While it may not have been the same story a decade ago, say the name Nick Damici now and a whole hell of a lot of people are going to respond favorably. The man is a terrific performer and wicked storyteller. He’s a diverse character, and he clearly cares about what he does. He also cares about us, the fans, which is always an enormous plus.
Damici is currently riding a modest but certain wave of positive momentum, and he’s a busy guy, so we were extremely honored that he would take some time on a Saturday to chat with us. It was great to hurl a few questions in the man’s direction, and we’re certainly recommend you check out Damici’s latest, the underrated vampire follow-up, Stake Land II.
Addicted to Horror Movies: The first time you really caught my eye was in Mulberry St. (I know you did some work leading up to that, but I had yet to see any of it), in which a nasty, nasty idea is brought to life in a more realistic manner than many would expect. Do you feel like you found your bearings as a leading man in that film, and what did the accomplishment of co-writing a story that far surpassed any early expectations feel like?
Nick Damici: I approach roles from a character actors corner so it being a lead wasn’t really important to me except that when you do leads you get to act more and that’s what I love to do.
ATHM: Stake Land was another collaboration with Jim Mickle, and it’s really interesting in the sense that the story we see is the story of Martin, and his journey to grow up in a hellish existence, but Mister is the piece of the puzzle that truly keeps the entire film glued together. You just can’t pull him from that film and have a picture with the same impact. When you were writing it, was it difficult for you and Jim to find that balance of making both characters equally paramount to the story, especially since, initially, they’re very different human beings and the life experience gap is so enormous between the two?
ND: We always knew it was Martin’s story. Mister was the enigma, the archetype we’d use to frame Martin’s experiences. He becomes, willingly or not Martin’s mentor and Father figure. Based loosely but faithfully on “The Searchers”, we wanted to explore a good man full of hate through the eyes of an innocent. Without Martin’s perspective Mister is just another action type, maybe realer and cooler than Hollywood does but none the less it takes Martin to ground him in a world we can believe and relate to.
ATHM: Just being straight about Stake Land, you helped to create one of the stronger contemporary vampire films out there. Was there a serious sense of accomplishment after first helping to assemble and then seeing that so many fans were so supportive of the film, and how adored it has gone on to become?
ND: I feel comfortable saying I think it’s developed a decent cult following among horror fans of a certain ilk. And yeah, sure, Jim and I were both pleased at it’s warm reception. We knew were doing something outside the box but trusted that if we approached it with honesty and treated the audience with respect they’d come along for the ride.
ATHM: What the hell happened to The Black Donnellys? How does a show that engaging disappear after a single season?
ND: The world of what people dig and don’t dig is a mystery that baffles this old man.
ATHM: Cold in July was another fantastic flick from you and Mickle. But unlike the other films you two had worked on, it was certainly more of a thriller than a horror film? Was it Joe Lansdale’s story in general that inspired you two to make the film, and furthermore, was Lansdale involved in any serious way with the production?
ND: Jim and I both love Joe’s writing and especially that book at that time. And yes Joe was very involved as we worked on the adaption and also during production. He’s a great guy, a wonderful writer, he’s tough and doesn’t ever lie… so when he tells you he thinks you’re going in the wrong direction… it’s good advice to listen to him…
ATHM: I keep mentioning you and Jim Mickle. How did you two connect and what’s it been like being one half of one of today’s strongest genre duos?
ND: I met Jim when I was around forty and acting in an NYU thesis film called Micky Lee. Jim was helping his buddy out gripping and he and I just hit it off. I took a role in Jim’s own thesis film, The Underdogs and from there we knew we wanted to work together.
ATHM: I want to touch down on Adrián García Bogliano’s Late Phases briefly. I adored that film, and it’s no doubt one of the best werewolf films in existence (I’m sure you’ve noticed a dearth of top notch lycanthrope tales). And, this one is really your show. There’s some good support in the film, but this is the Nick Damici show. Your character… wow, just a very multi-layered character that I think draws a degree of sympathy but absolutely zero pity. Just give me an idea of what the experience of shooting that film was like, and what you thought of your character in general..
ND: I really loved playing Ambrose and working with Adrian. It was pretty low budget and that can be hard and Adrian and I didn’t always agree on were the script was taking us but in the end I think we found a balance. For me, the character is everything, and then everything else has to serve the story. I liked that the part was a stretch for me, playing 20 years older than I am and blind to boot. Kept my busy.
ATHM: I know I’m eating up your time here, but let me throw just a few more at you.
You’ve kind of stepped back from the leading role in a few recent pics. You’re more of a supporting character in movies like Dark Was the Night, Condemned and even, to a degree, Stake Land 2. Do you have a preference between supporting and leading? You look clearly comfortable in both positions. Is it nice to sometimes take a seat further in the back as opposed to being center stage on a regular basis?
ND: I prefer leads but even the characters have to serve the story. Also getting lead is far more about can you bring in an audience or not. Are you a name. I’m not and that’s the fact. If I was offered more leads I’d sure as hell take them if I liked the material.
ATHM: Now finally, talk to me about Stake Land 2. I’ve seen a few outlets criticize the flick, but I found myself pleasantly surprised by the viewing experience. Mister’s role in the story isn’t quite as pronounced as it was in the first film. You let Martin become more of an independent survivor in this film. Did it seem like that was the natural approach to take given Martin’s growth and added experience as an aggressive survivor in a vampire-filled world?
ND: I kind of felt, this one was about Martin and Mister coming together again and if we did that right off the bat, then we’d be back in Stakeland. Choosing to follow Martin’s story was mostly to keep Mister as the enigma and then break that mold a little by seeing he’s human after all.
ATHM: Was it strange at all, to play a smaller role in the sequel when Mister was such a huge element of the first film?
ND: Not at all. I just wish they gave me a few more vampires to kill.
ATHM: Why didn’t Jim direct this sequel? While I think that Dan Berk and Robert Olsen did a really good job with the film, there was a different feel to the feature as a whole. I think it felt a little less… desolate and bleak. Was Jim busy working on something else or do you think he was ready to move on from the story?
ND: As a director Jim’s reached a place where he can’t and doesn’t want to go backwards. This film was too low budget to interest him. I think he didn’t feel he could do what he does best with it for that budget. He did Executive produce and was very supportive and in the end I think he liked the movie better than I did. I wanted more action in this one, less drama but action is expensive. That said I really liked the film and think it serves very well as a bridge if there is to be a Stakeland 3.
ATHM: Last question: How are you enjoying a much higher profile in this business these days? Does the fan adoration sit well with you, and is it nice to be openly acknowledged for your professional talents and status?
ND: I appreciate that some people really seem to enjoy my work. Adoration might be a little too strong a word. But it’s good to know there are people out there who find what I do interesting enough to watch and sometimes moving enough to care. I’d probably act in a closet if I had to though, it’s what I love to do. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
ATHM: Thanks for the time, Nick. I really do mean that, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to see what’s next for you. Best wishes my friend!
ND: Thank you sir for the interest and I hope this has been of help to you…