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Nico Parker Is Ready to Break Big

Getty Images; Searchlight Pictures

Nico Parker experienced a dream career moment last month at the famed Sundance Film Festival. She was awarded the US dramatic special jury award for breakthrough performance for her role as Laura Linney’s daughter in the new film Suncoast. To be in a movie at Sundance is a major achievement; to then win a jury award is the cherry on top. But for Parker, it was also an important life lesson.

The 19-year-old wasn’t able to accept the award in person (although she did record a video message) or celebrate with her costars and director. Not that she’s expecting anyone to feel sorry for her. She was in Belfast, Northern Ireland, filming the live-action movie How to Train Your Dragon, due in theaters next year.

It’s what we call champagne problems, and Parker knows it.

Still, it was hard. “I hadn’t been to Sundance before, and I felt like I didn’t get to repay the producers, cast, and everyone in the way that I would have really wanted to by showing up for the film, so that bothered me more than anything,” she tells me via Zoom from the one room of her Belfast apartment “with good Wi-Fi.”

But, she says, “It’s such an uptown problem because I’m working. I’m aware so many people would love to be doing this, especially after last year’s strikes. I never want to take that for granted or complain because it’s such a privileged position to be in.”

The London native understands privilege and doesn't shy away from acknowledging that her upbringing has been a huge advantage to her chosen career path. Her mom is actor Thandiwe Newton, and her dad is director Ol Parker (Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Ticket to Paradise). She grew up on film sets, attended her parents’ premieres, and had a front-row seat to the industry.

But she’s also paved her own path. No matter what doors have been opened because of her famous lineage, Parker has proven she belongs in the room. Thanks to a magnetic onscreen presence and spot-on instincts, her talent is overflowing. From starring alongside Colin Farrell in Tim Burton’s Dumbo remake, to playing Pedro Pascal’s onscreen daughter, Sarah, in HBO’s The Last of Us, Parker has already made her mark. And now, with strong reviews coming in for Suncoast—writer/director Laura Chinn’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age dramedy about Doris (Parker), a teen who cares for her brother along with her tough-as-nails mother (Linney)—there’s no telling what the future holds.

Yes, there will be more missed events, but Parker is playing the long game. For the latest edition of Glamour’s New Here, she opens up about the greatest lessons she’s learned from her parents, the fan-favorite TV series she hasn’t been able to get on board with, and the story behind her name.

Director Laura Chinn and Nico Parker on the set on Suncoast

suncoast-nico-parker-laura-chinn.jpg

Director Laura Chinn and Nico Parker on the set on Suncoast
Eric Zachanowich/© 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Glamour: My colleagues and I keep talking about how natural you are on screen. Did you have any formal training?

Nico Parker: Thank you very much. And no, I didn’t have any formal training. I did drama a bit in school—and no disrespect to my drama teachers—but never in a way that I felt was particularly impactful to how I work, really. I think life experience is the biggest contributor. [Observing] other people, reading, hearing other people’s stories, and watching films is so helpful. I’m just always trying to know as much as I possibly can.

You grew up on sets and seeing your parents in the industry. Was there a moment where you thought, I really want to be an actor?

I wish I had one that felt that specific, but it was more so during the auditions for Dumbo when I was 11 where I remember being like, I really like this, I really want to do this. I’d never felt that assured in something before—and that nervous—but confident all at one time. I found that so intriguing. This may sound sinister, but [being on the set of Dumbo] felt like it was feeding a addiction in me that has only progressed.

Ol Parker, Nico Parker, and Thandiwe Newton in 2019 at the premiere of Dumbo

Ol Parker, Nico Parker, Thandiwe Newton, 'Dumbo' European Premiere - Red Carpet Arrivals

Ol Parker, Nico Parker, and Thandiwe Newton in 2019 at the premiere of Dumbo
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

In Suncoast, which will stream on Hulu beginning February 9, you’re working opposite Laura Linney and Woody Harrelson. How did the role come about?

I said no initially because I read the script and thought it was brilliant, but it really stressed me out because I was like, “I don’t think I would be able to do that, and it deserves someone who could give it the proper performance.” I don’t know if I could necessarily give that, so I didn’t want to waste their time by taking a meeting and then being like, “No, no, I couldn’t do it, sorry.” But Laura [Chinn] really wanted a meeting, so I read it again and was like, “Okay, I could probably do that. Probably, maybe. I don’t know.”

So what changed once you met with Laura Chinn?

We read a scene together and then I had an audition. I [eventually] read a scene or two with Laura Linney on Zoom and [it all clicked]. I just immediately was like, “Oh, no one else can do it. I have to do it.” I just felt really attached.

There’s this great scene in Suncoast where Doris is trying so desperately to fit in with the so-called cool kids, and it’s so relatable and heartbreaking and funny. How did you relate?

I think Doris and I are really different. But in hindsight, there’s just something about being a teenager where every problem is the most significant problem. No one is taking it seriously, but you feel it so intensely. I felt that so much when I was a bit younger. Now I can look at it and be like, “What are you complaining about? Why are you crying?” I have so many pictures of myself crying when I was younger because I thought you should take pictures when you’re crying. I don’t know why I thought that was a thing that you should do. [Laughs.] I’ll look at them now and I’ll remember what I was crying about, but what is the problem? The amount of tiny, tiny insignificant things I would put so much energy and effort into…but when you’re younger, you place so much weight on things.

Completely understandable.

So I think, in that sense, I really relate to Doris, but then she also experiences such a genuinely life-altering situation in front of her and tackling things that I fortunately haven’t had to.

What’s the best advice your mom, Thandiwe Newton, has ever given you?

This is slightly more superficial than what you’re probably asking, but when it comes to makeup, use your fingers a lot when blending. I remember watching her do her makeup when I was younger, and she just always used her hands. When I got a bit older and I started using Beautyblenders and brushes and everything, but she was like, “Use your fingers. It warms it up. It makes it go on nicer.” So now I always think about her when I’m doing my makeup. She probably won’t like that that’s the one piece of advice that I can say she gives me, but that feels like one that I’ve really taken on.

And what about your dad, director Ol Parker?

Both he and my mom always taught me to remember you are not the most important person on set. It was always just, “You’re all working on the exact same thing. You all have the same goal at the end of it.” And also, “It wouldn’t be happening without everyone there.” I think sometimes you can get wrapped up in the flashy aspect of being an actor, but when it actually comes down to it, you are on the exact same plane as everyone that you’re working with. You’re all coworkers.

I love your name, by the way. What’s the story behind it?

Thank you. I’m not named after, but instead inspired by, Nico the German singer, as in the Velvet Underground Nico. I think my parents couldn't think of a name for me, but then my mom came up with Nico and my dad was like, “Oh, she’s got to be cool if she’s going to pull off that name.” My mom was like, “Yeah, she will be.” Now for the rest of my life, I’m desperately attempting to live up to that conversation and match that name.

Of all the sets that you have been on since you were a kid, is there anybody your parents have worked with that you’re dying to work with now?

My dad worked with Meryl. I don’t know if I want to work with Meryl out of sheer stress, but I would love to in the sense of it’s Meryl Streep. Anthony Hopkins I think would be pretty sick. Mom worked with him. He’s very lovely, very, very nice. They’ve both worked with some really incredible people that it is a bit difficult to come up with one, but those two would be pretty dreamy.

I think you could more than hold your own with Meryl Streep. I mean…hello, look what you did with Laura Linney.

I don’t even know if I did that, but I would attempt. I would give it my best shot, I would try my hardest.

Laura Linney and Nico Parker in a scene from Suncoast

Laura-Linney-Nico-Parker-Suncoast.jpg

Laura Linney and Nico Parker in a scene from Suncoast
Eric Zachanowich/© 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Okay, final question: What’s something in pop culture that your generation loves, but you haven’t been able to get on board with?

There are two. One’s an English reality-TV show called The Traitors. I just haven’t been able to fully immerse myself into it yet. Harry Trevaldwyn and Bronwyn James, who are in How to Train Your Dragon with me, have both been feverishly recommending The Traitors. I’ve started watching it and I’m trying, but I’m just not getting into it yet. Still, I’m going to persevere.

And the other one is the Real Housewives of New York. I haven’t been able to really get into it and I need to because I know that once I start, I’ll never stop. And I love Housewives. It’s the New York one that I haven’t been able to get into…yet.

Jessica Radloff is the Glamour senior West Coast editor and author of the NYT best-selling book The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series.

Originally Appeared on Glamour