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Natalie Zea on ‘The Following’ & ‘Justified’

Zea tells us how she manages to be on both “Justified” and “The Following” before sharing her theory on why she always plays the ex-girlfriend or the ex-wife.

I don’t know how I ended up being the only guy talking to Natalie Zea at a party. It must be because her on screen boyfriends are either “Justified” badass Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) or “The Following” serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). I got a one on one interview with Zea at the Television Critics Association for Fox, and we talked about both of her shows.

There are mild spoilers ahead for “The Following” if you’re not caught up yet.

 

CraveOnline: So you’re filming two shows right now?

Natalie Zea: Kind of, yeah. I’m always filming two shows.

CraveOnline: So it’s not unusual. We just usually see them scattered.

Natalie Zea: I’m like a packrat with work. I hoard my jobs.

CraveOnline: We were very happy to hear you’re still doing “Justified.” Sometimes they don’t let you do that. Is that because Fox and FX are symbiotic?

Natalie Zea: I think so. I think so, yes, I think that helped but also something that the layman might not know is that if you’re a series regular on a show, generally if you beg and plead and are really nice, the producers behind the show will let you do up to three episodes on another show on your time off. The difference here is that we’re shooting simultaneously so they have to work around each other’s schedules and I think that’s a Fox symbiosis there.

CraveOnline: How intense is this role on “The Following” for you?

Natalie Zea: Not as intense as one would think. I’ve got it down. I cry a lot, I get mad at Kevin Bacon and I cry a lot. Once you kind of figure it out, it gets easier.

CraveOnline: How much do we get to see Claire when she was in love with Joe?

Natalie Zea: Hold on, I’m trying to think of what I’ve shot you haven’t seen because I get confused. So the scene in the pilot when she announces that she’s pregnant, that’s it.

CraveOnline: What have you created to imagine how she was in love with this person and then found out what he was?

Natalie Zea: You know, it’s hard. It’s really hard because there’s not a lot of information that’s been provided for me and I had to come up with my own backstory, some of which has been defunct because we shoot flashbacks and I’m like, “Oh, that one doesn’t work.” So in order to meet that challenge, I have decided to focus more on the immediacy of what’s happening right here, right now.

Claire, if nothing else, she is constantly living in the moment because everything is so heightened. Every second is so meaningful to her, because every second that she doesn’t have her kid is every second that her kid could be dead or her kid could be hurt or her kid could be compromised in some way. So she doesn’t really have time to think about the past or to ruminate on the past, and her choices are not contingent on the past. They’re contingent on what’s happening right now.

CraveOnline: I liked the jump scare in episode three when Joe shows up in your bed. What was it like shooting the jump scare moment?

Natalie Zea: We’re just always beating each other up. Well, he’s beating me up but I give him a good one in episode two. It’s great. As an actor, that’s the type of stuff that you sign up for. When you go to drama school, you don’t go to drama school to talk about “When was the last time you saw Mrs. Harrison alive?” You go to drama school to get choked and to scream and cry and get dragged by your hair and to profess your love, all these melodramatic, beautiful, intense, light moments that happen. That’s what you look for, so I have no problem with it.

CraveOnline: If you’re only in three episodes of “Justified,” how do they make the most of you?

Natalie Zea: Well, Graham Yost is here. You might want to ask him that. He’s better to answer that question.

CraveOnline: Are you happy with what you got to do on “Justified?”

Natalie Zea: I was so happy to go back and to be welcomed like I was Miss America. I am telling you, if you ever wanted an ego boost, leave your job and then six months later come back for a day. People will treat you like you’re a princess. I was overwhelmed with how lovely people were, what a warm welcome I had. It was really, really nice. I’m going to do it again.

CraveOnline: Did it feel different to work as a guest star than a regular?

Natalie Zea: No. It didn’t. Okay, here’s a good example. There are certain things that you do as a guest star that you don’t have to do as a regular, like guest parking. I said to my [driver] the night before, I was like, “Listen, I’m not parking at guest parking. I’m just not doing it.” He’s like, “Okay, you take a stand.” So I get to work and I go to the parking area where all the regulars park and I said to somebody, one of the ADs, I rolled down my window and I was like, “I’m not parking in guest parking.”

They were like, “Maybe you should park in the parking space that says Natalie Zea.” I was like "Oh, okay." They’re like, “You’re still a part of this show.” So I was treated as though I had been away, like I got bronchitis and had to take off a couple months. Nothing is different.

CraveOnline: They never gave up your space? It was the same space?

Natalie Zea: No, they never gave up my parking space. They never gave up my trailer. I had my makeup bag with my name on it. It was like oh, you’ve been away for Summer break. It’s fine, come back.

CraveOnline: When you went back, did you have to catch up on where the show’s been without you?

Natalie Zea: No, because what we did, what Tim and I did was so singular to the relationship of Winona and Raylan and I think it works better if I don’t know anything else. Winona’s not a part of that world. She doesn’t know what’s going on, so for me to have that information seems a little silly, so I just went into it knowing absolutely nothing.

CraveOnline: You’ve been guest stars on some of the biggest shows of the last 10 years. How did you find your niche as a working actor?

Natalie Zea: I think it sort of found me. I mean, I have tended to, I don’t want to say I’m drawn to them because I’m not, they’re drawn to me, the role of the ex. Whether it be the ex-wife or the ex-girlfriend, unilaterally across the board pretty much every role I’ve played with rare exception in the past decade has been that of an ex. I could go into why I think that is. It’s really a lot of psychobabble and it’s silly, but I think it can’t be ignored.

CraveOnline: I’d like to hear it. Why do you think?

Natalie Zea: Well, I think, and I’ve said this before, I have a rather unique outlook on divorce. My parents divorced when I was very, very young but they maintained an incredibly amicable relationship. They were great partners, they were great parents and they were great friends throughout my whole life until I was about 25, at which point they realized that they could relinquish, they could call it and move on.

They’re both now married to other people and incredibly happy, but I have this skewed romanticism towards two people who can’t make it work, but who make something work. They can’t make happily ever after, white picket fence work, but they’re able to find a different version of that. There’s something I think very mature and sexy and romantic about it.

CraveOnline: I hadn’t put that together.

Natalie Zea: It may be all bulls***.

CraveOnline: Could it be, unfortunately, that the only good roles for women are someone’s ex?

Natalie Zea: Perhaps, because, and I’ll tell you why, I’ll take it a little further. That is because it takes a certain kind of woman, it takes a certain kind of strength to have a relationship with somebody, to have the maturity to say, “This isn’t working but you’re still going to be in my life.” Because obviously whoever it is, as the character, is in my life.

So I think it has to do with this inner strength, this confidence to know when to call it a day. That’s tough. That’s hard. That’s a lot of getting real with yourself and answering some hard questions.