an excellent job. Almost all scenes were just you, but you had a nice love scene with Allison Warnyca at the start of the webisodes. How was she to work with?

She was fantastic. Allison was a top-class actress and I was really impressed with her. Our scenes together were great because of her. We had very little screen time, since the webisodes were only 2.5 minutes. They had to have a quick, immediate emotional impact and a lot of that was possible because she was so invested in her character. The more invested she was, the easier it was for me to get drawn into the scenes. She was a joy to work with.

 

Nico Cortez as William 'Husker' Adama and Allison Warnyca as Jaycie McGavin on the Battlestar Galactica: Razor webisodes

Nico Cortez as William "Husker" Adama and Allison Warnyca as Jaycie McGavin
on the Battlestar Galactica: Razor webisodes

 

Did you do a lot of green screens? I was wondering if it was you hanging in the air fighting the Cylon or if it was all CGI?

Let me start by saying that I enjoyed every second of it and all was a blast to do. Physically, it was quite a grueling shoot. The flight suits are very, very hot and I sweated buckets underneath there. On top of that I had to wear a parachute pack that weighed 90-95 pounds. I asked the guys why it weighed so much and they said Edward James Olmos once said that to believe everything shown in the series, it had to be real. So I was carrying a real chute.

A lot of the stuff that I did was grueling, because I had to get into these weird positions with 90 pounds on my back. I had to do all these esthetic yoga poses and hold it while they would set up the shot and I had to do them again while we were shooting. I work out a lot; otherwise I wouldn't know how I would have gotten through it. I was physically exhausted every day, but it was a blast and I wouldn't wanted to have been anywhere else at that time. It was a fantastic experience.

As for the hanging in the sky, fighting the Cylon, they first wanted to hang me from wires, but they changed that to some stand that they brought up to my chest -- I would base my chest on that. I had one foot on the ground and I had to balance myself with my arms out and pose as long as I could with the 90-pound pack on my back. The helmet was a challenge too, because you're not getting a lot of air and it's difficult to breath. Because I was exerting myself so much, I'd be sweating buckets and they'd have to stop, unhook the helmet, which was quite an ordeal, wipe me down, pull me off, hook it all back up.

Another thing that was a source of laughter from the crew on most days, I often had to keep my arms up for certain shots for long periods of time. When we would cut, I would lower my arms and two rivers always poured out of both sleeves of my flight suit onto the floor. Thank heavens for Gatorade! It was hard work, but I loved it.

Were your blue eyes CGI or did you have to wear blue contact lenses?

I had contacts. The same Edward James Olmos wore. I had to put them in every morning. They were concerned about that, because I normally don't wear contacts or wear glasses and they thought they would dry out on me. It wasn't a problem at all, but they'd ask me all the time if my eyes were okay, if they were dry or if they hurt. I sometimes felt my vision was a little off, but it didn't affect the job. For most actors the more make-up and costume they put on you, the easier it gets to get into character, so I'm all for it.

 

Nico Cortez as William 'Husker' Adama on the Battlestar Galactica set

Nico Cortez as William 'Husker' Adama on the Battlestar Galactica set

Nico Cortez as William "Husker" Adama on the Battlestar Galactica set

 

Have you seen the webisodes or the Razor movie yourself?

I saw them when they came out and how it ended up in Razor. The CGI and post production is phenomenal. I was blown away with how it looked, the sound and the effects. They really outdid themselves and they really made me look good. I couldn't be more proud to be part of it and to be in it. When I look at my performance I see all the mistakes, so sometimes I kind of cringe to myself, but the work they did was unbelievable.

Were you sorry you were never asked back for more flashbacks during the course of the final season?

They asked me when I was up there. There was talk of doing some more of this stuff. I think it was Ron French or Mark Verheiden that I talked to. He asked me if I would be interested in it and I just said: "Absolutely! Show me the dotted line and I'll sign it immediately!" Once we were done, I felt like we barely scratched the surface of the character and I was hungry for more. I was always praying the phone would ring and they'd ask me to come up again.

They're currently setting up a new 10 part webseries called Blood and Chrome, which is said to be about the young William Adama at the time of the first Cylon War. Have they approached you for that already?

No. I read about it and traded a few emails with Michael Taylor, just to touch base. I've read a lot of reports that said that they didn't know if I would return and I let Michael Taylor know that I'm here and ready. He's only just started writing, so it's completely normal that they wouldn't contact me at this point. They usually don't contact talent until it's green light to production and they have a finished script. I hope they'll consider me, because I would really love to reprise the role. I would be honored to do it and I always felt a sense of unfinished business with Husker.

 

Nico Cortez as William 'Husker' Adama on the Battlestar Galactica set

Nico Cortez as William "Husker" Adama on the Battlestar Galactica: Razor webisodes

 

We as fans as would love to see you back in that role as well!

Thanks. I really appreciate that. There are a lot of stories to be told. There's a whole Cylon War and there are so many things that you can cover. When you look at really good movies like The Bourne Identity series, they had everything. It's an action film, with a lot of running around, explosions, but at the core of it, it was really good writing and acting. When you combine the two it's hard to beat that combination. I think Battlestar Galactica also managed to do that. I'm a fan of all genres, but this series had a lot of action, drama, combined with phenomenal writing, acting and directing. To this day it still surprises me how they never got nominated for an Emmy for the writing, acting or directing.

I saw you recently starred in The Cape and an episode of Chuck. Can you tell us a bit about those parts?

The Cape actually didn't happen. They had trouble filling some small roles and the casting director is a friend of mine -- she was the girl that cast me on Battlestar Galactica -- and she asked me to come in as a favor. I read for one of the smaller roles, they liked me and hired me straight from the tape. I was all set to do it. I went to the table read. But they changed the script and the scene I was in was written out. So it didn't happen. I was sad about that because I was excited to be a part of that and work with director Simon West. That happens sometimes. There are a lot bigger actors than me that have been left on the cutting room floor.

The episode of Chuck that I did was a lot of fun. The director was Robert Duncan McNeill, famous for his role of Tom Paris in Star Trek: Voyager. He's also an executive producer on Chuck and he was director of that episode. I read for them and they told my manager, that they normally hire people that are 6', because the cast is pretty tall, while I'm only 5'11". They liked me so much that they worked around it, so that was very flattering. Again a great crew, I had a great time. The cast, Joshua Gomez and Zachary Levi were very friendly and down to Earth. I was glad to be a part of it.

What else is up new for you?

Blood and Chrome, I hope. (both laughing) In my email to Michael Taylor I wrote that this role has been haunting me for three years. I've been waiting for the phone to ring and I feel it's unfinished business. Hopefully that will work out.

I'm a big fan of Dexter and I've been trying to get on that. I really like that show.

 

actor Nico Cortez

actor Nico Cortez

 

Any interesting hobbies when you're not acting?

I'm very passionate about dogs. Shortly after I got back from Vancouver my wife and I rescued a Retriever mix. He was a basket case, because he'd been out on the streets and had a lot of issues. I did a lot of research before we rescued him. We knew we would get a dog, but not exactly when. I did a lot of research about rehabilitating dogs that are in these conditions and I found I had a knack for it. Everything I tried seemed to work and I really developed a good bond with him. My wife and I did it and turned him around. He's really sweet and you never would know it's the same dog now three years later.

So after that I needed a new project and I got another one. We got a Whippet and anyone who has one knows there's no dog like it. They're really fast. I love to go down to an open field and let her run. They call them 35 miles/hour couch potatoes, because when they're indoors they sleep all day. They're very sweet loving dogs and follow you everywhere.

If we had a bigger property we'd probably go to the pound and get them all. In the research that I did I found that a lot of dogs end up in this situation because of the lack of knowledge. The owners invest more time in figuring out how to program their bluray player than they do bringing a dog into their home. We were involved in a Greyhound Rescue Organization, whenever we could. So yeah, dogs are a big passion of mine. They're beautiful creatures.

I also like to paint. It's a big hobby of mine. I wouldn't call myself a painter. I move paint on canvas. I found it is a great way to express yourself. You just turn your mind off and an hour later anything that is inside you turns up on the canvas. I started doing that about two years ago and I really enjoy it. I'm not good enough to do any real life or still life, so it's all abstract. I also don't set out to paint any one thing, I just start. It looks like crap for a while but sometimes it comes around, but I never know when it's going to be complete until I stop painting and decide it's done. I find it very therapeutic. It's like acting, it's a creative and emotional release. I don't know if it's "art". It's in the eye of the beholder. I made a couple so far and sometimes I give them away, I have one or two on my walls here, but I've thrown out some as well.

Thanks for taking the time and I hope we‘ll do a follow up soon when you're on Blood and Chrome.

Absolutely! Thanks for having me.

 
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