AP NEWS

Unflappable ‘funny girl’ Natalie Morales had winding journey to sitcom

March 31, 2019

PASADENA, Calif. _ The first time actress Natalie Morales appeared onstage was memorable, to say the least. She was 14 years old and was learning Southern dialects in her class. “I went onstage as Britney Spears in her Catholic school girl outfit,” recalls Morales.

“I happened to have that because I’d just come from Catholic school. I don’t know why, I believed she had more of a twang than she actually does, but I was like “Hi y’all, my name is Britney Spears.’ And my skirt broke, fell off, and suddenly I was standing in my underwear in a room full of seniors and two other classes, so it was about 200 people,” she says.

“It was literally a nightmare. My first time onstage! Everyone is laughing. I’m standing there. I was standing nearly bare-naked on stage and that moment lasted forever until my friend brought up a jacket and walked me offstage.

“I said, ‘OK, that’s the worst thing that could happen, so it happened and I survived, and as long as I can laugh with it, what else could there possibly be?’”

While that proved a mortifying experience, it stood her in good stead because not much rattles Morales. She trekked to Hollywood from her native Florida at 20 and today finds herself the star of NBC’s new comedy “Abby’s.”

She says she fought hard to earn the role of the savvy bartender who illegally sets up a bar in her backyard. “I think I generally am a daring and bold person because I’ve found that I discover so much about myself and about the world when I take chances and when I do something new or something that might frighten me, I learn a lot,” she says.

Moving to Los Angeles from Miami was difficult for her family, she says. “As far as my mom knew, L.A. was made of mountains of cocaine. It was a terrifying environment. I did not find that at all when I got here. But it was really scary for my whole family; no one had ever done this,” says Morales.

“The big surprise when I got out here was how the women supported each other, how many of us will sit and watch your kid when you go in to audition, how many of us will cheer each other on, how many of us will go, ‘Listen, that guy in there is not nice,’ or ‘This person is this.’ People like to say it’s the opposite, but I’ve found so much support out here, especially from the women and my peers surrounding me in this business.”

When she first arrived she and her best friend, actress Cyrina Fiallo, slept in their van waiting for their apartment to be readied. And they began trolling for roles.

“Working in bars, I met some people in the comedy scene and did some sketch comedy and started doing a lot more of that,” she says.

“We had a sketch troupe called Sitcoms Blow _ and here I am doing a sitcom. I did that all over town for a little while. Then I ... auditioned for a show called ‘The Middleman’ and that sort of propelled me into a place where people were taking me seriously, which was nice.”

Still, before she landed that role, she considered quitting. “I said to myself, ‘The best job in Hollywood is to be an older actress, 65 years and older, being an actress in Hollywood, that’s the best. Betty White has it made.’ Of course Betty White had a whole career before that. I thought, ‘What if I just put this on hold and resume when I’m 65? Then I’ll be the funny, dirty grandma and it’ll be wonderful and none of the pressure of how I look or what I am. Then I booked ‘The Middleman.’”

Once she scaled that hurdle, Morales, 34, made a vow. “I think I made the choice early on to try and never take a role that was just the ‘hot’ girl because you can age out of the ‘hot’ girl. Not really, because a woman who’s beautiful will always be beautiful, but in the perception of Hollywood’s eye, if you’re the ‘hot’ girl, you can age out of that. If I’m the ‘funny’ girl, you can’t age out of that.”