#54. A Conversation with Nicki Clyne

Jason Anders: So let's talk about growing up in British Columbia and your time in school; did you always know as a child in school plays that you wanted to act professionally, and at what point did you ultimately decide to put your energy into making a career out of your talent?

Nicki Clyne: I think on some level I always wanted to be an actor. I’ve been performing for as long as I can remember – whether it was on stage, in my backyard, or for patient friends and family members. But I have a pretty diverse range of interests, so I never really considered I would pursue only one thing. Like most people in my generation, I was raised with the mantra that “I could do anything I wanted” and I believed it. The part I didn’t quite get when I was younger was what it takes to do those things – merely wanting them isn’t enough, apparently. But that’s why acting is such a great gig: if I can’t actually be a lawyer or a doctor, at least I can play one on TV! As far as deciding to make a career of it, I think once I realized it was possible to get paid for doing something I loved, it was kind of a no-brainer. I actually called my agent after I got my first paycheck, innocently concerned they had paid me too much and I’d have to give it back. They didn’t, and I didn’t.

JA: How would you best describe yourself growing up and in high school?

NC: In a word, I would say I was pretty intense. I spent a lot of time thinking, (probably too much) wondering if I was doing the right thing, if people liked me, if I was ever going to find my life’s purpose. For some reason I really wanted to be “grown up.” Only now do I realize there is no such destination, only a continuous process of growth. But generally, I had a lot of different friends – I didn’t really feel like I fit in with any one group, but who does really? – I played sports, played in band, acted in plays, worked after school, all in all, a fairly typical suburban experience. Oh, and I was really, really, really cool (in case you didn’t just assume).

JA: What are your top three favorite on-screen performances of all time?

NC: That’s such a hard question, but here’s what comes to mind:
- Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose (heart-wrenching)
- Bud Cort as Harold in Harold and Maude (heart-melting)
- Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (heart-breaking)

JA: Who inspires you most as an actor and artist?

NC: As an actor, I really love Cate Blanchette. I think she has incredible class, makes brave and intelligent choices, and she has this almost other worldly sensibility. I also admire her humility and ability to live drama free despite her success. However, more than any artist in particular, I am probably most inspired by children. Their expression is so genuine and joyful, not yet hindered by our “grown up” knowledge and beliefs. Watching a child explore and take in the world is like having your heart snuggled by a thousand kittens, I just love it. I strive to connect with that innocence and pure expression of essence, both in my work and in my life.

JA: What was your first professional acting experience like, and how did you arrive at landing the job?

NC: Once I got my braces off, I cut my hair really short and dyed it dark right before I graduated from high school and, suddenly, more opportunities began to appear. I suppose I went from being another girl next-door type to a more edgy alternative type and for whatever reason it worked because I landed a job that summer. If I remember correctly, my first professional acting job was a commercial for this incredibly revolutionary product. You’d never guess. Are you ready? It was for yogurt... in a tube! Yes, I was the “Gogurt Girl,” as my co-workers cleverly called me for months. Thankfully very few people know about it... (crap.)

JA: In 2002 you appeared in the television remake of The Twilight Zone in the episode 'Night Route' with Ione Skye and Forest Whitaker (who narrated and hosted the episode); what was it like to work on this show with the cast and crew, and under the direction of Jean de Segonzac?

NC: I had a great experience working on The Twilight Zone, even though it was extremely brief. My part only took one day to film. Ione Skye was delightful and Jean de Segonzac was a real pro, I remember really enjoying watching him work. So, naturally, I was excited to work with him again on Battlestar.

JA: Shortly after appearing in The Twilight Zone you landed a role in the three hour mini-series Battlestar Galactica, which was based on the 1978 television series; what memories do you have about launching the mini-series by working alongside actors like Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, and what was it like to know that you would become a series regular when the show was picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel?  Especially since your character wasn't based on any particular character from the original series.

NC: First of all, I had no idea what Battlestar Galactica was when I auditioned for it; I hadn’t even read the full script, nor had I grown up with any awareness of the old show. It wasn’t until we started filming that I got a sense we were creating something more than just another Sci Fi show. Edward James Olmos was a strong advocate from the beginning; he would lecture us on how Battlestar was going to change the face of television and how our lives would be influenced dramatically by its success. Who would have thought Uncle Eddie’s pep talks would become a reality? It still feels surreal at times. I didn’t know I would become a series regular until the second season when I finally got a contract. Until then I awaited every script with bated breath, just hoping Cally survived. I truly feel honored considering I heard my character was supposed to be killed off in the first season. Thankfully, the writers saw that Cally had some bite in her.

JA: What are your fondest memories of being involved with Battlestar Galactica, and what was it like to work with people like Ronald D. Moore, David Eick, and Michael Rymer?

NC: I have so many fond memories from the show. And even the times I suffered through, I look back on with a smile. I used to joke about how much I “loved” being covered in dirt and blood and running through forests in the freezing cold, but really I can’t think of anywhere else I would have rather been; and seeing the finished product always made any degree of discomfort worthwhile. Being involved so consistently also gave me massive insight into what it takes to bring a show like that to the screen. I was able to visit the editors in Los Angeles, watch the dailies, and talk to people behind the scenes in different departments. It was really cool how accessible everyone was, even the producers.

We always had very colorful table reads because as time went on, the cast became more and more invested in their characters being a certain way. The producers and writers were nearly always there to give notes, but they often ended up receiving more than they gave. It didn’t always work out, but there were definitely some great discussions, and the writers were typically open and appreciated the feedback... at least that’s how it seemed. Oh, and hearing James Callis read President Roslin’s lines when Mary was out of town was always entertaining.

JA: What is your favorite episode of the series, and why?

NC: Definitely Cally’s final episode, “The Ties That Bind.” It was such a unique opportunity to explore the complexities of a character I’d spent four years living with and learning about. I think we finally got a chance to see the limits of her will and the deepest source of her struggle. To be honest, it was heartbreaking for me, both as an actor and an observer, but what an awesome challenge. I also loved working with Michael Nankin (the director). He was so generous with his time and quick to try on different perspectives. We shared many conversations, pushing our creativity, but wanting to be sure we upheld Cally’s journey despite her ultimate demise.

JA: Tell me about working with co-stars like Katee Sackhoff and Aaron Douglas, what it was like for you when the series ended, and how being on the show impacted not only your career, but your personal life as well.

NC: I could probably write a novel answering questions of this nature, so I’ll do my best to summarize. As you would guess, I spent most of my time working with Aaron Douglas. Fortunately we developed a close friendship that I think translated into a really nice chemistry onscreen. We would mess around a lot, play pranks, try to crack each other up, but ultimately knew when to get serious. I will say though, I’m glad the writers didn’t get any kinky ideas once he became my husband; it would have felt rather awkward and incestuous. Inevitably, it probably would have felt that way with anyone on the show since we became such a close-knit family over the years. Like any family, we had our dysfunctions, but ultimately there was always a sense that the people were more important than the product, which I think played a large part in the show’s success. You can tell when people love what they do, and when they don’t. I learned so much about what’s possible when you have a belief in something and you enroll the right people to help build that vision.

Being on Battlestar definitely gave me some good exposure, both in the public eye and within the industry. I’m very fortunate in that regard. I also get to travel to far away places for convention appearances and meet all the amazing fans and people from other Sci Fi shows. I’m probably most grateful for the friendships I’ve developed over the years, either indirectly or directly, because of the show. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really incredible people and also to humanize this concept of “celebrity” I’d become accustomed to. I think it’s sad the way our culture objectifies people, especially in the entertainment industry, and I’m glad I’ve had the rare opportunity to have even a glimpse of the other side. I also feel very lucky because I think Sci Fi fans are the most thoughtful and gracious. Don’t let the Storm Trooper costumes deceive you.

JA: What do you feel makes a performance great, and do you have a personal favorite piece of your own acting?

NC: It’s hard to define what truly makes a performance great; there are so many elements involved. For me, it’s something you experience when the protective layer around your soul is shattered, when you are forced to empathize with another’s struggle, no matter how different from your own, and feel your own humanity in the deepest sense. As far as I can tell, it takes unrelenting honesty, a deep self-knowledge, and a willingness to expose oneself for the whole world to judge. I think it’s rare – at least if you’re making a distinction between a good performance and a great performance. I find it difficult to be objective about my own performances, I’m constantly thinking of things I could have done differently after the fact, so I don’t really have a favorite piece in that regard. I guess I hope my most recent work is always my best.

JA: What do you most enjoy doing when you are not working?

NC: I love to read, write, walk, do yoga, dance, watch movies, spend time with friends... all the while contemplating the complexity of the universe and the absurdity of being human. I like to look at life as an experiment, striving to learn and experience as much joy as possible each day.

JA: So what is next for you professionally?  Any idea at the moment?

NC: I’m involved with an illustrated film series coming out in October. It’s called Godkiller, “the epic story of a boy on a quest to save his dying sister... it takes place in a dark future after economic collapse, after nuclear holy war, and after Earth is colonized by alien races.” It was so much fun to record, so different than anything I’ve done, and I really think the story asks some interesting questions about the boundaries of our humanity, albeit using some controversial content. I hope people check it out. The art is also stunning in my opinion.

JA: If you had to sum up your personality in one word, what would it be?

NC: Indescribable.