The Lake star Travis Nelson on career beginnings, his summer in Dublin and LGBTQ+ representation

Travis Nelson sat down with GCN to share his passion for acting, theatre and LGBTQ+ representation on-screen.

Shoulder and head shot of Travis Nelson. He wears a yellow vest and holds his hair back with his hand.

Travis Nelson is an extraordinary soul. The Alberta-born creative was “bitten by the bug” (as the ol’ saying goes) after watching Jackie Chan in action when he was a child and from there, he pursued a career in acting with a love and passion that is immediately noticeable when you speak to him.

Throughout various parts of our conversation, he would pause and ask if I had seen a particular movie/TV show that he admires, which of course was exciting for me because I’m always looking for new works to add to my watchlist.

Travis Nelson has been spending the summer here in Dublin and has fallen head over heels with the Irish theatre scene. He spoke about all of the brilliant plays and musicals he’s encountered since his arrival and how he hopes to make his mark in the industry himself. It was a joy to chat to Travis Nelson about his career and I hope, dear reader, that you enjoy this piece as much as I enjoyed writing it.

How did your journey towards becoming an actor begin?
I’m from a small town in Alberta and I wanted to be an actor early on. I originally wanted to be Jackie Chan, an action hero but really funny, that’s who I wanted to be. I realised I couldn’t be that person… It’s fine… so then I wanted to make movies and tell stories so I found an agent when I was 18, and then I moved to Vancouver and I started the journey.

There are multiple points where things shifted but really, I just got my foot into the industry. While auditioning, I was an extras wrangler on set (helping to orchestrate the background of a scene). I was working on that show for six months while I was auditioning, and I also booked a role, so I was acting.

I had really fun opportunities throughout my early twenties. I got to stand in for Zac Efron on one of his movies right after High School Musical too, so those are really fun opportunities because you get to witness a machine having all this money behind this young star, and then also how he’s dealing with it.

You’re learning because when you’re standing, you’re right in the thick of it. You’re absorbing the camera operators, the DP, you’re getting the whole thing.

I used to take as many opportunities I could, and then I went to Australia, and I had a ball because my dad’s Aussie and my sister lives there and I wanted to get into the theatre school, so I jumped in. I didn’t get in, but I took some courses and then work brought me home.

I booked a movie and then seven years ago, which is crazy how fast things go, I decided to move to Toronto and then I booked The Lake.

I’ve been fortunate that that was the start of being able to live fully as an actor, and yet, what does that even mean? Sometimes you spend more time auditioning than you do doing the thing. Which leads me to my next venture.

I’d say the biggest reason I’m [in Dublin] is for love and for my boyfriend but a big intrigue is also to explore the theatre scene here. There’s such amazing theatre. I went and saw the musical Fun Home… How good was that?

The theatre scene here is really thriving at the moment. I don’t know if I wasn’t paying attention to it as much but I’m so glued into it. There’s so many shows on.

Can we expect to see Travis Nelson transition into theatre now that you’ve seen the Irish industry in action?
I would love to, it’s like a new frontier, a new challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, stage and screen are very different and I’m not as trained on stage but I’ve been looking at it, and even at a point where as long as this strike goes, I’ve had friends in LA who are right in the thick of it saying “Look this could last until as late as January” which is bonkers. I don’t want it to, obviously, so all that’s to say is, yeah, chapter Dublin is how do I get my feet wet in all kinds of new territory and if theatre is one of them for sure.

It has to do with a lot of networking and it takes time. I have no expectation of being like, “Hey, I’m here!”.

There’s been a reduction of LGBTQ+ representation on-screen. The show gets picked up, and then it gets cancelled, or the characters get written out, etc. Do you feel that it’s even more important now to have those characters on-screen?
100% I think I read that GLAAD was saying that LGBTQ+ representation was down 6%. People might think that’s a small number but when you’re already a small percentage in that pool of 6%, it’s a lot.

I also think right now, we’re seeing a mass cancellation of content over the board. It’s interesting that when it comes to television specifically, you’re sometimes given a season and then you’re done… How are you meant to make an impact or build character or build an audience base with one or two seasons? Yes, we need representation.

Where I do see glimmers of it is in shows like Heartstopper where it’s about young, queer love in the most optimistic way. It’s also such a hit with a younger crowd, and those younger people are going to grow up and desire more queer content.

I think the change for more content has to come from the top, there needs to be a push for it and I hope that this is happening but, there needs to be more LGBTQ+ people in writers’ rooms, and showrunners. It’s great to have a Ryan Murphy out there, but you can’t put all that on one person to give us all these queer characters in all these worlds.

Our attention and our responsibility needs to shift around certain parts of the community. Right now, our trans brothers and sisters are getting ruthlessly attacked and so how do you combat that and how do you encourage growth in a business model sake where people are worried about profit? This is why I don’t know if television is always the medium.

Have you seen the film Monica? It’s about a young trans woman who, after being kicked out, comes back home to her ailing mother who doesn’t recognise her. It’s so beautiful, and here’s a film where not only does it humanise a trans experience, but it also introduces you to a woman who is an amazing actress full stop. I’m a big advocate for film to do that.

How do you think your character Riley in The Lake has contributed to queer representation?
I feel very lucky to be able to take on that role and also as a gay man to take on that role. Riley’s interesting because I do feel he’s very similar to me in some ways.

I’m from a very small rural town in Alberta. Now, I left right away and I had left my small-town roots but I always felt if I had stayed in my small town, this maybe would very much likely be my MO. Riley’s just a guy who fixes things and maybe he has a weird thing for roadkill… He’s slowly becoming more interesting.

He is just very normal in the best sense and that has to do with countering Justin, played so well and so vividly by Jordan (Cabarrus). It’s that balance that I’m really happy that we get to bring, it’s a relationship first met by love and there’s no growing pains of youth or based in trauma. Of course that exists and there needs to be stories for that, but what I love was that this was coming from a pure meet cute moment that we maybe haven’t seen as often as we should.

You can watch Travis Nelson in The Lake on Amazon Prime.

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