By Matthew Martino
Walking arm in arm across Fifth Avenue with Nicole Russin-McFarland is like crossing the street with Lady Gaga. Literally, she stops traffic in her expensive looking jewel green peacoat and matching heels. Her soft black hair in a tight ponytail, every pedestrian stops her to compliment her on her clothing and beauty. File her down as the hybrid love child of Eva Green and Gal Gadot.
“You are so beautiful,” a brash woman says in a dense, breathless Queens dialect no British man has heard spoken aloud since Fran Drescher.
New Yorkers aren’t supposed to be friendly. To Nicole, they are. Things must get excrutiating.
“The entire city of New York has no issue with me. People here seem to notice me most. Not this much in Chicago.” She pulls me out of harm’s way from a speeding ice cream truck as we walk nearer Rockefeller Center. On the sidewalk, I ask her why she, the most famous girl who isn’t famous enough, hasn’t landed a GQ cover yet, in America or the UK.
“I’m no longer with any modeling agencies here because after you get signed, the bookers refuse to submit you and brands don’t want to work with you when you don’t conform to their perceived all American standard of beauty. Charlotte McKinney or the dirty blonde starvation runway girl. Two choices I happen to be neither of. I once had a really known guy in fashion practically throw me at people in the industry. It didn’t make a difference. I ended up quitting and going on my own, no agencies.”
Nicole smizes. Her Angelina Jolie lower lip shapes itself naughty.
“Or you could show this article to Dylan Jones over in British GQ and force him. I love following him on social media. He seems to be a busy guy. I dare you to mail him a copy with a bunch of flowers and lifetime sushi at Nobu to get him to do it. The man can’t be bribed! I saw him post Wimbledon tickets. It’s like, what can you offer the gentleman who has everything? Did you know? I read Melania Trump had her publicist pester him and GQ staffers until they caved in. I don’t know if I have the guts to do that. Heck with it. If I had The Force, I’d pull a Star Wars on him to do it.”
She needn’t worry about it in a few years when her name is ubiquitous. Model slash actress is too pastiche for the social media darling movement. Russin last year ushered in the very first model slash composer slash filmmaker occupation. Nicole doesn’t follow the coach’s orders. She reinvents the playbook.
Musically she is really that good. Stream her Fall Out Boy cover on Apple Music and close your eyes for a moment from the bombshell on the promo image. You don’t know any better. Your mind is at zen. The tune isn’t any ordinary version of “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” anymore. It sounds like Hans Zimmer at the top of his game making love to Michael Giacchino.
“I taught myself how to compose when I was about 11. I went to some bookstore on a trip to St. Louis and got sheet music. I made myself do it again and again until I learned it. The real goal for me will happen when I do a film score or music for someone who isn’t myself. Yes, really, I waited so long to get to do it. Basically, I had to hire myself. One of those things people don’t believe you can do because of your gender and you have to shut them up.”
Nicole pulls me down into the depths of Rockefeller Center’s basement. Stories below NBC News, we walk into one of two Rubik’s cube size tables inside Yummy Sushi, New York’s tiniest Japanese cafe. Nicole places my order treating me and returns to the table. She sips a Diet Coke through a straw. Her first animated short is The Eyes of Old Texas, a flick she plans on submitting to festivals later in 2017. Nicole’s work does cross the pond now and then. Her followup is a feature length toon, Emoji Motel, starring an actual British actor.
“Animation takes so long. I have a lot on my plate. Everything is all me, hustling to get myself out there. I need to make it as a film director with my cartoons. Get my music out there as soon as possible. I want to be the first person to make classical music, to make film score music really important and relevant because all the people like John Williams and those are not going to live forever. Someone else has to take the wheel, and I want the world to know that someone is me.”
An ace with chopsticks, I ask for help from the expert. Nicole is a self proclaimed “Nihonophile,” Japanese culture, avid fangirl. She orders her tamago and tuna maki rolls without ebi and her cha with no ice when she goes in lieu of Diet Coke.
“Hold it like a pencil. Or don’t. Hold it like-“ she stops. Nicole is an open book. You know when she pauses it’s to say something witty.
“Hold it like you’re going to poke someone in the eye you hate, but you need to do it with two sticks in a neat fashion. Like this.”
So I read once you were the female Quentin Tarantino-
“Can I be honest? Go right ahead and print that on your website in giant letters. Every so often, people who meet me find that article online. I love it. Please, That reference was because I talk a lot about movies and have all this useless back knowledge but please, compare me to any successful person ever in the history of cinema. I’ll take it. Girl Pedro Almodovar. I mean, girl Peter Jackson. Put that on my tombstone. I’m kind of obsessed with Pedro Almodovar because he does whatever he wants and gets away with it, breaking genre rules.”
What are your future films going to be like?
“Animation, and the other half live action. I want to have a big animation house, or be part of an in studio animation house. Like, have my own area within DreamWorks Animation. That would be amazing. To create these little stories that turn out big and unusual and never before seen for kids, treating them with intelligence. Cartoons that themselves, are children oriented yet defy genre rules, like Mr. Almodovar. My live action movies are going to be blends of everything. I have this one that’s multiple stories at once going on. You find out at the end, what? All along it’s been these famous tales and you don’t recognise the original plots at all. I love action movies like Mad Max Fury Road like I love good satire. Remakes too. And of course, I hope a big studio gives me the time and orchestra to work with for the big score.”
What kind of remakes? She bites into her sushi.
“I can’t tell you. You’ll want to kill me.”
“Gone With the Wind. In my own special way. Changing the time period and title characters into who I think they really are. Cutting the false glamour from the slave era into a real tale but keeping the racism truth. Almost for sure, I’d anger half of America for ruining a classic, and that alone would make it a modern classic years later! I want to make movies girls don’t make. Period.”
What do girls make? Shouldn’t you say women?
“Look, forever, I’m going to refer to myself as a girl. Woman is like, what happens to you when your soul dies and your heart turns black. Secondly, girls, or women in film, are supposed to make utter trash because it’s acceptable to women. Aside from Mean Girls and In Her Shoes, almost everything geared towards a predominantly female audience is about Jennifer Aniston’s hair breaking up with a guy only to win him back ninety minutes later. Fill it in with a dumb joke now and then. Lots of high end fashion, but the fashion can’t be too sexy or the leading lady gets a male audience. Everything is the same thing. Or teen girls gathering in groups talking about getting laid by prom. No differentiation. It’s sad. Or these things like the Ghostbusters remake. Hello, I’m a woman! Here, I’m surrounded by lots of women! You should watch it! A total slap in the face to all these brilliant actresses who deserve to be treated better and as human beings, not these people whose acting depends on their gender.”
Fair enough. Where did this surge in attitude come from today? An hour ago she was almost the kindest woman I have ever crossed and now this.
“I don’t know!” she laughs.
“Probably many years of not getting to do what I wanted with all the gate keeping and being told having opinions is wrong.”
I ask about her life. Her childhood was boring. Illinois is so boring, she gained skills for the fun of it.
She worked in journalism in high school never telling she was under 18 until employers met her. Nicole earned her education at the University of Texas at Austin and can’t believe it when people think she is from Texas. She is from Illinois. She tells me she has a Midwestern accent and can’t believe it in a lite Northern American accent I can barely understand why any American might think she is a Texan. No Dubya heard. At 21, she was the youngest freelancer for The New York Daily News.
Nicole has avoided the neurotic New Yorker personality type because she stays away from New York enough. She has lived in the Big Apple on and off and possesses a Hawaiian area code for her digits. Her favourite part of New York is right here in Midtown.
“I can take anyone to see a movie any time of the day or night and eat out. Where else can you do that but here? Besides Chicago, probably nowhere.”
I invite her to play a game of where she wants to be. One year?
“Mostly work goals. Like, having The Eyes of Old Texas and my music more known.”
“Being bicoastal would be amazing. Or living in California. In a really nice home I’ve bought with my cash from scoring a top movie and directing animated movies. That I’m someone’s teacher’s pet. Imagine if someone like Peter Jackson takes you on, and you’re his apprentice. Goals. Hashtag goals. Having a girl squad, also. I could hang out with all these mean girls within the Hollywood circle. Right now, all I know is married, older people if any. Think about how fun that might be. I’ve never had the chance to do that! And we can frighten you with cheesy Instagram photos of our hot girl squad. Taylor Swift, watch it. I can outdo you.”
“Oh! Makeup line. Definitely. I want a medically safe yet glamourous makeup line. I strongly believe makeup makes any woman beautiful if applied right. Acting would be cool, only if it is something where I can do action or be really snarky. I’d love to have all the good lines where I’m the bad girl stealing someone’s boyfriend. Who wants to be the good girl? Boring!”
“Be established in music and film and my work goals. Build on them. Have fun. Be living it up. I’d be almost forty years old. Can you imagine that?”
Don’t leave out modelling.
“Of course not! Once I’m branded, maybe that will be an option where I can outboss the bosses. I’d love to be that girl wearing a Versace dress in an ad. Will it happen? Who knows.”
We chat for a while. Nicole shows me her sushi snap she might Instagram later.
Give us your best Instagram selfie tips.
“I’m no Kim Kardashian. Let’s try. Use flash whenever possible. A big one. Flash erases imperfections. Pose at an angle. Find your best side. Make sure you either pose with a person of the opposite sex or an old person so you’re the most attractive person in the photo.”
Are you going to be thrice divorced and remarrying Zac Efron in ten years?
“No, he’s the same age. I want someone who’s older than I am. Not that I’ve ever been the quickest person to date. Never. If that happened, I’d want to marry a sexy older man. For sure. Smart. Handsome. Dorky. Slightly badly dressed but not too badly. Doesn’t know he’s attractive. Because the hot guys do nothing for me. They all look alike. Which ironically, is an idea I have for a cartoon in which this girl, a princess, sees all of the princes as alike and can’t stand it until her dream man, who’s actually not perceived as attractive is-”
You base your work on real life?
“Always. Who doesn’t love to kiss and tell metaphorically? I love being mean. I spend so many days of my life having to be polite, it’s fun to be mean. Anger is sexy. Revenge is sweet. Success is the best revenge.”
Might I hope I don’t end up in her next film idea.