Whether it is portraying a villainous American Revolution soldier or a good-hearted psychiatrist, star’s strong performances shine through the costuming, makeup and wigs. Good character actors are in high demand in Hollywood and once an actor finds his niche, as then such actors are usually blessed with many great character opportunities. It also provides the gift that most actors crave — not just steady employment — but the chance to slip in and out of a variety of roles like a chameleon. It is why most actors are drawn to the profession in the first place, the chance to try on and portray characters for a time and see what it is like to be in that character’s shoes for a day, a week, a month or even a few years. Nick Basta’s career has afforded him to play characters on such hit shows as LAW & ORDER, UNDER THE DOME, BANSHEE, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, SECRETS AND LIES, TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES, and FINDING CARTER.
In an exclusive interview, star Nick Basta talked about the joys of having a long and varied acting career, as well as the pride of working on TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES and the surprising new character he plays in MTV’s FINDING CARTER.
You are playing a couple of very different characters on television right now, Dr. Fox on FINDING CARTER and Corporal Eastin in TURN. What do you look for in a role and why were you attracted to these particular roles?
NICK: I am more of a character guy. On TURN we try to stress the theatrical elements more than other television shows, and I’m lucky enough to be one of the only American red coats. [Laughs] I guess my accent checks out. The characters that I play are not quite the leading man, they are more people that fill the blanks in — like a guy that takes a scene over or in a sense, he carried it — supporting the leads. In FINDING CARTER, that show is actually doing really well, I play a gentle doctor who reunites Carter (Kathryn Prescott) with her abductor mom Lori (Milena Govich) and it is pretty pivotal in this season because it is the first time she sees her in quite a long time. So I guess gentle character types is something that have been coming my way. It has been a good year. I am in nine episodes of TURN and FINDING CARTER is probably going to be a recurring role as well. So anything that has depth of character to it and moves people is what I like to do.
When you first saw these characters on the page, what sparked your interest?
NICK: Actually, for TURN, the role was not yet written. They offered me a part and then said it is going to about this guy. They didn’t really tell me much about it. On TV this happens a lot, when things progress in a brand new show — especially in uncharted waters with a period piece since there are not too many American Revolution dramas out there — they just knew I would play a henchman for the main villain. I like to play villains too, and you could say that attracts me as well. Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) was my character’s boss last year and Hewlett (Burn Gorman) is his boss this year and what ended up happening is the producers just liked me and they keep using me. They keep put me in things. So I guess if you do your job and keep doing what your doing, they tend to use you more. It was actually going to be just one episode on TURN and then it ended up being two, then six this season. So sometimes you don’t plan for the future, it plans for you.
It has to be flattering to know that roles are being created or they are expanding roles for you. As an actor, that must feel good. You must think, “my work is being appreciated and somebody enjoys it.”
NICK: It’s the best and just doing a good job. When they start to use you and make plot lines around your character, to me, that’s the most flattering part of acting in general.
In particular, these two characters are just so different. One is a psychotherapist on FINDING CARTER versus the quasi-villainous Corporal Eastin in TURN. That is a wide range. How do you pursue projects like that? Is it whatever is handed to you or do you reflect upon the roles thinking you would like to do something different each time?
NICK: I’m kind of lucky in that I can kind of say that these roles are choosing me. You audition for things. I am moving back to New York, actually, after six years in North Carolina and I auditioned for a new series that Mick Jagger is producing with Terence Winter called ROCK AND ROLL. It’s based on the ’70’s rock and roll scene in New York. I also auditioned for a Czechoslovakian choreographer role. That range is what I think acting is. Of course, we need Clark Gable-types, but I think for my brand of acting it is being different characters at all times. Daniel Day Lewis is a hero and Johnny Depp is a hero too. I enjoy doing different characters and I hope I can continue to work doing that.
Is that one of your favorite things about being an actor? Being a chameleon and playing all these different roles?
NICK: Absolutely. I have even cut my hair to a point where I might be able to audition for some Arab parts. That would be really interesting since they are working a lot. I had cut my hair short for the wig on TURN as I found that very short hair is helpful for when you have a wig that you have to wear all the time. So I cut it short and now it is working for Russian characters as well. I’ll wear some facial hair and wear some gold — and it helps to have a Russian accent. I actually studied in Moscow for three months during grad school. I went to ART and a couple of alums that went to ART were Jon Bernthal and Steve Zahn. I was a Stanislavsky student and there is a Moscow ART theater — Stanislavsky and Chekhov were a Russian director and playwrites from the turn of the century — so I went to Moscow and studied. There is a Master’s program through Harvard called American Repertory Theater and you get to do 3-4 months in Moscow. It’s a Russian acting training type of program. So I have a Master’s in theater and I teach acting at the University in Wilmington.
Looking at your current roles, what would be a quality you most admire about your characters Dr. Fox and Corporal Eastin?
NICK: Dr. Fox is getting Lori and Carter together in a healthy way. He really wants the best for them. He wants Lori to be forgiven and for Carter to understand that mistakes are made. By the way, both Kathryn Prescott and Milena Govich are amazing. They were so much fun to work with. But Dr. Fox is just a genuine guy. He’s lovable and you really want to root for him. But Corporal Eastin is just a bad man. He’s a bastard. I just love playing him. I think I’m a nice guy in real life. Eastin is just more ruthless than I am.
What would you say is a perk of playing a villain?
NICK: [Laughs] You can just let it roll. You don’t care what people think about you.
If you could offer some advice to Corporal Eastin, what would you like to tell him?
NICK: I can’t give any spoilers, but maybe: “pack a gun.” He probably should have never screwed around with Simcoe. You never know what’s coming. The best part about TURN and what they are trying to do is the historical background is pretty amazing. You start to think about these people as real. Jamie Bell has often said this too, but these are real people. — most of the show is based on real people who led real lives. It’s not made up. Well, my character is made up, but Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) is not. He was a real guy that had to make these choices. I think it is good for viewers to be able to put themselves in that position, to say: what would you do? What was right? With the addition of Benedict Arnold this year, first of all, viewers are going to get a history lesson on how great a general he was, and secondly, that he had to make decisions too — what he thought was the right thing to do. We like to say that he was the worst villain or the worst traitor in history, but he was a great man who had to make a decision. To victors go the spoils and he kind of got the shaft.
Historical fiction has become really popular on television and it has created an interesting way to learn about our history because so many shows are based on historical facts. That’s good for the younger generation of viewers to see how these events actually played out, instead of sitting in a class and zoning it out.
NICK: I totally agree. In fact, I am hopeful that in the future they will be able to show TURN as a historical drama with action. This year it has really taken off in terms of a bit more violence, a bit more sexual situations. It’s exciting. To get a spy TV show working, you have to set a lot of things in motion, and right now, they can just really play.
Do you find that television today is a bit more like theater because of the way they are telling their stories?
NICK: As an actor, I can tell you, yes. This writing is the best we have ever had, so yes. The scenes are rich. You can’t get away with quick snippets and, as you’ll notice, some of the scenes are rather long. But that is because they are pumping some thing for the payoff. Payoff is always better when you earn it. My background is theater and they always say: you earn your pauses.
What are some of your favorite kinds of scenes to work on?
NICK: I enjoy it all. I don’t think it is a spoiler, but there is a bar scene coming up in TURN and I get to sing a song. That’s pretty cool. And there’s a fight in that scene too. I just enjoy it all. I love working. I’ll be back up in New York as of June 1st and there is so much going on up there. I’m totally excited.
What are some of the projects that you have been most proud to have worked on?
NICK: TURN is Number One. To be a recurring on a show that has gone 20 episodes is great. I’ve also done LAW & ORDER a bunch of times and it is always fun to be involved in any LAW & ORDER. I was in one of Jerry Orbach’s last episodes. So that was kind of touching. That was back in 2005. I’ve done some theater that I’m proud of. But I would have to say TURN is what I’m most proud of at this point.
What is your advice for younger actors, like those coming right out of college, what do you tell them?
NICK: “You’re probably going to work more in your 40’s. So be patient. Do something else for 20 years.” I teach that to my students too. I tell them: “If you’re going to do this every single day, you may not get paid for it for a long time. Be sure to do something else.” That’s my advice. And: “Always have other options.” Then when you reach a certain age and when you finally get to play a character and successfully do it and people enjoy your performance — like I have had so many great comments in this last year — it invigorates you. It reminds you why you do it. But it takes stamina. A lot of people are dropping out and that’s good for me. [Laughs]
To see how Corporal Eastin fares in TURN and to meet Dr. Fox in FINDING CARTER, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of TURN on Monday nights at 10:00 p.m. on AMC and all new episodes of FINDING CARTER on Tuesday nights at 10:00 p.m. on MTV.