Many thanks to Melanie Votaw, a Brooklyn-based writer and photographer, for today’s guest post on Nick Thurston, star of the film ‘White Irish Drinkers,’ currently in theaters and scoring big at film festivals.
The film snagged the audience award for best narrative feature at the Woodstock Film Festival and was the official selection for the Toronto International Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival and many others.
Vanity Fair’s David Friend calls ‘White Irish Drinkers’ “a raucous, touching, vital hard-knocks family drama that offers an exquisitely written script, a series of plot twists, and a medley of spot-on performances from young talents Nick Thurston (right out of U.S.C.) and Geoffrey Wigdor, along with seasoned screen eminences Karen Allen, Stephen Lang, and Peter Riegert.”
If you haven’t heard of Nick Thurston yet, a lot of people are betting that you will – and soon. He stars in the new indie film, ‘White Irish Drinkers,’ written and directed by John Gray, the creator of the hit TV series, ‘[amazon_link id=”B003VJTGNO” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Ghost Whisperer[/amazon_link].’ I spoke with Gray and Thurston about the film and what’s up next for the up-and-coming actor.
Thurston, 23 (pictured, with cast mate Leslie Murphy at the premiere), was one of the first to audition for the film. He had already been cast in ‘Ghost Whisperer,’ but Gray was unaware of this because the actor appeared only as a fleeting apparition in an episode Gray didn’t direct. Nevertheless, Thurston’s “haunting quality” – no pun intended – caught Gray’s eye as perfect for the lead role of Brian in ‘White Irish Drinkers.’
“He had this thing that I really love in actors that’s sort of like, ‘I’ve got a secret.’ And I just knew that the camera was going to love those eyes,” Gray says, referring to Thurston’s enormous baby blues. Still, the casting team kept looking, convinced they shouldn’t choose one of the first hopefuls to walk in the door. “Finally, we just thought, ‘Nick is really the guy. He always has been the guy,’” Gray remembers.
Meanwhile, Thurston had written off the possibility of getting the job and continued auditioning for other roles. When the phone rang at his Berkeley, California home months later and his manager asked, “Do you have cold weather gear for New York? Brooklyn is pretty cold in October,” Thurston responded with, “I’ll bet it is. Why?”
The next thing he knew, the actor was on the streets of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, playing the lead in ‘White Irish Drinkers’ alongside veteran actors Karen Allen, Stephen Lang, and Peter Riegert. Thurston plays an 18-year-old in 1975 who endures an alcoholic, abusive father and a brother who tries to pull him into crime, while he hides his secret desire – to become an artist. The low budget coming-of-age tale is based loosely on John Gray’s experiences growing up in Bay Ridge and was a labor of love for the writer/director.
The 17-day shooting schedule was fast and grueling, and Thurston appears in nearly every scene, which he likens to having a knock-down drag-out argument with someone you love for a solid month. The emotional intensity was exhausting, but Thurston loves that kind of challenge and the opportunity for self-discovery. “As much as I’m acting as a performance for the people who are going to be watching it, I also am doing it because it teaches me a lot about myself,” he says.
Thurston may be at the start of his career, but he has already had a chance to show some range in the kinds of intense roles he loves. He starred in ‘The Lake,’ Jason Priestley’s online teen drama for WB.com (buy it on [amazon_link id=”B002L6IJZY” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Amazon[/amazon_link]), he played the abusive boyfriend in Lifetime TV’s heavily promoted October 2010 film, ‘Reviving Ophelia,’ and he plays the lead in the MTV film, ‘The Truth Below,’ which will debut on July 3, 2011. ‘The Truth Below’ is about four young people on a ski trip who become trapped in their car under an avalanche.
Thurston also appears to be a heartthrob in the making. After seeing ‘White Irish Drinkers,’ a female fan posted a video on YouTube titled ‘Thirsty for Thurston.’ This prompted another girl to respond with a video of her own which said, in essence, “Back off – he’s mine!”
Heartthrob or not, Thurston takes his craft seriously. A recent theater graduate of the University of Southern California, he also studied for five months at the British American Drama Academy in London, where he played Edmund in a production of ‘King Lear.’ “I’d never done a full Shakespeare piece before and got to work with a woman named Kelly Hunter, who’s a veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company, so that was just fantastic,” he says. (While we talked, he treated me to a theater story in a perfect British accent.)
Thurston also spent two weeks volunteering at a refugee camp in Haiti for the J/P Haitian Relief Organization founded by Sean Penn. He slept in a tent and did everything from carrying sand bags to working on generators. “It’s one of those situations where you’re really outside your comfort zone, and you have to do whatever is asked of you,” he says.
The experience gave him perspective and gratitude for the simple things we take for granted in the U.S. but which are in short supply in the third world, like food, running water, and electricity. “It forced me to find strengths in myself that I didn’t previously know even existed,” he says. Besides his humanitarian pursuits, Thurston is also an animal lover who currently cares for two rescues – a squirrel and a field mouse.
‘White Irish Drinkers’ has opened up new possibilities for Thurston in the industry. If the critics are right, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a household name, especially since he’s willing to “work hard and dig deep” according to Gray. “What I loved about Nick, apart from his talent,” Gray says, “was his incredible professionalism.”
Visit the ‘White Irish Drinkers’ Web site to learn more about the film and see when it’s playing in your area. ‘Reviving Ophelia’ is available on iTunes and [amazon_link id=”B004MCGNRQ” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Amazon[/amazon_link], and occasionally re-airs on Lifetime TV. Both movies are expected to be released on DVD this summer. ‘The Truth Below’ airs on MTV on July 3, and the trailer can be viewed on MTV.com.
‘White Irish Drinkers’ is rated R for pervasive language, some sexuality and violence; in theaters March 25, 2011; 109 min.; directed by John Gray; Screen Media Films.
Images: Screen Media Films