I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Valerio, a 21-year-old actress from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She began acting at the age of 15 in local children’s theatre. Last year she left college, in the midst of pursuing a psychology degree, to pursue acting full time.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It began with reading. Understanding characters in books came before understanding characters in movies. One day as I was reading, at about 15, I realized I understood who I was reading about, felt how they felt, and understood their decisions. I’d imagine their lives outside of what was presented to me in the book. I wanted to do more with that and turn it into something physical. It was such a quick decision, like a light bulb went off. So I joined an acting class the next month. It began with empathy for people and the make believe.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
This is a little silly and this happened before I had told anyone I wanted to be an actor. I had to go down to the DMV to take my permit driving test. The coordinator was playfully making fun of me and the fact that I had braces. His coworker said, “Hey, you can come back and make fun of him when you make it big in the movies.” I thought, what a great sign.
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?
Early on when I wanted to transition from theatre to film, I was looking for ‘extra’ work. I attended an open call here in Pittsburgh to be an extra in a TV series. I showed up, took some pictures, and the meeting went great. Then, and maybe I’m remembering this worse than it is, I made a terribly awkward mistake. The head honcho of the casting call, the one to impress, walked me out of the room. She thanked me for coming and told me to drive safely, all while talking with her hands. I thought “Oh, she wants to hug me!” Thankfully I didn’t go in for the hug because it was the wrong call. I did however embrace her hands into mine and we stared at each other wondering why we were having this moment. Also the wrong call. That day I learned it’s best to laugh at your mistakes and move on!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just wrapped my first lead role as Aspen Nix in the TV series Disconnected. It will be released on Amazon prime in 2019. When I first started auditioning for film and TV, I got just about only “no’s”. Then a casting call popped up on my facebook for a project 5 hours away and I decided to attend. Getting this role was a dream come true.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Everyone I’ve worked with has been so rich in character and filled with stories. Especially on indie sets, nobody is there because of the money, that’s for sure. There’s reason, passion, love, and desire. I can’t pick just one because everyone has a different story. Film doesn’t attract just one type of person and that’s the funnest part of going to work every day. There is a different background for everyone but we all share the same goal.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and avoid burnout?
It’s a major cliche but I guess it’s a cliche for a reason. Persistence is everything. You cannot give up. This career is unpredictable and you can’t exactly map out how you want it to go. You never really know when opportunity will strike. Even with endless “no’s” and “you weren’t good enough” or “you weren’t right for this”. With persistence, opportunity is bound to come to you, in some form or another. You have to remember why you started in the first place and keep the passion present.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I want people to share their ideas to educate, not to be ‘right’ in an argument. Everyone has opinions of course, but not everyone is listening to the other side of the argument. You can’t be sure on something without knowing all aspects of what you stand for. It seems like it’s all about who can yell louder or who has the meanest insult. Someone disagreeing with you doesn’t mean they hate you, and it shouldn’t affect the respect you have for each other either.
Disagreeing is great! I want people to argue, to discuss, and to question everything. The focus on an argument should never be on winning. It should be on the new ideas that came from that disagreement.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
- Special does not exist. A lot of people talk about celebrities like they had a secret weapon or always shined brighter in that acting class. To me, there is no ‘it’ factor. So don’t waste time wondering if you have it. It’s more of a romanticized idea rather than a fact. The ‘it’ factor comes when you work hard and you don’t quit.
- Agents aren’t the answer to everything. When I first started, I had an A to B mindset. Take classes, get an agent, go out on auditions. The truth is, even getting a mere meeting with an agent is hard. Really hard. The good news is there are loads of auditions you can find all by yourself. Find your own work before worrying about getting an agent.
- Self doubt never fully goes away. I started acting as a timid, shy girl who nervously broke out into hives just when a stranger talked to me, let alone talking in front of other people. Taking the step into performing monologues and auditioning for casting directors was a challenge. I really grew and gained confidence in myself. However, the fears I had when I was terribly afraid still have not left, even after working so much. You have to use them to your advantage.
- If you’re not good when you start, that doesn’t mean you won’t grow. I had this preconceived idea that the successful started out successful, with no acting faults. Definitely not true! Acting is a skill you have to consistently work on.
- Don’t lose yourself in your imagination. Everything seemed so far out of reach in the beginning so I resulted to imagine what it would be like if I was in a movie or I got that role. Imagination is good to set goals in what you want to achieve, but don’t live there. You have to work.
Can you share your favorite life lesson quote? How has that been relevant to you in your life?
“Of course not, you fool, since this is a bathtub!” from The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. It’s the story of a mental patient given a fishing rod and is told to put it in a bathtub. When asked if he’s caught any fish, that is his response. I perceived it as a metaphor for life being the bathtub and the fish being the meaning to life. There is not one set meaning or a secret we are all missing out on. You have to choose your own meaning and discover what gives you your purpose.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who has helped you get to where you are?
My parents are my biggest supporters, in every way. They didn’t blink an eye when I told them I was leaving college for such an unconventional career path. Even when I was younger and I needed driven 40 minutes away for rehearsal five days a week, I didn’t even hear complaining. It really blows my mind and makes me so happy. I feel so lucky to have them because I wouldn’t have reached any of my goals without them. They are the best.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Marilyn Manson is a huge inspiration for me. Both him and his music. I never really listened to music much growing up and when I discovered him, it was like something clicked. Sounds a bit silly but he altered the way I approached music. I heard his lyrics and I learned about what he was saying, I wondered why he was saying it. Of course I don’t know him personally but from his interviews, it seems like he’s really being himself. There’s no front. That’s not so easy to come by. I would love to talk to him about books and movies and music and just hear his perspective on things.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me on Facebook at Natalie Valerio and on Instagram at @natzochatzo.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series in Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.