Not every project is meant for us. Getting a no can be a good thing because something better will come along. If we always got the yes, we would not have the opportunity to do the next, bigger and better project. It is never a bad thing to be putting your best work in front of another casting director. Even if they say no on that project, it puts you on their radar and they may bring you in for another project.
As a part of my interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Polisson.
Natalie holds a BFA in musical theatre. Before moving to Los Angeles, she made a living solely in theatre while dabbling in a bit of film. Her past three years in the city have led her to be cast in several films, new media projects, ads, commercials and television shows. Natalie recently signed on with Church Hugger management and can’t wait to see what else 2020 has in store for her.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! I fell in love with theatre when I saw my first Broadway show. At 9-years-old, Cats was my gateway into the spectacle of theatre. In high school, however, I realized how much I enjoyed the psychology of understanding different characters and how people react in different situations. Theatre was no longer about merely performing; it would become more about telling the story of others and bringing their experiences to life. While in college, I took a few film-focused workshops in NYC from some network casting directors. These CDs enjoyed my work and suggested I look into pursuing on camera work. This lit a spark in my career that I had never considered; I grew up in northwest Indiana where film wasn’t really an option. In fact, it wasn’t even until college when I began to learn techniques for acting on camera.
Hearing a casting director say that I was strong in this field gave me the confidence to start delving into some fun film projects beyond the few I had done in college. I realized quickly that film added another dimension to my repertoire. In film, the performance aspect is taken away and the viewer is left with the raw interpretation of what you bring to the character and the role. The camera hides nothing.
Eventually, I hope to do more theatre, but for now, I love the number of people that can be reached through film because of how it is captured and more easily distributed. Through my pivot into film, I feel that I have learned to understand characters more deeply. All the technical skills that I have developed -both on stage and in film- are integrated into the roles I take. I know that when I do another theater show, I will be stronger for it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
In November 2017, I had the opportunity to work on an improv-based event at Warner Brothers. I wasn’t told anything about the project, including who the guest was, in advance. Upon arriving, I went through hair and makeup, and I emerged as a Jackie O look-a-like, complete with a linen shift dress and strict instructions to not sit down! The ‘set’ was a street scene, lined with cars from the 1960s and decorated as if it was from that era. The next thing I know, they are giving me direction on how to approach Tarantino’s car.
As it turns out, it was a pitch for a possible deal to work with him on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He didn’t know that it was intended to be improv and I slightly insulted him, which was part of the bit we were directed to do. He giggled at me and then watched me monologue on. That was a good day. At that point, I had only been in Los Angeles for about a year, and I couldn’t believe I was performing (in a small way, but nonetheless, performing!) in front of Quentin Tarantino. In that moment, I knew anything was possible. I felt incredibly inspired to understand the city, the business, and to continue learning as much as I possibly could about acting on camera and the art of film.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think the most important thing everyone in this business should know is that it is possible to grow quite a bit in a relatively short amount of time. Before moving to LA, I had done some film, but all my on-camera auditions, film classes and workshops had consisted of having a scene partner and all my other auditions had been theatre auditions.
My first two or three film auditions in LA were student films, and I would not look at the reader while they were reading with me. I would look at a random spot in the room, similar to how you would be expected to do with a monologue or song for a theatre audition. Finally, on my third audition, someone said “Excuse me, what are you looking at?” “My scene partner,” I responded confidently.
She looked at me blankly and then explained that she, as the reader, is my scene partner. As I explained that most of my background came from theatre, she proceeded to look at me like I was quite the idiot. Needless to say, I didn’t book any of those first few auditions!
This story still makes me face palm. Honestly though, it reminds me to try to learn something new every day. When I am on set, I always connect with people. The more you talk with others, the more you learn about their lives, their careers, and tips about LA! Connections are so important in this business and you tend to run into a lot of the same people. The best thing that you can do is learn from everyone you meet. I almost always learn something useful from everyone I talk to, and I hope to be that person for others who are new here, too.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am currently working with Beachbody on a new program. I can’t go into the details, but it is so exciting! Fitness is a big part of my life so to be a part of this project is realizing a big dream of mine. Beyond that, I have a few films coming up, both shorts and features. One of the projects that I am most excited about currently is a film that follows an actress and the lengths she goes through to put something on tape after a long exhausting day at a job she doesn’t want to be at. I think this is so relatable as an actor here in LA, and I hope that others will find it as inspiring as I do!
Yesterday, I booked a lead in a feature film that will shoot later in 2020 and I still have 3 episodes of SOLVEHQ that are set to air this year! Recently, I have been filming with Jay Shetty; one of the videos came out on Facebook a few days ago! Taylor Swift’s “The Man” music video just came out and Taylor gave me my own little close up moment, so that was pretty sweet, too!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I did a Brightburn promo prank that was directed by Brightburn’s director David Yarovesky and it was such a fun day. They put us through this “experiment” and, although we knew it might be scary, it was actually terrifying and full of jump scares. (I personally love horror movies and anything that will give me a good scare!) David really got a kick out of scaring the crap out of us.
This past fall I was a part of an immersive Downton Abbey experience for the premiere of the movie and Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Allen Leech, and Lesley Nicol all came to experience our version of Downton Abbey and interact with us. Having a moment to improv for and with such amazingly talented actors was an absolute dream.
Another unique experience worth mentioning is my year at Sight and Sound theatres where my castmates consisted of 80 live animals. My full-time job consisted of acting on stage while holding a dove, a bunny, riding a donkey, following closely behind a camel, dodging a highlander’s horns in the dark and maneuvering my way through a pack of horses! There is nothing like doing a highly emotional scene in front of thousands of people with a pooper scooper right next to you. These lovely creatures will likely be the most interesting and fun beings I will have the pleasure of working alongside of — for my entire career. I’m not sure anything could compare!
Beyond that, Tarantino has a great sense of humor and Taylor Swift is one of the most down-to-earth, gracious, and appreciative humans I have met. I could list many wonderful people that I have worked with, but they aren’t “names” just yet. More than anything, I am just grateful to work with so many talented people who are invested in their craft.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
For me, I know that I am in a ‘burn out’ phase when my work in an audition room or on tape is stale and unmotivated. There are times I find myself simply going through the motions and existing in front of the camera. When these moments occur, I absolutely have to take a step back for self-care and can’t feel badly about it. The work won’t yield any fruit if I continue on in a state like this. That means that I stop submitting for a few days and/or I might cancel some auditions. By taking a small break, I am able to do something that helps me relax and refocus my energy.
You really have to take everything in this business one day at a time, and sometimes, you have to just take it one hour at a time. Focus on what you have to do that next hour and don’t let the rest of the day’s responsibilities weigh heavy on you. A planner will be your best friend. I write everything down and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction when I can cross something off my list. As an actor you have auditions, booked gigs, meetings with agents/managers/other creatives, and then often other jobs. Nothing about our schedules is ‘normal’ and it is very easy to become overwhelmed with everything. Keep your life organized so you don’t miss anything, especially deadlines for audition self tapes!
Can you share with our readers any self-care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
I love working out. I have been getting up every morning and training for 45 minutes. Honestly, this workout is what makes me feel like I can conquer the rest of my day. I also find that when I am busy and running from place to place, I can forget to eat and drink enough water. You always want to have a healthy snack and water on you.
If you can’t sleep, journaling at night is a great way to dump the day’s problems or your worries down on paper so you can start fresh the following day. Personally, I also pray and visualize seeing my goals come to life. Truthfully, gratitude for everything goes a long way in this town. Writing what I am grateful for is helpful in reminding me to allow the positives to outweigh the negatives and the rejections.
Recently, I was listening to a podcast and it reminded me to say positive things about myself aloud, even if I didn’t believe them at the time, it could change how you feel about myself. I have been trying this going into auditions and it has made such a difference in my confidence level.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- No one will understand this business unless they are in it. I have found that people are so ignorant when it comes to the entertainment business and life as an actor. Sometimes the comments I get, even from family, are so rude. I have to take a moment and let these unintentional jabs roll off my back. Yes, it was a small commercial, but I beat out thousands to get that role and that is something they will never understand. It doesn’t always come from a place of malice or contempt, but rather just a lack of knowing how hard this business can be, even for seasoned professionals.
- More than half of your rejections will have nothing to do with you or your talent. This is something I have heard since I was a kid, but honestly, I didn’t truly accept and fully understand this notion until a few years ago. Sometimes we go in for a role and we might be amazing for it, but another actor will come in and physically fit what they are looking for, more than our talent fits the role. This is totally beyond our control and it is not something we can take personally.
- Not every project is meant for us. Getting a no can be a good thing because something better will come along. If we always got the yes, we would not have the opportunity to do the next, bigger and better project. It is never a bad thing to be putting your best work in front of another casting director. Even if they say no on that project, it puts you on their radar and they may bring you in for another project.
- Not everyone is going to like you. Yes, this is a life lesson, however, in this career, we want everyone to like us and think we are talented. It just isn’t going to happen. All we can do is study, prepare, give it our all and do our best, and continue to grow.
- This career is all consuming. As actors, we don’t have a set schedule. We are basically always on call because bookings and auditions come in randomly. It is hard to maintain normalcy sometimes. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for this because they will try. Surround yourself with the ones who truly care and can support you in the craziness that is our professional lives and schedules.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The day you stop caring what other people think of you is the day your life begins.” — Aaron Eckhart. This quote has been sticking with me since the beginning of the new year. I used to be such a people pleaser, but this year, I decided that I would start showing up, doing the best I can and not caring about what others think. I am confident in myself and my abilities, but I am ready to continue to grow.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mom has been such a big support to me. I honestly don’t know what I would do without her. We may not always get along perfectly (nobody gets along all the time), but she is my rock. She assures me I am doing well in LA and that, even if I stay where I am at, I have made it because I am booking work in my field. She is also a big help for me when it comes to self-tapes when I don’t have anyone else that can serve as a reader. Sometimes I get a good chuckle when we do an audition together because my mom is so silly and the whole experience reminds me of when I was younger.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am a huge animal person, and, in particular, I love dogs. I grew up with them, occasionally serve as a dog-walker for friends and neighbors, and I’ve had my own rescue dog, Honor, for seven years. I want to spread awareness about why we need to adopt rather than shop for animals. So many people surrender animals for invalid reasons, only to turn around and shop for another pet when it fits their lifestyle. I wish breeding was more taboo; puppy mills need to be shut down. There are so many animals that are put down every day because they can’t find homes in a specified amount of time. I think it would be great if retirement homes could house a few animals to comfort the elderly residents that live there. I think the mental health benefits to the residents would outweigh the cost of employing a few animal caretakers on staff to help care for them.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I have always been a huge fan of Lady Gaga and her work, particularly because you can tell that she gives everything she has to every single one of her performances. I admire that she studied musical theatre (like me!), but her voice is top notch is all genres. Her talent was unreal in “A Star is Born,” and I can’t wait to see more of her work in film. Beyond theatre, I admire how open she is about mental health issues and the #metoo movement, both of which are very close to my heart. She isn’t afraid to speak up about issues that need to be talked about, but she does so in a way that is both genuine and authentic. I think we need more of that in this industry.
Her confidence is admirable. Watching Lady Gaga has always made me want to embrace my true, authentic, weird self — and more importantly, celebrate it.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
www.instagram.com/nataliepolisson (handle is @nataliepolisson)
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!