Talking Nancy Wheeler, the end of the world and finding your inner child...
Born and bred in Nashville, Natalia Dyer fell into the world of acting organically through a baptism of community theatre and a classic Tennessee cameo in Hannah Montana: The Movie. It makes sense, then, why she is as humble and gracious as she is – with her subtle smile and her poised politeness – and also why she shies away from the spotlight. “I think the hard thing is just figuring out the balance of how much to be in it and how much of yourself you keep to your personal self”, she tells me over the phone from a particularly hot Parisian day “and I am still figuring it out”, Natalia laughs.
In 35 days, the first season of Stranger Things became the third most watched Netflix show of the year, and with that came all the fame and fortune you’d expect, as well as the trials and tribulations. Especially when you’re in your late teens, and suddenly have to grow up on a globally viral TV show. But thankfully for Natalia Dyer, she was surrounded by likeminded individuals, finding solace in the simple humanity and freedom through her inner child, playing characters just as she would’ve in her garden back home.
Shot by photographer Mary Fix in NYC, Natalia Dyer is every bit a Hollywood ingenue, and would look as fitting in a ’60s Godard film as she does front row at Paris Fashion Week. Now getting ready to launch the third season of the hit show, we caught up with the 24-year-old one to watch to find out just how she grew up above the world of the upside down, and how she kept her feet firmly on the ground…
How do you feel now the third season is coming out?
I mean, good of course: excited for people to see it, excited to hear what people think about it. We’ve been sitting on this season for a little while now so it’s nice to finally have it out there.
Do you remember the moment that you were told that you were going to be playing Nancy Wheeler?
I do, yes, I do: very vividly. I think I was actually on the treadmill at the time trying to burn off energy, running and running (laughs), then I got a call. When you get that news it’s so exciting. I think I even at this guy from the gym just looked at me like I was crazy.
Did you ever think that it could become the craze that it is now?
It wasn’t exactly the end goal, but I so enjoyed making the first season and then of course hoped that it would get picked up for another season but I couldn’t possibly picture the reaction that I got which was, you know, really incredible.
Do you feel like you’ve grown with Nancy, do you relate to her quite a bit?
Yeah, I do I do. You know just that sense of being a woman coming up in the world and finding your voice, finding out who you are and what matters to you… What really doesn’t matter to you and yeah, you know, discovering what it means to grow up as a woman. I think that’s kind of where she’s starting to be at, that point in her life where you’re just figuring things out but also figuring yourself out. Trying to balance a relationship with her own self-confidence and self-doubt… A lot of things going on but yeah, I can definitely relate.
How does it feel to be a woman in Hollywood right now, in the social-political climate? Does it feel like it’s a positive time to be creating?
Yeah, you know, I do think that it’s important to have a sense of optimism about it: the conversations surrounding the way that people are using their voices and their platforms nowadays to focus on issues is really important. The Internet and the climate mean there are a lot of opinions and voices out there, which can be both good and bad. I think the hard thing is just figuring out the balance of how much to be in it and how much of yourself you keep to your personal self: how much do you keep private and how much public.
And how do you personally balance that?
(Laughs) I am still figuring it out. But I think you have to choose your projects carefully and your characters carefully. I think there’s a lot of good happening right now –there’s a lot more attention being paid to female characters and the strengths that those characters have to offer which is great. I’m a very personal person: I’m usually a lot more on the private side and I think it was so important learning what I can share, what I want to share and what are things to keep private: my friends, my family, are things that I would much prefer to keep private and to myself. But there is no rule book for it, I think you have to just figure out what makes you feel good and what doesn’t.
What do you feel like still needs to change in the industry?
I mean obviously there’s wage equality, first and foremost. It’s good to have the awareness that’s come from the [#MeToo and Times Up] movements, it’s important to have people talking about their experiences and speaking up about it, putting it out in the world. In terms of filmmaking, at the end of the day I think it just comes down to equality and mutual respect. Getting more and more women writers, directors and stories told about females and female friendship, I think that’s most important.
How do you look back on your career so far? How do you feel you’ve evolved?
The show has definitely put my career on a different sort of level than where I was before and a lot of opportunities that come with that but, I mean, every single project, show, film, whatever, you know, I worked on has just been – I really look at it as sort of growth, like a learning opportunity, you know. You can never predict the outcome, there is so much out of your control; especially as an actor in these things that you can’t be too attached to the idea like that? But I prefer to have the idea of growth and learning: both good things and bad things, just figuring it all out. I still feel quite like a student of i, I feel like I probably will for a while because everything is so different, and you learn about people by working with people, every time is a learning experience.
Do you remember the moment that you fell in love with cinema, with acting?
I do remember falling in love with acting: I did a lot of theatre when I was very young, I mean I did it before I even really had a good concept of what it was. So I just knew that I liked it: there was something about being on stage, being all these characters, saying these lines and the reaction of people, just the fun of it. For me it was the most exciting thing in the world. I think in some sense, it’s been a progression from there; and I’ve been in the right place, at the right time. Since then – although I still love it of course – it becomes more of a career, you have to learn to navigate the business side of that, which is a little trick. I am still learning about that but I still love to work. I mean I get to just be there on set [of Stranger Things] and play: build characters with people, create and pretend, that is when I really find that like childish exuberance again.
Definitely, and you’re around a lot of children on Stranger Things as well so that must make it more playful on set.
Yeah, definitely. They really bring a sense of levity to set, not taking yourself too seriously. You know, I think they make everyone feel a little more playful and younger.
Are there certain films or shows that have shaped you as a person and as an actress?
I think a lot of TV I watched as a kid was probably the classic Disney Channel stuff. But there’s been movies here and there, and performances here and there, that I’ve looked up to but I’m not sure I ever saw somebody on the screen and thought “that’s where I want to be, that’s what I want to do”. I had a mother who was very encouraging in finding extracurricular activities for us kids, so I kind of fell into theatre and I loved it, acting stemmed from there into what it is now. I really just love that space that you have to play with other people, even when it’s a business, moments can take you back to when you were a kid playing in your backyard with your neighbour and honestly those are what makes it just so worth it. It makes all the ups and downs more worth it.
If people could take away one message to learn from Stranger Things, what would you want that to be?
At the end of the day the theme is about being united. We have a cast of characters who are very different and we wouldn’t naturally interact in a community sort of way necessarily. But then something happens, something that’s bigger than them, that brings them together and reminds them what they mean to each other. In the end, where do your loyalties lie, who do you care about, what matters to you… Do people’s opinions matter, do you care people call you crazy, do you care?
I think it’s interesting because there are a lot of almost post-apocalyptic shows at the moment. For a lot of people, the world as we know it does seem like it’s ending.
Yeah you’re right, there are a lot.
Yeah, obviously it is a sci-fi show but it does relate on a more social level as well.
Right! Yeah I think those kind of stories will always speak to our humanity: we have so much going on in our lives, it’s very easy to get distracted. Especially nowadays with phones and social media… It’s nice to be reminded that humans can act at their most human and, in a special way, that reflects a lot of things that are going on in the world.
Do you think that shows have an obligation to make this, you know to kind of bring these messages across?
There’s so many genres and they satisfy so many different needs for people. I wouldn’t put any, you know, grand objective on any show or our show. I just think it’s why people are drawn to it in the end: those human stories are important in whatever capacity they come to you. But I’m happy to be a part of a show like this, for sure.
What’s next for you?
Oh, what’s next for me. I might take a little holiday for a minute but other than that… (laughs) I mean that’s the fun of this crazy, crazy career: you can’t plan too far in the future.
Stranger Things season 3 is out now on Netflix. Click through the gallery below for the rest of our shoot with Natalia Dyer and follow her on Instagram here.
11 July 2019