Born and raised in Toronto, actor Drew Nelson has already had an exciting career with roles on beloved shows from Rookie Blue and Flashpoint to Smallville and Suits. But it’s fair to say he now has the role of a lifetime. This summer, Nelson stars in Oscar-nominated filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s highly anticipated horror series, The Strain. Premiering on FX on July 13th, The Strain is the not-to-be-missed sci-fi series of the summer that promises to be a goosebump-inducing ride. We caught up with the Canadian actor to find out more…
Tell us a bit about yourself. What should people know?
Well… I was born and raised in the ‘burbs of Etobicoke. I’ve been an actor for well over 15 years, and am now adding writer/producer and soon director to the resume. I have a lot of passions in life aside from acting: photography, music, traveling (when I can), and many forms of art, predominantly graffiti. I try to always live in the moment and go with the flow. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and go with my gut when it comes to everything. I love to goof around a lot with the close friends I’m lucky to surround myself with. Family and meaningful friendships are extremely important to me, and I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
Tell us about landing your role in Oscar-nominated filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s highly anticipated horror series, The Strain.
Usually the casting process, especially when there’s a wide search for a larger role in a high profile American project, can be quite arduous with several callbacks, screen tests, etc. To make matters worse, the role usually ends up going to an American “name.” With The Strain, I auditioned for the role as I would any other. I read for it, felt like it went really well, and tried to forget about it as fast as I could considering it was such a long shot. A couple weeks went by and I just had this “feeling” that something was going to come of it.
Now I’m not really a true believer that actual dreams can become a reality, and I swear I’m not some kind of clairvoyant-type at all, but I had a vivid dream one night that I received a call from my agent saying that the people from The Strain were interested in me for the project and that there was to be some sort of callback. No word of a lie, 4pm the next day I received the exact kind of call from my agent telling me that Guillermo wanted to meet me in person, but they didn’t quite know what would be entailed in the meeting and when it would take place! The following day, there I was in the room with Guillermo himself and executive producer Carlton Cuse (of Lost fame). They had me read the same audition material again, but had me doing it different ways taking very specific direction for each take.
The callback couldn’t have gone any better, and I thought, If this is as far as I get, I’ve already won. A few days later I was asked to read again. This time it would be with just a casting director and it would be recorded on tape. I received specific notes to “do it exactly how you did it for Guillermo the other day,” so I did just that, and basically said to myself, Okay, I’ve done everything I can do, the rest is up to the ‘acting gods’. Well, the scale tipped in my favour, because the following Monday I got the call that FX had approved me, and a few weeks later I was on set for the pilot taking direction from Guillermo del Toro! It took a long while for reality to set in, believe me.
What’s Guillermo like as a director?
Guillermo is truly a genius (and I almost never use that word). He’s equally as brilliant with the technical aspect of filmmaking as he is working with his actors. He’s very much open to an actor’s interpretation of a role or scene, and is meticulous when it comes to the worlds he constructs. He knows everything top-to-bottom, inside-and-out, and has a detailed answer to any question you may have. If that’s not enough, he’s a ridiculously charming and funny guy who’s able to put you at ease instantly with his goofy sense of humour and laidback vibe. He’s just like a big kid who absolutely loves what he does and never takes himself and the work too seriously. It was an unforgettable experience, and I’d work with him again in a heartbeat!
How would you describe the series, The Strain, and your character?
The Strain is a horror/thriller series based on the popular trilogy of books written by Guillermo and author Chuck Hogan. The story is about a mysterious viral outbreak that gets released in Manhattan, which hearkens back to an ancient form of vampirism. The investigation is led by Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather (played by House of Card‘s Corey Stoll) and his team at the CDC Canary Team in New York who, along with some everyday New Yorkers, are forced to combat the strain before it spreads worldwide. I play Matt Sayles, the new live-in boyfriend to Kelly Goodweather (played by Natalie Brown), Ephraim’s estranged wife, and ultimately the emerging father figure to their son, Zach. Needless to say, Eph is none too pleased with Matt’s involvement in his ex-wife and son’s lives, and a rivalry results between the two.
You also have Man Vs. coming out this year about a TV crew who is dropped off in the remote wilderness and forced to fight more than the elements. Who do you play?
I play Terry Woods, the tech savvy, awkward, younger brother to Doug Woods (played by Chris Diamantopoulos). Terry just wants to follow in his older brother’s footsteps and tends to be the “odd man out” among the film crew. As far as what we have to “fight” in the film, I’ll say it’s a hell of a lot more than just the elements. You’ll have to see it to find out!
The Strain and Man Vs. are similar thematically. Did you have any existential crises or self realizations while making these projects?
Great question… Nope, no existential crises. I’d say both projects had me seriously questioning the themes of death and the idea of an apocalypse and what kind of person I would be faced with that kind of reality. Would I be the one who would take the lead and be the protector of my loved ones? Or would I be the one crippled with fear and consumed with the thought of what’s the point of living anymore amongst all this dread? I honestly don’t know, and I guess instinct would just take over if something like that were to actually take place.
You’re a born and raised Torontonian. Finish this sentence: I love Toronto because…
…it’s my home, the majority of my close friends and family live here, and there’s this innate, vibrant energy to the city that’s contagious. Plus, the thriving arts and cultural scene inspires me and I’m privileged to be a part of it.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
I’d say Mitzi’s in Parkdale. It’s a go-to brunch spot for me. The food’s always incredible and the staff are really friendly.
Do you have a secret hidden talent?
Hmm… A lot of my friends would say it’s my ability to recall names of people in the industry. They refer to me as the human IMDB! I tend to never forget a face. I also have this thing for mimicry and beat-boxing.
Film that made you want to become an actor?
It would have to be Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I just loved everything about that film. Oh, and also My Left Foot. My parents rented it one night when I was really young, but I can remember thinking that I was watching a documentary! My obsession with Daniel Day-Lewis began there. The man can do no wrong and continues to be a huge idol of mine.