After going through the usual string of career-starting roles in guest-starring TV stints and small film roles, Nicole Steinwedell found her big break when she was cast as Bridget Sullivan in The Unit, although sadly that break was short-lived when the series was canceled earlier this year. Thanks to the magic of DVD, though, the series can live on in homes forever with the recent release of the 19-disc complete series set The Unit: The Complete Giftset, which was released on DVD on September 29 along with the final season DVD sets The Unit: Season 4 on DVD and Blu-ray. I had the chance to talk to this lovely young actress over the phone recently, and here's what she had to say.
So, can you first talk about how you came on board with The Unit and maybe your first experiences meeting with (creator) David (Mamet) of (executive producer) Shawn (Ryan)?
Nicole Steinwedell: Yeah, sure. OK, when I first came out here, I had like four jobs, just trying to get by, a struggling actress, you know the drill. I was bartending, waitressing and I was a tudor out in Pallisades. One of my students had an older step-sister who also needed help with her math, so I started helping her and, because someone named Rick Blue was signing my checks, I never guessed that she was Sasha Mamet. She started talking about not going to college and being an actress, and I said, 'We've got to start going to Coffee Bean and talking about this sh*t. I can give you advice, honestly.' She said, 'Well you know who my dad is, don't you?' I said, 'No,' and she said, 'David Mamet.' I said, 'What? Who? We study him in college. What are you talking about? You clearly don't need my help' (Laughs). It was hilarious and then two years into our friendship, she had sort of become my little sister, which was cool and we're still friends to this day. We know it isn't based on her celebrity or her father's celebrity, we're friends just based on being kids in L.A. and loving acting and not knowing quite how to do it yet. We did a showcase, she and I and a bunch of other kids, and he came to see her. He said, 'Oh, you're a good actress, Nicole.' I said, 'I am? Really?' He said, 'Yeah, yeah, but you know my show is on hold because of the writer's strike.' So I remembered that and when the breakdown came out for Bridget's character, I sent him a letter that said, 'Dear David. My parents are both Marines. My mom outranks my dad. My grandpa was a colonel in the United States Army. This part is in my blood. Give me a shot.' And he did. I had the audition through the casting director, but when I got to the callback, he had read it and he introduced me to Shawn Ryan that way. So it was a wonderful open door for me and I was so grateful. The character started out as a three-episode arc and they ended up contracting me into the show, which was great.
That sounds awesome.
Nicole Steinwedell: Yeah, it's pretty awesome. I can't complain. I'm a lucky, lucky girl.
So, with all of your parents military background, did you have any military experience yourself at all?
Nicole Steinwedell: Unfortunately, no. I had never been in the military or anything. I was taken out for weapons training, to a shooting range. We spent a lot of time with Pete Blaber, our technical advisor for the show, who is a former Delta Force member. We would run on the beach and talk at the same time, which was really easy for him and really hard for me. He would tell me all about how a woman like Bridget would get to the places she got to, at such a young age and what her possible trajectory might have been. It's tricky, but it's important to know the background and that she was incredible for being there, if not a little unusual.
So were you able to draw off of stories you've heard from your parents or grandparents, to help build the character?
Nicole Steinwedell:| Yeah, big time. I think it was one of the main things that helped ground me in the character. I think there's something about these people we were portraying that we had to do them justice, the emphasis of honor, the respect for their country and camaraderie. I definitely wanted to bring that and a sense of respect to the work.
I was actually kind of surprised when I found out it was canceled.
Nicole Steinwedell: Dude! You and me both!
Was it really that big of a shock all the way through, because it seemed to have a really big following?
Nicole Steinwedell: I wouldn't say it was a shock, because of the state of the economy and the world, a lot of things were cut that actually had really strong fan bases. Without a Trace was also cut, which was a great show, so, in that company, I feel pretty good. We were always a show that was critically acclaimed and had a steady base, but not a huge base. And to be on CBS and to be a Fox show meant we were kind of a redheaded stepchild, monetarily, for them. It had nothing to do with the quality of the show or the strength of the fans, it wasn't a good deal for them. The fourth year was my only year, but it was a blessing.
Just working with David and Shawn - I'm probably one of the biggest fans of The Shield that there ever was - so working with those two must have been a life-changing experience, so can you talk about just working with them on the set every day and how they helped you?
Nicole Steinwedell: Yeah. They're both wonderful. I was really lucky and it really sets the standard too high, for somebody my age, because now I don't know what to do and there's not as many interesting characters as Bridget for me to play. It will happen, don't you worry. I'm telling myself that. But I definitely had more contact with David. He was overseeing the rewrites on the scripts and he also directed the first episodes. Shawn was available for consultations and he would come to the set on occasion, but he was so smart and so tremendous, working his butt off. I'm so proud of him it's ridiculous. David is just every actor's dream. To have him direct our episodes? Come on. It's David Mamet. He won a Pulitzer Prize. He's a genius. And he was standing there just being a regular human being with me, and would listen to my concerns about a certain scene and I just think it was so humbling I can't even handle it. It really did make me aware of what it is to be a professional in this industry and how to tell good stories. They absolutely are the reason that my character was such a big part of Season Four.
Can you also talk about this amazing cast that you had to work with like Dennis Haysbert and everyone else you had a chance to work with here? And where did you actually shoot this series?
Nicole Steinwedell: Yeah. Our studios are up in Santa Clarita and we shot a lot of stuff up on the soundstage there but, a lot of the stuff... we were everywhere, right? The backlots in the studios were our everything from Serbia to China, Laos. We were everywhere this season and it's really amazing what our special effects people can do, what our set decorators can do. That's the beauty of being in California, right? You've got a myriad of different options and climates all around. Yeah, Max and I were posing as newlyweds in Mexico... yeah, we were in Marina Del Ray. It's just the way it goes. But, the guys were just incredible. I was the newbie and the new girl, so for awhile they were like, 'OK, who are you? Are you cool?' And just like everyone else, you have to prove your salt, prove you're there to do the work and not take away anybody's thunder. It really worked out and they were so generous with me. They teased me and gave me a hard time, and that made me feel so good, because that means that they're glad to have you around. The show dealt with that really well, not letting Bridget just be a non-girl. They're like, 'Well, we're going to have to write about this, because it would affect the work environment.' So I was really happy about that.
So I was curious if you've had a lot of people on the street come up to you, perhaps veterans or others that have served in Iraq. The show really seemed grounded in reality and I was wondering if you've had any experiences from fans coming up to you on the street about their experience with the show?
Nicole Steinwedell: I have had people come up to me... it's unbelievable. I've had people come up to me and say, "Thank you for what you did,' as if I served the country. My boyfriend is in the Navy SEAL program. He's serving the country, I'm playing one on TV. It's really interesting. There were these two pilots from American Airlines, when I was waiting at the airport, come up to me and say, "Oh, we're huge fans of the show. It's an honor.' They treated me with the respect of somebody in the Armed Forces, not somebody who was just an actress. I had my scuba diving certification this weekend and all these scuba divers were huge fans of the show and came running up. This guy comes up and says, 'My wife wants to take a picture with you. I'm sorry. I'm so embarrassed.' The fans of the show are hardcore fans of the show and I was so grateful that they seemed to warm up to me. It was a very tight-knit group and I was curious to see if I was going to be - not just I, Nicole, selfish ego - but if the character would be accepted and a part of the team.
The DVD sets just came out so were you involved with either the Gift Set or the fourth season set at all?
Nicole Steinwedell: No, unfortunately I didn't. I'm going to be in some of the deleted scenes and I'm going to be around, but a lot of my involvement is talking to wonderful people like you and making sure everybody knows that it's out and that Season 4 is out individually as well, if they already have Season 1, 2 and 3. I'm going to go up and do some work with veterans, veterans hospitals and sign some autographs, stuff like that. But yeah, I'm not one of the interviewed people (on the DVD's). Maybe I talk too much. It's OK. I'm going to learn from them because it will be nice to see how they deal with the DVD commentary, because I was actually there, and I'll be like, 'Oh, that's how you answer that question. I'll do that for my next show.' I'm a learning girl.
So, speaking of that next show, is there anything that you're eyeing up right now? It was just announced that Shawn (Ryan's) new show is going to series, Terriers, so would that be anything you would ask him about?
Nicole Steinwedell: Well, I'm not going to try and talk to Shawn too much. He was so generous to me this year, but I'm sure he'll know that I'm around, either him or David. I'm totally at their disposal. I'm looking to do an independent film next, or perhaps another TV show, but currently, I'm unemployed. So I'm looking for work, which means I audition quite a lot. I have an audition next week that I'm excited about... but I don't want to talk about it too much because what if I don't get it and it's in print somewhere that I was excited for it. Just kind of knock on wood for me and know that I'm in good company with the rest of the country that's unemployed. I've just got to keep working hard and stuff will happen, because it has to.
That's a great attitude.
Nicole Steinwedell: Thanks. I'm working on it (Laughs).
So, finally, what would you just like to say to the fans of the show in general or maybe to anyone else who might not be as familiar with the show about why they should pick up the big boxed set?
Nicole Steinwedell: Yeah, well it's thrilling. It's for men and women. It's hot and sexy and there are missions and it's worth it. I want to thank all the fans. They were so incredible and I still think they would be there if we didn't do anything for a year and we went and shot next year, they would totally be right there because they know good television when they see it, and that's what I'm going to say.
Excellent. Well, that's about all I have for you, Nicole. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck in that job searching environment.
Nicole Steinwedell: Hey Brian, thank you. I really appreciate it. Cheers, man.
You can enjoy Nicole Steinwedell's performance as Bridget Sullivan on either the 19-disc The Unit: The Complete Giftset or the four-disc The Unit: Season 4 DVD sets which are available right now.