"God is challenging me..."
Nicole Smolen began acting at a very young age, having first appeared nationally on Jimmy Kimmel Live in bit parts of sketches. From there she managed to forge an impressive acting resume, appearing alongside some big names and in big shows. An actress wise beyond her years, Nicole sat down with us for some fresh perspective on acting and faith.
I understand you just finished shooting a new film. What’s been happening?
I just finished 8 Days, a film about human trafficking. It was one of my favorite experiences on set. And I look forward to doing more projects like it because it’s not just for the benefit of entertainment, it’s helpful. It touches people and encourages them to make a difference.
Tough subject matter. What was shooting like?
It was such a family environment, everyone was so friendly – and you don’t get to see that a lot on film sets. Normally people are very to the point and they don’t take the time to get to know you and appreciate you. I felt very appreciated and loved on 8 Days. It was definitely my favorite experience.
What challenges did you encounter?
We did a lot of physical scenes where people had to push me. It had to be coordinated so that I wouldn’t get hurt, obviously. But that was new for me. Also, crying a lot on set. I haven’t had to do a role where I was crying so much on set. But it was fun and almost therapeutic. It was a release.
What about as the actual character?
As an actor, you really have to put yourself in the character’s shoes. I did so much homework, I researched human trafficking, I even wrote a diary from Amber’s (her character) perspective. I read acting books, I applied all of the techniques I knew to the script in preparation, and it ended up paying off. I honestly didn’t know what to expect because I never played a role like Amber before – someone who was so broken and hurt. I had to access different parts of myself that I never knew existed. I never knew that I could show such raw emotion and interact with different people the way I did on set.
What is your most memorable job?
Some of my favorite jobs have been Criminal Minds, Out of Jimmy’s Head and 8 Days. Each film set brings something different. You meet new people, you build relationships and you grow as a person. I feel like I’ve grown so much over the 8 or 9 years I’ve been doing this. I’ll be 17 in December. I feel like the entertainment industry has changed me for the good. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for this industry.
That’s interesting. We always hear how the industry can have the opposite effect on people.
In the entertainment industry you’re dealing with different personalities and it can be difficult to connect with many people. Normally people are money driven, they’re very to-the-point, very brash and they come across as rude. You can take this in a negative light but they’re really just trying to do their job and you have to respect them for that. And if you respect them, they’ll respect you.
You have to learn a mutual respect on set. You can’t expect people to give you attention 24-7. You just go there, do your job and then you’re done. You have to take this seriously, this is your career. But of course you enjoy the ride and have fun. You made a choice to be on set and it’s important to be there early, to communicate effectively and to know your lines. You want to be prepared everywhere you go because you never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll face.
Have there been times on set where you faced things that challenged your beliefs?
Yes. From being on set, to auditioning, to school – everyday I face a challenge. And you do have to keep your faith. Know that God is with you and He’ll always be with you, by your side, holding your hand. Sometimes you feel alone on set. Especially when you’re delving into such a deep, dark character, you feel like no one really will understand where you’re coming from. But you know that God will pull you through and that He’ll guide your path. He’s really been there to guide me in my steps. When I felt lost or unsure about choices, I feel like He’s always reassured me and given me the confidence I needed to move forward.
Is there any particular thing that you dealt with that God helped you overcome?
Insecurity. There is always that insecurity you face as an actor because you face so much rejection. And as they say “rejection can be your protection” but your mind is telling you “No!”, “You failed!”, “You didn’t book the job!”, “Who knows if you’ll be doing this in 10 years!?”
You’re always looking at the future and worrying, but you have to reassure yourself and you have to be reassured by God telling you “I’ve placed you here for a reason. This is your destiny. This is your purpose.” I’m reassured by that daily even when I am doubtful. Sometimes you don’t book every job you want, you don’t always get to be the star of the show but you take those experiences and you learn from them. Before I did 8 Days, I wasn’t sure how far I could go as an actress. Beforehand I felt like I limited myself. But on the set of 8 Days I took that leap of faith, I took risks and it paid off.
Sometimes you’re afraid to take risks, sometimes you’re afraid of what people will think of you. But I felt like I overcame my insecurities during filming. I gained confidence and I was able to express myself and become the character. I truly felt like I was Amber. So that was an experience in itself.
Tell me about your beginnings. How did all of this start? And how long have you had this desire to do what you’re doing?
When I was 8, I had the opportunity to take acting classes with my friend. She ended up going through AMTC and told me that it was such an amazing experience. I begged and pleaded until my parents finally let me go. I ended up receiving quite a few callbacks. After AMTC I signed with Kitty Bundy, who, at the time was with Elite Models (now Factor).
Then I went to California and visited with some of my callbacks, managers and agents who wanted to meet with me. My mom and I ended up staying there for quite some time and my dad kept flying back and forth. Then eventually he said, “Listen, I could keep doing this or we could just move out here.” My dad always had faith in me. So they said “Let’s move!” Our house sold 2 days after we put it on the market and we felt like God just opened those doors up for us. And my brother even started to get into acting while we were in California. So it was a family effort. But not everyone is able to just pick up and leave.
Ever since I moved to California, I’ve booked roles on TV shows, short films, independent films, PSAs, music videos, voiceovers. I’ve done pretty much everything you can name, but I’m still learning and I’m still growing. Now I want to explore what goes on behind the scenes and what goes on behind the camera. I’m writing and I want to get into directing and producing eventually. I want to make my own films. The journey is still going, I’m still on that road. I haven’t given up. I’m not satisfied, not complacent. I still have goals and aspirations… I never stop dreaming or having faith. Even when the jobs aren’t coming or the auditions are slow, I still have faith. I know that this is where I’m supposed to be and I just have to keep working hard and growing.
How has AMTC affected you?
It’s affected me in a really positive way. Ever since I started guest starring and volunteering as staff, I’ve met so many wonderful people. I was able adjust to new situations. I didn’t have fear. I overcame shyness and I gained confidence.
I feel like a lot of kids would benefit from AMTC because even if they don’t plan on following a career in the entertainment industry, it can help you overcome your shyness and it helps you love who you are. You realize…. "I did it! I overcame these challenges! I succeeded! And I learned something from this experience." Even if you don’t get any callbacks or 30 callbacks, you still learn something.
You meet so many wonderful people, inspiring people, talented people, faithful people. You never know who you’re going to run into. And that’s what’s so refreshing about AMTC. You never know what’s going to happen. People always have this vision of what AMTC will be like before they go, but you don’t really know until you experience it. The people I meet always explain how refreshed they feel after they go through convention, what they’ve learned and how excited they are to begin their new lives.
Best lesson for young and aspiring artists?
Stay in your local market first. Do anything you can get your hands on (plays, theaters, etc.). And then if you feel called, go test the waters in NY & LA. See what it’s like there. But if it’s not feasible, just know that the timing it not right. Maybe one day you will go. But don’t ever give up on your dreams. Do everything you can. Keep working hard.
So you live by the motto: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again?
Even if you aren’t on some Emmy nominated television series, you can still be working towards that by reading acting books, taking classes, which is extremely important. Challenging yourself. You want to grow as much as possible.
You seem like such a positive person!
Right now, I feel this is my period of growth and God is challenging me and shaping me into the woman that He wants me to be. So if you look at it in a positive light, then you see this is an experience of growth rather than a series of obstacles and challenges that are preventing you from achieving your ultimate goal. Just have an attitude of faith in everything you do, whether you pursue entertainment, or law or medical studies, anything.
Any last words?
God is at the center of everything and you just have to remember that.