When Ghostface starts picking off teens and townsfolk again in April’s Scream 4, expect 22-year-old Chicago native Nico Tortorella to land somewhere near the top of your list of potential killers. Tortorella, who once compared his character Trevor to Skeet Ulrich in the original, played coy with his character’s true nature with Movieline but was refreshingly candid when it came to addressing widespread rumors of behind-the-scenes drama, as well as his close ties to director Joel Schumacher and the appeal of dueling YA properties Mortal Instruments and The Hunger Games.
But first things first: Despite his successes in the fashion world (he’s currently contracted with Ford New York) Tortorella is not a model-turned-actor. He’s been acting on stage since the age of 8, happened upon his professional modeling career by accident, and subsequently appeared on the short-lived CW series The Beautiful Life (playing, well, a male model). Despite having only a handful of credits under his belt, Tortorella’s shown comic range as a recurring guest star on ABC Family’s Make It or Break It and, following his turn in Wes Craven’s Scream 4, next reunites with director Schumacher on the home invasion thriller Trespass opposite Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman.
Needless to say, Tortorella’s committed to showing the world he’s more than just a pretty face. He tells Movieline he was recently cast as a “super dark, emo-hipster artist/creative type” in The Lowenfish Party, “a Breakfast Club – meets – Can’t Hardly Wait”-type film also rumored to star Glee’s Kevin McHale, The Vampire Diaries’ Michael Trevino, and Tortorella’s rumored real-life girlfriend, Sara Paxton.
For all of the models-turned-actors out there in Hollywood, you were actually an actor first. Does your modeling background give people the wrong idea about you when you go out for roles?
Yeah, most interviews that I do say “model-turned-actor Nico Tortorella” and most of the press that comes about me is all “model-turned-actor” if they haven’t talked to me first. And you know, it’s fine. It’s somewhat of a stigma; everyone thinks that a model can’t act, but an actor can definitely model. But it’s okay. I’m still pretty new and I feel like once I’m exposed a little bit more the truth will be there.
How did you come to modeling in the first place?
That was totally on a whim. I went to art school in Chicago for a year at Columbia College. I had this whole master plan of getting into sustainable development and green architecture and construction, so I wanted to go to business school and then get my masters in construction and development. But that whole thing kind of flopped and crumbled on itself because coming from art school, transferring to the business program at Loyola Marymount for a semester — it was just completely not the right place for me at all. I went on my computer one day, I was living in Playa del Rey, I saw that Ford was having an open call… I walked into Ford that day and they offered me a four-year contract on the spot. Like, “Sign now.” So I did. Since I was going to school I hadn’t jumped into acting, and modeling was sort of just the first thing I went and did. But I always knew I was going to be out here. I was just kind of seeing which path I would take. Then I started acting right away.
You’ve played models twice before, in Joel Schumacher’s Twelve and on the CW’s The Beautiful Life. So how do you get beyond the stereotype of just playing pretty when you’re going out for roles?
Well, I grow my beard out as much as I can. [Laughs] But if I don’t have to go into an audition where I’m playing a high school kid, I will be scruffy and dressed down. Because a lot of the feedback I get is, “You’re too pretty to play this role.” Which is better than, I guess, you’re not pretty enough to play this role. But as I get older I’m turning from, as cliche as it sounds, a boy to a man, and the man that I’m becoming is less pretty than the boy that I was.
You’ve got Scream 4 coming up. I heard your audition process was pretty lengthy, and at once point you had to go in front of the Weinsteins. Was that intimidating?
Relatively. I don’t really get nervous in front of people. I kind of walk into every situation like I’m walking in to meet my peers, and they either like me or not. It was cool. They’re super nice guys. Bob is hysterical, and his whole team works really hard. There’s a work ethic that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and when I walked in I clicked with that energy. But it was definitely a long audition process. I auditioned five or six times, and at once point they told me that I was too tall, because I’m like 6′-6’1″, and everyone else that was cast, between Hayden [Panettiere], Rory [Culkin], Emma [Roberts], and even Erik [Knudsen], everyone’s under 5’5″. I’m a foot taller than everyone else!
The Scream franchise has a strong self-awareness to it. What were the challenges of playing that multi-level, meta self-awareness, and how do you do it?
Good question. I think a lot of Wes’ movies; if you go back to the first Last House on the Left, there’s this human tone to it that makes everything more realistic. It was easier going into something like this than going into a new project that hasn’t been developed, that hasn’t had a tone throughout the series. I watched the first three, and having met Courteney [Cox] and David [Arquette] on set, there was definitely an energy that they were honing in on. Because of the subject matter and because we knew who the killer was going into it and had to start from the beginning and make it look like every single one of us could be the killer, I feel like you have to have the self-awareness. And at the same time, it’s funny. It’s not super intense all the time. There are moments of humor and satire that really make this project human.
How would you describe your character, Trevor? So far we don’t know much about him.
You don’t know a lot about any of us, but I feel like from the trailer especially my character’s the one kept secret the most. Trevor’s the kid everyone loves to hate in high school. On a group level he’s an asshole and he picks on people, but on a one-on-one level when you see him in his relationship he has a huge heart and just wants to love and be loved, and may hide all that in his walking life when he’s being the bad guy.
You’ve compared your character to Skeet Ulrich’s character in the first film, but you do know that everyone knows what he did in the first film, right? Are you trying to send us a secret message that you’re really Ghostface?
I didn’t say that. [Laughs] When I said that, I meant that it’s set up that in the first movie there was Neve [Campbell], there was her boyfriend, and there was that whole storyline. The parallel that I have with Emma in the new movie, even certain scenes are set up a lot like the first movie. Granted, the end… I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see what happens.
There were widely circulated reports of strife behind the scenes on Scream 4, between Kevin Williamson leaving and talk of re-shoots and Courteney and David separating shortly afterward. How much of that tension carried over to the set?
I mean… right when we sat down for the first table read, everyone knew there were issues going on with the script, everyone knew what was going on with Courteney and David, and it was there. But we’re such a light group of people, all of us involved with this movie, and cast-wise we jumped into this and wanted to have a party and have a good time doing this. And I feel like that kind of overshadowed what was going on underneath, especially with relationships that were going on, and even the script. It was all good. We were here to learn and have a good time and go along with the process. We had heard stories from the first three movies that were all the same, if not worse, than what was going on with this fourth movie. The original three had been through a lot more than we went through on this fourth movie. They just grandfathered us into it. They were like big brother and sister, like, “Listen, guys, this is all good.” That being said over and over again was like, all right, cool. Let’s keep going.
So there is a sense that you collectively banded together to charge through and get the job done.
We definitely did. I mean, the script was changing on a daily basis and we just had to do what we had to do.
Now, there happen to be three young actors in Scream 4, yourself included, who also appeared in Twelve. Was that a happy coincidence?
Yeah! Completely coincidental. I was the last one of the three to be cast — Emma [Roberts] and Rory [Culkin] were cast. And it’s funny; Joel Schumacher even called Wes after the two of them had been cast, saying “Nico can do this. He has what it takes to kill this role.” It was a coincidence, but it totally works because our characters are so much different in Scream than in Twelve. And we all have different relationships with each other. Rory and Emma barely knew each other in Twelve; I don’t think they even had a speaking line once together. And Emma and I just talked for a brief five seconds in the movie. But it worked. It was nice getting that family back together. I knew I was walking into a situation not completely blind.
What kind of rapport do you have with Joel that made him nudge Wes in your direction and cast you again in Trespass?
He’s just such a sweetheart, and from the second we met we hit it off and understood where we were. He’s such a good guy, and I kind of get his energy in a way. We had a blast working together; he just respected me and I respected him, and he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life. We’ve been in talks since I wrapped on Twelve and when I knew his new script was coming out he sent it to me. He said, “Listen, Nico — there’s not a huge role in this movie for you, and I keep casting you as the asshole, but there’s this nice little role and if you’d like to play it I would be so blessed if you would be a part of it.” I was like, “Joel, are you kidding? I would come and hold the boom for you during the shot if I had to. Tell me when and I’m there.” He was like, “I just can’t wait to cast you as a nice guy at some point!”
That’s what every young actor probably hopes to find: a relationship with a director that they can build on.
And he’s such an epic director who has been doing that for forever. I mean, look at his career. How many people he’s started. He is the father of the Brat Pack. So many people, he’s jump-started their career. I mean, he’s the first director I ever worked with! I remember the first audition I went in on, it was just me and him and we were talking for an hour about sh*t that wasn’t even in the movie! I never even auditioned for my role in Twelve — I auditioned for Chace Crawford’s role. Clearly they wanted to go another route for the role, but he called me and said, “Listen, Nico — I love you and I want you to play this other role.” I was like, “Yeah, absolutely. I don’t even know what it is but sure, let’s do it.” There was just this immediate understanding of each other and I think that’s what’s going to carry us through a lot more movies, hopefully.
How would you describe your character in Trespass and how he fits into the story?
The whole movie takes place in this house that’s been taken hostage, and the daughter is not in the house. She’s at a party doing her thing for the first quarter of the movie and my storyline takes place there. Just trying to keep her, if you will. It’s cool, he’s a funny guy. He’s not a whole lot different from my character in Twelve (pictured above).
Does that mean you didn’t get to work with Nic & Nic?
I didn’t! It’s a shame, but just to be involved with a movie with them, knowing that my name will come up sometime after theirs does… [Laughs] We were all staying in the same hotel so I was introduced to him, but my stuff was the last to be shot and everyone was leaving as I was getting there.
Well, you can still clear this up for us: In what world does Nicolas Cage being married to Nicole Kidman make sense?
[Laughs] I don’t know, but it just kind of does for me! Originally Nic was going back and forth between playing the good guy and the bad guy, and eventually he settled on the good guy and it makes total sense. The bad guys they have cast bring a different light to the situation. And I’m kind of excited to see Nicolas Cage as a good guy… and married to Nicole Kidman. Their daughter, Liana Liberato — she’s like 15 and she’s way past her years, so professional and a great actress. She has a long career ahead of her, that one.
Now I have to Google her to see what the hypothetical lovechild of Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman might look like.
It’s a good mix!
And that brings me to Make It or Break It, which I’ve become obsessed with. Your storyline reminds me of that great Gilmore Girls love triangle. So you are going to return and steal Emily back, right?
I don’t know! The thing with that show is, I was the last one again to be cast. But they cast one too many series regulars and there wasn’t enough room to fit in another series regular. Then I shot the pilot and they wanted to make me a series regular right off the bat, but then I got cast in The Beautiful Life on the CW and it was just a different scale of a show at the time. I went and I took that job, and then I booked Twelve, and I was still flying back to shoot Make It or Break It while I was shooting Twelve. I love the show and everyone involved with it. It’s funny; every time Make It or Break It calls me to come back for a few episodes, I wind up booking a movie that starts shooting at exactly the same time. It happened with Twelve, it happened with Scream… but I’d love to go back. I love that show, Razor’s hysterical, I can go sing a few more songs and try to win that love triangle back. But Johnny [Pacar]’s such a good guy. I may have to just let him take the reins on that one.
Your work on Make It or Break It really shows a different side of you.
It’s fun — it’s goofy! I’m such a goofy person in life that I feel like on Make It or Break It I was allowed to explore that more than in the more serious roles that I’ve played. But I would love to be a character actor; that’s definitely the plan. Razor’s more like the guy I am in real life than anything else I’ve played.
I get that idea watching the show just based on the pure, joyful dorkiness that you radiate.
Exactly! I’m a huge dork.
Because you’re in this age group where every young actor in Hollywood must be going out for the next superhero fantasy series that comes up, what big franchise role would you love to get?
Hmm. There’s a lot of good stuff out there right now. Because of Twilight there are a lot of supernatural projects out there. But probably a new one. Something that hasn’t been established as a comic book. New and different, a story that hasn’t been told yet. And I don’t know if I’ve read that yet. [Pause] There is one franchise in particular that I’d love to be a part of right now, and it’s called Mortal Instruments. So I’ll say Mortal Instruments.
Have you talked to the Mortal Instruments filmmakers?
The other franchise on the level of Mortal Instruments that seems to be floating around to every young actor is The Hunger Games adaptation.
Great book, great script. And that’s up there too, but I think I may be a little bit too old to play Gale.
I think it’ll depend on how young they go to cast Katniss. But Mortal Instruments and Hunger Games — good answers.
I’m just looking for something good. I’m in for all of it.