Nick Smyth’s career takes a vicious turn
Nick Smyth in "For the Sake of Vicious."
The Halifax actor is known for his lighter roles—that guy from the 7-Eleven commercials. Now he’s stepping into the darkness, drawing acclaim in a gritty, violent film role
s a kid in Cole Harbour, Nick Smyth became passionate about movies.
“I saw a lot of movies as a kid… and they connected with me,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘I want to be able to do that; how do I do that?’ That seemed like an impossibility, so far away and so out of reach.”
After beginning acting lessons at Neptune Theatre, Smyth got his first break on CBC’s Street Cents, where he did commercial parodies for two seasons. Now in Toronto, he’s gaining international attention for his leading role in the house-invasion thriller For the Sake of Vicious.
In this Raven Banner Entertainment production, Smyth’s character is Chris, a participant in a home invasion that becomes a fight for survival. It’s a raw story about vigilantism and justice.
“It is not for the faint of heart; it can be violent at times and lived up to its title,” he explains. “It’s a movie where a woman returns home and finds a man that she doesn’t know…who broke in, and she’s a prisoner with him. He sways her to help him keep this man alive, and she finds out that he’s keeping a man prisoner in her kitchen. That’s when things get hairy… People come into the house to fetch him and get him out of there, but those are the bad guys, and things get very bloody.”
Reese Eveneshen and Gabriel Carrer co-direct the film. Eveneshen explains how inner conflict drives Smyth’s character.
“His character has been put in a precarious situation and has been through something awful,” he elaborates. “He’s the centre of this story trying to convey and convince others… The guy is perpetually stuck in a bit of rage, but in my mind, when I was writing it and trying to conceive it, I thought of someone that you had to experience as sort of someone with a mental illness, constantly on the breaking point who couldn’t quite understand what they were going through.”
Casting the lead role was hard. Eveneshen wanted an actor who could add layers: pain, fear, and sadness. He knew Smyth for years and worked with him on a previous feature film called Defective, but Smyth saw him as a comedic actor, and wasn’t sure he was right for this project. He even recalls demurring when Smyth sent a message asking to audition for the role.
“It was what I was hoping for, to play something dark and a little bit heavy because my character is that and has gone through some very dark things,” Smyth says. “I was ready to dive into that.”
Eveneshen took more convincing, including several hints from his wife who thought Smyth suited the role. Finally, he considered Smyth’s video audition and then brought him in for five (yes, five) more auditions. Finally the director and his colleagues realized Smyth was the right fit.
“Sometimes I can be short-sighted and only looking at something at face value; the very thing I was accusing other actors of doing, I was doing the same thing,” Eveneshen explains. “I think it’s safe to say he pretty much nailed it in the first audition… It wasn’t just the stuff on the surface… There was something else there that you could see in his eye; he had it figured out. He brought a real pain and sadness to that character that was only hinted at on paper.”
They got an actor determined to make the most of the opportunity. “When I booked it, I thought to myself ‘I am not going to take this for granted, I am really going to put myself really into that as much as I can,'” Smyth says.
They filmed in a derelict house that was awaiting demolition in Cambridge, Ont. “It was extremely isolating because you were in the house and on location and in one space,” Smyth elaborates. “It’s a great movie to watch during the pandemic because it releases a lot of pent up energy.  was a frustrating year with all of us.”
The film has screened virtually at festivals worldwide (including Montreal’s Fantasia Festival, Spain’s Sitges, and events in Germany and the U.K.). Audience reaction has been positive. Already, the film has over 100 reviews before its official release in 2021.
“Filmmakers couldn’t be at the festivals,” he says. ” The real celebration highlight of the film is when you get to go down to these festivals, talk to other filmmakers and also celebrate your film in front of your audience and on the big screen.”
But even denied that opportunity, the festival circuit was a clear success, he adds: “I felt so lucky to have a film introduced at these film festivals all over the world, and I was proud to be a part of this film.”
It marks a new phase in Smyth’s career. With the shift to darker roles, getting into character is a different process. “What makes a good thriller is something you can relate to,” he says. “I always feel that it is relatable to be able to see people that are going through some real human emotion.”
Bringing that to the screen requires preparation. “I was best friends with those script pages, knew every little detail written down, and then you put all the emotion into every different part that’s there,” he explains. “You get into the set, get into costume, and you’re in the environment, and that’s when it comes to life… picturing who your character is, what he has been through and just put yourself there as much as possible. The rest falls into place.”
Eveneshen feels Smyth had something to prove.
“Nick was looking to get out of being seen as that guy in 7-Eleven commercials,” Eveneshen says. “Having a lot of different range as an actor certainly serves you well… He’s a very funny guy, quick on his feet, but to see that he’s able to dip into the darkness like he did… The level of commitment to the performance and not being afraid of going to those [dark] places, that will serve him well in the long run.”
The last 20 years have been a rollercoaster for Smyth, hinting at his ability to succeed on diverse projects. Since he arrived in Toronto in his early 20s, he worked at MuchMusic (Video on Trial) and created 40 commercials in five years at TSN.
A single line in the film Cinderella Man propelled him down his path. “That was a trippy experience because my one line was being delivered to Paul Giamatti, Russell Crowe, and Renee Zellweger,” Smyth says. “Ron Howard directed that movie. You learn so much being on a set like that, and I was still so young at the time… Even that one line in that Ron Howard film taught me, ‘well, this could be a real thing.'”
Smyth knows that leaping genres can be a risk. “With the bigger risks, the bigger rewards,” he says. “The only thing I wanted to do was being a working actor in my life. If you are an actor and working regularly, that’s a blessing.”
2021 is shaping up to be a busy year, with the official release of For the Sake of Vicious and the upcoming Motherly, a thriller directed by Craig David Wallace. Casting sessions and development meetings continue.
Even as his career continues in Toronto, Smyth misses Halifax and Nova Scotia. Typically, he’d visit several times per year. Thanks to COVID, he hasn’t been home since Christmas 2019.
“There is no other place like it, and you realize that when you leave it,” he says. “I miss the ocean, I miss the people, I miss the food. When I go down there and get that ocean air in my lungs, I remember that I am an East Coaster. No matter where my life takes me or my career takes me, I’ll always be an East Coaster. I will always be a proud Nova Scotian. I always feel that when I step off the plane and get that first breath of air, that salty air. It feels like home.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.