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Interview: Actress Natalie Burn talks ‘The Expendables 3’ and her rising career

Natalie Burn
Courtesy of Lee Wallman PR, used with permission

With her eyes originally set on being a professional prima ballerina, Natalie Burn found herself sidelined from that dream because of injuries. But she then set her eyes on acting and filmmaking, and her new career is starting to take off. She will soon be found in “The Expendables 3” playing the wife of Mel Gibson’s character, Stonebanks. The film releases to theaters on Aug. 15.

In addition, Burn is keeping herself busy with her own production company, 7Heaven Productions. She has quite a few projects coming up in which she has produced, written, and starred.

The Chico Movie Examiner recently conducted a phone interview with Burn, who was attending the premiere of “The Expendables 3” afterward. Burn talks about how she got into acting; her character in the upcoming action film; what she thinks of the film leaking online; and why she decided to take up producing. Check out the full interview below, and be sure to give her a follow on Twitter, too.

David Wangberg: In your biography, I read that you had to retire from ballet because of injuries, and you went on to choreography and acting and producing. When you started ballet, did you ever think you would also find yourself in acting and film producing?

Natalie Burn: No. When I started ballet, I kind of just thought of becoming a prima ballerina; that was my main goal at the time. I wanted to be an actress since I was about seven or eight years old, and I was watching “Gone with the Wind.” I remember telling my mom, “One day, I want to be like Vivian Leigh.” And my mom was like, “Oh, she’s an actress; she’s a star.” And I remembered the word “star” and I kept telling everybody, “One day, I want to be a star.”

But I kept progressing at doing more ballet and trying to become a ballerina, though. I never accessed acting or producing until I became injured. And I was like, “Well, I have to consider something else later in my life.” The transition that I made is only when I became injured and considered doing something else, because I figured I can’t dance and choreograph all of my life.

DW: When you had to retire from ballet, did you think to yourself, “What do I do next?” or did you already have other things in mind?

NB: I didn’t quite retire from ballet. It wasn’t like one day I woke up and said, “Hey, I’m going to quit.” I still, until the last day, thought, “Oh, I’m going to dance” – even when I was injured.

But I knew I had to consider doing something else besides that, because I figured, “Well, I can’t dance all of my life.” It wasn’t at that moment that I decided to quit and that was it. I always thought since I had been injured before, I thought, “No, I’m going to get back into shape; I’m going to continue and dance, and I’m going to be a prima ballerina and that’s it.”

But, as I mentioned before, I wanted to be an actress since I was a very young girl. Eventually, when I did become injured, that’s when it crossed my mind. I said, “That could be a great transition – to be on stage and do more theatrical acting like theater.” And that’s why, when I moved to Los Angeles, I went to Lee Strasberg [Theatre and Film Institute], and I considered myself a theater actress first. I was like, “I’m going to feel comfortable on stage.”

I wanted to do a lot of theater, which I did; I studied a lot at Actors Studio. And that was a good transition for me, and it was comfortable.

And then, of course, I was like, “I’m going to try to do film.” And I was also like, “Hey, I want to produce.” Being a choreographer, I like to compose; I like to choreograph; I like to create, and I like to be the main person who sets everything up. And I figured, “Hey, I could try producing; that’s kind of similar.” That’s when I went to UCLA and started producing.

DW: And I saw that you got into screenwriting, too. Did you just take it all at once, or did you do acting first and then do producing and then do screenwriting?

NB: I started doing acting first and auditioning for films, and I got… the certain I auditions I went to, I wasn’t happy with them. I was like, “I should be playing this girl, but they can’t see it. So I need to figure out how to get it to people.” And then I was like, “Maybe I should just produce my own film.” Then I was like, “Maybe I should just write it.”

Before that, I wrote a whole ballet that I choreographed in Moscow and Paris for the Unesco. Because I wrote something before, I was like, “Oh I can do this; it’s just a little bit longer.” [laughs]

DW: In “The Expendables 3,” you play the wife of Mel Gibson’s character. Is this a small role, or do we see you throughout the entire movie?

NB: I wish. No, it’s a small part; I had one scene. It was more like the company I got to be in; it was very rewarding. It was like a lottery win for me, because I ended up meeting all those people. I kept coming back to audition, so throughout the whole shoot, I went to Bulgaria four times to audition for the part, and, eventually, I got it on the fifth time.

Throughout the four times that I was going to Bulgaria, I saw everyone act, and I met everyone. It was like my character was actually in the film a lot more than she actually is. That was the best part of it – not even doing that small scene, but being in such a big movie with such stars and legends and meeting them all and getting to know them. That was the best part I had to get. [laughs]

DW: You said the first film you watched was “Gone with the Wind,” but did you ever grow up watching the “Rambo” films or the Dolph Lundgren films or any of those?

NB: Oh, absolutely. Especially being in Moscow when I was a little girl – and then moving to London – everybody around me had a certain icon that they were watching and that they looked up to. Mine was [Sylvester] Stallone; I loved “Rambo.”

The personality that Rambo has is the personality that I always wanted to have, and I would always push myself to that extreme as well. I was like, “No, I have to succeed; I have to be strong; I have to do this; I have to push myself to fight; I have to push myself to exercise more and to be the best.”

He was my idol to what a person can be and what he can succeed in. “Rambo” was my thing, and I loved Van Damme movies and Dolph Lundgren as well. Of course, Antonio Banderas was the most charming one and a fun character to watch, and I had seen all of his films before – and Mel Gibson, of course. It was amazing to get together with them and be like, “Oh, wow! I grew up on you.” It seemed like I knew all of them, but I didn’t know them before getting on set. [laughs]

DW: I saw some pictures online of you and Antonio dancing. Did you teach any of the other actors how to dance?

NB: [laughs] No, I didn’t teach anyone. But it was just kind of a funny story. We just made a little twirl. I wish we got to dance; we didn’t really dance. Because I’m a professional dancer, I require more time than just two seconds to actually dance a flamenco, which I used to do professionally. I definitely know how to dance flamenco, and that was not flamenco at all. [laughs] It was more like for fun.

And I didn’t dance with anyone else, because I don’t know that side of those actors yet. I do know Wesley Snipes knows how to dance; he’s an awesome dancer. We were at an after party in Cannes, and I remember waltzing with him. He’s an amazing dancer; maybe it’s in his blood.

DW: Oh, maybe. I was kind of hoping to see once they do all the shooting in the film, they do a little break dancing that they learned from you or something. [laughs]

NB: I wish. No, my character was kind of boring. That’s why I started producing; I want to show off more of my talents. And unless people see it and know it, they don’t really know. That’s why I pushed myself to do more things than just auditions.

But in the movie, I play this stuck-up rich wife who married Mel Gibson’s character for money – and I’m the rich one. So, he comes home with this painting, and he gives it to me, and I’m like, “Oh, wow. I didn’t expect you to be home this soon.” She’s very aristocratic, and it seems like something else is going on in her life besides being married to Mel Gibson’s character. But no dancing roles.

DW: I know this is mainly a man’s movie, I guess. You have all the male stars, but we also get Ronda Roussey here. Is she a set up for “The Expendabelles” – the female version of “The Expendables?”

NB: From what I’ve heard, I don’t think she is in “Expendabelles.” She got into “Expendables” because she fights like a man. She wasn’t like, “Hey, let’s get a woman who can fight.” They were trying to find someone who can actually kick a** for real, and she seemed like the perfect candidate for that.

Throughout the whole movie, they meet her as a girl, but then she totally changes and turns into this manly fighter who blends in so well with all the Expendables in the movie. And I think “Expendabelles” is set to be action females. They’re keeping the characteristics of females and the glamour and the style and the attitude, but getting women who can fight.

For Ronda, it was more like, “Hey, she’s a total dude.” She’s such a strong female who could almost pass for a man when she fights. I would assume she could probably kick everybody else’s a**es on the set if she had to, because she’s so strong; it’s incredible. She’s like a machine.

DW: [laughs] Yeah, they don’t have the casting list set up yet for “The Expendabelles,” but I was kind of curious if she was kind of leading up to it. If not, that’s totally cool. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the film; I haven’t seen it yet.

There are a few things that have come to light about “Expendables 3” recently. One is the film leaking online, and the other is the PG-13 rating – which is a first for the series so far. Do you think either of those will affect how the film does during its theatrical run?

NB: Hopefully not. I haven’t seen the full version; I’ve only seen a few things of it. But, to me, it looked like the most exciting of the [series]. It seemed more fun; it seemed more open to different ages, categories, and groups. I think it might be the opposite; you might get even more people to come see it.

It’s a completely different take than the other two; it’s a great movie. It has more jokes; it has different characters; and it feels like it has a lot more action. But the way it was directed, it’s a lot more fun. It’s a new take on “Expendables.” You have to see the movie to understand what I’m saying; it’s very different.

Hopefully people will see that it’s a different movie and that you have to see it on a big screen – even the ones that did download the movie, and I’ve heard it’s an incredibly high number. I still think even if you do see the film on a small tablet or a computer screen, you’ll understand that you have to go see this movie on the big screen, because that’s what it was filmed for.

It has such a big cast, and it has such big action. They have to be honored to go see them in the movie theater and to respect them. You have to go and see it, because it looks much more effective on a big screen, and you’ll know what I’m talking about once you see the movie.

DW: And the other two were like that, too; they were more like big theater experiences because of the big cast and the big action scenes.

NB: Absolutely. It might affect it, but hopefully not. My take on it is I think that it’s just a bigger promotion for it. And once those people who downloaded the movie and see it online, they’ll understand and say, “Hey, I’m missing out; I have to go see this movie in theaters. It will be so much better and definitely a better experience.”

DW: Yeah, and there were a couple of people I saw who saw the film online and they said they’re going to see it when it comes out to theaters, because it deserves the theater experience.

NB: Exactly.

DW: Hopefully, that boosts the [amount of] people going to see it in the theaters rather than people getting it illegally.

NB: Absolutely. That’s why I don’t think it’s going to affect it. Hopefully, it will just give it an even bigger push and an even bigger awareness of “Hey, we have to go see this in the movie theater; it’s amazing.”

DW: You’ve got quite a few other films coming out, too, that I saw in your biography. One of them is “Awaken,” and I didn’t really see much detail on it. Are you able to talk about your character, or is it being kept under wraps?

NB: No, we’re done shooting. It’s a movie I produced with my company, 7Heaven Productions, and I wrote it, as you probably saw. It was my first feature that I wrote. I kind of wanted to find a character for myself. I play Billie Kope; she’s this girl who separates from her sister and her dad is an ex-military who trained her to become tough. I was looking for a character who was tough and knew how to fight, because I wanted to show off my ability as a fighter.

I’ve been training with Benny “The Jet” [Urquidez] for four years; he’s this amazing trainer and an ex-fighter himself. I was like, “Hey, I want to show my abilities.” I can do all the fighting myself and a lot of stunts. And while I’m young, I figured, “Hey, I might as well use that for now and see how that goes.” I was looking for that kind of character, and I wrote it, but I also wanted it to have heart and to have soul and to have meaning for everything and to have a strong story behind it; I didn’t want to do just action.

My character has basically been searching for her sister for five years. She was last seen… she was arrested and placed in this Mexican prison for possession of drugs. She was this heroin addict, and she gets taken, and nobody knows where she is. I research, and I try to find her, and, all of a sudden, I wake up on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere with nobody on the island.

And I don’t know how I got there and what the next step is. I’m stuck on this island trying to figure things out and, eventually, I find out that this island belongs to this cartel – these mafia people who take people all over the world and they set up the base camp there and they basically sell those peoples’ organs to the rich people.

I kind of researched because there are so many people in the world who go missing for that reason, but nobody really knows the amount and where the people go and what happens, and I wanted to try and make an awareness for the organ donors and how many people actually are missing for that purpose – especially during a war time and the soldiers.

When you think they’re actually dying, the truth is they’re gone for those reasons. And I figured it’d be a good moment to try to make that awareness to people. I’m not saying those people are stuck on an island somewhere, but I just wanted to make an awareness of people to be cautious on where they go, especially by themselves. That’s basically what the movie is about.

DW: For “Awaken” and a couple of other films, “Nymph” and “In the Name of the King 2,” you are credited as also doing stunt work. Do you prefer to do your own stunts or are there times where you want to have a stunt double?

NB: I prefer doing my own stunts. That’s why I trained for four years now with Benny “The Jet” doing kickboxing, martial arts, and wire work and sword fighting and knife fighting and everything. I was like, “Hey, if I can do it until I can’t, then I will.” And being on set for films like “The Expendables 3,” I’ve seen how many of those people do their own stunts, which is incredible. They’re not getting younger, but they’re still active.

And I think for as long as you can, you have to stay active in this business. I feel like you’re extending your life – the more things you do, the better you are physically, and you get healthier. When I saw “The Expendables” doing it, I was like, “I’m going to do it for as long as I can as well.” It seems like I can’t, when they put together choreography. But I tell myself, “I can do this.”

There are certain things where I’m more scared, and I think, “Well, I’m not going to jump from a 10-story-high building,” even though I can. I think I’m going to do more things that I know my body can take, and I’m not going to get hurt. And, being a dancer, I know my body quite well. I’m like, “OK, I can do this.”