The name Rachel Nichols may not ring a bell now, but it soon will. These days, actresses who make tabloid headlines tend to be relegated to specific genres: You have your romantic comedy stars, like Jennifer Aniston, and your drama stars like Anne Hathaway. But what about the action heroes? Sure, guys like Bruce Willis have dominated the field for years, but not nearly enough attention is paid to the women who also make these films so successful.
Enter Nichols, who got her start on an episode of little show called “Sex and the City,” in which she played the hostess Samantha banishes from a threesome with Richard (remember?). From there, Nichols went on to appear in action flicks such as “G.I. Joe,” “Conan the Barbarian,” and “Star Trek.” And now, she’s starring in this weekend’s big release, “Alex Cross,” opposite Tyler Perry and a buff Matthew Fox. We caught up with Nichols to get the scoop on action flicks, her modeling days, and one item of clothing she’ll never throw out.
StyleCaster: How did you get into modeling and then acting?
Rachel Nichols: When I was a student at Columbia University, my parents told me that if I wanted to continue my education and go to graduate school, I’d have to pay for that myself. That was the turning point. I was like, “Okay, I need to find a job where I can still go to class and make money.” I immediately started modeling for brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and eventually began doing commercials. All of this was for degrees I thought I would be getting, and then one day I had an audition for “Sex and the City.” That changed everything. Although I was only on one episode, after I did that, I began to think acting could be a career and not just a way to pay the bills. My parents were supportive. They said, “If you want to try it out, now is the time.”
Over the years, you’ve gone from a model to an actress who frequently walks red carpets. How has your style evolved?
I think I learned a lesson the hard way that not all trends fit everybody. There are certain looks that don’t look right on me, and I think I’ve finally been able to master the ones that do. People say that confidence is the best accessory and it’s true. When I was growing up in Maine, and a freshman or sophomore at Columbia, I hadn’t really been exposed to a lot of fashion—and I’m not talking high fashion, I’m just talking pants that aren’t too short and shirts that aren’t too baggy. I think I arrived in New York without any fashion sense whatsoever. I’ve seen pictures from the first day that I walked into the modeling agency: They were taking Polaroids of me and I have no idea why they thought I could ever be a model. I know what looks work for me. I have long legs, and I can’t wear mini-dresses—they always look inappropriately short on me. I choose stylish comfort when dressing for an event.
Tell us about “Alex Cross.”
Everyone who worked on it loves it. Tyler Perry loves it—which is obviously really important, because you need your star to love their movie. When I got the script and saw director Rob Cohen was attached, I immediately knew it was going to be a major action movie. And that’s what it is—a great action movie, but it’s also very heartfelt. That sounds kind of crazy, but the relationships in the film are very important. At the end, you find yourself caring for the characters. For an actor, that’s the best possible outcome.
Modeling and acting are both notably tough businesses. What are some lessons you learned along the way?
One thing you learn really quickly when you’re modeling is that you’re going to face rejection all the time. It may be that your look isn’t right or that they’re looking for something else. Sometimes, you’re just blatantly not right for the job. You have to develop a thick skin and know that it’s not personal. Also, I really did learn that hard work always pays off. Of course, there’s a little bit of magic dust and luck involved, but as long as you spend time building up your resume, you’re paving the way for a successful career.
What is it about the action genre that you’re so drawn to? What other areas of film would you want to explore?
I love action! I love fight sequences, I love explosions, I love all of it. While you’re shooting it, you have no idea how badass you’re actually going to look on the screen. The audience can’t see the stunt doubles or secret wires, so to them it all just looks awesome. I’d love to do a romantic comedy though! That in my mind is a challenge. It scares me a little bit.
Are there any items in your closet you would never throw out?
It’s funny because this is something I’ve only worn twice in my life, but I have this beautiful Isabel Marant jumpsuit. It’s flowy with a floral pattern. I bought it in Paris during the “G.I. Joe” press tour, and it’s just something I will never throw out.