Past and present

Toby Nichols on The Dark, Desolation, Trumbo, Iron Fist and Underground

by Jennie Kermode

Toby Nichols coming to the fore in The Dark
Toby Nichols coming to the fore in The Dark

He can currently be seen in US cinemas opposite Nadia Alexander in horror thriller The Dark, and his earlier film Desolation is currently on Netflix. Toby Nichols is an up and coming star who has already attracted a big fan following and has just signed on to play the lead in upcoming science fiction film Ralphie The Movie. We recently connected to talk about his acting technique, his career so far and what the future may hold for him

Alex, his character in The Dark, is a boy who has been severely abused to the point that he has lost his eyes, with just scar tissue remaining where they should be. We meet him when he’s discovered by a lonely, undead girl – a deadly threat to everyone else who strays across her path but, perhaps, ready to try something different in his case. Alex is a complex character to get to grips with. I ask Toby where he began.

Toby Nichols
Toby Nichols

“When I was doing the auditions I kind of created a backstory so that I’d know the actual story of the character, he says. “I just tried to imagine what he’d been through. Whenever I was actually on set, Justin [P Lange] helped me understand the actual story of Alex and the things he had been through. When I understood the past and the history of him then it was easier to understand his current emotions and thoughts about what’s happening now. So I really just had to learn more about him and then learn his coping mechanisms and things like that, and then everything else was sort of natural.”

When it came to portraying blindness, imagination was less necessary. With his make-up in place, Toby couldn’t see a thing. “That was really all the preparation I needed for being blind,” he says. “I just couldn’t see anytime I was on set.”

Did it change the way he felt?

“It didn’t agitate me or anything. It just helped me understand the way Alex feels more isolated, you know? You’re more alone whenever you can’t see. It did help me understand the character more. And Justin, the writer [and director], was always there. It was a difficult character but it was a fun challenge.”

How did he approach getting beyond victimhood to show viewers who Alex really is?

“Alex is at first sight a victim, and he is a victim of terrible things, but in a way he has some sort of power over people. over the kidnapper, even. Because he knows the strings he can pull to keep himself safe, he knows what he can say to keep himself from being beaten. He’s very smart and in that way I think he’s not a 100% victim. He hasn’t given up – he’s still a strong person.”

It was a very different experience from Desolation, he says.

“Sam, my character in Desolation, was younger and had very different problems, but they were both troubled and confused about the world. Sam had just lost his father to cancer. So they were both troubled people but in different ways.”

Developing a backstory is always an important part of his process, he says.

“It helps me connect to the characters. it’s really the only way I can get the emotions right. While I’m acting I try to completely immerse myself in everything they’re thinking and it makes lines come a lot more naturally. I just try to imagine myself in their situation and think what would I say? And usually the lines match up with that and it’s all very natural.”

Toby Nichols in Desolation
Toby Nichols in Desolation

So did he always want to be an actor or was it just something that happened accidentally because his older brother, Seth, wanted to make films?

“Well, yes, actually! My brother want to make videos and we did for a long time and then he wanted to get into more acting. In my first workshop I found an agent and luckily they were a very good agent. At that time I wasn’t thinking that I wanted to be an actor. I was nine and a half years old. And then i really started to love it and now that I’m actually in it I’m very glad I managed to get these roles when I was young.”

He has a great many hobbies, among them art – he’s known for sketching his co-stars. Have these other interests helped him to connect with characters?

“Actually a lot of characters that I’ve played have been into art and things like that so I’ve been able to relate to them and a lot of the characters I play are pretty similar to me in the way they think and act.”

His acting work has taken in both film and television. I ask if he’s found them very different, and if he has a preference.

“I like both of them a lot,” he says. “I worked on Iron Fist and that was a really, really cool set. It wasn’t like I connected with the cast and crew the same way I have on set for The Dark where I was there for the entire shoot and they became like a second family. But Iron Fist and other shows like that were still a lot of fun to work on. Especially Iron Fist... I loved Daredevil so I was really excited to work on that and it made it really fun to be on the set. They were doing some crazy stuff! I am in awe of the Marvel way of producing their shows. It’s incredible.

“Underground was another of my favourite shows and I actually got some really cool moments to show a lot of depth in my character in Underground.”

The Dark poster
The Dark poster

Has working with so many different actors helped him to develop his way of working?

“It has, in a way. i haven’t really adopted any of their techniques but it’s been really fun to work with like Bryan Cranston, who’s one of my favourite actors. I worked with him for a couple of weeks on Trumbo. And just being around those people was really nice – I got to meet them and learn how actual stars are.”

What has evidently impressed him most has been the humility of some of these stars. As well as making them nice to be around, it’s a quality that he feels is helpful to an actor – and he has a humble approach to his future career.

“If someone hires me I’ll be glad to work for them!” he laughs. “I don’t really have any plans. There are certain things that I would love to do. I’d like to be on a comedic TV show because I love comedy. i still love working on dramatic movies. Pretty much everything I’ve worked on has been really good.”

So he does he having anything else – apart from the recently announced Ralphie The Movie – in the pipeline?

“Other than the Dark, no – but that’s as far as acting goes. In March of next year I’m going to work on an archaeological site... It’s a site that used to be a Roman fortress so that’s really cool because I used to love Roman history and I’ve read a bunch of books about it. i don’t know, it always seemed kind of separate from reality, but then I didn’t realise how much was left... it’s kind of surreal. I really love things like that.”

Affable as he is, he doesn’t want to give people the hard sell on the Dark, but it’s plain that he’s thrilled that it’s now screening to a wide audience.

“It’s probably the work that I’m most proud of as far as acting goes. When I heard I’d got the role I was really excited because playing a blind character with so much depth and room to create a backstory was amazing for me... I was nervous to see it because when I read the script I loved it, but I’m really proud of it. I’m glad people like it.”

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