Nina Repeta is enjoying her new starring role.
Twenty years after being cast as Katie Holmes’ older sister in Dawson’s Creek, she now plays Mom to Banks, her nine-year-old son who has caught the same performing bug Nina did as a child. Banks did his first commercial shoot, with his mother, at the age of six. Nina was three when she did her first performance, in front of a crowd of strangers near her home in Shelby, outside of Charlotte.
“When the planetarium became very dark and the stars illuminated in the ceiling, I did my version of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’, and it brought the house down,” she says, calling it her “family story”. “Everyone cheered and clapped for the little girl who sang. So, I’ve always been singing.”
The performing continued through Nina’s childhood. She sang in church and also did musicals every year at the Malcolm Brown Auditorium in Shelby. Nina was later accepted into the School of Theater and Dance at East Carolina University, the same program attended by Kevin Williamson, who would go on to create Dawson’s Creek. It’s also where Nina met future husband Michael.
“It was a great time where you had a whole lot of freedom as an artist to explore and do whatever it is that you want to do,” she says. “I’m a bit of a dreamer. I haven’t really sat down a made a “goal” plan. Things have miraculously unfolded, I guess.”
During her time at ECU, Nina was cast in the 1990 film The Handmaid’s Tale. A chance on-set meeting with hair designer Michelle Johnson led to Nina relocating to Wilmington. She talks about how the events unfolded at 8:30 of the podcast.
“So, I show up on set, and who is my hairdresser? Michelle,” Nina said. “She says ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m about to graduate East Carolina, I don’t know what I’m doing’. She said ‘I bought a house in Wilmington. Come live with me!’. So, I did. Mike followed soon after. She (Michelle) tipped him off about a little movie called ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’.”
Nina appeared in several episodes of Matlock after she moved to Wilmington. One of the directors that cast her was Leo Penn, the father of actors Sean and Chris Penn. At lunch one day, Nina remembers Leo Penn saying she needed to be in Los Angeles if she wanted to land bigger acting roles. She and Michael decided to follow Penn’s advice, so they packed up their belongings and headed for Hollywood.
“He said ‘when you come out to LA, you give me a call’,” she says. “So I did. That’s how I got funneled in to an agency that allowed my head shot to end up on the desk of Kevin Williamson for the original read for his pilot, Dawson’s Creek.”
Nina auditioned for several roles and Mike landed a job on the set at Universal. But neither worked out, money got tight, and the couple decided to return to their home in Wilmington. That’s when Nina got the call that Williamson wanted her to be Bessie Potter, the older sister to Katie Holmes’ character Joey. To make it even sweeter, the pilot was shooting in Wilmington, North Carolina. The rest, as they say, is history. Our conversation turned to Dawson’s Creek at 16:00 of the podcast.
"I will say, that first season, there was something so pure that it unfolded before us,” Nina says about fans finding the show. “I think that it wasn't until season two or season three that it just blew up. I think especially for the stars, because I'm not one of the main stars, I played Katie's sister on the show. But as I watched the fans come forward. I remember one time we were shooting at the USO Building on Second and Orange (streets), and fans followed us everywhere. Dawson's Creek, unlike Matlock so much, we were shooting little movies. So everywhere we went, we were on location and the fans could find us, and they did. It just, people gathered and gathered. We knew it was taking on speed because the people started showing up. It used to be a handful, and then there were 100, then we needed to have the cops to hold them back because everyone wanted to be next to the stars. I think after that first season we all knew it was something big, and it was something different, too.”
Like Holmes, the show put other young actors including James Van Der Beek, Michelle Williams and Joshua Jackson in the spotlight. Nina says in her opinion, all four did well handling the sudden stardom that grew from the show’s popularity. One of her favorite stories involves a fan approaching Jackson on location.
“I can remember Josh, a fan said ‘it’s my birthday’, and Joshua singing “Happy Birthday” and getting the whole crowd to do it, and I remember thinking ‘that’s awesome”, because we’re still, just people,” she says.
There was some controversy surrounding Nina’s character in the first season. Bessie was expecting an illegitimate child and was involved in a bi-racial relationship. Not many network television shows had broached these types of issues, but Williamson and Dawson’s Creek included them.
“The whole point with that show, and why it resonated with so many people is ‘let’s do these things that are actually happening in the world, and put it out there’,” Nina says about the creative leadership surrounding the series.
During the third season, Nina was invited to be Queen Azalea LIII for the 2000 North Carolina Azalea Festival. During the podcast at 26:15, Nina talks about getting the phone call and thinking it was an April Fool’s joke by one of her friends. She went on to enjoy the pomp and circumstance of the event, and eleven years later would return with her band as part of the festival’s entertainment.
“The best part of being Azalea Queen, for me, was Alonzo Wilson,” she says about her reign as queen. “Alonzo is the world’s greatest wardrobe designer, and he was on Dawson’s Creek. When they asked me to be the queen I went to Alonzo and said ‘What am I going to do? What am I going to wear?’ He is also a Wilmington native. He dressed me, and I was written up in the newspaper as the “Best Dressed Azalea Queen”, and I owe that to Alonzo Wilson.”
Dawson’s Creek ended its six-season run in 2003, but still remains popular with fans around the world. Nina looks back fondly at the relationships she built with the other actors on the show, and how convenient it was for her to work so close to home.
“Being able to shoot in Wilmington and be here, being able to continue the life Mike and I had already lived, you know, go on the water, go spearfishing, go surfing, go to Masonboro, we continued to do those things,” she says. “That was really lovely to be able to take some actors with us out on the boat and go and do what we do. I think they all fell in love with this town. I think if you could sit down and have a podcast with any of those stars they would say how much they loved living in Wilmington.” (Writer’s note: I’ve reached out to representatives for Van Der Beek and Holmes inquiring about podcast interviews. Neither have transpired as of yet.)
Since Dawson’s creek, Nina has had roles on several television series including Palmetto Pointe, The Originals and Good Behavior. She has also recorded two albums of original jazz music, and one Christmas album. Nina also plays live with her jazz trio and will be entertaining at a Mother’s Day brunch at Theater Now in Wilmington. There are also the duties of getting Banks to his auditions, and watching his interest grow after that first day of shooting with Mom.
“I said ‘You’re going to be acting’,” Nina remembers telling Banks when the commercial shoot needed a fill-in. “He said ‘What do I have to do?’ I said ‘You’re going to be my kid’. He said ‘Hold up. Are there any cuddling scenes, because I don’t do cuddling scenes!’”
You can keep up with Nina Repeta’s busy performing schedule by going to ninarepeta.com. You can also find her record albums and some of her artwork that is also for sale.
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