No stranger to the action genre, Rachel Nichols first came to audiences’ attention in Alias and has enjoyed her fair share of action films including Star Trek and G.I. Joe. To say she enjoyed the experience filming Conan the Barbarian opposite Jason Momoa is a gross understatement.
In Conan the Barbarian, Nichols plays Tamara, far from a damsel in distress. She is a monk who is kidnapped by the Rose McGowan character because of her fateful place in McGowan and Stephen Lang’s supernatural evil efforts.
Nichols sat down with Movie Fanatic at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills and dishes all things Conan, her affection for action and whether or not she will ever return Bulgaria, the location where Conan the Barbarian was shot.
Movie Fanatic: So tell us how Conan the Barbarian became your next project?
Rachel Nichols: I read the script and liked it. Everybody said I should sit down with Marcus (Nispel, director), which is kind of an important thing to do if you’re signing on to a movie is meet the director [laughs]. Considering you are going to be working in Bulgaria for three months, you have to ask, “Do I like this man?” Immediately I loved him. He painted this picture that only Marcus Nispel could do because he’s so visually expressive. He laid out the entire movie for me, and I could imagine it. I left going, “I really like this guy and I think he’s going to make a pretty cool movie.” Then, I didn’t hear anything for two months. Then, I got a call saying, “We want you to come in and test with Jason Momoa.” I’m tall, so if it had not been Jason, I would not have been a viable candidate. I went in and tested and I just loved him. There’s something about him. He’s got a huge presence and a voice — I could hear him if he was on Sunset Boulevard right now, I swear [laughs]. There’s something sweet about him as well. Then I didn’t hear anything for two months. But then, an offer came in and they needed me to leave the next week! Then I was in Bulgaria.
Movie Fanatic: Did you enjoy your time in Bulgaria?
Rachel Nichols: [Long pause] I’m not going to lie. It’s hard to leave home for three months no matter what. It’s harder to leave home for three months and go somewhere where you don’t speak the language. It’s really hard to leave home for three months and you can’t read the signs because the alphabet’s so different. I don’t think they have a lot of English-speaking tourists there and I was thinking it was going to be a lot like Prague. It was not. However, it was the perfect landscape to shoot the film. The aesthetic of the film greatly benefited from us being there.
Movie Fanatic: You’ve been in quite a few action films, do you get a rush out of the fast pace and the sequences putting your life on the line for your art?
Rachel Nichols: I love action films. I loved doing action TV shows. I started on Alias. I remember sitting back and thinking, “This is fantastic. I want to do more of this.” It’s all different though. This was the first time I had to use swords and learn how to fight with swords. Usually, I just shoot someone [laughs]. I did some special training for that, but once I learned the technique properly, we had to make it messy. She’s a monk. She has instincts. But, she can’t be some awesome ninja. It doesn’t make any sense. I had to make it a little sloppy. I also had never ridden a horse until I got to Bulgaria. I had to learn in a very short period of time. I had to ride them going very fast and then learn how to drive a carriage. I drove all four horses going as fast as they could. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life.
Movie Fanatic: What was it about the Conan story that most appealed to you?
Rachel Nichols: In the olden days of Conan, there’s that iconic picture where there is this woman grabbing onto his leg and looking up at him — very damsel in distress. Tamara is not. She gives him attitude and they have hostile relationship with a little humor in it. It turns into something greater with affection and they join forces fighting evil. But, she’s never a damsel in distress. The fight or flight mechanism kicks in and I like that modern idea that, “I don’t need Conan to save me. I can save myself.”
Movie Fanatic: You have a love scene in the film. Is that not just the most awkward part of your job as an actress?
Rachel Nichols: Oh, where do I begin [laughs]? This was my first sex scene. Luckily we didn’t shoot it day one where it was like, “Hey Jason, meet Rachel. Now go at it.” They waited until the end, thank God. It’s super awkward. Jason is super gorgeous. Many women would love to make out with him and roll around on a really awkward bearskin rug, or whatever that thing was, and hay. Hay, really? Hay? It’s just awkward. Marcus is in the background saying, “Jason, bite her neck. Pull her hair. Rachel, scratch his back.” It’s so strange to have someone instructing you. I will say the ass in the movie belongs to Jason. The boobs in that scene do not belong to me [laughs]. They’re spectacular, but they aren’t mine. They’re stunt boobs and Jason picked them himself [laughs].