Rumor has it Thomas Ian Nicholas skipped a lunch date with Seann William Scott to do this interview, so we were pretty stoked to chat with him. You Know him from Rookie of the Year and American Pie. But the actor/musician reveals to eBaum's World just what it took for him to bridge the gap between child star and career filmmaker.
EBW: Thank you so much for being here and chatting with us.
Thomas: Thank you for having me. I've been a fan of eBaum's, maybe not quite as long as Jaret and the Bowling for Soup guys. Now that I'm following you on Instagram, I got a kick out of the Alanis Morissette landscaping meme that we didn't know we needed.
EBW: So if we can go all the way back, what was your experience like working on Rookie of the Year? Because that's my childhood, that's what I grew up on.
Thomas: It was amazing. That was my first lead role in a studio feature film. So I was stoked to have gotten a job. I lived in Chicago for three months. It was a little cold near the end of it. But certainly getting to be on Wrigley Field, it was just an amazing experience being there.
@ebaumsworld "Rookie of the Year" star Thomas Ian Nicholas (@tinband) talks child stardom! #rookieoftheyear #interview #comed? ? original sound - eBaum’s World
EBW: That's so cool. Wrigley is so historic. Was there any pressure being a star at thirteen?
Thomas: I don't think it was necessarily pressure. It was just weird. Being recognized by so many people after the success of the film, it certainly wasn't anything I was anticipating. And I don't think you were gonna really prepare for that at any age, but especially not at 13 years old in 1993. I didn't anticipate that. At that point, I'd been studying the craft of acting for six years. I love doing the job, but I never thought about the byproduct of being successful at your job is that you may get recognized for that.
But there were moments that were similar to the film. I remember I went to Dodger Stadium to play in the All-Star Game and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was there and Tony Danza was pitching. And I had worked with Tony when I was six years old on Who's the Boss. So he threw me a lob so I could hit a frozen rope to center field. And afterwards they were like, "Oh do you want tickets to the game?" So my mom and I were like "Sure, we'd love to go to a Dodger game." So we get up in the stands and before you know it someone's like, "Hey, aren't you..." and seriously just like Henry running through the airport in Rookie of the Year, it started to be like 300 people surrounding me. And security's like "We gotta get you outta here."
EBW: Oh my God. That's such an interesting experience.
Thomas: But the interesting thing is that didn't happen to me until the film came out. So everything that I'm doing is in fact acting that way and following Daniel Stern's direction. So much to the point where even my scratchy voice was not how I really sounded. But Dan really wanted it that way to really show the physicality of Henry. When I sang the Pepsi commercial, when I was in post-production, Danny's like "You have to redo this." I go, what's up. He says, "You sang it well so therefore it's not funny." He's like, "You have to sing it poorly. I need you to be out of key and like forget more words."
EBW: Oh yeah. What is it? "You know when you feel it, baby, you know when it's right!"
Thomas: Irresistibly and positively - yeah. I don't even remember what I threw in there.
EBW: So good. And I mean, just working with somebody like Daniel Stern, it had to be unforgettable.
Thomas: It was, he was great though because he's not zany like the characters that we've seen him portray. In Home Alone as Marv. He's an intelligent, thoughtful, caring person that was really a nurturing director. And I often say that a lot of times actors can be fantastic directors because they really understand the process of what you need as an actor. Because they've been in the position of needing those things.
EBW: Right. Now, this is probably a stretch, but are we ever going to get a Rookie of the Year sequel?
@ebaumsworld ROOKIE OF THE YEAR SEQUEL?? @tinband says there is hope! #movie #mnightshyamalan #interview #millennials ? original sound - eBaum’s World
Thomas: I have been pining for that for quite some time actually now that my son is following in my footsteps, and he starred in the recent M. Night Shyamalan movie, Old. He's the main kid that gets played by four actors, that kid is my son.
EBW: That's incredible.
Thomas: That's Nolan River. And he had a small part in my last film, Adverse that I produced. The one where I went head to head with Mickey Rourke and Lionsgate put in theaters. What I really want is to do a Rookie of the Year sequel and have Nolan play Henry's son in the movie. I took that idea to them in 2016 as they were racing toward the World Series. And I was like, look if the Cubs lose then they'll still want the film. If they win, then we can basically play off the fact that they've got one world series win. It doesn't matter what happens. Then I know they spun it around and they were gonna do a reboot without me and another baseball team. And then Disney bought Fox. So I've got the last laugh. So now I'm back to the idea of doing this sequel, and in fact I talked to Danny about it. He was into it. And he was like, "Yeah, let me talk to my team and maybe get Joe Roth on the line and see if we can make something happen." I think it'd be fun.
EBW: That's so cool. My nineties kid heart is just racing. So what was your dream? Did you always wanna be an actor? Did you wanna be an athlete? Were you good at baseball or was it always about music?
Thomas: I started acting when I was six and I still love it to this day. Being on set is my favorite part of the process, bringing that character that I've spent time developing and utilizing the techniques that I've spent years honing. I started playing music in '94 and I love doing that too. I love staying in the creative space, creating a song, creating a character, and producing or creating a film. I'm still not really a sports guy, but since the movie of course, I'm a huge fan of the Cubs and I follow what the Cubs do. I just don't follow any other sports.
EBW: I thought you might have played baseball in high school, or they were just like, "No, you look the part."
Thomas: I mean, I was 12 when I shot it. So I hadn't even thrown a baseball really. I had a neighbor teach me the mechanics of pitching before I went to Chicago, because I didn't know that Danny was gonna do the crazy arm thing until he got there. I was just about to start the seventh grade. When I came back, I joined the baseball team. But there was a rule, it said if you miss practice, you ride the bench at the next game. And every practice I had auditions and I would choose the audition over the practice of course. So I rode the entire season on the bench. It was art imitating life. I was there with Windemere on the bench.
EBW: So after Rookie of the Year, you kind of blow up a little bit. What was it like being a child star in those days, compared to what we're seeing today with social media? If you have any advice to give those child actors, like let's say from Stranger Things. Those kids are stars right now. How was it different back then going through what you went through?
Thomas: I can only really answer what I'm doing for my son. I don't pretend to have any advice for any other child actors. Cause I did meet some of those kids from Stranger Things a few years ago at Comic-Con. They seem pretty grounded at least then, and the show was already massively successful after the first season. The main thing that's different that I see is the audition process has changed drastically. When I was a kid it was like 100 to 200 auditions a year in person just to land one job. Now my son has already done three jobs. Granted one of them was on Adverse, my film. So he didn't have to audition for that one. But he's done two jobs and the kid's only been on maybe like 20 auditions and they're all virtual.
Sometimes they'll do a callback in person, but most of them I'm filming. So it reminds me of the technology era, meaning life before Google was sometimes if you did know something, you just went on not knowing it. And I'm totally stealing this from a comedian by the way. And life after Google is, if you want to know it you just Google it and get the answer. But the difference is there's a greater sort of excitement when you land that job after 200 auditions versus you land that job after two auditions.
EBW: Oh, of course.
Thomas: So the main thing that I'm just trying to instill in my son is appreciation, gratitude for what he achieves, and not to ever have expectations of like what you deserve just because. And I think that's just important in life in general for everyone.
EBW: Absolutely. Yeah man, 200 auditions. I can't even imagine.
Thomas: Well, that's just a year, right? I mean I've been on probably like a thousand auditions in my life. So when you look at my career and you're like, "Oh he's got 50 movies. Yeah, but I have 950 "No's."
EBW: Yep. So American Pie...I love how you have bridged the gap. It's always been the stigma that child actors can't really make it through and you did it seamlessly. So can you tell us what that next step was like?
Thomas: I certainly knew the stats. It's like a three percentile of kids that make it into a young adult career. And as I was gearing up to turn 18, I was gearing up to leave the country and go do live stage plays in London. And go work as an audio engineer at this one studio where I'd done ADR for A Kid in King Arthur's Court. So that was sort of my plan. I had just finished my first album that I've since destroyed. You'll never hear it. With a different band name, but we don't have to talk about that.
@ebaumsworld @tinband talks 'American Pie' and how good friend, Andrew Keegan almost snagged the role of Kevin. #andrewkeegan #interview #americanpie ? original sound eBaum’s World
Then I booked American Pie, which the audition process was kind of wild in the sense that I first turned down the audition. And I thought like, I didn't want to go on this teen sex comedy thing, because I really judged a book by its cover. I mean the original title of the script I'm sure you've heard was, "Untitled teen sex comedy that you studios will hate, but can make for under $10 million that audiences will love" or something to that effect. And so I read the opening scene, which was Kevin and Vicky doing similar things that Jim was doing just together. And I was like, "I don't know what this is." My buddy Andrew Keegan, who was in 10 Things I Hate About You. We went to high school together and I only know this cause I've hired Andrew twice now.
I produced a film for Sony called Living Among Us. William Sadler, the late John Heard was in it. And then we did Adverse with Mickey Rourke and Lou Diamond Phillips. And Andrew was in that as well. Then he tells me the reason he wasn't able to do American Pie - cause he got the first offer for Kevin.
Thomas: He was doing 10 Things I Hate About You. And so they were trying to coordinate the schedules cause they were filming at the same time. And there was one crossover day where Save Ferris, the band was scheduled to film and they couldn't change it. So really I don't refer to Save Ferris anymore as 'Save Ferris.' It's more like Save Kevin. But Save Ferris saved me.
EBW: Right. Oh my God. That's insane. So you were the second choice then?
Thomas: Well, I hadn't auditioned. So technically I wasn't the second choice cause I had turned it down and they called my agent back. They're like, "Listen, can he just consider this? We really wanna see him." And I was like, "Okay, I'll read the whole script. I'll give it at least a thorough opportunity." So as soon as I read it and realized there was so much more heart to it, I go oh, this is actually really good. And I like what Kevin represents and yes I do want to do this. And so I went and auditioned for it in the rest is history.
EBW: I never knew that story. That's wild. So you had your boost after Rookie of the Year. Was there a boost after American Pie? I mean obviously, you go onto the sequels and you go on to do American Reunion. What was that like in your college years when you're doing these films, were you partying with people? Were people coming up to you being like, "Oh my God, you're the American Pie guy!"
Thomas: Because of my experience as a kid, I did all the publicity things that Universal required of me and the press junkets and things. But unlike the rest of the cast, I decided not to hire a publicist. I wanted to do the least amount as possible because I just knew from my experience with Rookie of the Year what doing a studio film could mean. And I obviously didn't know what the film would do, but I knew it was Universal. I knew it was gonna hit theaters. So it was for my betterment that it happened that way.
Because I remember right after the film, things kind of turned around for me and I was able to do vastly different characters during American Pie 2. So in the one year around filming American Pie 2, I played Mitchell in The Rules of Attraction, Bill in Halloween Resurrection, and Frank Sinatra Jr. Stealing Sinatra. So it was a crazy run for me. During the second film I learned a valuable lesson. I was like, I guess I need to hire a publicist.
As much as I don't want the quote unquote, same recognition. If someone comes up to me and is excited to meet me, I'm always going to give them the time of day.
EBW: That's so cool. I don't wanna say that's how it should be, but that's a great outlook to have.
Thomas: I'm very grateful for what I've been blessed with, and what I've achieved. I've been in experiences in a reverse situation. And I really appreciate the moments where when I'm brave enough to say hello to someone. I was at a party once and they're like, "Robert DeNiro is right behind you." I couldn't even turn around. I was too nervous to even look at him. I just always try to go out of my way to make people feel comfortable because I often get really nervous when I meet someone whose work I really love, you know?
EBW: Of course, of course. Can you tell us a little bit more about American Pie? What were some of your favorite memories from set?
Thomas: Oh man. We're talking about four movies that you just opened up. For me it's kind of like summer camp to a degree where friends are hanging out a lot when we're doing the film together. And then obviously when you go back to your regular lives, now we all have kids like, and even then our careers. Everyone's busy. But the idea that each film that we did, we got a little bit closer. And then especially when we started going on location, we started hanging out more on the weekends, getting into more trouble. We don't need to talk about all those things. Not even too like, too risque, but just you know...trouble.
I think that's the best part of it is that what you see is really what generates in the energy when we're all together. And we still stay in touch a little bit here and there. Seann William Scott and I have a longstanding we've flaked on each other for over 10 years lunch plans. I'm the culprit for the last flake. I apologize. It's my fault. So now it's my turn to reinitiate the 'let's go to lunch' that we're never gonna go to.
EBW: You can tell that too through the characters. It's so genuine what you guys put together and like most people hear "American Pie" and yeah, it's a raunchy comedy, but it really is as a series, it's got a good heart to it. You know? And I think you said that best. It's truly genuine what you see on screen.
Thomas: And when you see it, it brings back all the feels. And that's sort of the inspiration of 1999, and how this all came together was Jaret and I watching American Pie together.