PARALLEL LIVES : Can You Say ‘Coincidence’ in Spanish?

Many have long debated whether art imitates life or life imitates art, but in the case of Whit Stillman’s current “Barcelona,” they took turns imitating each other.

The movie, which follows the romantic affairs of two American male cousins in Spain, is loosely based on some of Stillman’s experiences, but actor Taylor Nichols really made those experiences come alive.

While playing a character who falls in love with a Spanish woman in Barcelona, Nichols actually fell in love with a Spanish woman in Barcelona.

And does he find that a bit ironic?


“It’s funny, because (the movie) is sort of about Whit’s life,” Nichols, 33, says. “My character in the movie parallels what Whit did: He fell in love with this Spanish woman and had to deal with the differences between American culture and Spanish culture.

“Sure enough, then the actor that Whit casts . . . falls in love with a Spanish woman and has to deal with American culture and Spanish culture.”

In the film, debates about the merits of hamburgers and American consumer culture play out against a background of anti-NATO and anti-American feelings in early-'80s Barcelona and are further complicated by the rivalry between sales-obsessed businessman Ted Boynton, played by Nichols, and his uninhibited Navy cousin Fred, played by Chris Eigeman.

The real-life story was considerably more pleasant. Nichols, who spoke no Spanish before he got to Spain and still speaks very little, met his girlfriend, Marga de Eguilior, through some Spanish friends of hers who worked on the movie in Barcelona, and Nichols says the two hit it off immediately.


And the irony of the situation was not lost on those who worked on the film.

“The editor said: ‘How funny is it to be shooting these same exact scenes in almost the same exact bar talking about almost the exact same thing,’ ” Nichols says.

When filming was completed in July of last year, Nichols left Spain, but he and De Eguilior have visited since then, and she moved into his Fairfax district apartment a few months ago.

That happy ending follows the film’s script, but that’s where the similarities end. Unlike his character, the neurotic Boynton, Nichols is relaxed and affable, and the closest he ever came to a career in sales was a major in economics at the University of Michigan, where he was involved in theater.


After graduating, Nichols says he “just sort of got more and more into acting. I was doing summer stock and I just kept working.”

Eventually Nichols’ career took him to New York City, where he acted in musical theater and Off Off Broadway productions. Almost on a whim, he went to an open call for “Metropolitan,” Stillman’s acclaimed 1989 film about Manhattan preppy life.

He got the part of Charlie, and eventually the friendship of Stillman, who decided to cast him and “Metropolitan” co-star Eigeman in “Barcelona” when they finished shooting “Metropolitan.”

“It’s the same characters, pushed up a notch,” Nichols says. “I’m Whit, Chris is Whit’s alter ego.”


After “Metropolitan,” a role on the short-lived NBC television show “Man of the People” brought Nichols out to Los Angeles, where he won guest roles on such television shows as “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and “Murder, She Wrote.”

Since finishing “Barcelona,” Nichols has started to work behind the camera too, producing and acting in “Closing Notice,” an independent film about “a dancer who’s too old hitting bottom” and writing a script about silent film star Harold Lloyd.

De Eguilior, who was studying law in Spain, is now adjusting to life in Los Angeles and still finds the “Barcelona” coincidence amusing. “When we started going out, I read the script and I thought it was very funny,” she said in a separate interview.

Nichols, who says De Eguilior “completely changed” his life, half-jokingly sums up the situation best. “When you’re working on a movie for so long, you can’t help but become immersed in the character.”