Wicked Horror had a chance to connect with actress Natalie Burn about her involvement with the upcoming horror film Awaken. The actress offered her thoughts on strong female characters and why we need more of them, and also opened up about working as the star of the film, in addition to writing and producing.
In Awaken, Natalie Burn stars as Billie, a martial arts expert who was kidnapped when searching for her missing sister. Billie is dumped on an island with several other young people who have no idea why they have been taken, or why they are being picked off, one by one. Billie is determined to find a way off the island, and discover the horrifying truth behind their abduction.
Review: Awaken is a Slow Burn Thriller
WH: One thing I did want to speak with you about, I know that from looking at your IMDb page that you have a wealth of experience in a variety of areas. For Awaken in particular you played the roles of writer, producer, and leading actor in addition to doing stunt work… What was a typical day of filming like for you?
Natalie Burn: A great question. The days were insane and long because I was the main producer and the leading actress. I think that was the most challenging part of making the film. I didn’t realize how challenging it would be until I was on set. Plus, I had a lot of actors that I had hired. I knew them all; a lot of them were my friends, which is important for me. I feel like once you’re making a movie it’s important to support your friends because you support them and they’ll support you and that’s what it’s all about.
The days were very difficult because I had to be the first one in, last one out, and I had to make sure to do my job right as an actress and still make sure that everyone around me is happy even though they’re my friends and actors I know, I still want to give them the same hospitality as any other production would. Even more so, since they are my friends and I didn’t want to disappoint them. I always made sure that we had a lot of food on set, that was the number one goal. One of my friend’s sponsors gave us chocolate and sweets, so my crew was very happy because we had tons of chocolate and desserts on set as well as food.
As far as acting-wise and being on set, I wish I had more time to myself and to do more takes. Because of me being the producer I had to leave and do something else so when I was acting I gave myself literally maybe 1, maximum 2 takes. Even our fights were done in one take.
Natalie Burn: I’ve done it several times afterwards, but I think it was a lot easier for the second, third, and fourth films. I think that the first one was the one where I got myself into a few challenges because I had no idea that there would be any challenges. I studied at UCLA thinking “I got it, I know what I’m doing” which, maybe on paper I do but once you’re on set there are so many things that can go wrong and you’re unaware of them until they happen.
Being a producer, especially a woman, I had to take into consideration that everyone knew I was a woman and they were all waiting to see how I would handle the situation. I knew that I had to be as calm as any man out there and handle it in a very professional way. In the end, no one is going to fix it if I don’t because I had the last word. Sometimes I felt like “Oh my God did I make the right decision?” and you can’t know until the movie’s done. Sometimes I had a very nervous rush going through my body, but I wasn’t allowed to show that. I couldn’t show that I didn’t know what I was doing at the time.
WH: Well that’s where the acting comes in, right? (laughing)
Natalie Burn: Right. I was playing two parts, a producer and an actress, yeah.
WH: Speaking of women in film making. This summer in particular we’re seeing a variety of fierce female characters from Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road to Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys which is just coming out, and now you in Awaken… What do you think of this recently developing trend of putting females at the forefront of action films?
Natalie Burn: I think it’s a great opportunity for me and for females in general, not just in filmmaking but to showcase themselves as equals on the same level as men. It’s not just in movies that we showcase ourselves saying “hey, we can do the same job you are doing” – maybe sometimes even better, you don’t know. It’s the perfect opportunity right now. Look, we even have Hillary Clinton who is trying to be the next President of the United States I mean that’s huge! You never would have even thought of that before; you may not even have been allowed to think like that before. Now, because of all the politics and state of the world things are changing so fast that we are starting to feel almost equal. We are given more opportunities and we are given more chances to showcase ourselves.
Movies are a great start. So many people around the world go out and they see those movies and they relate to the character and they say “I want to be like that”. They take that in and then they show that strength in their work, whatever they do, in their daily life and that’s how the next female manager of whatever, Goldman Sachs is born. They think “this is how I want to be”. To inspire females to be stronger than what they think they can be. It’s a great time right now to start doing those kinds of films.
WH: Right, definitely. So when you were going into the writing process for Awaken what were your influences when writing Billie’s character? Were you going into it thinking “Hey I have an opportunity to empower women with this film” or what was your thought process?
Natalie Burn: Yes. I started writing the Awaken film and I didn’t think of putting myself as the lead girl, in fact it was a male lead originally in the script. Once I got in contact with Mark Atkins, my director, he said that he thought it would be a great opportunity because of Mad Max coming out and the other films being shot at the time he said “Look, they’re giving chances to females I think we should rewrite it and make it a female character. You should do it!” and I was like “Yeah, well then I have to sell the movie, how do I do it? I’ve got to get a great cast, I’ve got to get names attached, how do I do it? It’s going to be all on me and I’m producing it as well” and he said “Yeah, you’ll do it.” and I thought about it and thought “Yeah, it’s my first movie. I mean, how bad can it be? I’ll give it a go and see what happens” and plus I was thinking this is exactly why I started my production company. I want to inspire people, and if I start inspiring females then at least I did something right. I’m hoping that females will see the movie and will see that strength, power, and drive and they will be rooting for the girl. They will be like “This is it. This is who I want to be like.” That was one of my thoughts.
WH: If nothing else, just knowing the fact that there was a female writing, producing, and acting in this action movie which, back in the 80s with the Sylvester Stallone and the films that I grew up loving–that would have been unheard of. I think the film is inspiring in a lot of different ways.
Natalie Burn: Funny enough, when I was watching movies with Stallone, he’s my hero–I’ve seen every single movie Rambo, and Schwarzenegger and later Statham, Chuck Norris, Van Damme–they inspired me. I wanted to be like them. Maybe it’s cliche and people didn’t understand me, but I don’t want to play a sexy girl, I want to show power. I want to be the strong female who succeeds in the end and gets something out of it. In the end, who do we see going to movies? It’s females that drag their men into the theater and say “this is the movie I want to watch”. When they see the movie, if they get inspired, then maybe I’ve made some kind of an impact. That is in the end why I’m here, making my movies, because I want to give something to the world.
WH: That’s definitely a beautiful reason to be in filmmaking, so I salute you for that. You’re obviously well versed in a variety of areas in the entertainment field–do you have a favorite or something that you feel like “this is what I was born to do” in entertainment?
Natalie Burn: Definitely acting. I started out because of acting. I have been a performer since I was a kid because of dance and I feel like acting is just another form of expressing yourself as an artist and a performer. It was an easy transition and it is exactly what I was born to do. I was born to be an artist and so if I had to choose it would have to be acting, number one, first.
WH: Well that’s fantastic. I would say that it’s a great thing for the rest of us moviegoers that you don’t have to choose because Awaken was an enjoyable film and I’m looking forward to seeing what audiences and other critics have to say. I hope that people rally under you, and that the female action films that are being released around Awaken act as a support rather than anything else.
Natalie Burn: I’m pretty sure that there will be many more female-headed action films, especially after Charlize Theron in Mad Max. You can see the power. She stole the movie, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.
Awaken will be available on DVD July 7, 2015