Cody Christian Dishes on His New Film Notorious Nick, All American AND Final Fantasy VII Remake
Actor Cody Christian seems to be everywhere these days, and we couldn't be happier about it.
He plays Asher on The CW's All American (with the show's latest season finale revealing he has a career-ending heart condition), as well as the iconic character Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy VII Remake—and is also well known for his roles in Teen Wolf and Pretty Little Liars. But his most recent role is as Nick Newell, an acclaimed mixed martial artist born with congenital amputation of his left arm, in the new film Notorious Nick.
Notorious Nick is out in theaters today, Aug. 6, and we got the chance to catch up with Cody to find out all about the ins and outs of this latest role—and find out more about his other beloved roles in the process.
Sweety High: Notorious Nick is based on a true story. When you're playing a real person, do you feel extra pressure to represent that character authentically?
Cody Christian: Absolutely. My main priority going into this film was understanding that Nick Newell himself was going to be watching it. This was going to be an experience that he could share with his family, loved ones and people that are close to him. Him being prideful of the project was something I kept in mind from day one to the very last day of filming.
But it wasn't so much pressure as it was just extra focus and attention to detail, really diving in and trying to understand every aspect of it, everything that I could pull from Nick's life and his fighting career, and doing that work in order to be as truthful and as authentic as possible.
SH: How deeply involved is Nick Newell with the project, and have you been able meet with him?
CC: He was very deeply involved in the pre-production phase. By the time we got to production, he got busy, prepping for the fight he had coming up, so I never got the chance to actually meet him in person. I've relied heavily on one of our producers, Mark S. Allen, who spent a plethora of time with Nick in his hometown with his family. He was my go-to resource for any questions that I had. When the film comes out, and Nick gets to see it, I'd love to be able to connect with him and hear his thoughts.
SH: Were you a fan of wrestling and MMA before this role?
CC: Not so much wrestling as MMA. I had done a little training in it myself, fell in love with jiu-jitsu, and that kind of got me into the world of mixed martial arts. I watched it pretty consistently—all the UFC events, and some boxing events. I was a fan of the sport before I got the opportunity.
So, going into it, even on the pre-production side of things, I wanted to be as respectful and truthful as I could to that world of mixed martial arts. These are athletes, some of the best in the world, so I didn't want to put out anything shy of perfection, so to speak. I didn't want to disrespect these people that put their heart and soul into it.
SH: How much did you have to train, both to get in shape for the role and to be able to pull off your moves authentically?
CC: That was a huge priority. I want real fighters to be able to see the project and go, "I believe that. I buy it." Because at any moment, if it's not real, if it's not something that is truthful, it's going to pull you out of the story. As an audience member, I wouldn't want that. So the training and the prep leading up to the film were pretty intense because they happened so quickly.
The first week and a half or two weeks of pre-production on the training side of things were just extensively going through all of the fights for the film, and reviewing the choreography and the story points. There was a lot to learn very quickly. Thankfully, I was surrounded by some really great guys in the stunt world. My stunt double himself—his name's Cory DeMeyers—acted as our stunt coordinator. I got the best of the best working with these guys. I had to very quickly learn the world of Muay Thai, throwing kicks properly, and also had to switch up my fighting stance because Nick fights as a southpaw.
We jumped into it pretty heavily in the two weeks before filming, and then the first two weeks of filming, we filmed all of the fights, because our first locations were the octagon and then the gym. We started with that, so I'm spending 10 hours a day minimum doing all fight stuff—being thrown around and sweating like crazy. Because most of the stuff that you see, I'd say 95% of it, is me in there. My stunt double Cory had to take a few big, big slams—and it looks amazing. But the physicality aspect of this film was intense for sure.
SH: Your character Nick was born with a partial left arm. How was that effect achieved practically during filming, and what challenges did it present only partially being able to use that arm in the fights?
CC: Yeah, Nick was born with a congenital amputation, so he's had that all his life. The first thing for me was beginning to understand what that was like. In the very beginning, when I was reading through the script, I used to just cut off the use of my left arm from the elbow down. I used to take my arm and pull it inside of a long sleeve or a sweatshirt, and then I would tie a knot on the end of it and go around and start doing as much of my day with this with this one arm.
That physically kind of got me where I needed to be, and then I actually met and discussed with a few people that have the same disability and got their personal insights on it, and what it was like. What I came to find out is to them and their perspective, they're not really doing anything differently. They're doing what's normal for them. That's what they know, and that's how they do things. For them, it's just, this is how I eat, tie my shoes, do the dishes, do the daily things everyone does—just with one hand instead of two.
So, with all of that in mind as the first priority, for the technical side of it I had to wear for the most part, a green sleeve up to the elbow. With all of the scenes that require movement and fighting, I was wearing a green sleeve. I had to learn how to keep my arm out and up, and keep it rotated down, and swing and make attacks with it, but try to be conscious of keeping this part of my arm away from my body, depending on where the camera was. Digitally, it's very difficult to remove it and have to replace the skin and the sweat and the wrinkles and to make it really look authentic and believable. I had to be very aware of that, and understand where the camera was in relationship to the arm. It took a lot, but I think we were able to achieve what we were after.
SH: You're also a regular on the TV series All American, and in the finale, Asher got some pretty heartbreaking news. What was it like bringing that scene to life, and what do you feel like that spells for the future of your character?
CC: As far as the future goes, our creator Nkechi and the room full of writers and producers we have are cooking up great storylines for everybody. I don't know what that looks like for Asher. I know for the Season 4 premiere, we pick up right where we left off, so I want to see the aftermath—the fallout—and the true understanding of what this news means to him and what he's gonna do moving forward.
As far as the news itself, reading it on the script for the first time, I was thrilled. I was excited to be able to make what was on the page a reality and give that performance. This sort of thing happens in the world of competitive sports. Whether it's something inside the body, like the heart, or injuries, like a joint or a knee or an ankle, these things can happen, and they're out of your control. Suddenly, everything you've dedicated your life toward is instantly gone. That's a pain that I can't even begin to imagine. So the performance was important for me, for any athlete or anyone in this world that has experienced that. I was excited to bring that to life.
SH: Many fans may actually know you best from your voice, in particular for playing Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy VII Remake. What's your secret for bringing Cloud to life?
CC: I started on the foundation built by the previous voice actor, Steve Burton. He did so much, kind of setting the tone for where the character was at and the world he existed in. It was a lot of research at first, just hearing and understanding the character. I read a lot just to get to know his life and his journey, and get an understanding emotionally of where this character is at, especially when the game takes place.
I came into it with the intention of humanizing this character in this world as much as possible. And the stakes are heightened with all of this kind of crazy stuff going on. I wanted to focus on the human side of him—the feelings, the emotion—and play with the authenticity of the situation. I'm pretty stoked on how it came out.
I know there's also more coming in the future, but I don't have any details on that—and if I had them, I don't think I'd be allowed to share them. But I'm very excited to get back into the studio and get back to work, because Cloud is one-of-a-kind.
Can't get enough of Cody's projects? Click HERE to read our interview with fellow All American actor Alondra Delgado.