Paul Nicholls made his TV debut in 1989, at the age of 10, in Children’s Ward. In 1994 he appeared in the BBC children’s drama Earthfasts and The Biz, a teenage performing arts drama filmed at Hampton Court. However, it was his character of Joe Wicks in BBC’s long-running soap series EastEnders which earned him national attention. He made his first appearance in the series in February 1996 and soon attracted a large fanbase of female teenage viewers, reportedly receiving more mail than all other cast members combined. In 1997 the BBC initiated a fan club to which mail could be directed; membership reached 3500 with newsletters and photo packs provided to subscribers.
Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was being widely featured in numerous posters, pin-ups, and teen/television/pop culture magazines including Attitude, BIG!, Bliss, Gay Times, Heat, Just Seventeen, Live & Kicking, MIZZ, My Guy, Now, OK, Radio Times, Shout, Sky International, Sky magazine, Smash Hits, Sneak, Sugar, TV Hits, TV Times, and What’s on TV. Paul Nicholls won the BBC’s “Top Man” award (Live and Kicking) and Inside Soap’s “Most Fanciable Male” award (1997), and was nominated as “Most Popular Actor” in the UK’s National Television Awards (1997). Although he was offered a lucrative long-term Eastenders contract by the BBC and was reportedly the highest-paid teen actor in the United Kingdom at the time, he did not wish to be typecast and left the series in September 1997. Subsequently, the BBC created a role for him as PC Terry Sydenham in the police series City Central which he played from 1998 to 1999, when the character was killed off in a murder storyline.
In 1999, he portrayed Christ in the 3-part BBC contemporary Easter production of The Passion, and in 2008 he portrayed Judas in another BBC Easter series of the same title, for which he grew a full beard. Later television appearances included acting alongside Julie Walters in the 2003 BBC adaptations of The Canterbury Tales (The Wife of Bath), as notorious art thief Adam Rice in the final episode in series 3 of Hustle, as romantic young idealist Gary Scant in the lead role of the 2004 6-part BBC miniseries A Thing Called Love, and as boy band singer Connor Gruff in the Billy Goat episode of the BBC series Fairy Tales (2007). In July 2007, he played the part of Terry in Channel 4′s Clapham Junction. This drama depicted 36 hours in the life of several gay men and was amongst several programmes commemorating the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexual practices in England & Wales. He appeared as the character Robert Fielding in Harley Street alongside Suranne Jones in July and August 2008, and was recently cast as DS Sam Casey in ITV1 detective series Law & Order UK, replacing Jamie Bamber.
Nicholls’ film appearances include World War I drama The Trench (1999), Trevor Bentham’s 1999 adaptation of the 1776 romantic comedy play The Clandestine Marriage for which he grew very long hair, Nick Love’s Goodbye Charlie Bright (2001), If Only (2004) and a cameo role in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004). He appeared briefly as a street boxer in Nick Love’s 1999 short film Love Story. In 2010, he starred in UK feature film Life Just Is, due for release in 2011 (playing ‘Bobby’ who is in a relationship with ‘Jay’, played by Jayne Wisener).