Interview: Rachel Nichols on ‘Conan the Barbarian’
As I walk into the room I find Rachel Nichols, the star of Conan the Barbarian, talking about all the posters she has to sign for the movie. So I rattle off a quick anecdote about the time I was with Stan Lee as he was signing a hundred books, and his remark that he was glad his name isn’t “Englebert Humperdink.” I think I did a good job disguising my anxiety around interviewing one of my great Hollywood crushes. Rachel Nichols had a lot to say on the subject of Conan, women in action movies, on-screen nudity, and her experiences with such popular films and shows as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Alias, Lost, Star Trek, The (woefully forgotten) Inside and her upcoming film A Bird of the Air. Enjoy.
CraveOnline: First I want to say, I don’t know how often you get this, but I was a huge fan of The Inside.
Rachel Nichols: Oh, it breaks my heart and makes me so happy at the same time every time someone says that! Which isn’t all that often [because it was] cancelled. I loved that show. I loved making that show. I loved everybody on the show, especially Peter Coyote. And it means a lot for you to say that because it was… it was a big deal for me.
CraveOnline: Yeah. It was a great role for you, too. Every time I run into somebody who worked on that show, and I tell them how much I loved it, everyone is so super, super excited about it. […] I think it’s weird, because Michael Emerson [Benjamin Linus on Lost] was in that “Pre-filer” episode of The Inside [about a serial killer who killed serial killers before their first murder] and now he’s doing a show that’s about him being a pre-filer.
Rachel Nichols: Really?
CraveOnline: Person of Interest. It’s about him and Jim Caviezel and they’re trying to catch criminals before they do stuff. It’s weird.
Rachel Nichols: That’s weird!
CraveOnline: Isn’t it?
Rachel Nichols: Yeah! I have to watch that.
CraveOnline: I know! Um… Conan.
Rachel Nichols: Yeah!
CraveOnline: How do you feel about Conan?
Rachel Nichols: How do I feel about Jason [Momoa] or how do I feel about the movie?
CraveOnline: Well, let’s start with Jason.
Rachel Nichols: (Laughs) – I think Jason as Conan is brilliant. I really do. I give him a lot of credit. He did a lot of work. And the amazing thing is, Jason’s Conan is fantastic, Arnold’s Conan is fantastic… They’ve very different Conans. And so you’re allowed to like both, you don’t have to choose your favorite.
CraveOnline: No, we’ll pick.
Rachel Nichols: Oh, okay, well…
CraveOnline: That’s the nature of the beast.
Rachel Nichols: I’m really proud of Jason. I think he looks the role.
CraveOnline: He’s huge.
Rachel Nichols: HUGE!
CraveOnline: When I saw you on camera, when I saw you standing next to him, I was like, “Is he on an apple box?
Rachel Nichols: I know! I’m not a short person either. And he’s great He’s lovely. I think he did a fantastic job, and I really think the fans are going to like him. Especially because Game of Thrones just came out and people loved him on that. So that’s more P.R. than a movie could ever ask for.
CraveOnline: I told him I hadn’t seen [Game of Thrones] and he made me punch myself in the face.
Rachel Nichols: I haven’t seen it either, but I wouldn’t…
CraveOnline: No, it’s good. I have no dignity. It’s interesting to me because more so than a lot of other actresses in your generation you seem to be gravitating a lot towards action-oriented roles. Is that by design or is that just where you’re finding yourself?
Rachel Nichols: You know, I like it. I like physical roles, I always have. I just think it’s fun. I think it’s cool to play an ass-kicking chick. Girls can get in fights too. But also, you know, it certainly wasn’t “by design.” (Laughs) – I just like to work. If I like the script, whether it’s TV or a movie I just want to definitely get involved. It’s a confidence booster for me to be known as a female who can take on any action, which is nice, to have that reputation, because then people know that when they hire me I can actually do the physical stuff. […] I just like that stuff. I think bruises are cool. I take pictures of them and I put them on the internet, you know? War wounds are awesome! As long as it’s not a big scar on my face…
CraveOnline: No one wants that. No one wants that. So, as far as love interests you’re following up on Sandahl Bergman [Schwarzenegger’s co-star in the original Conan the Barbarian]. Obviously you’re a very different character. How does your relationship with Conan, for you, feel different?
Rachel Nichols: I’ve never watched the original.
CraveOnline: You’ve never watched the original?
Rachel Nichols: No…
CraveOnline: Neither has Jason.
Rachel Nichols: We’re sort of the united front on this. Obviously it’s no disrespect to the original. It came out when – Jason and I are the same age – it came right after we were born. I always heard about it. That was kind of all I ever knew. And having the experience we had on G.I. Joe, I mean obviously we were doing a movie that had these characters that were very established, and I didn’t do a lot of research into that one either because you… Marcus Nispel kind of set the stage with the aesthetics. He built the world, and he created it. Jason brought his character, his Conan in, and I brought my Tamara in, and we had, obviously, many different consultants, and I thought… if they need something else, if they want something different, they’re going to let me know. But I would rather go in not thinking about who played the love interest in the first one. And I will eventually see it.
CraveOnline: Sure you will.
Rachel Nichols: Oh, now I’m going to have to. I’m going to have to at some point.
CraveOnline: (Laughs) – The role you play is sort of… I don’t want to reduce it by calling it a “trope,” but it’s sort of a familiar action element: a more dignified woman being carted along by an adventurer. How do you approach that?
Rachel Nichols: You know, the reason that I liked it so much when I was reading it and working it out is because for Tamara, for my character, she’s finding out who she is at the same time the audience is finding out who she is. She really doesn’t have any idea. She thinks she’s going to be a monk for the rest of her life. It’s a coming-of-age story that oddly happens in the middle of this big action movie. I liked the idea of the back-and-forth. I liked the idea of… She kind of doesn’t take his @#$%. Even though she’s definitely scared in the beginning, she goes to toe-to-toe and gives him a little bit of attitude, and there’s that back-and-forth, and we have a couple of funny moments. And I become more of a counterpart when we decide to join forces, and then obviously I come up with the Stockholm syndrome and we… get it on… But it was fun. It was the counterpart kind of thing. Jason’s the easiest guy to become friends with in the entire world. He’s lovely and he’s so nice. And we had a great time and we made fun of each other, on and off set. I think the relationship that Jason and I had came out while we were filming.
CraveOnline: You brought it up, so about getting it on…
Rachel Nichols: Yeah…
CraveOnline: Yeah… I think everyone’s going to want to know: body double
Rachel Nichols: Yeah.
CraveOnline: Okay. Good for you.
Rachel Nichols: There was a man…
CraveOnline: It was a man?!
Rachel Nichols: It was a man!
CraveOnline: Oh my god! He’s gorgeous!
Rachel Nichols: He’s got the nicest tits I’ve ever seen! (Laughs) – He said, “Do you want to choose the boobs?” So I walked to a room of fifteen girls and say, “Show me your tits!” No, no, no… [I said] Jason can handpick them. (Laughs.) It was fun. Actually, it was super awkward. It was the first [sex scene] I’d ever had. There is a man online who berated me, I think it was on “Men’s Health Blog” or something, he berated me for not showing my own boobs. He was very angry with me that I did not show my boobs.
CraveOnline: He wanted to see!
Rachel Nichols: Those were lovely boobs! They’re real pretty; pretend they’re mine! I have a dad! Think of your daughter! Do you want her boobs out on the big screen for everyone to see on the big screen? I don’t think so… Mine are real and spectacular and they’re staying in my shirt.
CraveOnline: Well, there goes my follow-up question…
Rachel Nichols: (Laughs)
CraveOnline: Not to bring up a downer, but I was disappointed to see that you were not coming back for G.I. Joe 2.
Rachel Nichols: Oh, broke my heart. That was… You know what? That was the biggest, I think, work let down I’ve ever had. […] At Paramount there was sort of a regime change, and I was really bummed. Sienna [Miller] and I became good friends on that movie. We had a blast making it. (Conspiratorial) – You let Marlon and Channing [Tatum] loose in Prague and we’re going to have a great time… And Stephen Sommers is lovely. I loved working with him and I would have wanted to come back and do the sequel, and it’s not meant to be and that was a big heartbreak because people liked Scarlett in the movie.
CraveOnline: Yeah. I had issues with the movie, but I thought you were great casting.
Rachel Nichols: Thank you. And I wanted us to come back and get to do it again. And well, I have a big crush on Dwayne Johnson…
CraveOnline: So do I…
Rachel Nichols: Who doesn’t? He’s in the new one, and I’m… Really? Really? I don’t get to do a movie with Dwayne Johnson? And this is a movie I should be doing [anyway], so I’m really sad about that.
CraveOnline: I’m sorry.
Rachel Nichols: That’s okay. I’ll still see it, because I like those movies. I’ll just yell at the screen.
CraveOnline: I know it’s early, and obviously you had a small role in the original, but would you come back for Star Trek 2?
Rachel Nichols: Oh, absolutely. You know, J.J. [Abrams] is Mr. Super Top Secret. I certainly have no information as to when they’re going to make one, how it’s going to be, I don’t know about the story. It’s still very wishy-washy. Absolutely I would come back and do it. It was fun. It was so much fun. And J.J.’s great to work for. He’s just as nice and lovely and wonderful as you think he is. […] When I got hired for Alias, originally I auditioned for Lost and then Mission: Impossible 3…
CraveOnline: Who did you audition for on Lost?
Rachel Nichols: The Maggie Grace role. I did that and they ended up giving me a chance to test and I didn’t want to move to Hawaii. I know, that sounds crazy but it was too big of a move for me.
CraveOnline: It’s a big move.
Rachel Nichols: And then I saw him again for Mission: Impossible 3 and Keri Russell, she got the role, and then I was on Alias. And so after I officially signed on for Alias and was on the show, he sent me a handwritten congratulations note. It not only said “Congratulations for being on Alias.” He said congratulations and referenced several things we talked about in a conversation that we had when I first met him, one of them being my gigantic man-hands… and the fact that I’m from Maine, much like his wife Katie. And he’s just that guy: the hand-written note with the personal… He’s lovely.
CraveOnline: That is lovely. I loved you on Alias by the way. I only just watched that series.
Rachel Nichols: (Whispers) – I loved it.
CraveOnline: Me too.
Rachel Nichols: I loved it. I was an insane fan before I got the job. I didn’t tell them that I was an insane fan, because I thought that they might think that I was insane and not hire me. So I had seen every episode of seasons one, two and three, and [season] four was not out on DVD yet, and I like to watch them on DVD where you can watch it back-to-back-to-back and you can watch a whole bunch at the same time.
CraveOnline: I watched all five seasons… it was five seasons?
Rachel Nichols: Yes…
CraveOnline: I watched all five seasons in about two weeks.
Rachel Nichols: Yeah. I couldn’t stop. It would end and I’d have to see another one. And serialized stuff, you have to see it back-to-back because you lose stuff over the week or whatever. So as soon as the ink was dry on the contract, I went to Ken Olin [executive producer on Alias] and I said, “You’re going to have to get me that season four DVD right away.” And he went, “Well, it’s not out on DVD. I thought you’d only seen a couple episodes.” And I’m like, “No, I’ve seen every one and I think it’s important that I see all of season four before I start working.” And he goes, “You start working in a week.” “Oh yeah, those will be done this weekend. If you give it to me today those will be done in three days. I’ve gone through the whole series.” [He’s like] “Who have we hired? Oh my god!” But I was a huge fan of the show and it was a great working experience.
CraveOnline: Would you go back to TV…?
Rachel Nichols: Absolutely. I like mixing it up. I just did a season on Criminal Minds, which was fun. I love the show. It’s a show that I would watch anyway. I think it’s nice to be on a show that you would actually watch. Yeah, I’d like to do a little bit more adventurous TV. Maybe Showtime or HBO or just a little bit edgier. But I would go back to NBC, CBS, whatever. There’s a lot of good TV that’s sort of coming out now, TV that I’m prone to watch. I’d like to do a comedy actually. I think it would be great to do a sitcom or something like that. I’m pretty much open to anything. I’ll never do a job where I have to sing, because I’m tone deaf, but other than that…
CraveOnline: Let me cross off my follow-up question…
Rachel Nichols: (Laughs)
CraveOnline: Real fast, I saw that you’re doing A Bird of the Air, written by Robert Towne [the screenwriter of Chinatown]. Tell me a little bit about that.
Rachel Nichols: It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at work. I’ve been… I’ve been fortunate. I’ve only had a couple disasters. Most have been really lovely, and A Bird of the Air was no exception. Based on the book by Joe Coomer. It’s this sort of beautifully quirky love story, and I’m, for the first twenty minutes, kind of annoying. I’m a sort of annoying extroverted librarian who falls in love with this strong, silent student type. And I basically just stalk him and bother him until he falls in love with me…
CraveOnline: Ah, that’s the dream…
Rachel Nichols: (Laughs) – And we shot in Santa Fe, which if you haven’t been, it’s kind of magical there.
CraveOnline: I’ve only heard Christian Bale sing about it.
Rachel Nichols: Sing?
CraveOnline: Yeah, in Newsies? He had that whole song about Santa Fe.
Rachel Nichols: Does he really?
Rachel Nichols: You have a good memory.
CraveOnline: I have a very good memory. I’ve been told I have a photographic memory.
Rachel Nichols: Because I’ve seen Newsies and I barely remember that Bale was in it, and I certainly don’t remember that he sang. Definitely not about Santa Fe.
CraveOnline: No, it’s right after he has that whole dinner with the family. (Sings) – “So that’s what they call a family. Mudda, daughta, fadda, son…”
Rachel Nichols: (Laughs) – Oh my God, how many times have you seen Newsies?
CraveOnline: Oh God, like… twenty. I love that movie.
Rachel Nichols: (Laughs) – I’ve seen Silence of the Lambs like fifty or sixty times. That’s my favorite movie of all time.