Discover more from That Thing They Did
Previously Unpublished: An Interview with Nick Searcy
Forgive me for having used this intro before, but rest comfortable in the knowledge that this is the last time you’ll see it…
In June 2016, my buddy Matthew Aaron was gracious enough to invite me to Chicago to visit the set of his latest movie, LANDLINE, starring Mr. Aaron himself, along with Tom Arnold, Betsy Brandt, Nick Searcy, and Jim O’Heir. Alas, I wasn’t able to catch up with Betsy while I was there - her filming schedule was slightly different than the guys, so we weren’t in the city at the same time - but I did get to interview Arnold, Searcy, and O’Heir.
Alas, I was unable to place any of those three interviews with a paying outlet. Even just reflecting on it now still makes me grind my teeth in anger, because I knew for a fact that all three of these interviews were extremely entertaining and would’ve been a great read for whatever outlet opted to run them. That said, I’d done all three interviews with an eye toward one particular outlet, and it floored me when they didn’t want any of them, so it definitely inspired me to draw a line in the sand: since then, I haven’t done any interviews for that outlet without having confirmation of placement beforehand, and I never will again. Plus, at least now I can share the interviews with you via my Substack newsletter.
If you didn’t see my interview with O’Heir when I posted it last year…
If you didn’t see my interview with Arnold when I posted it earlier this year…
And now, prepare yourself for…Nick Searcy!
In researching your first on-camera role, it looks like it was a short film called Killin’ Time.
Nick Searcy: Yeah! Well, probably the first one you can find anything about, anyway. But Killin’ Time was an NYU student film that I did when I was living in New York. I’d done this guy’s first short film, and then he wrote this thing for he and I to do. The guy’s name was Michael Nickels—not Mike Nichols—but then he went on to do a movie called Desert Winds with Heather Graham that I was in, and some other things. But Killin’ Time was about two soldiers, one of whom gets on a land mine, and it won’t go off ‘til he steps off of it. It was pretty good. I liked it. But, yeah, it basically was my first real on-camera role.
I actually made note of Desert Wind when I was looking over your filmography, just because of your character’s name: Sweaty Man.
Yeah, exactly: Sweaty Man! [Laughs.] I played this guy who was on a date with Heather Graham, and I kept sweating, and they were, like, putting Vaseline on me and spraying water on me and whatnot, and I’m wiping my face and trying to kiss Heather Graham. It was a dream come true!
So how did you find your way into acting in the first place?
Oh, you know, I always wanted to do it. I think I was 12 years old at my parents’ house watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and I just sort of thought, “Those guys look like they’re having fun, so that’s what I want to do!” But I did a lot of plays in high school and then college, so I went after it that way.
Thunder Alley (1994)—“Brett”
Thunder Alley! With Diane Venora and Ed Asner. Diana Venora in a sitcom! Probably the worst casting idea anybody ever had. Diane Venora is a great Shakespearean actress, she’s wonderfully powerful, but putting her in a sitcom just did not work. But I had auditioned for a series regular on the show, and Jim Beaver got the series regular, so I’ve hated him ever since. [Laughs.] No, no, Jim and I are friends. But I just did a few episodes as a recurring mechanic character. We were like… Who were those guys on the Newhart show?
Larry, Darryl, and Darryl?
Yeah! We were just Larry and Darryl. [Laughs.] We didn’t have the other Darryl.
Given that The Mary Tyler Moore Show was so formative for you, what was it like working with Ed Asner?
He’s the biggest grouch ever. There was one time… I had four lines on the show, and we’re doing in front of the live audience, and…I can’t even remember what the line was, but I took a little pause before my line to tee it up a little bit, and then I said my line, and I got a laugh. And while the audience was still laughing—you know, we’re going to do another take—Ed Asner comes over to me and goes, “You had to take the pause to get the laugh, didn’t you, you little bastard? I’ll fix you!” [Laughs.] So the next time we did it, I said my line, and Ed just came in right on top of it!
Head Of State (2003)—“Brian Lewis”
Oh, well, that was great fun. That was with Chris Rock and Bernie Mack. Bernie Mack was maybe the biggest star I’ve ever seen when he was out in public. He would just stop traffic. He was so huge. Just sort of trying to be funny with them was intimidating, but my favorite part of that movie was the first day we were shooting. Chris and I are sitting in the chairs, and Chris says, “You know, we don’t really have an argument in this debate.” And I said to him, “Well, you know, what we could do is, we could do that old Monty Python thing, where you just start going, ‘Yes, it is.’ ‘No, it isn’t.’ ‘Yes, it is.’ ‘No, it isn’t.’ ‘Yes, it is!’” So we did that…and they put it in! It’s probably my favorite part of the movie.”
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)—“Frank Bennett”
Fried Green Tomatoes seems to have been a transitional moment for your career.
Well, yeah, that was the first role I ever had that was more than one scene. I auditioned for that part six times, kept driving down to Atlanta from my house in North Carolina to audition with Jon Avnet, who kept calling me back. By about the fourth time, I was, like, “Why are you… Is there something you’re not seeing? Is there something you want me to do?” Jon Avnet said, “No, I’m just waiting for you to screw up.” And so they called me at one point about two weeks before shooting started and told me I did not get the part, and did I want to play this one-line thing in another scene where I was a Klansman or something? And I said, “No, you tell Jon Avnet I said to kiss my ass.” And I didn’t hear anything.
And then about, like, the weekend before they were going to start shooting on Monday, they asked me to go back down to Atlanta one more time. And I drove down there and met Jon Avnet, and he said, “Well, I just wanted to see you one more time. You think you’re ready to do this part?” And I said, “I’ve been ready for this for, like, 10 years. It was the 10 years of nothing I wasn’t ready for.” So I started work on that Monday, and when I went to the set, Arliss Howard’s name was on the call sheet where mine was supposed to be, because I guess he wanted too much money or something! [Laughs.] So that’s how I got it! But Avnet is still a friend. He directed a couple of episodes of Justified, and I always kid him. I tell him, “Have they started calling you ‘the man who discovered Nick Searcy’ yet?” He says, “Yeah, but they’re usually pissed off when they say that!”
Seven Days (1998-2001)—“Nathan Ramsey”
That show…was written by a maniac. Chris Crowe was crazy. But great writers are. And he wrote this great character who was a crazed right-wing fanatic. Who knows how I got that part… [Snorts.] But I was sort of the main nemesis on that show, kind of the antagonist to the lead character. It gave me a lot of good stuff to play, and it was a lot of fun. I got to inject some comedy into the science fiction.
Were you a sci-fi fan going in?
A little bit, yeah. But, you know, it was just one of those shows that… I really thought it would never work. [Laughs.] I thought, “Eh, I’ll do the pilot, and then I’ll do something else.” And then it lasted for three years!
Having done an interview with him, I’m curious: do you have any anecdotes about working with Norman Lloyd on the show?
Yeah, on the pilot… [Hesitates.] Now, I have to confess, I didn’t really know who Norman Lloyd was when we shot the pilot. I subsequently learned that I should have more respect for him than I showed on the pilot! There was one scene in the beginning where…I think the director was sort of doing that thing where he would tell one actor to do something that he thought might make the other actor mad, and he was trying to sort of get a performance out of them or something. So he kept telling Norman Lloyd to interrupt me. He kept telling him to talk over me. And I just remember that in one take I finally sort of lost my temper, and I said, “I’m gonna say my line, old man!” [Laughs.] Finally, after we’d done the show for about a year or so and I realized that Norman had worked with Orson Welles and all these other people, I was, like, “Y’know, I probably shouldn’t have said that to Norman Lloyd…”
Days Of Thunder (1990)—“Highway Patrol Officer”
That was really the first real mainstream, paid-to-do-it role I ever did. Let’s see, what can I remember about that? I was just so nervous and so excited to have a part. I just remember that, at the audition, I was auditioning for Tony Scott, and I remember my knees were shaking when I did it. [Laughs.] I couldn’t stop ‘em! But I ended up getting the part and doing it. And then years later I had another audition for Tony Scott—it was for Crimson Tide—and my knees shook again! And I was kind of a seasoned pro by then, but something about Tony Scott still intimidated me.
The Fugitive (1993)—“Sheriff Rawlins”
House Of Cards (1993)—“Construction Driver”
The Fugitive, that was another big one. Tommy Lee Jones is kind of a…tough character. [Laughs.] That film was shot in my hometown, and I had just moved to L.A. six months before it, so it was, like, the first job I got that was back in my hometown and filming in North Carolina. We came in a couple of days early to rehearse, and Tommy Lee says to me, “I think you should play your character like he can barely read. Like he’s illiterate. Like he’s a stupid hillbilly.” And I said, “Well, I don’t see the character that way. I mean, I think he’s probably a politician, he’s in a little over his head. I don’t really want to play him that way.” And Andrew Davis, the director, he kind of wouldn’t take up for me. He sort of said, “Well, Tommy Lee kind of has a point…”And I was, like, “I don’t really see the character that way.” So ever after that, Tommy Lee hated me, just hated my guts. So then when we actually played the scene… There’s a scene where Tommy Lee shows up, and we’re ad-libbing a little bit, and my line is, “Wyatt Earp’s here to mop up for us.” In the movie, Tommy Lee improvises, “Oh, Wyatt Earp, I like that.” But in real life, after Tommy Lee says, “Oh, Wyatt Earp, I like that,” I said, “Well, I’m glad you like it.” And he said, “You little son of a bitch!” And I didn’t know if he was talking to me or if he was in character. [Laughs.] I just never knew! Because he really didn’t like me after I wouldn’t do what he said.
You were in another movie with him around the same time: House of Cards.
Yeah, but I never saw him. That was when I was just starting out, and that was one of those one-liners. I think I literally stick my head out of a door and go, “Hey, telephone’s for you!” That’s it. [Laughs.]
Moneyball (2011)—“Matt Keough”
Moneyball was… [Pauses and then starts to laugh.] This is gonna get me in trouble.
It’s been known to.
Yeah, I can just see it! Well, with Moneyball, I had read for the baseball scout that was played by a real baseball player in the movie. That’s what everybody read for: that major role. Then they called back and said, “They don’t want you to do that, but they want you to do one of the scouts that’s in the room.” I said, “I don’t know, that sounds boring.” My agent said, “Well, what would you do it for?” So I gave him a rate, and it ended up being nine days work, so it ended up being a pretty good deal.
But anyway, the way that scene was structured, half the room was real baseball scouts and half the room was actors like me, character actors and stuff. And so the director, Bennett Miller, threw the script out. He said, “I don’t want to use any of this. I want everybody to improvise.” And I was, like, “Well, I don’t know anything about baseball, I’m not a baseball fan… It’s hard for me to improvise about baseball.” So we’re in a situation where all the scouts knew about baseball but couldn’t act, and all the actors could act, but they didn’t know anything about baseball. Plus, we’re all trying to chew the scenery up and get in front of each other. Well, I just decided I wasn’t going to say anything. I just said, “What the hell, they’re gonna pay me the same thing no matter.” But I remembered this one line from reading the book. There was a scout in the book who said at one point, “That guy’s got an ugly girlfriend, so he probably doesn’t have any confidence.” Because if he had any confidence, he’d date a pretty girl, right? So I thought, “Well, I’ll throw that in somewhere.” So that ended up being the only line that I had in the whole movie…and it was in the trailer!
But it was fun sitting there with all those guys. Philip Seymour Hoffman was there, too. I didn’t have much to do with him, but he made kind of a brief appearance in the scene that we shot, and he was very nice. Like I said, though, we were there for nine days, and at about three days into the nine, Brad Pitt and Bennett Miller got in a fight and wouldn’t come to the set, so we kind of just sat there for a few days. [Looks at watch.] “Well, it’s about seven. I guess we’ll go home now!”
The Comebacks (2007)—“Mr. Truman”
Well, I looked far better as Christina Aguilera than I did as Cher, let’s say that. [Laughs.] I’m a natural blonde, and a brunette wig did not look good on me! My agent asked me, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I said, “You wait ‘til you see me in that Cher outfit!”
American Gothic (1995-1996)—“Deputy Ben Healy”
I loved American Gothic. I wish it had gone on. Deputy Ben was supposed to die in the pilot, but they liked the character, so they kept him. It was my first series, so it was fun. And Shaun Cassidy was the writer, and he and I are still friends. For years he talked about, “Look, let’s do Return to American Gothic!” And then CBS released a show called American Gothic which has nothing to do with the realAmerican Gothic, so…I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen. But it was Sarah Paulson, Gary Cole, me, Paige Turco, Brenda Bakke… A lot of great people were in that show. It was a great show.
Do you remember if you read the script before or after finding out that it was written by Shaun Cassidy?
Oh, I knew from the beginning. And I remember when I read the script, because I kept telling my agent, “You should read me for Gary Cole’s part!” That’s what I wanted. I wanted to be the bad sheriff. So they let me read for it, but they said, “No, you’re better for Ben.” [Laughs.] But Shaun, he’s always got something going, every year. He’s got Emerald City coming up for NBC. He’s very talented. But I do keep asking him: “I thought we were friends. Why don’t you ever write anything for me?”
Carolina Low (1997)—“Jake Kyler,” director / producer
That’s the first feature I directed. It’s gonna come out this year. It was called Paradise Falls when we did it, and it won about six film festivals in 1997, but it never found a distributor. I’m excited for it to come out, because hopefully people will see it and go, “Damn, Nick Searcy looks great!” [Laughs.] “What did he do? He looks 20 years younger!”
[See it for yourself on Amazon Prime:
you can watch it by clicking right here.]
Was directing something you always wanted to pursue?
Yeah, I’d made a lot of crazy films in college, and I’d always had that bent. But Sean Bridgers and I… Sean wrote the script, and he said, “Why don’t we do this?” That was the first time I directed a feature like that, but then I just directed another one this past year called Gosnell. It took me 20 years to get over the first one. [Laughs.] Because after I directed that movie, I realized, “That little job I had acting, where I just sat in the trailer, bitched and whined about craft services, and then came in and did a few lines? That was a really easy job. I’m gonna get that job back. Directing is too hard!”
The Dead Girl (2006)—“Carl”
An American Crime (2007)—“Lester Likens”
11.22.63 (2016)—“Deke Simmons”
11.22.63 came about… Well, it fell out of the sky, but I’d been trying to get in a Stephen King for my whole life. I’ve met him, like, three times, but I’ve never gotten into anything of his. But I read everything of his, especially in his early career, so it was good to finally get into one of his things.
Do you remember the ones you tried to get into?
The Stand. The first one, the one they did for TV. I think Bill Fagerbakke got my part. And there was another one. The Mist! I almost got The Mist. And I auditioned for The Shawshank Redemption, and I almost got that. I’ve almost gotten into all of these Stephen King movies. [Laughs.] But finally I got into one!
How’d you enjoy working against James Franco?
It was fun. Actually, I have a mutual friend who was in James Franco’s very first movie, and he and James are still friends, so we had that. I’ve actually also been in two other movies with Franco, but we never met. I was in The Dead Girl, which he was in, but we were in different sections, and also a movie called An American Crime, with Catherine Keener, but we didn’t meet on that one, either!
Nell (1994)—“Todd Peterson”
That was another one of those things where it was shot near my hometown, so I was coming back home. I remember going to the audition. They did a pre-audition for me, which was just with the casting director, and…I won’t say her name. You’ll figure it out. [Laughs.] But I could tell the casting director didn’t like me, and she wasn’t going to bring me back, so I called my agent and said, “You’ve got to get me past her. That’s my part. That woman, I don’t know what it is, but she doesn’t like me, so you’ve got to get me in that room.” So she did, and I got in the room, and when I met Michael Apted, I got the part. But the casting director really didn’t want me.
Most of my stuff was with Liam [Neeson]. Only a couple of scenes were with Jodie [Foster]. But it was sort of one of those movies where we were all in this little village in Fontana, North Carolina – it was like a resort community – so it was like a little summer rep theater or something, you know? We would all go and watch dailies at the end of the day, they showed ‘em in this place, and Natasha [Richardson] and Liam and everyone was there. We just did stuff like a family. It was really fun. That was a great thing to be part of. And it’s kind of a beautiful movie. It’s really nice. It’s not the most dramatic story, but it’s just really pretty. It’s a great film.
From the Earth to the Moon (1998)—“Deke Slayton”
Oh, yeah, that was great to be a part of all those episodes and work with all those directors and all those different actors. And I was the one guy who was kind in most of the episodes, so that’s when I met John Carroll Lynch, Holmes Osbourne, Tony Goldwyn, Brett Cullen, and all these actors. We all knew each other after that, which was kind of fun. But it’s also a really great show. I mean, if you go back and look at that, it holds up pretty well. It’s still good 20 years later.
We shot on the real Cape Canaveral. We shot in the real block house where the Mercury Missions were launched. A lot of that stuff, we were shooting in the real place. And a lot of the astronauts came down. Jim Lovell was there, and Dave Scott, too. It was great to just meet the real guys. And my character never got into space. Deke Slayton was the one who never really flew until the very end, when he got to do the Apollo-Soyuz mission. And I had a great wig. [Laughs.] Because Deke had a little flattop, and my hair just wouldn’t do that, so they just put a wig on me!
Runaway Jury (2003)—“Doyle”
Another dream come true: getting to work with Gene Hackman. He’s always been my hero. And the first three days I was there, I couldn’t even bring myself to speak to him. I just didn’t know what to say. And Gene is kind of like… He’s almost introverted. He’s kind of shy. You wouldn’t think that, but he is. He’s very focused on the work. So we just didn’t speak…and I worked with him for about eight days!
So about the fourth day, I was in the makeup trailer, and Gene would always go into the makeup trailer. He had his own hair person who would always dye his hair. You know, to put a little color in his hair. So I came in one day, and she said, “You want me to do your hair? Gene’s not here yet.” And I was almost shaved bald for that movie, but I said, “Sure, okay!” So I jump up in the chair, and I’m getting my hair done…and Gene Hackman walks into the makeup trailer! He comes up, and I’m, like, “Oh, shit, I’m in Gene’s chair!” But he looks at me in the mirror, and he goes, “You’re doing hair? Why?” First thing he ever said to me. [Laughs.] I’m, like, “I’ll get out of the way,” but he said, “No, no, take your time!”
I’ve got two more quick stories about Runaway Jury. There’s a scene where Gene Hackman is supposed to kick a trashcan at my character, and the director, Gary Fleder, is, like, “I want to make sure Nick’s not hurt.” So Gene goes, “Ah, no problem. So which way are you gonna go?” I said, “Oh, I’ll probably dodge this way.” He says, “Okay, I’ll kick it the other way.” So we do the scene, and Gene leads me to the right, so when I dodge to the right, he kicks the trashcan and hits me in the arm. And Gary’s, like, “Is Nick okay?” And Gene Hackman turns to the guy next to him, the extra, and goes [Holds out his palm.] “Ten bucks.” He’d bet he could hit me!
And the other funny story… You know, there’s the big chase scene in Runaway Jury with me and John Cusack. Well, the first scene, the first day, seven in the morning, it’s a 200-yard sprint down Jackson Square with the camera on a four-wheeler sort of following me. So I’m running as hard as I can the first four takes of the day, and I think on the first take I probably pulled every muscle south of the border. [Laughs.] After we got that shot, I just went back to the trailer and lay on the floor. I couldn’t even make it to the couch. I just went, “Holy shit!” I was just beat.
But I had a lot more stuff to do that day—running up stairs and this and that—so I had to take all this aspirin and stuff to get through it, and I was just dragging my ass through every shot. Fleder was, like, “Do you want to put this off for another day?” “No! Let’s just get this over with. It’s gonna hurt just as bad either way.” By the end of the day, I’m, like, “Everybody, I’m going to make an announcement: I’m okay. Stop asking me if I’m okay. I’m okay, all right? I’m gonna make it!” So we got through the day, but the next day, I swear, I was like Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show. [Laughs.] I could not walk. It took me two weeks to get over it!
Oh, I’ve got one more story! Cusack had a guy with him, and he’d always have a football between takes. Cusack was a pretty good player in high school. So we’re doing this shot, and I’m supposed to run around the corner, and he’s supposed to come around after me. I said, “John, we need to do a football take: I’ll come around the corner, and then when you come around the corner, just have that football and hit me with it.” [Laughs.] It was a great shot: I’m running right towards the camera, I’m carrying a toolbox, he comes around the corner, I throw the toolbox down, and he hits it right there. I caught it right on camera. It was great. And Fleder’s, like, “All right, enough fucking around…but that was good!”
That was one of the first roles—it might be the first role—that I got after I moved to L.A. after Fried Green Tomatoes came out, and it was, like, a self-contained little section of the movie. Another great wig. [Laughs.] I just remember interviewing a mortician in Burbank to prepare for that role. I don’t remember the role that much, but I do remember interviewing the mortician to prepare for it!
The West Wing (2003)—“Nate Singer”
You’ve done a number of one-off appearances on various TV shows. Is there any particular one that really stands out as a favorite?
[Long pause.] Maybe The West Wing. I remember talking briefly with Martin Sheen that day, and also John Spencer. John was just one of the nicest, most gracious guys I ever worked with. Not long after that, he passed away. But it stands out mostly because I did this one little scene that Richard Schiff was in, and Richard and I were proofreaders in New York long ago, when we were both starting out. And I remember sitting there talking to him, and we just played the name game. “Remember this guy? Do you remember that guy?” All these proofreaders we used to know. And none of them were still acting. None of them! He and I were the only ones that we could remember, out of all the guys we knew when we were in New York, who were still acting.
Justified (2010-2015)—“Art Mullen”
Great fun with a great bunch of guys. Graham Yost I met on From the Earth to the Moon. He was supervising producer on that. So he’s another one where I kept sending him emails for 20 years saying, “I thought you liked me, I thought we were friends, all this shit, but you never cast me, you never do anything…” [Laughs.] So finally Justified comes along, and he says, “Okay, okay, I can finally shut Nick Searcy up: I’ve got the part for him.”
And it was a heck of a part, not to mention the fact that it was on a series that had a nice, solid run.
Yeah. I mean, you know, the longest show I’d ever had before that didn’t come anywhere close to that, so six years was a gift. And when it ended, everybody was kind of ready for it to be over. Now, if it’d kept going, I wouldn’t have complained. [Laughs.] But it was fine.
The thing that was great about Justified is that they did – especially after the first season – let us improvise. You know, they’d have a writer there, so if we wanted to change it, the writer would be there to go, “Well, we need this, but that’s fine.” In the first season, there were a couple of lines that I added here and there or I’d throw in this or that, and in the first season there would always be some writeup about how the dialogue was so great between Art and Raylan, and whoever’s writing that was great, and they’d quote some line from the show…and it was always some line that I made up! [Laughs.] So I go to Graham, and I said, “You’ve got to start giving me credit!” I think the first year I made up this line where it was, like, he had shot two people, and I said, “You shot somebody last week, you shot somebody this week… If you were in kindergarten, and one week you bit somebody and the next week you bit somebody else, pretty soon they’d start to think you’re a biter.” That was one of the lines they quoted as the brilliant writing!
As an actor, did it feel particularly different delivering Elmore Leonard dialogue, or Leonard-inspired dialogue? It’s definitely got its own unique cadence.
Yeah, I thought that’s one of the things that Justified did well: it got the sense of humor. You know, so many times people that try to do Elmore Leonard, they just don’t capture that dry sense of humor. In the worst possible moment, people are trying to crack jokes. I think that’s one thing we managed to do well. We kept that gallows humor that Elmore Leonard had. And a lot of that’s due to Olyphant. He was really the champion of that show, in many ways. He made sure the tone fit Elmore Leonard. He was really good.
How was it to work with Leonard himself?
Well, I only met Elmore a couple of times. It’s not like he was in the writers’ room. He would send them parts of his novel, and they’d call it “stripping it for parts.” They would just sort of pull out things. But he was a very, very funny guy, and right up to the end, he was very with it, always mentally there. I remember joking with him at the last TCA panel he was at. He’d just written a novel called Raylan, and I remember going up to him and saying, “Why don’t you write one called Art?” [Laughs.] He said, “I’ll think about it.”
But when Elmore passed away, Graham and Tim Olyphant and a couple of other people, they went to his memorial, and one of the things they did… His family had sort of left his study exactly like it was when he died, because they wanted to show Graham and Timothy something. And Elmore Leonard always wrote everything out on a legal pad before he typed it, and so he had written a note to himself to add Raylan and Art Mullen into a story he was writing. And on his note pad he wrote, “Add Raylan and Nick Searcy.” And then he marked out “Nick Searcy” and he’d written “Art Mullen.” [Grins.] He knew my name.