INTERVIEW: Drew Nelson of FX’s ‘The Strain’
For those of you looking forward to Guillermo del Toro’s show The Strain, you are in for a real treat. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing actor, writer, and director Drew Nelson who plays Matt Sayles in the upcoming horror thriller. On top of telling us about The Strain and his character Matt, Drew also talks about what inspired him to become an actor, his dream role, and even tells us which superpower he’d pick and his favorite comic book movie!
Drew was a lot of fun to chat with, so make sure to check out this interview to learn more about this up and coming talent!
What inspired you to become an actor?
I guess my parents always kind of had an inkling that I was more of an artist type. They’d always get me to do voices for my aunts and uncles at family gatherings and stuff like that. Further into high school I was always the kid in English class reading the Shakespeare text but always putting a character voice on so every time we would be reading plays and stuff in English class they’d always say, “Get Drew! Get Drew to read Friar Laurence.” It kind of stemmed from there.
It’s also kind of a crazy serendipitous thing. Our regular drama teacher went off on maternity leave and they called in this supply teacher from New York City and she had just graduated from Circle in the Square school. She came to our class on a temporary basis and she taught us real scene study stuff that she had learned in New York and I just instantly loved it. Lo and behold she thought that I had a knack for it and asked me to be a lead in a play. She was doing a play that year and cast me as a lead. The play was called Detective Story and it’s all history from there pretty much. She was the main reason why I got into it.
She remains my first mentor of my life to this day. I tried contacting her recently, but I haven’t tracked her down yet, but I will!
Good luck with that!
Yeah, thank you.
Tell me about your character Matt and the show The Strain.
Let’s break it down about The Strain first. I am insanely excited about this show. The creative team is just phenomenal, as you know Guillermo del Toro is at the helm. He and Chuck Hogan wrote a trilogy book series quite a few years ago and now it’s a TV series. Basically the story is about this character Doctor Ephraim Goodweather who works for the CDC in New York City and he comes upon this infection that is starting to spread and no one really knows what it is and we find out over time that it’s this ancient strain of vampirism. The disease overtakes New York and it’s about this rag tag group of people that try to combat the disease. Ephraim and his wife Kelly Goodweather are involved in a really bitter divorce as well as a custody battle for their son Zach and I play the new guy in Kelly’s life who’s now taking the role that Ephraim was supposed to play as the father.
Yeah (laughs). I don’t know if people are going to like me very much, but I think my character is very much the voice of reason for the most part and he’s a very practical kind of guy. So the idea of this crazy disease hitting the city and everyone is getting paranoid, but he’s the guy that says, “Look, let’s just get the facts and then deal with it,” because at the moment it’s very mysterious. He’s very fact based. Since I’m Kelly’s new boyfriend Ephraim does not like me, so we have a real nice tension between the two of us throughout the series. I got to play a lot of scenes with Corey Stoll from House of Cards and in a nut shell that’s essentially it.
What was it like coming onto a project with this kind of creative team?
It was unbelievable. As an actor, especially being a Canadian actor, you look at a breakdown which is what they send to the casting people that states the title of the project, the people involved, and where it’s going to shoot, and you see names like Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse and as a Canadian actor we usually get the crumbs. We usually get the smaller parts when stuff is shooting in our town because the main roles are played by people from the States, but in this case Guillermo does love shooting in Toronto and casting a Canadian actor does help the production, it’s not as expensive, and I feel like I did a legitimately good job with the read and I really think that it was just the right fit. I think Guillermo really took a chance on me and I’m forever grateful for it.
For me to get my real first break in my career from a director like Guillermo, is just… I mean the guy is one of my heroes. When I saw Pan’s Labyrinth it changed my life. I had no idea fantasies could be as dark as that and I really feel like he started his own genre. Because of that film I’m developing a project right now, a feature film, and for the longest time it didn’t have a title and it was called “The Untitled Pan’s Labyrinth Project.” Guillermo doesn’t actually know that yet, but I will tell him at some point! (laughs).
(Laughing) That’s hilarious!
Crazy, right? It’s just wild how the universe works sometimes.
Yeah, it’s like all the puzzle pieces are falling into place.
Absolutely. It was phenomenal when I got the call and my life has definitely changed because of it and like I said I will be forever grateful for Guillermo choosing me.
Now The Strain is about a strain of vampirism. Who is your favorite fictional vampire?
I thought 30 Days of Night was a really creepy vampire movie. I’d say that as far as a more contemporary version of a vampire film. Obviously Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a classic and so is Nosferatu, but I have to say 30 Days of Night.
You have done voice acting and you are also a writer and director. What is it like going back and forth between these different forms of performance and expression?
I love it. The voice acting really just dropped itself in my lap. I just got an audition one day for an animated show back in the early 2000’s and landed it. The animation stuff just started to come my way. Like I said I had always done voices before and been that goofy guy entertaining my friends and family and all that stuff and it’s just really fun work. When you’re in a voice booth you have the freedom to do anything. I’m sure you’ve seen footage of Hollywood actors doing voiceovers for various animated movies and they’re going buck crazy in the voice booth. They’re making the most horrendous facial expressions and their arms are flailing and it’s just a lot of fun. In terms of combining all the different mediums I’m living the dream right now. To be able to touch on all the different aspects of the medium as an actor is just phenomenal. The film and television stuff I definitely prefer because you can really explore true depths in character in that medium and just really hone in on those vulnerable moments. I do stage as well, I do theatre too and when you’re playing a love scene with your love interest it’s hard to nail that emotionally vulnerable scene when there are people forty rows back. So the film medium really lends itself to just sinking into those kinds of scenes.
So what are things you like to geek out over?
Oh man, so many things. I personally have no problem being overly enthusiastic about stuff. When it comes to music I am a huge hip-hop head, always have been. I was raised on 90’s hip-hop so when a track comes on that I just love I am fully rapping it as if I’m performing it on stage. This might be at a bar or a club and I find that whenever other dudes at the bar recognize the same song we geek out together. We see that common love for that specific song and we just go crazy. So there’s that and lately I’ve been playing a hell of a lot of X Box and I am crazy about the sports games. NBA 2K 3 and 2K 2013 and NHL I just love. Those two games I geek out hard on. And going to the movies and things like that. I’d say those are the things I geek out on.
If you could pick a superpower which one would you pick and why?
Hmm… I guess invincibility. Is that a superpower?
I think invisibility is cool too, but invincibility it’s like no one can touch you (laughs). It would basically encompass everything, would you agree? It would encompass invisibility and x-ray vision-
Yeah, super strength. Yeah, invincibility would be my answer.
That’s clever because you found the term that encompasses all the powers. A lot of people try to cheat and say multiple ones!
Well played, sir, well played. Alright, what is your dream role?
I’ve always wanted to be in a movie like Saving Private Ryan, so I would say a war film of some sort, like the role that Edward Burns had in Saving Private Ryan. There’s just something about it when you’re in an ensemble like that and there’s bombs going off and gunfire and stuff. You don’t really have to think about what you’re doing, you’re just constantly reacting to what’s happening around you. I love that kind of work, I love that kind of physicality, so I would say that.
What projects of yours can we look forward to?
Definitely The Strain which will be on FX in the summer. I just wrapped a feature film here called Man Vs. and the producers are looking to put a festival campaign together for it. It’s a thriller/horror about this reality TV crew that goes out into the woods and they wind up stumbling upon something that’s otherworldly. It stars Chris Diamantopoulos, a really great guy, a really awesome director, great crew, Chris is a wonderful lead, he’s going to be really great in this film. We have high hopes for it, we had a lot of fun filming it. I play his younger brother, so it’s a nice supporting role. Hopefully you catch it at a festival soon enough. Aside from that, I’m developing a feature film called Lost Ones and I’m not going to give away much of the plot, but it’s like a cross between Attack the Block meets Pan’s Labyrinth, so it has a cool urban ensemble to it with the kids, but a fantastical element to it. We’re really excited about that. I will be co-directing that with my co-writer, a guy that I grew up with so that makes him the perfect partner. Currently I’m doing an episode of a TV series called The Listener. I play the guest star bad guy.
Yes! The villain which is the best part to play. I seem to get a lot of them.
Yeah, you were also a crossroads demon on Supernatural.
I was! You watch the show?
Oh yeah, my girlfriends and I love Supernatural.
Awesome. Yeah, Jared Padalecki is a really good friend of mine actually. We’ve known each other for years. Back in the early 2000’s he did this cheesy Olsen Twins film New York Minute. Do you remember that?
… Yes. (Author’s Note: I’m Team Sam so I have shamefully seen this movie)
(Laughs) I was at the read though and we met and totally just hung out during that shoot. Fast forward six years later and I’m now in Vancouver working and boom. We literally had a reunion on set that day when we were filming. That was really cool. Between takes he was like, “You wanna come over to my trailer and crack some Coronas? Let’s catch up. You remember my dog Sadie?” I’m like, “Yeah, of course.” He says, “Yeah, let’s hang with Sadie and crack some Coronas.” (Laughs) Like, is this real life right now?
Once again, life is coming full circle and the puzzle pieces are falling into place.
Totally. I’m not a clairvoyant type at all, but when these kinds of things happen you just kind of look back and spot those different moments where things just kind of fell into place and it’s cool. Life is cool.
If you have one, what is your favorite comic book movie and why?
The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight one hundred percent. I think I saw that film three times in the theater and I’m not the type of guy who sees films multiple times in theaters, I have friends who do that all the time, but I saw it three times and I absolutely loved it. I thought that film just encompassed everything plot wise, performance wise, the look of it, the filmmaking, it was just a masterpiece. I loved it.
Make sure to check out Drew Nelson on:
The Strain premieres July 13th on FX and FX Canada.