Originally known for his role as Duncan on the animated faux-reality series Total Drama Island, Canadian actor Drew Nelson is about to find a whole different kind of audience in FX’s new upcoming action-horror series The Strain, created by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro, based on their novel of the same name.
Nelson joins us today to talk about his acting, horror, and what it’s like to deal with an out-of-control vampire plague.
Drew Nelson: I was born and raised in Toronto. I guess you could say I caught the acting bug when I was in high school, and it’s been 14 years professionally now. For me, acting is about the ability to capture real life experiences in film or onstage.
Diabolique: Let’s talk about The Strain. Can you introduce the show to our readers?
Nelson: The Strain is a brand new series written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. The plot, in a nutshell, is about a mysterious outbreak that brings about an ancient form of vampirism.
Diabolique: What kind of vampires do we get to see?
Nelson: We are getting something completely different. It’s something you’ve never seen before. The people infected become these primal, feral creatures. The kill scenes are exhilarating, and the action scenes are just incredible. We got the best in our business on the show, and the final product shows it. I think Guillermo really did justice to the creatures…I do want to say though, that for squeamish people, the show’s not just about these killings. At the core, it’s about the characters. It’s got a lot of heart. It’s not just blowing out an apocalypse, but what really happens to people in this catastrophe. That’s what makes our show special: seeing how the characters adapt to it and react to it.
Diabolique: Speaking of characters, what can you tell us about yours?
Nelson: I play Matt Sayles, one of the managers at a local Sears. He’s the live-in boyfriend of Kelly Goodweather, the recently divorced wife of Ephraim Goodweather, who’s played by Corey Stoll from House of Cards, and is obviously not a fan of my character. Matt’s an emerging father figure for Kelly’s son, Zach, kind of picking up the slack where Corey’s character left off. Guillermo and I were able to inject some comedic relief into moments with my character. He’s a rational guy though, out to protect the people he cares about.
Diabolique: How’d you come to get involved with the project?
Nelson: My agent forwards me these casting emails, but when I saw that it said the words ‘Guillermo del Toro,’ I just flipped out. Two weeks later I was there with Guillermo and I gave my audition…it was really rigorous from moment to moment, but it went incredibly well. A week and a half later, I found out I got the part.
Diabolique: del Toro is now an icon in the industry, what’s it like working with him?
Nelson: He’s just an all around great guy. He’s hilarious, for one thing. He’s always cracking jokes. He’s just really light for someone who always works with such dark material. He’s very detail-oriented too, and as an actor you put so much trust into him. He’s a joy.
Diabolique: Can you give us an example of the jokes he liked to play?
Nelson: He dubbed one younger, really tall crewmember, “Gigantor”, and every time the kid was near him, he’d make a joke in a deep oger-type voice. It was pretty funny. Another great moment was the night of his birthday. After a long day of shooting on the pilot, a surprise, full-on mariachi band was brought onto set to serenade him, and a sing along ended up erupting with everyone there. I have it all on tape and I have to say, he’s one hell of an opera singer!
Diabolique: Before The Strain entered your life, how closely did you follow del Toro’s works?
Nelson: When I first saw [Pan’s Labyrinth] I was in total awe, man. That film put him on the map for me. I never thought a fantasy film could be so dark, yet so beautiful at the same time. Actually, it’s inspired my own project I’ve been working on for the past five to six years, which I think of as my “Inspired by Pan’s Labyrinth” project, a sort of urban fantasy centered around this orphan named Malik. I co-wrote that one with my bud Joe Lasko.
Diabolique: Have you always been a fantasy or horror fan, then?
Nelson: Yeah, definitely. Growing up, stuff like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was always my favorite. With the project I just mentioned, our goal was to capture that Goonies vibe that Spielberg did, and then again on Super 8 with J.J. Abrams; that camaraderie the kids had on an adventure. I’ve had the good fortune of doing some sci-fi shows. I love sinking my teeth into the sorts of characters you find in those projects. At the heart of it, I think sci-fi is really about the characters and how the audience relates to them despite the different world around them.
Diabolique: What scares you?
Nelson: The idea of going to space scares the hell outta me, man. The idea of sitting in a space shuttle, staring straight up as the rockets blast…I’ll never bungee jump, but I will try skydiving. The idea of being hanged upside down, that’s something from childhood. Drowning would really suck.
Diabolique: Before The Strain you did a lot of work in voice acting. What was that experience like?
Nelson: My first agent submitted me for that kind of work. There are lots of ways for training your voice. I would listen to TV, radio stations, commercials just to pick up how lines are delivered and I ended up doing a lot of radio stuff. Slowly that evolved into animation work. Landing Total Drama Island put me on the map. I was really lucky; it’s a tough thing to break into, and for that I want to give a shout out to the Total Drama fans. They’re totally dedicated, rabid fans.
Diabolique: Let’s do some quick, short answer questions. If you had to face either Count Dracula, or Kurt Barlow from Salem’s Lot, which would you pick and why?
Nelson: Barlow, I guess, since Dracula’s the vampire of all vampires. The Salem’s Lot guy lorded over just one little town.
Diabolique: Anne Rice, or Stephenie Meyer?
Nelson: Anne Rice, one-hundred percent. No diss to the Twilight franchise, but that’s not my idea of a proper vampire story.
Diabolique: In the event of a real-life outbreak of a vampire plague, who would you want to take with you?
Nelson: My family: my mom, my dad, my brother. My friends, if I can fit them in. If I could pack all those people into a suitcase and take them with me, I would.
Diabolique: Last question. Who should watch The Strain?
Nelson: I think the show’s for a great variety of people. Diehard horror fans are gonna love it. Gritty action fans are gonna love it. People who love procedural type shows like CSI are gonna love it. The Strain really packs it all in. The cast is stacked, and the world we’re creating is really on a grand scale spanning time periods and places. People who liked The Walking Dead or Lost will definitely love our show.
Diabolique: Well, Drew, I’d like to thank you for taking the time for this interview. Best of luck on the new show.
Nelson: Absolutely. It was my pleasure.
The Strain premieres on FX Sunday July 13 at 10pm EST