With a versatility that lends itself to any role,has portrayed a wide array of characters over the course of his career. In his latest role in History Channel’s drama series SIX, Nikolai delves deep to portray a new character that will send shivers down your spine. Fortunately, let persona is all character and nothing like the gregarious, fun-loving man who portrays him. In an exclusive interview, Nikolai previews the introduction of his new role in SIX and reflects on the fun that he has working on a number of upcoming film and television projects.
You are gonna be appearing on this season of SIX on History Channel — maybe you could just introduce your character and how he fits into the story.
NIKOLAI: Absolutely. I’ve been brought on to play the character of The Prince. His original name is Tamerlin Shishoni. He’s mentioned a number of times in Season 1 as the mysterious kingpin of the empire. It’s quite an honor to bring him to life. It was a little bit challenging, I won’t lie. I have big expectations to fulfill. I think they’re very happy with it — what I’ve brought to the table.
They describe him as “The Prince.” Is that more of a technical term? Where does that come from?
NIKOLAI: He’s based off two real-life people. One is an arms dealer who lived in Spain and dealt with pretty much everyone. I think it was [Nicolas] Cage’s character in “Lord Of War” and he was referred to as a prince. And the other character that they molded him to create [my character] was a Chechen-born guy. His name was Abdul Omar El-Shishoni. He ended up becoming the military leader for ISIL. So they brought these two real-life people together to create The Prince in the History Channel series SIX.
Why did you wanna play this character? He sounds like maybe a badass, but he also might be just a bad person.
NIKOLAI: That’s the thing. I’ve sort of been able to speak extensively about the idea of who’s good and who is bad and what that means. I think SIX is a show — from the get-go — it wasn’t afraid to go into uncomfortable territory, what I call “gray areas” of morality. Walton Goggins’ character, in episode one of Season 1, outright executes a person. I think that’s really uncomfortable territory. People go, “Wait a minute, our guys have done something like that? That’s murder!” And so, you’ll ask the question of, “What is a bad guy?” And, “Who is a bad guy?” It’s just one thing that I hope that people might do when they watch my series, the second season, is to kind of step back a bit and go, “Wait a minute. I wonder what I would do if put in the same position. Would I turn out the same way?” And I think the answer might be uncomfortable for a lot of people, because it’s easier to just go black-and-white and, “Yeah, we’re the good guys. You’re the bad guy. And yeah, we’re just not gonna as too many questions.” But, as we know, it’s very murky territory. There’s gray areas with everything. Just because the current political climate, people are very — how do I say this — it’s polarizing.
We live in polarizing times, unfortunately. Did it dawn on you a little bit that by picking up this kind of storyline and running with it that it might echo reality a little too closely?
NIKOLAI: Very much so. I went down some really tough “rabbit holes” when I was preparing this role because I was just researching real things that have happened to people, and I was reading real accounts. If you stop and actually delve into it a little bit more — because I’m guilty of not doing it myself — I only started doing it in preparation for this role. So once you realize what has happened to real people there, it’s really hard to shake off. It took me about two-and-a-half months to really cool down, like when labor isn’t working or whatever, and at the end of the day, “let’s cool down and let’s have a beer and laugh about the day and blah, blah, blah in shifts and forget about the workload.” It took me a long time to be able to let go, and I’m usually really good at it, but when I’m given such heavy subject matter — and how much I immersed myself into it — it was a bit hard. I won’t lie.
Obviously, you are delving into some darker themes here, but were there moments of lightness? Things that you could grasp onto that were more fun for you being the character?
NIKOLAI: [Laughs] Not really.
So who was it kind of fun to play off of in the show? Who did you enjoy interacting with as an actor on the show?
NIKOLAI: I loved all of them. It’s such an amazing experience to bounce off these very talented actors. The SEAL guy and I, we got along like a “house on fire,” even though we didn’t have too many scenes together, because they’re slowly trying to get to me, if that makes sense. We’re on polar opposites of the spectrum, and so they’re all trying to slowly zero-in on the mastermind. So not much during on set, story-wise, but after hours, we got along like a “house on fire.” We definitely talked about our amazing experiences on the show.
Where did you get to go film to do the show? Where did you get to go, location-wise?
NIKOLAI: We filmed in Vancouver. I know the first season was done in North Carolina, and they moved the whole show to Vancouver. I’m not sure what the reason for that was. But we got to film there around British Columbia, including Squamish, which is about an hour north of Vancouver, on the way to Whistler. That is some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen, and I’ve lived in New Zealand. It was a really cool experience to be filming up there and watching the seasons change. I hadn’t seen the Pacific Northwest before. Starting at the end of summer and then finishing at the beginning of winter was really cool.
It sounds like it might have been a really positive experience for you. If the opportunity arises, would you wanna continue on the series?
NIKOLAI: I love the crew, I love the cast, I love the production team and the writers. I loved my time with them. But I think I’ll be very, very happy to finish on very strong note. It was an amazing story they created, and I won’t be upset to move on in the future. That’s me: done. It was a challenge to bring this to life, and the best possible challenge and for a very exciting series. I think they’re gonna like it. I just hope I did justice to the writers, and I think so. I got some really amazing feedback from everyone involved. And even now, as we’re gearing up for the launch, it’ll go down as a beautiful chapter in my life. But given the heaviness of the subject matter, I’ll be happy to not keep going with that.
You are also listed as still appearing in the Netflix show, THE OA, which also has some of its own darker themes. Is that a nice breath of fresh air for you, or is that another one you kind of have to slip into and then kind of slip out of because it’s too dark?
NIKOLAI: The character that I got to bring to life was Roman Azarov, the father of Prairie [Brit Marling]. He’s a very mysterious character. You don’t really know what happened to him. I know that they’ve got a rich tapestry of a show. It’s a very complex beast that they’re creating — universe, I guess, to pull from the Marvel guys — THE OA universe. Not all is as it seems, and it was a real privilege to be associated with Season 1. I can’t wait to see what happens at Season 2.
What about your new film? Can you talk about “Mile 22”?
NIKOLAI: I can, ish. Mark Wahlberg is in it, and he’s an absolute badass in the best possible way. And then John Malkovich is also in it. Growing up and watching them — two of my favorite films is “Basketball Diaries” and “Empire of the Sun” — to be part of a film with these two guys that I’ve grown up watching — it’s pretty special, to say the least, as you can appreciate. To dance on the sets of this film, knowing that there’s these guys attached to us, is very special. And Peter Berg, the director, I really, really respect him. Got along with him like a “house on fire.” We also collaborated and came up with some ideas and swapped suggestions that were then heard and picked up — it is very special. It means you’re part of a team that is a family, I guess. I’m very excited about that. I think it’s coming out on August the 3rd.
I also saw on IMDb that you are also gonna be appearing in the series WE WERE TOMORROW. Is that one of your new projects?
NIKOLAI: Yeah, yeah. We actually filmed that a while ago. It’s a book that’s been tweaked. I came on as a favor to a friend of mine who was directing it. He called me while I was in China, actually. The epic-ness of that script — like “Mile 22” and THE OA, for that matter — it’s very complex, and it takes a moment to unravel just what is going on. I don’t know how it will come out. It was shot on a shoe-string budget, and I’m interested to see what will be the final product on that one.
It caught my eye because I noticed you had reunited with one of your costars from the NBC show CAMP and Tim Pocock was also in that. I thought that was an interesting, nice little tie-in. I was a huge fan of CAMP, so I was like, “Oh, this is kind of cool!”
NIKOLAI: Yes, that’s right. I’ll tell you what. It’s a real pleasure to be able to work with some people again and again over the years. In fact, WE WERE TOMORROW was an interesting one where I got to reunite with a girl that I worked with many years earlier. Her name is Lara Marshall, and she was on this show called SADDLE CLUB, which was a huge show about these young girls and their horses, like, it was on a horse ranch. I played the young boss. You know, kind of a boy. Anyway, it had been like ten years since — no, more — maybe fifteen years since we did that. It was just really cool to work with her again on that project, and we’re friends now, as well. And Tim and I are still friends. We did CAMP and then WE WERE TOMORROW. A number of the cast from CAMP, we have over at our house almost weekly here in Los Angeles. It’s very cool. My wife is kind of referred to as a patron saint of lost Australians who are back in L.A. — a “mother hen” to all of them.
To see Nikolai’s new bad-to-the-bone character The Prince introduced in Season 2 of SIX, be sure to tune in for the premiere of SIX on Monday, May 28th at 10:00 p.m. on History Channel. Also to see what is upcoming this season on SIX, you can follow the show on Twitter @SIXOnHistory. Then to follow Nikolai’s growing career, you can follow him on Twitter @NNikolaeff to see what other great film and television projects that he will be starring in and making appearances in next.
SIX Season 2 trailer:
“Mile 22” trailer:
THE OA Season 1 trailer:
If you are interested in seeing Nikolai in a light-hearted, lovable role, I highly recommend checking out the NBC series CAMP, which is available for online viewing through Amazon Video. Here’s the link to watch CAMP: