I’ve been doing the weekly recaps for “The Strain” and when Biff Bam Pop’s fearless leader, Andy Burns, asked if I would interview Drew Nelson who played Matt Sayles on the show. My reply was, “Holy Strigoi!” Meet me after the jump.
Marie Gilbert: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what was the spark that drew you into acting?
Drew Nelson: “Well I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and I had a relatively normal suburban upbringing I’d say. In high school, I quickly realized that math and sciences were not really my forte based on the marks I was getting, but drama class was a different story when I started getting A grades for the first time. I knew something was working and I was always interested in visual art since I was a kid so it dawned on me that I had a real inkling for the arts, period.
“But the specific moment that really shone a light on what I should be doing for a living was a situation in high school. I think it was in my sophomore year and our regular drama teacher had to go on maternity leave so they called in a teacher from New York City as a substitute. This woman had studied at a major theatre school in New York and she had been a trained as an actor herself. She came in and substituted for our class and didn’t just teach us silly drama games, but taught us real acting technique where you learn how to analyze text and construct a character. I specifically remember this one scene class where she handed a scene to myself and my partner and I wasn’t really taking it seriously, but she really saw something in me and forced me to take it seriously and pushed me to the brink in just a regular class. I had never been challenged by a teacher like that before and she ended up casting me as her lead in the play that year.
“Yeah, that’s how it all started. It’s funny I’m actually going to New York on the weekend for a friends bachelor party and because of “The Strain” she reached out to me on Facebook and I found out that she lives in Brooklyn, which is where I’m staying.”
Marie Gilbert: That is so nice.
Drew Nelson: “Isn’t that cool? I’m looking forward to catching up with her. We haven’t seen each other in years and it will be great to have a coffee. So everything, pretty much, snowballed from there.”
Marie Gilbert: What was your first break in either television or movie; your first role?
Drew Nelson: “My first job as a professional actor was this TV series called “In a Heartbeat”. It was on the Disney Channel and I played a BMX racer guy. But I’d say my first big break was a film I did called Red Sneakers. It was on Showtime and directed by Gregory Hines. So I had the chance to work with him and that was a phenomenal experience. It was a basketball movie and I played one of the starting five players and it was an all-around incredible experience that I’ll never forget and I’ll never forget Gregory. He was an unbelievable human being and it’s a shame that he’s no longer with us.”
Marie Gilbert: Yes, right. I’ll ask you more about the other films you were in, but I want to start off with “The Strain.” Did you audition for the part or did they approach you?
Drew Nelson: “I did audition for the part like I would for any other project. When I saw the creative team that was involved, it blew my mind. I’ve been a huge fan of Guillermo since Pan’s Labyrinth, and I knew of Carlton’s work from “Lost” which was one of my favorite shows of all time. Going into the audition, I knew it was a long shot. When they cast recurring, supporting, or lead roles in US projects majority of the time they go to an established American ‘name’ so you pretty much cancel yourself out. So us Canadian actors usually get the ‘filler’ roles. It’s just the way it goes and we’re used to that, but with this particular character, I knew it was right up my alley and I knew I could do something unique with him. So I read for the casting director in Toronto, and really felt like I nailed it. I didn’t hear anything for a couple weeks, which felt like an eternity, ha, and then got a call from my agent saying that Guillermo wanted to meet with me in person.”
Marie Gilbert: Wow!
Drew Nelson: “Yeah, and so Guillermo and Carlton Cuse were present at the call back and I got to shake both their hands, and work the scenes in front of them, however there was no camera recording the audition. Guillermo gave me extremely detailed direction, pretty much line by line, and it already felt like we were working on set. I knew the rapport was there and it just felt right. Mind you, I was the most nervous I’d ever been in my entire life, but I think it definitely fueled the work. ha
“A couple days passed and then I got another call from the casting office saying that they wanted to read me again, but this time it was going to be on camera, and only going to be with a casting director and the specific notes were to “do it exactly the same way you did for Guillermo.” So I knew I was close. That second callback took place on Friday, my birthday was on Sunday, and I got the call on Monday afternoon that I got the role.”
Marie Gilbert: (laughing) That is awesome. It’s a great birthday present.
Drew Nelson: laughing, “Wasn’t it? It was an incredible moment for sure.”
Marie Gilbert: Especially incredible because the show was big news because of the books. Did you read the three books before you auditioned; to get the feel of the role?
Drew Nelson: “No. I kind of went in blindly. I knew of the books but I didn’t want to read the books in case it clouded my judgment and my own interpretation of the character, so for the initial auditions I didn’t read the books, but once I got the call back to read for Guillermo, I started reading the first book. I wanted to be informed just in case he asked questions during the meeting.
“From there, during the filming of the first season I just kept going through all the books and read them all and so I had a good scope as to where the story was going and where my character fit in the whole spectrum of things. That’s how I prepped for it.”
Marie Gilbert: So… you knew that your character, Matt, was… killed?
Drew Nelson: (laughing) “He was, yeah. It’s not a spoiler anymore. The news is out.”
Marie Gilbert: (laughing) Yeah, I know, but oh rats! They might call you back for a flashback, right?
Drew Nelson: “You never know, it’s possible. We’ll just have to see. I know with Carlton and “Lost” he had a great deal of flashbacks and flash forwards that he liked to use in his shows, so who knows…
“I had an absolute blast working on the show and it’s done a lot for my career. I got to know a lot of the people in the cast and crew extremely well, and yes, it would be incredible if I was asked back, but as it stands now, Matt is deader than dead.” Marie and Drew laugh. “His head wasn’t just chopped off, his entire body was burned!”
Marie Gilbert: Although he’s dead, in the sci-fi and horror genre, dead’s never dead.
Drew Nelson: “You’re exactly right.”
Marie Gilbert: You never stay dead and you always find a way to come back. But, how do you handle that as an actor. I’ve always wondered about this especially because I do the recaps for “The Walking Dead” and a favorite character is dead and you go to a convention and they are there signing autographs, and you’re like, “So, how do you like being dead?” (Marie and Drew laugh)
I’ll stop Part One of my interview with Drew Nelson here, my little blood banks, but Steampunk Granny will return Tuesday with Part Two.