You may know Natalia Dyer from the Netflix series Stranger Things, where she embodies a badass high schooler by the name of Nancy Wheeler. The critically-acclaimed show is gearing up for its third season, but Dyer has stayed busy with her newest project, Mountain Rest, about three generations of women who work past trauma while in a mysterious, woodsy home.
Dyer plays Clara, an awkward teen who winds up in a North Carolina cabin alongside her mother Frankie (Kate Lyn Sheil) and is introduced to her bizarre grandmother Ethel (Frances Conroy), who has a terminal illness. The film takes a weird turn when Clara learns a dark family secret that has kept Frankie and Ethel apart for years—and she is at a crossroads of who’s side to take. Directed by Alex O Eaton, most of the cast and the crew on this project were women. Dyer spoke with Broadly about the film industry, her relationship to her real-life mother, and her advice for young actors.
Broadly: What made this film special to you?
Natalia Dyer: Many things, [but] first and foremost working with so many talented women. Having that many women on a set and, in leading roles both behind the camera, is special in itself. Filming in the family cabin of the writer/director [that she'd] had for her whole life, was special. Not the typical way I’ve worked before.
Is there a difference when you work with a female director versus a male one?
In my experience, every director is different, male or female. There is a different perspective and different sensitivity that women bring to storytelling that I side with and appreciate. I always look out for that, it’s a good experience and very instructive, as well.
You’re only 21, how do approach being an actor at such a young age?
I didn’t really set any kind of goal for myself, in the sense of age and where I’m at in my career. I tend to read young, so I play roles that are younger than my actual age. It can almost be therapeutic to go back and explore this coming-of-age space in life, especially for girls and women. There’s a lot of stories there that need to be told.
What kind of stories need to be told?
There is a lot of vulnerability and insecurities growing up. What’s great about this film is that it shows women in different stages of their lives. There is no magical transformation that happens through life, that you suddenly have everything figured out and you feel 100 percent great about yourself. What you learn about yourself is that things are always going to be troublesome, or an issue. I think the relationships between these women was important to explore.
Do you have any female role models in your life that have helped you?
My mother, our relationship has grown through the years. There is an interesting thing that happens as you grow older, that you realize your mother was a girl once, too. That she has a mother and she’s a daughter. There’s an understanding that you gain by familiarizing yourself with great older women.
Who are your acting mentors?
I can’t specify any mentors but every woman I’ve ever worked with has taught me something about what it’s like being a woman working in this industry and how to carry yourself and speak for yourself and hold your own.
Do you have any advice to young women who are struggling with family relationships?
Everyone has their own situation. What I hope to communicate in the film is "you’re not alone." In the sense that many other people have trouble relating with their family—no family is perfect, everyone has their struggles. At the end of the day, it's important to speak your truth. Know that there are many others who feel for you and feel what you’re feeling.
Because you’re in the public eye so much, do you have social media pressures?
Yeah, for sure. I’m actually not active on social media by nature, I’m kind of an introvert, in that sense. Of course, there is pressure. You become aware that people are watching what you do and what you say, watching how you carry yourself. I try hard to stay as grounded as much as possible and not put too much in the social media world. I think it can be a great tool for empowerment but it can also be, at times, toxic. I think you need to have relationships that are outside of that world.
What do you miss the most about growing up in Nashville? It seems not to be far from where the movie was shot?
It wasn’t too far. My family is still there. I always miss them. There’s a pace of life there, it’s slower than New York, which I appreciate. It teaches you to focus on what matters. I slow down and pay attention to family relationships.
That ties into the plot of Mountain Rest, as well. Is there any key takeaway of why people should watch the movie?
For me, it’s the idea that nobody’s family is perfect and we all have our strife with our mothers and our daughters. What’s important is realizing that love is there and forgiving that strife. Just appreciating what that family is to you and what they did for you. I think it’s a very complicated relationship that goes through many phases and stepping back and appreciating those relationships for the good, whether you realize it in the moment, or not.
What advice do you have for young actors and actresses entering the industry? You have a lot of experience for your age.
Be persistent, it's [success] rarely an overnight thing. You have to love it. If you don’t love it, it's not going to be worth it in the end—putting in all that time and effort, when rejection is something you ultimately have to go through. You have to make sure you love it and remind yourself why you love it to stay at it.