Nicole Tompkins is a Texas-born actress whose work includes theater, film, voice-over and television. Her notable roles include Idril of Gondor in the critically-acclaimed 2017 action role-playing game Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Older Scarlett in the season five finale of the hit FX show American Horror Story and leading roles in feature films Opening Night, The Amityville Terror, Darkness in Tenement 45 and Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made. Nicole exhibits a true love of acting and the entertainment industry, with a passion for multi-layered stories that are revealing of the human experience.
In addition to her passion for acting, Nicole puts her creative talents behind the camera as well: capturing headshots and nature photography through Beyond the Flare. Nicole travels often, but loves returning home to her menagerie of pets.
Last month, on April 3rd, Capcom released a remake of the 1999 survival horror game Resident Evil 3. At the same time, it was announced that Nicole did the voice-over and performance-capture for the game’s protagonist, former Special Tactics And Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.) member Jill Valentine. As Jill, the player must escape a city infected by a zombie apocalypse… all while Jill is hunted by the intelligent and intimidating Nemesis.
I was truly excited to have a chance to chat with Nicole. We talk about celebrating the little things, acting with the likes of Troy Baker and Neil Newbon, the process of acting in performance-capture and the incomparable joy of petting bunnies.
Tyler Boyce: What was your first exposure to acting?
Nicole Tompkins: I started in musical theatre as a kid and was always drawn to storytelling and performance from a super early age. I was fascinated by how stories engage and move people and find it very neat that I now also work in video games where player immersion is fundamental and a major consideration in narrative development and performance!
TB: When did you realize “I really like doing this” and decide to make it your career?
NT: I’m not sure I could tell you the exact moment, but I had so many incredibly supportive people around me that were encouraging and made me feel like it was possible. At a certain point I was very blessed to be able to move to Los Angeles where there were more opportunities to turn my passion into a career!
TB: You were born in Texas, and you are currently based in Los Angeles. Was that a difficult transition?
NT: Love this question. I think any drastic move comes with challenges, but I adore Los Angeles and moving here was a major step in actualizing my dreams. I still have family and friends in Texas and feel very grateful to have grown up there with those roots. Not everyone rides horses, but I sure did! I still am a huge animal lover and love getting out of the city (I am especially fond of having mountains so nearby).
TB: What were some of your earliest disappointments and earliest successes when starting out as an actor?
NT: I think any person pursuing a career in the arts learns how to authentically feel disappointments and then turn them into inspiration to fuel them forward. You have to recognize how MANY “No’s” you will get for every “Yes” you get. I’ve had good and bad auditions and days, like everyone else, and have learned that often seeming disappointments are either blessings in disguise or valuable feedback that only support me on my journey. I think it’s so important to balance these “disappointments” with generous celebration of any steps one takes towards growth in their craft and life. I counted a good day in acting class, or an audition I was proud of when I walked out as successes whether or not I heard back. Rewarding your inner artist is so important and also teaches you to be self-fulfilled and not addicted to external validation, which can fluctuate drastically based on so many factors that don’t involve you at all! So I am big on celebrating the little things as much as the big things! I think some of my favorite early successes honestly came when I realized I had made a breakthrough in my understanding of my work or myself, and I strive to continue finding those breakthroughs and growing every day!
TB: In American Horror Story: Hotel, you played the 17-year-old version of recurring character Scarlett Lowe (Shree Crooks). What was it like to be part of the season finale as a more mature representation of that character? How did you feel being brought on to such a long-running and award-winning TV series?
NT: It was such a delight to get to step in at the end of the season of such a fan-favorite show. I was smitten to work with actors like Wes Bentley and Chloe Sevigny and wanted to do justice to Shree, who is such a firecracker and talented young actress. It was also a very fast casting process. I was in an audition on Friday and found myself on the Fox lot the following Monday. So it was a whirlwind turnaround and just a joy to jump on!
TB: I must confess: I am a huge gamer, and I am so excited to have this opportunity to ask you about your career in portraying characters in video games like Middle-earth: Shadow of War and the Resident Evil 3 remake!
NT: Hooray! We LOVE Video Games.
TB: Before you got the role of Idril in Shadow of War, were you ever a The Lord of the Rings fan, or even a fantasy fan, in any way?
NT: I am SUCH a fantasy fan and love LOTR (books and movies). Tolkien has contributed and inspired so much in the fantasy genre in general and so many amazing stories have been inspired from his in depth world-building and contribution.
TB: How did the audition come about for Shadow of War? How much did you know about Idril when you read for the part?
NT: Ha! Funny story. The initial audition was only four lines that I recorded at my agency. All I really knew was that she had a British accent in a fantasy game and that it would involve motion capture. I had no idea what game it was for at first. It was only at the callback when I found myself on the Warner Bros. lot that I got a clearer picture!
TB: In Shadow of War, you did performance-capture alongside Troy Baker. Did you know Troy before you two worked on the game? What was your favorite scene together?
NT: I did not know Troy before working on Shadow of War but soon found out that he is a talented force to be reckoned with. He also directed the cinematics on the mocap stage for that game and is an incredibly generous creative both as a director and scene partner. He was so committed to deepening the characters as much as possible and spending time with his actors. Making anything, especially games, is an incredibly collaborative process, and I was spoiled to be surrounded by some amazing mentors and talents for my first motion capture experience. I love the scene where Talion decides to go with her on her mission to rescue her father. Also shout out to Travis Willingham who played my father (Castamir) and is so much fun to work with! We had some great scenes as well.
TB: Congratulations again on your latest role as Jill Valentine in Resident Evil 3!
NT: Thank you so much! I feel incredibly honored to have been trusted with such fan favorite woman!
TB: What do you love most about Jill?
NT: I love how resilient Jill is. She keeps getting back up and pushing forward in terrifying circumstances. I also really enjoyed exploring some of her wit and sarcasm in this iteration of her story as her relationship with Carlos and her environment evolves throughout the game.
TB: What was it like when you first read for the part? Was there any moment where you asked, “Hang on, is this for Jill Valentine!?!”
NT: Ha, I knew from the very beginning it was Jill! There was character art and a short description that described her backstory and listed a few qualities such as loyal, professional, etc. I sent in a tape at first with a couple different takes and interpretations of the material. I really hit it off with the cinematics director Steve Kiniebhily and the creative team in the callbacks, and we refined what direction to take Jill in as I got to read alongside other actors including Jeff Schine (Carlos) and Neil Newbon (Nikolai and Nemesis mocap). It’s very rewarding to work with scene partners that really bring what’s on the page to life.
TB: Now that you have two major video game roles under your belt, can you tell me how video game performance-capture compares to your previous work as an on-camera actor for film/TV?
NT: I actually love discussing with other actors how they compare working on a mocap stage to working in film and television. I think one of my favorite answers is that in many ways motion capture is a pretty unique marriage between on-stage live theatre and film. It’s a very unique performance environment, and we often do long takes or whole scenes like you would when performing a play, but where the camera will see the action is still a consideration as essentially the devs can choose to view a performed scene from any angle! It can be a very technical process with specific requirements for physicality and angles, but it also leaves so much freedom for imagination and creativity as the objects in space to interact with are so minimal and the environment is virtual. Plus, in video games you get to see a live render of your character and make them do funny dance moves in-between takes. Which is just dandy and a necessary moment on any game.
TB: How was life on the set for Resident Evil 3?
NT: Wonderful. I loved the actors and director I was working with so much. Also, when you work in games you find yourself showing up to set and places where everyone really wants to be there because they are excited and often fans of the games themselves; it’s a very refreshing and awesome energy! We did a lot of work in Japan, and in many ways this was my first time working on such a bilingual set. We of course had many translators, but there is something special about interacting with people whose language you don’t speak and still being able to understand each other really quickly when you have a shared vision. I also love the Japanese cuisine, so I was a very happy camper.
TB: What was your favorite scene to play as Jill?
NT: Tough call. She has a lot of great moments. But I think I will throw this one towards some of those final moments with Nikolai and Carlos. It was satisfying to finally have a scene where I had the upper hand over Neil as he mo-capped both Nemesis and Nikolai so he was ALWAYS antagonizing. In real life, we all laugh a ton and have a lot of fun.
TB: I need to know! Did you play either game after the release? If so, what was it like to experience your characters again as a player?
NT: I am currently streaming my play-through of Resident Evil 3! You can experience me playing alongside some special guests that I bring on involved in making the game. It’s on both Twitch and YouTube! It is a pretty fun experience, though admittedly I love making fun of myself or talking back to myself, especially when Jill has lines of exposition that are “to herself/the player.” I end up being quite silly when I play.
TB: How did you feel about the fan reactions when games started commenting on your performances?
NT: I have received such an incredibly warm welcome into the RE family and have been flooded with such kindness and enthusiasm! I’ve really enjoyed interacting with the community and feel very grateful to be on the receiving end of such positivity and a lot of very impressive fan art!
TB: How does it feel to be not just a major character of a AAA video game, but also the starring player-character of another AAA title? Do you ever look at the cover of Resident Evil 3 and think, “Wow, that’s *me*!?!”
NT: I have the game disk case sitting on my desk in my room and occasionally when a family member walks in for something, I’ll hold it up and in a very meek voice say… “Hey look, Das Me!” HAHA Sooooo, yes. Yes, it is definitely surreal and I feel very very grateful.
TB: I heard that you have performed in over 20 stage musicals, and you have a well-rounded vocal range. What is your favorite song from a musical to sing? That one song you always sing on the drive to work, to warm up for a recording session, etc.? For the record, my go-to Broadway song is “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton.
NT (immediately launches into song): “LIKE BEFORE, I WILL FIGHT THE FIGHT AND WIN THE WAR…” Haha I have a personalized mug that was gifted to me that reads “Hi my name is Nicole and chances are I am singing Hamilton.” The favorite song changes constantly. Whatever song is stuck in my head, really. “Wedding Song” from Hadestown and “Waving through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen have been a couple recent go-to’s!
TB: I adore all your animals that you have at your home! Can you share with our readers the pets you have and what you love about them?
NT: YES. I have two dogs, Lily and Puppy, a cat named Ellie, a fish tank of assorted fish with riveting names and many many bunnies that I adore. Our most recent addition is a beehive full of bees, and I love all of them. We are definitely animal people over here. I just plucked my first piece of comb full of honey from the hive, and it was a very proud bee mama moment.
TB: Really, can one ever have *too much* time playing with bunnies?
NT: Absolutely not. The opportunities are endless. They have incredibly soft, endorphin-inducing coats that love to be pet.
TB: Are there any projects coming up that you are excited about? Or at least, any dream roles you hope to someday get cast in?
NT: I have several projects in the pipeline that I cannot wait to announce! In the meantime, you can keep up with my goings on and come say hi on social media! @nikileetompkins on Instagram and Twitter. Ooo dream roles are tough. I would love to jump into another fantasy piece soon. I would also be super open for some sort of action adventure with world exploration and lost treasure.
TB: Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview! You have led such an amazing life and career, and all of us at Geek Girl Authority are so inspired by your creative energies!
NT: Thank you so much for having me and asking such thoughtful questions! The honor and pleasure is all mine.
If you want to catch Nicole’s playthrough of Resident Evil 3, you can catch the next stream this Friday at 12:00 pm Pacific on https://www.twitch.tv/nicoletompkins! Or catch up on past streams on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClLM3m_iwGJsjhusx5uNSng.
This interview was originally published 5/29/20
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