Growing up in the mountains of northern California in a town “so remote, it just wasn’t even on the map,” Marcus Coloma didn’t envision a future in show business — but show business definitely inspired his boyhood vision of the future. “The first movie I remember seeing was Jailhouse Rock and I wanted to be a musician because of that movie. And then I saw Back to the Future and I wanted to skateboard. Saw Top Gun, wanted to be a Navy pilot. Whatever movie I saw, I wanted to live in that world.”
In high school, Coloma was a football player and got good grades, but it wasn’t his academic drive that prompted him to graduate early at the age of 16. “I was following this girl,” he explains. “I thought we were going to get married and we ended up breaking up.” At 17, he dropped out of college after flunking chemistry (blame puppy love for that, as well; “There was this girl I was madly in love with that I talked to on the phone all night and I ended up missing the midterm”) and moved back in with his folks. “For about six months, I would literally just watch movies all day long. Finally, I realized that’s what I wanted to do, so I moved down to L.A.”
It was an impulsive choice, he acknowledges. “There was zero plan. I stayed in my car the first night, brushed my teeth at a gas station the next morning.” Eventually, Coloma enrolled in an acting class, got a job at a smoothie shop and settled into a tiny apartment in Venice Beach with a high school buddy. The first big break in his nascent acting career was booking a Diet Coke commercial. “That’s how I got into the union, which is a really big deal for a young actor,” he notes. “We shot it on the Warner Bros. lot and on my lunch break, at the height of FRIENDS, I saw Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow in the cafeteria. That was the first time I was in front of a camera, first time on a set.” His first scripted series, MTV’s sudsy UNDRESSED, soon followed. “That gave me a lot of confidence — it definitely gives you a little something to stand on instead of thinking, ‘Did I make the right decision? Is this possible?’ You go, ‘Okay, to some degree, this is possible and I’m going to keep doing it.’ ”
The mid-2000s were a bustling time in his career — and a period of personal growth. “I feel like I found that being young in Hollywood, you can hang out and party, almost like that scene in Pinocchio where they go to Fantasy Island. There are no adults, and there are these kids who have enough money to just kind of do whatever they want. I realized for me, that was not a successful [way to live]. I got really focused and honed in and that’s when things started to change and take off.” Case in point: In 2006, he landed a lead role on the UPN drama SOUTH BEACH, co-starring Vanessa Williams (“That was very surreal, to be onstage in New York with the executive producer, Jennifer Lopez”), and starred in the movie Material Girls opposite Hilary Duff.
Fast-forward to 2019. Coloma shot two pilots, one for ABC and one for FOX, and after learning that neither had made it to series, he got an email from his manager with news that GH was interested in him — though he didn’t know at the time that it was for the key role of Nikolas. “I didn’t know much about the soap opera world, but I was curious,” the actor says. “It started out kind of like a first date, like, ‘Let’s just meet and see what happens.’ So I go in and there were five other guys, maybe six other guys — and immediately, that competitive part of me wakes up a little bit. I was like, ‘I want this job now.’ From that point on, it was a whirlwind.” Indeed, landing the job was the easy part — actually taking on the part required “more dialogue and more scripts than I had ever done, and on top of that, another challenge was the history of the character — the family, Valentin Cassadine, [mastering] all of those names that are so easy now. Even my name, which is Nikolas Mikhail Stavrosovich Cassadine — one of my first lines was saying that! It was all off the deep end, you know? When I first started, I felt like my brain was going to break, it was so intense.”
It took a while for Coloma to feel like he’d gelled in the role — and with the audience. “It was rough because people were already adjusting to the new face in the role, and it wasn’t like [Nikolas] was going in and saving the day,” he points out. “He was, like, threatening to kill Cassandra Pearce, there was the thing with Hayden — what I learned was that you’ve got to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. You’ve got to be willing to stir the pot and to not shy away from conflict. I’ve real- ized that in entertainment, sometimes creating a bad reaction is a good thing. Sometimes you want the audience to not like you because at the end of the day, there’s got to be a bad guy. Otherwise, there’s no story! Fortunately, Nikolas really gets to skate on the edge of that — sometimes he’s the good guy, sometimes he’s the bad guy. And I feel like that’s closer to real life anyway.”
Over a year into his Port Charles stay, “I think it has only gotten better, more enjoyable and more fun,” he declares. “I am in such a good place with it right now. I really enjoy the work, the writing, the storylines. I enjoy my fellow cast members. I really enjoy the audience. In the beginning, I enjoyed it but I felt like the new kid in school, where you want people to like you but you’re not sure they do. Now, I feel a little bit more relaxed, like I’ve found my place there.”
PAIR THEE WELL
Marcus Coloma is a huge fan of his GH leading lady, Maura West (Ava). “I think my respect and admiration for her has just grown more and more,” he proclaims. “She takes these printed words on a piece of paper and she fills it with so much. I love the writing at GH, I’m just always impressed with what Maura brings. She’s so interesting to watch and so deep emotionally and I think she’s just such an incredible, professional actress. She is also super-warm and generous. She’s won three Emmys and she’s been doing daytime for so long and I’ve never once felt like the new guy around her. She’s just really supportive and such a great person to work with. I really feel like I’ve lucked out. It is so gratifying to see people becoming ‘NAva’ fans and to see comments like, ‘They’re my favorite couple on the show! They’re the reason I’m watching!’ That’s the biggest reward you can get as an actor, to know you’re entertaining people.”
DID YOU KNOW?
• Coloma has some real-life experience with returning from the dead. “When I was maybe 13 years old, I was swimming with this guy and we had a competition about who could hold their breath longer. I beat him, but then I kept going because I wanted to make sure that I really solidified the victory — and I literally blacked out underwater and had to be brought back to life. Luckily, the lifeguard was my mom, and she gave me CPR.”
• Nikolas isn’t his first time as a recast: He took over the role of Sam from Manolo Cardona in the sequels to Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
Just The Facts:
BIRTHDAY: October 18
PROVENANCE: He was born in Orem, UT, but moved to northern California when he was 4 years old. “It was a beautiful place to grow up, up in the mountains with waterfalls and rivers. The nearest restaurant was a 30-minute drive away — and it was a Taco Bell.”
SIBLING REVELRY: “I have an older brother who lives in Maui and two younger sisters who are still up in northern California.”
TUNED IN: “I really nerded out on this anime called CASTLEVANIA and watched all three seasons. I thought QUEEN’S GAMBIT was really great, and I recently revisited MOONLIGHTING because I feel like there are elements to the relationship of Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd that are similar to Nikolas and Ava.”
TAKE NOTE: The actor plays guitar and has been learning how to play piano. Might this lead to a Nurses’ Ball performance? “Storyline-wise, for Nikolas all of a sudden to be jumping up and singing seems a little bit out of character — but that said, I would do it and I would have a blast doing it!”
FATHER KNOWS BEST: Coco, his daughter with former wife Sophia Banks, turns 12 this month. “I love watching movies with her, I love getting shaved ice with her, and it is so rare that she will let me do this, but I love playing music and listening to her freestyle song lyrics. She always blows me away with what she comes up with lyrically and melodically.”