Gavin Leatherwood has always believed in magic. Touring nationwide as a young actor in Cathy Rigby’s stage rendition of Peter Pan, he learned card tricks and sleight of hand from a choreographer on set, and he admits he was “hell-bent” on pursuing the craft. Performing “just to try to blow my friends’ minds,” it seems his practice paid off: As the conflicted, bad-boy warlock Nicholas Scratch in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Leatherwood proves he’s got the supernatural skills to go toe-to-hoof with the devil himself — on screen, at least.
“Nick’s character arcs are just really fun to play,” Leatherwood tells MTV News about the role, which whips between the highest highs and lowest lows of all the characters on the popular show, making it an “incredibly rewarding” part for the 25-year-old.
Between Parts 1 and 3, Nick goes from promising prodigy at the Academy of Unseen Arts; to the flirtatious, sex-positive boyfriend opposite Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina Spellman; to a handsome holding cell for Satan. Even after Sabrina and her crew rescue him by luring the demon into the body of their former headmaster, Father Blackwood, Nick is tormented by what resembles legitimate, lingering trauma. It pushes him to self-medicate with a bender of drugs (dragon’s tears, to be precise) and sex: In what is perhaps the season’s most provocative moment, Leatherwood plays the submissive bottom to a troupe of demonic dominatrixes. As you might expect, those tactics didn't make Nick feel better. "To seek comfort in anything other than love and connection is a waste of time," Leatherwood says.
The season left fans with a lot of questions: Are Nick and Sabrina going to work it out, or does Sabrina still have feelings for her mortal ex Harvey? And what the hell are the “eldritch terrors” everyone’s been talking about? The crew wrapped Part 4 in February after 10 months of filming in Vancouver, Canada. While the release date has yet to be announced, Leatherwood promises there’s a lot to look forward to — including bigger, more complex bad guys and a changing relationship between Nick and the weirdest sister, Prudence Blackwood.
MTV News: Where did you grow up?
Leatherwood: I grew up in Southern California. Then we moved when I was 18, I had just graduated high school, and we moved up to Oregon and we had been there for a while. I've been back and forth for a while. I even lived here in New York for a few months before it chewed me up and spit me out.
MTV News: What do you mean?
Leatherwood: Just like, getting mugged while sleeping on a train, taking a nap. Sleeping on a bench for a night. It was a whole roller coaster of a thing, but a wonderful learning experience. I can come back now with a bit more ease.
MTV News: Were there any movies or TV shows you grew up loving that you feel like influenced your goals as an actor?
Leatherwood: I grew up with my older sister, and we watched Lizzie McGuire, That's So Raven, and Friends. And I remember seeing a young Leonardo DiCaprio on Titanic and feeling like, “I want to be that guy." Hercules was a big Disney movie that I loved. I used to sing: "I have often dreamed of a far-off place, with a great warm welcome." I pictured going on a journey, and the journey was acting, and the goal was to do that. It's a really surreal thing to have these last two years under my belt, or just in life, and looking back for a moment. I'm doing the thing I set out to do.
MTV News: And now you play Nicholas Scratch on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. What has been your favorite thing about portraying that character?
Leatherwood: It's fun to just play all these different levels of him and continue to add more to his personality. He's totally dynamic, and I love the challenges he's faced thus far. When we first see him, he's this collegiate, studious student, and he's attracted to Sabrina, and a bit of a flirt. In Part 2, we see that break down a little bit, and his heart becomes a bit bigger, like the Grinch. When it grows, he gets a little warmer and fuzzier. Then in Part 3, shit hits the fan.
MTV News: He's had some incredibly dark moments in Part 3. How did you prepare for that?
Leatherwood: You know when you think lovely thoughts to feel joyous? I did the opposite. To understand the foundation of where he was coming from, what he had been going through, doing what I could to empathize with his character, and essentially putting myself in the shoes of what that would be like, and just imagining it. I did write a bit about it. I feel like you do all this homework and then, when you get on set, you ball it up and chuck it away. You just try to play that moment as honestly and authentically as possible, which I'm still learning how to do.
MTV News: How do you recover from that mindset and prioritize self-care?
Leatherwood: That's a huge priority for me and should be for every actor who's doing things that are emotionally challenging. It requires a lot of face masks, baths, essential oils, and good calming music. Sometimes it's mindless TV or going out with friends and dancing — just something to sort of disrupt the pattern of what you've been doing.
MTV News: What were some of your favorite moments on set during Part 3?
Leatherwood: I really loved doing the impromptu music video. It was Luke [Cook], Kiernan, Chance [Perdomo], Sam [Corlett], and Miranda [Otto]; and Lucy [Davis], who had a terrible fever that day. We're walking down the halls of Baxter High, and we're all dancing and being silly. It's fun to have one-on-one scenes with Kiernan because we get to get into it, but when we have those big groups, it's really, really fun.
MTV News: Are there scenes you struggle with?
Leatherwood: I feel like the simpler scenes are just something that I struggle with as an actor, because I'm trying to do so many different things, and oftentimes it requires letting it all go and just being present in the moment, not trying anything. Getting emotional ... I don't do that in my normal life, so to have the opportunity as a character is really fun.
MTV News: Nick had one of the most memorable moments of Part 3 in the scene with the sex demons. What was that like, and were you intimidated?
Leatherwood: I try not to be. On the day, I met the two actors playing the sex demons, who were lovely and beautiful people. Then they got ready for a few hours and came back, and [the makeup] was a little intimidating, but you have to trust each other, know what the scene is, and have fun with it. Don't take it too seriously, right? We were all laughing. There are so many outtakes from that day. You have horns coming out of you in every direction and we're connected by chains. That's something that I don't think you really see in the shots that they use — is that we're all connected, by belts, on the back of me, to her neck, and to his arms, and they were pulling me and stuff.
MTV News: At the end of Part 3, there was this suggestion that there may still be something between Sabrina and Harvey. But is there anything left between Nick and Sabrina in Part 4?
Leatherwood: He will always have that love for Sabrina, and I don't think it's going anywhere. But Nick and Prudence had a bit of a moment on the steps outside of the Academy, as well. They're connecting and communicating for what feels like for the first time in a while. Nick's been having a lot of communication issues, especially with Sabrina, because the fate of the world rests on her shoulders and he doesn't feel like a priority. He feels like a burden. In the moment of opening up to a longtime friend in Prudence, we're seeing a part of him slowly come back.
MTV News: What about the “eldritch terrors” — what can we expect to see from them in Part 4?
Leatherwood: We're seeing a new form of a villain. We think Satan was nasty, but we have some terrors coming that are much more cerebral, trippy, and fascinating, and we face one almost every episode throughout Part 4.
MTV News: What do you hope viewers will take away from watching Nick?
Leatherwood: I would love viewers to learn from his coping mechanisms, how they were ineffective. Life inevitably throws us curve balls and things happen, and a common way to cope with that is to seek comfort in outside things, such as drugs and sex demons or what have you. It's not a legitimate way of dealing with your emotions. Truly, what Nick needed in Part 3 was connection, someone to talk to. We see a glimmer of hope at the very end when he sits with Prudence. To seek comfort in anything other than love and connection is a waste of time.
MTV NEWS: So, don't do drugs.
Leatherwood: Don't do drugs and don't associate yourself with a sex demon, green and pink and horny — I mean that in the physical sense.