Rachel Nichols has had to be a quick study.
At age 25, after acting for only five years, the Augusta native is now starring in her own Fox TV series, “The Inside.” It premiered June 8.
Nichols is the first name in the credits for “The Inside,” which centers on a young profiler (Nichols) with the FBI’s Los Angeles Violent Crimes Unit. Also in the cast are Peter Coyote, Jay Harrington, Adam Baldwin, Katie Finneran and Nelsan Ellis.
Still, Nichols said she’s not that anxious about being the star of a network series.
“I have a great team of people who work on it with me, all of whom have more experience than I do,” she said in a phone interview during a break in filming. “Take, for example, Peter Coyote, who’s distinguished, talented and a perfect mentor figure.”
It’s been a whirlwind few years for Nichols, who graduated from Cony High School in 1998.
While earning degrees in economics and psychology at Columbia University, she modeled to help pay for college, including campaigns for Guess, L’Oreal, Abercrombie & Fitch and Nicole Miller.
“It was being in the right place at the right time,” she said about modeling. “A friend was working with an agency and they took my Polaroids. Modeling segued into commercials, which segued into acting.”
One of her first auditions earned her the guest part of Alexa, the restaurant hostess who became the birthday present from Samantha (Kim Catrall) to her boyfriend, Richard (James Remar), on the 2002 episode “A ‘Vogue’ Idea” of “Sex and the City.”
Other parts prior to her signing an exclusive contract with Fox TV in 2004 included a scene in the film “Autumn in New York,” co-starring in the film “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd” and guest-starring on the brief-lived TV series “In the Line of Fire.”
“The Inside” had an unusually long gestation period, with Nichols along for the ride. Originally, when the first pilot was shot in February 2004, it was a “21 Jump Street” clone, with Nichols playing an undercover agent at a high school. Then, in October 2004, the entire creative crew was fired except Nichols. Tim Minear, whose past projects included “Angel,” “Firefly” and “Wonderfalls,” was brought in to rework it. At this point, the series took on its current darker tone, and shooting began again in December of last year.
Nichols admitted she had doubts throughout this period.
“I was erring on the safe side, figuring that they were going to can the show,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised when we began shooting again.”
While she was waiting, Nichols acted in two films: Michael Bay’s updating of “The Amityville Horror,” now out on video, and the suspense film “The Woods,” which may be released by Sony Classics this fall.
Her TV character, Rebecca Locke, had a childhood trauma that helped to shape her being.
“The premise is like ‘What if Elizabeth Smart became a FBI agent?'” Nichols said. “The mind of a child who’s abducted goes through certain traumas, and I had to research that. But Rebecca is smart and good at theorizing and understanding. She’s also driven and motivated like me. She’s awkward socially with her co-workers at first, but I’m bringing more of Rachel into her.”
In the early episodes, Rebecca tends to follow her hunches, which put her in dangerous situations, and the other team members rescue her. That improves as the season progresses, Nichols said.
“The episodes are all very different,” she said. “Rebecca is going to relate to the victim. Following her head will get her in trouble, but will help her solve the case.”
Nichols is now filming the 12th of 13 episodes, then it’s wait-and-see time. After a trip to Monte Carlo to court the international press on behalf of “The Inside,” she will start seeking a small film to shoot during her hiatus.
“It’s not easy to audition when you work 14 hours a day,” she said with a laugh.
“The Inside”, Wednesdays 9 p.m., Fox