One of the best new shows of the summer is Lifetime’s UnREAL… the new series which adopts the show-within-a-show model (ohhh, showception) has been making waves since its premiere and is complete changing the “reality tv” game. It follows the behind the scenes production of a fictitious dating show called Everlasting, and stars Shiri Appleby (Rachel Goldberg), Constance Zimmer (Quinn King) and Freddie Stroma (Adam Cromwell).
The Bachelor-inspired series takes a dark satirical look behind the scenes of dating shows (at a time when they are hot, hot, hot!) and shines a spotlight on all the gritty politics that comes with creating “captivating” TV, all while exploiting the private lives of its contestants for entertainment purposes. One thing’s for sure, UnREAL bares an uncanny resemblance to ABC’s The Bachelor, and has everyone taking notice that maybe corruption in production is more real than we ever imagined. If you haven’t seen the show yet, it’s nothing short of provocative, dramatic and a bit of an eye-opener for lovers of reality tv.
So wait, you’re insinuating that producers create fake drama to instigate contestants without thinking twice about real-life consequences or ramifications for the contestants? You don’t say! It not only takes a realistic approach to an overall unknown culture, but is a must see full of backstabbing, nudity, 911 calls, romance, and insight into a somewhat taboo world.
Natasha Wilson, who plays Maya, a contestant vying for the eager bachelor’s heart is innocent, intelligent and downright captivating on the hit series. Wilson, who I’m sure we’ll be seeing A LOT more of on our screens in the future talks about the incredibly well written show, and the obstacles her character faces throughout the storyline. From sex appeal to intimidating women, no stone is left unturned in this illuminating interview with the fresh-faced talent.
Lights, camera, action!
MCKENZIE MORRELL: Let’s chat about Lifetime’s UnREAL. This show is really taking the “reality TV” world by storm. What drew you to this project, and what was the casting process like?
NATASHA WILSON: The project was incredibly well written and an authentic piece of genius; I had not ready ANYTHING like it before. The casting process was thorough and deliberate. Sarah [Gertrude] and Marti [Noxon] knew exactly what they wanted and when they saw it. that was it. The network, Lifetime, was also very particular with choosing our cast. I auditioned for Maya alongside a group of other young women. I was so concerned about selling Maya’s sex appeal that I had forgotten my lines. The producers laughed hysterically and said I could have been talking about hydro-physics and been the sexiest thing in town regardless. That right there was exactly Maya: unaware of her power.
MM: Your character, Maya, was one of the more level-headed of the contestants competing for Adam’s heart– what do you think her motivation was when she initially decided to go on a show like The Bachelor?
NW: Maya’s back story is that she had been left at the altar in her previous relationship. Going on the show was a way to help her get out of that rut of sadness and bounce back into the light to find a man who would love her inside and out! This was an intimidating group of woman to jump into the mix with, but slowly she realized everyone is here for their own reasons and at the end of the day, we all wanted to be loved by a man who cherished us.
MM: Maya quickly became privy to the fact that producers are only interested in creating fake drama, do you think that translates into real-life reality shows as well?
NW: As any business would have it, there is a need to edit and control the product in order to push its potential in the marketplace. This is no different. People love drama, fake or otherwise. All of Television programming is “fake drama”; it’s written and produced! Reality television is no different. Anything on TV is controlled and presented in such a way to increase its viability in that medium’s market. I, of course, was one of the many millions who believed “reality” was exactly that, reality. However, it’s simply yet another genre—and an intelligent one at that! Fake drama is translated in the News, on Talk Shows, in Animation, in Soap Operas, etc… and yes, even Reality Shows… it’s imaginative creativity in itself. It’s so clever that viewers (including myself) couldn’t catch it… until UnREAL came along to crash the party.
MM: We saw Maya stay on the show following her sexual abuse, but ultimately left the competition– do you think she made the right decision to kind of call it a day after all of the traumatic things that happened to her?
NW: As in any other situation in life, we can only control so many variables. In that moment, for Maya’s health, safety, emotional stability, and overall well-being, she needed to get out of that tangled, twisted web of an environment. In that moment, and even now when looking back, Maya made the safest choice. Finally.
MM: Did it take a toll on you as an actor to have to portray a character who was raped and then blamed for it? It has to be a tough topic to tackle.
NW: Absolutely. As a young woman who is very much a believer in a female’s right to hold her boundaries, I was hurting for my character to have to not only be this docile personality in that moment, but also to try to cover it and sweep it under the rug. I found the experience to be cathartic in that I was able to live through the pain of going through the exploitation and dignity stealing experience at another’s hand. The actor playing Roger, Tom Brittney, was also feeling extremely uncomfortable with this situation as he had a (ex) good friend do exactly this to a female he also knew. It was hard on all of us. We all felt the need to take care of Maya.
MM: What are some techniques or routines you have when you’re getting into character. Any tips for channeling emotions and getting your head where it needs to be?
NW: I use music as a primary source to get me into a specific head-space. Lyrics are so important to me and hit home. Instruments also impact me in a way that opens my heart to feeling vulnerable enough to take on the necessary emotion my character needs to feel; it’s a matter of breaking down walls to allow myself to feel safe being extremely open and vulnerable as an actor. There is no safer place to be vulnerable than on a set when portraying a character who needs you to empower her as she is otherwise mute and invisible without your help.
MM:What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an actor in 2015?
NW: I have no clue about any conception, mis or otherwise, of an actor in 2015. It’s like asking a tree what the forest thinks about it. I can only say what I feel. Actors have are blessed with an opportunity to serve as intelligent agents of change. I would be so happy if that’s what the world thinks too.
MM: Do you watch reality dating shows like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette? Would you ever consider being on a show like that?
NW: I used to watch them indeed! Socially, it is part of our American culture! We get together, have a pot luck, and catch a reality dating show! My best girlfriends were naïve enough to want to nominate me to join those shows one day! I was silly enough to believe it was a true life fantasy. Well…. I would NEVER EVER EVER consider it after learning about the darkness and devastating manipulation of these shows; it’s hard to watch now. I have zero enjoyment out of it.
MM: Now that you’ve been on the ground floor of this Lifetime series that kind of blew up overnight, has the attention gotten you any interest from other projects?
NW: The content of UnREAL is incredibly interesting and is easily used to strike up conversation about who I am as Natasha. This has lead to many interesting interviews and discussions in which I am able to contribute to meaningful conversations about topic matter than means something to me. I’m meeting a plethora of wonderfully intelligent creative people who are stuck by the intricacies of UnREAL’s depth. When I meet people who are addicted to UnREAL and truly understand it’s complexities and moral conundrums, I feel engaged with the right group. I’m meeting with tons of talented people now to push further into my career. UnREAL surely has changed the game for me and I am so thankful to be a part of it!
MM: I hear you’re big on refurbishing antiques and collecting modern and classic furniture pieces. Have you found anything really awesome lately that you plan on sprucing up?
NW: I have controlled my addition to focus on acting. It takes time to (re) create the perfect piece, and I need space to allow the ideas for textures and lines to come to me. My phone doesn’t stop ringing so it’s not been the right time to create. I enjoy dedicating my focus to refurbishing beautiful chairs and settees, however, I’ve been on a plane every couple of days so I’m focusing on learning how to pack all my toiletries into a few tiny 3 oz containers. My recent acquisition has instead been a vintage bag turned carry on-bag (with my added rollers) and handbag set, torn and tattered in camel leather with Moroccan, hand woven straps. This came from a close friend’s great grandmother’s chest in Dubai, UAE.
MM: Has being in the limelight and having a platform as an actress helped you to raise awareness for causes that are close to you? I heard you’re a lover of animals and a big advocate for their rights.
NW: I love animals. I am a huge dog lover and believe in using nurturing patience as a way to restore trust and hope in animals who’ve come from abuse and neglect. The future holds no bars on my drive to raise awareness for animal rights but also for humans to simply learn more about animals and their needs. I think education and advocacy is the way to go. I always say, we are all made of one another and should treat animal as we wish to treat our most treasured friends and family; sometimes they selflessly serve as exactly that and this gift of an animal should never be taken for granted.
MM: Do you have any other hobbies that people might not know about you when they initially meet you?
NW: Ok, you caught me; I’m an undercover geeky musician. I enjoy going into elite University libraries right at the beginning of a semester when course textbooks are all ordered and nicely stacked, ready to be sold. I arrive equipped with my trusty list of ‘classes of interest, which have been researched and carefully decided upon, and take photos of the books outlined in the syllabus! I then purchase them in audio format online (if available) or hard text and begin to learn at my own pace! I’m currently reading books about a course called “machine learning” at Stanford. What “machine learning” means is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed (wanna-be, human-level AI). Think of self-driving cars, practical speech recognition (Siri), effective web search (Google), and a vastly improved understanding of the human genome (23andme.com). It’s so pervasive that we probably use it a dozen times a day and don’t even know it. I’m learning about parametric and non-parametric algorithms right now, which is what’s categorized as Supervised Learning. Next, I’ll be learning about neural networks, clustering, dimensionality reduction, which is the Unsupervised Learning category. The other secret I have is that I love to sing jazz and soul!! I would love to have a gig at 75 at the local Italian restaurant in my neighborhood in LA.
MM: What’s next for you? Anything we can look forward to in the near future?
NW: 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!
Follow her on Twitter @NatashaWilson