Fans are used to seeing Nicholas Braun in swanky suits and silk ties as Cousin Greg on “Succession.” But in his new movie “Zola,” the Emmy-nominated actor is switching out the rosé for Red Bull.
Based on an infamous 2015 Twitter thread, the A24 flick, in theaters June 30, tells a mostly true version of a wild weekend gone wrong. Titular Zola (Taylour Paige), is a waitress from Detroit who is whisked down to Tampa, Florida, by her fast-friend Stefani (Riley Keough) with the promise of dancing for dollar bills. Accompanied by Stef’s dumpy boyfriend Derrek (Braun) and a mysterious figure known only as X (Colman Domingo), their fun girls’ trip quickly dissolves past the point of no return.
“It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s f – – ked up.” Braun told The Post. “I haven’t been as excited for people to see a film probably ever.”
His enthusiasm has been building for years: Braun first auditioned for the role in 2018. Unlike most of Twitter, he had never read the real Zola’s story on social media. When he read the script, co-written by Tony-winning playwright Jeremy O. Harris, he was hooked. “[It] magnified the [tweets],” Braun said. “It was like nothing I’ve ever read before.”
The 33-year-old actor immediately connected to Derrek, a bumbling tag-along with a nasty chin-strap beard who is hopelessly devoted to Stefani, despite her antics and uncertain interest in him. “I loved how emotional he was. And needy, and funny and kind of sad and obsessive about this girl,” said Braun, who lives in the East Village.
To tap into the character, the already lanky Braun lost 25 pounds on a diet of mostly candy and caffeine. “I just wanted to look unhealthy and feel unhealthy. I was in my clothes kind of baggy and weak and frail. I was more tired and having to fight through fatigue, and moody, unfortunately,” he remembered. “In retrospect, I should have eaten a little bit more, so I could have a bit more fun with everybody, but instead I was like, ‘No, I’m going to drink another iced coffee and feel weirder.’ ’’
But such hardships paid off. Braun said he’s “really happy” with his performance, and has since put the weight back on. “I think Derrek should feel strung out, like a bit of a drug addict for Stefani,” he said.
The film first screened at Sundance in January 2020, but the theatrical release was long delayed because of the pandemic. Having to stop the film’s momentum from the festival was “weird,” said Braun, but he thinks director Janicza Bravo made the right call to hold off on the release. “It’s not a movie you just want to pop on, like so many of the things we’ve watched during the pandemic that go right through your brain,” he said.
Meanwhile, Braun and his “Succession” castmates have been back at work, shooting Season 3 of the critically acclaimed HBO show, which is set to be released at the end of this year. This week, the actor will fly to Italy to film.
He has also signed on for another project spawn from a viral hit: Braun will star in an adaption of “Cat Person,” a popular New Yorker short story from 2017 about an unfortunate sexual encounter between a college student and a man in his 30s.
But for now, he’s devoted to “Zola.”
“I haven’t been to a movie theater since before the pandemic,” said Braun. “It’s time to go back to the theater, and this is the one to go back for.”