A triple threat Actor, singer, dancer beautiful and now A mother not much this young lady cannot do!
Naturi Naughton has been making her presence known in the entertainment industry. On stage or on screen, songstress or actress, she commands attention with beauty, skill, and a pinch of ferocity. After portraying Lil’ Kim in Notorious, to dominating the character of Tasha St. Patrick in the Starz Original Series, Power, she now shows us another element we have yet to witness as she takes on motherhood.
Naturi Naughton… your name is so unique, what is the meaning and where does it originate from?
Thank you. Everybody always asks me that. Naturi actually means nature’s girl, natural woman. It was a name that actually my parents kind of made by merging two names together. It has African decent but I don’t know what language. It’s almost spelled, as you can see, like the word nature. I love my name. You know, people messed it up a lot in the beginning. It was so frustrating but now I think everyone’s getting the hang of it.
Your journey begins at such a young age with music and acting what drove you into the arts?
I was just naturally driven. I don’t know… like I was born to sing. I was born to perform. I was born to be an actor. At a very young age, around five, I knew that. I guess what also drove me was seeing inspirations like Whitney Houston around me. You know she was also from East Orange, New Jersey. I’m from East Orange and it was just really awesome to see another black, brown woman… brown-skinned woman doing her thing coming out of the inner city. That really drove me and inspired me a lot as a little girl. I had the support of my parents, my family, and church. Every time I would sing a solo in the choir the church would go crazy. I had support within my community and that helped me to really believe that my dreams were attainable and possible.
Who are some of your influences? Who are some of your favorite actors? What are some of your favorite films?
Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, I loved and listened to a lot of Yolanda Adams. It was R & B and gospel music that really shaped my style. Even as an actress, I remember looking at Angela Bassett. What’s Love Got to Do with It changed my life. I was like, “This woman is a beast!” Angela Bassett has just had such a long career and I really admire her. I also loved movies like Love and Basketball, Love Jones… they inspired me a lot. I really enjoy seeing black women and black men be portrayed in a complex unique light, not just one-dimensional characters. I guess some of those films, artists and even filmmakers like Gina Prince-Bythewood, F. Gary Gray, and people like John Singleton making movies that made me see blackness and black people in this interesting, complex way also inspired me to be an actress. I remember as a kid I used to watch musicals too, like the Bodyguard. I had to know every song and every word. I was obsessed! That definitely played a part and inspired me as well.
How did you get involved with POWER? Were you always meant to play Tasha St. Patrick?
I mean… I got the part after a very challenging audition process so I hope so. It wasn’t easy to get the role of Tasha. It wasn’t easy to build up a show like Power. I got involved with Power, the normal way, as most actors do. My agent and manager called me and said that there’s this new show that Starz is doing and 50 Cent is executive producing and Courtney Kemp is writing. It’s called Power. It’s going to be on Starz. It’s a drama. They would love to audition you and bring you in. I was like, “Okay!” I read the script and I was just floored by how strong and fierce Tasha was. I auditioned for it in LA. They told me I looked a little too young. Months later I got a call back and I went in looking completely different and I tried to dress and make myself look more mature. Then I got another chemistry read. The final audition was like a camera test for the studio. It was tough. I went through four auditions for that but it was so worth it. I really do feel like this role of Tasha came into my life at a perfect time. Even though I hadn’t experienced being a mother, wife, and all the things that Tasha is were new to me, I felt like the woman she is and the strength that she has, I felt really, really connected to. I’m glad I got this role.
Tasha St Patrick is a character with who you are closely linked, the only other comparison I can think of is Taraji P. Henson and Cookie from Empire. How does this feel?
Power came out before Empire so it’s interesting how people compare. We are a totally different kind of show. I can understand the connection with Tasha’s character and Cookie only because they’re both strong, fierce, you know, unafraid to say what’s on their mind type women. Taraji is a great actress. I have nothing but respect for her so I take that comparison as a compliment but I do think we’re so different and so unique because Tasha… she’s a little more restrained. She has a little more self-control than Cookie. When Tasha wants to black out and “slap a bitch” for lack of better words, she doesn’t. She’s had many opportunities where she could’ve went off on Angela but she’s had to be a little more strategic. Can I give credit to our writers? They always choose what you don’t expect. They are a classy group. I think both shows are doing well in their own right but I think we are so unique that it’s unnecessary to draw so many comparisons. We’re not the same.
Is there any Naturi within Tasha?
Sure. Some… not a lot. I think what I do see is the fearlessness of Tasha. Naturi is equally as fearless. I think also we’re both very, very opinionated and even outspoken at times. I think I connect with the strength of Tasha because I have some of that strength and power within myself for sure.
What methods or exercises do you use to get you in the space you need to become Mrs. St. Patrick?
Watching certain films, you know, that kind of just connects to the drug game and all that stuff that goes on. Carlito’s Way, Paid in Full, and movies like Casino, but also just reading as much as I can. One of the things that I remember is Courtney says it’s like Shakespeare in a way. Tasha has a certain power, especially over the men, with her sexuality. I think she just plays with all the levels. Tasha is vulnerable but she is also very powerful. She’s also very sexy and she knows how to use it which is how she manipulated Shawn, the driver, in season one and two. I think that overall I just try to make sure that I find whatever is authentic as possible about the writer and the character.
What do you believe you bring different to the table as an actor?
Even when I did Notorious, playing Lil’ Kim, I remember George Tillman, Jr., who directed Notorious, told me that I had a vulnerability that a lot of other people that he had auditioned didn’t have and I was like, “What do you mean?” I see that in a lot of my work. I feel like maybe one of the qualities is vulnerability. A lot of people think that characters, especially women, you know, they put so much attitude or they put so much strength to try to be so strong they they’re untouchable, or unfazed, or invincible. I always, even in my strongest moments as a character, I always try to find what makes that person vulnerable. What are their weaknesses? What are their fears? That’s our job as actors but I think I naturally do that and from what I’ve heard from directors is that’s a great quality. I’m not saying other actresses don’t have that. I just see that in myself and I’m really proud of also the diversity and versatility that I have. I think that no character that I’ve played has been exactly the same from Lil’ Kim to Fame, and Lottery Ticket. Even going back to the 60’s and playing a playboy bunny in The Playboy Club and now jumping to the present time and being this hot, strong, sexy mama on Power. I think it’s really important to show that I can play any character, any role, and everybody doesn’t have that luxury. A lot of times you can get type cast into the same character and I’ve been really fortunate to be able to do so many different kinds of roles.
We often hear how difficult it is to navigate Hollywood being African American woman, and the stereotypes associated with obtaining roles. How has your experience been, and how have you been able to be successful at avoiding those pitfalls?
It’s challenging, like you said, and that’s a real concern. When you’re a black actress in Hollywood a lot of times you have to fit into the mold of what Hollywood says is popular and that’s frustrating at times. I haven’t escaped that. I’ve had insecurities. I’ve had moments when I’ve wanted to walk away and give up on this business so I’m not immune to it. I think I’ve just been really, really, fortunate to have people believe in me and people who have seen something special in me but most of the time Hollywood can make you feel like you’re just a trend. Dark-skinned girls are in or they want the light-skinned curly haired girls if that’s in, that’s popular. They want the ambiguous, can’t really tell what race she is. I’ve been told so many times that they want an ethnically ambiguous character. Even though the character’s written to be black, they didn’t want someone that was too black. This is what I was told; I’m not making this up. It’s really frustrating. It’s a real thing. I think we’ve come a long way in the past few years and I definitely feel hopeful. I just hope that we stay on the track of creating our own work and valuing ourselves as people of color as opposed to looking for value and validation in others. That’s where my head is.
Do you have any favorite characters that you’ve played thus far?
I loved playing Lil’ Kim. I love playing Tasha in Power. I enjoy being the risqué, dangerous woman because I’m a lot more conservative than those characters in my real life. When I get to play characters that are very different from Naturi, it’s fun! It’s a challenge! So I guess I would say those characters and then The Playboy Club. Being a playboy bunny was a lot of fun too.
Any funny moments from the set of POWER you can share?
We’re a drama, we don’t have a lot of time to prank but it’s always like just fun. I don’t know about funny but we have a lot of fun. I will say that Omari and Joe are like big brothers. Fifty comes on set and he’s got so much energy and makes us laugh. He just comes and talks junk and he tells us what’s going on in life. I have a great time with La La who plays Lakeisha. We have a really good bond and I love working with her so we have fun just making each other laugh. We have girl talk a lot. I think the set of Power is so intense. We work 16 sometimes 18-hour days. It’s a hard shooting process but we do find time to just laugh, be like a family, and talk about current events. We try to keep things as light as possible but we definitely have become like a family, which I’m grateful for.
You are about to experience a bundle of joy soon, how has being pregnant, enriched your life?
So far, I’m a little past half. I’m in the last stretch of this but I feel so purposeful. I feel really, really beautiful and blessed and honored to be taking on such a responsibility and opportunity to bring a life into the world, and motherhood. It’s rewarding thus far. Just developing a life inside of me is pretty miraculous. I think I’ve been so happy and supported by my man and we’re doing it together, my parents and my cast mates. I feel like at this stage in my life it’s really all coming together. At this age, I still feel young but I’m also not too young. I feel like I’ve matured a lot and I can teach this child so much. I know I want to be just as good of a mother as my mother was to me. I feel really excited to step into this next phase of life. I’m really excited for the new journey.
We have seen you in front of the camera, any desire to go behind the scenes to produce a project?
Oh, absolutely! That’s something I’ve recently have been exploring… directing. I took a directing class actually at the New York Film Academy last summer. I have been studying and reading and learning as much as I can about directing and filmmaking because I think the next step for me, like the way Regina King is doing. She’s a friend of mine. She has inspired me so much. You can be an actress but you can also pursue your dreams as director so I feel really excited for that.
What’s next on the horizon for Naturi?
Well, season four of Power comes out June 25th, motherhood, having a baby in July. I have a new movie coming out later this year called Step Sisters, which is a lot of fun, where I’m in a sorority kind of fashioned after the Deltas. It’s a fun stepping movie where I really get a chance to show my skills. I’ve never stepped before and I had to learn for that film so that’s going to be fun. It’s called Step Sisters. Broad Green Pictures is the studio that’s doing it so I’m excited, you know, movie later this year, the show, a baby this summer, and just continue to live life. What’s next for me is to finally just be in the moment. Maybe it’s not about always thinking about what’s next and jumping to the next moment. Maybe it’s just cherishing this moment right now because it’s really beautiful. I’m just enjoying this time.