|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
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
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
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 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
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