Acting is cathartic for ‘Citrus Springs’ actress, Nicole Smolen

In the film, Citrus Springs,  psychiatrist in the quaint suburban town of Citrus Springs, Jean (Oscar nominee Christa Campbell), longs to move back to the big city with her teenage son in order to recapture the life she once had. But Jean’s plans are put on hold when a masked murderer begins rampaging through the town and killing innocent families with no obvious motive.

As the town falls deeper and deeper into hopeless paranoia, Jean reluctantly teams up with freshman detective Brandon Stiles (Justified’s Jesse Luken), a small town cop and ex-patient, whose only lead is McKinley (Nicole Smolen), a traumatized teenage girl suffering severe PTSD, who witnessed her family’s brutal murders.

I recently spoke with Nicole about everything from her guest-starring role on Criminal Minds and starring role in Citrus Springs to her current college experience and her acting idols.

I saw the you were born in Georgia.

Nicole Smolen: I was born in Lawrenceville.

So how small of a town is Lawrenceville?

It’s relatively small compared to Atlanta, but I moved to California when I was eight. I have some good memories of growing up there, but I’m 19 now so it’s been a while now.

You might not remember a whole lot, but was it a big culture shock?

It definitely was. Growing up in the South, everything is just so different – the food for instance. There are just certain cultural aspects relative to the South. California is more of a melting pot. You have people of all different cultures, different religions. It’s really exciting. I love living here. You have Disneyland. You have the beach. It’s like every kid’s dream. It was a good experience for me growing up out here.

What was your first acting job in L.A.?

It was for a commercial for Sundance. They were so wonderful. They asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. At the time, I was dabbling in acting, but I told him I wanted to be a geologist. I loved rocks and science and thought I wanted to be a geologist. They cast me for the part. That was how I got my SAG card. It was really fun.

What was it like being on Criminal Minds?

That was so incredible. The premise was that someone was killing families and was setting homes on fire. In our case, my mom and dad and brother and I piled into the car. [The killer] locked the car from the outside and we couldn’t get out. Then he lit the car on fire. It wasn’t a happy ending obviously, but it was such a cool experience. All of the stunt people were so great. I remember one of the guys rushing over after the take asking, ‘are you okay? Are you hurt?’ I was so excited. It was really fun.

What are you studying at Cal State Northridge?

Film. I’m going into my junior year. I started ahead of time because I took a lot of AP classes which counted towards college credits. Hard work pays off. I worked my butt off in high school and I got 33 credits to bring to college. It was nice because I saved time and money.

Is there a specific area of film you’re specializing in at school?

Ideally, I want to direct and write. The specific areas [at CSUN] are cinematography, editing and sound. With me, I’m more interested in cinematography and directing so I’m looking forward to that.

How did you get the part in Citrus Springs?

It was actually a pretty quick process. I got the audition and walked in the room. I think I was the first person they saw. It was a really emotional scene that they had me do. I had to break down and cry. I didn’t hear for a couple of weeks or maybe a month later. It happened so fast. Before I knew it, I was filming. Bryan [Baca, the director] and Sean [Beyer, the producer] are such great people to work with. From the beginning, I had a great time.

Was it hard for you to break down in the audition scene?

I had experience. Prior to that, I had done a non-profit human trafficking film called 8 Days. I played a girl who gets trafficked and I had to cry a bunch in that. I guess I’m good at those dark roles, though I’d like to do comedy as well. Before Citrus Springs, I had already done that role so that prepped me. I learned so much from that experience [with 8 Days] going into this role as McKinley. Weirdly enough, I had fun. It was cathartic in a weird way. My character has a lot of scenes where she’s talking to a therapist. I was able to let out a lot of anger or sadness. I feel acting is that way though.

Since crying is cathartic for you, what movies make you cry?

Oh my gosh, there are so many. I did love Titanic when I was younger. More recently, I saw Edward Scissorhands again. I didn’t expect to cry, but it’s just a beautiful movie. I love epic, historical dramas like Braveheart. Romantic tragedies also get me.

You mentioned you want to work in comedy. What are some of your favorite comedies?

I love John Hughes – anything from the 80s. Recently I watched Adventures in Babysitting. My favorite John Hughes movies are Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Home Alone. Christmas Vacation is a classic that my family always watches every year. Recently, Bridesmaids was funny. I love Kristen Wiig, along with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. I love watching SNL as well.

You just mentioned Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. If you could pick, who are some other actors you’d want to work with?

There are so many. I’ll try to narrow it down. Daniel Day-Lewis. James McEvoy. Michael Fassbender. I love Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett. Emma Watson. There are so many. Marion Cotillard. I love watching movies obviously since I’m an actress. I could watch movies and TV shows all day. I love Emilia Clarke on Game of Thrones. That’s one of my favorite shows. Caitriona Balfe from Outlander is one of my favorite actresses. She started out as a model and started acting later in life. I always admire people and their stories. Everyone has a different path.

Citrus Springs is currently available on Amazon VOD.

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