Nicky Whelan is an Australian actress best known by many for her time on Neighbours where she played Pepper, the daughter of the local police constable. Since she left Ramsey Street, Whelan has had steady work in the US, appearing in a range of television shows and films, including Scrubs, Hall Pass and Left Behind.
She’s also been lucky enough to work with acting all-star Nicolas Cage on not one, but three, movies. Their latest venture together is Inconceivable. The film follows Angela (Gina Gershon) and Brian (Nic Cage) as they befriend Katie (Whelan), a young woman who is new in town. Angela and Katie become instant friends, and soon Katie is working as a live-in nanny for the family. Things aren’t quite right with Katie however, as she becomes increasingly more obsessed with Angela and Brian’s daughter, and soon enough dark secrets from Katie’s past come to the surface. Angela then finds herself in a battle for both her child and her sanity.
We sat down with Nicky to talk all about Inconceivable, her time on Neighbours, and Tragedy Girls, a film which screens at Frightfest later this week.
How would you describe Inconceivable?
It’s basically about a girl that, in her late twenties, needed to make some money, so she froze some of her eggs to sell to make some money. In the process of doing that, it went badly and ended up making her not able to have children. She gets very screwed-up from this process and goes onto track down all the families that did buy her eggs, and to find out where her children are, to make sure they’re okay. So she has a pretty crazy mentality (laughs), she goes after a couple of very innocent families. It’s a little twisted on my behalf, my character’s behalf.
What were your thoughts when you first read the script for Inconceivable?
It’s an icky topic, it’s a tricky one, because in life, in real life, this topic with women freezing their eggs, and this procedure for a lot of women and families, is a really big thing. So to then dramatise it and turn it into a crazy movie is always a sensitive topic. I thought it was very different. It was a very female-driven movie, led by females, and women that I love – Gina Gershon, Faye Dunaway and Eva Marie – people I love and admire. It was a good opportunity to play a character that was a little twisted. The topic itself is sensitive, but I think keeping the perspective that it’s a movie, and a thriller, that’s the way the script went, but it’s a sensitive topic so my mind was a little bit at the start – Jeez (laughs), okay.
The film has a lot of grey areas, and is such an interesting debate; when I watched it I found myself seeing Katie’s side of things – whose side do you align with?
Well I love that you thought of it that way. When I initially read it I said I didn’t want to play the character like a crazy bitch who comes in and starts trouble. She has to have a very good reason, and even though she goes to extremes in dealing with her situation and she goes way over the top, I’m glad that you did have a bit of heart for her. I wanted there to be a bit of heart for her. It must be…she didn’t choose this journey, or want it to be this way, this is how it turned out and she got very bitter about it. In real life, if that had happened, it would be insanely traumatic for any woman and it would make you question if you couldn’t have children and where your actual eggs are. Of course I’m sure these are emotions that women go through…not everyone goes through and finds the families (laughs), but yeah, it hits a lot of topics and I wanted there to be a few times where maybe members of the audience did side with, not even side with Katie, but definitely as a woman, feel how painful the experience must be.
I was watching it thinking that, I don’t think we’re supposed to like her, but I kinda get it. These people seem to maybe just want the kids as an accessory, a thing off of the life list, whereas to Katie they were her world…
I’m glad you saw it that way, we really wanted that to be a side of it too. No one’s spoken about it in anyway with me in an interview yet, so I like that thank you.
Katie has a lot of layers to her, how did you approach the role?
Initially Nic (Cage) had sent me the script and I was a little nervous about playing it at first. It’s something that I’ve not played before. You get through each day and you’re surrounded by wonderful people on set. We kept it really light in-between takes. We all worked with a coach and there are choices that you make along the way. I feel the movie is very like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, it’s really similar in a lot of ways. Rebecca De-Mornay who played in that was quite evil from the start, and I chose to not play my character evil from the start. I wanted her to have a bit of a heart and possibly even win over the audience. Its just the choices that you make along the way, it gets dark at times – I kill and stuff (laughs) – trying to find truth in those moments is always a bit of a challenge. But I don’t know, as an actor this is why you take on these jobs. You see how you go and give it a crack. I was really honestly, and as cheesy as it sounds, I was really grateful to be given an opportunity to play a challenging role. I do a lot of comedies so to get anything really deep and dramatic is always a good challenge.
This is your this is your third project working with Nic Cage, what’s he like as a co-star?
He’s fantastic, he really is. He’s a good guy, he’s so talented and you can understand why he is who he is. I have a lot of respect for him. He gets into his work, he’s so professional. I’m really grateful. We had a great time working on Left Behind together and we remained friends, and I’m just really flattered that he thought of me for other projects in his future that came up. He called me up about them and I was really flattered because he’s such a great actor. Working with him and Gina Gershon – who I’m an enormous fan of – and Faye Dunaway who is obviously an absolute classic as an actress (laughs), like me from Australia, just a small town in Australia, it’s just really flattering to get to be on set with these people. It’s been a really big treat. You lift your performance when you’re around these people, and you learn so much from them.
Another project of yours, Tragedy Girls, closes this year’s Frightfest in August, It’s very different in tone to Inconceivable, is it important for you to mix it up?
I think so. It’s more opportunity and it’s been exciting. Tragedy Girls is so polar opposite to Inconceivable. I’m really, really proud of Tragedy Girls. When everyone sees it, they’re going to love it. It’s hardcore comedy horror. When you see it, and the cast, and the way it was shot, you can understand why it’s getting so many great reviews. It’s had 100% on Rotten Tomatoes since it was released. It’s such a great movie, I’m just excited to see people’s reactions, and very, very, very different to Inconceivable. It’s going to be a whole different audience. The two leads in that are fantastic – Brianna (Hildebrand) and Alexandra (Shipp) are wonderful actresses. People are going to love it.
It is a great one to end the festival. It’s had some wonderful reviews so far so when it actually comes out, we’re really pleased to see what people think.
Now in Tragedy Girls, you play a teacher nicknamed Mrs K… You used to star in Neighbours where the head-mistress is known as Mrs K. Was that an intentional thing or just a happy accident?
(Laughs) You’re the first one to mention that- I didn’t even realise that (laughs). No intention at all. I had no idea, didn’t even put the two together. I miss my Neighbours days, I had so much fun. I was so lucky to be a part of that cast. It was my first acting gig, and yes, I played a school teacher who is very, well actually maybe only a little different, to Tragedy Girls. I’ve played a school teacher a couple of times, but yeah the Neighbours days are good. And Jackie Woodburne, oh my goodness, that’s another person I grew up watching, and then playing alongside her I was twenty-five and I was so nervous. I’d been watching her since I was a little girl so that was a really bizarre experience.
We love Neighbours in our house, we eat our tea whilst watching it every night.
That’s so funny. It’s such a household show. I just don’t know how they keep coming up with storylines. I only did one year on the show, I was meant to do three years, but I had been given an opportunity and they wonderfully let me go. I was actually talking to Benji (Benjamin Hart), who played by boyfriend Adam on the show, he’s still a really good friend of mine, he’s a manager now, and he was like ‘Pepper and Adam should make a comeback!’ and I was like ‘I’m not quite sure how we would be able to come back’, but it would be funny.
Past Neighbours stars seem to be taking over Hollywood and US television, what is it about the show that produces such talent?
I don’t know. For a while there wasn’t really much other than Neighbours or Home and Away for Australian actors. There’s a lot more content in Australia now for actors, but back then there wasn’t, and Home and Away and Neighbours are predominantly those two shows that have enormous casts and a lot of room for new people. I think it happens to be that people tend to go through either one of those shows. Now there’s Underbelly and so many new shows to fill up with Australian talent, but once upon a time Neighbours and Home and Away was the main content that Australia had to offer.
What other projects can we see you in next?
I’m currently filming a movie called Love by Drowning, it’s an indie film. Myself, Colin Egglesfield and Mercedes Mason are in it as the leads. It’s another intense movie which I’m not going to talk too much about just yet. I’m hoping it’ll end up in the festivals and be out there, so I’m just in the middle of doing that, and just focusing on this right now.
Inconceivable is available to buy on DVD from Monday 28th August. Tragedy Girls screens at Frightfest on Monday 28th August at 8:30pm.