You’re going to get along with actor Nathaniel J. Potvin right away, and you’ll never run out of things to talk about. He has this sort of “je ne sais quoi” about him; an invigorating case of optimism. The way he perceives the world, his sympathy and his sense of humour will fascinate you. Photographer Ashley Frangie unearths this kind and attentive mind with her lens, whilst stylist Veronica Graye provides space to embody the unique lines of LA, of which he speaks affectionately.
Nathaniel proclaims beauty with his thoughts. “It’s raining,” he says. When the clouds fall, we curl up in a blanket waiting for the weather blues to pass or curse the weather as we sprint through the pouring outdoors in soaked blue jeans. He, on the other hand, says; “There is only one season here, so I’m glad it’s raining. We have plants and trees out here that aren’t getting watered, so it’s a miracle!”
The young actor’s talent is recognised by Disney. On Disney XD, Nathaniel controlled technology as leading role Ryan Walker on “Mech-X4” for two seasons. This spring he is starring in Kerry Washington’s “Five Points” as Wallace Marks - an original show to premiere on Facebook Watch. He also has a recurring guest role as theatre geek Ryan on Netflix’s first original multi-camera sitcom “Alexa and Katie”, that is out now. Nathaniel loves his craft, a desire which is likely to inspire you to conquer your own happiness, your own truth, just as you - just as Nathaniel does.
How was the shoot with Ashley?
It’s amazing how everything came together. We got some really cool shots. Ashley and Veronica are pretty amazing, they’re really top notch. I’ve been working with Veronica as a stylist for over a year now, she’s been awesome and then she turned me onto working with Ashley. I love working with them. Sometimes it’s difficult to find people to work with that you like working with and that do good work.
I’m happy you guys found each other. Onto some philosophical questions, who is Nathaniel?
I would probably say original, because there is no one else like me. There can be people who look and talk like me, but there is no one who is actually me. Obviously, there are other actors out here, and they’re very talented and work hard, but when I work I bring a certain aspect of myself to my work. When I’m just being myself, I have time to do things that I like to do: like photography, filmography, and so on. I wouldn’t necessarily say artsy stuff, but things that are deep within the arts and also has a lot of room for originality.
What makes you happy?
What makes me super happy is the beach. You know what else? A nice plate of food. Going to a restaurant, knowing the restaurant’s good, getting the food, and then having the food be as good as everyone says it is. That makes me so happy.
Your character Ryan Walker on “Mech-X4” has the power of technopathy. If you were to have an unusual power like that in real life, what would you want it to be?
That power is quite unusual, but I think it’s so cool how it comes together in the show. If I had a power like Ryan’s, it would be teleportation. Teleportation is so genius. Even though I drive here in Los Angeles, the traffic is the worst. With teleportation, it would be so easy. Also, I haven’t been able to travel much because I’ve been working a lot, but I want to start travelling the world. Teleportation just sort of helps that. I’ve been to London, but I would love to go to London and do more things, like eat more food. I’m a huge foodie.
What’s the number one place you’d like to go?
I would like to go somewhere tropical. Somewhere where you can leave the hotel and then the beach is right there. Bora Bora, where you have the Four Seasons out on the water - you just leave your room and you have the water right in front of you. You have to swim to go anywhere else, or you could walk on the deck, but I would rather jump out of bed and fall into the water.
Sounds incredible. How do you find working with green screen on “Mech-X4?”
Being a kid at heart really helps that aspect of the job. I wouldn’t say I’m immature, but I’m not at my full maturity yet. Looking at the green screen, we would have to imagine a monster, but we didn’t know what it would look like. We only knew what the basis of it was. There was this one monster called Clawboon, which looks like a baboon and has claws. You just put claws on a baboon, and then instead of being six feet tall, imagine it being 150 feet tall. How terrified would you be if that huge monster was coming at you? We have a robot technically, but we don’t actually see what the robot does, so it’s terrifying. It’s a terrifying instance that we would have to imagine. If the actors weren’t scared of the monsters, then how would it stitch together in the editing process? It worked out so well, because everyone in the cast is amazing. I loved seeing it come together, we were all genuinely scared.
You guys must have so much fun on set!
We do have so much fun! I think the most fun we have is when we are in the robot head. I have to be in a harness for hours on end, because we have to shoot it over and over again. But the funny thing is that the other castmates can move around, so they’re always like; “Cool, great, Nate you have to stay in the harness, but everyone else can go.” It was always a fun experience - we played jokes on each other all the time.
What’s the worst prank you've pulled on someone?
I did most of the pranking with Cameron or Ray; I was always an accomplice. I didn’t want to be the bud of the joke, so I was like; “I’m on their team.” I feel like the worst prank I actually pulled on someone was with Cameron - this was such a fun day. Cameron and I went to this place in Vancouver called Granville Island, where they have this joke shop. We went to the joke shop and got shock-pens and liquid farts, or whatever it’s called - sounds disgusting, but it is what it is. Cameron got these fake scratchers that make you think you won the lottery. We got them and gave them to Pierce. He scratched it, and he said; “Oh my gosh, I just won 10,000$.” And he starts freaking out; “I won 10,000$!” He starts telling his mum and everyone; “I just won 10,000$! In your face!” And we go; “Pierce, it’s fake, it’s not real.” Honestly, it was one of the saddest looks I’ve ever seen in my life.” He went; “For real?” “Yeah, buddy.” It was so sad, we apologized profusely after that. It was so mean, but we had so much fun doing it.
Did he forgive you guys in the end?
Yes, he eventually did. For some time afterwards he was a little bit angry with us, but then he eventually forgave us. Like the day after - you know how boys are.
You’ve been one of the lucky actors to take part of the Disney universe. I’m curious, are there any challenges that accompany that?
To be honest, Disney was probably one of the best experiences of my life. When I was 11, my goal was to have my own Disney channel show, but as I’ve gotten older, my evolution of this job has progressed. I’ve been so interested in other roles, but I feel Disney was the perfect stepping stone to get me to where I am. Disney really helped me, and especially "Mech X-4", because the role was so physically demanding in the acting aspect. I feel like we had more leeway to explore our craft.
We were in Canada shooting with film style crews. Our crew had done multiple movies before us, so there were things that we had to learn and mentalities that we had to get into the groove of. It really helped me progress as an actor. For instance, it was snowing in Canada and I had to do a full scene in the snow. That is something actors just have to do, but you can use your environment and how you feel to relay what it’s like to the audience. That’s where I think originality comes from in acting, in that you’re not just saying your lines and moving to your spot, but you’re also receiving your environment as well. You’re not just doing this because the director tells you to do it, but you’re doing it because you’re motivated by the other characters or the fact that it’s cold. Those are the things you need in order to give an amazing performance.
Sounds like an amazing experience and opportunity. How do you usually prepare for a character?
I work with a specific technique, a book by Ivana Chubbuck: “The Power of the Actor”. This book is amazing; it changed my life acting-wise. It is so meticulous when it comes to character study. When I get a script, I start by breaking it down using character study. What does the character do? Why does he do that? What does he need from the other person? I break it down to the tiniest point, so that I have all this information about my character. When this information builds up, then it starts becoming natural to me. It feels like I’ve known this character my whole life. The next step is that I start incorporating myself into the character. I’m always writing notes in my script. Finally, I memorize it. Once you start embellishing yourself with the character, everything the character does seems natural.
You’ve got a recurring guest role on Netflix’s “Alexa and Katie,” and this is another Ryan?
Another Ryan! Honestly, I only take roles named Ryan. It’s really funny how that worked out as a coincidence. I really enjoyed it, as it felt like I was getting back to my roots: sitcom acting. Before I worked with single-camera, I did multi-camera a lot. Guest-starring and such, mostly Disney shows. “Alexa and Katie” was so much fun, seeing as I’d been doing single-camera for so long, so going back to multi-camera was a total switch for me. I found myself being out of practice because when you’re on multi-camera, it’s like doing a play. The energy is very different. For instance, sometimes you have to say your line and then wait for the laugh. They are different styles of shooting, but they both have their advantages. On “Alexa and Katie” I found that I had more time to talk to other actors, more downtime between each scene. While on single-camera you have a schedule that you really need to keep to. It was a lot of fun. Ryan is kind of a theatre nerd who has a crush on the main character.
What do you prefer, single-camera or multi-camera?
I prefer single-camera, because there is more creativity. No offence to multi-camera. With single-camera, there is more room for the director, the director of photography and the cameramen to be artistic as well. I was very intrigued by this project I worked on where the director and the director of photography were working together to get the right colour temperature, which is important for how we perceive the film. Single-camera is more personal, because it’s closer and it moves with you. It’s raw. I feel like humans see in single-camera, we don’t see things as a sitcom - we’re actually tracking with another person.
What film did you enjoy the most this awards season?
There were a lot of great contestants, but I think my favourite must be “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” That was such a powerful film. I loved “Lady Bird” and “Call Me By Your Name,” and also “Shape of Water.” I just think “Three Billboards” was fantastic, the acting in itself was amazing. The way they shot it was incredible too. I also loved “Get Out,” especially from a screenplay standpoint. Jordan was so smart in the way he wrote that. He really spoke to African Americans and the whole world in general when he translated his thoughts onto those pages.
“Get Out” is such an unpredictable film. I watched “I, Tonya” last weekend, and in the film, Tonya, has to give up figure skating permanently as a punishment. What would your life be like if you were suddenly forbidden to act?
Oh my, it would be dark. If I had to give up acting, I would probably go to school for directing. That’s what I love about this business - there are so many jobs.
What sort of genre do you think you would most enjoy directing?
I think I would really enjoy directing drama or thriller. I would love those. I love comedy, but I don’t think I would be a very good comedic director. I feel like I'm a good comedic actor, but I don’t think I could direct comedic actors. I feel like they'd be way funnier than me. The actors would have better ideas than me, and I would be like; “Oh, yeah, use that!”
Which director do you look up to?
Right now I’m looking up to Ryan Coogler. I’ve loved his work since he directed “Fruitvale Station” with Michael B. Jordan. I’m in love with Jordan Peele because, obviously, his film is a knockout. I’ve also been very intrigued by Donald Glover, who has directed some episodes of “Atlanta.” I like the way he writes and directs. Predominantly African American, because I feel they have something to say and they are really making a difference in the film industry.
What do you think is the key to implementing diversity in Hollywood?
Diversity is so important, and you can’t get anywhere without gender and racial diversity. Gender diversity is important, as men can’t do anything without women. That’s just the truth. We need women so brutally. I know for a fact that I couldn’t do anything without my mum; she has shaped my life. My dad is a huge role model in my life too, but women are so important. My mother showed me what a strong black woman should be like, so that’s where I’m coming from as a young African American man. Any race, in general, has so much to offer culturally, because if you only have one perspective, that’s all the world sees. Bringing in multiple races and nationalities open up other people’s eyes to new stories and new films. I find that diversity in Hollywood is really becoming, especially considering this Oscars season. We had a female director nominated - Greta Gerwig, but also, Jordan Peele was nominated this year for "film of the year." However, we need more ethnicities in the director category. It would be amazing to see an African American woman nominated.
What is your dream role?
Someone who is damaged, and who wants to be a redeemable character. He is damaged, but he needs to fix himself. I don’t want to sound cliché, but he has to overcome his restrictions to better himself. It would probably be a drama.
How do you feel about comedy vs. drama?
They are both beautiful in their own way. There is always some comedy in drama to break up the dramatic bits. You can’t just bombard the audience with drama, or else they’re too affected by it. You have to lighten the mood a bit with comedy, so you can always find comedy in drama. And then, on the other hand, you can always find drama in comedy. They complement each other so well. I’m happy working with both; I have no preference. I love comedy and making people laugh, but I also love making people think and feel things about themselves, because of the relatability you can translate through the screen in a dramatic role is mind-boggling. It has me dumb-founded.
Who influences you in terms of acting?
Acting-wise I would say, Donald Glover. I’ve watched him since “Community,” and he has been a huge influence of mine. Not only can he do comedy, but he can also do drama. His style of acting is very real - you can tell that’s who is.
When are you most serene?
Swimming. I love swimming. The feeling of being weightless is amazing. It completely decompresses me. The pressure that you’ve been experiencing while sitting or standing - when you’re swimming - you can forget about it and just swim. Or taking photographs, that’s when I’m most serene. I shoot on 35 mm mostly. I’ve got two 35 mm cameras and one digital camera, but I prefer to shoot on 35. I would love to move over to medium format cameras, like a Hasselblad. Start shooting at 6x6 frames. I usually shoot people, a lot of street photography, but also landscape. I think Los Angeles is such a great place to do street photography, because there are so many buildings and streets. There are so many grids. The lines and the people all give a specific aspect to the photo that you take. It just shows how vibrant this city is and how much energy there is here. Even when it’s night-time you can still see the energy. It’s just not as busy. You know what’s funny? I grew up in LA and I kind of took it for granted. I grew up in the valley, I went to school in the valley and my friends lived in the valley, but as I started dating this one girl from New York, she opened my eyes up to how cool LA really is. I fell in love with the city all over again.
Did you fall in love with her and the city at the same time?