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From Tahoe to Hollywood: Local girl making name for herself

Tim Hauserman
Special to the Sun
Nik Isbelle is as an actress, known for small roles in The Sentient (2011), The Happy Ones (2011) and South Bay (2008).
Courtesy Josh James |

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Click here to learn more about Nik Isbelle on the Internet Movie Database.

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Ten years after graduating from North Tahoe High School, Nicole Todd Isbell is an actress in Hollywood, now known as Nik Isbelle.

She’s been finding work in theater productions, television shows, commercials, music videos, web series, short films, feature films and modeling, while trying to make it to the big time.

Her acting career began at the age of five, when the traveling Missoula Children’s Theater came to North Tahoe and recruited children to play parts in the shows they presented here. She continued to perform with Missoula all the way until high school.

While the Children’s Theater first touched her with the acting bug, it was the drama program at Rideout School in Tahoe City that Isbelle says, “had a huge impact on me. That is when I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life.”

She still remembers the speech she made in fourth grade in a performance of “Charlie Brown,” and in fifth grade as part of the “Wizard of Oz.”

At North Tahoe High, she studied under drama teacher Mrs. Perada. As a freshman, she was in the play “Sugar,” based on “Some Like it Hot.” As a sophomore, she was in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

But the North Tahoe High School drama program dissolved after Isbelle’s second year.

“Mrs Perada was amazing. It was devastating when she left,” Isbelle said.

But she and her parents were determined to keep her dream alive. In the last two years of high school, she would travel to rehearsal in Carson City or Reno almost every day after school and often on weekends.

“I remember being upset about missing all the football games and what went on in high school,” she said. “But I was aware you had to sacrifice things.”

After high school, Nikki went to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to study drama, but within a year she realized that what she wanted to be doing was acting, not studying acting.

She moved to Los Angeles, and has been focusing on the tedious and challenging task of making it in Hollywood over the past eight years.

Isbelle goes to a lot of auditions. She has a manager and an agent who get her invited but then it is up to her to compete with the thousands of others also searching for their dream.

Isbelle says that when you go in for an audition, the first call may include 500 people, then 10 people will be called back, and then they bring it down to two for the final audition.

Those two are often equally qualified for the role, and it often comes down to a certain look they are trying to find.

“You have to be OK with whatever happens,” she says. “If you don’t get it, better luck next time.”

Becoming a successful actress is a daunting numbers game and when the opportunity arises, you have to be ready to grab it.

“I study really hard, taking acting class for the last few years. It kicks your ass,” Isbelle said. “I’ve learned recently what it is to be a professional actor. You need to be ready to go when they need you. When they say action, you have to be exactly what they need. You have to have your craft honed.”

But she is still learning how to not take rejection personally, even though it is an everyday part of the process.

“Living in LA makes you doubt the decision to become an actress every other week,” she said. “Then the next week, I love it.”

Recently, Isbelle worked on an episode of the TV show “House.”

“I was a fantasy of a patient. I had to bleed to death,” she said. “It was a super sexy fantasy — I was trying to seduce him, and it turns into a nightmare. It was a really cool experience.”

She has been in commercials for Samsung, Taco Bell, USAA Insurance and Acura. More recently, she finished her first theater show in LA, performing in “Time Stands Still.”

Steven Stanley of “StageSceneLA.com said of her performance, “As for the character that I consider Time Stands Still’s Secret Stealth Weapon, it’s hard to imagine a fresher, richer take on Mandy than the utterly winning Isbelle, the up-and-coming young actress not only giving us a young woman whose apparent cluelessness hides both savvy and depth, but acing three of the best-written speeches you’ll hear all year.”

Isbelle may have finally found her calling in the theater.

“There is something about being live,” she said. You never know what is going to happen.”

In fact, flush with her success, she is planning to move soon to New York, where there are more theater opportunities, as well as plenty of work in television and movies.

Still, wherever she goes, Tahoe is still a big part of her.

“I love, love, love coming back to Tahoe. It’s the best place to recharge,” she said. “Tahoe gave me a solid foundation that has made it easier not to lose myself in the LA lifestyle. Tahoe is an incredible place to grow up.”

Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at writeonrex@yahoo.com.


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