Hollywood World: First of all, congratulations on receiving the Grand Jury Prize “Best Actress” Nomination in New York and winning the IFFNY Festival Excellence Award in “Breakthrough Performance” for your role in “One Bedroom”. How did you feel at the time when you found out?
Devin Nelson: Thank you! I was completely stunned. I had no idea about the nominations until the award ceremony began. The “Breakthrough Performance” award was the first award of the night, so to start the ceremony with a win came as an amazing shock. This is my first acting award so I feel incredibly humbled and thankful.
Hollywood World: How did you come into your acting career?
Devin Nelson: I started dancing when I was three years old, and always knew I wanted to be a performer. When I was eight, my mother saw an open casting call in the newspaper for a production of the musical “Showboat” at our neighborhood theatre, Gateway Playhouse. I sang “Happy Birthday” at my audition and was cast! I “got the bug” and went on to do theatre throughout my childhood and studied it in college. It wasn’t until after my college graduation that I studied acting for film and television and started to pursue it.
Hollywood World: Which film was the turning point in your life and career?
Devin Nelson: One Bedroom is actually the first feature film I’ve ever done, and is definitely a turning point for me. We shot the film in 13 days and it was truly a crash course in how to be a working film actor. I learned so much; not only about acting on camera, but all of the aspects that go into filmmaking. I’ve met incredible people who have become my friends and also gained really valuable connections, including representation.
Hollywood World: Who has supported you to come into this field?
Devin Nelson: My mom and my grandma are undoubtedly my biggest supporters. They’ve collectively seen 98% of the productions I’ve done since childhood, and paid for my dancing and acting lessons. I remember being really little, about four, and my mom allowing me to make movies late at night when I should’ve been sleeping. My father was also instrumental in nurturing my artistic growth, by taking me to my first Broadway show and paying for my college studies.
Hollywood World: What is the film about?
Devin Nelson: One Bedroom is a romantic comedy about a breakup. I play Melissa, who is moving out of the apartment she shares with her ex-boyfriend, Nate. The bulk of the action occurs on “moving day,” and as Melissa is packing Nate tries to figure out where things went wrong between them. The heart of the movie is a series of flashbacks 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.
Hollywood World: Who else is involved in this production, director, producer, actors?
Devin Nelson: One Bedroom is written and directed by Darien Sills-Evans, who also stars as Nate. Darien is also a producer, along with Devin Williams and Anna Stein. Doug Watson is Co-Producer and Jon Laster is our Associate Producer. The film’s additional stars are Jon Laster, Stephen Hill, and Amber Reauchean Williams.
Hollywood World: What makes a good scene partner? With which actor did you like working with?
Devin Nelson: A good scene partner is someone who is a good listener; acting is mostly reacting to the other person in a scene and it’s always really fun when you’re working with someone who pays attention to the changes in delivery that happen with every take. This is why I loved working with Darien…it was interesting and really fun to act with someone who was also the director. If he wanted something different from me performance-wise, he wouldn’t tell me; instead, he would switch up his 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 would unfold.
Hollywood World: What are your favorite projects you have been part of?
Devin Nelson: One Bedroom is definitely my favorite thus far; other projects I’ve done that are close to my heart include the play The Rare Upper Hand, which I co-wrote with my friend Luke Bond, and the short film “Are We Really Friends?” which is a commentary on intersectional feminism written and directed by Natasha C. Smith.
Hollywood World: Can you please tell us about your upcoming film/festivals/projects?
Devin Nelson: One Bedroom is still very much in the thick of its festival run; our upcoming festivals include the CineOdyssey Film Festival in North Carolina next month and the Hip Hop Film Festival in NYC in August. I’m also currently shooting two short films entitled Shots by Alberto Gonzalez and Hurry Up and Wait by Jennifer Seide.
Hollywood World: What have you learned from the directors that you have worked with throughout your career?
Devin Nelson: One of my favorite acting teachers, Ray Virta, always said “we have very little time and must work slowly,” meaning despite any pressure there may be to memorize lines, you can’t neglect the process of analyzing your character. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with directors who are really specific in their work and encourage me to talk about my interpretation of the character and their backstory. I think the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from working with Darien is to personalize my work. Acting alongside the director and screenwriter can be intimidating, because you want to do their words and vision justice. Darien giving me to liberty to “do a take for myself” and just have fun was such an amazing gift.
Hollywood World: What has been your biggest achievement in the field of acting?
Devin Nelson: Filming One Bedroom is definitely a hallmark achievement for me as an actor; shooting my first feature film and adapting to the differences between film and theatre very quickly. This was the first time I had to memorize and shoot scenes out of sequence, and act while maintaining consistent marks for continuity. I remember getting the shot list a few days before we started shooting and being really intimidated by the amount of scenes we were scheduled to shoot per day. I was unsure about being adequately prepared and being able to deliver high quality performances. It was really exhilarating to accept this challenge and put my all into it.
Hollywood World: What do you think is most important in the field?
Devin Nelson: I think representation is extremely important. What I love about IFFNY is how it allows filmmakers from around the world to come together and celebrate each other. Resources should be available to people from all walks of life to share their stories, because ultimately it is that exchange of experiences that bonds us all. By giving people of color, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and disabled individuals a platform, you are uplifting and empowering those parts of society while revealing their humanity to others. We can find unity in our differences because all humans essentially want the same things.
Hollywood World: What was your most memorable role? Why?
Devin Nelson: Melissa from One Bedroom will always have a special place in my heart, but in all honesty I played my most memorable role in 8th grade. We did The King & I and I played Anna. It was super challenging for 12 year old me because I had to learn a British accent, sing a whole bunch of songs, and do the waltz in a hoop skirt. Some of my family members still swear that it was my best work, haha. There’s also so much magic about being a kid in theatre. You feel like you have superpowers and truly believe you will be the next greatest actor of all time. But it’s not coming from a place of cockiness; it’s pure confidence and hope, and zero self doubt…you haven’t been jaded by the hardships of the industry yet. So I suppose it’s quite nostalgic for me. Simpler times!
Hollywood World: Any tips on how to be a successful actor?
Devin Nelson: There’s a Michael B. Jordan interview where he says something that really resonates with me and I think is a valuable tip: think of auditions as takes. Walk into the room like you already have the role, with an opinion on your character and sides, and show them your interpretation of the text. Don’t try to please anyone or try to fit into any preconceived notions of what you think people want to see. Question everything and empathize with your character rather than judge their faults. It would’ve been so easy for me to judge Melissa negatively for staying with Nate for so long, but once you tap into the reasons why your character makes the choices that they do, that’s when things get interesting and the work is truthful.
Hollywood World: What do you want to be remembered for in life? What valuable lessons have you learned that helped you become the person you are today?
Devin Nelson: Wow, these are deep questions! I want to be remembered most for my work with children. I’m part of a non-profit educational theatre company called Mass Transit Street Theater, and we work with kids and young adults in the inner city doing arts empowerment and conflict resolution workshops. I’m where I am today because others paid it forward and allowed me to learn from them, so I want to do the same for youth who have fewer opportunities than myself.
Hollywood World: What’s next?
Devin Nelson: This question makes me so anxious! In addition to the short films I’m working on, I’m gearing up to record the second season of The Phenomenon, a science fiction audio drama that I star in, produced by Luciola Creative. I’m also preparing to become bicoastal, so that I can split my time between NY and LA and seize more opportunities.
*Cover Photo by Photographer Chris Macke