“Do you mind if we sit inside?”
When Natalie Dreyfuss arrived at the Coffee Bean in Toluca Lake on a Saturday morning to meet me, that was the first thing the petite brunette said. Instead of sitting outside in the sunlight and slight chilliness, she was more comfortable inside the loud, semi-crowded café.
After finding a table, Dreyfuss, wearing a royal blue sweater and donning a champagne-coral colored watch, sat across from me, nibbled on a miniature muffin and talked.
Dreyfuss plays Chloe on ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” Her character is a teenager who was sex-trafficked until Leo and Camille Boykewich take her in, making her Ben’s (played by Ken Baumann) adoptive sister. Prior to this show, Dreyfuss has scored smaller roles on programs like “Burn Notice,” “Rita Rocks” and “House M.D.”
Being an actress wasn’t on Dreyfuss’ career list when she was younger, though; in fact, she detested the idea.
“A friend of mine said, ‘Come take this acting class.’ I was like, ‘Ugh, no!’ I grew up here. My mom was in the business; my whole family is in the business,” said Dreyfuss. “I didn’t want to be a part of it…”
Being a Hollywood actress was not something that Dreyfuss glamorized about even though many little girls do. However, she did share the same fantasy that other girls dream about: becoming a perfect ballerina.
When she was 6 years old, Dreyfuss initially started out competing as an ice-skater for years until she found out she could do ballet, which was almost the same for her without “the ice, all the scary stuff and cold.”
“I did that until I was about 15, and I moved to Pennsylvania, New York and lived all over the place dancing,” said the Los Angeles native.
But living the ballerina lifestyle wasn’t all sugarplums and fairies for Dreyfuss – it was more like the psychological thriller/horror film Black Swan.
“Dance was awful; I don’t even remember loving it,” she admitted. “I had a ton of injuries; we all did. We were dancing for crazy hours…I’m glad I’m not living the life of Black Swan any more. It was just a childhood dream, and when you really play it out, it’s more of a nightmare.”
Living this nightmare meant subjecting Dreyfuss’ body to strenuous physical activity, which ultimately led to her injuring her Achilles’ tendon, ending her career as a ballet dancer.
“At the time, it just felt like the biggest devastation,” she said. “I’d always done this, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I wasn’t in school, I didn’t have friends [in Los Angeles] any more…it was a really confusing time.”
After her injury, Dreyfuss moved back to L.A. and tried to figure out what to do next. She wasn’t in high school [she obtained her GED], and she felt as if she couldn’t relate to anyone her age. It was hard for her to make friends. Luckily, her mom was there and supported her through this tough transition.
“My mom had been begging me for years to stop dancing, but there was no stopping me,” said Dreyfuss. “When I decided to come home from Philadelphia, she was so excited. She lost me early; I’m her only child, and I left at 14.”
Her mom, Kathy, has worked in the wardrobe department for many TV shows such as “Dharma & Greg,” “CSI: Miami” and more. Being an only child with no siblings or father, Dreyfuss has a strong bond with her.
“My mom is my entire immediate family: mom, dad, sisters, brothers,” she said. “When I’m not focused on acting or working, I’m with my mom.”Getting their nails done, being pampered – Dreyfuss and her mom love spending the day together doing girly, mother-daughter activities.
“Most people love going on beautiful trips or hikes…that’s not me,” said Dreyfuss…I don’t enjoy that stuff. I’m not a nature person.” (Hence, why she wanted to sit inside the café for this interview).
She added, “Anytime we go shopping and buy something, and I look at it, it reminds me of my mom,” said Dreyfuss. She picked up her wrist and looked at her Michael Kors watch. “I wear this watch every day…we went shopping for it two or three years ago. Every time I look at it, I remember that day [with her mom], and that’s what makes me love the watch.”
With her mom’s support, Dreyfuss eventually figured out what she wanted to do after her ballet injury. First, she became a preschool teacher for a little while (“Teaching was really for my heart…it was amazing!”) and later decided she wanted to go back into the performing arts – just not ballet. She ended up taking that acting class with her friend and fell in love with the craft.
“Dance was like: Every day, you’re trying to be something – this perfect mold of something you were never going to fit,” said Dreyfuss. “Acting is the opposite; the more you break the mold, the more unique you can be, the better you’re going to be. It was super freeing for me.”
Needless to say, she is much more happier acting and considers her dance injury a “blessing” in disguise.
Despite how delicate she might look and even though she might not be able to handle sunlight, Dreyfuss has endured and conquered challenges most 25-year-olds haven’t faced.
Natalie Dreyfuss Talks About "The Secret Life of the American Teenager":
CC: How did you get involved with "The Secret Life..."?
ND: I auditioned for Chloe, and I wasn’t only supposed to be there for one day. I came in for one day, and I was lucky enough that they wanted to bring me back into the storyline and have me be a part of the team. I was thrilled when I got that phone call. You never know how long those things are going to last, but they were extremely loyal to me and kept me around for the rest of the season.
I was adopted in the family, and it was amazing. It was a family that had already been set up for years...I got to come into people that loved each other, loved working together and had a great routine down. For me, that’s ideal: people that really like their job. It was a great opportunity to walk into...They really expanded that storyline, and I loved playing the character. I took a different spin on it...a much more humorous spin on a teenage prostitute (laughs).
CC: Is it intimidating to come into a show with a cast that’s been together for a long time? Was "The Secret Life" cast really accepting of you?
ND: I’ve known Kenny [Ken] Baumann for years. When I ended up playing his new sister, it was awesome. We’ve been friends for a long time. This cast is all around the same age group. You’re not walking in as a new kid on the block…it’s easy to have conversations, to hang out. You get close really quickly. They were super welcoming and warm. I think as long as you come in with a good attitude, you get your work done, you know your lines and you make things easier on everyone, everyone is super accepting of you. I think it’s more of if you come in with some sort of attitude that people are not going to be very responsive of that. For me, I always come in with “Very happy to be here,” “Very grateful for the opportunity…” I’m happy to have the job, do a good job and go home. That makes it a lot easier.
CC: How did you prepare for the Chloe character?
ND: I don’t play characters; they’re all just different aspects of my own personality. I think everyone has so many different parts of themselves. It’s just playing around with that different part of yourself that you might not have to deal with day-to-day. That’s what I love about acting – it’s all in you from when you’re little. You have all that you need to know…you just play with different parts of yourself.
I’ve been through a lot; Chloe’s been through a lot. I have all of that stuff in me…getting over really difficult situations, making the best of things and being really grateful when people take you in and want you to be part of your family - that’s a beautiful thing, which I totally appreciated. The idea of being adopted into a family is awesome. Just overcoming obstacles – I totally understand her. So, it wasn’t as much of a stretch as you think when you originally read, “I’m playing a teenage prostitute.” That’s very far from me; however, I can relate to certain aspects from my life and just pull different aspects from myself or different experiences from my own life and put them into the characters. I try to make it simple...simple and fun.
Catch Natalie Dreyfuss on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” on Mondays, 8/7c.