After her character on “The Following” met her end, Natalie Zea was planning on taking a little time off before going after her next acting job. That lasted all of a month, when she got a call from her rep about an Amazon pilot called “The Rebels.”
“He told me the premise of it” — a former pro football cheerleader becomes the owner of a ragtag franchise when her husband dies — “and I was like, ‘Well, who would I play?’ And he said, ‘You’re the woman — you’re the [lead].’ I’m like, ‘Oh! Yes, absolutely, let’s do this,'” Zea tells Zap2it, laughing. “As I’m reading it I’m thinking, this is hitting on every single criteria, every single thing I said was a dealbreaker [to go back to work], it was hitting on. By the time I got to the end of the script I called my reps and said ‘I don’t care what I have to do — let’s go.'”
“The Rebels” is one of three comedies, along with two dramas and five kids’ shows, available to view during Amazon’s latest pilot season. Through the end of February you can watch the shows (“The Rebels” is here) and rate and review them, and Amazon will take those rankings — along with other factors — into account in deciding which ones to order to series.
“I love that it’s now ‘I hope the Internet sees it’ — it’s changing so rapidly,” she says. “It’s really exciting.”
Zea, whose past credits include “Justified” and “Dirty Sexy Money,” talked with us about that process, doing her first comedy project and her other jobs.
Zap2it: Did the way Amazon makes pilots feel any different to you during production?
Natalie Zea: Not necessarily during the process of making it. It felt very cable in the sense that we were left alone, and we were made to feel as though we were hired to do our jobs as artists and they trusted us to do that, without feeling as though they had to be part of the process. Which is why I think a lot of people are flocking to cable. The network structure is a little more intrusive and a little less laid-back. So it felt like doing a cable show.
What do you think about Amazon opening up the pilot process to viewers?
It’s both terrifying and wonderful. It’s terrifying because I pretty much know where I stand in the Hollywood community, in terms of the business aspect of my reputation is pretty solid. However, when people get behind a keyboard and they’re anonymous, they can be real [pause] honest. But it’s great because this is kind of the way it should be. Ultimately these are the people who we’re making this for, so why not have a say in what you liked about it or didn’t like about it? I think it’s a cool format — it’s just kind of scary as an actor. But so far, so good I guess.
This is your first straight-out comedy role. Was that one of the things you were looking for in your next job?
Yeah. It was funny — I would call up my manager after I would read about a project in development and say, “This sounds really interesting, maybe we should look into this.” He would say, “The thing that’s not a comedy?” “Yeah.” And he’d be like, “Nope.” They really held my feet to the fire — if this is what you’re going for, we’re going to call you out on it, and we’re going to stick to the plan. So that was pretty much No. 1 on the list.
Why haven’t you done comedy prior to this? Did you just get slotted into drama roles?
Yeah. I’m not sure how that happens — I guess you just do one too many. I’ve been trying to get into comedy for years. I had a meeting with one of the networks a couple years ago, a general meeting, and when they asked what I was looking for and I told them I’d prefer to do comedy, it was as if I had two heads. They couldn’t compute what I had said, and they straight-up said, “We just don’t understand that because you’re everybody’s go-to drama girl.” OK — but I didn’t choose that [laughs]. … I think after a certain number, that’s what you do, and it’s hard to break out of it.
What did you discover about your character during filming?
What I was so fascinated with for the character was after the first read, I understood how complex she was. It was all there on the page and the background and the circumstances. In a 30-page script I completely got this woman. When we were shooting it, because I feel like I knew her so well and sort of effortlessly knew her, we were free to do a lot of improvising, as you do in comedy. That’s always kind of challenging, especially when you’re brand new to the people you’re working with, but it’s also liberating to go off script and feel you know the character well enough to do so.
Did you do any research on Georgia Frontiere, who was the first woman owner in the NFL?
I remember my fiance bringing her up when he first read the script, and I knew if the series were to go I wanted to explore not only her and people like her, but also sort of matriarchal figures — wives and maybe mothers or sisters of owners that sort of insinuate themselves into the overall family. That’s her way in, is being this sort of mother figure to them. That’s how she gains the confidence to do this — she realizes all I am is a mom to these little boys, and I know how to do that. So if we end up, God willing, being able to do more episodes, I want to explore that archetype, even though there’s not a whole bunch out there. I feel like that could be helpful.
Are you a football fan yourself?
Moreso than any other sport, which isn’t saying much, because I’m not a big sports fan. But I grew up in West Texas, so it’s in our blood. It’s in the water. So by default I know the rules, and I am able to get excited and riled up because I know what’s going on, especially if there’s a really great game. … I can certainly get drawn in more than any other sport.
Have you talked much with the show’s producers about where it will go if it’s picked up?
No. It’s funny — I never do. [laughs] That’s actually not true. I do when I’m worried, and I’m almost always right to be worried. But when I’m not worried — and I’m not going to name any names, but when I’m not worried, I just trust there’s a story there. You can kind of feel it when there’s a story. I think there are stories to be told in this world, and that doesn’t worry me. Other times I’ve been like, “Oh, I don’t know where we’re going with this.” But this is not one of those.
You made a brief appearance in the “Justified” season premiere — any chance you’ll be back?
I would like to clear something up, if I could. There’s been a little bit of talk … about Winona’s lack of screen time correlating with the actress’ lack of availability. I’m in between jobs and I have been for a little while, so we can put that rumor to rest. I’ve always maintained that I will jump through hoops to make sure I can be available to them when they need me. I don’t know what her absence is about, but I can say it’s not about my lack of availability. So if you talk to Graham [Yost], tell him to give me a call.
That was maybe an assumption based on “The Following” returning around the same time.
Right. And that’s a natural assumption to make. … And now we all know I’ve actually had a little bit of time off.
Could you show up in a flashback or
something like that on “The Following”?
I don’t know. Anything’s possible. It’s a show that incorporates flashbacks a lot, especially in the first season. It was certainly a topic that came up, but whether they choose to do it I don’t know. That’s another show where I’m like, “I’m super open to flashbacks. I’m around.”