Cody Christian on Notorious Nick, the All American finale, and superheroes

by Bryan Cairns
Cody Christian in Notorious Nick

Notorious Nick is an inspiring true story about overcoming all odds to achieve your dream.

Teen Wolf and All American’s Cody Christian plays Nick Newell, an individual born with a congenital arm amputation. The movie chronicles his journey from high school wrestler to professional MMA fighter, and all the pain, obstacles and heartache along the way.

During a Zoom call, Christian spoke to The GATE about capturing Newell’s indomitable spirit, the physical grind of filming, that emotional breakdown, the All American finale, and superheroes.

Notorious Nick is in theatres and streaming now.

How familiar were you of Nick Newell’s story before you booked this role?

Christian: “I had never heard of it. Quite honestly, never heard of it. When I got the audition and read the logline and it said it was based on a true story, I was like, ‘C’mon. What?’ You know like everyone else, there’s disbelief until you see it. You Google it and look this man up and see this story, and you see the journey he has taken and what he’s achieved in life, and you go ‘C’mon. What?’ It’s insane. It’s almost something that you can’t believe until you see it.”

“I did my research. Immediately captivated. Immediately inspired. I worked my ass off just on the prep of the audition because I wanted to go in there and show these producers, ‘Hey. I can do this. I can tell this story the way it needs to be told.’ I did my homework. I did a lot of it. Went in there and I was able to book it. I was able to be a part of telling the story, which has been an incredible journey.”

What kind of conversations did you have with the real Nick, if at all, and how did that inform your performance?

Christian: “Here’s the thing. In the pre-production part and right when we started filming, Nick was an active fighter. He was working and training. I didn’t have a lot, if any communication, with Nick at that time. I heavily relied on the producers that had spent more than two years with him, immersed in his life and his family. That, coupled with my own research and what I wanted to do, what I wanted to bring to the table… But I was constantly checking in with the resources that I had. ‘Hey, is this right? Does this feel good? Is this accurate?’”

“The biggest objective, for me, was capturing the identity of the story and bringing as much truth and authenticity to this man’s journey, something that he wanted to watch, he wanted to see, he wanted to feel a sense of pride of, that he wanted to show his family and his friends. ‘Check this out. This is my life.’ So, there was a huge sense of responsibility. I did as much work as I possibly could and I’m hoping to hear from Nick and hear good things from him. I hope that he can enjoy it and likes it. That’s huge to me. That’s everything to me.”

You played football in high school. Were you equally skilled at MMA fighting, or what kind of special preparation did you require?

Christian: “A lot of training. I’m not gonna lie. And a lot of training jampacked into a short amount of time. I didn’t have the opportunity to do an hour or two a day. It was six, seven hours working on things physically. Then, outside of being in the gym training, mentally… getting informed about fighters, watching every bit of film I could find on Nick, thinking about the fights…

“The part of prep before, I had to learn fight choreography for damn near 10 fights. Thankfully, I had an incredible team around me. The stunt guys were awesome. I was able to train with real authentic fighters. I came into this with a little knowledge and a little experience. As soon as we started, I dialed in and ramped it up. I had to learn how to fight sourthpaw because I don’t fight southpaw. I had to learn a completely different stance. I had to learn how to incorporate the lack of arm into fighting because he utilizes it. It’s a part of him. In his mind, it’s not a disability. It’s something he was born with. This is what he has to work with.”

“It was getting into that mindset and incorporating it into the fighting, doing it in a way that we were able to achieve the special effects. That was very difficult. It forced me to be in a position and be aware and conscious at all times of fighting truthfully, but keeping it in a way that it was going to be able to be removed and cut out in post-production.”

“The wrestling aspect of it, I didn’t really have much experience there, so I had to get slammed around a bunch. Eventually it got knocked in. A lot of Muay Thai training, being able to throw kicks. It’s a very physical movie. A lot of hits were given and taken. A lot of accidents. A lot of slams.”

You are in excellent shape. But it sounds like you went home sore and bruised on a daily basis.

Christian: “There’s a picture somewhere. I have to find it. We had a stills photographer on set, getting a lot of behind-the-scenes content. The first two weeks of filming, location-wise, we had the Octagon. The first two weeks was everything in the ring, all the fighting. I kid you not. I was in the Octagon, doing some fighting, for a minimum of 10 hours every day, for two weeks. By the end of it, and this is the picture I want to find, my entire body, from head to toe was bruises and scrapes. My left ass cheek was purple. Mat burn is a very real thing. My knees, my toes…everything was ripped up.”

“Every take, after I got the mat burn, I had to have my stunt double come in and he would put liquid bandage on all the cuts and scrapes and let it dry. Then, we would go and do another take. It would split back open. It was a rinse and repeat kind of situation. It just gave me a slice of life with what these fighters do and experience in the real world. It’s a hell of a sport. Anybody who is willing to dedicate themselves to pursue it is, honestly, an inspiration after going through what I went through on my end. My admiration and respect for these guys went through the roof.”

Nick finds out his best friend, Abi, died. There’s a scene where Nick breaks down in the gym. What was it like tapping into that raw emotion?

Christian: “Liberating. It’s that kind of performance that actors dream of, being able to live that part of life that is really unpleasant to live and experience. To be able to capture that emotional toll, and to provide it in a way that the audience can empathetically connect and relate to it, and have this sense of it being therapeutic and cathartic of experiencing something without having to truly firsthand experience it…”

“Even the way it was scripted was completely different from how it played out. I knew I wanted that scene to have a huge impact. It’s such a driving force and catalyst for the film. I think it was originally scripted with Nick standing in front of a bag and he hits it and hits it and hits it. Then, he falls to the ground. I didn’t love that. I went to the director and said, “Hey, can I build this the way I see it in my head. I’m thinking more of this choreograph dance, utilizing this space, really being alone and allowing this person to tap into this animalistic instinct, this pain. He’s by himself. This is his version of a release. With my stunt double, I designed this little dance with the bag.”

Nick was so driven and determined. What is your mantra when it comes to acting, health and fitness?

Christian: “It all falls beneath an umbrella for me. The reason I was so captivated by Nick’s story is I felt a connection to it. I felt this man making a decision, deciding this is what I want to do, having everyone in his life deem it impossible and go through setback after setback after heartbreak, to pursue something he truly believed in. This is very similar to my journey of film and TV. Everybody from where I am from in Indiana was like, ‘You are out of your mind. You are actually crazy.’ Moving out to Los Angeles and not knowing anything. Having bad representation, being taken advantage of, being scammed and learning the industry from scratch… Now I am 16 years into it and I’m still at the very beginning of the journey. This is something I’ve fallen in love with. I want to do it until I can’t physically do it anymore.”

We have to talk about this year’s All American finale. The big bombshell was that Asher has a medical condition and could no longer play football. When you read that, what was your reaction and what it could mean for Asher moving forward?

Christian: “That was a moment I knew was powerful. The first place my head went to was thinking of all the stories of all these high school athletes, of these kids that work tirelessly and dedicate their lives to a future playing football professionally and having everything taken away from them. One of my best friends, my trainer, his name is James, he was a prospect D1 athlete in high school in Texas. He had scholarships lined up. This is what he was going to do for the rest of his life. And on his very last game, senior year, he was defending a wide receiver. He jumped up for a high ball, but the way he landed blew his knee out. Everything he worked for was instantly gone. It’s not like he did anything crazy. The reality of that, of having everything that you want and love taken away from you, without your consent, without your choice and to lose everything… that’s Asher’s condition.”

“So, the pain and the loss… My friend told me he spent the next two or three months in his room. He didn’t want to go out. He didn’t want to get out of bed. He didn’t want to be around anybody. For damn near two years, he felt sick to his stomach anytime he saw football. It’s going to be very interesting to explore the reality of that news that Asher is faced with in the finale. What does that look like? How does that manifest? Is there a future that still involves football and in what capacity could he pursue that? I know these are all questions that we are going to explore in season four.”

Your Teen Wolf alum, Tyler Hoechlin, currently saves the world as Superman. Many actors would kill for a superhero role. Is that the same with you?

Christian: “I auditioned, when I was really young, for an X-Men role. I was too young for it. They ended up hiring somebody who looked like the character is supposed to look like. Yeah, I’ve had an opportunity. I had a discussion about a DC one, but it didn’t really go anywhere. I just recently went through and watched all of the Marvel movies, back to back, in sequence. Having sat through all of them, I was like, ‘Damn. At one point, I don’t know how, I don’t know who… So many characters have already been beautifully represented. I need to dabble in this, on that level. I need to experience that.’”

“Hopefully the opportunity is out there in the future. And when that opportunity comes, I’ll be ready for it and it’s going to be a hell of an experience.”

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