Portrait of a librarian, Bill Nikolai.
Last week, I promised a post about another adventurer librarian… this time, a real one! 😀
This week’s post shines the spotlight on Bill Nikolai, a librarian at Vancouver Community College (VCC) in Vancouver, British Columbia… who also happens to be an actor, a stand-in and a photo-double (those are two different jobs, as I have found out), as well as a paraglider, among other things. Wow!
A few years ago, Bill contacted me after he came across my post on Reel Librarians about our visit to the Vancouver and the (awesome) Vancouver Public Library, a post that included a behind-the-scenes look at a TV pilot that was shooting at the library one of the days we happened to visit. After a few emails back-and-forth, I asked Bill if we could do a librarian profile, and just three years later… here we are! And it’s sooooooo worth the wait, as Bill has had — and continues to have — an amazing life, both in AND outside the library.
By the way, here’s the quick backstory for the photo shown at right: This pic was a photo gag for an April Fool’s blog post about fitness in the VCC Library, and was also part of a “Men of IT” charity calendar at VCC.
From the film biz…
Prior to beginning his career as an academic librarian, Bill, in his own words, “dabbled in the film biz” after taking acting courses as an undergraduate.
He so much resembled actor Richard Dean Anderson that he ended up as his double for both MacGyver and Stargate SG-1. (Side note: I *loved* MacGyver, y’all. LOVED. Watching MacGyver every week with my family remain some of my happiest memories of childhood. I grew up in the country backwoods of northeast Texas, with access to only one TV channel, ABC. Thank goodness MacGyver was on ABC!) So this bit of trivia about MacGyver had me geeking out and asking Bill questions like, “How glorious was Richard Dean Anderson’s feathered mullet up close?”
And here are some awesome photos of some AWESOME mullets, courtesy of Bill himself:
Photodoubling Richard Dean Anderson for a low-flying helicopter scene in Season 4 of MacGyver, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai.
Working as a stand-in for Richard Dean Anderson on MacGyver (complete with mullet!), photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai
Bill Nikolai and Richard Dean Anderson had a lot of fun on and off set, occasionally skiing together as well as playing a version of hockey on set with pucks made out of used camera tape, with doorways and table legs used as goals. Such an awesome visual — I’m sure there were a lot of double-takes (har har, pun intended) when they were together! ♥
Bill also got an occasional line or two on Stargate SG-1 as the character Tech. Sergeant Vern Alberts, in addition to photo-doubling and standing in for Richard Dean Anderson.
In uniform as Airforce Tech Sergeant Vern Alberts on Stargate SG-1, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai
Photodoubling RDA in Stargate SG-1, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai
More about the Stargate experience and his role as Vern Alberts:
“Stargate was an interesting gig in that mostly I worked as a stand-in, but I also often would do Richard’s off-camera lines for other actors if he wasn’t available on set for their singles (as opposed to two shots or other wide shots that included RDA). Sometimes the shot would catch a bit of “Richard’s” back (an “over-the-shoulder” shot); often that shoulder would be mine. I did a lot of the close-up hand doubling as well, both on MacGyver and Stargate. Lastly, occasionally, I would get a line or two as my own recurring character, an Airforce Tech Sergeant (my character finally became known as Vern Alberts), often with General Hammond (played by the late Don Davis) hovering over my shoulder in the Stargate control room. The name “Vern” was established in an episode called Window of Opportunity when Rick shouts “How’s the wife and kids, Vern?” as he is cycling past me in a hallway. My real-life middle name is Vern (after my father, Werner); the “wife and kids line” was improvised, so just before delivering it, Rick asked me what I wanted my first name to be. Vern was a bit of an homage to my dad.”
Kibbitzing with Richard Dean Anderson, in 2006, underwater, on the set of Stargate Atlantis. Photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai.
Here’s the backstory of the photo above, courtesy of Bill:
“This episode involved a spacecraft crashing into the ocean and Colonel O’Neill (by then, a general, I believe) is forced to try to regain control of the craft as it sinks and fills up with water. I was there to potentially double RDA in some of the scenes. ( I have Advanced SCUBA training and am comfortable in confined spaces.) In the end, Rick did all his own action in this episode. This was just prior to the start of library school at UBC and coincidentally, this episode was largely shot on campus in the Marine Engineering facility, where the production had access to a large tank that could accommodate the submerged spacecraft.”
And OF COURSE y’all know that I looked Bill up on IMDb.com, right? Check out Bill Nikolai’s IMDb.com profile for yourself.
What was Bill’s favorite day on a set? It was for a 2000 TV movie called First Target (also, check out the film’s trailer here, which also features him!), and as Bill described it, “[A day] in which I got to kiss a very bad girl, then got drugged, kicked and drowned by her.” The “very bad girl” was a beautiful assassin, played by Ona Grauer, and it serves as the one time he also got to do a stunt. The TV movie also starred Daryl Hannah.
You can check out the scene in the video below:
“First Target,” uploaded by Eduardo Pérez, Standard YouTube license
… to the library biz…
Bill earned his Master’s in Library Science at the i-School at the University of British Columbia in 2008 at the age of 51 and has been working full-time ever since at the Vancouver Community College Library, where he co-led the library instruction program and teaches information literacy classes. (As Bill and I are both librarians at community colleges, we have shared via email our common experiences about our love of teaching; our love of serving a diversity of students; and the myriad responsibilities, and usually smaller library staffs, that are a common reality for many community college librarians.) Before earning his MLS, Bill also had an academic career as an ESL instructor at different universities in Japan.
Check out Bill’s profile page, brief bio, and subject specialties here on the VCC LibGuides.
Bil Nikolai’s profile page on the VCC LibGuides
And Bill in another photo for the “Men of IT” charity calendar at VCC. (I feel 100% positive that charity calendar sold out! Go VCC!)
“Ask a Librarian” indeed! Photo for “Men of IT” charity calendar for VCC, courtesy of Bill Nikolai
That photo above TOTALLY FITS the description in the last lines of Bill’s personal bio on IMDB.com, right?!:
Bill subsequently returned to school and completed a second Master’s Degree. He now works as a mild-mannered college librarian in Vancouver.
Behold the “mild-mannered” librarian below, in a fun photo collage of him in 2006, before and after scary-looking monster makeup on the set of the failed TV pilot A.M.P.E.D. Of course, my favorite part is the photobombing of the classic library science textbook, Reference and Information Services: An Introduction. Bill had just started his library science program at UBC, and he brought along study material for the long hours spent in the makeup chair.
Fun fact: I also had the SAME textbook in library school for my reference services course in library school!
Collage of two shots Bill Nikolai put together, taken on the set of TV pilot A.M.P.E.D.
Also, I think I might just have my next Halloween costume idea… 😀
With retirement from the library on the horizon, Bill has started to get back into the acting game, as he is still a member of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), which is Canada’s version of the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) in the United States. He recently had a non-speaking acting role on the TV series Supernatural (April 2017, Season 12, Episode 18, “The Memory Remains“). His character was named “Black Bill,” and his role was to “slit someone’s throat in a flashback sequence … very un-librarian-like!” 😀
Bill was also featured this month on the cover of a local senior’s magazine, Inspired Senior Living:
Bill Nikolai’s cover and interview in Inspired Senior Living magazine, June 2017. Click screenshot to browse through the issue online.
The feature interview, entitled “Bill Nikolai: Flybrarian,” is a great read, with more pics of Bill and his wife, Linda. I really loved this quote in particular, which is toward the end of the article:
Quote from Bill Nikolai’s feature interview in the June 2017 issue of ‘Inspired Senior Living’ magazine
… and up to the skies
Bill Nikolai, librarian and paraglider, showcases how he likes to combine his “thinking person’s pursuits” — literally! This was another gag shot for another charity calendar. In the photo below, Bill is “reading” Inside the Sky: A Meditation on Flight, by William Langewiesche.
Paragliding librarian, photo courtesy of Bill Nikolai
And last but not least, below are a couple of videos Bill has shared about his “paragliding obsession” mentioned in the article linked above.
The “Paragrinding” video below was shot in September 2013 and screened at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, as well as at the Legacy Film Festival on Aging in San Francisco. (Bill shot all the GoPro footage.)
“ParaGrinding” by Bill Nikolai, via Vimeo
And here’s a link to a very recent paragliding video (3 minutes) that Bill also shot:
“Grouse Spring” by Bill Nikolai, Standard YouTube license
Like I said, Bill’s story was worth the wait, right?! 😀
Thank you so much, Bill, for getting back in touch with me and your willingness to share so much of your fascinating personal and professional story and behind-the-scenes photos. I am so honored to feature you here on Reel Librarians. You go into the Reel Librarians hall of fame, for sure, as you have an insider’s view in both the library and cinematic worlds.
By the way, when I first asked Bill about doing a “guest post” or profile for Reel Librarians, his charming and modest response was that he wasn’t sure his story would be “much of great interest to the librarians out there.”
Well, I’m a fellow librarian, and I find Bill’s story extremely interesting — AND inspiring!
Anyone else feel inspired around here? Please leave a comment and share!