Interview: DANIELLE NICOLET from The Starter Wife

A few weeks ago, during our set visit of USA’s original series, THE STARTER WIFE, which airs on Fridays at 10pm, we got to speak with the cast about what is coming up this season.

In addition to speaking with Debra Messing and Hart Bochner and Chris Diamontopoulos, we got to speak with DANIELLE NICOLET who plays Liz, a new character and member of Molly’s circle. Here is what she had to say.

Can you tell us about your character and how you approach your character? Did you know any famous ‘wives of’ that you got into their headspace and talked to them about what the heartache and the challenge is being married to such a famous guy?

Danielle Nicolet: Well, it’s funny. To a certain extent it wasn’t that difficult to draw on my own life experience. Not that I’m married to a famous guy, but just being from a small town and the experience that one has getting thrown into this world of being an actor. And I have a lot of friends who have famous parents and who grew up in this business, and here I am from small-town-nobody’s-ever-heard-of-it, USA. It’s called Ashtabula, Ohio. Its claim to fame is that Bob Dylan mentioned it in a song somewhere in 1963 before anybody even really cared about Bob Dylan yet.
And it’s kind of challenging sometimes because the essence of who you are maintains your core values of where you’re from, and you get in this crazy environment where, especially for me, every woman is 100 feet tall and the ideal of beauty is to be 5’10”, blond hair, green-eyed and weigh 100 pounds. And to not fall into the trap of all of that and find a way to like yourself and still be a creative being in this, is kind of hard. I think it’s not that far off from what Liz goes through. Particularly early on in the series, Liz doesn’t have a clue anymore how to like herself because so much of her sense of self has been as it’s reflected in her husband’s eyes. And so she gets progressively more insecure, and the less time he has to reassure her, the less comfortable she feels. And fortunately she meets Molly and has a new friend and some place to go with all of that.

At the end of the second episode it seems that she’s a little pissed at Molly. Does that eventually resolves itself?

DN: Yeah. I mean, A, how can you not love Molly because it’s so obvious that she would never do anything to deliberately hurt anybody. But yeah, fortunately it’s this really great friendship. It starts off a little rocky, but I think the challenge that they go through in the beginning just serves to create a nice strength in the friendship and certainly a level of trust that they eventually have, which is something that I think if they didn’t have this conflict in the beginning it would have taken a much longer time to establish.

How does she fall into the mix of friends with Rodney and Joan?

DN: Slow—I don’t know about slowly, but in a lot of ways Liz is so, like, new kid on the block, new kid at school. So to a certain extent Rodney and Joan kind of haze her, which, it’s who they are. You can’t not. And thank goodness Liz has Molly to protect her. But Liz is full of drama, and Joan loves drama, so they kind of connect on that level. And Rodney sort of loves having a new toy to play with, so that’s kind of what Liz is for him.

How is it working with each of them, with Debra [Messing] and then with Judy [Davis] and Chris [Diamontopoulos]?

DN: Oh, god. I sort of knew I was going to get asked that question, and I thought really hard about how to come up with new and creative ways to not sound like somebody told me to say that they’re awesome to work with. So with my limited vocabulary, it’s been—

Well, what do each of them bring to the table when you’re working with them that might be different from the other one?

DN: Debra brings her unbelievable laugh, which is crazy and infectious and makes you feel instantly comfortable with the fact that you’re with this comic genius in the room. And she’s so charming and puts you so at ease that it makes it much easier to be creative around her. Not to mention the fact that she’s a lovely friend and a really great person.
Judy has this really sort of regal quality to her that is instantly intimidating but at the same time instantly inspiring. She reminds me to do the work and try to live up to this material because without question Judy Davis will. And after spending a little time with her and getting to know her, you come to realize that she’s actually as intimidating and fabulous and regal and Judy Davis as she is, she’s actually just like this really mellow person who’s incredibly shy and loves her kids and her husband and her horses and her garden, and you could talk to her about politics for hours.
And Chris Diamontopoulos, the first thing I think when I think of him is, “That is a guy who’s so crazy in love with his wife,” that you can’t help but fall crazy in love with him and hope that you’ll marry somebody who thinks of you that way, too. He’s so precious and so real and just everything that he is, is in front of him. You know it the minute you meet him. So I’m incredibly lucky, and I have nobody to complain about, which is amazing.

How did you come about getting this part and such an amazing thing of all these Emmy nominations and stuff to drop into a show that was so successful?

DN: I haven’t got a clue. I have some crazy angel on my shoulder or something who just sort of drops me into amazing situations, because in my wildest dreams I could not have fantasized myself into a better show or a better position or working with better people.
The show that I was on last year got unexpectedly cancelled because of the strike, and I had no idea what I was going to do and I had no idea where I was going to end up, and I got a call one day to come in and audition for this show “The Starter Wife.” It was actually the material from Episode 2, the scene that takes place in the bathroom. That was the beginning of what I read. It was the first few pages of what I read, and I went, “Oh my gosh, I think this is where I’m supposed to be.” And I talked to my husband about it and I said, “I think this is my job.” And he went, “Oh, you’re crazy. Just learn the lines as you go in.”
The next thing I knew I was sitting there with Debra and we were instant friends, and before I knew it I had this great show. And I’m still sort of spinning around going, “What the heck happened?” I don’t even know how I got here in front of you guys. And this point I don’t want to wake up, so if it’s a dream just leave me be. Don’t touch.

What was the previous show you had done?

DN: I was on a hospital drama called “Heartland” on TNT with Treat Williams.

Yes, it was short lived.

DN: Yes, it was. Sadly so. It was a good show and a good group of people. It was just it was a tough time slot to live up to “The Closer,” and then when the strike came, between the strike and frankly Holly Hunter kicking our asses, that wasn’t going to happen.

Had you watched the mini-series, “The Starter Wife,” and had you watched “Will & Grace” previously?

DN: I did not live under a rock, so yes in fact I watched many episodes of “Will & Grace” prior to this. I didn’t see the mini-series. I had heard about it, and I decided not to watch it while I was in the process of getting this job because I didn’t want to be influenced by it in any way, with what I was doing. So I got the job and I was actually on a plane. I was flying out to visit my husband. He was working out of town. And I watched the mini-series on my computer on the plane. And God’s honest truth is, one day some woman will call the tabloid and say that I’m crazy because I started crying hysterically in my seat because I had no idea that I was on such a good show. Honestly, I just cried, and fear and being totally overwhelmed at where I just ended up washed over me while I sat in that seat. So watching the mini-series after getting the job was almost a better day for me than the day I got the job because I didn’t really know what I’d got myself into when I showed up at USA Network that day.

Are you in any of the fantasy sequences, or do you have plans for any of those in the upcoming ones?

DN: I am. I’m in a few, and they’re my favorite scenes to shoot. Every script, the first thing I do is look to see if I get to be in a fantasy sequence because it’s my favorite thing. The Indiana Jones fantasy sequence I think is my favorite one, early on. And then we have another really great one that I don’t know if you guys know about, so maybe I shouldn’t say. Can I? There’s one. It’s a take on Hello Dolly but it’s Hello Molly. And all I can say is Hart Bochner in a song-and-dance number is—it’s totally worth the price of admission! That’s all I can say.

So you’re a small-town Ohio girl. You’re out here in Los Angeles, you get this big, hot show on a great network. What are some of the annoying, Hollywood-wife, LA woman peccadilloes that you noticed here that you will never succumb to?

DN: I like to eat. I do. A lot. Daily. Several times. I love eating. Like, I like to wake up in the morning and do it. And I love to not—I don’t want my life to be centered around how I look. And that’s a really difficult choice to make as an actor because people love—people love when you look bad. But I just feel like that Hollywood wife stuff of—a fraudulent amount of thought goes into lunching and shopping and how you look and what you drive. And I don’t know, more important to me than that is, if I can spend more time thinking about how I’m affecting other people and how I’m contributing to the world that I live in, if I can do 51 of that and 49 of, “I hope my hair looks good,” then maybe I’ve succeeded without this town completely corrupting me. And I really like pasta. And bread.

That’s against the law here in this county.

DN: I’m half Italian. I grew up on pasta and bread, and I don’t understand not being allowed to eat it. It hurts.

Can you talk a little bit about how your character evolves throughout the season? Where she starts and where she kind of ends up?

DN: Liz, in a few ways she evolves. And one way certainly is her relationship with Devon. It goes to a very deep valley and then it sort of peaks again and comes down again. Her level of insecurity gets higher and higher and higher throughout the season, until finally there’s an eruption and the beginning of a healing, which for me as an actor was a really great process to get to go to.
And as far as her friendship with Molly and being part of the coven, Liz does start to feel more comfortable, which is really nice because as it is I’m sort of the new kid in school on the show, meaning in life as well. Debra and Judy and Chris have all worked together before, and they spent three months in the trenches in Australia. So in a lot of ways my experience personally has kind of paralleled Liz’s, so as I’ve gotten more comfortable with my new friends so has Liz, which has been really nice for me.