Unlike most 17-year-olds, Nicole Elizabeth Berger has spent the last decade establishing a career in the entertainment industry—starring in films, modeling for brands like Swarovski and 7 For All Mankind, and fine-tuning her musical prowess.
“I always knew that I wanted to be a performer,” Berger says. Her mother, a classical violinist, instilled an appreciation of the arts from an early age. Berger started playing piano and made her acting debut at age 6, embracing her first real opportunity in film when she was cast in a leading role for All At Once, portraying a young musical prodigy whose parents died in the 9/11 attacks.
“I think this film really opened new doors for me because I was able to audition for more challenging and emotionally demanding roles after I showed that I could handle a more mature character in a troublesome setting,” Berger shares.
Now with nine movie credits—including six major roles—under her belt, Berger is on her way to achieving the success of her role models, highly accomplished actresses like Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Lupita Nyong’o, and Jennifer Beals.
Berger says she’s inspired by films that showcase high arts on the big screen: the ballet and drama of Black Swan and the musical theater of La La Land. “Music is an incredibly important part of acting for me,” Berger explains. “It helps to convey the emotional heart of the action and the feelings, wishes, and thoughts of characters. It can also help us understand the personality of characters and establish a backstory, move the story along, or help establish a particular mood or atmosphere. Being able to incorporate piano and singing into my portrayal of different characters really gives me an artistic advantage as an actress.”
They’re skills she’s honed not only in the Big Apple but locally, too. Berger studied voice and acting under Peter and Jennifer Jones, directors of StarStruck Academy in Stuart, and while attending Palm Beach Day Academy, played Miss Honey in Matilda and Maria in West Side Story—experiences she credits with helping her grow as an entertainer and performer. “It gave me real confidence to act, sing, and dance onstage in front of live audiences,” she says.
In 2018, Berger worked with director, writer, and actor Mark Webber on The Place of No Words, an emotionally potent fantasy-reality flick about a family facing the dying process, played by Webber and his own wife (actress Teresa Palmer) and son. Berger was cast as Esmeralda, a fairy who assists 3-year-old Bodhi in understanding death and the afterlife. She says she enjoyed the interactive experience of working with Webber.
“He even sought my advice on the script and gave me the chance to ad-lib many of my lines,” Berger shares. “He really loves improvisation and taking people out of their comfort zone to try and achieve a sense of realism not often seen in more traditional film. I think Mark really pushes the boundaries of filmmaking, using elements from his own life to develop a method of filmmaking he calls reality cinema.”
Webber had just finished writing The Place of No Words when he met Berger on the set of Clover, a film in which they co-starred (with Berger as the title character). After seeing Berger’s temperament and abilities in action, Webber knew she was a perfect fit for the role of Esmeralda. “She’s such a smart young woman who is multitalented and just has a great heart, has good values and good morals, and is in this industry for all the right reasons,” Webber says. “She’s a family friend now.”
Honored with the Best Film Award at the Giffoni Film Festival in July 2019, The Place of No Words has received critical acclaim since its premiere and recent streaming release. Still, co-starring as Cecily opposite Cameron Boyce in Runt—an indie thriller that debuted at the Mammoth Film Festival in February 2020, bagging the Festival Audience Award—is what Berger cites as the “mountaintop moment” of her career thus far. However, the memory is bittersweet: Two years after filming wrapped, Boyce died tragically of an epileptic seizure.
“I learned of Cameron’s death online, actually, and then almost immediately thereafter got a call from the film’s producer reinforcing what I had read,” Berger recalls. “I was completely devastated and heartbroken by the news. I never even got a chance to say goodbye to Cameron. We had plans to watch the raw, unedited cuts of the film together. … Truthfully, I knew Cameron as a Disney star, but when I really got to know him on set, I saw him transition into a character that required him to be highly serious, pensive, and focused. I learned a lot from his work ethic and I will always carry that with me.”
While the pandemic has turned Hollywood on its head—with auditions and self-tapes largely on hold and festivals gone virtual—Berger spends her time practicing piano, taking pointe ballet classes over Zoom, reading scripts for new projects, and working with her acting coach to keep her skills sharp in preparation for future auditions. She’s also five chapters into penning a historical novel set in northern England during World War II.
“It’s loosely based off of Kristin Hannah’s historical novel The Nightingale, which is one of my favorites,” she says. (But that’s all she’s willing to divulge, for now.)
She’s also, somehow, a junior in high school. Berger previously attended LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts—the Fame school—but due to issues surrounding the opening of schools in New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic, she now (remotely) attends Concord Academy, where her favorite subjects are molecular biology and British literature.
Between her professional interests and demanding academic schedule, Berger isn’t afforded much free time, but around town—her family lives in both Palm Beach and New York—you can find her biking the Intracoastal, perusing the shelves of the Classic Bookshop (“I’m always looking for the next great read,” she admits), enjoying water sports at The Breakers, or popping over to The Royal Poinciana Plaza to grab an iced latte from Sant Ambroeus or an açaí bowl from Celis Produce.
Looking ahead to her next decade in the industry, Berger hopes to expand her repertoire. While she has enjoyed her roles in weighty, dramatic films and plans to continue working in the genre, she insists, “I am not going to limit myself to this type of film in particular. I would also like to have opportunities in topical documentaries and musical dramas. I would really like to work on a TV series as a regular, giving me more of a chance to build my character and develop a relationship with viewers that extends over many episodes and progresses over time.”
While Berger recognizes that forecasting the future is difficult at her age, especially during these “unprecedented and harrowing times,” her attitude is driven, focused, and positive—that of a rising star who is mature beyond her years, both capable of and steadily preparing for the realization of her biggest dreams.
“I certainly hope that I will be able to build on my early experiences in the business and continue learning my craft to become an accomplished actress,” she says. “Whatever the future holds in store, I am ready to go at it full force.”
Location: The Breakers, Palm Beach
Fashion editor: Katherine Lande
Hair and makeup: Deborah Koepper, Deborah Koepper Beauty, Palm Beach
Berger is represented by Elite Model Management