Star Nathalie Kelley says that aside from one other TV hit she's been in, "this is really the first thing I would watch even if I was not in it."

By Isabel Jones
May 05, 2020 @ 4:57 pm
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Credit: Photo Illustration/InStyle.com; Photos: ABC, Getty Images

I’ll admit, I was skeptical about The Baker and the Beauty. I like camp, I like trash, but another trope-heavy rom-com about class division? At first blush, I was not sold. But then I tuned in for The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart, and, being too damn lazy to turn off the TV, I kept watching as ABC switched its focus to Daniel Garcia (the baker) and Noa Hamilton (the beauty).

As the show’s title implies, the story (based on Israel’s Lahoya Ita — “Beauty and the Baker”) is simple, familiar, and frankly aspirational. Daniel (Victor Rasuk) is a, uh, baker, who works at his family’s Miami bakery. While celebrating his and his longtime girlfriend Vanessa’s anniversary at an upscale restaurant, he runs into “international superstar” Noa (Nathalie Kelley) in a coed restroom. In the moments that follow this chance encounter, Daniel’s relationship ends and a romance with the wildly famous Noa begins. Who could imagine such an unlikely pair?! (Anyone who’s seen a Meg Ryan movie.) But the predictability is part of the show’s very charm.

Credit: ABC/Laura Magruder

After a few minutes, I realized The Baker and the Beauty wasn’t what I expected it to be — or maybe it was, but a better version. The show is just fun, in the purest sense of the word. Noa’s real-life counterpart agrees. “Laughter is medicine, and I think that we all are recognizing that now that we’re in a time and space that is so uncertain,” Kelley, 34, tells me over the phone. “I’m not saying the show is escapist in a bad way, because what I find is that even though it transports you to another world and makes you laugh, it’s really grounded in love.”

The love isn’t relegated to the show’s main romantic relationship, either. Daniel’s Cuban-American family is warm, endearingly meddlesome, and, as with any other family (barring maybe the Bradys), complicated. Daniel’s mother Mari (Lisa Vidal) is the clan’s headstrong (and a tad overbearing) leader; his father Rafael (Carlos Gómez) is more reserved than Mari, but just as protective; Daniel’s brother Mateo (David Del Rio) is a struggling DJ (otherwise known as MC Cubano); his sister Natalie (Belissa Escobedo) is a lonely teen coming to terms with her sexuality (and how coming out will affect her Catholic parents).

Credit: ABC/Guy D’Alema

The relative normalcy of the Garcia family acts as a foil to Noa’s unusual lifestyle — paparazzi-dodging, branded birthday parties, and international press trips are all par for the course. To prepare for the role of Noa, Kelley drew on her own experiences with “people who have had a lot of celebrity from a young age,” concluding that “they’re just as unhappy as the rest of us.”

Naturally, Noa’s globetrotting A-lister brings a rotation of real-life celebrities to mind, though for Kelley there was only whose influence she was interested in. “The only person I wanted to embody, in the sense that she is so aspirational, is Gisele [Bündchen],” the Australian actress tells me. “I love how she’s more than just a model — she’s a spokesperson for so many important issues. She’s just really, really inspirational and aspirational as a woman, and I wanted Noa to have that same kind of quality where you want your little girls to look up to her. I think modeling has really changed nowadays, and I don’t know if I find too many modern-day models aspirational. I had to kind of look back into the past to find somebody I really admired and would want to be like.”

Though Kelley herself retains a “little bit of notoriety” as an actress, she doesn’t consider herself a celebrity. “I like it that way. That would be just an extra headache that I don’t need,” she clarifies. “I’ve been on my hands and knees cleaning my own kitchen floors this quarantine, and I thought to myself ‘Oh my God, Noa Hamilton would never.’”

Credit: ABC/Jeff Daly

For Kelley, whose TV credits include the CW’s Dynasty, The Vampire Diaries, and UnREAL, The Baker and the Beauty isn’t just another gig, it’s a rare project that she’s actually personally interested in watching. “To be honest, besides UnReal, this is really the first thing I would watch even if I was not in it,” she tells me. “Normally you get the scripts and you’re like ‘Oh my God, what are people doing? What are the writers thinking?’ And in this case, I’m like ‘How do they keep making it better and better??’ It’s going to be a beautiful ride all the way through to the season finale.”

While “working-class boy meets incredibly famous girl” is a dynamic I’d willingly devote my life to study, it’s not the intricacies of the plot that keep me coming back every week. The Baker and the Beauty is like the most liberating vacation — one where everything is sexy and colorful and any bumps along the way are resolved within 42 minutes. The entire concept of resolution feels so novel right now that tuning into a world in which things work themselves out is almost intoxicating.

The Baker and the Beauty airs every Monday at 10 p.m. on ABC.