An Interview with Actress and Lesbian Community “It” Girl, Nicole Pacent
Nicole Pacent is the object of a lot of people’s affection, and with good reason. As Aster on the massive hit of a web series Anyone But Me (ABM), she’s become the poster child for young, impulsive, risky lesbian love. But there’s so much more to her than the title of actress. She’s charming, beautiful, sharp as a knife, and she took some time away from her new LA lifestyle to talk to us about ABM and their fund-raising efforts, the emotional end to Season 2, and what she looks for in a mate.
Cherry Grrl (CG): Can tell me about the discovery of performance and where that came from?
Nicole Pacent (NP): Well, okay… It’s kind of an origin story. There are actually videos of me performing as a child, starting at age, like 3. I was seriously that kid organizing productions of The Little Mermaid and Star Wars at the playground. I was exposed to musical theater at such an early age that it was really natural. I saw “Little Red Riding Hood” at the Westport Country Playhouse and I remember that feeling of, “Hey, I can do this. I can be little red riding hood.” I did my first play at 15 – “Rumors” by Neil Simon. It was a lot of fun. I saw this whole new angle where I could take my career.
It’s one of those things that was always there. I don’t remember a time where it wasn’t at the forefront. When I see a play or a movie, (usually a play because theatre is so close to my heart), I always have the desire in me to either: think about how I could improve it when I see a bad play, or aspire to be that damn good when I’m inspired.
CG: Did you watch The L Word? What kind of effect did that have on you? How did you feel about the end?
NP: I absolutely watched The L Word, and I’ve seen every episode. It had a huge impact on me, and it influenced this community in so many ways. That show was the only thing we had… It’s still one of the only things we have. It was monumental, and I really feel like the last few seasons didn’t do it justice. In my opinion, the writers and directors had such a massive monopoly on the community toward the end that the outcome wasn’t as important. I think they knew they could veer far away from the truth for those characters and it wouldn’t matter.
I felt some kind of anger with myself toward the end, because I didn’t like the direction they were headed in, and I continued to watch! I really felt that they were creatively irresponsible, and for that last season to be a part of the legacy? It’s defeating and disheartening.
CG: How often are you surprised by the response to Anyone But Me? Did you know it was something special when you auditioned?
NP: I had hoped, but I didn’t know. You never really know. As an actor, you want to be a part of something that is special, and you want the work you’re in to be seen. But it was a new endeavor in a lot of ways, especially because the show was using the web as a new medium. I didn’t know about how big it was, even looking at ABM’s international following. It’s been a wonderful surprise.
CG: The centralized themes of ABM are Aster and Vivian’s relationship and just navigating growing up. But what I’ve found is that what really makes people love the show is the authenticity of that relationship. What is that chemistry between you and Vivian (Rachel Hip-Flores) and where does it come from?
NP: Thanks for saying that… I think it’s a combination of things. Rachel and I, as people, have a lot in common, and we immediately had a rapport. I was immediately comfortable with her, and she’s super easy to work with. Working with her is wonderful and I’m so lucky to be cast opposite someone that I share so much with.
Now, the fact that she’s not a lesbian or bisexual is another element to it. She’s so comfortable with herself and believes in the community and the content, that it’s just indicative of her character as a person. That is also what makes it work. A genuine love, respect, and admiration for each other.
CG: So, how do you feel about the ending of Season 2? Do you think they captured the demise of Vivian and Aster’s relationship in an authentic way?
NP: I’m going to let you in on a little secret about the ending: it’s what I wanted to happen! Not only did I want it to happen, but before that episode was written, I wrote my own ending to the season. It was directly from my head, and I really had the characters behave like that. I actually put it in a letter and sent it to Tina and Susan, so when they wrote that… I was really satisfied.
I mean, they’re not married. Vivian and Aster are growing up, but they’re apart. It’s realistic that Aster would be that impulsive after what she saw, and Vivian and Sophie have something that is undeniably there. I believe the end of Vivian and Aster’s relationship is true for high-school relationships. Things change. People come up that you’re interested in that you didn’t see that way before. There are serious bumps in all relationships, but specifically teenage relationships, and I think ABM captures that.
CG: One of the things that appeals to me in a creative way about ABM isn’t simply how much story is told in a very limited period of time, but also how accessible the cast and Susan Miller and Tina Cesa Ward are. With over five million views and counting, do you think there will ever be a point where you’re ‘too cool for this?’
NP: With ABM, no. It’s incredible. I don’t think there would be an actor who would ever say too much exposure is a bad thing. As far as my relationship with Twitter and Facebook… I don’t feel like I’m as accessible as the rest of the cast are. I’ve just started getting better at it, and I hope the fact that I’m not out there necessarily approving every friend request doesn’t hurt anyone. I love the fans, my fans and the show’s fans, and I think that they’re incredible. I hope people won’t feel rejected by me. But I have the same concerns like any actor: that I don’t want people to make judgments about my personal life, and that there are some things that I want to be mine.
CG: Speaking of having your personal life judged, how do you feel about critics?
NP: I understand that to a certain degree, because I’m in this business, I’m putting myself out there and professional critics are a different conversation. If you’re talking about [trolls], it’s frustrating. It’s one thing to talk about me, but when people start attacking the ones you care about, it’s a different story.
I want to paint the picture of how sad it can be for some people: they’re engaged in your life, but they don’t know you. It can be really difficult not to get sucked in and reply to some mean thing you see online, but you have to stop yourself.
CG: Tell me about the Anyone But Me Web-A-Thon, which is ending October 1st. Do you think that giving that much power to the audience is a risky or scary move?
NP: It’s definitely risky in the sense that when people put their money and time into something, they are essentially purchasing stock in the show. I worry about the fans who don’t understand how costly show production can be and could be disappointed by the length of a season or even by certain plots. I certainly have considered that people will be more vocal in their disappointments and issues with the show, because of the investment made.
On the other hand, I love the idea that we are sharing the show with people in a completely different way then we have through airing it online. To give the fans an opportunity to be an integral part of the show is incredible and exciting. If people can stay positive about it, it’s a good thing.
CG: At every point in any form of art that has a cult-like following, there comes the blurred line between character and actor. How similar are you and the character of Aster?
NP: When I auditioned, I read for both Vivian and Aster. I immediately identified with Aster, though. She felt very real to me. She’s very opinionated. I definitely feel older than her, at this point. I feel like I have a broader perspective of people and of life. Personality wise, we do have a lot of similar views. But I like that her character is growing, and there’s more to her with every season. I think you can see Aster has a lot more going on now, than she ever did before.
CG: How much freedom is there for the cast to say, “Eh, I think Aster would storm out of the room instead of fighting it out?”
NP: We’re all really respectful of the creative process and Tina and Susan’s decisions. After table sessions, we usually have an opportunity to communicate any nuances about our characters, but part of working in this industry is knowing your place as an actor and respecting the creative part of it. Although, there was one read-through [Season 2, Episode 7] where the original line for Vivian was “…even the cutest little butch in the world,” and I thought we should redo that. So they changed it to “…even the cutest little dyke in the world.” Butch is an antiquated term for teenagers in 2010 and it didn’t even fit Amy Jackson Lewis’ character (Jamie).
CG: One of the auctioned items for the ABM Web-A-Thon was you singing. Should fans expect an album out of you at some point or an ABM musical episode?
NP: Man-o-man, I would love that! Shooting that would be an absolute nightmare for the show, logistically. But I grew up singing. I love it and I continue singing now. That’s a big thing for musical theatre kids. I’d have to devote more time to that if I did it, but later on it is something I would love to do and I have been certainly training. I love folk rock, and I’d love to record something with that sound… I don’t care how cliché it is.
CG: Let’s talk music. Who are you listening to and who can’t you get enough of?
NP: I’m listening a lot to that Usher/Ester Dean/Jay-Z song, “Hot Toddy.” I love hip-hop, especially when I work out. I really can’t get enough of Ester Dean. She’s a songwriter and record producer, but her sound is sexy. I am also listening to Sugarland.
CG: Tell us about the Bound magazine cover story. It’s tagline read “The next Angelina Jolie,” and you’ve mentioned getting that before. What are your feelings about the MANY comparisons?
NP: It’s an unbelievable compliment, and when people say it I immediately think, “That’s great! People think I’m beautiful!” I’m flattered by it. I never think that it might be a talent comparison or due to acting style. This isn’t an easy business, so any comparison to her or another successful actress means more to me than people know. The number one thing is that she is magnetic. You can say whatever you want but it’s not just because she’s stunningly beautiful or unique-looking. She really does command. She is something to watch. What I love about Angelina is that she has established herself as an action star and as a strong presence in the industry. It’s very inspiring and needed. I also respect her outreach and humanitarian efforts, no matter how many people make fun of her about it. If more people were doing what she is doing, the world would be a better place.
CG: Are there any actors or performers who kind of make you re-evaluate your craft [in a good way]? I know for me personally, it’s still Nathaniel West or Chuch Palahniuk, but when I read those guys, I’m like, “Fu*k, they’re so good!”
NP: I had a friend who had three months of writer’s block after listening to Stevie Wonder and Jeff Buckley’s albums. Oh, God, I’m influenced by so many artists. I feel like you borrow and steal everything from the actors you admire. One for me it is Michael C. Hall [Dexter]. I love him. He’s so calculated and he really is terrifying at moments when he is playing that character.
I’ve also said this before in interviews, but Rachel McAdams. I identify with so many of her roles, and I’d love to play some of the character she has. Look at Mean Girls. It’s her wild card! A lot of people forget she was even in it, but she played that evil bitch role so well.
CG: Are you a tried-and-true New Yorker? Or do you see yourself living other places in your lifetime?
NP: Ideally, I would love to do work in LA and NYC. Honestly all over the world. That’s one of the perks of this industry, and establishing yourself allows you to do that. In terms of home bases, I’m an East Coast girl. I grew up in the Tri-State area. It’s hard – I can’t stay away from New York!
CG: While people are reading this, I guarantee the most silence will be for the next question. Are you seeing anyone currently? And what is the “Nicole Pacent way to get an interested parties’ attention?” What are the qualities that you look for in a potential suitor?
NP: [laughs] I am always–and never–seeing someone. I think that’s the best possible way to put it. I date. I like dating. I like getting to know people. It’s been a good thing for me since my last serious relationship. I’m very interested in being in a relationship now, but it’s definitely something I’m trying not to look for. But it’s something that has eluded me. The thing with relationships though is like, the prospect of the end. You don’t want to keep getting over somebody.
As far as meeting people, I am such an aggressor, that it is just absurd. In that way, I relate to Aster a lot. I’m not intimidated by people, but having that quality and being an aggressor can be intimidating to people. Just engage me with witty banter, and we’ll be fine. I do know that I’m forward in that area, but I try not to scare people. In terms of qualities, they have to be of equal or superior intelligence. That is my deal breaker. Not because I think I’m so great or I look down on anyone, but because in order to have a companion, I need to be able to intellectually spar with them. I really do need to share my time with someone who is interested in the world and in what I think. A general wonderment and interest toward the world.
CG: You’ve done gymnastics, did competitive swimming, played soccer and field hockey in your life… How important is physical activity? Do you watch any sports?
NP: Good question! I’m an incredibly athletic, active person. I love biking, and running on the beach. That being said, I’m not huge into watching pro sports. But, my number 1 sport to watch is tennis. It’s funny because I don’t play tennis. It’s so competitive, beautiful and strategic, and very mano-y-mano. Of all the players, I love to watch Rafael Nadal. He’s a beautiful physical specimen. I have a huge crush on him.
CG: What are some of your hobbies, outside of performing and beating up nosy journalists?
NP: Ha! Just beating up people, in general. I do love to read. I’m a big dork, and I usually have three or four books that I’m currently reading at one time. I’ve bought several audiobooks since I’ve been living in LA. I no longer have the NYC subway to read on, which is one of my favorite things. I love literature. I love to write. I always have been interested in writing. I’m working on a couple projects, but I don’t know if it’s going to be for my personal collection or if I’m going to seek to publish it. Oh, and I tutor, and I think if I wasn’t acting I’d be teaching somewhere. I drink wine! That’s a staple in my life.
CG: You’re a known activist, and ABM has some incredibly grassroots elements to it. What are some of the causes you’re devoted to and how important is “giving back”?
NP: My fight to raise awareness for cancer is something I’m always going to do. The movement to establish “Relief Through Rock” as a nonprofit in LA is ongoing. “Relief Through Rock: Chicks for a Cure” was a concert I did in October with the proceeds going to American Association for Cancer Research. Ideally, in the next couple years, I’d like to make an annual concert out of it. My family has personally been so affected by the disease, and I’ve suffered so many losses due to cancer. It has ravaged my family, and there are too many stories of loss. We need to find a cure, and it needs to be now, or in my lifetime.
In terms of activism for the LGBT community, I’ve been a part of that for a long time. I speak about it as often as I can and I think it is to me as black and white as racial issues are. I remember hearing about racism growing up and thinking how absurd it is that skin pigmentation influenced rights. The denial of rights to the LGBT community is equally absurd and silly to me.
A lot of it comes from amazing parents who raised me to help others whenever you can, and I was a member of a liberal church. Having values are important to connect, and fill the needs of, other people. A huge part of why I act, aside from the love for performance, is to connect with people. I love that part of my job.
Reprinted with permission from CherryGrrl
Originally published September 20, 2010