Many actors start out with the dream of becoming famous and walking the red carpet. Odds are that many of them won’t get to that level of stardom. Being an actor can be a hard and discouraging way to make a living. If you want to be an actor, you truly have to love and respect the craft. Along with hard work, education and training, there has to be a little bit of luck to round it out.
Natalia Baron has proven that with amazing talent, training and just a little bit of luck, you can carve your own path to a successful career as an actor. She made her first appearance on television playing Carmen Torres on the critically acclaimed David E. Kelley series Boston Public. Her work on that series led to appearances on television series such as Medium, Veronica Mars and Burn Notice. On the big screen she’s appeared alongside Ashely Scott in Unstable and the film Red Velvet. If that isn’t enough to fill her plate, she recently began teaching acting classes.
Today, Natalia sits down with us to talk about her work so far in her career, how David E. Kelley changed her life and what advice she has for anyone wanting to become an actor.
Pop Culture Principle – What made you decide to become an actor?
Natalia Baron – You know, my mother named me after the Russian ballerina Natalia Makarova. My mother wasn’t an actress or a dancer herself, but she really loved the arts. So, growing up I had the great privilege of our family going up to New York once a year and see whatever the big Broadway musicals or shows were at that time. She was the furthest thing from a stage mom and let me dance and do theater until I graduated high school, but refused to let me go to castings after I begged her. At the time of course, I thought she was crushing my dreams, but I am so thankful that I had a more traditional childhood. My mother says that at 4 I saw a play at school and said I want to do that. I was always determined and realized that was where my heart was and I am super thankful that I have been able to act for a living.
Pop Culture Principle – What was your very first paid professional acting gig?
Natalia Baron – Boston Public was my first job as a professional actor and I was very blessed. It’s interesting, I had lost a job due to being sent to the final callback a day late and the casting director found me and was so troubled that I lost the project, she setup some meetings for me. The first meeting I took was with the person who is still my manager to this day and the first audition she sent me on was for the Luis Guzman pilot for Fox that was on the air for a hot minute.
I ended up getting a test offer and got with William Morris when they were on their own at the time and they were my first agency. From that, I had a bunch of opportunities and got close to a couple of projects, but the fact that I hadn’t done a commercial, a guest star or anything like that, people were afraid to hire me which I didn’t understand at the time.
I met David Kelley for the Practice and had a new series regular role on that series and I read for it twice. I eventually didn’t get the role, but I found out from my agent that he re-wrote the new series regular role on Boston Public to be Cuban & be me, Carmen Torres.
Pop Culture Principle – Did you do any preparation for that role? Did you speak with any teachers?
Natalia Baron – You know, I had literally two weeks from when I got cast to when we started shooting. She was a brand new teacher and that sort of worked in my favor and I think part of the reason that he re-invisoned the part with me in mind is because it was her first job and it was mine as well. So, I don’t think it mattered that I hadn’t talked to teachers. Whenever I see David, I always thank him for changing my life forever. I think part of the great thing about this role is that I had a lot of teachers write to me and that was such a blessing because I have great respect for teachers. I have had amazing teachers in my life which I used as inspiration.
The thing about TV which I learned on the job was that you sort of have an idea of who you are and where you are going, but then you get a script for next week while you are working on the current script and you find out that you are an alcoholic. I did not have the luxury of time to go to AA meetings as prep so I just went with my instincts to feel out the character. So for me, it was feeling my way through and figuring out how Carmen would react and how it would affect her. You learn stuff like that on the fly and learn to go with your gut.
Pop Culture Principle – Boston Public had such an amazing cast including Chi McBride, Jessayln Gilsig, Michael Rappaport and Jeri Ryan to name a few. What was it like working with them and working on the show?
Natalia Baron – The only person’s work that I knew before I joined the show was Michael Rappaport. He was in a film called Beautiful Girls and I used to watch that film all the time and was a big fan of his. Michael even directed me in an episode of Boston Public which was a lot of fun. My mother was a big fan of musicals and loved Loretta Devine in Dreamgirls on Broadway and was so excited that I was working with her. It was such a huge privilege to get to work with them. Chi is such a phenomenal actor and with him, I had to win his respect because he is such a powerhouse. He wasn’t going to give me anything just because I was there and it took him a week and an episode before he warmed up to me.
After one of our scenes, Chi said “Kid, you are good”, and for me that was great to hear from him.
Of course, Fyvush Finkel who’s been in this business since vaudeville, I learned so much from him as well. He used to say some of the funniest things on set. He would always say to me, “kid, you never leave a hit.” I also had a great experience working with Milo Ventimiglia who was cast as my love interest on the show. We had a lot of scenes together and he was such a great teacher. He was so patient, kind and generous and really helped me through navigating this first experience that I had. They were all so wonderful and generous and it was such a blessing to get to work with all of them.
Pop Culture Principle – When did the cast find out that Boston Public was cancelled?
Natalia Baron – I can’t speak to when my other castmates found out, but for me, I had a week off from the show and was in New York taking meetings and doing a bunch of press there. I was seeing Wonderful Town with a good friend of mine and it was at the intermission. My agent had called me a couple of times, so I called him back and that’s when I found out that it was cancelled.
Pop Culture Principle – You also did two episodes of Veronica Mars. What was your experience like working on that series and working with Kristen Bell?
Natalia Baron – I had so much fun working on that show. It was shot in San Diego, so it was like a little bit of a location shoot. All of the people on that show were so much fun. It was a little bit different of an experience from Boston Public because on that show I was pretty much the youngest one in the cast. On Veronica Mars, this was an opportunity to be with people who were around my age. Kristen was super generous and really lovely to work with and it was a really fun part to play. I enjoyed being on that set. At the time, I was older than high school like everybody else and it was fun to revisit that world again.
Pop Culture Principle – What did you think about the success of the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter campaign success?
Natalia Baron – You know, I didn’t follow the Kickstarter, but I did read that some people wanted Carmen to be in the film which was amazing. It’s such a blessing to have been part of something that has such a true, loyal following and has been well received even with the brief guest starring role that I got to play in that world, it’s so nice having people like what you do and be so supportive of it.
Pop Culture Principle – You also appeared on series such as Medium, Burn Notice, Without a Trace and Strong Medicine. What is it like for you as an actor to guest star on a series that’s been on the air for a while and has a fan base already?
Natalia Baron – I think whenever you start any job, whether it’s a movie or television series, to me the first day on set feels like the first day of school. It’s like you are the new kid and you feel that nervousness. As long as you have done your work, you were picked to play this part and usually you love the part that you are playing and the project you are working on, that usually can guide you through it. It’s always really nice to get to go and play with people who are good at what they do and to get asked to be a part of that is fantastic.
Pop Culture Principle – What made you decide to become an acting coach?
Natalia Baron – People have always asked me to help them whenever they have auditions and I have always enjoyed doing it. I’ve had the benefit of working with so many different coaches and have had so much training in my life that I feel like with everything, I believe in stealing from the best of them and not just subscribing to one religion about anything. So, since I’ve taken so many classes in my life and worked with so many people, I have all these schools of thought to work with. It started out as fun and doing people favors, but as more people asked, I realized this is another way to get to do what I love. You can always find time to squeeze someone in while you are still doing your auditions. My favorite acting coach that I ever worked with is and was an actor himself and he made auditions as well as my first job so much easier because he had been in the same situations himself. So, working with him was so more practical and beneficial than the theory of acting.
Pop Culture Principle – In your opinion, what is an actor’s biggest hindrance or hurdle?
Natalia Baron – I think that is super specific and I think that the reason I decided to do the coaching stuff was because I think I am in a unique position to bring to the table and the audition all the people I’ve worked with and all the coaches I have been to. You have to be very flexible and work with a lot of people. You can’t just expect the world to subscribe to a very famous acting coaches style. I think traditional acting classes tend to teach you that this is the formula and this is the way you do it.
You have to be able to work with someone who does method or an actor that doesn’t do method. You have to work with people who have different styles. Also, not the same thing gets you going everyday which is what it’s like in real life. I think it’s really specific and I think that’s how the art is. How each actor arrives at their best performance is super specific and personal. It can change from day to day and from part to part.
Pop Culture Principle – What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming an actor or who wants to be famous like Will Smith or Jennifer Lawrence?
Natalia Baron – Well, I think becoming an actor and becoming famous are two different things. I aspire to be successful and with success comes recognition, acclaim and being famous. I aspire to always live up to David Kelley choosing me, to getting to work with people like that for the long haul and to have the freedom of choice of projects I get to work on and to have the opportunity to work with people I respect and admire. If you are watching me or a Will Smith and you want to act just to become famous, some people must get there because that is their driving motive. But for me, that isn’t why I chose acting and why I continue to love being on set and working with other actors. I get really excited by the material and the collaboration with others. I get my best ideas when I am working on a script or doing a scene. I am truly grateful for the success I’ve had and if all my dreams come true, I will have even greater success in the near future. I am sure with Will Smith it’s about the hard work and the love of the craft. Telling a great story and giving a voice to someone’s experience that may not be your own, but is universal.
For me, English classes taught me more growing up than acting classes. Reading stories and understanding human nature a little bit and coming from a super hard working family has allowed me to get to where I am at now and hopefully will get me where I dream to be. If you want to be an actor and an artist, it’s more about your heart and your soul and the work and not necessarily the fame. Of course you want the recognition and you want to be well received and successful at whatever you do. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs in my career, but there is nothing else that makes my heart as happy and I feel blessed by being well received and getting the recognition for what I have done so far in my career.
A friend once told me acting is the only profession that you go from being the CEO of your own company, to unemployed, back to being CEO all the time. I mean, you book a series and you are the CEO, but then your show gets cancelled and then you are unemployed again and so on. In order to ride that out and be ok with that, it really has to be a true love of yours. You are constantly on a job interview and you have to be ok with that and enjoy that process and try and be as strong as you can. You have to love what you are doing enough whether they pick you or not, it’s not going to make or break you.
Pop Culture Principle – Any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?
Natalia Baron – It’s definitely that busy time of year with pilot season so I’ve been reading scripts non-stop and auditioning. The great thing about this year is that there is so much stuff for ethnic actors out there. It’s just so beautiful and a huge gift that is the way things are turning. The amount of opportunities for not just the best friend or second lead, but the actual lead is amazing. Right now I am working and figuring out which one will be the next Boston Public for me, so I can’t say which one or what yet.
The Pop Culture Principle would like to thank Natalia Baron for taking the time from her busy schedule to talk with us. You can keep up to date with all of Natalia’s latest projects and news by following her offical Twitter account here.