At just over five feet tall, Natalie Dreyfuss doesn’t seem to be an imposing character. But the rising actress is much more than meets the eye.
Born in LA to wardrobe stylist Kathy Kann and actor Lorin Dreyfuss, the younger brother of famed film star Richard Dreyfuss, Natalie is no stranger to the fast-paced world of life in the entertainment industry. From an early age, she was eager to perform, and and found the discipline and foundation of ballet as an outlet. At just 14, Natalie dropped out of high school to pursue her career in dance. She moved across the country to study dance at both The Rock School in Pennsylvania, and the American Ballet Theatre in New York City.
One year later, she left dance due to an injury. With her life now heading in a different direction, she moved back to the West Coast, got her GED, and began taking acting classes with the intent of honing her skills before putting them to use.
Like most life-altering moments, the transition from dancer to actor took time. Instead of jumping right in to casting offices, Natalie chose to study the field first. “I thought, ‘we should probably be good at this before we go out and do it,’” Natalie says. So she enrolled in the Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown School, The Actors Spot, and The Berg Studios to study the craft. Her first role out of school was as a Sophie Stagner on the Emmy-nominated TV series Burn Notice.
Switching to acting is an experience she is now grateful for because her life is more of what she wants it to be. “I’m just really happy that my life turned out that way because dance was like a Black Swan nightmare experience, and acting is a lot more of what I love and a lot more fulfilling,” she says.
Since then, she has guest starred on a number of television series, including Life, The Shield, Lie To Me, Weeds, New Girl, House, and True Blood. Beyond that, she was a series regular on Lifetime’s Rita Rocks, and more recently has been in ABC’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager where she plays Chloe Boykewich, a teenaged girl with a twisted past who becomes the adopted sister of main character Ben Boykewich.
Chloe, whose past includes sex trafficking and prostitution, was a challenging role for Natalie. “Just because I wasn’t a prostitute doesn’t mean I haven’t gone through hard times. And I really wanted to make her a fun character, despite the fact that she had such a dark past,” Natalie says.
Her stint on Secret Life has been a great experience for Natalie. “The writers and producers on that show were just incredibly welcoming to me. Everyone was just super, super nice,” she says. But it was her role on Rita Rocks that gave Natalie a taste of her passion for television. The series was a two-season, sitcom that aired live once a week. The sense of family that she was able to establish, and the fresh, quickness of filming for live television was exciting for Natalie. “Acting in front of a live audience is what I would aspire to do for the rest of my life. Its so much fun, and its a lot faster paced,” she says.
She says her ideal role would be doing a live, television sitcom. “Doing live work, you have to be on it, be good at what you do, and be able to do it quickly. Which, I like, that pressure.” Natalie indicates that shows like Friends and Will and Grace are career inspiring because being part of something iconic and long lasting is an aspiration of hers.
“I watch I Love Lucy every single day,” Natalie says. “That’s like, my obsession. That life is such a dream life to me. It may not be a dream life to other people, because they want to do film and have giant careers, and that’s lovely. And I want that too, but if I was ‘stuck on a sitcom’ for the rest of my life, I’d be thrilled,” Natalie says.
While she aims to work on a long-term sitcom, Natalie is still learning new things through her endeavors into television dramas and thrillers. Working on HBO’s True Blood, she says, was intense, mostly because the premise of the show requires 16-18 hours of filming at a time, and a nocturnal lifestyle. “You’re living a vampire life. When the sun comes up you go home. It’s a really interesting life, and I felt really lonely by the end of shooting because I hadn’t seen my friends. That backwards schedule is really hard, so I definitely have empathy for the people that do it every week,” she says.
Now that she has wrapped filming with True Blood, Natalie is on what she calls her “hiatus time” during which she can focus on her other interests and hobbies. Besides photography, makeup, and visiting with friends, Natalie says one of her passions is teaching young kids.
Her love for little kids brought her to teach in a preschool for a few years when she was younger. “I dropped out of high school, because I was dancing. And when I came home, I wanted to do something that was just for me, just for my heart. So I walked into a preschool and said ‘I’m really good with kids, can I come and try and work here?’ and I was there for two years,” she says.
Now, she is able to translate her experience dealing with little kids into her daily life, and in some cases, her career. She says that teaching little kids, and learning how to interact with them, was the best experience she could have. Natalie says it has definitely shaped who she is and how she deals with others. “I have a much easier time in life, because I see everyone as giant toddlers, and I know how to deal with toddlers very well.”
While she loved being a teacher to kids at such a formative stage in development, Natalie was not one for academia. “I consider myself a smart person, just incredibly undereducated. I was just never really able to pursue that as much as I was in the arts,” she says. But she says that that’s just fine with her.
Instead, she has chosen to follow her passions, and learn and develop in unique ways. She found her love for academia, not as a pupil, but as a teacher, and hopes to develop that, going forward. In furthering her career, she hopes that she will be able to support her other passions and says she would love to be able to use her career to give back to the community. “I would love to have enough funds to open up a really amazing preschool,” she says. “To be able to contribute like that because it’s such a formative time, being around it for a number of years, I knew it was really important to me.”
Aside from that, however, Natalie does not set any career goals for herself. “I think if you set a goal for yourself in the end, you are working towards that end goal, and missing out on a lot along the way. So,” she says, “I try to really enjoy the process, and not any end goal at all.”
**A version of this article was published by Naked Magazine in August of 2013 which can be found here