While Nick Brown is a man of many talents, he is most likely best known from his role as Deputy Eli Brocias on the Hulu Original Series Quick Draw. From his work in modeling, to his work blogging for such sites as Huffington Post and Rock the Vote, to his acting career he is always creative to the core. It was my pleasure to bring the world a glimpse into the workings of the mind of Mr. Brown. For more information please see: This Is Nick’s Website.
Where are you from? What was it like growing up there?
An oddly complicated question. My family moved growing up, so I never really know how to answer this one without a small essay of potentially dull information…which I will now subject you to.
My father worked in politics during Democratic administrations and in the private sector during Republican administrations, so you could, if for some reason you wanted to, more or less track where we lived by who the president was.
I was born in the waning days of the Carter administration on August 18th, in Sibley hospital in Washington, DC. Franz Josef had my same birthday. Bill Clinton’s is within a day. My manager also shares it.
I was, at the time, the largest baby every born in Sibley Hospital. I was two feet long. I think I weighed something like 12 pounds. My mother remembers the details better since she was a fully conscious person at that point, whereas I was essentially a drooling, screaming wad of colic.
With the onset of Reagan, we moved to Colorado, where my dad worked to develop a big block of restricted-income housing in Aspen. Both of my sisters were born in Denver. We lived there for eight years. I basically only remember really liking dinosaurs, that there was a scary dog in the alley behind our house, and that I was promoted to the advanced swimming group, ‘the sharks,’ before we left for California when I was eight.
For the first Bush administration (H.W.’s), we lived in Berkeley, California, where Dad was once again working on some large real estate deal. We kept jumping around and living in different houses in Berkeley, though my parents eventually bought a fairly large one on Claremont Boulevard, next to a small park.
I kept a pet rat who eventually escaped and bred with sewer rats that lived under our house, resulting in a very friendly, very populous rat colony whose members periodically dashed through our yard and terrified our dog, a neurotic poodle named Charlie. We had another dog named George who was very fat and affectionate. My mother kept lovebirds in a large cage in the backyard. The male lovebird was an abusive animal who tore the feathers off his female companions, leaving them pink and flightless. It’s worth remembering, I think, that the animal kingdom is full of wonderful characters and real jerks.
Clinton was an old friend of my father’s and, when he was elected, he nominated Dad as the ambassador to the CSCE, an organization that was founded in the Helsinki accords with a somewhat uncertain purpose. It eventually became a multilateral organization whose mission revolved around the ever-shifting borders of the former Soviet satellite states. It also eventually became the OSCE, which is the name it currently has.
Dad was, I believe, among the first ever filibustered ambassadorial nominees. Jesse Helms – a Republican from North Carolina who once accused the Washington Post of being “infested” with homosexuals – led the effort to block dad’s appointment. John Kerry was among Dad’s chief defenders. Eventually, Clinton gave up and appointed dad as the ‘Chief of Mission’ to the OSCE. Later, for a summit in Portugal, Dad received the title of ambassador through a series of byzantine rules that allow the president to give titles without the consent of the senate. We moved to Vienna before I started eighth grade.
For the first part of the Clinton administration we lived in Vienna, in a house two blocks from a park where the Turkish hordes were turned back in the 17th century. We were told that our house was riddled with listening devices and the assumption was that any words we said were being recorded by several foreign governments. That said, we also had a cook, two maids, a gardener, and an armed guard. It was quasi-aristocratic upbringing…by which I mean it was a preposterously aristocratic upbringing. If you do ever get a chance to live in Vienna, I highly recommend doing so as the son or daughter of a US ambassador.
For the second Clinton administration, we were back in California, which was something of a downer after four years living in wildly lavish conditions. That was my senior year of high school. I hadn’t really spent enough time in Vienna cultivating adolescent rage, so I made up for it when I came back to Berkeley by hating everything.
Were you always an imaginative child or is that something you picked up along the way?
I definitely really liked dinosaurs when I was young. And I read a lot of fantasy novels. I also think I spent a lot of time playing by myself with people who didn’t exist. So that’s either ‘imaginative’ or ‘deeply deluded’ and I guess I prefer your word for it.
Are there any little known facts about you that your fans might be surprised to learn?
I have fans?! I mean: the first thing that springs to mind that my fans would be startled to know is that they exist.
I, at least, am startled to know they exist. Maybe we can all have a get together. Punch and sandwiches and I’ll spike the punch and we’ll all talk about how excited we are to know that we all exist, unless they don’t actually exist, in which case it will just be me drinking spiked punch alone and talking to imaginary people…which actually would be kind of similar to how I spent a lot of my early childhood…except that I drank less whisky then.
What was the question?
You’ve worked as a model as well as an actor. Do you prefer one over the other? Did it feel a little odd to see yourself on Billboards and such?
Yes. There was a brief period when I had a Verizon billboard outside Madison Square Garden, which felt incredibly weird, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t spend a lot of time standing near it and hoping someone would recognize me.
Nobody ever did. So sometimes I would start random conversations with strangers about the billboard and hope someone would say,¨hey, you look kind of like the guy on that billboard.¨ One day, that finally happened. I said, ¨yeah, I guess I kind of do,¨ because when you have been fishing for acknowledgement for that long, it seems inappropriate to actually accept that acknowledgement.
And yes: way prefer acting. That was the question, right?
How did you come to be blogging for Rock the Vote and Huffington Post?
I’ve had long periods – most of my adult life actually – where I have had very little employment and lots of ambition to be employed. I started blogging for the Huffington Post in the hope that they would pay me to do so. I had been volunteering, along with my parents, for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans. I was only there for a week, but it was a really lovely experience – albeit one where I hammered the hell out of my thumb multiple times. I’ve always liked writing and the general showing off that comes when you have written something reasonably well. So I wrote this quick piece on our experience volunteering, and then I found out that a friend of my parents, the journalist Margaret Carlson, knew Ariana Huffington. This was in the early days of the Huffington Post when Ariana Huffington was encouraging everyone to blog for her and basically publishing anything anyone was willing to post. I got her assistant’s e-mail and I sent her (or maybe it was a him) this piece I had written about volunteering after Katrina. Somebody over there liked it enough to publish it – and again I want to emphasize that it was a lot easier to publish things at the Huffington Post back in 2007 when I was writing.
They eventually allowed me to blog regularly and I tried to write a piece once a week which ended up being really arduous. Eventually, I asked them to pay me (as you do) and they wouldn’t. The person I talked to said something like ¨writing here will really help your sales when you have a book.¨So I stopped writing because I don’t have a book. I’ve written a little since then, but not much.
Rock the Vote happened because I wanted to work in the 2008 campaign and my sister had a job there. She introduced me to the political director and I told the political director that I would work for almost no salary if they put me on the bus and had me be their blogger and photographer. That’s what happened and then I realized that I was working for almost no money at all, which really wasn’t as pleasant as I imagined it would be.
That said, the tour was a lot of fun. And I got to meet a whole host of incredibly talented musicians, including the Beastie Boys, who I loved since I was nine.
You also write fictions where you take a photo and write a short story from that one image. What inspired you to do that?
Well, to be fair, I advertise that I write fictions where I take a photo someone has sent me and write a short story based on it. And I have done it a few times. (You can see the stories on my site.)
When you are an actor – or, at least, you identify yourself as an actor and are not yet very successful – you spend quite a lot of time sitting around waiting for something to happen. So I started writing. I had a number of short stories that I had written over the years from some creative impulse and I put a few of them up on my site with photos. And then I got the notion that I would invite visitors to my site to submit photos for me to write about. The trick is that no one really did that. My mom did. And another friend did. But, mostly, no one did.
The other trick is that even when people did submit pictures, it turned out that writing a good short story was really really time consuming. So I didn’t write good short stories. But even writing a fairly mediocre short story, which most of the ones I have on the site are, takes a ton of time. A few years ago, I started working on a novel and it became kind of unrealistic for me to actually continue writing the stories from the photos. So, while I still appreciate the submissions from strangers, I rarely write stories inspired by them any more. I’m hoping to have a draft of this novel done sometime in the next five or six months, and then maybe I’ll go back to working on short stories again.
What do you love most about the act of writing?
Finishing something you are proud of. And that’s a really fleeting sensation. Because almost everything I have ever written I am disappointed by later. I usually look back at stories after a few years, and then think that I was just an utter moron to have ever written anything so trite and stupid. But for the brief little bit of time when I’m not wise enough to realize how foolish I am, I can still be very satisfied with a newly complete story or article.
Oh and also: I think a lot of the way that people relate to the world today has to do with media. I mean, it probably always has. Today is not unique that way. But it used to be – back in the middle ages – that Western Europe’s big media rollout was the Catholic church. And so people would wander around and talk about that last sermon they heard. Except the sermons were in latin. So most people just wandered around and talked about those funny sounds they heard. But, basically, the stories you had were either biblical or gossip. You sort of see that in The Canturbury Tales. All of Chaucer’s characters are on their way to a religious pilgrimage. And some of them are hypocrites and some of them are devout and some of them are figuring out who they are. But, basically, the central framework is religion.
We don’t really have that anymore. And, in lots of ways, that’s a really good thing. It means we don’t burn witches and, at least in this country, we don’t usually run off into wars with the Turks over the holy land. Those are all really good innovations. But we also don’t have any centralized story that gives meaning to our lives. For all of the flaws of biblical literalism, the bible was, at least, an attempt to derive meaning from the chaos of human existence. Now we have TV and books and movies to do that for us. When they are good, those art forms can actually do a pretty good job of imparting wisdom. So, when writing feels best is when I really struggle through something and feel like I can share some wisdom in the form of a story. I’m not saying I succeed. But other people do. And the best stories are like sugar coating for a deeper human wisdom. (A wisdom, in this metaphor, that you would have to swallow.) They can do a lot of the work that religion used to do. So there’s also a sense in which – and I promise to stop being earnest for the rest of the interview after I make this point – writing is actually a somewhat spiritual practice.
In the short film 10 Minutes with Kurt Vonnegut you interview yourself. What made you decide to do that? What is the most challenging thing a person faces when interviewing one’s self? Just curious, did you learn anything new about yourself during the filming?
Yeah. So, the ‘film’ of that actually ended in preview form. The most interesting thing about filming it was discovering that film doesn’t work like text. It’s really really hard to make something entertaining that just involves two people talking. Linklater does it, and Wallace Shawn in My Dinner with Andre but it’s very very difficult.
I put together the idea for it on a plane ride from LA to San Francisco in 2004. One of my best friends from childhood, a director by the name of Will Backer who is currently working on his first feature, was in San Francisco and I was going to visit him. I knew that I had two or three days off work so I tried to write a script that we could shoot really quickly.
But then Will was cutting a bagel and the bagel turned out to be his thumb, so he had to rush off to the ER and we never shot what I wrote. But I liked the idea, so I worked it into a twelve minute script because, for me, at least initially, the appeal of acting was to be famous. I didn’t particularly care for memorizing lines. But I loved the idea that you could be yourself and people would listen to you. I think it comes from a deep-seated narcissism on my part. So then I started thinking about a character – me – who would interview himself just to be able to talk as if he were being interviewed. And then I read some old Tom Waits interviews and I decided that one character really needed to be obsessed with the idea of lying to an interviewer. Anyway, it sort of proceeded from there.
As for what I learned about myself…I learned that I didn’t really know very much about acting. I had been working professionally as an actor for three years when we shot it. I had small parts in bad plays, mostly. Shooting it made me realize that I really needed to get some training if this was going to be my full on career.
What do you think the vampires are doing with all those livers by the way?
B12 deficiency. They are deeply misunderstood creatures. (I’m pretty sure I stole that from a short story. Possibly one of Kurt Vonnegut’s. Maybe Ray Bradbury.)
Have you enjoyed playing Eli Brocias on Quick Draw? How would describe that particular character? Any stories from the set you’d like to share with our readers?
Yeah. It’s been a total blast. It’s the first time I’ve ever been on a big set where I am actually the center of attention. And I may have mentioned that I’m pretty narcissistic. I really do like being the center of attention. It’s a character flaw.
Eli knows nothing, but doesn’t think he knows nothing. He’s sort of aggressively wrongheaded. He has a solution to every problem. It’s just that maybe the solution he has in mind isn’t, necessarily, the smartest one available. He’s kind of the voice of 1870’s logic. And John’s character is the voice of modern rationalism. But Hoyle is kind of a blowhard, as is, quite frankly, modern rationalism.
As for stories…That scene in episode 7 where John and I are buried up to our necks was probably the most uncomfortable thing we shot. I mean, it was very miserable. And I talked to John and neither of us really remembered what we were saying when we shot it. But I actually think it’s one of my favorite scenes in the first season. So, really, I should work on being much less comfortable more often, I guess.
What is it like to work with John Lehr and Nancy Hower?
They are lovely lovely people. And ultra supportive. The danger, here, is that I haven’t worked – as a lead – with any other big productions. So I feel like I am starting with the experience of driving a cadillac and somewhere down the road I am going to meet some director who is like the Edsel of directors and I’m not even going to know that it ever could have been so bad because I’ve never driven anything but a Cadillac.
That metaphor may have gotten away from me.
How does working on an impov show differ most from conventional acting? Do you enjoy having the change to be more creative in your role?
You don’t have to memorize anything. That’s pleasant as an actor because memorization is really really dull. And to memorize something and then have it come off as spontaneous you have to memorize really thoroughly. So it takes a very long time. And, sometimes, if you are working on something where the script is really awful then you have just spent hours of your life putting something stupid in your brain that you will probably never forget.
Improv is way better than that.
What have you learned from the experience of working on Quick Draw?
At the end of the day, you have to trust Nancy Hower. That’s just how it is. When we finished shooting the first season, I had absolutely no notion of what any episode would look like. And, because I’m stubborn and mulish when I’m at my worst, I would keep deviating from the point of a scene. And Nancy would sort of gently remind me that, actually, maybe Eli’s thoughts on Shakespearian drama were not as relevant as I thought they might be. Or maybe that whole monologue about mongoose husbandry is not really not the most relevant thing for the scene in question.
I’m really excited to actually be able to relax into myself a bit more for season 2.
Will there be a season 2?
Do you think original series are a great medium to bring the world a wider variety of entertainment to choose from?
I mean…It would be really hard to say no to that question. The other option would be to just endlessly redo old franchises…Which is something that actually has its proponents. Basically, though, I think that anything that is worth watching has a responsibility to explore what it means to be human right now. (‘Now’ in this case being when the story in question is made.) Even dumb slapstick has to be dumb slapstick that is relevant to its contemporaries. If you’re fulfilling that really important, quasi-spiritual, element of storytelling – that is, imparting wisdom – then remaking old shows is harder. It can be done. Again: the only form of contemporary entertainment Western Europe had for hundreds of years were riffs on biblical stories – Passion plays and such. But it’s easier to do something interesting and relevant with original characters.
Your website mentions that you are also a tutor. What do you teach? Do enjoy helping others learn?
I tutor Math up through calculus, English, History, Physics, and some Chemistry. Basically, all the high school subjects…But the vast bulk of my work comes from test prep for either the private middle school tests – the ISEE, Catholic School Exams, and SSAT – or for the SAT. I have tutored the GRE and GMAT as well, but people usually go to one of the big companies for that. (The company I work for, Brownstone Tutors, is a sort of elite New York tutoring organization.)
I do enjoy the work, particularly when I get a higher-level math student. That’s not a part of my brain I get to use much any more, and it’s really satisfying to get to grapple with a tricky calculus problem.
You are also an avid traveler I understand? Is there any one trip that stands out most in your mind? Do you have a particular trip you’d most like to take before you die?
I’ve been lucky on the traveling front. I’ve been to lots of places and, if I had the opportunity, I’d like to go to lots more.
I have this friend, Loki, who is named after the Norse god of mischief. He and I did two trips together and they were marvelous because we each push one another to do things that are somewhat foolish in retrospect.
The last trip I took with him was to Cambodia, in 2006, right after a girlfriend and I broke up. I was a little heartsick and so we rented motorcycles. If a car is coming towards you very quickly on a two-lane highway and you cannot get back into your lane and it is dusk and the one spot where you can go has a dark spot that may or may not be something that will kill you, you quickly forget that you were feeling mopey and sad. Motorcycles are a great way to feel like you might die at any moment, which will really spring you out of your torpor.
Loki and I took this trip to Cambodia and it was very short and very healing and the two of us wandered around the ruins of Ankor Wat and sat out in tropical nights and shared beers. Of course, we also got into three motorcycle accidents in three days and Loki had to go home to Australia to get to a hospital that could deal with all of his abrasions. But, otherwise, it was a wonderful trip.
Speaking of which what are your feelings on death and such?
I would prefer it if it didn’t happen to either me, my sisters, my parents, or really anyone I know anytime soon. But then, I think we all would.
Anything you’d like to say before you go?
Oh…Lots and lots. I adore talking about myself. I recognize that as a bit of a flaw. And, with luck, I’ll finish this book soon, which will have gobs and gobs of thoughts that are less about myself and then I can talk about those thoughts without feeling as flawed. So, yes…Or no…There isn’t. I think.
What was the question?