Adverse: Thomas Ian Nicholas on His Transformation to Reluctant Hero

Working with writer and director Brian A Metcalf provided another golden opportunity for Thomas Ian Nicholas, who plays Ethan, a rideshare driver who gets reluctantly pulled into the criminal underworld from his drug-addicted sister in his latest film Adverse. I spoke with the star who talked about his working relationship with Metcalf, developing Ethan into something unique, and the film's signature action sequence. "Metcalf and I had worked on a few films before, so I got like an early look at the screenplay, and I was compelled to play the role of Ethan," Nicholas said. "Brian was unsure that I would be able to pull it off. OK, so, you know, it kind of started out with some work sessions in the beginning to develop the character. And once we kind of got it to a place after a few weeks where, you know, I was getting his vision and was able to successfully change how I sounded, how I look, how I moved, then he finally felt confident that I was going to be able to deliver what he wanted."

Adverse: Director Brian Metcalf on His Personal Experience Behind Film
Mickey Rourke as Kaden and Thomas Ian Nicholas as Ethan in Adverse (2021). Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Admittedly Nicholas took the role in Adverse, wanting to shed some of his comedic reputation he's better known for, like the American Pie franchise. "Drama is more of my forte, even though I'm more known in the comedic world back, you know, years and years ago when I started," he said. "You know, learning acting techniques and studying and sort of developing my own version of the method. Comedy was my weak part and my weak point. And so this was more true to the form of my roots. It was really it was the same preparation that I put into all of my characters of developing his back story." The actors described how he drew from elements from within his own life into Ethan's. "And in this case, given Ethan's upbringing, I was able to utilize some friends of mine from back in the day," Nicholas continued. "And so they kind of combine different aspects of them to really find some character that I knew. There is something where I can draw on the details that I know about friends, that obviously I never like emulating one person. But if I know like a tidbit about someone like, you know, a bit of what they've gone through in their life and how that would affect the character, I kind of draw from that and then write it into the back story of the characters I'm creating."

Adverse: Director Brian Metcalf on His Personal Experience Behind Film
Sean Astin as Frankie and Thomas Ian Nicholas as Ethan in Adverse (2021). Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Another aspect of Adverse that appealed to Nicholas was how much of the story was inspired by neo-noir and how much his climactic final fight sequence resembled the Korean classic Oldboy (2003). "There are certain things that we've seen [in the film] where it's marketed more as an action thriller," he said. "It's really more of a character-driven drama with loads of suspense. It has a lot of tension that is, you know, similar to neo-noir. There's the reference that, you know, Brian showed me sort of the fight because at the end of Oldboy, which kind of what we were going for with our long Steadicam shot, not to give any spoilers away, but you can see Ethan wielding a tire iron. Keep it in the trailer. We find out why he chooses it over the gun."

Adverse: Director Brian Metcalf on His Personal Experience Behind Film
Thomas Ian Nicholas as Ethan and Brian A Metcalf as Dante in Adverse (2021). Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Nicholas said it took up to two weeks from rehearsing and shooting to get his final fight down in one take. On top of the hard work he put in for his performance and fight choreography, the actor also credits his co-star Mickey Rourke for his dominating screen presence as his mysterious rider and primary antagonist, Kaden. "Yeah, I mean, it was it was an amazing opportunity to work with such an intense and respected actor," he said. "He's every part of his is in character, including his ears. And it's so much to the point that, yeah, what you're saying is in the film, his character uses a cane. And it was confusing to people watching him work because they would think like, oh, what's wrong with Mickey? Like, why is he hobbling around? But then, you know, if you were paying attention in between camera setups, the guy's like, you know, workout gear, and he's working out, and he's got a six-pack still." Lionsgate's Adverse, which also stars Lou Diamond Phillips, Penelope Ann Miller, Sean Astin, Kate Katzman, Jake T. Austin, and Kelly Arjen, is currently on theatres, digital, on-demand, and DVD.

Adverse: Director Brian Metcalf on His Personal Experience Behind Film
Courtesy of Lionsgate

About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.