One on One with Riverdale's Nathalie Boltt
You’ll likely recognize Nathalie Boltt as the deliciously villainous Penelope Blossom, mother to Cheryl Blossom in CW’s Riverdale. Described by Rotten Tomato as ‘The worst mother, but the most watchable’.
Meeting Nathalie put a fire in my belly, and reading her interview cannot fail to put one in yours too. Her passion for everything she commits to is both inspirational and admirable, and we could all do with learning a thing or two from her. Our conversation spanned from what steps she took to nourish her careers in acting, writing, and directing, (yes she does them all) and her call to arms against Palm Oil and the hideous destruction it has on our rainforests and wildlife.
Where did all this energy and talent start?
Nathalie was born into a legacy of performers ranging from touring musicians to actors. As the middle child, in a German school in Apartheid South Africa, she lived in ‘a bubble within a bubble, within a bubble’, so it is no wonder she had the impulse to explore imaginary worlds away from reality; ‘Make-believe worlds were enchanting, as in essence, I was already living in a make-believe world.’ Nathalie, even as a child, had already started thinking, ‘Who am I? Where do I live? It doesn’t matter, I’ll just make it up’.
She started acting as a kid in movies and threw herself into singing and dancing.
The drive to perform was from being a middle child, desperate for attention. I loved the dress up, the musicals and sparkle of performance.
However, surprisingly, young Nathalie started getting stage nerves but found she was still enchanted by performing and the make-believe, so she started auditioning for screen and found she much preferred this format. She got her first real break in ‘Isidingo’, a well-watched long-standing tv-series translated as ‘The Need’ in South Africa. She played the role of Joey for four years and this made her into a household name in South Africa.
What was it like in the Beginning? What were the highs and lows?
Despite landing roles in many strong projects such as District 9 and Doomsday, Nathalie is not shy to admit that the on and off again nature of acting can be maddening. Her advice to creatives is:
Never sit around waiting for someone to give you a break. If you are not acting, go to an improv class. If you are not directing, make a short film with your phone. Like attracts like. You attract what you talk about.
Living by this mantra, Nathalie threw herself into her own projects, which led to her directing debut, The Silk. A friend of hers showed her this heart-warming short story by Joy Cowley, about a couple who use their wedding silk to prepare laying out pyjamas for the dying husband. Joy herself was thrilled with Boltt’s adaption:
I am stunned by the beauty of "The Silk". Every detail is perfect, the acting, directing, pacing, music, and that is not all: the transition to screen has given the story a depth that goes beyond words.
The success of The Silk led Nathalie to get the rights to adapt the extended version, Holy Days, into a feature, which she is currently working on the final draft for.
Similar to how Nathalie can step from serious topics into the fun and silly, she felt she had to top and tail The Silk with comedy, and thus she wrote, directed, and starred in Vajazzle, a wicked comedy where a blinged babe goes below the belt to take revenge on her binge-drinking boyfriend. What is there not to love?
I wrote Vajazzle after a strong cup of coffee. My husband begged me not to, but then helped. This started my love of in your face kooky comedy.
This then developed into a youtube web series Dropped Pie with similar kooky characters and comedic tone.
Despite having an experienced natural flare for writing, it is not always a rosy process for Nathalie:
Writing is so hard, an adaptation from a book is the hardest thing I have done. I’m very grateful to my script editor Clare Dobbin and producer Emma Slade, who have helped along the process. Writing can be a lonely hard slog. Writing something, then trying to get people to actually read it and believe in it is tough. The only person who motivates you to get up in the morning and write it is you.
For other writers trying to get a project done, she recommends the age-old writing approach, and it’s certainly worked for her!
Write something every single day. Write something even if it is rubbish, and you throw it away the next day. You have to write something to keep the ball rolling.
Whilst keeping her writing rolling, Nathalie came out to Vancouver and landed the role of Penelope in Riverdale. This was only meant to be a recurring role with potentially three episodes, however now, Penelope has become what Nathalie describes as ‘the gargoyle king’ in the world of Riverdale. She says she is ‘a character who, for one, is incredibly well dressed, very twisted, but quite lovable’. Unsurprisingly, Nathalie revels about playing her.
It’s been an amazing journey. Penelope has been really interesting, she started as Cheryl’s awful mother, morphed into a hyper villain with a proclivity for poison, and has been madame of the brothel, The Maple Club.
Penelope has certainly shown her hideous side. However, Nathalie says the audiences have equally enjoyed seeing her hints of humanity.
You do see glimpses of her maternal side. You see that she has a twisted childhood, adopted as a child bride, and affected by the catholic church. You have to have the humanity, you have to understand what the hell drives her. Why didn’t I go in guns blazing and get my daughter out of the cult farm? What is the story with her son and why is the grave being empty? You have to have the humanity. People want rid of the unloveable villains.
Nathalie has had a lot of fun working with the showrunners and writers; ‘Omg that would be completely mad, let’s do it! They then come up with madder things than I would have thought of. Lucky we have a shared aesthetic’.
Instead of spreading a dark web of destruction as Penelope seems to do, Nathalie emanates warmth and kindness.
As we started talking about her work as an ambassador for palm oil Investigations, I saw a fiery anger rise, one that could have helped inform Penelope’s darker side.
Nathalie’s anger is well-founded. The horrors caused by palm oil farming is nothing short of a human travesty. Nathalie is raising a call to arms to save her fellow red-headed friends, the orangutans. She spent a couple of months in Borneo through a volunteer program with Animal International Rescue and got to see first hand the desolation enforced on orangutans and other wildlife in these areas. Many of them are blind, littered with gunshot wounds, and broken bones. Orangutans and Asian elephants are being poisoned so they do not eat the crop.
The horrific numbers are this; ‘it’s a football pitch going down every 25 seconds and 25 orangutans die a week’. Orangutans, I learned from her, will become extinct within 3-5 years, if we do not stop or slow down the eradication of The Leuser Ecosystem. This is currently the most life-rich ecosystem and the last place where Sumatran orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinos, and sun bears still roam the same habitat.
So what can we do? Nathalie shared some steps that could make a real difference:
1. Check your ingredients. Check for palm oil, sustainable palm oil doesn’t exist yet. (Importantly, vegan does NOT mean cruelty-free).
2. Download the Palm Oil Investigations app, you can scan products before buying and see if it contains palm oil or not
3. Speak out about it, tell your family
4. Follow and support Palm oil investigations and the Orangutan Project, an umbrella organization who will divide donations
5. Always support International Animal Rescue who helps save and release these animals safely
Alarmingly, palm oil has a lot of secret names including Cetearyl alcohol, sodium lauryl sulphate, and vegetable oil. A full list can be found here.
So what’s next?
Nathalie is looking forward to the next season of Riverdale. For her character, she would love to see:
More development of Penelope’s control of the darkside of Riverdale. It’s clear she doesn't trust men, so she needs to be one of the key adversaries. I would like to see her use her sneaky smart wiles to get control of the town.
The next big undertaking will be developing her directing. Alongside directing her feature screenplay, she is now on the Warner Brothers directing program ‘I would love to direct episodic TV’.
With her full plate, I asked her what keeps her grounded and energized.
You must mediate. You attract things that need rather than the things you want, the people that are good for you, you connect to yourself, your environment. You ward off things like depression, anxiety, ADD. It grows your brain and keeps your brain young. Meditate. It takes care of everything.
We ended the conversation with some final pearls of wisdom to fellow young creatives:
Just be patient, it always takes longer than you think. It takes longer, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. When things are going great, prepare yourself when things slow down. Make sure you have a place to live. Go volunteer and take the focus away from yourself.
Writer: Georgia Scarlett Waters
Photographer: Noah Asanias
Hair and Makeup: Marlayna Pincott
Styling: Derek Perrette