By Susan King Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Over the years, Nick Searcy has played everything from a German shepherd in an off-Broadway musical ripoff of “Cats” called “Dogs” to astronaut Deke Slayton in the Emmy Award-winning 1998 HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon” to a drag queen who performs as Cher and Christina Aguilera in the 2007 sports comedy “The Comebacks.”
It’s all in a day’s work for a character actor such as Searcy, who can change personas in a flash but always brings a down-home authenticity to all his roles.
For the past four seasons, he’s shone as the wryly acerbic Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen, the boss of maverick Kentucky deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), in FX’s award-winning detective series “Justified.” (The fourth season ends April 2.)
Searcy, 54, also has been moonlighting as the star of his own Web series, “Acting School,” in which he plays a bombastic version of himself. In the comedy series, which also features his wife, Leslie; daughter Chloe; son Omar; and the family dog,
Searcy describes himself as “the Peabody Award-winning international movie and television star.”
“I’m Nick Searcy,” he tells viewers. “But you knew that.”
On a recent afternoon, Searcy is relaxing in his Burbank home that is the location for many of the Web series episodes. Omar is playing video games, and their white terrier is snoozing in one of the many dog beds in the living room.
Spend time with the actor and you’ll quickly see the parallels between Searcy and Art Mullen. “It’s my philosophy, when you are doing a TV series, I think it’s better off the closer you can make the character to yourself,” Searcy said.
When he first read a script of “Justified,” based on the Elmore Leonard novella “Fire in the Hole,” Searcy knew Mullen would be a perfect fit. “He has the same kind of country sense of humor, a certain sarcasm,” said Searcy, who hails from Cullowhee, N.C.
Searcy knew “Justified” executive producer/writer Graham Yost from “From the Earth to the Moon.”
“We have been friends ever since,” Searcy said. “For 15 years, I had written him saying, ‘Don’t you ever think about me?’”
Indeed, Yost had Searcy on his mind. “From the moment I read Elmore Leonard’s novella, I knew I wanted Nick to play Art Mullen,” said Yost by email.
“We have used things from Nick’s life in the show,” Yost said. “For example, he doesn’t like to run. So in the second season we made Art run! For the next two years, we’ve had to endure Nick complaining about it.”
That Searcy can do both comedy and drama has been a huge advantage for the writers. “Art has a great deal of funny banter with Raylan, and then, in the next encounter, he can just unload on him,” Yost said.
Searcy began acting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduation, he went to New York for several years, got married and then moved back to North Carolina in 1989 when his wife became pregnant with Chloe, who is now an actress.
He got small parts in Tony Scott’s 1990 “Days of Thunder” and Barbra Streisand’s 1991 drama “Prince of Tides” and hit pay dirt as the villainous Frank Bennett in 1991’s “Fried Green Tomatoes,” directed by Jon Avnet. The two have worked together several times since, including on “Justified.”
“Fried Green Tomatoes” was the encouragement Searcy needed to bring the family out to Los Angeles.
He’s been working steadily ever since in movies and TV series, including such films as “The Fugitive,” “Cast Away,” “Runaway Jury” and “Moneyball.”
“Justified” airs at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX.