Advice from parents Thandiwe Newton and Ol Parker follows “a ‘you can do this’ kind of theme,” says Nico Parker
Ahead of filming the recent Sundance Film Festival hit Suncoast (in theaters now and also streaming on Hulu), the 19-year-old Parker admits to “having some doubt in myself that I would be able to carry out a narrative and a story like that and have an audience be compelled the entire time.”
As Doris, a teenage girl coping with her sick brother moving into the same Florida hospice center as the dying Terri Schiavo in 2005, Parker had her share of heavy dramatic material, with Laura Linney and Woody Harrelson in supporting roles.
But Newton, 51, was “incredibly supportive” as both parent and peer, the young star tells PEOPLE. “A ‘you can do this’ kind of theme [runs] through all of our conversations.”
She adds that the Emmy-winning Westworld star’s feedback is “never specific to the industry or to acting. It's more so just general life advice.”
Parker also turned to her father, Ticket to Paradise writer-director Ol Parker, for thoughts. “They both read the script, they loved the script,” she recalls of Suncoast, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama from writer-director Laura Chinn.
“Because it is so predominantly a Doris-heavy film, I just think the idea of having to be the focal narrator of something like that felt incredibly daunting.” But both parents gave the actress the confidence required to take on a role that Sundance audiences would later laud her for; Parker received a jury award from the fest recognizing her breakthrough performance.
“Anything that they've tried to instill in me as a person, ways to behave and not to behave or how to treat others — all of that, I think you just take it on board and let it flourish in you however it will. And so a lot of that, I've definitely taken and used in a work setting, but it's never specific to that.”
Related: The Best Photos from Sundance 2024
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Parker also found elements in Suncoast that felt “reminiscent” of her adolescence, although Doris’ parents don't resemble Parker’s own. “The way that I related to the character was in the way that I think any teenager that feels misunderstood by the people around them. I think everyone, when they're growing up, can feel so singular, and anything that's happening to you, even though it could be happening to others, it feels like it's such an independent experience.”
She adds that teens — on screen and in real life — can be seen as “selfish for wanting to go to prom or have a boyfriend or get drunk. You so often look at that character and see them as this shallow void. But I think being a teenager, it's so common to just crave experience, you crave new things. And I just loved that [Doris] had that in her.”
Suncoast, says Parker, “shines a light on everyone's different ways of coping and feeling and healing.”
Parker’s parents married in 1998 and separated in 2022. They share another daughter, Ripley, 23, as well as son Booker Jombe, 9.
Newton, whose recent credits include voiceover roles in Big Mouth and Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, said in 2018 that she would protect Parker’s entrance into Hollywood “like a lioness.”
Speaking to Britain’s This Morning, she commended her daughter’s work in Disney’s live-action Dumbo. "She's been on endless sets," Newton said at the time. "It's not that she takes it for granted, but it's not a world that she feels she's not entitled to be in."
Parker also played Sarah Miller, onscreen daughter of Pedro Pascal’s Joel, in the hit 2023 drama The Last of Us. She’ll next star in the live-action adaptation of How to Train Your Dragon, scheduled for 2025.
Suncoast is in theaters and on Hulu.
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