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Nico Parker | Make It As Nutrient-Rich As Possible, And Lean In 

Featuring Miu Miu Spring-Summer 2024, Via Issue 191, Fresh Cuts

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There’s something to be said about the morphing of actors into different characters–each an eternal footprint left on the mold of art and society. Some are able to transform so seamlessly into their characters that there is no trace of their off-screen persona left. 19-year-old English actor Nico Parker likens her process to being able to transform into varying genres, whether it is a teen navigating both devastating and buoyant parts of her life, or a female Viking warrior that is a blunt voice of reason among her comrades. Each character provides Parker a form of multi-dimensional growth, especially in portraying emotions she has never personally undergone.

Parker is no stranger to the Hollywood landscape, her mother being award-winning actor and Westworld star Thandiwe Newton, and her father seasoned screenwriter Ol Parker. Growing up, Parker wanted nothing to do with acting, dismissing the craft as what she used to describe as “quite boring” after being a perpetual observer on set. “Because both of my parent’s careers were centered around that world,” she explains, “I was never interested because I saw it in a less glamorous light.”

The narrative began to shift when she auditioned for the live-action Tim Burton-directed film Dumbo, released in 2019. Parker’s first audition process for the film was one that elicited an unwavering “rush,” as she played, Colin Farrell’s young circus equestrian daughter in the film, being tasked with looking after the spectacled flying elephant. While she reflects on her early acting days as a hazy experience from a sort of out-of-body “third-person perspective,” it’s clear that whatever she experienced at the young age of 11 informed her choice of perennial pursuit. She went on to play Sarah Miller, Joel’s (Pedro Pascal) daughter, in The Last Of Us for one brief but emotionally-gutting episode that showcased her early abilities, as well as sci-fi thriller Reminiscence.

And now, Suncoast truly shows the fire that was lit within Parker since the Dumbo days, a breakthrough performance that is sure to stick with any audience member who left their bed or theater seat teary-eyed. The semi-autobiographical film follows a teenager named Doris, played by Parker, and her strong-willed mother, Laura Linney, as they care for Doris’ terminally ill brother who is taken to a hospice facility. Parker’s character is a refreshingly realistic take on the average teenager longing to fit into an unreachable societal mold while dealing with the layered complexities of family and loss. Prized actor Woody Harrleson also stars in the film, who plays a gritty activist protesting a high-profile medical case, while acting as a father figure of sorts for Doris. 

When Parker first got the call for Suncoast, she read the script, cried from the emotionally turbulent journey she just went on, and then immediately thought to herself, ‘I can’t live up to the expectations of playing a party so heavy.’ She continues, “Because it required so much, I just didn’t know if I would be good enough to carry it out because it’s so personal.” But after she met with director Laura Chinn on Zoom, the pair clicked immediately and Parker knew the part was meant for her and no one else. She went on to prepare for the role by incessantly reading the script and crafting a character-specific playlist, as any Gen Z-er would. Diving deep into the lore of Doris, she included everything from songs she believed her character might cry to, to modern anthems relative to the film. “The film has so much conversation back and forth, and I wanted it to feel as real as possible,” she remarks. “I wanted to know the script well enough that I could put my own flair into it and not have to worry.”

Some of us see ourselves on screen embodied in characters who remind us of times in our lives when we’ve felt the same. Others are simply invested for a temporary escape from reality. But what unites us all, Parker included, is the gravitation toward storytelling that heals some former shell of ourselves. “In a way, it was kind of healing the inner 14-year-old child in me,” she reflects of the filming process. “I think everyone has those experiences of feeling really uncool and trying to fit in, and it’s just that awful turbulent time in life. So I definitely was drawing from some of my own experiences. But, it was also horrible because I would be on set and Laura would make me stand there and look as uncomfortable as I could, and I would find it so embarrassing,” she pauses and laughs. “All I could shout across set at Laura was ‘Why are you making me do this!?’”

One emotion Parker couldn’t quite pull from personal experience was an overwhelmingly central tenet of Suncoast— grief. The actor had not yet gone through the cataclysmic emotions of grief, but opted to have numerous conversations with Chinn about the nuances of anguish that come from losing a loved one. She begins telling me about these nuances in detail, one being the instant look on someone’s face after realizing loss, or how she expresses it as the look of the “soul being sucked out of someone.” Her interpretation of these nuances culminated in one of the most striking scenes of the film, where Doris’ grief finally bubbles to the surface.

Surprisingly enough, tapping into this emotion was the part of the filming process that came easily to Parker. “I work best when I’m nervous or stressed about something because it really forces me to do it and lean in fully,” she says. What became more layered and disordered for her was actually the generally upbeat scenes and conversations in the film. “It can get quite difficult to not try and make every scene as weighted as it actually is,” she explains. “You just have to trust that an audience can see and feel that anyway. I didn’t want a scene where Doris is happy with her friends to also feel depressing.”

After she explains this, I come to further realize how convoluted emotions truly are, even for fictional characters. While Suncoast could be defined as a film about grief, it’s dually a film about humor and the awkwardness of forming an identity separate from your family. “Having to compartmentalize all of those emotions could get quite overwhelming,” she concludes.

These challenging parts of filming brought equally treasured moments of glee—even if the people behind the camera didn’t get to partake in that childlike joy at times. One of her favorite moments was the scene of her and Woody’s character, Paul, where he is teaching her how to drive in a parking lot, a notorious step in everyone’s coming-of-age story. “I was having the best time in that scene despite the technical difficulties and behind-the-camera nightmare that was going on,” she laughs. She adds that she remembers the film production as one of the “happiest times of her life,” despite the difficult subject matter. After all, Parker was 17 and on her own for the first extended period of time, overseas from her London home base in the humid but historied Charleston, South Carolina. “Getting to work with the cast who was ridiculously talented was so uplifting all the time. It was the most rewarding part of the process.”

Parker went on to secure the US Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance at Sundance. “It was a shame I didn’t get to go to Sundance, because I think it would have been so amazing,” she says. “Apparently, there were mad hysterics of people crying afterwards, which I would have found so fun to see, because I love when people say that they cried watching it. It makes me so creepily happy.”

Instead of attending the festival, Parker was committed to a production in Northern Ireland, filming the upcoming 2025 live-action film How to Train Your Dragon, inspired by the fantasy book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell. The film centers on a young Viking boy named Hiccup, along with Toothless, an injured dragon Hiccup befriends despite his dragon- fighting culture. Parker plays Astrid, who travels through her own character-building arc as Hiccup’s nemesis and eventual companion.

While most details of How to Train Your Dragon are under wraps, Parker does express her fervor towards the novels and animated films that preceded this undertaking by director Dean DeBlois. “His directing is such a draw in because he cares so much about it, and it’s such a special story to him and you can feel it in everything he does, from every shot to every note he gives,” she remarks.

On the pressure of filming a major book-to-film adaptation, Parker doesn’t let herself get too “into the bubble,” as she puts it. “In trying to pressure someone into being something or conforming, it’s not really going to do what you want it to do,” she explains. “I could never do America Ferrera’s interpretation of Astrid because I’m not her. We’re different people with different temptations and passions.” To Parker, pressure is a real privilege that signifies the care of everyone involved. “We all love the source material so much, so it’s less about other people’s opinions and more about keeping to how brilliant the films are. We want to keep the magic of those characters and story alive.”

Acting overall has pushed Parker out of her comfort zone, despite her knowing she gravitates toward more grief-stricken or darker stories. Her dream directors to work with are Greta Gerwig and Sofia Coppola, arguably two of the leading female directors in the industry at present. We return to discussing how Parker first thought film sets were mundane and how this perspective has evolved with her immersion in acting. “When I was younger,” she considers, “I think I was more cynical about acting than I am now, which is strange because I feel like normally it’s the other way around. As I’ve gotten older and been a part of it myself, there’s something so magical about being around all of it. If you lean all the way into it you could think about it constantly.”

While she still finds certain elements of the industry alarming, like the competitive nature of it all, the prudent glimmer in her eye shows just how much enlightenment she has gained and what’s to come. 

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Photographed by Lee Malone

Styled by Oliver Volquardsen wearing Miu Miu

Written by Joshen Mantai

Hair: Yoshitaka Miyazaki

Makeup: Laura Dexter at Frank Agency using Anastasia Beverly Hills

Flaunt Film: Rodney Rico

Location: One Hundred Shoreditch Hotel

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Flaunt Magazine, Issue 191, The Fresh Cuts Issue, Nico Parker, Miu Miu, Anastasia Beverly Hills
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