Popular Girl: Natasha Behnam
Oct 6, 2020
We all know the classic story of the American Pie franchise, but this time they’re shaking it up with some new rules, specifically, Girls’ Rules.
In a pack to fix their love lives before homecoming, four high school seniors will embark on a journey of self-discovery, friendship, and lots of … pie. Within the group, independent feminist Michelle a.k.a. Natasha Behnam, becomes unraveled at the arrival of a new student unlike most high school seniors, things are exactly go as she planned. This American Pie marks the franchise’s first female-driven ensemble and is available now on Netflix, DVD, and digital. The Persian-American star is also making headway into the holiday season with a new film Cupid for Christmas.
Doubling not only as an actress, but a writer and director, the Loyola Marymount graduate has been busy throughout quarantine with her short film Fleeting, which is currently making its rounds through festivals, and showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement and immigrant and refugee rights bills.
Looking to de-stigmatize the world in which we talk about sex, Natasha spoke to Popular TV about her new role in American Pie, what she was like in high school, and what roles she would love to see brought to life.
1. This American Pie is definitely a departure from previous releases. What initially drew you to this project?
First of all, this franchise is so fun and ridiculous and classic in the world of comedies. So when I saw they were making a female version, I was like, SIGN. ME. UP. It’s an absolute honor to join the iconic American Pie world, and it was an unbelievable blast to make. Every day at work felt like playing. Obviously, I was stoked that we got to tell this raunchy story from the female perspective. And, more than anything, it felt very real to me. When I read the script, I was like “YES! My girlfriends and I went through this exact thing!” I think it’s important to de-stigmatize women talking about, and enjoying, sex. It’s a very real part of life. We still live in a very patriarchal world, where women are shamed or harassed for expressing their sexuality, which is so wrong. We see so many movies where the male characters get to do such crazy things, and I always find myself thinking, “that’s such a fun, ridiculously funny scene,” but it’s always the men. Seeing the female characters in those positions is so EMPOWERING.
2. Thinking back to high school, which character from the movie were you most like?
Stifler, no doubt, hahaha. I threw a lot of epic parties that my parents were not happy about. But, as I got older, I related way more to my own character Michelle; her confidence and her curiosity showed up in my own life. I remember going to a sex store with my friends and asking one of the employees all these questions, and my friends just turned and walked away. I was like “GUYS! This is important information that we need to know!” Oh man, I hope my parents don’t see this article.
3. For this film it’s all about the girls’ rules. What is a rule from your playbook?
Be confident and know thyself! There is nothing wrong with enjoying sex, as long as its consensual and safe. Women don’t get as much permission from society to be explorative in their sexuality, but it’s important to know and understand your own body. My character in the movie says something along these lines: “in order to enjoy sex, you need to know what you like.” It’s true!!
4. What was the hardest part about getting into character for this film?
The hardest part about getting into character was balancing Michelle’s intellect with her naivety. In some respect, she’s very mature for her age; it’s rare for a young female character to be so confident in exploring her sexuality. But, on the other hand, she totally loses her mind when she meets Grant (Darren Barnet), and all of her intellect is thrown out the window. It was challenging to find that balance.
5. Did you have a “first” on the set of this film?
Oh yes. This was my first movie where I had a sex scene, and my first masturbation scene. Christian Valderrama, who plays Oliver, is such a gem, and we became really close friends. So it was nice to have that “first” with him, because we went through it together. Plus, me and the other girls would always be around for each others’ sex scenes, just to support, which was really nice. We totally had each others back. I got really lucky with how amazing the whole cast & crew were.
6. What can you tell us about Cupid for Christmas?
I can tell you that it’s going to be a really nice palette cleanser for my poor parents, after they have to sit through American Pie! It’s a really fun Christmas Rom-Com, and I play an edgy, sarcastic character, who’s very different from Michelle. The director, Blayne Weaver, was the writer of American Pie, so it was really nice to work with some of the same people again. Plus, Richard Kind plays Cupid, and I’m so excited to share the screen with him!
7. Aside from acting, what are you passionate about?
I’ve dabbled into so many different art forms over the past two years, which has been really fun for me. I’ve always been a dancer, and after American Pie wrapped, Madison Pettis and I decided to pick it back up together. Before Covid, we were training every week together at Playground LA, and it was so nice to bring that fire back into my life. I’ve also started playing piano and singing, and painting. I’m also a writer and director, blah, blah, blah. But more than anything, I’m passionate about human rights and bringing radical empathy into our shared experience. I’m passionate about dismantling anti-fatness and bringing POC voices to the screen. I’m passionate about defunding the police and putting those funds into housing, health care, mental health, schools, and reparations for underprivileged and marginalized communities. I’m passionate about Black Lives Matter, because they do, and they are not treated like they do. I’m passionate about refugee and immigrant rights, and abolishing ICE. I’m passionate about trying to make this world a better place, day by day, for all of us. No one human is any more deserving than another.
8. Across the entertainment industry, and especially at Netflix, more stories from BIPOC are being told. As a first gen, what is a story you’d like to see told?
A Persian one that isn’t Shahs of Sunset!!! (No shade). I’m a writer, and most of my scripts feature a Persian character as the lead. So, if a producer or network head is reading this, I’M RIGHT HERE!! (so extra). The entire show doesn’t have to be about the culture (although, I would love that…hello Ramy!), but just to see myself be represented in any way would be huge. We’re absolutely missing that story.
9. What characters did you see yourself in or most relate to growing up?
Honestly, not a lot. I’m a plus-size, non-white female, and that was not a group that was represented when I was growing up. Of course, I’m seeing more change now, and I like to think I’m part of it, but we still have a ways to go. I remember often, I would internally identify with the lead character in any show, because I was a self-obsessed Leo, but I could never quite claim that role for myself, because she was usually a size 0 and white. Nowadays, I see myself in literally everything Geraldine Viswanathan does, or Ilana Glazer. I am absolutely obsessed with both of those women. And of course, Barbie Ferreira, who I admire and respect so much.
10. Knowing you wanted to be an actress since you were younger, what made you decide to go the school route instead of diving in?
Foreign parents! Not going to school was not an option for me, but I’m glad my parents forced me to go to college. It afforded me so many opportunities, and ultimately I met my artistic soulmates in film school. Plus, I had to work way harder, because I did dive into acting while I was in school. So any time I wasn’t in class, or writing papers, or shooting a student film, or working my on campus job, or volunteering with my sorority, I was trying to get an agent, auditioning, and taking UCB and Groundlings classes. I never slept. It built a lot of character.
11. What does your dream role look like?
This sounds wild based on my career as a comedian, BUT, one of my dream roles is something like Natalie Portman in Black Swan. Something really transformative, where the character is so passionate about their craft that it leads to the detriment of their own life. A role where the lines between art and life are blurred. I absolutely love those stories. That, and something like Michael Scott. We’re manifesting both.
12. What has been the best moment of your career so far?
There has been way too many special moments to choose, but one of the best moments was on the set of American Pie. We were shooting all of our Homecoming scenes, so the entire cast was working. We had already been shooting for 12 hours, and we were ending the day with the scene of us dancing to the live band, which you see at the end of the movie. We were all sort of delusional because we had been jumping around and singing for so long. But I remember thinking that it felt like real life. I felt like I was with my best friends, and it was Prom Night, and we were dancing and screaming and celebrating our youth, with no worries about the real world. It was a really special, and I remember thinking I never wanted that day to end.
13. So, we know that photo on your twitter header was from an improv night, but what’s the story behind it?
YES! That’s a team photo of my college improv team, “Laser Squad Bravo.” I have no idea how the tradition started, but for some reason, our team photo was everyone looking “naked” under the covers of a bed. Every semester we recreated that photo to include our new members. It’s so ridiculous. That team was so much fun, and some of my best memories are from preforming with those people.
14. Can you tell us a secret?
I secretly want to be a rapper.
15. Can you tell us about any other upcoming talents?
Since my secret has now been revealed, I’ve now decided that I have to fully become a rapper. Expect some vibes on Instagram or TikTok…coming soon.
- Photographer Joe DeAngelis (@Joedeanphoto)
- Hair & Make Up Carissa Swany (@carissaswan)
- Styling Cameron Cipolla (@cameroncipolla)