An interview with Phil Nichol
By Pete Austin
The actor, writer, musician and stand-up comic Phil Nichol was on a train heading north out of London when I spoke with him about another journey. Despite a late night gig the previous night he was relaxed, open and honest as we discussed his career.
It was a profession not at first encouraged by his parents but Phil Nichol knew from the age of 12 that the world of entertainment was the one in which he wanted to make his mark.
Born in Scotland to a devoutly religious family, home for the first few years was a small town on the outskirts of Glasgow, and the life mapped out for him was one that was to have started with Bible College. This, it was envisaged, would lead to some role within the religious community. However, that was not to be.
The family moved to Canada while he was still a young boy and for Phil it meant not only adapting to another culture but making new friends at a new school, for which had developed a bit of a strategy.
He said: “I have always been a show-off since I was small. I was born with a speech impediment, I had a stutter and a lisp, and as we moved around a lot when I was young, found this was the natural way for me to make new friends.”
His ‘art’ of showing off was to take a different direction after he went to see a performance of The Tempest at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. He was just 12 years old but Phil clearly remembers the experience, one that was to change his life. He said: “I looked up at the stage and said “Oh My God, I want to do that. If I can catch even some of that attention I will be happy.”” He was hooked.
Three years later he was on stage in the finals of the Sears Drama Festival in Ontario, winning the Best Performance award in a play based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the play he had also devised and directed.
Another year, another step, this time into the television studios of Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). “My first professional acting job was a walk-on part with one line of dialogue in the teenage show Hangin’ In. I hadn’t even told my dad I had gone for the audition. When the cheque arrived in the post the envelope was address to a J Nichol, which is my real initial as well as my father’s, so he was the one to open it. His actual words were “What’s this!” he was really angry, he didn’t want me to be an actor. It took my parents a long time to accept that acting was a good idea. Probably none more so than when I took my mother to Buckingham Palace and I said “This is my mum” when I introduced her to Her Majesty The Queen. That was in 2006 when I was invited to one of the Christmas parties held at the Palace, where I was one of around 200 people recognised as being influential in changing culture during that year.”
It was a long way from Canada and the young man who ran away from home when he was 17 years old. Determined to establish himself in the world of showbiz he enlisted at drama school where he studied for four years. He soon built up an impressive CV, landing a role in a production of 12 Angry Men and shortly after, was asked to play Charles Chiswick III in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in a cast that also included Christian Slater. Another production and another dimension was added to his acting skills, Mabel: Two Nights at the Bowling Alley and I Can Do That, saw him dancing on stage; this show toured North America. To this you can add his musical capabilities, (he once formed a group), and his acclaimed stand-up routines and there you have, in one package, a very versatile entertainer, who is always looking forward to whatever comes next.
“I am enjoying what I do now,” he said: “I love creating new work, I am writing a play, I am on a new recording project with some new songs. It (performing) is an amazing experience. I love telling stories, in whatever form. If by the end of my life I will be happy if I am respected as a stage actor, and I mean stage, there is no replacement for being in front of a live audience.”
Adulation is one thing but friends are also important to Phil who said; “I had my worst nightmare just last night, all my friends turned their backs on me and would not speak to me or acknowledge me. I woke up crying, I had to know it was just a dream, it was frightening, it is the worst thing ever that could happen.”
If he could share the stage with anyone Phil cites Kevin Spacey and Kirsten Dunst “she is awesome” but his role models have more homely roots. His religious upbringing and his Scottish family still mean everything to him. In particular, he owes his musical foundation to Andrew, one of his two brothers, and the one who gave him his first guitar lessons. From the world of comedy he acknowledges the talents of Billy Connelly, the late Dave Allen and Phil Kay.
Our interview was coming to an end as the train approached its destination. It was going to be another busy day but there was just time to throw in a couple of final questions. When asked how he spent relaxation time, (that’s when he can find it), he said being at home playing his guitar is good but, finances allowing, he would love to spend six weeks in Thailand, stopping off there as a break following a world tour.
As a parting shot I asked Phil to describe himself in five words. He replied: “Big, silly, over-sensitive (I’ll count that as one), serious, nerd.”
Suitcase and guitar in hand Phil will be heading to Kettering Arts Centre on Saturday 6th June where he is headlining the Rolling in the Aisles Comedy Club. He is looking forward to sharing his comedy, stories and music with you and hopes to see you there.