Realizing the true importance of courageously standing up for what’s right, and fully appreciating the most important relationships in your life, especially when you’re afraid to admit how essential the other person truly is to you, is an influential passage into maturity for adolescents. When teens realize it’s time for them to begin truly defending their beliefs, taking responsibility for their actions and only focusing on developing relationships that are beneficial to them, they honorably start to develop into the adult they aspire to become. That captivating revelation is intriguingly chronicled in the new coming-of-age drama, ‘King Jack,’ which marks the feature film writing and directorial debuts of Felix Thompson. The adventure drama, which had its world premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, features a stunning performance from up-and-coming actor and Oceanside native, Cory Nichols, who naturally embodies his character’s humanizing realization of what it means to put others’ needs above your own.
‘King Jack,’ which unfolds over the course of a single summer weekend, follows the title character, 15-year-old Jack (Charlie Plummer), who’s growing up in a rural town and upsettingly contending with attending a session of summer school. Burdened with an oblivious mother, Karen (Erin Davie), an absent father and a seemingly uncaring older brother, Tom (Christian Madsen), Jack has learned to do what it takes to get by on his own. After his aunt falls ill and his cousin, Ben (Nichols), comes to stay with them, Jack is initially hesitant of spending time with his newly arrived younger relative. But the cousins’ relationship begins to improve after they play a game of softball together.
Jack soon realizes that he has more in common with Ben than he first wanted to admit, especially as the two are too afraid to stand up for themselves against the violent bullies of the neighborhood, who are led by Shane (Danny Flaherty). So the cousins decide to stick together and hide, in order to avoid being targeted. The two seek solace in the house of one of Jack’s classmates, Harriet (Yainis Ynoa), who likes him, despite his interest in one of their other peers, Robyn (Scarlet Lizbeth).
But Jack is soon met with a seemingly frightening situation when Ben is captured by the older teens. The title character feels like he can’t fight back against his assailants, which sends him on a course to discover the importance of protecting friends and family, even in the most harrowing situations.
Nichols generously took the time to sit down for an interview at New York City’s STK Downtown & Rooftop Restaurant on the day ‘King Jack’ had its World Premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the actor discussed how Thompson helped him bond with his co-stars before they began filming on location in Upstate New York, particularly through their rehearsal process; and how happy he was to have the drama premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, since the cast and crew were bringing the movie back home to where they shot it, and he was able to bring his family and friends to the screenings.
Question (Q): You star in the new coming-of-age drama, ‘King Jack.’ How did you become involved in the film? What was it about Felix Thompson’s script overall that attracted you to your role?
Cory Nichols (CN): I read the script before I auditioned, and thought it was phenomenal. I also felt it would be such an amazing challenge for me to take the role (of Ben). Then it came down to meeting with Charlie, and we had two sessions together, to see if the chemistry would work. We clicked the first time we met.
Q: How did you all bond with your co-stars once you were cast in your role of Ben, and began shooting the film?
CP: I think (Plummer, Madsen and I) bonded very quickly, because we were close in the film, and we were all in this area that none of us knew very well. We all also have a passion for sports, so we were able to connect over that. So that was really great, and it helped us connect very fast. We remained very good friends after filming ended.
Q: What was also the process like of working with Felix, who made his feature film writing and directorial debuts with the drama?
CN: I’m so excited to see what else Felix does. I can’t compliment him enough, particularly since he follows a new wave of directing. I don’t think I’ve felt this way collaborating with any other director I’ve worked with in the past.
Felix cares about what we think about the scenes, which makes them feel so natural. He puts his input and knows what he wants, since he’s the director. But he also works with us, so we’re not trying to copy what someone else told us to do; that way, we can naturally feel what we’re portraying. He made me feel like I was Ben, and allowed me to make him my own character, which is really amazing. The chemistry he created amongst everyone was amazing.
He cared about everyone being together and friendly with each other. That shows when you watch the film-you see all the talented actors in the cast meshed together perfectly.
Q: How did the rehearsal process help you bond with your co-stars before you began filming, and build your characters’ relationships, and the overall story, together?
CN: It was so amazing, particularly for (Plummer, Madsen and I), to go back to our deserted hotel together after every shoot. There was one run-down ping pong table, which was really the only thing that worked. I actually ended up going to the mall one day just to get a new net and paddles. Then every night, we would spend at least one or two hours playing ping pong. We would also talk about sports and our home lives, and we really bonded.
Q: What has the experience been like to have the drama premiere here at the Tribeca Film Festival, it, especially since you shot it in Upstate New York, and you’re from Long Island?
CN: It really means a lot to me specifically. Last year, I had a film play at SXSW, which was a completely amazing experience. But it’s not the same as having a film play at home, especially when you shot it here. I have family and friends who (attended) the various screenings. It’s such a nice thing to be able to show what you take pride in to the people.
Q: With theater being prevalent here in New York, is that type of performing you’re interested in pursuing, in addition to films?
CN: I respect theater, but there’s something that I really love about acting in front of a camera. I don’t feel the same click in a theater scenario, but I’m not sure why. But I do have a respect for actors who do perform in theater.
Q: Is television something you’d be interested in pursuing? How does acting on TV shows compare and contrast to performing in films, particularly indies like ‘King Jack?’
CN: I love working on television, too. But too honest, there’s nothing like independent films, especially the family sense of all of it. You have such a camaraderie on the set, which is amazing. I also love working on bigger scale movies, but it doesn’t feel the same when you’re bonding as it does on an independent film.
Q: Do you enjoy performing stunts on your projects when your roles call for some form of physicality overall?
CN: This was my first experience doing stunts, and they couldn’t have made it feel any better. It was challenging, as you’re being thrown on the ground and bullied. It’s a tough place to be in, but the entire cast and crew were amazing about the process. At the end of each take, I’d be able to start hysterically laughing with whoever was there, because we all made it such a great time. It didn’t’ feel like, “Oh, I’m being bullied.” Once we were done with the scenes, we’d have fun-everyone made it emotionally easy to film those scenes.
Q: With ‘King Jack’ being a family-driven film that focuses on the effects of bullying, what do you hope audiences can take away from the story?
CN: The thing about Felix’s amazing writing is that as soon as it gets really dark, he throws in something small to lighten up the feeling again. That way the audience will never think, that was such a depressing movie. Instead, the little tidbits of laughter help make it a well-rounded film.