Close-Up: An Interview With Actor Nadin Rizk

Actor Nadin Rizk drops by on Close-Up Culture to discuss her inspiring acting journey and her role in the short film, Salmon Pink.

Hello Nadin, welcome to Close-Up Culture! You have a fascinating background, having studied Engineering Science at the University of Toronto. Can you tell us more about your background and what led you to acting? 

Hi James, thank you for having me! My path to acting certainly wasn’t a simple one, even though I knew I wanted to be an actor before I knew what an actor was. I know this sounds very cliché, but what I mean is that I was always curious about the experience of others. As a young kid my thoughts were often consumed with trying to understand why the people around me were doing the things they were doing, and I became good at figuring out people’s “next moves.” 

As a 5-6 year old kid, this internal life outwardly manifested as a certain acceptance of the behaviour of the people around me. I was recently looking though boxes of old stuff at my mom’s house and came across a binder of my old report cards. They’re full of comments from my teachers describing me as a quiet kid who kept to herself. “Mature”, “non-verbal”, and “independent.” That’s how people saw me, and I was told that those traits suit a sensible career in math or science.  Definitely not a performer. 

I moved to Canada when I was 4 with my family and as I’m sure a lot of immigrant children can relate to – my parents really were just trying to do the best they could to give us a stable life and future.  Getting good grades and being “well-behaved” were the most important things. My dad was an Engineer, as were many of my family members in Egypt and as long as I can remember it was sort of assumed that I would be an Engineer too.  My desire to be an actor was a really big source of tension and pain in my life.  

The first time I got to be on stage was in the fourth grade. I was an extremely shy, quiet kid – there were few people in my class that had even heard me speak. When I learned there was going to be a school musical, and I could audition for it, I wanted to do it so badly. There were around 10 roles available and any of the 150 fourth and fifth graders in the school could audition.  Anyone who wanted to audition got to do it during music class.  I raised my hand to indicate I wanted a turn to audition and the school music teacher, Mrs. Harmon, was surprised but of course let me get up in front of everyone to audition.   

I remember opening my mouth to say the first line and feeling completely out of body. I was terrified. It was like my voice was coming from outside of me and I was hearing it echo from another source. I remember hearing gasps from my classmates who were sitting on the music room carpet in front of me (she speaks!). I remember walking back to take my spot on the carpet after my audition absolutely trembling with adrenaline.  

A couple of days later I saw my name on the cast list posted next to the door of the school library. Looking back, I’m sure it probably wasn’t a great audition. Likely, Mrs. Harmon, who had barely heard me speak before, could see how important it was to me and gave me a role. I’m so grateful to Mrs. Harmon for doing that, she unknowingly had such an impact on the trajectory of my life. For a long time, that experience was the only piece of evidence I had that told me it was maybe possible to be an actor. 

The rest of my childhood up until the end of high school continued to be full of tension. I felt inside that I was supposed to be an actor – it was my singular desire, but I was supposed to be working towards a different, more stable, goal. I went to an Arts high school but wasn’t allowed to be in its Arts Program because I had to complete the courses needed to get into an Engineering Program. I was surrounded by other teenagers who got to work towards what they wanted, they got to study ballet, act, play music, and I was jealous. It felt so unfair that I was surrounded by people who seemed to take these opportunities for granted when I wanted to do what they were doing more than anything and I couldn’t. I thought it meant that they were all going to live the life I wanted, and I would always be unhappy.  

I ended up applying and being accepted to a notoriously difficult Engineering program at the University of Toronto, the Engineering Science program. My thought process was “well if I can’t put all my energy into what I want to do why not go all in towards the other direction.” I’m happy to say that reasoning doesn’t make sense to me anymore, but at the time it made perfect sense. I eventually decided to specialize in Chemical Engineering with a focus on Biomedical applications.  

The four years I spent completing my Engineering degree were incredibly depressing. There is nothing wrong with Engineering and I do love math and science and finding solutions to real world problems, but it is hard to complete such a demanding program that requires all your attention and brainpower when you have no actual desire to do it. It’s hard to force your brain to think about fluid dynamics and separation processes for 60+ hours a week when, at rest, all it wants to do is spend time being introspective or just observing people.  

Somehow, I managed to get through those four years. When I graduated and it was time to find a job, I knew there was absolutely no way I could spend the rest of my life doing something I didn’t want to do.  When people hear about how I redirected my career from Engineering to Acting they often describe the decision as “brave” or otherwise “reckless.” It’s hard to explain that it really wasn’t a decision at all. I had no choice. I couldn’t continue the path I was on.  

So, after I graduated, I worked as an online math tutor (ironically, often tutoring other Engineering students) to pay off my student loans and save up to take acting classes and invest in my acting career. I often tutored overnight and at weird hours to be able to go to acting classes and auditions whenever I needed to.  

Now, I’m happy to say I’ve reached a point where I can focus all my attention (work-wise) towards my goals in Film and Television.  

You recently worked on Jamy Steele’s incredible short film, Salmon Pink. How was your experience working on the short and playing the role of Kara? 

Yes! Working on Salmon Pink was probably the best experience I’ve ever had on set. Not only did I get to work with an incredibly talented cast, but I also got to work with writer/director Jamy Steele and producer Lindsay Blair Goeldner.  Jamy and Lindsay were an amazing team and I really enjoyed being able to observe them working. Watching Jamy command the set with such skill and focus while also maintaining so much genuine consideration for the creativity of everyone involved was inspiring and it showed me what an ideal film set looks like. There was something so exciting about working with a team of young women who were all around my age and were all beyond capable of creating something great. 

Nadin Rizk and Zenna Davis-Jones in Salmon Pink

Playing Kara was also a lot of fun. I remember when I first read the script, I thought it dealt with such dark subjects in a beautifully real, complex, and vulnerable way. I was immediately drawn to Kara. My audition scene involved my character brainstorming this disturbing way of getting revenge on someone who had hurt one of the other girls. In the script Kara is chewing bubble gum during the scene and as I was preparing for my audition this idea just popped into my head to use the gum as a prop in illustrating the gruesome plan to the other girls. I was really excited about the idea of using something like pink bubble gum, which usually represents innocence and playfulness, to emphasize something that is so adult and dark.  

It was one of those times that something physical immediately clicks and a character that feels so far from who I am immediately becomes clear to me. It’s so much fun when that happens.  

What type of roles and projects would you like to take on in the future? 

One of the most appealing parts of being an actor, to me, is the idea of constantly expanding who you are. I love that there is always a possibility I will get to spend time learning a new skill that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. In the future I would love to be able to take on roles that require me to challenge myself by learning a new skill like playing a sport or an instrument. Specifically, acrobatics, that would be cool! Or rapping! I’d love to rap in a role! 

I find it exciting to be able to immerse myself in a new world, whether it be by committing a lot of time to learning a new skill or by travelling to work in a new city. So, I hope I get to learn cool skills or travel to new places for projects that I work on in the future.   

How do you like to spend your time away from the camera? 

I really enjoy spending time alone.  When I’m not acting, I’m mostly doing yoga, journaling, and reading autobiographies. I’m in the process of becoming a certified yoga instructor.  I don’t know if I will ever actually lead yoga classes, but I love learning about the history of yoga and reflecting on the Yamas and Niyamas.   

I also really value spending time with the people I love. My circle tends to be pretty small and strong, meaning I only have a handful of people I consider to be in my life and all of those relationships are very close and honest. I put a lot of my energy into the people I love.  It’s important to me to have a positive impact on, and to be of service to the people I choose to have in my life.   

What has been the most rewarding part of your acting journey so far? 

Well, to be completely honest, the most rewarding thing has probably been achieving things that I have been told my whole life – both explicitly in words and through subtler actions – that I would never be able to accomplish. Being able to do this has given me so much more confidence in my own mind and heart and I have become better able to honour my truth even when I’m in a room full of opposing opinions.  

And what would be the most challenging? 

I’d say the most challenging part of my acting journey so far has just been finding balance. For so many years my mind was 100% focused on making this career a reality.  I was spending all my time in acting classes, talking about acting, thinking about how I could get to the next level – it is only recently that I have been able to embrace other parts of my life.  

I like being able to have friends both in the industry and outside of it. Having actor friends is nice especially because they understand certain aspects of the lifestyle – like never being able to make/stick to plans because you have to prioritize auditions, having to drop your life to travel for work at a moment’s notice, the pressures surrounding your physical appearance, and the emotional discipline that goes into our work.  

But on the other hand – you can create such a small circle of actor friends that a lot of aspects of the industry can begin to feel like the norm, when they are not at all. I used to naively think that everyone got into the industry for the same reason I did, and that is not the case at all. That’s not to say that there aren’t actors whose values align with mine, there are many, but there is a whole world of non-actors who I often have an easier time finding common ground with.   

What are your hopes and ambitions for the future? 

The whole reason I got into this was because I felt I had an ability to understand the experience of others, and I felt that maybe I could help share those experiences so they could be understood more widely. That is the purpose of film in my opinion, or at least it is the purpose I am most passionate about wanting to be a part of. I hope that in the future I can be a part of telling stories that foster understanding and compassion.   

Follow Nadin on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/nadin_rizk/

Check out Nadin’s IMDb page – https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5623229/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0

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