The talented actress Devin Nelson received the Best Actress Nomination for her lead role in “One Bedroom” and won Breakthrough Performance Award. Devin told us about her passion in acting and directing plays, and her latest projects.
London Prestige: Tell us a little about yourself, growing up and your passions.
Devin Nelson: I grew up on Long Island and knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a performer. I would torture my playmates by creating “plays” and trying to direct them in various scenarios. My mom put me in dance classes at the age of three, which then led me to start doing musical theatre at the age of eight and taking acting classes for the first time. I was always happiest when dancing, singing, and acting.
London Prestige: What are you currently working on?
Devin Nelson: I’m currently shooting two short films entitled Shots and Hurry Up and Wait. Shots is written by Alberto Gonzalez and directed by Joe Pascone and is a piece that illustrates how the opportunities we choose to take and the ones we choose to pass up on shape our lives. Hurry Up and Wait is a comedy written by Jennifer Seide and directed by John Tanner that depicts the struggle millennial artists face living in NYC…something I can very much relate to haha.
London Prestige: What made you take this role?
Devin Nelson: Obtaining the role of Melissa in One Bedroom involved a pretty straightforward audition process. I was drawn to the character and decided to submit for an appointment because she was described as intelligent and witty, which I think are important traits for a female lead to have in a romantic comedy. Too often we’re depicted as dumb, ditzy, or shrewish for the sake of a cheap laugh, so I just got a feeling from reading the character breakdowns for this project that this would be different, smart, and refreshing.
London Prestige: What journey does your character go on in the course of the monologues?
Devin Nelson: Melissa is definitely on a journey to regain her footing following her breakup with Nate. We see her go from disbelief that she would allow herself to be heartbroken over someone as immature as Nate, to anger towards him for not being the man she needed him to be, to being uncertain about whether or not she’s making the right decision in leaving him, to finding her own empowerment and preparing to make a new start. I think it’s a journey that resonates with all women. I hope there aren’t any spoilers in that explanation!
London Prestige: Tell us a little bit more about this film, what is it about, who else are you working with, and who is the director?
Devin Nelson: One Bedroom is directed by Darien Sills-Evans and is a romantic comedy about a breakup. The film takes place on moving day, as Melissa is moving out of the apartment she shares with her ex-boyfriend, Nate. While she’s packing Nate tries to figure out where things went wrong between them, and a series of flashbacks are revealed that allow the audience to see both Melissa and Nate’s sides of the story, as well as the good (and bad) times they shared. I star alongside Darien Sills-Evans, Jon Laster, Stephen Hill, and Amber Reauchean Williams.
London Prestige: What is the most challenging role you have played and why?
Devin Nelson: I think the most challenging role I’ve ever played was Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We did it my senior year of college, and the director and I had created a really fiesty, spunky character. Shortly before opening, one of the producers saw a run of the show and didn’t agree with our vision, causing me to completely change the work I had done over months of rehearsal in a matter of days. It was a real lesson in being flexible, and not being too attached to one interpretation of the character.
London Prestige: And the most fun one?
Devin Nelson: I shot a pilot for a series written by Anie Delgado called Dry Time a couple years back, and my character Kameron was the quintessential musical theatre actress; confident, outspoken, snarky, and super dramatic. It was really fun for me because I grew up doing musical theatre, but have departed from it in adulthood. Playing Kameron was like awakening an “alter-ego,” or exploring what kind of person I would be if I had chosen to continue doing musicals.
London Prestige: Describe your biggest accomplishment to date?
Devin Nelson: I suppose that would be winning the award for Breakthrough Performance at the International Filmmaker Festival of NY recently. It’s my first acting award!
London Prestige: What training / education do you have? How has your training prepared you for you acting career?
Devin Nelson: I have a BFA in Acting from Marymount Manhattan College and also studied acting for the camera at the Kimball Studio in NYC. My college training was theatre based, which I think is an advantage in the film/tv world. I think there’s a level of preparation in terms of character study and line memorization that gives us an edge; you don’t have the luxury of multiple takes when you’re acting live on stage, and my training has really allowed me to embody a screenplay and “take it off the page” quickly. I’m also really grateful for the knowledge I obtained in my on-camera classes, as it really helped me scale down my choices and find more nuances in my work. Learning how to create an environment on camera is an invaluable tool when auditioning for film.
London Prestige: Is there any academy or professional in the field that you enjoyed working with that you would like to recommend in your city?
Devin Nelson: Ray Virta is one of my favorite acting teachers that I have worked with; he knows how to challenge you to go a step further in your work while also being nurturing and empowering. Also, John Basil has been a huge gift in terms of my training and I probably would have never even touched Shakespeare without him. I recommend them both immensely.
London Prestige: Who is your favorite director to work with and why?
Devin Nelson: I really loved working with Darien on One Bedroom. I think it’s always a blessing to have an actor for a director and it was even more of a gift to do scenes with someone who is both the lead actor and director. If he wanted something different from me performance-wise, instead of telling me his desired end result he would switch up his own delivery of the scene, which would cause me to react differently. It kept me on my toes and it was also cool to be surprised by how the scene unfolded. He’s also a big fan of improv and would often encourage me to do the last take “for myself” and explore different choices. It was really empowering to know that he trusted me enough to go off-script and be spontaneous, and challenged me to approach Melissa in different ways.
London Prestige: Have you ever considered branching out into directing or screenwriting?
Devin Nelson: I directed a one act play called Candyland by Ben Snyder last year, but have yet to direct for film…but it’s something I would love to do in the future. There are definitely stories that I’d like to tell and images I would like to capture. I’ve written material for the stage; including a play called The Rare Upper Hand that I co-wrote with my friend Luke Bond and two unfinished plays, but haven’t given screenwriting a proper try. I wrote a pilot for a webseries a while back but have learned so much more about structure since then, so I should revisit it. Long story short, I will branch out once I stop procrastinating!
London Prestige: Where have you played a lead role? What was the character about?
Devin Nelson: Most recently I played a character named Chantal in the play Gonzo, written by Laura Winters. Chantal is an aging adult film star who is struggling to maintain relevancy amid the ageism, sexism, and racism present in her industry. She’s an extremely smart and driven woman who finds empowerment in her work. It was a great role to play because it defied any stereotypes commonly associated with adult film and tapped into the universal fear most women (particularly those in the entertainment field) have of “aging out” of their career.
London Prestige: Do you have any theatrical experience? What plays have you performed?
Devin Nelson: The bulk of my acting experience is theatrical. I’ve done everything from musicals (Showboat, Thoroughly Modern Millie, A Christmas Carol), to straight plays (The Good Soul of Szechuan, Garden of Delights), to Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
London Prestige: If you weren’t acting what would you be doing?
Devin Nelson: If I wasn’t an actor I’d most likely be a teacher full-time. I supplement my acting work by instructing children in the arts, science, and literature and find it to be the only thing that fulfills me nearly as much as acting.
London Prestige: What have you seen lately that’s inspired you?
Devin Nelson: I recently saw Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Our Lady of 121st St at Signature Theatre, directed by Phylicia Rashad. Phylicia Rashad is an actor I look up to tremendously; I would love to play her daughter in a film one day. The way that she executed her vision of the play was so fluid and organic, and really illustrated to me how one’s career can evolve and grow in different aspects over time. I also found the cast to be really motivating in their authenticity. Watching them work and navigate the humor and heartbreak of the play at a breathless pace was so humbling and gave me something to strive towards as I continue to study, learn and progress in this field.
London Prestige: What television shows or show would you love most to be on?
Devin Nelson: Right now my dream list consists of Black-ish, Atlanta, Insecure, and Dear White People. It’s such an exciting time for young black women in television and is such a long time coming. Five years ago I wouldn’t have been able to answer this question!
London Prestige: What’s your goal for this year?
Devin Nelson: My major goal this year is to become bicoastal, so that I can split my time between LA and NY and open myself up to more opportunities.
London Prestige: What is your advice for aspiring actors?
Devin Nelson: Never stop learning! Take class, read, and watch the work of actors you admire. I think being a constant student humbles you and puts you in a place to receive advice and strengthen your technique. Also, embrace your uniqueness. It’s really easy to compare yourself to others or try to fit into a mold…especially when you’re constantly being defined by a “type.” Defy preconceived notions and know that your distinct outlook on life, personal experiences, and appearance will bring flavor to your work that no one else can emulate and will bring excitement to the casting room.
*Cover Photo by Photographer: Chris Macke