Andres Oyuela

Natalia Reyes Is Not Your Typical Action Star

Join us for some Small Talk as we sit down with some of Hollywood’s biggest breakout stars.
Nov 05, 2019 @ 5:00 pm

Blockbusters are going to start to look and feel very different — at least if Natalia Reyes has anything to do with it.

By most metrics, Reyes is hardly a newcomer. More than 1 million Instagram followers and a Vogue Mexico cover prove as much. The Colombia native has been acting abroad for decades, but it’s her newest project, Terminator: Dark Fate, that will likely cement her icon-status among American audiences.

Dark Fate, the sixth installment in the action franchise, re-introduces two of the series’ MVPs: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and the original Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) — but the film doesn’t revolve around either of them. It’s Reyes’s Dani, a girl living in Mexico City with her father and brother, who grounds the narrative, lending the film an emotional core more nuanced than that of the typical action flick.

Credit: Kerry Brown

For Reyes, the journey to blockbuster stardom was hardly linear. She grew up in theater and began acting in Spanish-language films and television in her late teens and early 20s. Her future involvement in one of the world’s most well-known action franchises was neither expected nor planned and remains, to this day, “surreal.”

Surreality aside, Reyes isn't content to simply ride this wave. She sees it as her "mission" to speak up where others cannot. Helping to elucidate the gravity of climate change is one of her greatest passions (she even chats with Schwarzenegger about it). 

Read on as the newly-minted action star discusses her new film, her transition to American cinema, and more.

InStyle: So you started acting really young. Did you ever think about taking your career to America when you first started? 

Natalia Reyes: Not really. I mean, I started acting [by] doing theater and it made me really happy when I was young, [but] I think movies were always my dream. I didn't really think of Hollywood or doing an action movie just because it was not something that I had in mind or that I thought was possible. And I wanted to just work hard, do the movies, and be able to live [off] of just being an actor. And in movies, that's actually something that's really hard to do, especially when you're from Colombia and we don't have such a big industry.

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You moved to New York City for drama school. What was the biggest culture shock for you when you first moved?

It was not my first time in the U.S. so it was not like something too different. [N.Y.C.] is like the theater mecca and the acting mecca and the big city. So it was a little bit of just testing myself in this world and with these crazy big auditions. I really wanted to just go and do a thousand auditions in those two years. The idea was just to get used to [the audition process] and not really worry or suffer, but to understand it was a big part of the process. 

In Colombia, of course, because it's a smaller industry, I was used to going [on auditions] and there would be maybe just three actresses. But [coming to New York, I was] in these lines for hours and getting to these auditioning rooms just to meet people that don't really look at you — they're seeing thousands of girls a day and they just have a camera and they're like, "Yeah. Just read."

That's intense. What was the reaction to your casting news in Colombia? Is the Terminator franchise a major thing in South America, as well?

Yes, yes. Well, Terminator, it's just such an iconic movie in movie history. It's universal. I think it's part of the pop culture of the world. When the first one came out, I wasn't even born. But I grew up with Terminator. I remember being really young and seeing those movies and the robots and Sarah Connor doing pull-ups and wanting to be like her, and Arnold Schwarzenegger with his jacket and the sunglasses. But I didn't really expect to be part of something like this. So it was kind of surreal to find out that I was auditioning for this movie and it was a really important character in the movie.

Yeah, I bet. How did you celebrate when you first learned that you landed the role?

It was weird because the audition process is really long, always. They just take so much time and effort and days and months and people in the middle. I had like five callbacks. At the beginning, there were thousands of girls, and then there were like seven. And then I went to another callback, and another one, and I went to Ireland, and I came to LA ... and it was so long that I was just really wanting to know [whether I got the part]. And finally Tim Miller, our director, called me and I was very anxious by that time and like, “I just really need to know!" And he was like, "Yes. You are the one. You're going to be in the movie. We've loved you from the first audition. Linda [Hamilton's] a big part of this decision. She loved you and we think you're the one."

So I was so relieved but also shocked. I was there with my family and we couldn't stop crying. I couldn't really believe that was happening. So I kind of still have this feeling of not really believing it.

Credit: Mauricio Hoyos, Retouching by Lucia Inglese

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So, as you've said, the bulk of your work has been abroad. How was this experience of promoting Terminator different from press tours for your previous films and television series?

It’s another scale of production. This is just the biggest, of course, I've ever done. This is just insane, the scale of this movie and going to Asia and to Korea, London, and now Japan, China … It's huge. And just seeing yourself on buses and billboards in even the smallest town of any country in the world, it’s overwhelming sometimes and it's amazing and it's unbelievable. But, yeah, it is completely different. You see how big [the film] is — it's just everywhere and universal.

Something about this movie, which is pretty amazing to see in a blockbuster, is that it's led by three women, one of whom is Latina and pushes back against the stereotypes we so often see in film and TV. Is it important to you to take roles that subvert stereotypes?

Absolutely. I think it's one of the things that I'm most proud of [in] the movie. Yeah, we're three different women, and the main characters, and we're so different. We have a superhero, and we have a heroine, and a 64-year-old action hero, like Linda Hamilton, and she looks badass and she's great. We have Mackenzie Davis from Canada, and she's this amazing, beautiful actress. And you have a Latina, someone from Colombia just being one of the main characters of this huge franchise. We all come from different countries and backgrounds. And it's just amazing to celebrate diversity in all its forms. I think we're just seeing the world is changing and Hollywood is changing and it is so fair that finally we get a Latina hero and she’s far from those stereotypes and clichés that we’re always used to being related to. 

Your character, Dani, endures extreme pain and loss to sort of find her calling. Could you relate to her journey at all?

Yes, totally. I think it felt like something Natalia was living at the same time. I mean we were just showing the journey of this Mexico City girl that had this simple, normal life with her family, and she was brave, but suddenly her life turns upside down because she's being chased by a terminator and this is an absurd situation that she needs to understand. And she doesn't know who to trust.

And she gets with these two characters, Grace and Sarah Connor. And they try and understand what happened in that future that made her so important that they want to kill her. So it was this journey of this girl becoming someone stronger and someone that is able to fight back. And it was a little bit like Natalia, coming from Colombia and being an actress and being brave, but also coming into this huge new world of Hollywood and a big action movie and just getting along [with] these people and loving the people and being so supported by them and becoming this person that is now here and is part of this franchise.

Credit: Mauricio Hoyos, Retouching by Lucia Inglese

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So this film, like all of the films in the franchise, is pretty violent. Do you fear that the violence on screen perpetuates violence offscreen at all?

I mean I do believe there is a responsibility of the entertainment industry in general with everything that is happening with the world, with violence and with climate change and with the stereotypes with Latinos or any community. Of course, I think there's a responsibility, not only the industry but also as actors and public figures, I think we all have responsibility. I don't like weapons, personally. I think it is absolutely insane that in this country they just sell weapons like soda. It doesn't happen in my country. We have different types of problems and war, but not selling [weapons].

There are weapons in the movies, [but] I don't think we're inviting people to get armed or fight. I think we're also showing, and I think people will see, there's evolution in the characters. We have these three strong female leads, but they are strong in different ways.

Credit: Kerry Brown

I think the important part of the movie is not about being violent, but really, just being aware of our relationship with technology and we do need to start thinking about how are we going to limit [it] in our lives, and how are we going to use it [for good].

I noticed that you've been working with Micaela Erlanger. Has your relationship with fashion changed at all since you started working with the stylist?

I've always loved fashion and working with designers. It is important to tell a story with what you wear — not only how you want to look, who you are, where you come from, but what you believe in. So it was really important for me and I told her I'd like to actually try and find great Latin American designers and emerging designers and sustainable brands. So it's really interesting to work with a professional, and a great stylist like her, but also to tell the story of what I believe in and who I am.

That's so cool. So when it comes to your career, who is your inspiration? Is there anyone whose career path you've sort of emulated?

I have many inspirations and I think it's been part of the journey, just learning. Sometimes you're like, "Of course, I absolutely admire many actresses," but you always see those legends or people so far away. And I think I needed to find those heroes in people that I knew. So I love Meryl Streep. I just think she's the best actress, but I started to just find the heroes close to me and I have these amazing Colombian actresses that I know. They have worked so hard and in a way they have been opening this path for me, even years before, coming here, trying so hard to make some space for Latinas. And I have so many people that I admire, but I do think I'm trying to find real heroes and people to inspire me.

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How would you describe your personal style?

I would say young, fresh, and Latina.

What's your favorite clothing item that you own?

Right now these Balenciaga sneakers that I just can't stop wearing because I really like being comfortable, but also they look great.

Who have you been the most starstruck to meet so far?

Well I think meeting Arnold [Schwarzenegger] was a thing. I didn't really expect to actually get to work with him. But it was that first moment when you actually get to be on set and suddenly he's there and he's so close to you. And he's doing a scene with you and he's looking directly into your eyes. And you just see those eyes that you've seen for a long time, just through a big screen. And it was so surreal that I was just looking around and saying like, "Is this real?" I'm working with Arnold Schwarzenegger and we just laugh and he just tells all these jokes and stories. And we talk and share how worried we are about climate change … That was something.

Do you cook at all? And if so, what's your favorite thing to cook?

Oh, I love cooking. Now I’m on this press tour and when you're traveling so much, it's really hard to cook, because we're always in hotels. But I really think having a little kitchen is the best thing. I don't eat meat, so I love cooking vegetables and doing salads and quinoa, and trying different things full of colors and flavors. 

What have you been watching lately?

Just before we started the tour, I went to the San Sebastián International Film Festival and I was just there for a week watching movies. I just saw this movie, and for sure it's going to be nominated for the Oscar for best foreign language film. It's called Parasite. It's a Korean movie. We just went to Korea and it was my first time there, but it is so crazy how close I feel to Korea just because of the films [I've seen]. I just love Korean movies and that was like the thing of this month — watching that movie just made my month of Korean movies.

What's your perfect day?

I haven't been [home] for a long time. But I live on an island, near the beach hotel [I run] with my husband, Fenix Beach, in Cartagena. Just waking up there and going to the beach is the first thing in the morning and just getting to swim by the ocean and getting my green juice and having breakfast and seeing all the animals. It's almost a zoo — we have dogs and ducks and my cats and all the animals. So I just love being there and doing some yoga and seeing my family or seeing friends.

Wow. That sounds amazing. So since you have been working so much, how do you find time with your husband to go on dates and spend time together?

We’ve been really lucky. He's always in charge of the hotel and the business, but with this tour, we really tried hard to just leave everything ready and a lot of people in charge so he could come with me. Because if not, it would be like a month and a half of being separated. So, he came with me and I've been absolutely busy, but clearly I love to have him around, helping me and supporting me and being there. If we have like an afternoon free or if we have that Sunday, or we have [a few] hours, we try and go and bike to the city or just explore, or go somewhere to eat.

What's one thing you wish more people knew about you?

I would love people to know how worried I am about climate change. It is not science fiction — like this movie — it's the present and it's happening and we are all being affected by it. But I think in general we're just ignoring it and not really conscious of how important and urgent it is. So I'm worried and I wish we all, day to day, could just take action — whatever, whenever, and wherever we are.

This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.