Monday, June 21, 2021

Natalie Morales made her directorial debut. Twice.

If there was a silver lining for Natalie Morales in the epidemic, it’s that she had to spend part of the summer lockdown directing in Los Angeles “Language Lessons,” A low-budget, character-driven film that he co-wrote and starred with Mark Duplass, one of his filmmaking heroes.

It was only during the making of that dream project that Morales found out that she could resume work on another dream project: The Bowdy Teen Road-Trip Comedy “Alternative Plan,” Which she was preparing to direct until it was postponed amid concerns about coronovirus could begin filming that fall.

These are the first two films that Morales, better known as an actress, has made as a feature director, and they can hardly be the same. “Plan B”, which Hulu released on Friday, follows the raucous audacity of two high-school friends (Kuhu Verma and Victoria Moroles) in search of emergency contraception.

The Berlin Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival selection, “Language Lessons”, which will be released later this year, chronicles the friendship of a Spanish instructor (Morales) and his student (Duplass) as they bond during online classes .

Morales also recognizes the disparity between the films and accepts this. “These are the weirdest two movies a person can do at the same time,” she said in a recent interview. “I’ve never been one to enjoy being pinned down in any way. I think it’s good that people are seeing both sides of me right away.”

He is not a completely unknown quantity. As an artist, Morales, 36, has made a steady career in supporting roles in TV sitcoms (“parks and Recreation,” “dead to me”) And feature films (“Small things“).

But as she has progressed in Hollywood, Morales has longed to have more control over her material and tell stories that are meaningful to her. And if each of these two separate projects has something to say about the kind of artist she wants to be, then so be it.

“My life, like my style of art, is always high and low,” she said. “It is always absurd and heartfelt.”

Morales, who is the daughter of Cuban refugees and grew up in Miami, had some minor successes early in her acting career. He co-starred with ABC Family “The middleman,” An imaginative sci-fi adventure that ran just one season in 2008, and appeared on USA Procedural “White collar,” However, he unexpectedly cut himself from that crime drama after his first season in 2010.

Even before these formative experiences, Morales said that she considers direction to be the most efficient path for the kind of work she wanted to do.

“My friends and I were not being cast or even seen for the things I knew we could do, and that we knew we wanted to do,” she said. “Either that or the things we wanted to do didn’t exist, so I wanted to make them.”

Morales’ problems are not necessarily solved by the introduction of lead roles. Two years ago, she acted “AB,” The 2019 NBC comedy is about a woman who runs her own backyard bar.

Although Morales said he enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the show’s creative team, he felt that NBC lost interest during the executive turnover period and failed to support the series.

“You can go on to get advertising sales and you can tell about your diversity,” she said. “‘See Our Bisexual Cuban Lead!’ And then you avoid it and don’t promote it. Put your money where your mouth is. If you don’t give it a chance to grow, who are you really supporting? “

Over the years, Morales has directed stage and sketch comedy performances, music videos, and a phoney or die web series in which actors constantly read from a series of dirty love letters that James Joyce wrote to his wife Nora Barnacle. (She reads herself from a remittance In which the author “Ulysses” affectionately describes the flatulence of his spouse.)

But Morales sometimes found that his identity as an actor prevented others from seeing him as a director, and parted ways with a talent agency, which he said he had given him in his directorial department Will not prepare for meetings with. “I was like, I’m trying to give you money – why don’t you?” he said. “They were not supportive.”

He got an important opportunity when he was invited to direct an episode of Opportunity. “Room 104,” HBO Compilation Series Created by siblings Jay and Mark Duplass.

Mark Duplass said that he and Morales had become friendly over the years but rarely found time to work together. “That’s how we see the world,” he said. “We see it in all its darkness and choose to smile anyway. But our lives are busy – I am married with children, she projects 95 million a year.”

Morales recalls his directing assignment, an episode Duplass wrote for his wife Katie Eselton, about a woman who claims to be an artificially intelligent robot: “I was in the first production meeting with all these ideas Came in. And Mark was like, ‘You know you only have two days to shoot it?’ I was like, ‘I know.’ He knew that I knew what I was doing. Or, at least, that I had a plan. “

Duplass said Morales “definitely redeemed it,” and she returned in 2020 to direct another episode for the show’s final season.

Duplass said that a certain amount of disagreement was natural in their cooperation and there was nothing to worry about. “He’s so obstinate, I’m so stubborn, and we look at each other and we have a smile on our faces,” he said. “It never gets hot. Eventually one of us has understood, oh yeah, you’re probably right.”

When Morales had a chance to present herself to the makers of “Plan B”, she went after that project with the same tenacity.

While that film is very much in the tradition of coming-of-age comedy like “Superbud” and “BookSmart”, Morales said that the screenplay for “Plan B”, written by Joshua Levy and Prathee Srinivasan, had some specific elements that were called out Was for him.

“Lead immigrants have two daughters, two non-white people, and that is revolutionary in itself,” she said. And unlike the romances of other teenagers who find their protagonist striving for popularity, the right party or parent’s car, Morales said, “The discovery in this film is health care – accessible health care.”

Filming on “Plan B” was scheduled to begin in March last year, but was halted due to an epidemic. While Morales waited for an initial two-week delay that lasted months, Duplass approached him.

“He texted me and said, ‘Do you speak Spanish?” Morales recalled. “I was like that, yes?”

He was the electronic seed that developed in his film “Language Lessons” about the evolving boundaries of friendship between an online tutor and his pupil. Presented as a series of video interactions between their characters, the film gave Morales and Duplass a low-cost outlet for creative expression that fits perfectly within the production restrictions mandated at that stage of the epidemic.

While Morales completed postproduction work on “Language Lessons”, “Plan B” was allowed to proceed to begin shooting, putting him in a challenging position as director for the first time with two project obligations Gone.

“She was not uprooted in any way,” Duplass said. “She’s very good at setting boundaries. She’ll tell you, ‘Mark, I don’t want you to email me right now because I’m in the middle of directing a scene and we need to do it tomorrow is.’ That is part of what I love about him. “

His “Plan B” stars said Morales was never precious about his status as a newcomer to facilitate directing, which helped ease his own concerns about carrying a film for the first time .

“If you’re flying through your pants seat, Natalie is the perfect guide to carry you through it,” said Verma, who plays Sunny, a straight-lace high-school student who has one The sexual experience at the party makes the film’s journey a must. .

“Being in front of the camera was a kind of boot camp for me,” said Varma. “Should I look at myself on the monitor, or do I pull Johnny Depp and see nothing I do? She was there for all the stupid questions.”

Victoria Moroles, who plays Sunny’s best friend, Lupe, said that the director told her and Verma that she would encourage his experimentation and ensure that his wild scenes do not derail unsafely as well.

“At the beginning of the film, he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m your guardian angel,” Morol recalled. “That’s how I realized the whole thing. There was someone behind the monitor who I could trust, who would allow me to take the risk. That’s important.”

Morales is not sure whether viewers will see her next time in an acting role or a directing gig, but she is writing a screenplay with her friend and fellow actor, Sirina Fiallo.

Meanwhile, she said she could fly to New York to see a digital billboard for “Plan B” in Times Square. Or she can watch the film on an in-person appearance at Burbank and listen to audience feedback on some of its macro scenes. “I only want to be in a movie theater and people go, ‘Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh'” she said.

She was also warming to the very satisfying idea of ​​not having a follow-up assignment at all.

Morales said, “I’ll lay on my bed for a while and do nothing.” “I can’t wait to be alone. I can’t wait that nobody needs me.”

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