Drew Nelson (Image Credit: Angela Besharah)
It was a dream come true for actor Drew Nelson to work with Academy Award nominee Guillermo del Toro. Nelson has been a fan of the filmmaker ever since he saw del Toro’s renowned dark fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth, a film that even helped to inspire his own project. Now, Nelson is a part of del Toro’s TV adaptation of his own trilogy, the vampire thriller The Strain. The series follows Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), head of the Center for Disease Control Canary Team, as he and his team investigate a mysterious viral outbreak that has signs of an old and evil strain of vampirism. The Daily Quirk had the opportunity to talk to Nelson about his passion for The Strain, his own projects, fans and his interest in graffiti art.
The Daily Quirk: You’ll be playing Matt Sayles in FX’s upcoming drama The Strain. Can you tell us a bit about how the role came about?
Drew Nelson: It came about how any other role kind of comes about for a Canadian actor: through the whole audition process. That first initial audition really felt like it went well and for some odd reason, it just stuck with me. Usually I’m good at having an audition and then letting it go. But this one, two weeks later, still sat with me and I just had a feeling about it. You get a feeling about some of them sometimes, and what happened was I got a phone call from my agent one day telling me Guillermo [del Toro, the creator and director of The Strain] wanted to meet me in person, and I didn’t quite know what the details were. But it turned out I was going to meet him at the production office in front of him and Carlton [Cuse, executive producer of The Strain] and I ended up reading that day for a very detailed callback, working on all the detailed moments. That went really well and a couple days passed, and I got another call that they wanted to see me again but this time at a casting office in Toronto and this time in front of a camera because the first audition in front of Guillermo was not with a camera. I went in there and did a great job there and basically said if this is as far as I get, then I already had one dream come true because I’ve been a fan of Guillermo’s ever since Pan’s Labyrinth. The fact that I got to meet the man in person, let alone take direction from him, was incredible already. So if I didn’t get the part, I would have still be a happy guy but a couple of weeks later, I got the call that I got it.
TDQ: What was it about this role that made it stick with you?
DN: It was the fact that I’d be a part of such an incredible creative team. I mean the creative team is just stacked, so to be able to work with people like that at that level would just be incredible. As far as the role alone, I really felt like it was a chance to inject a lot more into this character than was just on the page and the book, I thought. On the page, I felt like he came off one-sided in his intentions, and I thought it would be cool to really sink into this guy’s head a little bit and figure out his thought process with how he’s dealing with this supposed outbreak and to find the truth in that. I thought that would be really intriguing.
TDQ: I love how this project seems a bit like Resident Evil meets Dracula. Can you tell us a bit about what to expect?
DN: A lot of us in the cast, we had a chance to watch the pilot already, so I’ve already seen the pilot, and it’s just incredible. We were watching and our mouths are agape. Some of the actions sequences you’re going to see are mind-numbingly real looking, like how did they do this? The CG people did such a phenomenal job with recreating Guillermo’s vision of these vampires. The world we’re creating, it spans so many decades and timelines. It’s epic in size, and I really don’t think there’s anything like it on television now, at all. We’re hoping that it really starts this brand new vision of that apocalyptic world that a lot of people have tried, but I feel like this one really nails it.
TDQ: Oh, that’s really interesting. I didn’t know there was any play on time. Can you tell me more about that?
DN: What I can tell you is that it expands multiple timelines. It flip-flops back and forth to explain the story of how this vampire strain came about.
TDQ: Your character Matt is the new boyfriend of the main character’s estranged wife, so I’m sensing you’ll have a lot of intense scenes with Corey Stoll (Dr. Ephraim Goodweather). Can you tell us what we’ll expect from Matt?
DN: I can’t go into detail, but I’ll say I had the good fortune of working with Corey Stoll who plays the lead of the show in quite a few scenes. There’s definitely a really solid tension that happens between our characters throughout the whole series, and you’re just going to have to tune in to find out more. I can’t delve into much in terms of details. But there are some great scenes between us. He’s just an incredible actor to play against. I really feel like this show is going to put him on the map, in terms of being a household name because he does an incredible job on this show.
TDQ: We’ve seen a lot of different ways to portray vampires. What are the vampires on The Strain going to look and be like?
DN: Oh man, you’re trying to get the dirt. [Laughs] There was an article released in The Los Angeles Times that showed pictures of what they look like. It has an in-depth look at behind the scenes, so it’s got a lot of backlot pictures of filming sequences. It provides a lot of insight. These vampires, I’ll say, they’re gory, graphic feral creatures who are just out to drain people of their blood. That’s strictly what they’re all about it. It’s very primal. It’s violence and it’s horror, which is very different from a lot of other vampire crap we’ve been totally saturated with for a long time. I really feel like this show is going to revolutionize the vampire genre. We’ll see what happens.
TDQ: You said you are a fan of Guillermo del Toro. What is it like then getting to work with him?
DN: It goes without saying. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s just a dream come true for me because I’ve been a fan of Guillermo’s since Pan’s Labyrinth. I’m just incredibly grateful for the experience. Guillermo as a director is the epitome of what you want in a director. He’s incredibly technically sound with the overall scope of everything and so detailed even down to the bare bones of finding color palettes for characters compared to what backdrop he’s using in certain scenes. He’s just brilliant that way. At the same time, he’s so open to collaborating and working with his actors that he makes it really easy. I’d work with him in a heartbeat, 100 percent. As far as Chuck [Hogan, co-writer and co-creator with del Toro for The Strain], he’s just such a down to Earth guy from Boston. We got to know each other pretty well working on set. He’s also an incredibly talented writer too. And Carton Cuse is such a wonderful collaborator as well and a really down to Earth guy too. You’re just in such good hands of people who know the show inside and out and keep the vision going. You put all your trust in these guys, and you know you’re going to come up with a solid product.
Drew Nelson (Image Credit: Drew Nelson)
TDQ: Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan wrote the trilogy upon which the TV series is based. What is it like to work on an adaptation spearheaded by the original creators?
DN: It just maintains the integrity of what they set out to do and their vision in the first place. To have a showrunner like Carlton Cuse on it, he’s really spearheading the entire thing and taking Guillermo and Chuck’s vision and seeing that through and maintaining the quality of product that’s being made that translates to what fans loved in the books. That’s what the ultimate was, and I really think we’ve achieved that.
TDQ: Were you a fan of the books? Have you read them?
DN: I read them. I definitely made it a point to read them, just to see where you fit in the whole cog in the wheel.
TDQ: So how do you think fans of the book will react to the TV adaptation?
DN: I think they’re really going to dig it. I think we really do justice to the books. I think there’s stuff that maybe surprises them but maybe in a good way. I think we really capture the scope and the epicness of what the book had. They’re phenomenal books.
TDQ: I can tell you’re really passionate about Guillermo’s work and obviously The Strain. Is the fantasy/ sci-fi genre something you’re partial to?
DN: Yeah, I do really like it. I’ve had the good fortune of doing a number of sci-fi shows now. For whatever odd reason — I don’t know maybe it’s the eyebrows I have — but I get cast in a lot of bad guy roles. Corey Stoll has an amazing quote I read in an interview. He said I get cast as the good guys who always aren’t quite good and the bad guys who always aren’t that bad. I thought that he just nailed it on the head with that. I tend to play a lot of those parts. I’m a huge fan of this genre. I’m actually developing a dark urban fantasy story myself right now, making it into a feature film. Funny enough, before we had a title for it, it was called ‘The Untitled Pan’s Labyrinth Project.’ It’s just the universe working in a strange way.
TDQ: I was going to ask about that! I heard you write and produce your own work, so can you tell me more about that project you’re working on?
DN: It’s this really cool concept I’ve been developing for the last five or six years. We’re making a project that’s like Attack the Block, which is a cool, urban fantasy film itself, meets Pan’s Labyrinth in terms of the fantastical aspect of it. We’ve been working on that in quite some time. We’re looking for funding money to make more films and then hopefully get some interest in making it into a feature. Been working on hard on that. Shoot some music videos from time to time too.
TDQ: Do you have a title for this project?
DN: We have a title for now. It’s called Lost Ones. Funny enough, Ryan Gosling has a film festival project that used to be called How to Catch a Monster and now it’s called Lost River, so I’m thinking we might have to change that title eventually. I wish his movie was still called How to Catch a Monster!
TDQ: Well, I think they’re different enough ideas for you to keep that title.
DN: There are definitely differences to our projects, but it’s really cool that someone to Gosling’s caliber is developing cool projects like this.
TDQ: How long have you been writing?
DN: My mom always thought I had a knack for writing. But I didn’t really start writing seriously until I guess 2005, so I’m rather new at it myself. I just feel like in this day and age as an actor you have to create your own opportunities — instead of just waiting for things to come around — and that’s what I’m focusing on.
TDQ: Are there any other projects you’re working on?
DN: In between shooting the pilot for The Strain and finding that we got picked up, I shot a feature film called Man Vs. starring Chris Diamantopoulos, who played one of the Three Stooges in the feature film — a hilarious actor, really talented guy. I played his younger brother in the film. The last thing I heard was that they’re looking to put a campaign together for a film festival, so hopefully you’ll see that soon enough. I also just finished filming a guest role on an episode of [the Canadian series] The Listener, which I believe airs on ION in the States. And plugging away at my own projects and continuing to develop those and make them come to fruition.
TDQ: A project you’ve been doing for a few years is playing Duncan on Cartoon Network’s Total Drama? What is your favorite part about doing voice work? What is that like?
DN: Doing animation work is a blast. You go to a studio and you basically act a fool for as long as you need to in the booth to create that character. I just love the freedom. There’s never a camera I have to worry about being big. I’m about injecting as much fun into it as possible. I really enjoy animation work. I’d love to do more. And I just wanted to give a shout-out to the Total Drama fans from around the world. We’re so lucky to have such rabid fans who adore the show. It’s been such an amazing experience for me interacting with these fans. I’ve done a number of conventions, and it’s amazing to give back and to meet the people that actually care what you do. Just very blessed to have the opportunity. We have crazy love for our Total Drama fans.
TDQ: Do you have any fun fan stories involving Total Drama fans?
DN: I have a funny story that I told at a convention, but I think it’s suitable for this question. I was vacationing in Jamaica. A friend of mine rented a house and invited me, and there were workers keeping up the place. The woman who was cooking for us, we got in a conversation and asked her what shows she watches. She answered, [he does a pretty great Jamaican accent] ‘You know there’s this show on TV right now with all these people and they go to the island. And every time, they get thrown off the island, and it’s a cartoon.’ And I’m like gob-smacked because her and her son watch the show and love the show, so I was like, ‘That’s funny you say that because I play Duncan on that show.’ She freaked out. The other guy vacationing with us plays Owen [another character on Total Drama], so I was like ‘I’ll get Owen for you.’ My friend Scott McCord who plays Owen did the voice for her, and she died laughing. It was such a random occurrence, but that was really memorable for sure in terms of fans.
Duncan / TOTAL DRAMA (Image Credit: Cartoon Network)
TDQ: Did you do your Duncan voice for her?
DN: Yeah [laughs]. But the thing with my Duncan voice is — people call me the laziest voice actor in the city — because it’s really just my normal voice, but they pitch it up a little bit in post production, so there’s nothing to it. But I still did it, and she liked it.
TDQ: Because we’re The Daily Quirk, we like to ask for something quirky about you but I think I already know it: an interest in graffiti and street art. How did that passion come to be?
DN: I’ve been into that since elementary school. It started from just taking the subway train in Toronto and passing by this specific location that goes above ground. I would look out of the windows at this massive mural they would always do in a parking lot that would overlook the bridge where the subway passes. From there, I just fell in love with the art form. I was a graffiti writer myself for a while. The passion for it totally still lives in me today. The feature film I’m developing [Lost Ones], graffiti and street art plays a big role in it. It’s definitely something that if I wasn’t an actor, I would have followed the graffiti thing all the way through because it’s something that just totally burns in me. I’m incredibly passionate about it. It’s one thing I just immediately loved. In terms of being quirky, I’m ridiculously quirky [laughs]. Since growing up, I’ve been this quirky, awkward, prone-to-accidents kind of guy. I totally embrace my inner quirk.
TDQ: Well we love that! Do you have a website or something for photos of your graffiti and street art?
DN: I don’t have any of my own personal work. I definitely post a lot of graffiti and street art pics on my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Definitely working on my own personal website right now but they’ll be more for sure.
TDQ: I’ll be looking forward to site then so I can see your work.
DN: I will. I’d love to share it.
TDQ: And is there anything else you’d want fans to know about you or be surprised to know about you?
DN: Like I said, I tend to play a lot of characters who have ulterior motives and are really shady at times, and that’s so incredibly far from me it’s not even funny. The industry definitely sees me a certain way. I’m even starting to develop projects I can play really quality characters. I’m slowly trying to change the way the industry sees me by creating my own stuff and creating characters with a good moral base. I know the Total Drama fans think I’m a skater, juvenile delinquent badass, but I’m not really [laughs].
The Daily Quirk would like to thank Drew Nelson for taking the time to chat! To find out more about Nelson, you can follow him on his aforementioned Twitter or visit his official Facebook page. You can see Nelson as Matt Sayles on The Strain when it premieres July 13 at 10 p.m. on FX.