Natalia Tena is a woman of many talents; she sings, she acts and she’s infectiously funny. She spoke with Quays News’ Entertainment Editor, Will Stevenson, to reflect on one of the busiest years of her career so far.
“I’m on my new boat,” isn’t a sentence that opens many interviews. It is, however, perfectly Natalia Tena.
She’s been working with a friend she affectionately describes as “Hairy Paul – a f*****g legend with a van,” to renovate a boat that she’s recently been filming on for an upcoming project and turn it into something resembling a home.
When she’s not DIYing, Natalia is a successful British character actress, alumni of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and more.
Other days, she’s the tenacious front woman of Molotov Jukebox, depending on the day of the week.
It’s a hectic schedule but Natalia says she’s found the perfect want to manage her time:
“Lists! I realised recently having lists is really important, as well having really good people around you that have a bit of give.”
Everything, even something as mundane as lists, seems to excite Natalia. Her happiness is infectious; when she details the story of why she decided to try and learn violin you can practically hear the grin in her voice.
“Mainly ‘cause I really fancied the violin player! I actually wanted to learn the trumpet, but I was 8 and I really fancied this boy called Tom, so I picked the violin over the instrument I really wanted and after five years of it I still sounded like a dying cat. He was good at it – and he never fancied me, it was s**t!”
Still, whilst she might not have been a natural at the violin, her musical talent was obvious from a young age.
She spent some time busking on the London Underground, after having been encouraged by her mother to believe in herself – and her ability to bring in money via her music.
That she now manages a full-time career in the arts is something she considers “the most amazing thing in the world.”
A piece of advice that her Mum gave her has been key to Natalia’s approach to life: “You’re getting paid to do what you love and that is a luxury in this world, don’t forget that!”
Natalia has always been a part of a tight nit family and that sense of values never left her.
“We didn’t celebrate Christmas. we’d celebrate on the 24th. That involved staying up all night drinking rum and eating chicken and dancing. Those kinds of nights and that kind of upbringing definitely affects you!”
Another key part of her upbringing was drama school.
Though she’d always loved being onstage, acting wasn’t a path Natalia was set to go down.
In fact, she says that she “never thought it was a real career you could make money out of.”
The only reason she got the role in her first film (About A Boy, at the age of 18) is that her teacher sent her to the auditions being held at her school rather than detention when she was caught smoking.
“I learned [on About A Boy] that the wait in between takes can be excruciatingly boring,”
Which is why getting along with her co-stars throughout the first three seasons of Game Of Thrones, in which she was a regular, was so important.
“I loved [working on] Game of Thrones, even though it beat me with cold and rain, because all my shots were exterior.”
When she signed up for Thrones, however, no one knew it would go on to be the most successful TV show of all time.
“So in season one they kinda had all the studios there, they didn’t have the money to have big units all around the world. So, you got to know everyone much more, we were just in two hotels for all the cast and crew. After that, though, we’d barely cross over.”
Tena has worked with some of the brightest British stars in the industry, yet she says the most she’s learnt has been from people she spends the most time around.
Which “isn’t the big actors… you’re in scenes with them, but very much in the background. You learn from them via osmosis, I guess.”
“I’ve learned the most from Oona Chaplin, who’s one of my best friends and whom I’ve just finished doing a new film [As We Like It] with. We play a lesbian couple. We had to do a few sex scenes, which was really daunting. It’s one thing if it’s a bloke… but a female best friend, doing a sex scene with her, as this character, I lost my nerve. But actually, we laughed a lot – the days we did it, I had a cold so I snotted all over her tits… it wasn’t sexy at all!”
Glossing over that.
“But yeah, I’ve learnt a lot from her. I’ve learnt a lot from Brett [Goldstein], I’ve learned loads from Michele Butterly, a Liverpudlian who’s a fantastic human and actor.”
How much does acting compare to the rush of being on stage?
“You have to fake more [at a gig] when anything goes wrong. On theatre, it’s very hard for any technical stuff to affect you… on stage, if you can’t hear your sound you still have to power through it. That’s a massive challenge – you can’t hear yourself, you can’t hear the people you’re playing with.”
So how does someone deal with these technical problems at the same time as appearing like a kick-ass frontwoman?
“It’s literally just fear – you’re scared. You have to act through that – and if there’s a good audience, it’s a lot easier. Every gig we’ve done so far in Manchester has been awesome!”
Molotov Jukebox are currently on tour. They return to Manchester shortly, playing the Ruby Lounge on Thursday 24th of November. Their new album, Tropical Gypsy, is out now.
Natalia’s new film, “As We Like It,” is out next year.