Natalie Paul is absolutely inspirational. She went from stage acting with theatre groups such as The Classical Theatre of Harlem to writing and directing her own short films, Everything Absolutely and Sweet Tea. Now, she’s an incredible film actor who has taken on roles in Crown Heights, The Deuce, Show Me a Hero, and most recently Heather in The Sinner. Natalie has been impacted by many tough female actors and loves to play strong women with complex personalities. Through her film career and work with the Epic Theatre Ensemble, she hopes to help change the film industry for the better.
Have you always been interested in acting? Who’s your biggest inspiration?
Natalie Paul: I’ve always been interested in storytelling- whether it was through acting, writing, dancing. My biggest inspiration has always been the women in my family – listening to them tell stories, hearing them make everyday dramas to be larger than life. I was always in awe of them; I think that was the beginning of it.
What has your experience been like working on a stage compared to working on a film set?
On stage you get the instant knowledge of whether you’ve got the audience or not. In film, you often have to wait months! Sometimes the crew will come up to you and say, “good work” after an exceptionally difficult scene – that can be sweeter than any round of applause at times, because they see you day after day and they’re working really hard right alongside you.
Theater is more athletic; it takes more energy to keep something fresh night after night. I love both mediums a lot though.
How is playing Heather in The Sinner different from any other role you’ve had?
In so many ways, Heather has a lot going on. Our showrunner, Derek Simonds, said to me early on that because Heather’s a junior detective she has to clean up a lot of messes in town. She knows the different sides of people that they try to keep hidden. I’m not sure I’ve ever played a character like that before. But at the same time she’s got things to hide herself, as you ‘ll see in the show. So I guess juggling that professional side with the personal side of Heather has been really juicy and complex.
What goes into acting on a crime series? Do you have to do a lot of research to prepare for such an intense role? How does it affect your everyday life?
Yes – I got to talk to some experts about the investigation process, the criminal justice system, and the juvenile detention system, as well as the personal consequences of the job. As for mindset, I watched some documentaries and read a few personal essays to get inside the head of a police officer and a detective – since Heather is transitioning from one to the other. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that as a woman you have to be twice as tough, you really can show no weakness. They’re waiting of you to fail or get emotional, so you’ve got to be impervious.
As for me, I just had to get really used to being totally contained. I’m a pretty joyful person, I love dancing and singing and sharing a big hearty laugh with my co-stars, so it was always about knowing a police officer might be the same way and they would have to contain all of that as well. Wearing a uniform every day can be a little pampering on your personality but it’s been interesting to really embody that strength and power. So it’s a bit of a trade-off.
Who is your dream character to play? Why?
I would just love to continue to play strong, complex women – full characters that go through a transformation. But if I had to choose a person, I’d absolutely love to play Pam Grier, she is an absolute inspiration to me. She is always so kick ass, strong, intelligent and sexy. To me, she is the full package! Not only that, she also overcame so much adversity. She’s definitely a huge inspiration to me as an actress.
What are some of your greatest challenges that you would like to overcome?
I have to acknowledge that I’m still pretty lucky to be able to do what I love to do. Being an actress was a dream ever since I was a kid, making faces in the mirror with a turtleneck hanging off my head and trying to make myself cry (haha). So I feel really happy to be on the journey I’m on but I do feel that there’s a long way for the industry to go as far as seeing actresses who happen to have a different skin color or ethnicity for who they are and how hard they work. We project possibility onto some people and limitation onto others and it needs to stop. I feel like I’m often misunderstood because people might assume that I’m certain way just because of my skin, or that people might not relate to me because of it. It really goes beyond roles. We have to start seeing each other for who we truly are, past appearances.
What made you want to work with the Epic Theater Ensemble?
Throughout my life there were people there that took me under their wing and mentored me. If it wasn’t for them I have no idea where’d I’d be today. It helped me feel like I had a future and that I could make a difference. So, it’s natural for me to pay that forward, you have to “lift as you climb.” And you can do that at whatever stage you’re at on your journey. Epic is an amazing organization that really changes lives, and it’s really more of a gift to me to be a part of it than it is for the kids. Seeing their faces after they’ve written their own play or performed is priceless.
You have written and directed a few short films (“Everything Absolutely” and “Sweet Tea”), do you want to continue writing and directing in your career? What are some of your top goals?
Yeah! I’d love to keep writing and possibly direct one day. Right now I’m pretty in love with acting so it’s about trying to find time around shooting to really delve into some of my independent projects. I am writing a few things that I want to wrap up soon. We’ll see! Just want to continue honing my craft as I work always.
As far as the future, I just hope to continue telling good stories that move people, that get people to think and that remind people that we’re all connected. I’d love to play a variety of characters, I don’t want to be in a box. And hopefully I’ll help change the real world too.