Former model Rachel Nichols is having quite the year. Earlier in the summer, she was seen as a green colored alien in a memorable moment in JJ Abrams’ “Star Trek”, and will next be seen in the tongue-in-cheek summer actioner “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra” as a member of the Joe team trying to track down a corrupt arms dealer.
Based on early positive reviews and tracking, the film isd destined to be a hit, which means more Joe adventures in the pipeline. That makes this beautiful Hollywood actress a happy girl, as she explained to PAUL FISCHER in this exclusive interview.
Question: Now, when you knew about this movie, this script, did you have any preconceptions before you’d even read the script?
Nichols: Well, the script, actually, wasn’t released, so when I went in originally to – you know, audition, before I worked with Stephen, I was using the sides from Van Helsing, believe it or not. So, I was sort of reading the Kate Beckinsale character, knowing that there was a GI Joe script that hadn’t been released. So I went through the whole process. And then when it came to the screen test, I was given the sides from those scripts, but still hadn’t read the script yet. Then after the screen test, I was offered the job, then I tested with Marlon and then the day that I was offered the job, Stephen called me from the set, and kept me on the phone for about ten minutes, and then offered me the role of Scarlett. And I screamed really loudly in his ear. I was really excited about it. But he called me back about 30 seconds later and said, ” Well, have you read the script yet?” I said, ” No.” And he said, ” Well, how do you know you want to do the film?” And I said, ” Blind faith. Blind faith.” I’d heard from other people that the script was quite good. And then when I finally got to read it myself – you know, I really, really liked it. I liked the women in it. I liked that there were two kick-ass female roles. And I liked the fact that it wasn’t just a big action movie. It also had this romance with Sienna and Channing. It had this very sort of sweet high school romance between Marlon and myself. And there was comedy in it. I was genuinely really happily surprised when I read the script.
Question: Your relationship with Marlon is interesting, because – even though it’s an interracial relationship, that’s completely irrelevant, and is not even alluded to, or even referred to throughout the movie. Did that surprise you?
Nichols: Oh, yeah. It’s never addressed.
Question: How surprised were you by that?
Nichols: You know, I think I would have been more surprised if they’d made a big deal out of it, or felt the need to sort of mention it. Marlon always talked about how Ripcord was originally written – the original Ripcord character was actually a Caucasian guy. And he, however, was perfect for the role, because he had everything – everything Ripcord needed to have. The right cockiness, the charm. You want him to get the girl. You really like him, he’s funny. And I think it’s just a sign of the times that it didn’t need to be mentioned. I think it’s just a relationship between two people.
Question: Did you read a lot about what was written about the movie before it was screened? And did you find it rather disconcerting that people were making their minds up about a movie that hadn’t even been released or screened to anybody?
Nichols: You know, I stayed away from it, because I knew it was going to happen, because I’d seen it happen before. My parents, sadly – my – we have the same name, and they Google Alert me. So, any time anything is on the internet that has my name in it, of course, my Mom gets linked directly to the page. So they read some of the early things, and kind of thought it was a bit ludicrous that anybody would come out saying bad things about a film that hadn’t even been released, and nobody’s even seen yet. And I think that’s kind of the way – you know, I feel like it’s kind of the way it goes in Hollywood. I feel like people just want to go quickly against something, even if they haven’t seen it. And I try to stay away from it. Because when we did all see it in Australia last week, everyone in the cast loved it. We had a great time, and that’s why it’s been so easy to promote the film. So – hey, it was almost better that way. Then I think people will go in – and if people are going in thinking they’re going to hate it, they’ll come out really liking it, because they’ll be getting a surprise.
Question: What kinds of preparations did you undergo for this, in terms of the physical sequences you were involved with?
Nichols: Well, when I got the film, I sort of knew that I was shooting it two months before we actually started to run, a sort of holiday. And so I immediately started changing my routine with my trainer. I wanted to put on some muscle – some more muscle. I added about 15 pounds of muscle to do the role. And so I started working with her immediately. And then about six weeks before the fight scene, Sienna and I started training five days a week, a couple hours a day, with mixed martial arts. And – you know, learning a fight scene is like learning a dance. Each step is individual, and you learn each step, and you sort of have to put them together into a fluid movement. So, it was extremely fun, extremely difficult, and funny at times, when we’re sort of slapping each other around, and bruising each other up. And then, you know, they put all of the cast up [UNINTEL] and they did weapons training. So, it was a luxury to have so much time to prepare, actually. Because you don’t usually get that on films.
Question: What do you think makes a good action movie? What do you think separates the good action movies from the mediocre ones?
Nichols: You know, I think that the thing that separates it is if you can add other essential elements into the film, and – so it’s not just completely action. I mean, I think there’s comedic relief in the film, and I think there are relationships in the film, and characters that you like. And if you can make the film about essential elements, rather than just constant explosions and constant action – if there’s a bit more of a heart to it, than you develop relationships and characters, and you actually have feelings about the characters, rather than just waiting for the next sort of thing to explode. Then adding your great explosions, and your great CG, and your great effects into all of that sort of rounds out a film better than just making it just great action.
Question: Now, you started your career modeling. What was the challenge for you to make a compelling transition from modeling to acting?
Nichols: You know, I think there are a lot of models-turned-actresses that want to forget that they were models, or try to not talk about it. I’m actually extremely grateful that that’s where I started, because I don’t think – I don’t know if I could have made the transition, or – I don’t know if it would have been easy for me to be in front of a movie camera without understanding myself in front of a still camera first. I think it was an important first step. Because – you know, when you’re modeling, you’re very aware of your body, and how your body looks, and how your face looks. And then when you’re in front of a movie camera, you aren’t supposed to be aware of that at all, and you’re supposed to be living the moment, and existing completely – in a complete state of ignoring the fact that there’s a camera. So, the transition was interesting. And I’ve always had a great team of people helping guide me. And I just – I was living in New York, and I started acting while I was here, while I was modeling, and moved to LA to stop the modeling and pursue the acting. And luckily, I kept working as an actor, so I didn’t need to go back to modeling.
Question: In fact, it was Alias that started you off. That kind of was a big thing.
Nichols: Yeah. It was a really big thing for me, and one of the best, best, best working experiences I’ve ever had. And the people on it were amazing. Everybody got along, everybody was friends. We had a great time. It was long hours on a one-hour drama, shooting. And – you know, there was never a bad word said. Nobody was ever grumpy. It was really kind of amazing, actually.
Question: Do you hope to work with JJ again? I mean, do you still keep in touch with anybody?
Nichols: Oh – you know, I mean, I adore JJ. I think everybody does. He’s one of the most kind, loyal, and talented people I’ve ever worked with. And – you know, got to work with him on Star Trek as well, which was really fun.
Question: That’s right. You’re the girl in green.
Nichols: Yes, I am. I’m Gaila, the green girl.
Question: That movie was absolutely huge.
Question: You’re in two big summer movies, really.
Nichols: I know. I’m having quite a nice summer, I have to be honest. Thank you very much, Paramount. Thank you.
Question: What are your aspirations at this point in your career? Now that people are finally beginning to notice.
Nichols: I’d like to try a little bit of everything, to be honest. I was watching Sienna in The Edge of Love the other day, and – you know, and suddenly had a taste for a drama and a romance, and maybe some comedy, and – you know, hopefully this will do really well, and then we’ll get to make GI Joe 2. And – you know, I think there’s nothing that I wouldn’t want to try. Except sing. I can’t sing.
Question: Do you sign your life away when you do a movie like this? Are you signed up for ten sequels, or whatever it is?
Nichols: [LAUGHTER] Ten would be a bit excessive. I think we’ve all signed up for two sequels, the GI Joe 2 and GI Joe 3. And it would be such a blessing for us to be able to make more films, because we had a fantastic time making it. And all of us became really close. Marlon, Channing, Sienna and myself spent an extraordinary amount of time together, and we would love to go back and make more. So – you know, we didn’t sign up for ten, but we signed up for three!
Question: So what’s next for you?
Nichols: Right before I came here, I shot a little indie film in upstate New York that was the complete sort of opposite from GI Joe. Really tiny budget, tiny – you know, about a small town crime, and it was really fun. I’m going to go home to Maine for a little bit and relax from this whirlwind tour, and then GI Joe comes out, and then I’ll be back looking for another job.