The actor who plays the King’s first girlfriend in Baz Luhrmann’s new biopic on working with the director and where she goes in L.A. to be inspired
Words by MARSHALL HEYMAN
Photography by ERIC FISCHER
The first play Natasha Bassett auditioned for was Romeo and Juliet—at the age of 14, at the Australian Theatre for Young People (AYTP). “I was hoping for one line,” says Bassett. “I’d have played a tree.” Instead she got the plum role of Juliet. One day she was rehearsing the famous “Wherefore art thou Romeo” speech outside The Wharf Theatre in her native Sydney (where AYTP is based) when “this mysterious man walked past,” Bassett recalls. “He stopped in his tracks and finished the rest of the monologue.” Bassett thought it was a “bit weird,” but afterwards, a friend told her who the man was: filmmaker Baz Luhrmann. “I flipped out,” she says.
Now things have come full circle. Bassett appears in Luhrmann’s latest film Elvis as Dixie Locke, Elvis Presley’s first girlfriend, alongside Austin Butler who plays the titular character. The highly anticipated release is Luhrmann’s first film since 2013’s The Great Gatsby, and his first biopic. To promote the film, Bassett, 27, walked the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Since being back on the West Coast, Bassett has taken some time off from the Hollywood grind, spending time up in a treehouse in Malibu with her dog, Fred. “It’s a great place to shut off with my dog,” says Bassett, who also writes for film and television and made a short film in Australia when she was 18 with Jane Campion as her mentor. Here, the actor tells C about working with Luhrmann, her favorite fish tacos in L.A., and playing Britney Spears.
Did you remind Baz Luhrmann about what happened over a decade ago once you got the role in his movie?
We did talk about it. I don’t know if he fully remembered, but he did say that it added to the romance of it all, that connectivity is a strange unexplainable thing. I still have the memory of Baz walking down the street that day. I’d been obsessing about his Romeo and Juliet.
“Hopefully my acting makes me a better writer, and my writing makes me a better actor”
Why do you think Australians are so successful in Hollywood?
Because we have a cool accent? Actually, I think from my experience, Australians work really hard. It’s not easy to come to America and get a job. You have to really, really want this. Going through the visa process is nauseating. The Australians who have come to America really have a strong work ethic and a maximum amount of determination. Also, theatrical training is a big part of being an actor in Australia. I was writing and acting in plays whenever I could. That foundation can really help you.
What are your favorite parts about Los Angeles?
L.A. is a great city. I’m told you can ski and surf in the same day, but I would love to know if anyone has actually done that. I’m a big hiker. When I’m writing and get stuck on a plotline or a piece of dialogue, I go out into nature and let everything go. That’s when ideas channel through. I love the Brush Canyon hike. I go to Griffith Park and the observatory, which is amazing just for Rebel Without a Cause. I used to write my scripts at The Trails cafe down at the bottom. I would get an avocado sandwich and a coffee and think up strange characters. I also have this fascination with fish tacos. Whenever I’m on set, I will source the greatest fish tacos in the area. I even did it in Oklahoma.
What makes a good fish taco, and what are the best you’ve found in L.A.?
It’s all about the layering of the sauce and the vegetables, and you can’t fry the fish, it has to be grilled. The best one I’ve found here is at Tallula’s in Santa Monica.
“Theatrical training is a big part of being an actor in Australia. That foundation can really help you”
You played Britney Spears in a Lifetime movie in 2017. What was that like? How do you feel about her now?
I’m so happy to leave Britney alone. She’s moved on in her life. I just wish her peace and nothing but happiness. I think she deserves it.
Do you follow her on Instagram?
I do follow her on Instagram. I think she’s really lovely, and I’m happy that she’s happy.
When you’re writing a script, do you usually write a role for yourself?
It does end up happening that way. I wrote a dark comedy TV series about a scammer who lives out of an airport hotel in Reno. She’s pretending to be Australian but she’s American. She’s an odd one and we’re not the same, but I couldn’t see anyone else playing the role. Hopefully my acting makes me a better writer, and my writing makes me a better actor.
June 21, 2022
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