Rachel Nichols is an American actress, best known for her portrayal of CIA agent Rachel Gibson on ABC's television series, Alias. Born January 8, 1980 in Augusta, Maine, her first auditioned role was for the part of a restaurant hostess on S-- and the City.
Rachel Nichols was born and raised in Maine's capital city of Augusta. She always enjoyed outdoor sports (her favorites are still windsurfing and sailing), and ran track in high school. In fact, she still holds several track & field records for Augusta's Cony High. As a sophomore at Cony, she studied abroad in France, an experience that would, in hindsight, prepare her well for her future career. Astonishingly enough, given her current career, Nichols admits that she "wasn't the hot chick" in high school: "I was a dork," she would later confess, "I was this shy, skinny, flat-chested girl with long arms." Referring to herself as a "late bloomer," she was known more for athletics and academics than good looks growing up, and upon graduation she headed to Columbia University, intent on studying psychology.
It was at Columbia where the events fell into place that determined Nichols' current career path. According to Nichols, she stumbled into modeling "completely by accident," though it seems more like a foregone conclusion now. Needless to say, she had "bloomed" by then, and was soon posing for companies like Guess? and Abercrombie & Fitch. Along the way, Nichols threw in some drama classes at Columbia, never knowing when she might need them. She maintained a difficult schedule throughout college, balancing her studies in New York City with photo shoots in Europe. On top of all that, Nichols decided in 2002 to really pursue acting in earnest.
While Rachel Nichols had appeared in various television shows in bit parts (one memorable role featured her as an o--y-loving restaurant hostess in S-- and the City), she auditioned that year for the second-lead role of Jessica (the dogged school-newspaper reporter) in Dumb and Dumberer, a role which she eventually won. She left Columbia midway through her last semester to shoot the picture, still managing to graduate in 8 semesters despite the demanding modeling schedule. She wrote two term papers and took the final exam of her undergraduate career just days before shipping all of her things to Atlanta, where Dumberer was being filmed.
Dumberer was a theater flop, but Rachel Nichols turned heads with both her beauty (a known commodity at that point) and her acting skills, which were a surprise to all involved. If the Jessica role seemed natural to Nichols, it was because she herself had been an editor with the school newspaper back in Augusta. And while few people actually paid to see the film, those who did were in for a treat in Nichols' performance; audiences particularly noticed her undeniable screen presence, a rarity for such an inexperienced actress. Apparently Hollywood noticed Nichols, too, because she has since earned roles in the television series Line of Fire, plus the 2005 horror movies The Amityville Horror and The Woods. Even after all that, though, the best was yet to come for Rachel Nichols.
Rachel Nichols on AliasIn 2004, FOX planned to develop a show vaguely reminiscent of their first hit drama, 21 Jump Street. They enlisted Todd & Glenn Kessler (of Robbery Homicide Division) to create the show, tentatively named The Inside. The Kesslers cast Nichols as a 22-year-old federal agent who impersonates a high-school girl in an undercover operation. They also cast Fastlane's Peter Facinelli and model Willa Holland, and shot a pilot. The pilot underwhelmed studio execs, though, and FOX brought in Angel writer Tim Minear to re-tool the concept; Minear ended up purging the entire cast, save for Nichols. While some sources say that Nichols was kept on because FOX pressured Minear to do so, Minear stands by a different story: "Even if [Nichols] wasn't already living in this show when I got there I'd have cast her. [She's] a star in the making, I feel. And an unspoiled delight..." he told Variety.
The new concept was more Silence of the Lambs than Jump Street, and Nichols' character had dramatically changed as well: now she was rookie Special Agent Rebecca Locke, assigned to Los Angeles' FBI Violent Crimes Unit. Oh, and the character practically shares Elizabeth Smart's backstory: kidnapping, abuse, etc. One may be tempted to think that Nichols, who says she still "tests mostly for high school parts," might have been in over her head here, especially alongside character-actor luminary Peter Coyote, but she handled herself expertly on the series. And while The Inside was cancelled just seven episodes in, Nichols was sure to be back as a full-fledged star, and soon.
After the failed FOX series, it didn't take long for new employers to seek Nichols' services. Nichols joined the cast of the ABC series Alias in the fall of 2005, playing Rachel Gibson, a computer expert who is duped into thinkning that she works for the CIA when in fact she's really working for a terrorist organization. Later, she joins the real CIA and becomes Sydney Bristow's protege. It is the second series in a row in which Nichols portrays a government agent.
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