Austin Nichols is an American actor best known for his roles in the blockbuster movies The Day After Tomorrow and Glory Road; and for his guest roles in television series such as Six Feet Under, Surface and Deadwood.
Nichols was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to a professional trick water skier Kay Nichols, and radiologist David Nichols. He has an elder sister, Ashley Nichols.
Named after the inventor of Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by his father, Nichols was raised in Austin, Texas, but moved to Los Angeles after high school, where he currently lives.
In high school he played basketball, but was "absolutely awful".
Instead, Nichols was a competitive water skier, and represented the U.S. Junior Water Ski Team in the Pan-American Championships in 1997. He was also on the Junior U.S. Olympic Water Skiing team.
At age 13, he was ranked third in the world. He had intended to become a professional water skier until he injured his shoulder in Florida, and was forced to give it up.
His acting career began when he gatecrashed a party at the Sundance Film Festival and was promptly signed up by a prominent manager.
After his signing, Nichols originally wished to attend the University of Texas, but moved to LA and enrolled at University of Southern California instead, graduating in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
Although Nichols had guest starred in Sliders, Odd Man Out, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Family Law, Watching Ellie, and Wolflake even before his graduation, his big break came when he appeared as Brenda Chenowith's lover in two episodes of Six Feet Under.
He had previously appeared in two films, Durango Kids in 1999 and Holiday in the Sun in 2001, both of which were panned by critics.
In his first critically successful film role Nichols starred as a stereotypical basketball-playing frat boy in 2003's The Utopian Society, an independent film directed by John P. Aguirre, which won several awards and some critical acclaim.
One critic wrote that in his role, Nichols "transforms himself from a cardboard jock and frat boy caricature to a likeable vulnerable human being with surprising sensibilities."
Aguirre himself commended Nichols as "stellar talent" and able to play his character "with total abandon to self ego".
Following another guest spot in She Spies, Nichols then simultaneously co-starred in two box office successes.
In 2004, he was cast as J.D., an intelligent rich kid and romantic rival to Jake Gyllenhaal's main character in the environmental blockbuster, The Day After Tomorrow. The science and script were panned by critics, who also disapproved of performances by the cast.
At the same time, he appeared as Jake Hammond, an arrogant tennis pro in Wimbledon, opposite Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany. The film was well received by critics, though it only did reasonably well at the US box office.
For the role, Nichols had to learn tennis from scratch and was trained to look professional by Pat Cash, who was taken aback by Nichols' stamina, saying "he had worked up to playing four or five hours a day", as well as being impressed by his talent at tennis, claiming "I've never seen anyone going from a double handed backhand to a single in literally five minutes and it looked great."
Nichols himself discovered a new respect for professional tennis players: "I really salute the players that go out there and can do that, they actually perform in front of these people for two or three hours. It's amazing."
After this success, Nichols co-starred in a pilot for 1/4 life, a TV series about 20 somethings living in New York, but which was not developed by a television network. He then had a minor role in 2005's Thanks to Gravity, an obscure and panned film.
Nichols followed this with short guest spots for several episodes in both in Pasadena and Surface, before being cast in another successful film, Glory Road.
Glory Road, directed by James Gartner and starring Josh Lucas is a film based on the true story of the 1966 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship, in which Coach Don Haskins led a team with an all-black starting lineup, a first in NCAA history.
Nichols played the one of the few white man on the team, for which he trained very heavily and had to master basketball as it was played in the 1960s, saying "I'd never been so sore in my life".
While the film was not a box office hit, it made $46,000,000 receiving positive reviews, though fans were more enthusiastic than the critics.
After the success of Glory Road, Nichols appeared in an episode of CSI:Miami, and starred in Lenexa, 1 mile, a film about of five childhood friends during their last summer together in Lenexa before college, who have to deal with disturbing secrets. The creators have not, as of 2006, announced plans to release the film.
Nichols' latest film is The House of Usher directed by Hayley Cloake and based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe. He plays the disturbed Roderick Usher, who has been described by Nichols as a "twisted, terminally ill, fucked-up guy".
The House of Usher was released in January 2007.
Nichols also played Neal Cassady, along with Will Estes as Jack Kerouac, in the short film Luz Del Mundo.
In April 2006, Nichols signed a rare holding deal with the HBO Network. He had previously guest starred in Deadwood, a HBO Western series.
In August of that year, Nichols was cast as the lead in new series John from Cincinnati, a surfing drama created by David Milch, who had also produced Deadwood. The series was picked up by HBO to air in the Summer of 2007.
Besides his acting career, Nichols maintains a strong interest in film. He keeps a film log for every film he sees, saying "I take it to the movies and write down who does the music, edits, directs, and how long the film is."
According to an interview in 2003 with Claire Oswalt, an ex-girlfriend, Nichols watches an average of 20 movies a week. He especially admires Hal Ashby, Sam Fuller, and John Ford.
In addition to his interest in film, Nichols also enjoys golf, tennis, and horseback riding.
Nichols dated artist Claire Oswalt for seven years, before breaking off their engagement in 2004. The breakup was apparently bitter; he has mentioned in an interview he was living out of his car and sleeping on friends' couches for some time afterwards.
Nichols has been close friends with fellow actor Jake Gyllenhaal since the two met on the set of The Day After Tomorrow in 2004.
Nichols said in one interview, "I've learned a ton from Jake. He's a really sharp guy. He told me everything about acting, the business, girls, life."