The Happy Accident of Natalia Tena’s Acting Career

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The following essay was told to Backstage by Natalia Tena, whose screen acting credits include the Harry Potter film series and the recent John Wick: Chapter 4.

I fell into acting by fluke. I was caught smoking at school and instead of punishing me, the drama teacher sent me to do an audition. It was for a role in the movie About a Boy, and afterwards, I got an agent because my mate’s sister worked at an agency, and they signed me. 

It still didn’t feel like a done deal that I would be an actor, but then I kept getting roles. I felt I should go to drama school, so I auditioned for Guildhall, but they told me if I joined them I couldn’t have an agent or do acting jobs alongside it. I was so upset about that, I just couldn’t see the point of getting into huge amounts of debt whilst not being able to work. So I decided just to learn on the job.

I’ve done a combination of stage and screen work, small jobs and big. Regardless of the scale, it’s always about the people involved. If I’ve got people around me who make me laugh, everything will be OK. The team on John Wick 4, which was obviously a massive production, were so lovely. Even though I played a relatively minor character, the director, Chad Stahelski, was so nice and immediately put me at ease.

“A silver lining of having a difficult childhood home was that I didn’t really care what people thought of me”

My advice to younger actors is not to put all their eggs in one basket. I’ve done music, I’ve done nannying, I never felt like acting was the one thing I had to do, or my only way of earning money. Plus, other work experiences are really complementary to your acting. I know an actor who is also a beekeeper, another who’s a journalist. It’s so important to have other things going on.

My other major piece of advice, which was given to me by an older actor when I was 19, is to join Equity and get a pension plan with them. It means whenever you get a job, they’ll hold back some money for your older self. He was so right about that, and I know it sounds a bit boring, but it’s so, so important.

I’ve always had a pretty thick skin. A silver lining of having a difficult childhood home was that I didn’t really care what people thought of me at school. I wasn’t scared of social pressures, and could step up to bullies. But when I was in my 20s, I did start to care about people’s judgements when it came to work. I think there’s probably a good reason for that, because ultimately you need people to like your work. But the older you get, the less you seek approval.

I’m going to be 40 soon, and my aunt told me years ago that 40 is the pinnacle. I think it’s partly because you stop giving a shit what society expects of you as a woman. You’re self assured, you’re confident and you don’t care what people think. I’m definitely starting to feel that, and I wish I could tell my younger self to have that mentality. Please stop worrying. Care less. Work harder.

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