Gavin Schmitt Interviews Nick Damici
Nick Damici is an actor and screenwriter known for such films as “Mulberry Street” and “Stake Land”. He grew up in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1960s and early 1970s. His father was a bartender, and Damici would occasionally tend bar at the age of 12. Damici’s mentor is actor Michael Moriarty [who horror fans will know from various Larry Cohen projects], who encouraged him to write scripts.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Nick in March 2015 about his latest starring role in the werewolf film “Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf”. (affiliate link)
GS: Apparently, actor Michael Moriarty was your mentor?
ND: He was one of my first mentors, yeah. When I first started acting… well, let’s go back. I was about 30, I did the UPS thing for a few years. I got married, then I got divorced. Then I decided I was going to be an actor, so I quit UPS. I wanted to be an actor, so I started taking lessons from Michael Moriarty, who was teaching then. This was before “Law and Order”. I thought he was a great teacher, he had a very interesting scope on acting. I ended up answering his phone to pay for my acting lessons. I got to know him pretty well doing that for six or seven years. And then he got “Law and Order” in 1990 and stopped teaching. He’s a brilliant actor.
GS: You were involved with writing and acting before Jim Mickle, but now you’re something of a dynamic duo. What clicked?
ND: I met Jim… well, I was working on a student film. I lived by NYU and I knew some of the teachers. A kid was making a movie, I wasn’t working at the time, so I decided to do it. I read the script and it was pretty good. I went to Connecticut for the film, and Jim was just helping this college kid out. He was just gripping, or assisting in various ways. During filming we all stayed in Connecticut in some cabins, and me and Jim just hit it off. I had a lot of ideas in the fire, and we started shooting experimental short stuff. Things grew, we went on to “Stake Land”, “We Are What We Are” and “Cold in July”. Now we’re writing the “Hap and Leonard” series with Joe Lansdale.
GS: That’s going to be great. My assumption is that for “Late Phases”, either you brought Larry Fessenden in, or he brought you in. Or was it a coincidence?
ND: Well, actually, it’s funny because we’re all kind of involved. With “Stake Land”, for example, Larry was involved with that, and MPI Media Group was involved. Specifically Greg Newman from MPI, who produced it. Larry we knew from the neighborhood. His office used to be down the block from my girlfriend’s bar [Tom & Jerry’s at the corner of Elizabeth and Houston]. So Larry was in “Mulberry Street” just as a favor to us. We walked down the street, said, “Hey man, we’re shooting next week, you wanna be in it?” But basically, Greg Newman got the script for “Late Phases” (affiliate link) in 2012 and sent it to me. I really liked it, said I was game, I’d play ball. Werewolves? I’m all over that. Fast forward two years later, I thought it was dead in the water. That happens all the time. But he called me up and asked, “You still interested in that werewolf script? It’s greenlit.” So that was it and we ended up doing it.
GS: Although you weren’t involved in the writing process this time, do you know if there were any intentional references to other films? I got a feeling there was a nod to “Silver Bullet” in there.
ND: I have no idea, to be honest with you. When I got the script, I thought it was a great story, well-structured and a good setup for a werewolf movie. It was more of a character study. I don’t know of any references from the writer. I didn’t ask him, I just took the script verbatim. Coincidentally, the director said he was a big fan of “Silver Bullet”, (affiliate link) but the part that might be referencing it was in the script before a director was even attached.
GS: You’re supposed to be Ethan Embry’s father. Was there much time to bond with him, or work out how the relationship would be on screen?
ND: We were all staying in the same hotel, so Ethan and I had a lot of time together during downtime. I got to know him pretty well. He’s a real sweetheart of a guy, an interesting actor. We hit it off right away, had our characters down, and said, “Yeah, we get this.” So it really wasn’t that hard, and it’s always easier to act with someone you like, or at least someone you know. So we got that all taken care of before getting into any of the heavy duty dramatic stuff.
GS: You also got to work with Tina Louise. That had to be quite a treat.
ND: Yeah, it was kind of fun. I was probably 6 or 7 years old when I was watching “Gilligan’s Island”.
GS: Ambrose is much older than you, much more weathered. What was the process to get you looking like a retiree?
ND: That was basically Brian Spears, who has worked with me in the past on all of Jim Mickle’s films. He’s amazing. He usually does horror and gore stuff and has done all our movies up to now. So I know him really well. When this film came up, the biggest concern was the age thing. Greg Newman and I talked about getting the character to be younger, but really, this is a guy on his last legs. So then I decided that I think we could do it. We got a hold of Spears, did a bunch of tests. They shaved my head and then literally thinned out my hair. I’m 55 and I have a lot of hair for a 55-year old. I may be a little thin in the back, but not bad, you know? But they shaved it and then thinned out the top so it looked like I was really balding. Spears came up with this simple technique of using latex, and not a lot of it. He painted it on, stretched the skin and then used a hair dryer to dry it. You leave it alone and it just wrinkles up. The eyes were contact lenses, and they were the worst part. I hate anything in my eyes. Overall, I think it worked.
GS: Can you talk about Victor Argo and how he inspired your character?
ND: Victor was a dear friend of mine. I spent the last seven years of his life with him, probably three or four days a week. I’d come over, we’d banter and just hang out. The guy made me laugh like no one could. So the part of Ambrose, to me, was my homage to Victor. I was channeling Victor, not really trying to imitate him, but the way I walked, the way I hold my mouth, that’s stuff I picked up from Victor. The way Victor talked without moving his upper lip. It changed the way I spoke and created a new character, which was kind of fun.
GS: You did some interacting with a man in the wolf costume. I think it was David Greathouse, known from the show “Face/Off” in there…
ND: Yeah, David was in there for the acting part. I don’t remember who the stunt guy was. I forget his name, but he was terrific. All of them were terrific. I felt sorry for that guy, because that suit was hot and it was summer.
GS: Is it difficult to take a scene seriously when you have to wrestle a man in a furry suit?
ND: Yeah, there are points where you just crack up. There was one scene where I had to stab the guy in the eye. I was literally on an apple box, propped up on my back. He was sitting on me. This took like twenty minutes so they could get the right shot. And every time between takes I’d look up at this poor guy and I’d see him through the mouth of the mask. I’d see his face just pouring sweat, and I’d say to myself, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” Kinda silly. When they were walking around on set, outside of the film, they looked like wookiees. Just silly.
GS: At least they’re very effective on screen.
ND: That’s the art of film.
GS: Thanks, Nick. Good luck on “Hap and Leonard”!
ND: Thanks Gavin.