Nico Parker: Her Life Before The Last Of Us And Where She's Going Next

In many ways, Nico Parker was your typical teen when she launched her acting career; she was attending a London school and was a huge fan of Zendaya and the Netflix animated series "Big Mouth." But unlike a vast majority of others in her age range, she can boast having Zendaya as an Instagram follower. "For any mixed-race kid, that's amazing," Nico told Glamour. "When she was on Disney, I always thought, 'Wow, she's someone that kind of looks like me!'" Nico also thought it was pretty cool when her lookalike mom, actor Thandiwe Newton, informed her that she voices a hormone monstress on "Big Mouth," Newton proudly revealed on "The Late Show."

Nico's parents met when Newton starred in the BBC movie "In Your Dreams." Nico's dad, Ol Parker, was the screenwriter, and his other writing credits include "The Best Exotic Marigold Motel" and "Mama Mia! Here We Go Again," which he also directed, while Newton's prolific movie credits include "Beloved," "Crash," and "Mission: Impossible II." She also won an Emmy for the HBO series "Westworld," in which she plays an android who gains sentience and discovers how depraved humans can be. "I'm an empowered woman. I wanted to do 'Westworld' for my kids, particularly for my girls," Newton told the Daily Mail. Nico described her passionate, conscientious mother as being fiercely protective in an interview with Teen Vogue, and both of her parents helped guide her as she became a star in her own right.

Let's take a look at Nico Parker's life before "The Last of Us," and where she's going next.

How Barbie inspired the real-life princess' early career aspirations

Thandiwe Newton's great-grandfather on her Zimbabwean mother's side was a Shona chief, so both she and Nico Parker are real-life princesses. However, for a time, Parker revered a celebrity she believed held an even grander title: Oprah Winfrey. Newton told the Daily Mail that she and the media mogul developed a close bond while working together on the movie "Beloved." On "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" in 2019, Parker said that her family even got to stay at Oprah's palatial home. However, she was just a toddler at the time and didn't realize what a privilege this was. "I was like, 'Mom, who is Oprah?'" Parker recalled saying on the way there. "She was like, 'Oh, Oprah is the queen of the world.'" According to Parker, she took her mom's Oprah praise at face value. "I then, for a long time, believed that Oprah was the queen of the world," she confessed.

For a princess who grew up with a mother who counted Oprah as a dear friend and invaluable mentor, Parker didn't have grand aspirations as a child. In fact, when she was 14, she told W magazine that she still wanted to achieve her dream of getting hired at a café someday. "There was this film I watched all the time when I was 6 or 7, 'Barbie: Princess Charm School,' and that's what she did, and it just looked so fun," she explained.

Nico Parker decided to embrace her natural hair at young age

In many of the photos on her Instagram page, Nico Parker is rocking a gorgeous afro, and her followers are big fans of the natural look. "You have the best hair in The Galaxy," wrote one commenter. "Your hair should be considered a new wonder of the world," declared another admirer. But in a 2020 interview with Glamour, Parker confessed that there was a time when she desperately wanted to straighten her textured curls, explaining that she had grown frustrated with the time and effort it took to maintain her signature hairstyle. To keep her crowning glory looking its best, she had to pick out tangles and tame frizziness by committing to a conditioning routine.

Speaking to Kay Montano in a 2012 interview that was published on the makeup artist's website, Thandiwe Newton revealed that she decided to quit straightening her own hair after watching Chris Rock's "Good Hair" documentary and learning about the dangerous chemicals that are in relaxers. She also wanted to set a good example for Nico and her sister. "I didn't want my daughters to judge their beautiful curls," Newton said.

Parker told Glamour she realized it bothered her mom that she wanted straight hair, but it turned out that Newton had nothing to worry about. "When I was about 11 years old, I figured out how to do my own hair and I thought, 'I have the coolest hair in the world!'" Parker recalled.

She thought her parents' jobs were boring

Having two parents employed in the film industry afforded Nico Parker some incredible opportunities even before she decided to pursue an acting career. She got a lesson about rigging lights while her father was filming "Mama Mia! Here We Go Again," and paying close attention to the call sheet paid off when she got to meet Cher and Meryl Streep. Nico and her sister, Ripley Parker, also joined their mom on the set of the horror flick "Retreat" when they were children. They were watching her film a death scene that called for her to feign being shot in the forehead and found it so hilarious that they had to leave. "We were laughing so hard," Nico recalled on "The Late Show" in 2020. Thandiwe Newton explained, "I just thought it would be good for them to see the before and after so that it would demystify the whole thing."

According to Nico, spending a lot of time on movie sets as a child wasn't usually so exciting. On "Late Night with Seth Meyers," she revealed that everyone spent so much time doing nothing and waiting around that she once remarked, "You guys just don't do any work." But when she was bored on the "Westworld" set, she did experience one memorable moment when her father told her and Ripley, "Go play over there by that dead body." The prop turned out to be a lifelike dummy designed to look like their mom.

Nico Parker's first movie role was in a Disney film

Nico Parker had zero acting credits when a casting director viewed a few videos she'd uploaded to YouTube and saw star quality. She was invited to audition for Disney's live-action remake of "Dumbo," in which she would play Milly Farrier, the daughter of an elephant handler (Colin Farrell). Nico was 12 when her father, Ol Parker, helped her film an audition tape at home. For a Dumbo stand-in, they used a toy polar bear.

Per an interview with The Telegraph, director Tim Burton wasn't told who Nico's mother and father were, so her familial connections didn't influence his decision when he decided to cast her as the human friend of the movie's titular big-eared elephant baby. Nico spoke about what it was like meeting Burton for the first time, saying, "I was so intimidated. ... I expected him to be quiet and shy and to not want to speak to me, but he is so nice and helpful with everything."

Nico also told The Hollywood Reporter that she opted against asking her mother for acting tips, getting her education on the movie's set instead. Luckily, she was surrounded by patient and kind teachers. (In addition to Farrell, the cast included Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, Eva Green, and Alan Arkin.) "Everyone's really supportive. If you get something wrong, it's not the end of the world," Nico told Teen Vogue. "Which at the time I thought it was."

Nico Parker's lookalike mom helped her promote Dumbo

Nico Parker wasn't interested in becoming an actor until after she got cast in "Dumbo." While promoting the film in 2019, she quipped to People, "I didn't want to just follow in my mom's footsteps, but now I'm following in my mom's footsteps." Thandiwe Newton, meanwhile, happily embraced her stage mom role. She's always wanted the best for her children and even had Parker's future in mind when she named her after Andy Warhol's musician muse. "[Nico] is the name of many boys in Europe," Newton told the Daily Mail. "It's about not letting her feel 'less than' in the gender competition."

Newton joined Parker on the red carpet when it came time to promote "Dumbo," which inspired many headlines about their striking resemblance. The proud mom told People she wasn't just being supportive, but protective, saying, "She's got me to just be this she-tiger, waiting to pounce at any moment, just looking after her." Parker was happy for the company. She told Blackfilm that she especially enjoyed getting to wear coordinating velvet dresses to the movie's premiere. "I wouldn't do this with my dad because he's not going to wear a matching suit," she said.

In a joint interview with her mom, Parker was positively beaming while speaking about how much her mother's support means to her. "I really like how proud she is of everything I do, and it really encourages me," she told Variety as Newton smiled beside her.

Adjusting to post-lockdown life was tough for Nico Parker

Nico Parker spent lockdown at her family's London home in 2020. In addition to parents Thandiwe Newton and Ol Parker, her pandemic cohabitators included her younger brother, Booker Parker, older sister Ripley Parker, and Ripley's girlfriend. "It is a blessing to be with all of my children, to have them locked in the house for eight weeks," Newton said in a virtual interview with "The Late Show" host Stephen Colbert. 

Ripley had temporarily returned home after moving out, and Nico found it difficult to get used to her presence again. "It taught me that me and my sister cannot live together. The butting heads was intense," she admitted on "Late Night with Seth Meyers." Ripley is apparently a force to be reckoned with; she's so opinionated and outspoken that she once called former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson the c-word to his face.

But there were plenty of perks to being stuck at home, including the ability to mute math class and leave while long-distance learning via Zoom. "Lockdown started to be like a comfort blanket because I'm now an extreme introvert," Nico revealed in an October 2020 interview with Glamour. "I've become really comfortable with my own company and being in my room in my little sanctuary." This made resuming normal life somewhat difficult for the young actor, who said, "I'm trying to get away from that and train myself back into the new routine."

Nico Parker starred alongside her mother in a sci-fi film

Thandiwe Newton almost appeared alongside Nico Parker in "Dumbo." Tim Burton considered casting her as the late mother of Parker's character, which would have only required Newton to pose for photos. "We didn't go there because we thought it'd be a waste of her talent, and also we didn't want it to be too distracting to other people," said Derek Frey, one of the film's producers, to The role went to Zelda Rosset Colon instead, but Parker got another opportunity to appear onscreen with her mom in 2021, when they were both cast in the sci-fi mystery "Reminiscence." Newton was aged up for the ending, and Parker played her character's granddaughter. "It was like passing the torch on," Newton told Net-a-Porter of the experience. "She's amazing."

In between shooting "Dumbo" and "Reminiscence," Parker worked alongside Jude Law, Naomie Harris, and Emily Watson in the limited series "The Third Day." She spoke to Glamour about what it was liking filming the horror-mystery, saying, "It was grueling work. ... It taught me how much I can handle and where my boundaries are whilst working with people like Naomie who is beyond the nicest person." In addition to getting a master class in her craft from actors who made her feel exhausted just watching them, Parker also learned a handy trick from Harris: hide oil blotting papers everywhere to get rid of any unwanted shininess during filming.

She found out she got a big role through a question about her height

Before Nico Parker auditioned for "The Last of Us," she hadn't played the video game on which the HBO series is based. However, she had watched playthroughs of the popular game on YouTube years earlier. While she found the story riveting, it was tough subject matter for an 8-year-old to emotionally process. "I would watch just the silent gameplay and cry quietly to myself. ... It gave me extensive nightmares," she told Inverse. In a January 2023 interview with Glamour, Nico revealed that she re-watched it with a friend when she was older — and coincidentally auditioned for the show just days later.

Nico's dad, Ol Parker, helped her film an audition tape for the role of Sarah Miller, a teen girl who witnesses the start of a fungal pandemic that turns humans into terrifying mushroom zombies. "It was kind of awkward as I always freeze up a bit because I'm scared of his disapproval," Nico recalled. She was also nervous when she met the game's creator, Neil Druckmann, and was convinced that he didn't like her at all. "When I got [the role], I was like, 'What?!'" she said.

Nico learned the good news when the series' showrunner, Craig Mazin, contacted her father to ask him whether the height listed for Nico on the internet was correct. (It wasn't.) "My dad was like, 'I think you've got the part because he wouldn't ask otherwise,'" she recalled.

How she felt about the backlash to her casting in The Last of Us

Some fans of "The Last of Us" video game were unhappy when Nico Parker was cast as Sarah Miller in the HBO series because the original character is white, while Parker comes from a mixed-raced background — her father, Ol Parker, is white, and her mother, Thandiwe Newton, is biracial. Nico told The Cut that she's unbothered by any racist bellyaching about her casting. "I don't really give it too much thought because if that's your opinion on it, I'm never gonna appeal to you," she said. "I don't give those opinions too much value." She did, however, say that she better understands the disappointment of fans who just wanted the show to be a carbon copy of the game that they adore so much.

While Nico doesn't care what racists think, she told Glamour she was initially taken aback by just how vocal some of the game's more toxic fans were about her casting, which is not a situation she'd faced before. "I'm like, 'I don't know any of you, and you don't know me at all,'" she recalled thinking. "It's bizarre that many people care about you enough to genuinely take time out of their day to say something positive or negative about you." Nico previously told Glamour that she avoids reading comments on Instagram to limit the amount of vitriol she's exposed to online, a helpful practice that she learned from her mom.

Nico Parker became besties with The Last of Us co-star Pedro Pascal

In an interview with Looper, Nico Parker confirmed everyone's suspicions about Pedro Pascal, who plays her on-screen father in "The Last of Us." She gushed, "He's wonderful to work with. He is the dream fake father, on-screen parent." She told Glamour that she and Pascal had little time to get to know one another before they started filming together, but they got on so well that it was easy to make it seem like they had a real father-daughter bond. "He's wonderful. I don't have enough nice words to say about him," she said.

Parker wasn't kidding; she praised "The Mandalorian" star yet again in an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, saying, "Very quickly, I was like, 'Oh my god, this is my best friend!' ... It didn't feel like either of us were kind of faking anything. ... Obviously, he could secretly hate me, but I'd have no idea!" We strongly suspect that this isn't the case, as Parker later told The Cut that she and Pascal FaceTime regularly, and they've both posted adorable Polaroid shots of the two of them sharing what look like genuine father-daughter moments on their Instagram pages. 

In true dad fashion, Pascal can also confuse Parker with his social media behavior. When he simply wrote the word "Bonks" in response to an Instagram slideshow featuring pictures from her photoshoot with The Cut, Parker replied, "What does this even mean."

Nepotism has helped her, but she's experienced career dry spells

Nico Parker recognizes that her experiences growing up in the entertainment industry set her apart from other aspiring actors who lack the connections she has; most wannabe entertainers don't get to vacation in Croatia because their father filmed "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" there. "It was the perfect holiday," Nico told British Vogue of the experience.

There are actors with famous parents who won't acknowledge that who they were born to has benefited them, like Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn's daughter, Kate Hudson. She once told the Independent that her thoughts on nepotism are, "If you work hard and you kill it, it doesn't matter." Nico believes differently. "I think it's incredibly important to recognize that with your parents being prevalent in the industry, it's way easier to get in the room," she told The Cut. The young actor added that she also owes some of the opportunities afforded to her to the way her parents, Thandiwe Newton and Ol Parker, have treated others in the industry, noting that it helps when you get to know your parents' connections. "They want to give you a chance because they like you," she explained.

But Nico told Glamour that she has experienced dry spells while looking for work that sometimes make her feel like she doesn't measure up to her peers. "It's like, 'Why is that not happening for me?'" she said. "The industry is competitive." So nepotism doesn't necessarily equal sustained success.

Nico Parker landed a dramatic role starring alongside Hollywood heavyweights

In 2022, Nico Parker landed a lead role starring alongside Woody Harrelson and Laura Linney in "Suncoast," a movie about a teen who befriends an activist (Harrelson) after taking her brother to the same hospice where Terri Schiavo died. Linney plays the mother of Parker's character. The drama was filmed in South Carolina, so Parker spent a great deal of time away from her family. "I lived on my own like a full-blown adult," she told The Cut. "The screams of my brother playing 'Fortnite' downstairs were more missed than I realized."

Harrelson previously worked with Parker's mother, Thandiwe Newton, on "Solo: A Star Wars Story," giving Parker a third "Star Wars" connection in addition to Newton and "The Last of Us" co-star Pedro Pascal. She hinted that she'd like to join them in that universe, telling Yahoo! Entertainment, "I'm waiting on my invitation."

Parker previously told The Hollywood Reporter that she'd also love to join the Spiderverse as Spider-Man, and she revealed that she wants her dad to direct her in something in an interview with The Telegraph. She'd like to work with her mom again, too, telling Variety that she might even pen the screenplay for their next project. But she doesn't have to collaborate with her parents to know how they feel about her work. "They are incredibl[y] supportive," Parker said. "I'm so lucky that they are and that they appreciate what I do."