Being an actor doesn’t just mean being an actor anymore. With a large social media presence, those in front of and behind the camera now have opportunities to promote organizations and issues important to them, informing impressionable viewers. This rising platform has formed a stronger bond between influencer and their audience, while simultaneously isolating those viewers that disagree with their opinion. ForthWrite Magazine recently discussed this everchanging activism with actor Nathalie Boltt in addition to her popular CW show “Riverdale”, her humanitarian work, and her thoughts on female filmmakers.
ForthWrite: You have been an outspoken supporter for Palm Oil Investigations and the fight to eliminate widespread consumption of palm oil through the campaign “Bite the Bullet”. What initially drew you to this cause, and what do you want our readers to know about deforestation and palm oil production?
Nathalie Boltt: Yes I’m an ambassador for POI. I have always been an activist. Since my days as a household name on one of the longest running shows in South Africa (“The Need”), I have tried to use my profile to raise awareness about animal welfare, conservation, indigenous rights and the environment. A few years back I saw a terrible picture of an orangutan that had been accidentally burned when villagers were trying to smoke it out of a tree (it was starving because palm oil plantations had destroyed its forest and was taking fruit from the village tree and they were trying to scare it away). The orangutan died a terrible death. The image tortured me, and I started investigating the palm oil crisis. I contacted POI to offer help and then my amazing friend Farrah Aviva, of Bite the Bullet stories (which showcases people with a cause). Really what we want people to know is that palmoil plantations are destroying indigenous rainforests at the rate of one football field-sized piece of forest every 3 seconds. Orangutan will be extinct in 3-5 years if nothing is done to stop this deforestation. By reading your ingredients or using the palm oil scanner app to scan your products, you can stop buying palm oil, find good alternatives (hemp oil, coconut oil, canola oil, rice bran oil, cocoa butter, olive oil etc. that don’t need to be grown at the equator) and turn this tragedy around.
FW: In addition, you have been an advocate for female directors: writing and directing “The Silk”, “Vajazzle”, and “Dropped Pie”, music video “Doll of Torture” and shadowing “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” director Maggie Kiley. Has there been any adversity that has deeply impacted you?
NB: I have had a deeply supportive and positive experience shadowing on projects in North America and the Warner Brothers family has been amazingly encouraging of my interest and passion for directing. It is a great privilege to be coming up as a director in a time when our value as women with our unique insights and story-telling abilities and the much-discussed Female Gaze are being celebrated. I certainly struggled during the years when women were overlooked. It was soul-destroying pitching ideas and scripts that you know are good (believe me, as an actor I have read MANY scripts and have been appalled by the drivel that gets funded) being ignored or actively discouraged. I am sad to say that it was often women, fighting to keep their place in a male-dominated industry, who saw me as a threat and deliberately blocked my path. But I have felt a clear change with the younger generation of producers. Now, when I pitch ideas, there is always a woman in the room and I am always so buzzed when we bond and connect through the discussion. It is clear that, while Hollywood has A LOT of change still to come, the men in the industry that I collaborate with are very much of the ‘woke’ variety.
I have been lucky. Maggie Kiley was a dream to work with, a sister, who sees me as an ally and is nothing but kind and generous in the sharing of her craft and contacts. Rachel Tallelay, Rob Seidenglanz, Harry Jierjan, Lee T Krieger – these are all directors who have opened doors and welcomed me into the fold, as well as amazing Warmer Brothers executives. I feel blessed now. But it wasn’t always like that. In my personal projects, I have had producers (mainly men, yes) try to take credit for my work both as a writer and a director. Luckily, based on experience, I’m now in a position, where I recognize the type and avoid them from the get-go. They tend to be the big talkers, who promise the world and deliver nothing. I am not afraid to speak up against them anymore. And I will support any woman who does the same.
I was very moved by Lady Gaga’s acceptance speech at the Elle Women in Hollywood awards. She has moved mountains with her talent and people like her (performers, producers, directors like Beyonce, Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Shonda Rhimes, Kristine Belson, Lena Waithe, Ava du Vernay, Jane Campion, Niki Caro and the brilliant Debra Granik and many, many, smart brave women of the entertainment world) will turn this into the Golden Age of women in the Arts. I believe we will then carry this torch forward so that it is a permanent shift. I’m excited.
FW: As a public figure, do you feel a responsibility to speak on current events and political matters you find especially pressing? Have you ever struggled to find the balance between speaking out and remaining politically neutral as an influencer?
NB: I feel a responsibility to connect with people and help them to connect with each other on a positive level. I am not politically neutral. I have an opinion. I do not support bigotry, racism, sexism and the destruction of the environment. What is a neutral influencer? Someone who remains vague so as to attract the biggest following? That’s weak and that’s not me. For me, having a big following means using it for good. You have something to say and people are listening, so say something worthwhile! My message is to wake up! Find your tribe, find your passion, say things that lift us all up! Be funny, be cutting-edge, be unusual and always, always, be kind. We sit on the precipice of global chaos. Stop thinking about what you’re going to buy next and start thinking about how your choices affect the environment or why the person next to you is depressed and how you can help them. I am utterly convinced that the aggression, depression and anxiety so prevalent in society at the moment is because we have disconnected from each other and from the natural world. If we reconnect, we feel less lonely, we feel purpose, we feel hope. And that results in happiness.
FW: Have you seen a notable difference in the female filmmaker community following the establishment of #TimesUp? What are your thoughts on Time’s Up most recent #4percentChallenge aiming to motivate studios to hire a female director on a feature film in the next 18 months? Do you believe that this is a asking for too little?
NB: No, not yet. It is appalling that despite the many fine feature films directed by women again this year, not one of them was nominated for an Academy or DGA award which sadly underscores the fact that only 3.8% of the top 100 studio films from the last decade were directed by women. But the next 18 months will be the test. I fully support the initiative and it will really take guts and determination to rate heavy hitters to get their heads out of their old-school Hollywood butts and make change. I fully believe that a lot of change can happen with women supporting women. If an A-list celebrity truly wanted to star in a female director’s film and thus attract the financing and the attention the film deserves, then she (and her network) could do that. Take the leap, be brave! That’s how change happens.
You play notable supervillain Penelope Blossom on the hit series Riverdale. In portraying this character, would you label her as a villain? Or do you think that she is simply a tragically flawed woman who goes about things the wrong way?
Haha! I think a tragically flawed woman would have the capacity to change and become a better person. A villain is a narcissist, who continues to believe she’s right and commit atrocity after atrocity regardless of the pain she perpetuates. At the moment, it would appear that Penelope is a bit of both. She is mainly a villain, but with moments of self-awareness. She has moments of actually caring for her child and phases of doing terrible things to men as a means of trying to right the wrongs of her childhood. I love that we see both sides and that the writers give us these little threads of hope that maybe she is human after all. Let’s see where it goes!
FW: How has it been playing a female character who isn’t your stereotypical mother figure?
NB: It has been wonderful and fun and mad. Quite mad. The writers, directors, cinematographers, stylists, set builders and -decorators, we have all worked together to create this oddball character who, while being unpredictable is still believable. I think she is believable because all of us who have known these ‘Mommy-Dearest’ mother figures know that they keep us wanting more by being somewhat lovable even when they have terrorized the hell out of us. it’s a great push-and-pull and I’m always delighted to see the next script. I have also loved the response of the fans, who love the hilariousness of Penelope’s nutty side and also enjoy the complete paradox of Pen vs Nat. I am so very different to Penelope, and I guess the fun part is exploring just how far we can take this and the range of emotions one person is capable of. I’m not just talking Penelope. I’m talking every single human being. We are well-springs of creativity, invention and expression!
FW: Has there been any character throughout your career that you’ve felt especially connected to?
NB: Frances McDormand’s ‘Mildred’ in 3 Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri is just the most tragically compelling character. Brilliantly written by Mart McDonagh and just flawlessly performed. The choices she makes, the guilt she feels, the humanity of her. Just unforgettable. Also, Julianne Moore’s Linda Partridge in the genius film ‘Magnolia’ and again as the Alzheimer sufferer in ‘Still Alice’ – these two characters express sides of me that I’m very scared of. And yet they are there, unavoidable, so full of pain and fear. Beautifully evoked. Magnificent in their depiction of the human condition. Ah.
FW: Finally, because ForthWrite Magazine is a publication powered by passionate young people, what is your message to teens looking to make a difference?
NB: Please, please PLEASE find your tribe. Step away from the bitterness and the judgey bullshit of social media and find the people you love, the people who help you feel real and valuable and the ones you value and want to support. Know that if you are caught in an environment at home/work/relationship or school that is toxic, that you can and will leave. I wish someone had explained that better to me when I was young. You will not be stuck there forever. You will find a way to let the adversity you have experienced drive you to a better place. And, if you are prepared to train your mind and your heart you will become positive and a role model for others. And positivity is what we all need to raise us up as humans. Meditate. Learn how to do it now. It will change your life. If you are stuck in negative thought patterns, meditate, exercise, eat real food – mainly plant-based. Find a therapist who can help you and try EMDR or similar gentle practices that help retrain the mind.
Speak up with conviction and authenticity, walk in nature, breathe and revel in the wonder of wildlife and the natural world. It is magic and will draw you out of your worries.
Read Desiderata. There is not a word in it that is untruthful. Strive to be happy.