"You guys go ahead and do this thing and I’ll catch up with you later..."
Daniel Nelson is a 21-year-old actor, model and musician. After attending AMTC’s SHINE, he was thrown into the spotlight, receiving the leading roles in national commercials, fashion shows and television programs.
Tell us a little about your story: How did you first realize that you wanted to be a performer?
Well, the first time that I was actually interested in the arts was probably when I was in middle school. I had a high interest in photography and in acting, but never really followed through. So in all of middle and high school, I focused on sports (basketball, baseball and football) and was planning on playing basketball in college. I was actually practicing with the college team that I was going to be playing for when I injured my left wrist (the wrist that I shoot with). I was out for a month, then for two consecutive months after that I was out with mono and the flu.
Being out really took me away from what I was passionate about and what thought I wanted to do with my life. I still to this day have no idea how I got sick with mono and the flu. But when I was sick, I was searching for something else. I just felt a constant nagging on my heart to follow my previous interest in photography and acting. So I did a hair show for Paul Mitchell and that’s when I realized that God was calling me to dive into the entertainment industry.
When did you hear about AMTC?
I was 20-years-old, I’m 21 now, when my dad and sister heard about AMTC over the radio. They told me to go and audition and I was like, “Oh yeah…okay,” brushing it off. A couple of weeks later, my sister came back over and asked if I had looked into AMTC, and told me that she was going to look into it with me. She was not interested in performing; she just wanted to give me a nudge and be the advocate to get me to audition. So I signed up and attended an open call in Baltimore last Fall. That’s when all of this started.
What was SHINE like?
While I was training, I heard so many incredible stories about AMTC’s conference. SHINE completely blew those stories away. Everything that people told me was true: I got super close with fellow performers and had a life-changing week. I was so tired by the end, but it was worth it. So SHINE for me was, so far, the best week of my life. I experienced incredible things, and learned things that I wouldn’t have learned. AMTC prepared me for the industry. I received audition tips, interview tips, and learned ways to hold and train myself. AMTC was career changing for me.
What do you mean, career changing?
I was planning on studying business-marketing in college. I am still planning to attend classes, but SHINE really was a life changing experience. Last summer, if you asked me where I would be in a year, and if I would be in the entertainment industry, I would have laughed and told you no way. I would have told you that I would be in a classroom learning about business and how to be a business man.
What projects have you been working on recently?
I walked in two shows for NYC Fashion Week. That was a ton of fun, and was a huge event. I was totally blessed by that. Besides Paul Mitchell, NY Fashion Week was my first gig right out of the gate. I was thrown into the industry by that, and had a blast.
I had a lead role in EA Sports FIFA 15 Commercial, which was awesome! I also filmed another commercial for this new product coming out called Kaboom Xero Sticks. Those are basically a flavored toothpick, made with lots of flavors, for people with dry mouths.
I also got a lead role in a TV show called Monumental Mysteries. We shot that for two days. I just got done shooting another TV show called American Genius where I was cast for a supporting role. Things have just been going really fast, but I wouldn’t ask for anything more. It’s been a huge blessing to get into the industry so fast, and have such confidence about it. If I had done this on my own, I would have had a completely different result, and not a positive one. Through AMTC, I have a huge support base, and a great teaching base.
How was filming the FIFA commercial? You appeared so many times, and you were running around in almost every scene.
It was really different. I did some background work with AMC and kind of got a feature role in that, but it wasn’t speaking. FIFA was the first lead role I got in the industry. I now know what it is like to be both background and lead, and being lead was completely different. It was just a huge take-in.
I had to run around non-stop! It was really funny. They originally had me running in flip flops, but after the first lap, I realized that I couldn’t run as fast as I wanted to. So I asked if I could get some tennis shoes, and they gave them to me. Running that much…oh man. It was like basketball practice, and I was pretty winded afterwards. In one scene, they were recording for a minute, then a minute and a half, and I was sprinting back and forth.
Do you prefer modeling or acting?
Originally, I thought I wanted to do modeling. My entire plan (obviously it is not my plan anymore) was to get hooked into modeling, get comfortable in front of the camera, and then try to break into acting. But with the way it has been going, I am getting a lot more acting roles and I am beginning to fall in love with that just as much as modeling. I really enjoy both, and I don’t know that I can say that I prefer one over the other.
What has been the most exciting thing you have done?
(Pauses)…hang on. That is a really good question. It has all been so exciting, and it’s really hard to pick just one.
I’ll say Monumental Mysteries, and being the lead in that. Being on a television show was on my bucket list in high school, even though I had no idea how it would happen at the time. So being a lead in that allowed me to check something off! I also enjoyed mingling with the people in the background. It’s great, because a lot of background actors feel like the lead doesn’t notice or acknowledge them, so I really tried to do both. It was also cool to interact and collaborate with the director. When they are taking a shot multiple times, and trying to get the best angle, it’s a pat on the back to hear the director say, “That was a really great shot.”
You have some pretty cool things coming up too!
I recently signed with Wilhelmina Philadelphia, so they have a bunch of things planned. I have a photo shoot with them coming up, then will jump into their projects.
I really hope that I can launch into the spotlight with these commercials and television series. That would be a huge blessing to the Christian community…that one of their own is in the industry, fighting for traditional Christian values.
How do performers stay grounded in Christ?
Community is huge. Stay connected with a Christian community. Hang around people who will keep you grounded and remind you that your value is not found in this world. No matter what you do, find friends who will always stick with you. Christian community is vital in this industry and if you don’t have that, you’ll get lost.
What has been the most difficult challenge you have faced?
The fact that people want me to engage in ungodly things. The Lord has been challenging in me with that, just to see where my heart is, as I go on these missions for Him. It’s also easy, because you know that your dad in Heaven is proud of you when you tell people, “You know what, I’m good. You guys go ahead and do this thing and I’ll catch up with you later.”
When I was at Fashion Week, one of the other models came up and basically told me that one of the female models in another show wanted to take me back to her place. I was like, “Just tell her I’m not interested. I’m not into that kind of stuff.” He looked at me like hearing that was something he had never heard of before. The friends I made at Fashion Week were like, “Wow. Props for standing up for what you believe in.” As I build my career, I really look forward to influencing as many people as possible for Christ.
Anything you would like to share with performers who are jumping into the business?
Although you are a performer and you are labeled as performer, you should always label yourself as Christian before that. Christ should always come first.
Don’t be afraid. There are a lot of people in the industry who are believers, whether they are lukewarm or not. God has your best interest at heart, and if you’re called to be a missionary in this mission field, know that people out there are starving for God’s word and for Christ, whether they know it or not.