Nick Damici was hungover when we met for a drink at Tom & Jerry’s bar last Saturday afternoon. The actor and screenwriter, who has a reputation for being something of a curmudgeon, had overdone it the night before, celebrating the release of his latest horror film, We Are What We Are, at the Sunshine Cinema on the Lower East Side.
Mr. Damici, 53, is no stranger to this watering hole, which his girlfriend owns and was featured in Mulberry Street, the 2006 low-budget mutant thriller he wrote with his longtime creative partner, Jim Mickle. That’s not to say that he spends much time here anymore, even though he lives around the corner.
“It’s too young and too loud for me,” said the scruffy Mr. Damici, who wore a floppy straw fedora, a denim shirt, jeans and a metal necklace. He added, with a thick New York accent: “I’m sick of this neighborhood. It’s so fucking crowded.”
What would he call this section of the city, we wondered? Noho?
“They make up fucking names,” Mr. Damici said. “It’s Houston Street.”
With those sentiments in mind, it probably isn’t a coincidence that Mssrs. Damici and Mickle have, in recent years, taken to setting their movies in rural areas.
Mr. Damici said that about half of the 2010 post-apocalyptic horror movie Stake Land was shot in the Catskills, as was all of We Are What We Are, about a family of cannibals that is as much a schlocky thriller as it is a serious critique of blind religious observance. And the writing duo just wrapped up Cold in July, an East Texas crime drama starring Michael C. Hall that was filmed upstate in and around the town of Kingston.
“Shooting a movie in New York is a pain in the ass,” Mr. Damici told the Transom. “Go upstate; everybody likes you, and nobody yells at you.”
Mr. Damici’s allergy to the Big Apple comes as a surprise, considering he is as about as much of a New York character as one can be, having grown up in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1960s and early ’70s. Was that rough, we asked?
“Nah, it’s what I knew. I probably knew what a hooker was when I was in first grade. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “My old man was a bartender on 44th Street and 11th Avenue. I tended bar when I was 12. Pops would lock up the door and put me behind the stick so he could have a few beers. Nowadays, you’d get arrested. They call it child abuse.”
Mr. Damici came to prominence as the lead in Mulberry Street, but he worked in TV for many years, playing police detectives in Law & Order and CSI, while training boxers to pay the bills. Michael Moriarty, a mentor, encouraged him to start writing scripts—and he did—though he maintains acting was and is his first love.
“Writing is a lonely, thankless job,” Mr. Damici said. “And then everybody wants to change it on you anyway.”
What was it about acting that drew him in, we wondered?
“You get to play,” he told us. “You get to be a little kid again, man. It’s the most fun you can have. People make a big deal out of acting, like it’s an art, or it’s a science. Bullshit. It’s fucking acting—it’s not rocket science.”
Before parting ways, we joined him on the sidewalk for a smoke. Mr. Damici said he’d been considering moving upstate, to a place less “transient” than New York—a city, he added, that no longer has much of anything to offer him.
“I want to be able to go outside in my underwear and piss on a squirrel,” he said with a raspy laugh, taking another drag from his American Spirit.
We noted that one can still do that here.
“Yeah,” he said. “But you’d get arrested”