I see an earthy beauty in front of me, decked out in old jeans (which she hates buying), a plain black top and a self-described ‘carpet/upholstery/granny jacket’. An unmade face glowing with a bright smile, she wields a gigantic accordion. She exudes confidence and positivity, waving frantically to me from across the street. We find a seat at Costa, outside, to indulge her smoking habit. Her name is Natalia Tena and she is an actress, singer, musician and songwriter, well on her way to becoming one of the most successful women of her generation.
Tena’s acting career began when she was caught smoking at school, Bedales, by her drama teacher. Having begged for a reprieve, she was thrust into a room filled with young boys, left feeling bewildered. She didn’t know it then but this was the About a Boy audition and she got the part. This resulted in her getting an agent and being ‘Tonks’ in Harry Potter, as well as many other prominent roles.
She confides that the characters she has played so far have all been disappointingly nice. Natalia loved playing ‘Tonks’ in Harry Potter but if she could have picked any character she would have chosen ‘Bellatrix’ Helena Bonham-Carter’s demented Death Eater: “I really want to play an evil bitch.”
Recently she finished filming Bel Ami with the all-star cast of Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Robert Pattinson. Playing the role of a prostitute, a lustful sex scene unfolds with Twilight’s sparkling vampire, Robert Pattinson. “It’s actually harder to do sex scenes when they’re intimate but when I’m just a prostitute who he’s banging, it’s fun sex, you can have a lot of fun with it.” In between takes the pair were laughing and encouraging each other to “groan louder, louder”.
Natalia’s parents moved to London from Spain when they were 23, settling in Portobello Road, where she grew up. She is fluent in Spanish and still has all her extended family in Spain – “I love Spanish films. I’d love to work with a Spanish director.”
When I ask Natalia about the biggest influences on her acting career, she immediately names ‘Kneehigh’, an experimental theatre group: “All the people they have chosen to work with them are top people. Just the way they are, the way they live, their attitude to life. The people they chose to work with them are the best team. Anyone with an ego, it just wouldn’t happen. They’d make them get naked and point and laugh at them. They’re great. It makes you realise that acting isn’t scary, it’s playing. You forget that a lot when you are doing big sets or a serious play. Of course it’s important, but you have to remember it’s just playing”.
Natalia was only 15 when she got the part in About a Boy, yet she carried on studying for her GCSE’s: “You can do anything young, as long as you know it’s not the only thing you should do”. She told her agent after filming About a Boy that “unless I get a main part I’m not going to give up school. So I did my A-levels and I knew I still had an agent.” Her friends used to tell her, “You’re sorted now, you can be an actress forever” but Natalia has never thought like that, and despite a career that keeps going from strength to strength, she retains her down-to-earth viewpoint: “It doesn’t matter how big you are as an actor, you’re never sorted, you’re always panicked, always terrified you’re going to lose money and never have a job”.
But the multi-talented Natalia needn’t worry; she is currently juggling a music career with her day job in acting, something she is finding “very stressful”. After this interview, she is being driven to Belfast to film scenes for Game of Thrones before flying to Berlin to do a warm-up gig for The Kooks with her band Molotov Jukebox. But the demands on her time aren’t without their perks:
“I love that German stodgy food, and I can’t wait to go to Berlin. I’m going to eat a massive sausage.”
Natalia is not shy about her love of food. In fact, during the interview some young girls discarded their sandwich on the table next to us. Natalia’s eyes lit up as she grabbed it and demolished it. Apparently, out of all the films that she has worked on, Harry Potter had the best choice of food – “loads and loads of different food, sushi, amazing sandwiches, then you had the options of meat and then options of veg. But there was lots of waste” – but Womb, with Eva Green, won her stomach’s highest regard: “There were only two options, meat or veggy, but because there were only two choices, they did both amazingly.”
The reason for her latest culinary adventure, Molotov Jukebox describe their music as ‘Gypstep’, and Natalia is both the singer and accordion player. She learnt how to play the accordion when she was working with ‘Kneehigh’. Her boyfriend Sam joins her onstage and together they write much of the music. When the band first began their tour they were terrified that The Kooks‘ crowd wouldn’t like their music as it is so different. But they needn’t have worried – the band has been received with great enthusiasm. They played at the Harry Potter premiere and have now been nominated for The UK Festival Awards alongside The XX and Jessie J, even though they have only played one main stage show this festival season.
Natalia is a colourful, intelligent, funny and very talented woman – there are not many who can say they have toured with The Kooks and been in so many big films and TV series by twenty seven. Definitely one to watch, not just on the silver screen but in the music charts as well, I won’t be the only one looking forward to hearing more about Natalia Tena’s upcoming success.
Bel Ami has postponed its release to early 2012.
Molotov Jukebox will release the song Get Ready on 14th November through iTunes, and you can find a sneak preview here: