Actress Julianne Nicholson

One of the stars of August: Osage County, Nicholson discusses her role in the new Sundance TV original series, The Red Road.

Actress Julianne Nicholson is used to juggling multiple projects in television and film and on stage. She's had roles on The Good Wife, Boardwalk Empire and the much buzzed about series, Masters of Sex. She's also part of the all-star cast of the feature film, August: Osage County, and has stage credits that include This and a role she originated in Heartless. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Nicholson moved to New York and attended Hunter College before beginning a modeling career and, subsequently, pursuing and studying acting, and had her breakthrough film role in The Love Letter. She's next up in the Sundance Channel's crime thriller series, The Red Road.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Those we tend to call overnight successes usually have years of hard work behind them, and that is certainly the case for Julianne Nicholson, who despite more than 10 years of solid work on TV and off-Broadway, for that matter, for many seemed to just come out of nowhere over the last year with breakthrough performances on Showtime’s acclaimed series “Masters of Sex,” and “August: Osage County,” of course, with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

She can now be seen in a new limited series for Sundance. It’s called “The Red Road,” which is a murder mystery set near an Indian reservation in New Jersey. She plays a very troubled wife. We’ll take a look at a clip first from “The Red Road.”

[Clip]

Tavis: This thing is really good, but it’s really intense.

Julianne Nicholson: Yeah, there’s not a lot of laughs in “The Red Road.” (Laughter)

Tavis: Let me get my laugh out now before I go too far. So from “The Red Road,” Jonathan, you see these shoes?

Nicholson: Oh, I didn’t even put that together.

Tavis: From “The Red Road” to the red – nice shoes.

Nicholson: For the red shoes.

Tavis: Red shoes, I like that, I like that, I like that. (Laughter) Anyway, this is good, but it is intense, and I don’t know how one goes about researching the character that you play, who has a bit of schizophrenia.

Nicholson: A bit.

Tavis: Yeah, but you pull this thing off though.

Nicholson: That’s so nice, I appreciate you saying that. Jean is my character’s name, and she’s been hearing voices for about 17 years but has been denying it, and no one else knows it, and has started drinking basically to cover it.

She felt more comfortable labeling herself an alcoholic more than schizophrenic. Then things come up in the first episode that sort of push it to a place where she can’t deny it anymore.

I did a lot of reading, I did a lot of speaking to people who have schizophrenia in their family, and I felt like it was there on the page in the script.

Tavis: I don’t want to give too much away, and I have a bad habit of saying too much -

Nicholson: Spoiler alerts?

Tavis: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter) I’m really bad at that, really bad at spoiler alerts. So I’m going to let you just kind of set the stage for what this series is about, what we do in fact see in the first episode.

Nicholson: Okay. The series “The Red Road,” a crime happens in the midst of these two communities in New Jersey, small-town New Jersey, white community and a Native American community.

They have a lot of history with each other, living so close to each other, and there’s a lot of animosity between the two communities. Now a specific thing happens that puts them up against each other.

Tavis: One of the things I was heartened by, and I think the people at Sundance deserve a shout out for this – I was trying to think when the last time was that I saw a TV series – there’ve been some movies here and there that have elements of it – but the last time I saw a TV series where the Native American community was featured so prominently in it.

Nicholson: It was one of the reasons I wanted to do this show, because I thought it was so interesting that this community, this people who are federally unrecognized as even being who they claim to be, Native American, 26 miles from Manhattan, one of the richest communities, cities in the world, and then so close, this experience can be happening.

I think people should be aware that there are other experiences out there that we don’t know about.

Tavis: I was just glad to see it because – this is my own soapbox – there are too many Americans, including the president, respectfully, who has given a couple of speeches from time to time where he refers to slavery as America’s original sin. He’s well-intended when he says that, but it ain’t true.

Nicholson: No.

Tavis: Slavery was not America’s original sin. What we did to the Native Americans was America’s original sin. So I just hate the fact that we don’t get that right in the textbooks to begin with.

But it was moving for me to see that this community, even though there’s obviously some drama here; you need some of that to make it work.

Nicholson: Right.

Tavis: But they are prominently displayed here, which is good.

Nicholson: Yeah, I agree. Thank you for noticing.

Tavis: At this stage in your career, because we’re going to come back to what I said a moment ago about how people just kind of discovered you over the last few years.

Nicholson: I know, it’s always interesting to hear other people talk about your journey.

Tavis: But it’s true though.

Nicholson: I know.

Tavis: Yeah, but you’ve been in all the right places and all the right projects.

Nicholson: I think so.

Tavis: Which is a beautiful thing.

Nicholson: Thank you.

Tavis: But since we’re there, how has that made you feel when you’ve put in all this work for all these years/

Nicholson: I feel great.

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)

Nicholson: I feel so good. I feel like, I feel better than I ever have. It’s a career, and it finally feels like a career. You have low moments and you have high moments, and I feel like what I’ve been given the opportunity to do in the last couple of years has made me feel more settled and more secure and confident in the work that I’m doing now and that I will continue to do.

There’s so much in this business that’s just about perception, and you can be doing good work forever. But until people see you in that movie with those people, they don’t want to give you opportunities.

So I feel like there’s just been – it doesn’t feel major, but there’s a little shift in perception which will hopefully lead to just continuing to do good work.

Tavis: If you were going to pick a film project to be noticed in, you picked a good one.

Nicholson: I know.

Tavis: You have to feel really good about the fact that here you are, days away from the big show, and this movie, “August: Osage County,” is up for some, got some good award nominations.

Nicholson: It’s been – yeah, I’ve said that to people. I’ve come close to a lot of movies over the years that usually I’m like, it’s me and the person who gets it, basically. (Laughter) The person who gets the job.

So if I had a dream one that was actually going to, like, work, this is the one. Waiting as long as I had to do it feels good. I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

Tavis: But what do you make of why that film has, in fact, connected so well with audiences?

Nicholson: I saw the play on Broadway when it was there six years ago or so, and I just think the story is amazing and the writing is incredible. It’s a movie about grownups, which feels exciting too.

There are so few of those being made now. I feel like so much of what is out there is for kids and people in their twenties. It feels like a story about people who have lived lives, and the heartbreak of that. I think it’s refreshing.

Tavis: Let’s not forget “Masters of Sex.” When this series was first about to start, a couple of my producers were like, we should take a look at this and do something with it.

I kind of glanced at it and I’m going to be frank; honest confession is good for the soul.

Nicholson: I agree.

Tavis: I slept on it initially. I slept on it.

Nicholson: Like this: (snores) Like it bored you to sleep? (Laughter)

Tavis: No, not fell asleep like – no. I slept on it, I didn’t acknowledge, I didn’t pick up soon enough -

Nicholson: Got it. Okay.

Tavis: – on how great it was going to be. Then I watched a couple episodes and I got pulled in.

Nicholson: Oh, good.

Tavis: Yeah, so -

Nicholson: How nice to be surprised. (Laughter)

Tavis: I want to answer your question honestly. I got pulled in.

Nicholson: Do you know what? That happened to me. That happened to me too, because I don’t always watch things that I’m in, and I was sort of, because I don’t like to do it very much.

But my aunt came to visit. It’s her favorite show. She made me watch it. I watched two episodes and then I was hooked also. (Laughter) But it took a couple episodes.

Tavis: (Laughter) So what do you make of why this is doing so well? These period pieces are working.

Nicholson: I know. I think it’s interesting subject matter. I think it explores these – I love the Allison Janney storyline and Beau Bridges. I think they’re amazing, and just sort of -

Tavis: It’s history, yeah.

Nicholson: – shining a light of what it was like then. And you get a little T&A in there to boot, and people are going to watch. (Laughter) Not my Ts or A, but there -

Tavis: (Laughter) Well, I’m staying tuned, just in case.

Nicholson: Just in case, on the off chance.

Tavis: Just in case, on the off chance, yeah.

Nicholson: Okay.

Tavis: No, but the – (laughter) the Beau Bridges character, though, is really, his storyline is just woo.

Nicholson: He’s amazing. I think that whole storyline with the hustler, the guy hustler, I just found him to be fascinating and surprising and so moving.

Tavis: Well as you can see from this conversation, she’s in a whole bunch of stuff right now. We have finally discovered her.

Nicholson: Yeah. Twenty years to an overnight sensation.

Tavis: Twenty years in. (Laughter) Twenty years in she’s an overnight success.

Nicholson: I’ll take it.

Tavis: Yeah, you should, because you’re doing great work right now.

Nicholson: I appreciate that.

Tavis: You can check out “Masters of Sex,” you can check out “The Red Road” on Sundance. If you haven’t seen “August: Osage County” you’ve got just a few hours left, it seems, before the big show is on for you to celebrate what will happen on Academy Award night. But you’re doing some good work, Julianne, and we’re honored to have you on the program.

Nicholson: I appreciate that.

Tavis: Not your last time, I hope.

Nicholson: I hope not.

Tavis: I look forward to it.

Nicholson: Thank you.

Tavis: Bring -

Nicholson: I’ll bring these shoes every time.

Tavis: Bring those red shoes every time.

Nicholson: I will not come here without these shoes. (Laughs)

Tavis: I’m going to hold you to that. When you come back on again, I’m going to say, “Where are the red shoes?”

Nicholson: Okay.

Tavis: All right. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.

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Last modified: March 17, 2014 at 1:51 pm