Natalia Tena was born in London in 1984, the daughter of Spanish parents Jesús and María. Tena was taught the piano by her mother at five years old, influenced by Chuck Berry’s music. At eighteen, she moved back to London and busked on the London Underground. She learned the accordion while working with a theater group called KneeHigh. Tena made her professional debut as Elle in 2002 in “About a Boy” by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, beginning to act full-timr a year later. In 2007, she appeared in the film adaptation of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” in the role of Nymphadora Tonks, which she reprised in 2009 in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and in 2010 and 2011 in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows” parts 1 and 2 respectively. Since then, apart from the role of the wildling Osha in HBO’s hit TV series “Game of Thrones”, she has also appeared in Carlos Marques-Macet’s critically acclaimed debut feature “Long Distance” and the British TV series “Residue” as well as “Black Mirror” and “Shameless”.
Tara Karajica caught with Natalia Tena at this year’s Transilvania International Film Festival and discusses with her the pop culture phenomenons of “Harry Potter” and “Game of Thrones”, her latest film, “Long Distance”, the use of technology today, TV series, her musical career and her band Molotov Jukebox.
Your career began after About a Boy and now you have already been in Harry Potter, one of the world’s most important franchises and in Game of Thrones, one of the world’s most popular TV series; two tremendous pop culture phenomenons. Some fans take it very seriously… Can you talk about that and the evolution of your career?
Natalia Tena: I don’t know… It is a very tricky question because every job you get really is an evolution towards the next thing. Obviously, Game of Thrones and Happy Potter are massive but to get to those I had to do a lot of theater. And, I’ve done About a Boy but no one was giving me a job. I mean… Everything is an evolution hopefully to being employed again and doing an amazing job. Yes! The fans take it seriously! It’s unbelievable… I don’t know… My character is so small in both of them so it doesn’t affect me as much as it would if I were another character… So, I am not experiencing the phenomenon in such a huge manner but there are people who do recognize me sometimes and it’s like “What?” A bit crazy, right?
How did you learn about Long Distance?
N.T.: So, I was doing a film called SuperBob which is about to come out now in England. I did it two years ago and I got a call from my American agent saying that they wanted me to do this film, bla bla bla, “Can the director talk to me?” And, I was meant to talk to him on Friday night, you know, and Friday was my one night off, so I was waiting, waiting, no one called, so I said “Wtf? OK, maybe they picked someone else…” and at midnight, I get a call from my agent and, at this point, I was dancing! I was out, cos no one was ringing me so I thought I would go out – I’ve a band called Molotov Jukebox, and it was my guitarist’s birthday so we were out partying – And, I picked up my phone and it was my agent and she was like “You’ve got to speak to the director” and I was like “OK, I’ll do it!” and I spoke to him and he cancelled the film. I didn’t know this. He’d cancelled doing it cos he couldn’t get hold of me and they were like “Well, the film’s off…” So, when I spoke to him, he was just so happy to hear me and I said “Look, I’ll do the film but only if it’s in Spanish” and he was “OK!” When I read the script I liked it but then I saw the short in Catalan I was like “It can be amazing!” The Latin language gave it something; it made it more earthy maybe, I don’t know… And then, I proceeded to tell him for an hour that he shouldn’t pick me and that I’m a shit actress! The next morning, I woke up hungover and I was like, “I think I’ve got a job!” It was amazing! It was a very strange path cos we both missed each other.
What is your opinion of the use of technology today?
N.T.: I started using Twitter about a year ago because I want to push my band and connect with the world and see stuff. I don’t use Facebook at all; it’s connected to my twitter so my stuff comes up. I don’t understand it at all. But, technology’s amazing in many ways, I mean, the Internet’s great! You can find out so many things on the Internet. But, I’m not really a Skype fan at all. I don’t really get it! My dad will move to Colombia soon so maybe with that… That’s a good thing… But, even then, I’d just rather go there and see the person!
And in relation to long distance relationships?
N.T.: I’ve never had one…
Do you think technology can help or hinder a relationship like, for instance, in the film?
N.T.: I don’t know… It depends on the relationship… I mean, the reason I took the job, really, is because I didn’t know anything about Skype video chat and any other shit. But, my guitarist had a big relationship at the time with his girlfriend – long distance, well Italy – But still, you know… I realized how much it affected them because small problems that, when you’re face to face, you argue or bicker but you make it better an hour later because you’re there whereas by Skype, by video chat, a small thing becomes a mountain so that’s what interested me in the first place. I’m not sure if it helps… Like I said, it depends. It depends whether you’d met the person online in the first place. It depends on many things, you know. But, for me, it would never work… I mean, “Never say never!” I suddenly realized you shouldn’t say that because I’ve said “never” so many times and then it happens! But, it’s not my favorite way of having a relationship.
What was the shooting process like? You and David Verdaguer have an electric chemistry on screen and you are both included in the writing credits. How much acting and improvisation were there?
N.T.: What happened was that Carlos [Marques-Marcet] put us in a room together and told us to choose ten songs each – as part of the character, part of relationship – and we both chose the same song of all the songs in the world… “Just a Gigolo” by Louis Prima! And, he made us dance together. He made us have this sort of physical relationship because you have to have it. He made us do a striptease to one another. Even if we had read it a bit and knew the script a bit – but we hadn’t memorized it in its entirety because it was huge – he made us improvise things like, for instance, their story, when they first met, how they became friends, the first kiss, the first time they had sex, when they decided to have a baby… Things like that… To sort of have their story. And then, from there, we went on to improvise scenes. We improvised a bit, he liked it and he would write this stuff down and take some out and this was sort of the process. But, almost all of it is Carlos and we added bits and pieces here and there.
Did this film scare you off or gave you a new or another vision of relationships?
N.T.: I was afraid because it was in Spanish and I had never made a film in Spanish and I freaked out! But, every job scares me. I think that when you’re scared and you’re also excited to do it and with a lot of energy, this is when you have the right job… If you’re doing a job that scares you, you shouldn’t be doing it….
I want to make people dance and smile.
Now TV series have become very important; it’s the so-called “Golden Age of Television” and you have been in more than one big TV series: Game of Thrones, Shameless, Black Mirror… What do you think of that? Do you watch TV series?
N.T.: The more things that are happening creatively that give actors more jobs, makes me happy!
You have also acted on stage, notably as Desdemona in the stage production of Othello by the Royal Shakespeare Company and in a group called Kneehigh. What do you prefer, TV, Film, Theatre? Why?
N.T.: Look, you know what? I haven’t done theater in seven years! And, I did an audition on Monday and I freaked out a lot and I think I didn’t do well! Not well at all! I don’t think that I’ll get the part!
I’m sure you will!
N.T.: I’m not sure I will! It’s just that it is a very different thing and since I haven’t done it in seven years, I don’t know if I could do it! I mean, when I went to do the audition, I was already scared because if I get it, I’ll shit in my pants! I won’t sleep for months because I’m scared! But, it’s an entirely other thing. Before, I would always say theater but now that I haven’t done theater in so long and I’ve done things like for instance SuperBob, Long Distance and also Black Mirror and Refugiados that are bigger projects and when it’s a bigger character on film or TV, you realize a bit more what it’s all about… You understand me? Before, because they were smaller characters, I always preferred theater because everything was more immediate and I want to do something in the theater again soon; first to see if I can do it again because I am shitting myself! And also, because of this sensation that is incredible!
Can you talk about your band, Molotov Jukebox, and your music career?
N.T.: Molotoff Jukebox is a tropical gypsy band and there are six of us, and if they give us more money, nine! We will add more trumpets! And, it’s a love thing! Totally! I mean, I want to make people dance and smile and the lyrics are a lot about death, time, love, lust… We also have one song about a spy… and I don’t know what else! I don’t know what came over us! But, I want to make people dance… And, we did a tour in Mexico. I want to go back to Mexico so much! I want to go back in September! There’s a big festival in Mexico but the government changes it every year. We don’t know if we’re going to go yet but we want to do this. We also want to do a tour with a group from Colombia. It would be great if we could do this at the end of the year.
I hope you can!
I understand you are a fan of Neil Gaiman, comics and Batman and that Oona Chaplin is your best friend…
N.T.: I love Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis… I love Batman. Batman is cool! But, it also depends on who made the Batman comic because there are many options. I love Arkham Asylum! It’s very good! I love Preacher… And regarding Neil Gaiman, my favorite is Neverwhere because it is set in London and also because my boyfriend and I, we fell in love over this book. And Oona, yes! One of them! One of my wives is Oona! I met her on Game of Thrones and it was immediate! And also, that’s why I want to go back because I was going to stay for the festival but it’s her birthday on Friday and since she’s always in Los Angeles, I can’t miss her birthday! I have to go back to London! I already bought her her gift! And, I have a gift from Romania; it’s salt from the mine! I will get her a little bit of salt and I also have another gift for her!
What are your next projects?
N.T.: What is going to be released now is SuperBob. It came out yesterday in Los Angeles and it will be out on Sunday in Brixton. We also have another screening of Long Distance in New York in July. But, apart from that, what I have to do this summer before this tour is to write more music because the next album has to come out next year in March. It has to be out there! And, we have to write a lot of songs. Of course, the problem is that if I have a bit of free time, I have to write because if I suddenly get a job, it will be very difficult to combine shooting fourteen hours a day and be there with an open mind to write. So, I want to do it all this summer if I can…
This interview was conducted at the 2015 Transilvania International Film Festival.