Nicholas Downs

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Photo by Diedhra Fahey Photography
Photo by Diedhra Fahey Photography

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’m up over Downs! That’s Nicholas Downs my lovelies. Mutual friends introduced us some months ago at an APLA event and we cottoned instantly.

An upbeat, sparkling personality, Nick has a passion for acting. He knew he had a showbiz calling even as a kid back in Iowa. He and his nine siblings—yes, nine!—could have played the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music, with three extras to boot! Nick has appeared in the films Pearl Harbor, The Holiday, and The Girl Next Door. One of my favorites is the romantic comedy Is It Just Me?, where Nicholas plays a gay L.A. columnist a la Carrie Bradshaw. On the small screen in NCIS: Los Angeles, Cold Case, The Guardian, and the soaper, The Young and the Restless His upcoming film, Second Chance, is inspired by the “Miracle on the Hudson,” when a commercial jet landed on the Hudson River. He’s also in a Lifetime movie, Beautiful and Twisted, with Rob Lowe and Candice Bergen. This thespian is in demand!

His latest project, Playing It Straight, a short film that played the film festival circuit, can now be seen here.

The thirty-nine-year-old has invited La Comer to his cozy West Los Angeles home which he shares

Illustration by Davidd Batalon
Illustration by Davidd Batalon

with his partner, Nick, who’s out of town. They are known in town as “The Nick’s.” They plan to tie the knot in celebration of their twelve years together this fall. After checking with me on my dietary needs, Nick dishes out a mean chicken stir-fry, loaded with fresh organic veggies and tons of tasty herbs from the garden. A matzo ball soup serves as the meal’s opening act. For dessert, Nick bakes….

Ruby Comer: This pumpkin bread is…out of this world. What a little chef you are.
Nicholas Downs:
[He blushes slightly, nods, and shoots a grin from his eternal happy-go-lucky face.]

In Is It Just Me?, I noticed on the nightstand of your character, Blaine, that there was a photograph of you taken in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Is that for real?
Yes, I was there in 2009 promoting another film. I also visited the Great Wall, The Nest, and ate some terrific food.

I was there several years ago myself and found China quite an adventure. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Tell me, how did you and Nick meet?
We met at the Hollywood Athletic Club. We had gone out that evening for a little dancing but at the end of the night, we both met the man of our life.

How tender—and what an iconic place! My god, back in the day, membership included Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Mae West, Charlie Chaplin, and Jean Harlow. Say, you mentioned one time that Jaws was one of your favorite films. What’s another one?
Oh, Ruby, I love the film In America, directed by Jim Sheridan.

Nicholas and beau Nick take a selfie, fishing in the Eastern Sierra
Nicholas and beau Nick take a selfie, fishing in the Eastern Sierra

Oh my Lord, I can’t believe my ears. I loved that film too. It’s so underrated. Yes, yes…with Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton, both Brits. [We both take a sip of red wine.] Nick, when did you first hear about the epidemic?
When I was a kid. I remember hearing about this new virus that was killing people. Some years later I saw the AIDS Memorial Quilt on television. Oh, Ruby, that image was so powerful. For an eleven-year-old, it left quite an impression.

How has the epidemic affected you?
Well, I’ve been lucky because I have not lost anyone close to me, but I have very close friends who are HIV-positive. I was in their lives before they were diagnosed, during the time when they discovered they were positive, and now as they live with the disease. All of them have chosen a healthy lifestyle. [He halts and sighs caringly.] I couldn’t imagine life without them….

What have you learned through them about the epidemic?
How an unhealthy lifestyle can be deadly if you’re HIV-positive, and how making a few changes can save your life.

Have you always worn a condom while having sex?
I don’t have a one-hundred percent track record—and those moments are on me. I think back to when I was in school and one day we had someone teach us about safe sex. I wonder if they are still doing that in schools? Some still believe that teaching about STD’s is condoning sex, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s beyond this broad why people choose to remain an ignoramus. When did you first get tested?
I actually got tested when I had my first relationship. It was my idea and I was the younger one. They guy who drew my blood was not very good at it. I walked away with two huge bruises on my arms. But I remember thinking, “That’s okay, I’m doing what I need to do.” I felt proud—bruises and all.

Ouch! Even though you and Nick have a monogamous relationship, do you still get tested?
When I was younger, I got tested periodically. It had been a while since I last got tested. Recently, Nick and I were walking by an AIDS Healthcare Foundation van—Blair Underwood was on the advertisement—and at the same time we both said, “Why not?”

It was all done with a swab of the cheek and within moments had our results. It was very easy—and no bruises this time!

Amen, Sister Agnes Clare. That was a teacher of mine in an all girls’ prep school. I know you’ve donated to AIDS charities and have attended an AIDS Walk, but how did you begin helping out, and why?
Well let me just say that I’m glad there are grass-roots organizations around like APLA. It was a friend of mine who first introduced me to it. [He pauses.] This epidemic affects us all and it’s the responsibility of everyone to get involved.

This friend sounds quite special. What is your focus now within the HIV and AIDS community?
I would like to find a youth-centered organization with an outreach program. [Nicholas takes a sip of green tea.] I think it’s all about breaking down the fear of testing. I want to educate youth and shatter those walls of fear. [He ponders, his hush-puppy auburn eyes darting upward.] I’ve been involved with The Trevor Project and I think there’s a tie-in for connecting with youth there….

Swell, Nicholas. Whom do you consider a hero in the epidemic?
All of those men and women who first took up the fight. They started organizations, like APLA, and although they were small in numbers, they were huge in determination and heart. They set up telephone hotlines. They fought back against government silence. Those first pioneers are the true heroes.

A resounding “affirmative” from me, Nick. [He carries a couple of used plates from the dining room table into the kitchen, placing them in the dishwasher, returning with a teapot to refill my cup with green tea.] Thank you, sir! Any parting words, my friend?
Yes…that HIV and AIDS is still an issue. Some people, though, have this sense of invulnerability. They believe that since meds are available there’s no need to protect themselves from diseases…that could forever change their lives.


 

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].