Nicholas Lea is used to suffering for his art. As shadowy renegade Alex Krycek on The X-Files, he's continueally taking abuse from his archnemesis, FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder.
"I've been hung off balconies, had my arm cut off, been beaten to a pulp by Mulder," the 38-year-old actor says with a laugh. "I asked [series creator] Chris Carter once, "Can I hit David [Duchovny]?" Chris said, "No. He's the hero."
Lea recently put all that practice with pain and suffering to good use: For the upcoming mountaineering thriller, Vertical Limit, he spent months on a New Zealand soundstage pretending that his legs were broken, his ribs crushed and that he was dying an excrutiating death at an oxygenless height of 24,000 feet.
"It was like doing a little play on this soundstage. We had to imagine that it was 30 below, but it was really like 115 degrees. I must have sweat off five pounds," Lea says. "And your mind wanders and you just start thinking."
All that reflection has led Lea to what he considers to be a critical moment in his career. When Lea was a twentysomething Vancouverite, fresh out of art school, jettisoned from a singer/songwriter stint in a Canadian pop band, he was quick to seize any acting gig just to avoid a return to his previous day job: selling men's clothing. Lea found respite from pinstripes and power ties with a bit part in the Dorothy Stratten biopic Star 80, followed by guest spots on series television.
Now the once-young turk is eager to "tread lightly and make the right decisions." After coming close to replacing Jimmy Smits on NYPD Blue (Rick Schroeder nabbed the role) and getting the heave-ho without explanation from a promised lead role in Chris Carter's DOA Harsh Realm, Lea is ready for some new challenges. "Opportunities to work come up all the time," Lea says. "But I'm trying to build a career I'm proud of. I have to constantly ask myself, 'Should I go off and doing something because it might be popular and a lot of people might see it, or is it better to be doing a project because it's going to really challenge and change me as a creative person?'" - J. Rentilly