Photo: Yoni Goldberg

Natalie Morales

Comedy is where actress Natalie Morales feels most comfortable. “[I want] to live my life in a way that feels really good and comedy does that.” But the types of comedy that she is most attracted to are far outside what we might be used to. Plan B, one of two simultaneous directorial debuts, is a teen adventure comedy that also serves as a smart education on the importance of the Plan B pill. Language Lessons, which she directed, co-wrote, and starred in, is a platonic rom-com that examined connection at a time when we were all forced into isolation. Now in No Hard Feelings, Natalie Morales plays the best friend of Jennifer Lawrence’s protagonist. From the trailer, I was very excited by the idea of a twist on the old-school idea of an older more experienced figure teaching a naive younger character how to come out of their shell. But Morales insists that that isn’t the point of the film at all, instead, it’s about “a person learning how not to be an asshole.” With so many films coming out every day that are just a retreat of an old tired trope, it’s a relief to be introduced to unique and well-thought-out concepts. I spoke to Natalie Morales about No Hard Feelings, comedy, and the best pickup lines. 

Photo: Yoni Goldberg

No Hard Feelings is a twist on the raunchy old-school comedy genre where the female character is tasked with bringing the male character out of their shell sexually, how do you think this role swap changes the perspective of a film like this? Why do you think so many films have been doing that lately?

Thankfully we’ve been reviewing and changing a little bit how we see our female leads in movies. Especially in big studios, having a likable female lead was the top priority. You couldn’t be unlikable in movies and tv, even though women tend to relate to this. I think that this is changing and I really like that. I’m excited to see what this movie does in the landscape.

Can you tell us about your character? What drew you to this film? What was it like to work with Jennifer Lawrence?     

I thought the script was really good and my friend Gene Stupnitsky is the director and co-writer of the movie. He asked me to do this and when I read the script I thought it was really great. It’s essentially about someone learning not to be an asshole as much as it is about someone learning to come out of their shell. It’s much more about the former thing and I like that choice. I also wanted to see Jennifer Lawrence doing comedy – I always wanted to work with her and I was so honored that Gene asked me to be a part of this film. Jen and I’s characters are best friends and have been best friends for a long time. They live in Montauk and the two of them are year-round residents so they have seen the prices of where they live go up and up and up to a place where it has become unaffordable while these out-of-town people take over every summer. So there are struggling. It was great working with Jen, we had a lot of good hearts to hearts and it was really wonderful. She’s really conscientious about what she’s making and as goofy and fun as you see her, she has real intentions behind her work which I find admirable. 

Photo: Yoni Goldberg

Your acting roles venture pretty broadly between genres. At first glance, it looks like you’ve done mostly comedy, but a lot of your roles are a bit of a blend: Horror comedy with Santa Clarita Diet, I’m Totally Fine which deals with grief through a comedic lens. I wanted to ask you what it’s like to move between genres like that and if there is one you find yourself gravitating towards more often. 

  Comedy is just typically a more fun life! I find it to be slightly more difficult than drama because to be actually funny in something, all my favorite actors and comedians have this ability to be tragic as well as funny. I think that comedy is more of a challenge which I enjoy but at the same time, if I’m thinking about my day-to-day life, it’s so much more fun to spend my day trying to make something funny and making people around me laugh and laughing myself than to be sobbing and talking about death and drama all day long so part of that is me wanting to live my life in a way that feels really good and comedy does that. 

You also directed the film Plan B which is a twist on the basic raunchy teen comedy. Can you tell us about why you signed on to direct, were there any challenges in this project?

Definitely lots of challenges directing that. It was one of the first productions that came back during lockdown. We were supposed to shoot in March 2020 and we got shut down like the rest of the world. And then we lost one of our leads because she had another job she had to go to in September so we had to recast. It was kind of incredible because the person we got was awesome! Their chemistry was amazing so it worked out for the better. But then we shot with heavy covid restrictions. It was before we had vaccines or anything so everyone was a bit scared which is difficult for a comedy. I was like how do I direct these people if they can’t see my face? I’m wearing a mask and a shield and I have to stay away from them how am I supposed to connect to these people? So much about making a comedy or any type of movie is the comradery that you have off the set, the ability to hang out outside of that and build a family which we couldn’t do. Nothing was open. And we couldn’t really congregate outside of work. It was challenging. And we also shot it during the 2020 election which was a really hard time for everyone, everyone was on edge so there couldn’t have been more challenges I think, it was really intense. But we really connected and made it work, and I don’t want to speak for everybody but it really felt that way and seemed that way. Everyone really cared about what we were doing and really felt excited to work together. We all had a similar vision and I was so lucky to work with all of my collaborators on that movie. Not just the actors but every single person on that crew was willing to work during a very scary time because they wanted to make something that they believed in. There were a lot of challenges making out but what got us through was that we knew we were making something not only that we would want to see but that we wanted to put out into the world. 

Photo: Yoni Goldberg

Do you think this twist on the basic idea of a teen comedy benefits from having a more female perspective?

So many of us whether we like it or not get our education from TV and film because our schools and our parents aren’t talking about these things or it just doesn’t come up. A lot of people watching this of any age are getting their education from this. Whether it is about the plan B pill or how a friend should act or what a first-time sexual experience should feel like or how you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. The parents in Plan B are a rare example of how parents can be but it was a hopeful example of how it could be. All of those things are the kind of education I want to slip into an R-rated insane movie. 

Language Lessons was your directorial debut! Where did the idea for this come from?

Just so you know, the timeline is – I was fully ready to direct Plan B in March 2020, but we got shut down the Friday before the Monday we were meant to start filming. So we had already prepped everything, and we had already painted houses! Everything was ready to go, so I was ready to do that and then we got shut down. And then I did Language Lessons. We wrote it in May and shot in June and when I was editing that, Plan B came back. So I was shooting Plan B and editing Language Lessons on the weekend. Language Lessons went to festivals and came out in Festivals and then Plan B came out on Hulu and then after that Language Lessons came out in theaters. So they were really simultaneous and intertwined so I think they were both my direful debut because I guess it depends where you start counting from like when I started working. 

This film is really about friendship. Mark Duplass is a friend of mine and I had directed a couple of episodes of his show Room 104 beforehand. He called me one day during lockdown and asked me if I spoke Spanish. He told me he was taking Spanish classes online and I was like, that’s cool! And he was like, is there a movie in there somewhere? And I was like, what would it be about? So we decided to write a movie based on that experience he was having. His actual Spanish classes weren’t exactly like the movie but just a jumping-off point. It was a lovely collaborative process and I love working with Mark so much we have such an amazing connection in the way we work together. We have similar tastes. We work differently but we work very well together. I shot that movie by myself in my house and he was by himself in his house too. I did my own lighting and set design and costumes and makeup and special effects. You find the creativity in the constraints. I’ve always been good at that and so has Mark. 

Photo: Yoni Goldberg

Did you deal with any controversy surrounding your film Plan B? Birth control is a pretty hot topic right now in the US.

A little bit of controversy but the most surprising thing for me was how little people knew about the Plan B pill and the fact that it’s a contraceptive. I did so many interviews with people who thought it was an abortion pill. I made that movie to educate people on what that pill does and made such a point to make it clear that she isn’t pregnant, it’s to prevent pregnancy. Our country is so bad at sex ed, even full grown adults not to mention teens, don’t know that the plan b pill is an emergency contraceptive. It prevents pregnancy, it is not an abortifacient. I can’t tell you how many people didn’t know that. I was proud to make that movie and stand behind it. I don’t think there is anything to argue there. If you are someone who is against abortion, why would you be against contraceptives? I have no problem talking to people about it. 

What are you working on next?

I think people know about the Morning Show which is coming out in February. Right now there’s nothing next because of the writer’s strike which I support fully. I think it’s only fair for us to get an appropriate conversation to regulate a lot of things that they are trying to negotiate. 

There is a hilarious interaction in the trailer for No Hard Feelings where Jennifer Lawrence asks to touch Percy’s weiner… dog. What is the weirdest/funniest pickup line you have ever heard?

There are so many incredibly ridiculous Cuban pickup lines that I’ve heard from different Cubans over the years. One that I can think of is “carajo tienes tantas curvas que me fallaron los frenos,” which translates to “damn you have so many curves that my breaks went out.” It’s so dumb but there’s so many like that that are hilarious. It’s a part of Cuban culture where the more absurd the pickup line… comedy is such an important part of Cuban culture. The more absurd the line, the more attractive. If you can think of a metaphor that stupid, you must be smart.