Natalie Nucci Interview
This interview with Natalie was conducted via the internet in August of 2001. Natalie and I both felt that perhaps the interview lacked something after the events of September 11, however, so additional questions were added at a later date. These additional questions are marked with different-colored text.
Adge: Natalie, first let me say thank you for answering my questions and for being the first person interviewed for the Easychair Expressway. Mike and I really appreciate your continued feedback on the site. Now here are my questions for you…
Adge: What made you decide to be a performer?
Natalie: The first time I knew I had to do it was in 9th grade, when a girl named Shawnee Smith (she's now the receptionist in Ted Danson's Becker show) did a variety/talent show at our school with her mom. She sang "New York, New York", she had a leotard and tights and a microphone (I think) and I was floored, I'd never heard a peer sound or look so professional. I entered the talent show and improvised a little dance routine. They accepted me in the show, thinking I had extensively choreographed the piece, but when it came time to do it again, it was different every time of course, on account of the improvising. So I kept one thing consistent: I had a split I always did at the end, as my "finish". When the audience applauded, I was hooked.
Adge: While we're on the note of inspiration, I was talking with another Roundhouse fan, Shenae, about your amazing versatility. She wanted me to ask you -- who inspires you?
Natalie: Who inspires me now? Thank Shenae for that comment. I get inspired almost every single day: I'll be at a rehearsal, and I'll be inspired by a fellow actor, or just recently I was inspired by Holly Cruikshank (girl in the yellow dress) in the show "Contact". Her amazing limbs and dancing stayed with me for a few weeks. Then, last week, I went on a Jack Lemmon kick and was inspired by his performances in everything from Save the Tiger to 12 Angry Men. Amazing.... Today, I feel inspired by my grandmother, who is in Israel. I spoke to her on the phone and she told me the suicide bombing at the pizzeria was just steps away from my cousin's shop. I realized just how precious every day is, and that yeah, I better get up and go to the gym and dance class and study my lines and my music, because I have this freedom... You know, it's a daily thing.
Natalie: I just want to add that I had answered the above question before September 11, and I am struck by how applicable the part about my grandmother and my ensuing perspective really are… now.
Adge: I'm glad you brought this up. How do you feel about the state of the nation right now?
Natalie: I feel that as strong as we are, this is the biggest thing that's happened in most of our lives and our very foundation is shaken, and continues to be tested. And it feels far from over.
Adge: What do you think our priorities should now be as a nation?
Natalie: The most important thing I feel for me to do as a citizen is to remain informed and to continue to contribute to causes that can make a difference, even a small difference. Twice, while I was in Austin, we gathered a group of cast members (of Man of La Mancha) to go donate blood, and the blood banks were full! NO PLACE TO STORE IT! It was amazing. The folks in that city were unbelievable. One thing I notice back in LA, on the road, people are still very aggressive. They have an American flag on their car, and then they flip other drivers off, or honk at them obnoxiously... I think those kinds of measures need to be improved. It's completely hypocritical, and we need to have "peace" in our own homes, reunite with our communities, and every small measure will reflect that commitment! Let someone get in front of you on the freeway! Let life be the pace that it is, and be grateful to have that kind of life, because we are truly the only ones. I am incredibly proud to be American, and the suffering of our nation and other nations is unbearable, but those of us who are able, need to roll up our sleeves and continue to help.
Adge: Was there ever a point after the attacks when you questioned the importance of the entertainment industry in the face of all this?
Natalie: I never question the importance of the entertainment industry. People go to movies to escape a little, they go to the theatre to lift their spirits and abandon worries for those 2 hours and 15 minutes. It has its purpose too. We were rehearsing Man Of La Mancha and of course, rehearsal was cancelled for the two days. But after a while, we were told it was time to at least continue and not glue ourselves to the TV 24 hours a day. So we continued. Our signature song was, "The Impossible Dream" ... a very poignant song, an amazingly timely show. Audiences came out, and every night before the show began our orchestra played an amazing rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and the audience all sang along. For those moments together in the theatre, we were fulfilling our responsibilities, and bonding with our community. Everything has its purpose and I was proud to be able to fulfill mine nightly in that theatre.
Adge: What was your first job in entertainment?
Natalie: I danced in a music video for a company called Continental Records (I believe) and the artist was Jerry Woo. The choreographer, Doug Rivera, had been my dance teacher since I was 14. (I was 18 when this happened.) Jerry Woo was amazing, he danced like Michael Jackson and he sang his heart out, but I think he was also a student at UCLA and pursued other business ventures. The music video was entitled "How Long" and we shot it downtown in the rain. (They created the rain, of course) so we were constantly hosed down, then dried off, then hosed down. We shot all night, and when we were done, I felt so proud to have entered the dance community with my first professional job.
Adge: What was your first job of any kind?
Natalie: I worked at Burger King when I was 15. I got fired. I made myself a chocolate shake and didn't pay for it, I just drank it. And they made me an example to show everyone that theft would not be tolerated in any degree. The next day, the owner came in and told me how disappointed he was and how he'd hoped for growth for me in the company... assistant management, etc.
Adge: What was the first thing you bought with the money from that job, do you remember? The first thing I bought from my first job was a "Best of Disco" CD.
Natalie: Haaaaaaa, funny. I really don't remember. I'm going to guess though, that it was lunch or something.
Adge: So no free lunch at BK either? Maybe if you were assistant manager you might get some milkshake privileges! What was the most embarrassing or silly job you've had? For example, I heard John Crane played a half-eaten bologna sandwich in a commercial once.
Natalie: I played a dancing hamburger in a Shaklee Foods live industrial.
Adge: What was your first car?
Natalie: A yellow Capri, I don't remember what year it was.
Adge: So you were born in Austria and then your family moved to Italy, then New York, all by the time you were in fourth grade. Where did your family move from there, and how did you end up in LA?
Natalie: We moved to LA when I was in 7th grade. My dad is in manufacturing and he had an opportunity to work for the Sassoon Jeans guy, (not Vidal, but the Ooh La La Sassoon guy) so we moved here and here's where I stayed.
Adge: For those who don't know, your brother Danny is an actor as well. He's been in numerous movies including Titanic and Friends & Lovers, and I recently saw him starring in the TV pilot, Some of My Best Friends. Is everyone in your family a performer?
Natalie: Yes, my parents first, they both have amazing personalities and voices, and probably if they weren't raised in Morocco, would have pursued it commercially or something. My mom is a beautiful singer (in French) and my dad does a killer Louis Armstrong impersonation. My sister Elle sings, dances, and acts. She was a child actor and without even trying that hard. She landed guest spots inFamily Ties, My Two Dads, and other stuff. Now she's trying to find her niche and still attempting to make a living and pay her bills, like so many of us.
Adge: If you had not entered into the entertainment industry, what other type of profession might you have considered?
Natalie: I recently thought I'd love to be a location scout, even though that is still in the business, because you have to hunt for places and travel all over, how cool! But if it were a non-entertainment industry thing: I would probably choose nutrition or something to do with animals, work for a rescue center or a wildlife research organization.
Adge: You must love animals. I heard a story from your husband about a very unusual cat in your life.
Natalie: Awwww. Well you are talking about the love of our daily life, FEZ. Yes, when we got FEZ, he had been declawed, neutered, and put on female hormones -- but he had still been allowed to be an outdoor cat. So one day he came home to his other owner's house (my sister-in-law) with his right eye hanging out of his head. He went to the emergency hospital and they suggested that salvaging it would be extremely problematic; the connective tissue was in such disarray that it would probably leave him riddled with recurring infections, not to mention the surgery was several thousands of dollars. So, with the advice of the doctor, and the reassurance that ZJA ZJA (his name at the time) would probably rehabilitate himself quite well, [the eye was removed.] Of course, his peripheral vision would leave a lot to be desired...
We went over to my sis-in-law's house one day, and she needed to give her cats away because my niece was allergic. One was a Fabian, the other was an orange Persian (ZJA ZJA). Well, this cat just took a liking to Chris [Natalie's husband] -- and Chris, not ever having had cats, was a bit confused by the immediate connection...
It was truly love at first sight, he went home with him that day, and I've watched Chris bond with this little animal like no other friendship. Of course, he changed the name immediately (he couldn't stomach the name ZJA ZJA for a male cat), so FEZ it was. (My father was born in FEZ, Morocco.) Well, he will be 17 in January and he's amazing. We love him dearly (he's purring away on my lap as we speak).
||Here's FEZ. He is featured on the Love Brothers CD, Garage, and is a "Blinky Disc" Trademark. Photo courtesy of Natalie and Chris.
Adge: I noticed that FEZ's handsome mug is on the CD for Chris' band, Love Brothers. Why's that?
Natalie: The reason he's on the album is because he's one of Chris' inspirations when he's writing. He just looks at him and it gets Chris into a zone.... It's really amazing.
Adge: Tell me about your audition for Roundhouse.
Natalie: Rita Sheffield (an amazing lady) asked me to cold read a monologue, sing (a capella) for her and dance. I believe I sang "New York, New York", because it was one of the only songs I knew. Then I showed her something from dance class or something. She was the best person I've ever auditioned for, such respect for actors and this huge smile on her face. I was like: Hey I could do this all night. I remember I had extra time while I waited outside, so I memorized the monologue and she was so complimentary about that. It was for a workshop, that we would do for no money and I was so game, and so excited, little did I know it would become a series. Often times, too, the actors who do the workshops aren't always chosen to do the actual show, because other producers have their ideas of who they prefer, etc. But Rita stood by me and has always believed in me and I love her for that.
Adge: So "New York, New York" has brought you full circle in a way, from your first show biz inspiration to your audition for Roundhouse. Do you ever think about that?
Natalie: Oh, and it's one of my favorite films! Liza Minelli and Robert De Niro star in it. It's going to be full circle, when I get my first New York job, I think.
Adge: How did you hear about the Roundhouse audition, what made you decide to go?
Natalie: My friend George Ratliff, actor, starred in a show called "On The Town." (He was playing Chip opposite Lorna Patterson as Hildy.) I was playing Flossie at the time and dancing in the ensemble. One day he called me and said that he had a friend who was producing this kids' show that she'd eventually like to make into a TV or radio or stage production. I would have to go to such and such place and sing and dance for her. He said he had done his first Broadway show for her, it was called "Cleavage" and the night it opened, it closed. I thought that was funny.
Adge: When did you know you had the job?
Natalie: I think a few days later. But a year and a half later, the call came in that it had been sold as a series, and that they would like me to do it.
Adge: Were any of the other series cast members involved with the workshop?
Natalie: Yes: Al and Seymour, John, Shawn, and Crystal. I think that's everybody.
Adge: Were the sketches or songs in the workshop revived for the TV series? Was there any material in it we would recognize?
Natalie: The workshop was the pilot, basically. You know, Crystal was the new girl in town and she was made fun of, then she decided her uniqueness was what was special...
Adge: Ok, so you're hired as a series regular. When does it come up, "oh you're moving to Florida"? And what did you think of the relocation?
Natalie: It was a pilot first, and then we did a promotion of it, then we did the 13 weeks in Florida. I was very excited. I love traveling, anywhere.
Adge: My roommate is an assistant director, and she wanted me to ask you about your schedule on Roundhouse. Specifically, how did everyone get through hair and make-up at the same time? Who would come retrieve you from your trailer/room? What was your day like on the show? How about the week, what happened Monday, Tuesday, etc.?
Natalie: Ok. Sunday we got our scripts delivered. Monday we had table reading, in the afternoon the writers would do rewrites and we would sort of hang low. Barry usually started working out the routine. Sometimes with no music!!!
Tuesday we were in full rehearsal. Our writers would give us the rewrites, we'd start learning the music for the Thursday night taping, and the afternoon would be a put-together of the show.
Wednesday, more rewrites and then we'd start memorizing our stuff, more run-throughs, music rehearsals, dance rehearsals and finally start doing the camera rehearsals at some point. Sometimes writers would sit in throughout and watch if there was something we came up with ourselves, or how we developed the characters, and then we might have gotten rewrites later.
Thursday, we had a run through, and we would record background vocals in our 72 track sound studio created by Benny Hester. Buddy Sheffield was watching over the writing and the actual flow of the show and of course Rita constantly maintained a creative, free atmosphere and she protected our rehearsal time, to stay very playful. She wasn't a yeller, she laughed more loudly than anyone, sometimes it looked like chaos because Al, Seymour, and John would go off for about 15 minutes on any kind of topic. Rehearsal would look like it came to a screeching halt, but sometimes, the next week, you'd find something in the script, from some little "improv" they did on the spot. It was an amazing process.
Friday, boom. Show time. We taped two shows, back to back and we rarely stopped to re-set shots. So it was almost completely live.
Make up and Hair was always hell for me. We had great artists, so luckily, they got us in and out, but I have so much thick hair that there was never time to actually finish it. Finally I got hip to the fact that in a fast atmosphere like that: You wake up early and blow-out your own hair and look as show-prepared as possible. Then, they just "accentuate the positive". It took me the whole 3 years to figure that out. Unless you're in Planet of the Apes, with prosthetic make-up, I think it's important to get a concept of styling yourself. The production coordinators and runners worked unbelievably hard, and they were on radios and they would just come and get us two at a time for the gals, and two or three at a time for the boys. Our stage manager, Gary Stella, was very good at knowing who needed what, being a performer himself. He really understood the fragility of actors and how on show day, they're a bit more raw because they stay vulnerable and they're ready to give all they've got. So he was very tender, but knew when to tell us to get ourselves together and not pull "divas". He was very funny. Towards later seasons, we just hopped on the chair (for hair and make-up) as soon as possible so that we got it out of the way. No one came and got us.
Adge: What are some of your favorite sketches on Roundhouse?
Natalie: I liked the Cinderella sketch with Natasha Pearce. I liked the Arnold Schwarzenegger sketch with Dominic. I just loooooooooved the pilot with Crystal as the "strange" girl that wasn't popular. I loved the first Sally Blubbers sketch ever. I liked the "Detention" sketch. I loved everything Shawn ever did as the mom. I loved the Bagel Boy Jeans sketch/commercial.
Adge: Favorite episodes?
Natalie: The Time episode, the pilot, the Beauty Pageant episode, the School Bus episode, and the Gang episode.
Adge: What was your favorite outfit you wore?
Natalie: I loved the Miracle Fro sketch (4th season, History of the Anyfamily) outfit, because I was finally able to wear a small pair of jeans and tennis shoes and look my age with a half top. I was finally in a shape were I felt un-self-conscious of my body. It was a nice time to try on clothes. Your self image is important, because in this industry, you're around so many amazingly beautiful people. You have to really grasp the idea of accepting what you got, what you have to offer, and hopefully work on bettering it every day. I was starting to feel that, then. So the outfit was very simple, but it was how it felt "on", that made a huge difference for me.
Adge: Least favorite?
Natalie: The "I Will Always Love You" sketch/talent contest. I wore this sweater dress over this other thing; it was tan and bulky, and just not good.
Adge: Is there a story behind the I Love Lucy tie that you wore in the episodic retaping of the pilot in season one?
Natalie: I just remember that in Florida I llllllllloved the I Love Lucy exhibit at Universal Studios. I would go there at every lunch break and watch it. One day I bought the tie. I think [Dominic] was the one who got me into the exhibit, when we shared that we both loved her. He told me about the exhibit and I was like: WHAT? And off we went. He came too a few times.
Adge: If you could step up your involvement in the creative level of Roundhouse, would you: A) Write a sketch? B) Write a song? C) Choreograph a dance bumper? D) Direct?
Natalie: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. What a great question. I think at the time, I was so absorbed in the performing, I wouldn't have trusted my instincts on any of those levels. Now, I would more than likely, write a sketch and choreograph a piece.
Adge: Can you tell us about any funny/behind the scenes incident that happened on Roundhouse that we might not already know about?
Natalie: Well the two people that made me laugh the most were Al and Seymour. And even though this is gross, I have to tell you. You see, every Friday before we shot, we were behind the stage ready to come on with the carts for the opening segment. We were usually on the same carts on the same sides of the stage. Sometimes we'd be in a holding pattern waiting to start. So Al and Seymour would go around and start playing with you. Of course they did this during rehearsal too. Al came up to me at least once a week and played the, "If someone paid you a million dollars would you..." game. He would come up to you out of the blue, get way too close to your face, like a half inch away, like it was normal, and say: "If someone paid you a million dollars, would you let them s---t on your knee?" It was so obscure, so out of left field, everyone would fall over laughing and he'd maintain his seriousness, then Seymour would continue the game...
Other times they would do the "approaching the girl" game, where they would show you how to ask a girl out. Al would be the guy and Sey would be the girl, and Al would tap her on the shoulder, then Seymour would turn around with this "dork look", like he looked pretty from behind, but when he turned around he was extremely ugly, then Al, would grimace, shake and excuse himself, like he'd mistaken her for someone else. Al would also do this "lunge stance" where he'd re-enact approaching you as the girl, getting ready to ask you out, and then hit this HHHHHHUGE lunge, which would make him about 2 feet shorter and he'd say: "Uh---(he always started with Uh)---- would you like to go out for some monkey feet stew and alligator knuckles?" I know, you're probably not laughing a bit, but in person, with his seriousness and those bony legs in that huge stance, rubber face, and totally looking like that's the normal thing to do... killed me. Every time.
Adge: That's hilarious! I've actually had the great fortune to meet Alfred and Seymour on a few occasions and they're always very charming in an off-the-wall kind of way. Do you still keep in touch with any of the other cast members?
Natalie: Shawn Daywalt Lutz.
Adge: What do you value the most from your time on Roundhouse?
Natalie: Ahhhhhh, the amazing opportunity to do all three things at once every week: sing, dance and act. Not often does that happen. Also, working with those amazing musicians in our band, recording songs in a state of the art recording studio, being on the set next to Seinfeld, hearing the laughter of little children every week. We knew the big kids and adults got it, but the little kids sometimes laughed the loudest! And most of all, working with people like Rita, Benny, and Buddy.
Adge: You have a lot of theater on your resume, what is your favorite part you've played on the stage?
Natalie: Thus far, Anita, in "West Side Story". In the future, I would like to play Aldonza in "Man of La Mancha". Nikki, in "Sweet Charity". Anybody in "Chicago", and so many others. Anita in "West Side Story" was huge. I'd like to do it in a larger venue. Huge orchestra, large cast, original choreography. Although, our director did a great job, we only had 5 Jets and 4 Sharks.
Adge: When I was 19 I was supposed to play Anita in a local production of "West Side Story". I had been dating this really talented guy and I convinced the director to get him to play the part of Tony. Anyway, I ended up going to live in NY instead because I was accepted to Alvin Ailey, (a NY based modern dance school/company) and my understudy ended up dating my guy!! So she took my place in more ways than one. That's my Anita story. I was not upset about anything, but I do regret that I did not perform "A Boy Like That" which is a great song.
Natalie: Awwwwwww! How cool that you got accepted to Ailey!
Adge: Thank you, but enough about me! On to the favorites section. What's your favorite book?
Natalie: Right now, Harry Potter, I'm on the last section of the last book.
Adge: Favorite movie?
Natalie: Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant. Amazing movie. Next is Terms of Endearment. After that, Sweet Charity. After that, a whole bunch of musicals. And then absolutely anything with Jack Lemmon.
Adge: TV show?
Natalie: Hmmmmmmm. Right now, Sopranos. Before that, my whole life: Mary Tyler Moore.
Natalie: Love Brothers, my husband's band. It's always in the car. It's awesome. They had their record release party in September 2001. Very cool!
Natalie: Persimmons, bright yellow, sage green.
Natalie: My mom's French Moroccan cooking, my husband's pasta primavera, sushi, all northern Italian cooking, and any and all raw organic vegetables with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. I lllllllove fresh veggies more than anything. In Texas they have these places that have vegetarian breakfast tacos with veggie chorizo and black beans and rice… ohhh! Sunflower sprouts, dates, watercress, spinach with beets and carrots with a light lemon and vinaigrette dressing, is what I'm craving right now. Sometimes, though, I want a Burger King big fish and french fries. I llllllove food and cooking.
Adge: Sports teams?
Natalie: Hmmmm. Guess I should probably beef up on that.
Adge: And lastly, what advice were you given in your life that you valued the most?
Natalie: Hmmmm. One uses different things I think, when one is ready... right? You might have been given the best advice possible, but it just wasn't the appropriate time to hear it. There is a craft and there is a business, and if you believe in the craft, then you will do it for one dollar or a million dollars. My acting teacher Joseph Malone has been very inspiring, he basically confirms not to wait: to sing, to dance, and to act. If it's truly what you love, then you will do it any place you can. That doesn't mean you should diminish the value of contracts, which unions have fought hard to create to protect artists that do this for a living. And that's what I've been using the most. Go in to work; go in perky, with a smile on your face, hair brushed, make-up on. It gets old to say you're tired, everybody in theatre or TV is tired. And the actors have the shortest hours. So if you're lucky enough to work, show up early, prepare, do the absolute most honest work you can do, and respect your fellow artists.
Today, I heard great advice from a stage and TV/film actor named Robert Torte. He's been on Broadway, done tours, film, TV, and he makes his family a priority. He said, if you know what you want, ask for it. That way, when the job begins, you cannot complain. If you leave it in the hands of everyone else, and then you're miserable, you didn't take the responsibility to inform yourself on the best possible scenario for you. Too often, actors that are not known will take a job for too little because they can't afford to lose it. Fear-based actions, like that, eventually hurt the actor. Often times, that's why unions are there with contracts. But the art of negotiating is something worth learning, and you have to start with your own truth, about what's right for you. Trust that you have the talent and the uniqueness to deliver the goods in your own way, with your own twist, and that you deserve the best. I do think the sports world can go too far on the opposite side of the coin.... the amount of money for an athlete compared to an average contract for a regional theatre production: millions versus $730.00/week. Crazy. Where's the balance? I understand about the short life of an athlete, but still...
So, again, the best advice? Have good car insurance.