By Lily Wolfson
New York City, New York
Black Beauty, a film adaptation of Anna Sewell’s 1877 class children’s novel, was released on Disney+ on Friday. Directed by Ashley Avis, Black Beauty features two female protagonists, Jo (Mackenzie Foy) and mustang Black Beauty (voiced by Kate Winslet). The Iris interviewed actress Sascha Nastasi, who plays mean girl Jennifer in Black Beauty. Nastasi started her acting career in school productions before her role in the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas “America” campaign. In 2019, Nastasi played Lola in the short film Being and Nothingness, also directed by Avis. Nastasi is eighteen and is based in New York City.
The Iris: Talk about your acting background.
Sascha Nastasi: I grew up dancing in London, and that was pretty much my thing from the time I was a little girl. My favorite part of dancing was definitely always getting to perform, play characters, wear costumes––all of that. So, I always sort of had it in the back of my mind. I always wanted to be the lead in the school play even though I wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m an actress!” I didn’t take acting classes or anything, but I think it was always there in the back of my mind. Then, I got an injury; I got a cyst on my knee, which took me out for about a year. That sort of slowed down the ballet thing a little bit, though I was still dancing. About a year after that, I did my school play, which was Guys and Dolls, and I was Adelaide. That definitely sparked a passion in me; I loved doing that. Then, when I was thirteen or fourteen, I started taking acting classes and really liked it. When I was fourteen, I did a short film and then a series of commercials for Volkswagen. That was my first professional experience; I just got those off of Backstage, which is a casting service you can have when you don’t have representation. That was my intro into it all.
TI: What was it like to learn you got the part for Black Beauty?
SN: I was doing a summer theater program, which is called NYSSSA, and I had known there was the potential that I could get this part because Ashley, who I worked with on a short film, brought it up to me. She said, “There could be a part for you in this and that I think you’re really right for, but we have to show your tape and your reel material to the producers because it’s sort of up to them.” I was scared and didn’t want to get my hopes up, and I was between classes when my mom called me saying “call Ashley”, so I called Ashley, and she told me I got the part. I was crying and absolutely could not believe it. It was a very surreal moment.
TI: Can you talk about what it was like to meet the cast once you arrived in South Africa to film?
SN: I met Alex first, who plays Jasmine, who is my rock through it all because we had all our scenes together. I think I met Fern super briefly; Fern plays Georgina. They were amazing. Just right off the bat, I really connected with them. I would say the first day was when I met Calam and Mackenzie and spent more time with Fern and Alex, which is when we were filming the big horse show scene. That was so much fun, and I loved the dress I got to wear. That was when I feel like I really got to know everyone. It was either the first or the second day of shooting that scene when we all had about two hours where we all just weren’t shooting anything, so we got to have this great big conversation. It was so easy to get to know them. I feel like there was such a click right off the bat, which was amazing, and I don’t know if that’s a rare thing; I would suspect it probably is. I’m definitely super grateful for that.
TI: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
SN: Definitely the one where Jo pushes me into the fake horse poop and hay pile. That was really fun to shoot.
TI: Can you disclose an exclusive Black Beauty detail?
SN: An exclusive detail is that I accidentally stole my necklace. I wore home with me Jennifer’s necklace, which is a pretty cool memento.
TI: What were you feeling when you first watched the whole film?
SN: I was very emotional. It made me tear up multiple times, and at the end, I let out a long sob. It was reminiscent of how I felt at the end of A Star is Born, although maybe a little more hopeful, but it was a similar lasting sob. It was also totally surreal, seeing the Disney logo and all the credits.
TI: Describe your experience playing Jennifer in Black Beauty.
SN: I had a lot of fun playing her. I think she’s very prideful and competitive. She thinks very highly of herself, so she feels threatened by Jo and her natural horsewomanship, which results in her persnickety, gossipy ways. While she’s not necessarily someone I’d want to be around, as she always seems to be saying rude things, I think she’s wholly understandable, and I can certainly relate to aspects of her. She’s a small character in the scheme of things for sure, but I feel it’s important to respect one’s character and not to judge them too harshly because they’re people! It’s our job as actors to portray people, and as wholly and fully as possible.
TI: Why should everyone watch Black Beauty?
SN: Everyone should watch this movie because, cliché as it may sound, it really is a movie that we need right now. It’s a movie about hope and friendship. I love that it’s sort of a friendship love story because I feel like we don’t get stuff like that enough. At the forefront of this movie is really a bond of friendship and understanding and mutual healing between two beings.
TI: Give advice to any young girls who want to act.
SN: Don’t feel discouraged by the people and media who say it’s so hard and impossible and that no one makes a career as an actress. Believe in yourself; believe that you can do it. Be brave and pursue it with all your might because if you don’t, you’re only going to feel regret. I believe in you, and I’m rooting for you.
TI: Best holiday movie
SN: Christmas With The Kranks
TI: Best comedy
SN: The Wedding Crashers
TI: Best Halloween movie
SN: Fright Night
TI: Movie you recommend to all your friends
SN: Killing of a Sacred Deer
This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.