Our interview with talented actor Nick Clifford who is best know for his role as Guy in the hit Showtime drama Masters of Sex.
Hi Nick please tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in New York City, with a little stint in Europe. I went to Brown University and studied Economics and Finance while immersing myself in the theater and film world in every way I could. After graduating, I moved out to Los Angeles to pursue acting professionally. It’s been an incredible adventure, with some of the biggest ups and hardest downs of my life, but doing this kind of work makes me feel alive, and I’m so grateful to be able to call it my job. If I wasn’t acting, I’d probably try to be a professional chef. I compose classical music on the piano in my spare time and if I had to choose, I’d rather be traveling, somewhere strange or remote, on an adventure at the end of the world.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
Optimistic, passionate and (occasionally) clumsy.
Who was your role model as a child?
Robin Williams. As a little kid, I was obsessed with his genie in Aladdin. We moved to Europe when I was 8 years old and Aladdin was the only VHS tape I brought with me. Since European VHS tapes don’t fit in US players, it was the only movie I had in English. I didn’t speak French yet, so I watched that movie over and over. In that one performance alone, Williams takes us through such an incredible range of emotions and maneuvers between them effortlessly – using only his voice. When I was a child, he taught me to love laughing. Since then, my admiration for him has only grown.
How’s a typical day in your life?
I think the best (and worst) part about being an actor is that there really is no typical day. If I’m lucky, I’m heading to set. If not, I’m working on preparing material or writing my own. If I’m looking for a break, I’ll typically do something active outside — there’s rarely a grey day in Los Angeles — or play piano. I started playing classical piano when I was 6 and now play my own form of improvised neo-classical minimalism. It’s a very specific genre, but there are a lot of amazing musicians in that scene right now, especially internationally. Nils Frahm is my personal favorite. My days usually end walking with my girlfriend and two pugs through the hills of Echo Park and picking something to cook out of the many cookbooks that are jammed into my kitchen cabinets.
What was your first acting role?
On a whim, I took a theater class in ninth grade that culminated in a one-night performance of a play. Halfway through the class, we cast the play, and I somehow ended up with the lead role. I remember my parents were so worried that I would forget my lines because I had so many and they never heard me practicing in my room. I’ll never forget the feeling of sitting in the green room, warming up as the audience was ushered in – the beautiful mixture of panic and fear and excitement flooding through my veins. We played one song on repeat as the audience took their seats: Dean Martin’s “A Kick In The Head”. That song will forever remind me of realizing I wanted to be an actor.
Do you have or had acting classes?
I’ve taken training of all sorts since moving to Los Angeles, mostly because I didn’t study theater formally in school, and I’m always looking for ways to grow my craft. Acting can often be a lonely professional too, as you spend much of your days at home, preparing material. Classes can offer you a community of support that is so important when you’re in the early stages of your career. I owe so much to the teachers and peers that I’ve studied with over the years, from my first acting class in ninth grade all the way up to the incredible cast and directors of this season of Masters of Sex.
Who has made the biggest impact on your life so far, and why?
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with some incredible mentors throughout my life, from my parents and extended family, to my partner, to my collaborators and teachers. It’s hard to pick one person. I had a fantastic childhood, filled with so much love from both my parents, and they both, in their own ways, have shaped me into the man I am today. My mother’s visual creativity and my father’s intellectual curiosity formed the foundations of how I see and interact with the world. I’m incredibly grateful for how present and engaged they were (and still are) as parents, I couldn’t have been a happier kid.
How do you prepare for a role?
I start with research, reading and watching everything I can that I think will help give me the proper context for the world my character inhabits. With Masters of Sex, that meant watching as much footage of life in the 60s as I could. I specifically wanted to focus on the mindset of a young gay man during the late 60s. I found incredible interviews surrounding the Stonewall Riots of men talking about what life was like for them while they were in the closet. I saw how lonely and scary life could be, and how liberating the gay pride movement that came out of the riots was for them. I took in as much of that as I could, and then I focused on the specifics of my character and his world, building the images and backstory that brought him to the moment we meet him. In television, it’s hard to fully prepare for a role, as you’re often given only pieces of their history. It can be a tightrope-walk, but the producers and directors were invaluable in the process and I was fortunate enough to be able to ask them questions in order to further understand and embody Guy.
Please tell us about “Masters Of Sex” and about your role as Guy?
It was an incredible honor to join the cast of Masters of Sex this season. Over the past four seasons, some of the finest actors working today have worked on the show. The show is about the lives of William Masters, played by Michael Sheen, and Virginia Johnson, played by Lizzy Caplan, who pioneered the field of sex research and in the process became romantically involved. My character, Guy, crosses paths with Masters and Johnson at a swingers party, where he meets Betty, played by Annaleigh Ashford, who spots him as, “the only other homo at this party.” They become fast friends and she brings him back to the Masters and Johnson clinic to work as their new secretary. We quickly learn that Guy was previously a soldier in Vietnam but was dishonorably discharged after the Army discovered that he was gay. His family has practically disowned him and the clinic becomes his saving grace, serving as a place to finally embrace who he is. He’s a quick learner and soon manages the new job with ease, despite some initial friction with Masters and Johnson. He diplomatically avoids getting caught in the feuds between the staff, but he does assert his disdain for ‘conversion therapy’, which becomes an issue the clinic has to confront as they embark on their new study in homosexuality.
What is next for Nick Clifford?
Working on Masters of Sex has been an incredible opportunity, and I’m excited for what the next one will be. There are a few projects on the horizon, including the chance to direct some of my own material. At this particular stage in my career, I often don’t know what will come next, and that is part of the excitement. I feel incredibly grateful for the work that I’ve had so far, and I can’t wait for what’s next.
Who is your favorite Actor/Actress? And why?
There isn’t one name that jumps out at me. It’s more like a hailstorm. There are so many talented actors and filmmakers that I admire, many of them from other countries. If I had to pick someone I would most like to emulate, it would be Javier Dolan. He’s an unbelievably talented young actor and filmmaker from Canada. He writes, directs and often acts in his films, and for someone so young, he’s already amassed a powerful collection of work. If you haven’t already, go see Lawrence Anyways. It’s heartbreakingly moving. And I’d watch Mads Mikkelsen in anything.
Any advice to new young actors?
Don’t forget to remind yourself about the joy of acting. The work of being an actor, especially in the beginning, is incredibly grueling, and often the challenges can cloud out the joy. Every once and a while, remember to find your way above the clouds. Go see live theater. Re-watch your favorite films. Make a fool of yourself. If it makes you laugh, great. If it makes you cry, even better. Just don’t let the grind grind you away. It will get better. It won’t get easier. But it’ll get better.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 year?
I’d really like to direct a feature film. My first love will always be to fully inhabit a character. But I spend a lot of my spare time writing and I would love to direct something of my own.
What was the last book you read?
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. It’s an incredibly salient and simple perspective on mindfulness and an invaluable tool for establishing a strong connection to the present moment.
What are guilty pleasures food wise?
I’m such a sucker for gas station junk food. I try to keep it in check most days, but when my girlfriend and I take a road trip somewhere, we stock up. Give me Watermelon Sours or a king-size Butterfinger and I can drive all night.
What would be the dream holiday, and who would you go with?
My girlfriend and I have a long list of adventures we’re slowly checking off, and the next big one on my list is Iceland. I’ve heard that there’s a music festival with stages near one of the largest hot springs on the island. To be there under the aurora borealis would be a dream.
What do you do in your free time?
Classical improvisation on the piano is my antidote to any tension from the day. I love cooking and I’m usually trying to learn some new obscure technique. I’m trying to (slowly) train for a marathon, which has been a challenge of the mind more than of the body. And I devour pretty much every decent indie or foreign film that pops up on iTunes. If it isn’t one of those things, I’m probably just talking to the dogs.
What do you like to watch on TV?
It’s such an incredible time for television right now, both as an actor and as an audience. Some of the best television is being made right now. I don’t have cable, so most of my consumption of television comes through streaming platforms. I’ll watch at least a few episodes of anything that comes up on Amazon, Netflix and HBONow. Recently, I loved: FleaBag, Stranger Things, Westworld, High Maintenance – which I was a huge fan of when it was just a webseries on Vimeo, Last Week Tonight and The Circus.
Do you support any charities?
I’ve focused my giving towards finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s an incredibly tragic and painful disease. I recently lost a very close family member to early-onset Alzheimer’s and saw first-hand the heartbreaking sadness of it. I believe there we are very close to a cure and I support the organizations that are trying to get us closer to one.
3 things you can’t leave home without?
Headphones, gum and a big cup of coffee.
What would be a deal breaker on a first date?
Don’t try to fit in, don’t try to figure out what other people want you to be, just be yourself, and let others see you as you. That’s the only way to make a real, lasting connection. If you disagree with that, I’d probably say that’s a deal-breaker.
Idea of a perfect Sunday?
A long, lazy day spent cooking and listening to good music at our favorite place in Joshua Tree surrounded by close friends and dogs.
What do you think of Social Media in the Entertainment business?
I think social media is an incredible way to interact with fans of the work we get to do, and I’m always so excited to hear from people who want to reach out. Of course, everything needs boundaries and sometimes those can get pretty difficult to create on social media, but overall I think it’s a great thing. I mostly stick to Instagram and try to post things that my friends and my fans would like. I think the importance of social media followings has been a bit overstated, but I do think that there is a lot of inherent value in being active on social media. It’s another tool for actors to increase their visibility and value and if you can find a way to interact on it, I think it’s worth doing.
Best advice ever given?
Wherever you are, be there totally. -Eckhart Tolle
What’s your favorite music?
My music taste varies with my mood and what I’m doing, but I’ve been pretty obsessed with Radiohead for at least ten years.
What is your favorite song to belt out in the car/for karaoke?
‘Wrecking Ball’ by Miley Cyrus. Just belt it out in a crowded karaoke bar and believe me, everyone will join in.
Where we can follow you?
I’m on Instagram and twitter @thenickclifford
Quote: Be kind wherever possible. It is always possible. — Dalai Lama
Drink: Beer. Preferably from Belgium. Even more preferably a Tripel.
Travel Destination: Berlin. For the music and the people.
Sports Team: Most recently, the Cubs. But that was mostly because we had some money riding on them.