Natalia Dyer just wants someone to read plays with her. She has been cooped up in her Atlanta residence since March, when production on season four of Stranger Things came to an abrupt halt in the wake of COVID-19, and is, at this point, practically begging her housemates to humor her with readings. “As an actor, you just want to play,” she tells me. “You want to get into costume and do the thing.” There is talk of the Netflix series returning to production in September, but for now, playing dress-up at home (as we tasked her with for this fashion feature) will have to do.
For the most part, life at home for Dyer looks pretty familiar. Time is filled with cooking up new recipes, watching and rewatching Hamilton, listening to Dua Lipa’s new album on repeat, and rotating between a healthy-ish collection of bike shorts. And then there’s all the self-reflection and -discovery. Though for Dyer, who is now in her mid-20s, a steady state of reinvention is par for the course, quarantine or not. They say art often imitates life, and that sentiment couldn’t be truer for the actress. Whether it’s answering that seemingly simple question of what makes her truly happy or portraying a religious Midwest teen on a journey of sexual exploration in this month’s comedy Yes, God, Yes, Dyer is well-versed in the coming-of-age narrative, both personally and professionally. And much like her characters on-screen, she no longer has interest in doing what society thinks she should be doing.
I caught up with Dyer after our FaceTime shoot to chat about finding herself in the midst of a global pandemic, smashing stigmas around female pleasure in Yes, God, Yes, and her fashion predilections (which, she admits, could easily change a year from now).
Photo:Jared Kocka; STYLING: Paris Georgia Off the Shoulder Cropped Satin and Cotton Blend Poplin Top ($315); Zara shorts; Maison Irem Lilly Pearl Necklace ($150); By Far Stevie Boots ($655)
I’m very excited to talk to you about your new project, Yes, God, Yes, which tells the story of sexual exploration from a young woman’s point of view. Female sexuality in the context of religion has for so long been a taboo subject, but this project challenges the stigmas around it. Why is it important for audiences to see more of this narrative?
I think part of the reason is exactly what you said. Alice’s story is not my story, but I similarly grew up in a religious community, and if you are religious or not, the way that women's bodies and sexuality have been talked about or not talked about hasn't always resonated with me or with females who I talked to. For a long time, we had this male vision of female sexuality or what that is supposed to be. Since I was young, I kind of had the idea that a woman’s relationship with pleasure is to give it, or it’s pleasure-adjacent. What is really lovely about this film is it shows that pleasure is for women, and it's innate within them just like it is for men. There are so many stigmas around it, but screens and films are so powerful. On this deeply subconscious level, we kind of have this mirror that guides us through culture and through our lives and kind of shows us what we can and can't be or who we are supposed to be or how things are supposed to be. This is just one story, and I think it's great, and it's really close to [writer and director] Karen Main, and she's hilarious, but we should have more films that show female stories from female perspectives. It’s starting to get better. You have more females in the game, but we've had this male-dominated view of what it means to be a woman and to be sensual or sexual women for so long that I think more stories like this, as many as there can be, is important. There's a lot of catch-up there.
In a recent interview, you talked about the parallels between your own upbringing and Alice’s. Can you touch on some of those similar experiences and how those helped inform your approach to Alice?
Alice is really innocent and naïve, and she's curious. It's that thing when you're young and you are told that this is wrong or it doesn't exist, you believe it, but you know there's also an intuition thing where that doesn’t seem to be true. There was a lot of curiosity as I got older, looking back at things that I've been told or read or when I was starting to form my own opinions. The thing with Alice is she finds her connection to herself at an early-ish age. I think a lot of people take longer to undo some of that thinking. I didn't grow up Catholic, specifically, but I think everyone has a right to what they believe or what they feel, and that's just it. It’s really questioning and making up your own mind about what you believe to be true from what you're told.
The film was written and directed by Karen Maine, who also co-wrote Obvious Child, and is semi-autobiographical. What were some of the conversations you had with Maine going into this project?
She was really open and honest and has a “taking it seriously but also seeing the humor in it” approach to her experiences. She shared a lot with me. Truly, a lot of the things that go on in the film are very close to what she actually experienced, which is wild, but we just really hit it off. She had this realization and then had the power to be like, Oh, this should be told. People should see this. And I was just like, yes, I want to be a part of that for sure. She has such a great perspective on things and, again, such a sense of humor about it. She’s lovely.
Alice’s exploration starts when an AOL chat turns a bit racy. AOL chat rooms were certainly a thing during my early teen years. What about for you?
You know, to be honest, it wasn’t before my time, but I was just never on AOL, specifically. My earliest memory of that kind of world was Myspace. I think that was middle school. It's funny, the old technology, like the Nokia phones and the computers with that noise of the dial-up modem—there’s so much crossover. I'm not too young to remember. That and the mystery of the internet and the innocence of it all, it doesn't quite feel that way now, you know? There's a lot more awareness of what's out there, but there's something kind of nice about the naïvety of that period.
Yes, God, Yes will premiere in selected drive-in theaters before launching digitally and on VOD. Do you think the drive-in will have a comeback?
I'm of two minds about it. I think in one sense, there's a part of me, in general, with everything that is happening, that is like, eventually there will be a vaccine and everything will get back to normal. But I’m also curious about the alternative, and if that doesn’t happen, what is our society going to actually look like? How is it going to affect us in the long term? There’s actually a drive-in here in Atlanta that I have been to a few times called Starlight, and it’s really fun. What I like about the drive-in versus going to a movie theater, maybe it is similar to watching it at home, but it almost cultivates this communal experience. Usually, you go with somebody, and you’re watching this film, but there are conversations or maybe you talk to the people next to you, whereas I don't think that happens as much in a movie theater. Feature film I'm very curious about in general, even as we're waiting to go back to film our show. What is that going to look like? I imagine that after this period, we'll probably see a lot of content that's shot or put together in a very creative way. One interesting thing about the quarantine situation is I read that creativity—I forgot where I read this—but creativity thrives when there is a problem to be solved with constraints on it. I'm very curious to see what things are being made right now because I'm sure it's happening in one way or another. It’s a huge unknown. It could be an interesting change. But I do think film and cinema and television have this big impact, and it’s a big mirror to our society. I'm excited to be playing at a drive-in because this film is a very interesting film that’s going to be on a huge screen.
Stranger Things season four: What, if anything, can you tell us about it?
Oh, god. What have we even done? I’ve almost forgotten. Joking! Where we left off with everything is kind of split up in multiple ways. Shoot, with Netflix, you really can’t say too much at all, except maybe you know Nancy is on her Nancy game. She’s on an interesting trajectory and continuing to grow. I’m being so vague, I’m sorry!
I understand it all has to be hush-hush. Like you said, though, Nancy does really grow from season to season. What do you admire about her as a character?
I love her journey. I look back at her in season one, that scene in the pastel outfit, and then in this last season swinging guns and going after monsters. She's very much who she is, she has a really strong gut intuition, but she’s not perfect, either. I think a lot of the characters that were in some ’80s films were a little bit flatter, and the Duffers are good at bringing out all three dimensions. But she messes up! There have been times when I read a script, and I’m like, Oh, God. Nancy, what are you doing? But I love that because that’s what life is like. Of course there’s this very surreal aspect about the show, but I really do understand where she is coming from. I feel her convictions, and as we grow with these characters, the [Duffer] brothers are good about letting the actors guide the characters a lot. Her whole journey has been so dynamic and exciting and fun to film. She’s just a character who is very dear to me.
Photo:Jared Kocka; STYLING: Miaou top and pants; Jules Smith Long Links Chain Necklace ($65); By Far shoes
Hopefully you will be getting back to production soon. What are you most looking forward to upon returning?
I mean, of course seeing everybody. It was such an abrupt separation. Also as an actor, you just want to play. You want to get into costume and do the thing, you know? I'm waiting to be in that space again and play pretend with people. My housemates are not so into reading [plays]. They’ve humored me a couple of times, but I do miss [acting] a lot, actually.
Alice and Nancy are both doing a lot of self-discovery, though maybe in different ways. As someone in their mid-20s, what are some important discoveries you’ve made about yourself in recent years, either in playing these characters or just in general?
This [quarantine] experience has been really interesting for regrouping and sitting with yourself, and there's something that I'm learning in my 20s. I'm someone who tends to really like a go, go, go routine, and I guess something I’ve realized in sitting down with myself, I mean it sounds crazy, is what makes me happy? What do I actually like? Especially maybe in this profession, there's a lot of malleability. There's this likability thing that comes with just the career, saying the right thing or being the right way or looking the right way. And I've realized that the people I admire the most and think are the most beautiful and wonderful people are those who don't fit into that category of just doing what they’re supposed to be doing or being what the societal conventional standard is. They are just totally unique and themselves, and that’s what I discovered is what I think is really beautiful. There are also a lot of things that we do in our life because we want to make other people happy, and it's important to decide for yourself, what do I actually do for me?
The 20s have been, every single year, a whole revamp of my outlook on life and perspective on things. And obviously, there's so much socially and politically going on right now. It's a time to get uncomfortable within yourself and take head-on what’s going on inside us. It’s easy to just float through life and do the things on your to-do list. Yeah, 2020 has already been such a journey, and it’s only halfway done! I think you're right—the 20s are a real time for self-exploration. I’m sure both of those women in their 20s would be amazing because they got a head start on things.
I want to talk about our shoot for this story because it was a little unusual. How was it doing everything over FaceTime?
I mean, [the photographer] Jared [Kocka] is so lovely. We were talking the whole time, and we had some interesting conversations. The funny thing is I’m not a person who takes selfies or pictures that much in general. It’s not my forte, so it was like okay, what’s this going to be? Like you say, it's just a step in a new direction of where the media and society is moving. And then being in the comfort of your own own home, it was wild! It was fun and funny, but I’m excited to see how it turned out.
Photo:Jared Kocka; STYLING: Christopher Esber dress; Octavia Elizabeth Gabby Gold Diamond Earrings ($3800)
How would you describe your relationship with fashion?
I think my relationship with fashion has changed a lot over my life. When I was younger, I wore a lot of princess dresses and tiaras around, and there was a lot more freedom as a kid, and then you get older and get into school, and it becomes this is what everyone's wearing, this is what the cool kids are wearing, and then you get into your 20s, and it's been a good miscellaneous mix of things. I've always been a fan of thrifting and vintage, and I still do that. My mission has always just been comfort. Being comfortable is important to me and my life, so this quarantine situation is working out very well for me right now. I like bike shorts and T-shirts, but at the same time, I also really love dressing up—the peacocking. I love on the red carpet when you are wearing something that you feel is just a piece of art. So yeah, I go both ways. I’m not very glamorous in my normal life, but I do enjoy the fun of dressing up.
As far as the high-fashion world, that's been a whole new change for me in the past couple years. I'm very curious about it. Fashion, like any sort of art, is a reflection of our culture and the cycles it goes through. I don't claim to know a lot when it comes to that category, but it's been a fun learning process for me.
Looking at some of your recent red carpet moments, your looks run the gamut of very feminine to tailored and menswear-inspired with some edgy moments in between. Where do you feel most comfortable in the fashion space?
I'm a big fan of a more androgynous look and Katharine Hepburn’s style. There’s probably a little 5-year-old in me who screams when she sees a beautiful ball gown dress, but at this point in my life, that [adrogynous look] feels more me. But it’s one of those things that could change next year. I think about it a lot, women on the red carpet versus men on the red carpet, and of course there have been some [men] recently who really have challenged this, which is great, but as a woman, you have so many options. You can wear a short dress, long dress, a suit, pants, whatever. I think at least in society right now, in modern times, women have more freedom to express themselves with fashion.
So off the red carpet, what items in your wardrobe have been getting the most play recently?
I mean, all forms of bike shorts that I own and oversize T-shirts. And then throw in a summer dress here and there, but yeah, mostly it's just been a lot of that. That’s my current uniform.
Photographer and Creative Consultant: Jared Kocka
Fashion Editor: Lauren Eggertsen
Catch Natalia in Yes, God Yes at select drive-in theaters and on-demand.