IN CONVERSATION WITH NATASHA KALIMADA
Natasha Kalimada is an actress and a classically trained professional dancer of South Asian and Scottish descent. She can be seen in the Golden Globe nominated film ‘Babylon, which was released in the US on 23 December and worldwide on 6 January. Natasha was also recently seen showing of her dance talent in the film ‘Don’t Worry Darling’.
Natasha, you’re starring in ‘Babylon’ as Princess Isabella of Castille, with which you’re making a lot of women around the world envious for sharing a passionate kissing scene with no other than the longtime Hollywood heartthrob Brad Pitt. How was it starring in such a highly anticipated Hollywood production?
Well, I’ll start with the fact that I’ve been a huge fan of Damien Chazelle since ‘Whiplash’ and ‘La La Land’. He’s a true artist in every sense and I love the way he writes music and dance into his stories and also explores what it’s like to be an artist and how far someone is willing to go to achieve their dreams.
My first day on set was very mythical and spiritual. I remember being in a van, headed to base camp and passing by around 700 soldiers on break in the sweltering heat. It must have been over 100 degrees Fahrenheit that week. My mind was blown seeing all of these soldiers in full armor who looked like they had just stepped out from medieval times era. The level of attention to detail in costumes, set design, hair and makeup was truly unparalleled. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was at that point in which I realized the scope of what I was stepping into. Of course, I knew this was such a highly anticipated Hollywood production in every sense and that I’d be working with the best in the business, but it didn’t actually hit me until ‘go time’. I’ve always heard about ‘movie magic’ and my scene with Brad Pitt fully encapsulated that and more. We shot during golden hour as the sun was setting. We were in essence, chasing the light, chasing the sun and I just remember feeling this blanket moment of calmness and quiet, the type of quiet that takes your breath away, in the middle of all this chaos. Damien has explained it as ‘this incredible meta moment happening’ and I truly felt that we were part of something bigger in that moment of time.
We shot this scene for a week and it just goes to illustrate how much went into this seemingly simple and pure moment. Every time we shot this scene, the crew and the cast would be up on the hill with us, looking on and actually cheering and crying with us as we filmed. It felt like a family. Brad was so wonderful to work with. I felt as if we shared one connected and in-sync breath during filming. It was a dream to create with him. Damien allowed the scene to be ours and perhaps that was the greatest artistic freedom I’ve ever experienced in my career. And in the midst of everything, we had the musical genius of Justin Hurwitz guiding us with his music and his orchestra, which provided the most heavenly emotional base for us to work from. I remember in between one of the takes, Brad and I were on the hill and looking out at the incredible cast of soldiers beneath us, the sun was setting, there was canon ball residue in the air and we shared this beautiful and surreal moment of WOW, to put it in the very simplest of terms. This was movie magic. It was a very humbling moment I’ll never forget and I’ll forever be grateful to Damien and Olivia Hamilton for trusting in me and believing in me.
You’re not only an actress, but also a clasically trained professional dancer. You began training in classical ballet at the age of four and was invited to be an American Ballet Theatre Coca-Cola National Scholar in your teens, which at that time was only awarded to 17 ballet dancers worldwide. What is it about dance that you love the most?
Dance will always be my first love. It has taught me the power of resilience and mind and body connection and full artistic expression, which I have carried on and applied to every aspect of my life. As a child, it gave me an undeniable sense of self-confidence and discipline, which went hand in hand with my academic pursuits. It will always be a sanctuary for me to freely express myself with no boundaries and/or limitations. It’s my little sacred safe place.
The sheer physicality and athleticism of dance also speaks to my love of pushing myself to the extreme in physical ways. It’s a true mental test of willpower. Perhaps what I love most about dance though, is that it has allowed me to travel the world and see places and connect with people from all different walks of life. Dance is truly an universal language in that it breaks all language barriers and opens the door for communication across cultures.
Dance is a form of art and can also be a form of expression. How wold you personally describe dance as art? In what way do you believe one can express themself through dance?
Dance is a form of storytelling. It’s an ever-changing mixture of the intellectual and the emotional, the physical and the spiritual. I think the most talented dancers are the ones who can affect others through the power of silence and stillness. All in all, dance connects people, communities and different cultures together.
You graduated from Princeton University, where you majored in Sociology and received a Certificate in the Program of Theatre & Dance. Upon graduation, you were also honored with the prestigious Francis LeMoyne Page Theatre & Dance Award for excellence in the Performing Arts. While at Princeton, you developed an interest in acting. What sparked this passion?
I had one professor at Princeton, Ze’eva Cohen, who changed the course of my life. She was the Head of the Dance Department and also my mentor. She opened my eyes and my mind to the nuances of movement and the simplicity of gestures. She opened the door for me to explore how to become more authentic in my artistic choices and how to connect with others in an honest and pure way. She taught me how to be a free spirit both on and off the stage and the power of constantly reinventing oneself as an artist, this notion of constantly evolving and growing as a human being. I wanted to learn more about human connection and I realized that acting combined my dance and musical backgrounds and pursuits into one. During the summer going into my Junior year at Princeton, I interned at ICM in New York City and worked for the legendary theatrical agent, Sam Cohn. It was there that I knew I wanted to become an actor.
When comparing acting and dancing, which one do you wish to pursue more in the future of your career?
As I get older, I find that acting truly encapsulates my dance and music background into one. I am so passionate about film and in an ideal world, I would love to do film projects for the rest of my life as an actress.
There are not many South Asian artists in the industry. How do you hope to inspire other South Asians and other first-generation kids to participate in art?
There is so much incredible talent around the world and I’m so glad that Hollywood and English language entertainment has finally opened up to receive and truly acknowledge South Asian film, art and culture as a whole. It’s been a very long time coming and there is still so much work to do and so many voices to be heard. I will continue to work relentlessly hard and pound the pavement to open more doors for other South Asian artists and pave the way for the younger generation of children for careers in the arts and entertainment.
Natasha, you had a life-changing experience, which led you to have to relearn how to bend your leg from a 90-degree angle. Can you share more about this experience and how was the process of having to relearn this for you?
A while ago, I had a very bad accident in which I had to be helicoptered out of a canyon. My injuries left me immobile for about 6 months during the course of my recovery. I had to learn how to move again. From that day on, I developed such an appreciation and passion for movement and recovery. It was a life-changing experience for me because I realized that life can be gone in an instant. It made my career pivot from working as an agent trainee at a talent agency to becoming a full-fledged performer, the career I knew I always wanted since I was four years old. In essence, the experience made me become true to myself.
Besides being a Graduate from Princeton, you hold an MBA from Pepperdine University with a focus on Entrepreneurship. Why made you decide to get this additional knowledge and a MBA from Entrepreneurship?
Education is very important to my family. Education allowed my parents the opportunity to come to the States and live the American Dream. They created a life and a family from an empty suitcase. I’ve always been academically focused and a high achiever ever since I was little. My parents instilled within me the power of knowledge and endless curiosity, so it was only natural that I would continue my studies into graduate level. In an ideal world, I would still be in school studying toward different degrees. I have so many dreams I’d like to pursue and I’m so grateful for the gift of education and experience my parents have given me.
In your spare time, you’re also passionate about yoga. Why does yoga make you feel so relaxed and why would recommend it to anyone?
Every day, I practice either heated yoga sculpt/vinyasa, yoga barre or Pilates on the reformer. I’m a little crazy and intense when it comes to exercise and testing my physical limitations. I like to go to the ultimate extreme because it builds my mental strength at the same time. The physical and mental components to exercise go hand in hand. For me, yoga increases body awareness, relieves chronic stress, relaxes the mind, centers attention and sharpens concentration. It’s medicine for both body and mind in the form of movement.
You’re also passionate about mental health awareness. Why do you think mental health issues are so common in today’s world? And why do you believe awareness about it is so important?
The world is so fast-paced now and although we are all connected, it’s very easy to feel alone. As an artist, I’ve learned how to manage career uncertainty, anxiety and stress. It’s actually a lifelong learning process for me. The one valuable piece of knowledge I’ve learned in recent years is how to recalibrate my thinking and realize that the ‘Nos’ are the job and that the ‘Yeses’ are just the perks. My family and friends are constantly checking in on me and I’m just so thankful to have such a loving support system. I’ve lost dear artist friends to depression and loneliness. I don’t know how to solve this problem, but I think the more open communication we have about mental health benefits, the greater good, but most importantly, saves lives.
Natasha, after your roles in ‘Babylon’ and ‘Don’t Worry Darling’, where will we be seeing you next?
We shall see. I’m so ready to get back to work on a film or TV project, keep an open mind and keep life colorful, happy, loving and full of surprises.
interview by JANA LETONJA
cover image photography JON PEARS