Natasha Wilson from hit show UnREAL takes us on a journey – her unique take on life and industry insight on the brutal truth of Reality TV is a must read!
Natasha Wilson is a young and beautiful actress whose words simply inspire. From simple reality to complicated matters, Natasha Wilson gives a real meaning and depth to the truth of the industry and demands.
The new Lifetime show UnREAL has been hailed by Forbes as “One of the best new shows of the summer”. UnREAL centres around the behind the scenes production of “Everlasting” – a reality television dating show that bares an uncanny resemblance to The Bachelor. For fans of reality television, this dark drama is an absolute must see series and we’re completely hooked. It shows the brutal truth behind the production of some of the world’s favourite reality television shows. UnREAL depicts how emotions are manipulated, footage is misleadingly edited and the control freak executives that prey upon vulnerable contestants. To give you an idea – bonus prizes are offered to producers who can create “nudity and 911 calls” within the show!
Natasha Wilson plays Maya in the hit series, who is a contestant trying to capture The Suitor (or Bachelor) Adam’s attention. Her beautiful, innocent and intelligent portrayal of the character has made fans across North America hope to see more of her on our screens, and judging by her success on UnREAL you might not have to wait too long!
Natasha tells us how she gets ready for auditions and into character. She shares her own personal views on Reality TV, how different life in Canada and Hollywood is and her passion for saving both animals and furniture! Read our exclusive interview with Natasha Wilson and see what’s next for the actress!
See the full interview below:
1. You’re starring on the Lifetime TV show “UnREAL“. It has a very Entourage meets Episodes feel with the dark yet funny material on the industry insider outlook. Why do you think viewers at home are fascinated to see what the reality of working behind the scenes is like? Do you think fans can relate to similar struggles at their own work?
Entourage was a depiction of Mark Wahlberg’s real life friends and their journey throughout Walberg’s Hollywood rise. It went for 8 seasons and had an ensemble cast of males, which drove the shows backbone theme of prioritizing friendship and family over work. Episodes, on the other hand, has been renewed for its 5th season and is a comedy sitcom created by Friends creator, David Crane, taking a methodical approach to telling funny stories about a British television writing duo who turns their baby (their TV show) upside down, succumbing to Hollywood’s market demands.
UnREAL, however, was written and developed out of a need for a grass roots system of questioning; it serves as a platform to highlight the bully culture of (some) reality television programming and the exploitation of the vulnerable, such as Maya: looking for love in a fantasy; or Rachel: looking for appraisal from her superiors; both producer and contestant looking to be accepted and cherished; looking for a place to call home.
Dating competition shows are an unethical joke to entertain the masses, and its popularity fascinates me. UnREAL busts the screen open and reveals the deliberate manipulation fueled by Hollywood’s ratings currency.
On the bright side, both shows have been showered with Emmy and Golden Globe nominations / wins. If this were UnREAL’s eventual trajectory, I would be so honored to follow suit with such grand-panel recognition and success.
2. Why do you think viewers at home are fascinated to see what the reality of working behind the scenes is like?
UnREAL is a packaged and delivered, in-your-face showcase of what may happen while shooting a reality TV show. I find that there are two audience types: Cohort A– “I want to know”; Cohort B – “I don’t want to know.” Our target is to engage both cohorts, and especially those viewers who have completed watching the dating competition show which airs just before UnREAL. However, we have found it to be rather fascinating to realize that those viewers may in fact be a part of the cohort who doesn’t want to know.
Industry types are obsessed with the show because they know how it goes; all the pressure behind the work. Is it an unethical experiment after all? Is showcasing carefully edited footage of a selection of hopeful women who’ve left everything behind, including their family, jobs, children, neighborhoods, friends— everything— to pursue an intangible idea of the fantasy of obtaining love and marriage in a few months time, ethical? Taking away their social circles and access to the outside world, highlighting their most sincere insecurities, and adding boos, high school-like social/group manipulation and controlled diets to the mix. If this were done in an academic setting, or as a laboratory experiment, it would be immediately deemed as an unethical study. In fact, it wouldn’t qualify for much funding.
So, why is it that we get to sit at home and watch as the camera cuts are edited to portray drama (which may or may not exist) and we then follow the modified narrative, as producers wish for us audience members to follow, and we all fall into the trap of selecting our favorite characters, hating the seemingly “bad” ones, and cheering for our angel creatures? These women are carefully displayed as reflections of us general audience members; there is one for every one of us, and that is why it works.
Had our wider range of audiences truly understood the deception behind this type of reality TV, would they feel compelled to change the channel, or would they simply revel in the illusion anyway? Is it easier to live in the fantasy?
UnREAL pierces through the Princess Veil. We have much Critical Acclaim due to the show’s original idea and topic matter; however, viewership may offer the most honest response to the question. Remember, television serves many purposes ranging from education to escapism. Sometimes, people “don’t want to know.”
3. Do you think fans can relate to similar struggles at their own work?
Are there times when we are in a conundrum of ethical debate versus what has been asked of us? Indeed. Many careers ask us to choose between what we may feel is right and what our employers may feel is “more right”. Do you want to pay your mortgage this month or do you want to be right? It’s a tough situation and hopefully one creates a position in their workplace, like Sarah Shapiro did, and leaves the dark side to stay true to her ethics and morals- and is then rewarded with people like Lifetime behind her, Critical Acclaim, Respect and finally, her Dignity back in tact. Sarah serves as a role model for those who are in a position to have to swallow their ethics for the sake of paying their bills. I believe we have all been there. I have people very close to me who are still there and have simply learned to cope and accept it—I work in this business to unravel knots and inspire change for the better. UnREAL is very powerful to me for that reason.
4. What was the process like behind playing Maya? Did it come to you easily or did it take some time to find out what really made your character shine as a contestant trying to capture Adam’s heart?
Maya existed within me before UnREAL had ever come along. I believe all of the characters on our show have attributes that exist in all of us, which is why viewers can relate. Maya is a natural beauty that doesn’t see what she looks like to the outside world. She is also not one to join in on aggressive behavior, as we have seen others participate in on the show. Instead, Maya is a young woman who observes, considers, and partakes as she deems fit. In the case of Episode 3, she has clearly been probed to loosen up and step up her game up in order for Adam, the suitor, to notice her. Had Adam noticed her prior to? Likely, as she is kind and beautiful enough; however, Maya believes that she’s being overlooked and flaws herself for being shy and seemingly unengaged. Maya makes it her fault and is so hard on herself, feeling silly for ever thinking she had a shot in the first place. Shia, one of the producers of “Everlasting”, identifies and prays on Maya’s weaker attributes. In order to identify a characteristic within another, one must surely have it inside of themselves. Shia is a reflection of Maya and instead of being a friend, she exploits the opportunity to get ahead in their own producing game.
Maya is unfortunately not a drinker for sport and ends up losing a very twisted game of manipulation and deceit. Her basic right to say no has been compromised in a myriad of ways. Maya’s personal strength shines through as she challenges herself to overcome a traumatic incident after not having much time or space to process the event. Her strength is used in the wrong situation and has now taken her further in to a desperation that she had never initially wanted to be a part of. She pays the price with a newly peeled scab of insecurity and now betrayal. Her dignity is shot and now it’s her need to overcompensate for the shame that keeps her in the game. She’s stuck deep in it. Just like everybody else, on both sides of the camera now.
Maya wants to be loved. We all do. She is intelligent, classy, humble and kind. She is in no way trying to “fight” for anyone and instead believes that if she is meant to meet the man of her dreams in Adam, then all will turn out as it should. She does not see this as a competition to win someone’s heart. She instead sees this as a way to gain exclusive /isolated exposure into a possible future with a man she may otherwise not have had an opportunity to meet. She doesn’t get too involved with the social and competitive dynamics of the other women, which makes for boring TV— no drama— hence the producers poisoning her mind.
5. How do you think spending so much time in Canada has impacted you as an actress? Did it make you stand out in the Hollywood crowd?
Canada brings to me a sense of community and calm. As an actress, I have been blessed to partake in all kinds of community-based workshops, thought-provoking theater, and social awareness missions through this medium of expression and education. I feel that acting in Canada is more than just acting in the sense that it does allow me to partake in activities as a community, and raise awareness for social issues. The involvement doesn’t just begin and end with actors who have free time between shows; casting directors and other members of the business are heavily involved, even encouraging the underprivileged to get involved in the arts word through charity fundraisers and the like.
In Hollywood, involvement in show business can focus on different and more seemingly immediate needs: as a means to gain acceptance, popularity, monetary compensation, power and the list goes on. Once this phase has been reached, it then dives further in to the truth of a gritty need to live in the shoes of various character types or to tell a meaningful story. Hollywood has a high turnover rate for those who are not in it for the right reasons; the longevity filter works like a charm.
Hollywood is a stock market in the sense that it is in constant influx; TV shows – actors –even production companies — wax and wane depending on what’s “hot” and what’s not. As traditional as America may appear to be, I believe the primary American tradition is to acknowledge the current state of societal and cultural norms through modern storytelling and cutting edge mediums. I enjoy that American storytelling is risky enough to break down steel doors and engage mass audiences to real time issues to further evolve North American culture as a whole.
In Canada, at times, as I am from New York originally, I do feel a bit claustrophobic. Let me explain: I have a fast car, I want to speed sometimes but I refrain; I enjoy great acoustics and love listening to all the instrumental nuances in a track, but loud music is faux pas and thus I also refrain.
Sometimes I feel like a really bad person pretending to be nice when in Canada. In Los Angeles, I feel like a really nice person pretending to be bad. It’s an interesting conundrum and I’ve learned to keep my head down and find myself in characters instead of judging who I am anymore; there’s the Maya in me.
6. What’s the hardest part of being an actress in 2015?
Acting as a lifestyle career is hard. Acting in 2015 is not hard; it’s freeing. Everything is shot in HD; you can’t hide. Everyone’s flaws are revealed more so than ever before. The mediums of online media and on-demand machines have helped me to let go of any idea of perfection. 2015 encourages today’s actors to want to bleed the truth at all time, and this, to me, has made it the easiest year yet. The only difficult part is keeping up with the demand for strong female leads! We are high in demand and full swing in the market place for talented and raw female leads with a sense of purpose and intelligence. Today’s storylines are not your typical nuclear family life trajectory. Today’s television empowers the slightest of nuances for each individual character, both for hyper-focused characters and the simply featured characters which help to drive the main storyline forward. It is difficult to choose which project to be a part of and that is a blessing in itself!
7. What you be if you weren’t an actress?
Acting to me is a mix of “private” expression and advocacy. Had I not fallen into the loving arms of an acting career, I would have trained in entertainment law and become a show creator/ director of acquisitions. If I can influence which relevant topic matter is brought to light, I feel like I can leave this world happy as a meaningful contributor to the betterment of our world through thought provoking storytelling.
8. What are your top 3 beauty tips before filming?
Sleep. Food. Animals (Love).
I work best on 6 hours of sleep. No more. No less.
I begin the shoot day with a hot breakfast and must have, perfect espresso.
If I can hunt down a crew dog to love on, I’m all set for the day.
9. For any actors out there, when a casting comes up unexpectedly while you’re on the go – how do you prepare for an audition at short notice?
I wear noise-canceling headphones, sit in an isolated location with a grand scheme POV (like a hill top or the beach on a rock), get rid of my phone, and read. I read and I read and I read. I research the setting, the context, the other character(s) in the scene, the network, and if I have time, I research the politics. I then simply live the character while running an errand — like pumping gas. Then, I dive right into a casting session and exhale the character’s struggle into the room. I avoid waiting areas/rooms and simply keep the essence inside and around me. The lines are the last of things that I focus on outside of understanding the subtext and intension of my character. I create the essence as a primary goal. Keeping calm and isolated are my main goals. Honing in on this characters history, memories, if her foot has a sore on it or her bra is too tight, or her knees hurt… I think of her and what she is like. I embody her. Literally. The words come out naturally at that point. Most of the time I hear the other lines for the first time in the audition and everything takes place in real time during the audition process; it’s as alive as it can be in that moment. Once that happens, it’s up to casting to decide if the energy was right. Then for the callback I focus on dialogue and a variation of possible choices, depending on the additional information I may only receive when inside with the director. I go in and ask producers/creators/directors a few things, and then, depending on their responses, I know which choice of my collection to select. It’s very scientific to me when I am narrowing down choices. The whole process, even on short notice, is treated like a science experiment.
10. We hear that you love interior design and that you love refurbishing antiques. Does it creatively inspire you to give furniture a second life/chance?
I had to downsize my vehicle in order to stop “saving” furniture with great bones! I appreciate quality and history, alongside craftsmanship. Breathing life back into something, which may have otherwise gone to the dump, means so much to me. I believe in the pieces and see their potential. I see their old charm from when there were first appreciated and valued. My father also did the same and so refurbishing antiques certainly runs through my veins. That’s not to say that I also don’t appreciate modern and fresh art as well! I love multi-use pieces and textures for smaller quarters—like NYC. My reps know that if they can’t get a hold of me, I’m likely in the garage working on a newly acquired piece!
11. You raise awareness for animals (we recently collaborated with Phoebe Dykstra & Mercy for Animals in a piece about Canada’s factory farms) – are you hoping to use your voice with your platform as an actress in the entertainment industry?
To me, saving animals and saving furniture may have something in common: I believe all things are deserving of a fair shot at living up to its potential. When I need to reach deep inside for an emotional scene, depending on the context, I may choose replay cases of animal abuse in my mind. These images can tear me apart inside. I have been a part of many animal rescue organizations and have fallen ill to some of its blunt truths. Certainly, my innate need to advocate shines through using this career as a platform to raise awareness and better inform personal decisions. Animal abuse is prevalent and exists in our own backyards. The change begins with a shift in mentality of “ownership” and entitlement. We are one. Let’s behave as one.
12. If you could describe these cities you’ve lived in in one word….
Montreal….. Rightfully Rigid (two words)
13. What’s the best piece of advice an industry insider has given you?
Two pieces actually:
A) “Only do this if you’ll die otherwise.”
B) “Take advantage of being taken advantage of.”
14. What can we expect over the next year from you?
I’ve just wrapped a hyper-violent martial arts action film called “DARC”, which showcases a very dolled down portrayal of desperate captive, Renee. Renee, is the hostage daughter of an Interpol agent, played by Emmy-Award winning actor, Armand Assante. Her kidnapping drives the film’s mission to seek revenge on the Japanese Yakuza. DARC is set to release in late 2016. More TV is also in the mix.
15. What is Paradise to you?
The rusty pink of Daylight just barely breaking, Ancient instruments like the Ganun quietly playing in my ears, Resting in Meditation on the beach shore to the sound of heavy crashing waves; legs halfway covered in earth and half covered in the cool saltwater of this ocean; a stray dog belonging to the beach joins me for this special morning without a thought of the past or the future.
This all keeps me grounded in remembering that the world existed long before we did, and will go on to exist long after we do. We are all made of one another. I am reminded to use the one life I have for the purpose of my true calling.
Follow Natasha on Twitter: @natashawilson
Watch UnREAL on Lifetime Mondays @ 10pm EST.
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