Today I sit down with actress Natalie Burn who you may have seen in films such as Killer Mermaid and The Expendables 3. Natalie’s new film is called Awaken and is an action/horror movie about the black-market which deals in organs where she stars alongside Daryl Hannah, Vinnie Jones and Robert Davi. Read on for our chat below…
First of all Natalie could you tell us a little about the film itself and your role within it?
I wrote Awaken with four other people. It was an idea which I came up with as I wanted to make a film with meaning and not just an action movie without any story behind it. I do consider myself an action actress but I also wanted to add in what I’ve learnt at my acting schools that I’ve gone to and have more depth to my character. Not just being a hardcore action-driven girl!
I play Billy Kope – a survivor who has lost most of her family and only has her sister left who she hasn’t seen in six years. She has been searching for all of that time after her father told her to find her. One day Billy wakes upon this island not knowing where she is or why. Then she meets other people and works out that there is a big black market which traffics organs going on and the main boss (Jason London) is about to sell a certain organ to Daryl Hannah and her daughter. During that whole search I finally find my sister who is involved with the black market…. My character is driven, determined and nothing gets by her. She is very in tune, trained by her father in fighting and military training.
Well talking about the fighting, you do your own stunts in this don’t you? And you also did them in Name of king 2 didn’t you…
Yeah I was a ballerina in the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House in London and I’ve always been physical and so when I transformed into an actress I wanted to keep that physical part of me and that’s why I studied stunts and martial arts. Once I had acquired some of that I figured why not use it in the movies; as I can get better stunts and it’ll look more realistic. It doesn’t matter how well I do it, I reckon it still looks better than any other stunt woman from the back.
Is it quite a natural progression to go from dancing to stunts?
I tell people that I’m a ballerina and they always go ‘So? Does that mean you can fight? Most probably you can’t…’ but I really can! I was a ballerina but I would never consider myself as only being a classically trained dancer. I studied a lot of jazz, hip hop and break-dancing which is where my actual fighting training comes in. I wanted to be in tune with my physique so I think my transition was quite easy for me, it was just another form of dance. I may not be as great as others but I know how to punch and I know how to fake it on screen!
The horror element of the movie is the black market and I wanted to make that real rather than zombies or vampires… I wanted something realistic where people who see the movie could say ‘damn that could definitely happen to anybody nowadays’. Two million people go missing around the world for no particular reason and nobody knows why, nobody can prove that there isn’t a black market selling organs. So I wanted to touch that topic and see if I could make people aware.
The reason I wrote the script was because I read an article where they took a little boy’s eyes in China and just left him on the street. They didn’t need the eye itself but something which was connected to it… so it happens, we don’t really know what goes on but it happens.
So were there any films in particular which inspired the action side of the film?
I just did Expendables 3 with Sylvester Stallone and I’m a big fan of all the characters he has created, especially Rocky. I think that was my inspiration for a female lead, for one to have that kind of drive and power coupled with more emotions. She (Billy) was taught by her dad how to survive but she didn’t have enough emotional love given to her so she is very hurt inside and scared, so I wanted to add that almost broken element to it where if she doesn’t find her sister I don’t know what she would do.
And this is a question which I know is asked a lot but do you find these complex, deep female roles difficult to find?
They are hard to find, most of the films focus on the guy being the strong lead which of course comes from evolution. Now though in the 21st century we can change that, especially in the independent market where the films themselves are changing with so many females who are coming in and finding their own audience. There are more scripts being written for lead females so it is slowly progressing. They can be hard to find though because producers don’t tend to back ones like that as the world isn’t ready to accept it yet, but perhaps when the USA gets a female president things will change! I think this is the right moment to try and break through and develop more female driven films.
Was that part of the reason why 7th Heaven productions was created? To give you the ability to do what you wanted and pick scripts which you wanted to do?
Absolutely. I mean I live in LA and it’s hard to go out and audition and constantly be rejected and I don’t mean that’s just happening to me… hopefully that happens to everybody! But it’s just hard to break into Hollywood as there are so many girls here who are talented, many who are not talented and so many extremely talented who just aren’t being noticed. I consider myself… I don’t want to say talented enough, but at least I feel like I have something I can show the world and perhaps change something and have some impact. I don’t want to sit at home on my couch waiting for another call to come in so I began writing, firstly for myself and then also as something which I can produce in the future. I do look at myself as a producer and am interested in developing scripts where I don’t act, to have something which I can show the world.
I enjoy creating. I’m an artist first and a business woman second. I come up with great ideas and then have people who support me and help evolve it into something that’s bigger and ultimately marketable. I like writing but it’s not my first job, that’s acting and I wouldn’t change that for anything.
Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about your background. You’re Ukrainian aren’t you?
Does that filter into your work at all or is your background, history and culture very separate?
Well nowadays people know where Ukraine is! It’s unfortunate what’s happening to Ukraine and I’m definitely supportive of the people. It’s hard to understand how it has so quickly become this crazy situation and hopefully it can come to a positive end soon.
As to my background though; I grew up in London, I lived for four years in Moscow, spent some years in Ukraine… so I feel like I’m internationally educated, but my blood is from Ukraine. My grandmother lives in a very poor side of it and I go to visit her a lot and that’s when you get inspired and appreciate everything which you are doing. Unfortunately that’s where inspiration comes from; we get inspired by seeing poor people, by seeing bad things rather than something great happening. We write movies about bad things rather than good things. So if I can support Ukraine through my work then I will do that.
I understand you attended the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute and the Actors Studio, how did your time there affect your work? How does it benefit you?
When I attended Lee Strasberg I became intuned with my emotional side, and that definitely came from education. I couldn’t have done it through my experience on set with other actors, I would never have understood what they were doing. There is so much method to this madness that I’m still figuring it out. I’m still studying at other schools because I’m always trying to find something else within myself and understand me better.
Actors Studio helped me to break through that nervousness that you have because the actors studio is the actors studio and once you’re on stage in front of those legends like Martin Landau you think ‘I had better do something good!’ or they are going to put you down. It’s very truthful, whatever they see that’s what they say and ninety nine people will be on top of you telling you did the worst thing you could have done! So you had better back up your actions on stage and know what you’re doing and why you came. You learn from that and then if you’re smart enough you use it in your films. I’m not perfect. I’m still figuring things out, but it definitely helped me to have some understanding with great actors that I’ve worked with like Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes. They’ve all come from a theatre background and have done the school. What I really respect is when an actor goes and really researches and gives time from his life to education because then they come out and can say ‘alright I’m ready for whatever you give me’. And if you’re not ready then the other actor will win the scene and you don’t want that!
Well I’m not Meryl Streep so I don’t have the luxury to pick and choose but in general I look for something original in my characters, some similarities in me but also opposites because I want to challenge myself but I also want to be connected. So it could be anything so long as I can relate to her.
I hate it when people characterise you as a such and such an actress, I think like with dancers who aren’t just ballerinas who can only do ballet, action actress aren’t only able to do action. I don’t think it is fair; we are artists and we can do pretty much whatever is given to us – that’s why we are artists. So even though I’m drawn to strong women I see myself doing something different like naive, lost…something that’s complex and challenges me. I like comedy too, I see myself doing comedy at some point. I like to make people either cry or laugh!
And finally what else do you have coming out Natalie? I’ve heard you’ve a small role in Criminal…
I’m playing a small part in Criminal where I shared a scene with Tommy Lee Jones and it was nice to work with him. He’s definitely a character and a unique personality. I’ve never met anybody like him.
I just shot several scenes with Jessica Alba and Jason Statham in Mechanic 2 where I enjoyed playing a reporter – that was fun! Thailand itself and the shoot were absolutely incredible so I am very thrilled to be in that film. It should be coming out either at the end of this year or the beginning of next.
I’ve also got a few of my projects in preproduction so we will see what comes from them in the coming months!
And that’s a pretty good note on which to end this, thank you Natalie!
And there we have it folks! I hope you enjoyed this chat with Natalie, please feel very free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below!