Cody Christian has been ready for this moment. He stars as MMA fighter Nick Newell in the film Notorious Nick, which is now available anywhere you can rent movies. For the All American star, tackling this role was an “opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
Cody has starred on some of TV’s most popular teen dramas — including Pretty Little Liars and Teen Wolf — but he’s ready for leading man status on the big screen. He helps tell Nick’s inspiring story in Notorious Nick and happily embraced all the challenges that came with making this movie. HollywoodLife got the chance to talk EXCLUSIVELY with Cody about what this role meant to him as an actor, his rigorous preparation for the role, and more.
What was it about this role that stood out to you?
Cody Christian: It’s honestly the story. I’ve always really been inspired by other stories of will and determination and chasing the impossible. That’s something that stood out for me as Nick Newell [who was born with a congenital amputation of his left arm]. It’s a true story. You’re seeing this guy be born with a disability and overcome everything that he’s overcome, challenge after challenge. He very early on decided this is something that I want to do, and I’m willing to kind of put everything into it. I relate to that a lot. I came out here from the midwest to pursue this acting thing, and I didn’t know anybody, didn’t know anything about the industry, the business, and then gradually over the years, mistake after mistake, hardship after hardship, it’s just slowly developed. Now I’m 16 years into it, and I still feel like I’m chasing the impossible. I’m chasing the dream. The story really resonated with me and also it takes place in the MMA world, so it was just an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
What was the training process like for you?
Cody Christian: It was crazy. When I first auditioned for it, a part of my prep was to watch as much footage and to talk to actually a few people that have similar disabilities because I wanted to understand the mindset. A common thread that I found is that people born with a disability, they don’t know anything else, you know what I mean? To them, their activities and how they go about doing things are very normal, almost as if they perceive themselves as being without a disability because to them it just doesn’t feel any different. But the outside world doesn’t view it that way, right? So kind of diving into that headspace, that mindset of what to feel normal but to be perceived as different and all the struggles that come along with that. So that was the very first thing that I started with it, a lot of research in that field, and then the training was a whole other side of it. I didn’t have that much time between when I knew I was doing the movie to actually going up and filming the movie. I remember the very first person I ever talked about this film with and started training with was actually Dylan Sprayberry because, at the time, he was very heavy into mixed martial arts and Muay Thai. He was the very first person that I went up to a bag with, and we started kind of going over very fundamental techniques, a lot of kick-heavy stuff because I’m just not well versed in that world. After a couple of sessions with Sprayberry and him kind of showing me the ropes, I worked with a couple of my friends who are fighters and started working. Within that first week, I’m talking like 8 hours, maybe 10 hours, every single day going through fight choreography, going through just the basics to feel comfortable in that world and to look like I knew what I was doing. On top of that, he fights like southpaw, which is different from my stance. And then also, he’s swinging and fighting with his left arm, which was also a struggle because, not only did I have to learn to incorporate it in the fighting, I had to learn how to incorporate it in a way so that when the visual effects happened, it was as seamless as possible, keeping it clear of the body and keeping it more in the background while still looking natural. So when they went to digitally remove the arm, they weren’t worried about replacing folds of skin and moisture and all that kind of stuff. It was a lot to prep and was a lot to shoot, but I’m very proud of how everything turned out.
Did you notice that the more you trained with primarily your right arm that it got bigger than your left?
Cody Christian: For sure. I still kind of have a weird shoulder issue injury from doing this for a month, month and a half straight. During the process of filming, one thing that I tried to incorporate as much as possible is limiting the use of my left arm, almost to absolutely nothing. I used to actually go around and bring my arm up and fold it into my hoodie. I’d have my elbow out and tie a knot on the end of it and just kind of walk around with it and learn to do basic things. It seems kind of simple, but the little things that we take for granted like brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, all these little things, I tried to experience what it was like to complete these tasks with one hand. It was interesting because I found myself using my elbow and, at first, it felt entirely foreign but after a couple of weeks it actually felt kind of natural. It was a crazy transition for sure.
Playing a real-life person is such a journey. What’s something that you learned about yourself throughout the course of filming and in taking on this story?
Cody Christian: It showed me a couple of things. Within my own journey and my craft, it showed me that I was able and willing to kind of take on something a little bit bigger and heavier. For me, this is the first project where I’m the main lead. This is an opportunity that I’ve been fighting for forever, just to be able to show people that I could step up and carry that weight and responsibility for film. Not only did it kind of give me that confidence moving forward in my career, knowing that I was able to kind of take on these bigger roles, it also kind of showed me the tenacity that I have within myself. It was a hard shoot. It was pretty much an independent film. The budget was good but not amazing. It was kind of, at times, a very guerilla type of crew. The first two weeks of filming was all of the fight stuff because we had that location first. We had a championship arena and an octagon to use. So the first two weeks, I’m not even exaggerating when I say I was in the octagon fighting, doing something physical for 8 to 10 hours, every day, for two weeks. My entire body was covered in bruises and scrapes. There wasn’t a place on my body that wasn’t banged up. So to kind of be able to go through that and tell this story authentically, it showed me that I was ready for this. I’m ready to take the next big step, and I hope this movie shows that.
Did you get a chance to talk to Nick?
Cody Christian: At this point, I honestly haven’t. I spoke to the producers a lot who had spent quite a bit of amount of time with Nick and his family and learned his story. I’m talking like a year or two pre-production. They were kind of my main resource to pretty much learn and see how his life has unfolded. I also did a lot of personal research on my own regarding his whole story and watched as many fights of his as I could, just to see his style and the way he was as a fighter. But my main goal, from the very beginning of taking on this project, was to give an effort and a performance that he would be proud of, that he would want to represent him, that he would want to show his family, peers, colleagues. He was still fighting at the time, so I didn’t kind of want to take anything away from him. I would love to get the opportunity to touch base with them. I really just want to get his opinion and see how he feels about it. It’s got to be weird having a film about your life and having somebody represent you and portray your life story.