In Parts One and Two, Three, and Four of our interview with Nicolas Coster, the acclaimed and outspoken actor reflected on his early days on soaps, including ANOTHER WORLD, SANTA BARBARA, AS THE WORLD TURNS, and many more. In the final part below, Coster shares insights into his varied career, his involvement with teaching disabled individuals to scuba dive, as well as how his work in therapy enhanced his acting skills.
We Love Soaps: You have been working consistently for over fifty years. Any regrets?
Nicolas Coster: I regret that I left New York when I was in my ascendancy on Broadway. I left when I was considered one of the several young leading men on Broadway. I got divorced and came to California. I would not change certain parts of that because I came and met Beth, my companion and wife of 32 years. And I had this lovely son, Ian. Without coming to California that might never have happened. So, professionally I have a “shoulda woulda coulda.” I should have stayed on Broadway.
We Love Soaps: And that is exactly why I wrote my book, “Absolutely Should-less,” to help people who struggle with those kinds of “shoulds.”
Nicolas Coster: Yes! To be true, I don’t really live by them. I was in a group in 1965 at St. Luke’s Roosevelt. A lot of my ascendancy in the '60s and '70s was because of my work there.
We Love Soaps: What about the therapy work helped your career ascend?
Nicolas Coster: A lot of actors in those day like Rod Steiger were afraid of being analyzed because they were afraid they were going to lose their “essence.” Because intuition and instinct are such mysteries, they were afraid that they were capable of self-analysis that would become too analytical. Anyone who has ever done five years worth of acting knows that intellectualism can really get in the way of good instinctual acting.
However, those of us who have been in good therapy and analysis knows it is just the opposite. Someone once paid me the biggest compliment when they told me, “You make it look like you are really in love with every leading lady you work with.” And yes, there is a bit of truth in that. Because what I try to do is find something to love in that person, and then magnify it about one thousand times, including Beverlee McKinsey. Again, I could understand her and work with her because I had done some good work on myself. I don’t think I would have lasted otherwise. I think it enables one, in the professional sense, to be aware when you are projecting something. So when you come in carrying baggage and an agenda you become more quickly aware of it, you dispense with it, and get to work.
We Love Soaps: I think this is true no matter what profession we are in. Recognizing projections will always help to get along and understand others in more compassionate ways. I admire that you seem to have an inherent sense of positivity and wellness, as demonstrated by your work in therapy, as well as how you regained use of your arm after your accident.
Nicolas Coster: Thank you. I think that’s a genetic predisposition. I also think it’s coming from an optimistic mother and a wonderful grandfather. More and more I see genetics as a factor. Years and years ago as a teenage I was a counselor at a psychological camp. The senior colleges were all psychologists and I learned a lot there in terms of leadership.
Also, I formed a theory about homosexuality at the time. We didn’t use genetic disposition terms in those days, but I think people are born gay. I’ve seen it in teenage boys, in people who absolutely know already they are gay, and I can tell when others are repressing it. I remember thinking it was interesting that some people thought it was a behavioral thing or a choice. In the army I defended a young man who was being thrown out because they caught him downtown in a sting operation. It was very unfair. I went to the colonel on his behalf. I said, “Look, if those of us who are straight got caught downtown making out with a hooker, everybody would laugh at what terrific males we were. This guy is an exemplary soldier, no one has ever been afraid of dropping the soap around him. He’s not guilty of anything except being caught in a sting operation.” The colonel said, “Coster, I hear you, I agree with you, but those are the rules.” That was 54 years ago. And they are still at it!
We Love Soaps: Tell me about The Challenges Foundation.
Nicolas Coster: We serve the community of people that have physical challenges. It is not meant to be politically correct. I’ve always felt the term “disabled” was a negative term, as well as “handicapped.” So I had become a pseudo- celebrity after doing so many soaps, and then came to California and did all these movies back to back. The founder of the Handicapped Scuba Association called me and said, “Hey Nic, we understand you are a scuba diver, will you come down and help us with our first benefit?” I told him I’d be glad to. So then they found out I was not only a diver but an instructor as well. I had started a company in New York, I had taught John F. Kennedy Jr. how to scuba dive. They asked me if I wanted to be part of this, I said, “Absolutely!” So I was in on forming the standards of what they now call “adaptive diving.” For years we called it “disabled diving,” some still do. When I got into it I stayed in it. I taught half the people on SANTA BARBARA how to scuba dive. I have taken hundreds of disabled divers out on my boats over the years.
We Love Soaps: And you are giving people who have been told “No you can’t” a completely different experience. I think that is extremely important.
Nicolas Coster: It’s important as a sharing-caring thing. I have been very fortunate in most ways in my life, with some notable exceptions. Again, I credit Laurence Olivier for this, and my mother. My mother was a journalist who had the first woman’s byline in a New York newspaper in the '20s. She never stopped helping other people learn new things, including her own children. That when I got to re-know my father, he too was an incredibly sharing human being. And then Olivier. If you went out on stage with Olivier, it was like going out on stage with a street gang. It was his turf. But if you were dedicated and got out there and did you stuff, he would share that stage with you. If you didn’t do your homework, if you were a shitty actor, then you may as well phone it in because you would not be on stage with Olivier. He would tromp around you and change the staging. He would not share the stage with you if you didn’t deserve it. But he did share with me, and I give him copious credit for all he shared with me as a young actor.
We Love Soaps: He taught you well. Earlier this year we surveyed 14 different soap writers/journalists and asked to rank whom they thought the best actors were in soap history. You ranked #44 on this list.
Nicolas Coster: I saw that! Thank God, I barely made it.
We Love Soaps: And when you consider the hundreds who didn’t make the top 50...
Nicolas Coster: That’s true. And I haven’t been on a soap opera since 1995. So to be remembered so well, I was so complimented. Lots of the other actors have been on scads of shows since then. So please thank everyone for me.
We Love Soaps: And now we’ll get to see your work again on THE BAY, which reunites you with Lane Davies. He told me he’s looking forward to working with you again.
Nicolas Coster: Remember when I told you that Lane was a southern gentleman? You know how that showed up? When the Dobsons got fired from SANTA BARBARA and shut out of the studio [in 1988], the only two actors that went out to the gate to meet them, thereby risking their jobs, were Lane Davies and me. Because that was the gentlemanly thing to do.
We Love Soaps: Nicolas, your tireless energy truly inspires me. We didn’t even get to all your primetime work and film roles during this interview. Do you ever think of slowing down or retiring?
Nicolas Coster: Yes. When they carry me out with my toes up.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Thank you for reading! And don't miss Coster's role on the hit indie soap THE BAY.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals, couples, and families in New York City at Mental Health Counseling & Marriage And Family Therapy Of New York. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve."