Actress Natasha Wilson. Photo Credit: Tanya Zakkour.

Actress Natasha Wilson. Photo: Tanya Zakkour.

Optimism is not always the easiest thing to hold onto, especially in a world that is so jaded. But although struggles are abundant in all of our lives, actress Natasha Wilson tends to cling to the silver lining in every situation and is fascinated by the planet we inhabit, including its vast cultures and languages.

“I’m fascinated with human beings and our plethora of verbal and non-verbal languages, cultures, and social contexts,” she says.

Splitting her life between Vancouver, Canada and Los Angeles, she is able to charm an audience both on screen and in her life of activism with her vibrant personality, scientific background and an open mind. According to Natasha, she has always been somewhat of an advocate for different groups and plagued with the constant need to help. This is what ultimately led her to be openly vocal and sensitive toward animal, children and women’s welfare issues.

“I can’t imagine being a bystander and not doing something about something that is so apparently wrong. It just kills me,” she emphasizes.

Like many before her, she started acting when she was young, but decided to take a break from that world in order to attend university and assess what she really wanted to do with her life. While her academic success in neuroscience was valuable, Wilson ended up back in the limelight because she realized that it was her true passion. “Now I am in that ‘yes, I will die trying to be an actress’ mindset. That decision has already been made and I am okay with it,” she says.

Constantly aware of those around her, Wilson tucks away certain mannerisms and emotions in her mind for future reference. And it is because of such character studies that she is able to evoke emotion and a certain level of “magic” in the roles she portrays. After all, every face holds a story, and so does every character on screen. “Anytime I meet anyone — it can be the bus driver or any random patron — I always try to decide what their story is. Not in the judgmental way, but I watch their body language, the way that they speak and how they stress certain vowels. It’s like a character study,” she further clarifies.

In an exclusive Q&A with GALO, Wilson explains the reality behind dating shows, the importance of discussing situations such as rape and suicide and coping with the outcomes, and staying true to yourself, while uncovering new layers of interests and passions.

GALO: Rumor has it that you left high school at a young age. Still, you didn’t let that stop you from going to college or pursuing your dreams. Could you elaborate a little bit about that time in your life? Do you feel as if you were treated differently because your journey to college was dissimilar to that of most adolescents?

Natasha Wilson: I was 16, and I left high school because I had to work. I tested into university and got into all of the 100-level classes without having a high school diploma. It was when I transferred to Pepperdine [University] that they asked about SAT scores and high school. I was like, “What do you mean? I’ve already completed community college. Why are you asking about high school?” But they told me that I needed high school stuff. I had to get my GED then and that is when I tested in the top 90th percentile for all of the main categories.

I never really tell anyone that I don’t have a high school diploma, so I’m not really treated differently. Honestly, when people talk to me, it would never be something that would cross their mind to ask. In other words, they don’t really ask how educated I am. And I never really think about it, to be honest. Even if someone did judge me, that would not be the type of person that I would want around me. A high school education is a conveyer belt system, depending on where you go, and so I don’t think that it should determine your level of success. If someone didn’t finish high school, there are a multitude of reasons why. The question [should] be like: “what happened?” [And] not judging them for being a “high school dropout.” If anything, it made the universities fascinated that I didn’t have the necessary training to understand the material, but I still did well with the testing. It was more about what I had the innate ability to do, not the prior education. My mother was the only one who brought it up. That is one of the reasons why I was determined to get an education. Now, no one can tell me that I wasn’t good enough when it comes to formal education.

GALO: You studied neuroscience, correct?

NW: Yes.

GALO: After reading several interviews you’ve had with other publications, I could tell that your mind works in a scientific way. You seem to be both intuitive and confident in your beliefs, and genuinely enthusiastic to be part of something that will educate others in the end. But I’m curious how someone that seemed to be destined for scientific research ends up in the entertainment field? Is there any connection between the two industries for you at all?

NW: It is a hard subject, but I had a natural gravitation toward it. I was interested in a lot of things, including psychology, conflict management, advocacy resolution and things like that. I try not to be judgmental, so it is easy for me to understand different sides. I always thought that I would be a good mediator or something like that — like when friends of mine are fighting, I can help them sort out the true problem. So, I always kind of have this need or thirst to find a root to the problem in situations.

I couldn’t get anywhere in psychology because everything is theoretical and there was no real source to the information. I mean, I understand the studies and how they are done based on statistics and samples, but there are so many variables just within our genetic makeup that are not taken into consideration. So, I felt a natural gravitation to go into neuroscience.

I was doing work-study at Dr. Lieberman’s office at USC and he asked me to organize his office. The way I organized it, he looked at me and said, “You need to study neuroscience.” He thought I was able to read who he was and how he thought, and therefore, organize [his office] accordingly. That is how it started. I took a seminar and after one of his classes that I audited, I realized that I was so into it. It was something that was so natural to follow up with. I am still interested in genetics, too.

Student loans and a paycheck make the connection. When I was a kid, I always wanted to be an actress — and I did do some [acting] when I was a teenager. It was just something that kind of happened, and I wasn’t sure if it was a choice. It was like a party, and I walked into it and it was great. But I really didn’t understand what it [was]. I got scared when I was a young teenager because I was meeting people who could see that I was a naïve creature and [they] possibly [wanted to] take advantage of my innocence. I just slowly dumped the business — broke up with it — and decided on a safer path to completing my education. I wanted to have more confidence and I wanted to have a more grounded approach. I didn’t just want to be some teenager who was now an actress — and [to] never really have a proper backbone. It was important to me to put acting aside as much as I loved it. It would have killed me if I hadn’t. I wasn’t truly ready for it.

Education is a whole other level of performance that has nothing to do with what you look like or [with] acting. I did take cinema classes in school, though, because I had electives that I needed to take. But, in school, I had become so hardened and defensive that I wasn’t vulnerable anymore, and after two weeks of 10 hours a day in a crazy acting seminar, I was completely broken down. I became the same person [I had been] when I was a teenager and was able to book so many jobs. I got back to who I truly was and started acting again.

GALO: Most currently, you played Maya on Lifetime’s hit series UnREAL, which is loosely based on reality dating shows like The Bachelor. Such shows often have us rooting for the love between two people and even picking and choosing who should end up together. But this Lifetime series shatters our fairy tale ending dreams because it shows us the “truth” behind reality shows, showcasing that they are in fact staged to a certain extent. Would you say you were at one point among those who were misled by the façade? In other words, how surprised were you to learn how much producer intervention is involved?

NW: Oh my gosh, I think I was the only person on the cast that was actually devastated when I realized that it was scripted. I used to ask every question in the book about whether things actually happened. The other girls would look at me and be like, “of course.” But as an actress, I had no idea. I was just one of those viewers who believed in the world of these dating competitions and reality TV shows. Don’t get me wrong, I understand editing and whatnot, but I did truly believe that these people were falling in love with each other and that the edits of all of the fighting and whatnot were true. I didn’t really take into consideration the alcohol that was consumed because they don’t always show that part on screen. All of those things just didn’t exist to me before and I did feel kind of shattered about the fantasy. I guess, afterward, it made sense.

I mean, if you are making a TV show, of course there is money involved and lots of jobs involved. So, it is necessary to have to control the elements in order to have a good outcome of it. People put money into these things because they want to make money, not because they want to tell a fantasy story. I was still that naïve person and asking questions like, “what do you mean they don’t love each other?” I never really thought about how they got to the competition or on the show. I thought maybe their friends nominated them or something like that. I didn’t realize that [they] had to sign up and audition. I had no clue that it was all pretty much staged.

GALO: Victim shaming is obviously a horrible thing after sexual abuse, but it unfortunately happens all too often in our society. Having lived through that experience in Maya’s shoes, what words of encouragement would you say to women who are currently going through this?

NW: It is really hard because people don’t really realize how bad it really is. You have to break down so many walls and cross so many boundaries to get to a place of comfort. It also depends on whether it happens in a relationship, is continuously happening, or if it happened once in a situation where they were manipulated like Maya was. She tried to put it away and deal with it later, and I think that what happens is that it affects so many different parts of a person and who they are. It affects self-esteem down the road — and I think that happens to a lot of women. It comes back later, and sometimes they won’t realize it until they are in another relationship.

So I think that some people try to put it away and pretend it didn’t happen, but I think it is important for those girls to go to some sort of therapy or talk to someone who is trained to help in that specific area. It’s so easy for friends to brush it off like it isn’t that big of a deal, or for them to overdramatize the situation and make you feel worse. It’s very important to speak to someone that you can trust. You shouldn’t just [let] it be and continue to be ashamed of having been forced to partake in some sort of activity like that. Nor should you try to take blame by saying that you may have kissed them or invited them [to do so]. That doesn’t give the person the entitlement to take advantage or touch you in a way that you don’t want to be touched. It is important to understand that it isn’t your fault and learning to prevent yourself from getting into another similar situation. Group therapy is probably a good idea because other women can relate. One-on-one therapy can often make you feel shy or feel worse because then you have to discuss the details, especially if it is a male therapist.

GALO: A lot of important things are brought to light in this show, from sexual abuse, to suicide, to producer intervention. What message do you hope that viewers will take away from this series in relation to reality shows?

NW: All of the topic matter is woven into this setting of the behind-the-scenes view of a dating competition show, but I think that all of that topic matter exists in other shows and in other formats. I don’t think that there is anything on the show that people haven’t already been exposed to in some other way. When it comes to suicide, you hear about the bullying and people who post stuff on Facebook about someone who was bullied and then committed suicide. These things happen often enough lately [that] it has been sensationalized in the media, especially abusive relationships, child custody battles, drugs, infidelity, and being torn between being engaged to someone who is good and stable vs. someone you love who is not exactly stable but they understand you and you understand them. All of this type of stuff, I think people can relate to [it] outside of the contest of the dating show. It all exists in that world of UnREAL because there are so many people going through so many different things, and with so many different storylines, all of these matters can exist in just one season on a show like that.