From the moment he went to see a musical revue in his hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, aged nine, Nick Adams’ heart was set on becoming an actor.
After cutting his teeth on Broadway in shows such as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, La Cage Aux Folles, and Falsettos, he’s turning to TV and film, and earlier this year appeared in the gay rom-com Fire Island as the delightfully wicked Cooper. Here he talks about his early days in the world of theatre, his ever-evolving relationship with the gym, and Jonathan Bailey.
What did you make of the first show you saw?
I remember it like it was yesterday. The excitement and the presence that I felt, just hanging on every word and lyric and lighting up. I said to Mum afterwards, “I have to do that.” A week later, she found auditions for a musical in our local paper. I never turned back. From that point on, I was always in a show or in acting classes. Nine years old, fell in love.
What impact did theatre have on you?
I found this passion. I was a really shy kid, and I felt different. I couldn’t connect with people at school. I discovered this sense of community and a lot of young queer kids trying to understand what they are. We had something special about us without being able to put a label on it — just this kinship. I finally started to find myself and a sense of confidence.
It became a great way to connect with my parents and give them more insight into who I was. They’ve been my biggest champions. My mum is such a vivid storyteller. The way she would tell stories, she’s so physical that I think that also sparked my interest in wanting to tell stories through acting. Theatre also gave me a better sense of identity as well as a purpose and a passion.
Did you ever consider another career?
I didn’t give myself another option. I was so in love with it. I always said to my parents, “I don’t need a backup plan because I don’t plan to fall back.” They were like, “OK, go do it.”
What was it like going from Erie to theatre school in Boston?
It was thrilling because I was finally around people that loved what I loved. It was a great four years to incubate and grow up. Boston was also the perfect stepping stone before New York. And it was close enough to New York that I could take a Greyhound bus to audition for roles and see some theatre. I’d go to auditions to learn and see what the process was like before my life depended on it. I love the juxtaposition in Boston of this really old town, but it’s so vibrant and young because there are so many colleges there. Also, to be around a bunch of other gay guys and finally talk about it and feel free about it was great.
You grew up in the same town as Alaska Thunderfuck. Did you know her?
No, it’s crazy. I think I’m two years older. But we also did community theatre at the same theatre and, somehow, we never met. I found out once Alaska was on Drag Race. I remember looking up which high school she went to. My brother and I went to separate high schools and I thought it might have been one of them, but it was a different one. We laugh about it now.
Was your eye always on Broadway?
As a kid, I always dreamed of being a movie star. But there was something so exciting about the immediate response from an audience. I thought theatre would be the way into that rather than moving to Los Angeles. In my first few years in New York, I jumped from show to show, doing big dance musicals, understudying, and cutting my teeth that way. I loved it. I feel like I level up once I’m emotionally and mentally ready for an opportunity, then it presents itself. It’s always been like that for me. In the past five to ten years, I’ve shifted focus a little bit to do more TV and film. I love that I get to do both.
Of your Broadway roles, which is your favourite?
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Playing Felicia was such a life-changing moment. It was so much fun. It was my first time originating a starring role in a show and I met my partner there, too. I helped create it and put my stamp on it and it still gives me chills to think about it. I remember getting cast. I played Whizzer in Falsettos and that was a show I fell in love with during college and a role I always wanted to play, and I can’t believe my life ended up taking me to that point where I got to do the show with James Lapine, who created it. I had a poster in my bedroom with his name on, so to have this theatre great choose me for that role meant so much.
You’ve played a lot of queer roles. Was that intentional or organic?
A little of both. When I moved to New York, I wasn’t in the closet, and I leaned into who I am. So, those projects came to me as a by-product. I’m grateful that I get to tell these gay stories. I’m beyond thrilled that I’m in the cast of Fire Island. It’s such a huge moment in queer cinema and I’m honoured that I got to be a part of that.
Has the variety of queer roles impacted your identity as a queer person?
Absolutely. I find parts of myself in them. I used to monitor if I was being flamboyant, and Felicia allowed me to completely embrace this human that was in there somewhere but I was afraid to let out. Sometimes in gay culture, there’s the sense of apology that you’re sorry for existing or don’t want to take up space because you feel you’re not welcome. I had a teacher in college tell me there was a sense of apology to my voice and I will never forget that moment. The more comfortable I’ve been able to get with myself, it’s given me freedom to give less fucks and just be who I am.
What was filming Fire Island like?
It was two months of absolute fun. I felt like I was in school because I was learning so much on set and the other cast members are just so lovely. I hope I get to work with the director Andrew Ahn again because he really gave that experience such heart and I think audiences have been able to feel that. We have a group text that we use every day. The chosen family on screen is real — even though my character is a horrible human, we’re all really good buddies. I’ve been going to Fire Island for 15 years, so to create something that is a love letter to the experience felt special. To be part of this queer rom-com that had such a wide reach was not lost on us. I’m so proud of it.
I love your performances with the Skivvies. What’s your favourite thing about them?
They’re so smart and they’re such great musicians. I have so much fun with them. There’s something really freeing about performing with them. They make you feel really comfortable. It’s all about having a good time and the audiences are wild, it’s a blast. I love doing the Rocky Horror Skivvies shows. It’s the score of Rocky Horror but mixed in with their normal kooky arrangements and mashups.
Jonathan Bailey has recently been cast as Fiyero in the film version of Wicked — a role you’ve played on Broadway. Do you have any advice for him?
I hope they keep the white riding pants because that’s sort of his signature. I would say: keep doing your squats. Fill out those pants! Fiyero is not stupid. People think he’s [Fiyero] an airhead, but he’s putting on a front. I’m so excited to see it. I think Jonathan is going to be amazing and is a great choice. He’s beautiful, he’s talented — that’s Fiyero.
When did you get into fitness?
When I was in Boston, some of my teachers said, “If you want to be employable, you might want to put on some size.” I hired a trainer and started to work out. These conservatory programmes really tried to craft you into a mould of what they thought would get you work. At the time, we were told to be more masculine and dress like a straight man. It was frowned upon to not be passable as straight. So, we were doing anything in our power that we could to present that way. I think that’s where it came from. It was also like armour to hide behind. Now, I [exercise]for my mental health and it makes me feel good. It’s time that I can use to not think about outside things and just really focus.
How do you stay fit?
I do a lot of bootcamps and CrossFit. I’ll do gymnastics every once in a while, but it’s a lot of lifting and running. I try to mix up the variety of it to keep things fluid. When I was doing Drag: The Musical in LA, I would work out what my body would allow me. I was using so much energy in the show that I would go to the gym in the morning to help my body wake up. It wasn’t necessarily with a goal in mind of keeping myself at a certain look.
Is it easy to juggle fitness while working?
It’s about maintenance. I always lose weight just because I burn so many calories when I’m performing. I have to combat that, so I don’t get too small. That’s mostly diet. Whenever I’m doing a show, it’s always crafted around not exerting too much so that I can still give 100%. When we were shooting Fire Island, my character is obviously obsessed with his physique. I was getting up at three or four in the morning and going to the gym before going to set.
How do you unwind?
I meditate a lot. I spend a lot of time outside with my dog, it brings me so much joy. And I have a great partner and an amazing circle of friends and family that really keep me grounded and boost me up. It’s taken a long time to realise that life is not just about what my next job is or how successful something was. That’s been really freeing. During the pandemic, I had a huge shift in what comes first. Being at peace for me is the most important thing.
My partner, my family, and my friends are all huge contributors to my peace. I think my approach to work has also changed. I’ve been able to be really present and enjoy the moment. With Drag: The Musical, I went to LA with the show, and I had no expectations of where it was going to go. It was one of the most rewarding experiences. I felt such freedom on stage because I wasn’t tied to anything else. I wasn’t trying to please anybody. It was such a gift.
What’s next with Drag: The Musical?
Our team is actually flying to London to look at venues, so the next step could be the West End. First, we made an album of the score. Then they asked me to come to LA and do a workshop last June, and then we had a run in the autumn. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
Fire Island is streaming on Disney+
This feature originally appeared in Attitude’s January/February issue.
Photography Taylor Miller Grooming Mark Alan Esparza.