Actor Drew Nelson. Photo courtesy of Drew Nelson.

Actor Drew Nelson. Photo courtesy of Drew Nelson.

Long before Drew Nelson was dealing with reanimated vampiric bloodsuckers on FX’s brand new horror drama The Strain, he was excelling at Shakespearean readings in grade school. “I remember in English class when the class was reading Shakespeare, I was the only kid in class who was putting on an accent for the characters,” Nelson says. “When I was younger I was always doing impressions without me knowing it. I was always doing voices for different characters.”

The 35-year-old Toronto-based actor has appeared in a number of guest roles throughout the years, on popular shows like Smallville, Fringe and Suits. He’s scored one of his biggest roles yet on FX’s increasingly popular series, created by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, who serve as executive producers alongside Lost’s Carlton Cuse.

Based on del Toro and Hogan’s novel trilogy of the same name, the show, which premiered July 13, follows epidemiologist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), a CDC worker who investigates a mysterious and deadly virus that comes to New York City via an airplane that lands at JFK International Airport, filled with seemingly deceased passengers. As the series progresses, we learn that the virus isn’t all that it seems, turning its victims into bloodthirsty monsters.

Nelson recently spoke to GALO about his increasing presence as Matt Sayles in the series, working with Guillermo del Toro, the impact the show has already had on the vampire genre, and more.

GALO: You portray Matt Sayles in The Strain. How did you get cast in that show?

Drew Nelson: It was an audition like any other audition I go for. You get the original breakdown for the project in an e-mail. I took a look and saw the creative team behind the project and I was completely blown away. Guillermo, I’ve been a huge fan of since I saw Pan’s Labyrinth. Here’s the opportunity to possibly get to work with the guy as my director and as my boss, which would be a dream come true.

The audition itself was just very basic. I went in there, read with casting, felt like it went really well. It was two-and-a-half weeks later that I got the call that Guillermo wanted to meet me in person at the production office. I didn’t quite know what the audition was going to entail, but then he told me to have my lines learned and be prepped to go. When I got to the production office and met Guillermo in person, Carlton was present as well. We went through a really rigorous moment-to-moment audition process. He was giving me direction line-by-line. It really felt like a work session. I got called in after that was all said and done, shook hands, left, and I was basically like, “if this is as far as I get, then I’m pleased.” I got to meet one of my idols in person, which is incredible. But I got the call the following week saying they wanted to see me again, and it would just be for casting. I was going to do it exactly how I did it with Guillermo in the room. And lo and behold, I went into that, felt really good about it, and I got the call the following week that I got the part. It wasn’t an insane, arduous casting process, but in a nutshell, that’s how it went down.

GALO: Speaking of Guillermo, I imagine it has to be quite a unique experience working under his direction.

DN: It’s incredible. The guy is so brilliant. He has such a brilliant mind. He’s such a perfectionist at his world, and because of that you just trust him, completely. He sets the foundation for you to do what you have to do. He’s also very open to collaborating with his actors, and I had a lot of ideas with Matt, and obviously he did, too. We met on the same level as that and incorporated some of our choices for the character, and it was just amazing. He’s such a brilliant artist, and, at the same time, he’s a great man. He’s got a really, really warm heart, and he’s always laughing and telling jokes on the set. He’s just an overall fun-loving, warm guy.

GALO: From the episodes that have aired so far, we know that Matt is the boyfriend of Ephraim’s wife, Kelly. Because of that, he’s automatically not on Eph’s good side. What else can you tell me about your character?

DN: The way I tackled Matt is that in a typical fashion, I think he’s that stereotypical new boyfriend in one of the lead’s lives. I thought that he definitely plays an important role in the show, in terms of the practicality in the places he comes from, regarding the virus that attacks New York. He’s a voice of reason among all the chaos that’s happening and I feel like, in terms of his relationship with Kelly, he just wants to do right by his woman, and by Zach [Eph and Kelly’s son]. He’s coming from really honest places in terms of how he wants to treat those two, because Ephraim isn’t giving her and Zach what they need at the moment. So I feel like here’s this guy who’s coming from a really good place, and is trying to support them as well as he can among the chaos. So that’s how I wanted to attack him.

GALO: Will we be seeing Matt more frequently as the season progresses?

DN: Yeah, we are. I believe it’s in episode five where we introduce some different things. Episode six is heavily about Kelly and mine and Ephraim’s dynamic. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that turned out. I haven’t seen a single frame of that entire episode, so I’m pretty excited to see how it goes down. And throughout the rest of the show he pops up.

GALO: This isn’t a typical vampire genre show.

DN: Not at all.

GALO: The vampire genre in general in serialized television has grown very popular over the years. What impact do you think The Strain will have on that genre?

DN: Based on the amount of fan attention we’ve been getting online already, I feel like the fans are completely on board and loving the twists that Guillermo’s put on the vampire genre. I think we’re offering a completely different side of things that people can latch onto, and I feel like people have latched onto it. It’s amazing and we’re so grateful for it. I think it’s coming from a real honest sense of what vampire lore originated from and it’s getting away from what the market is so saturated with. And I think it’s the right timing for that, personally. I think Guillermo and Carlton, the whole team, have done justice to the genre.

GALO: Aside from Matt, of course, who’s your favorite character on the show?

DN: [Abraham] Setrakian. I think David Bradley is just killing that role right now. There’s such a great plurality happening with that character, and that character just gets…man, so many amazing things happen to that guy. We delve into his backstory a bit and it’s going to be really thrilling television. So Setrakian for sure, and I love what Corey’s doing. I think Corey is carrying the show beautifully. I also love [Vasiliy] Fet (played by Kevin Durand). I’ve met Kevin in person; he’s a wonderful man and an incredibly talented actor. He’s killing the part, too. I listened to a podcast with Carlton, and he said that when he read the material, it reminded him of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. That’s the adventure sense you get, that epic feel. I completely agree with that. That’s one of my favorite movies. I think if you love that movie, you’re on board for The Strain.

GALO: You were also the voice of Duncan in the popular Canadian animated series Total Drama Island. I haven’t seen it, but I read that it has a dedicated fan base. Are you open to doing more voice work for shows in the future?

DN: Absolutely. There’s so much freedom in doing voice work and it’s a blast to do. For whatever reason, the fans latched onto Total Drama and the Total Drama franchises and just ran with it. I’m grateful for it, especially that they really loved my character. I loved playing Duncan and I hope I can get to play him more. They keep switching up the cast, so I don’t quite know where Duncan would fit in into one of the new casts, but you never know. He might just pop up again.

GALO: So what’s next for you?

DN: We’ll see what happens if we see season two [of The Strain]. I completed a feature called Man Vs., which is being submitted to festivals at the moment, and I think it’s slated for a 2014 release. I’m also developing a bunch of projects right now, including this fantasy feature film. We’re making a short film for that first to get the concept on screen, and then we’ll go from there.

“The Strain” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.  

Video courtesy of FX Networks.