Peruvian-Australian Actress Nathalie Kelley On Playing a Latina on the ‘Dynasty’ Reboot

(L-R): Elizabeth Gillies as Fallon and Nathalie Kelley as Cristal in 'Dynasty' Photoby Mark Hill . Courtesy of The CW

In the 1980s, on the catfight-filled soap opera Dynasty, Krystle Carrington was an icon of her era. A former secretary with big hair and even bigger shoulder pads, Krystle got married to oil baron Blake Carrington during the pilot of the original Dynasty. She (and her portrayer, Linda Evans) remained its protagonist for the majority of its nine-season run on ABC.

In 2017, Dynasty has returned on the CW — with a newly diversified cast that includes Blake Carrington’s gay son, Steven (James Mackay), as well as black actor Sam Adegoke playing chief Carrington rival Jeff Colby. Most intriguingly, Krystle is now Cristal Flores, a Venezuelan director of PR for the Carrington Atlantic energy empire. As played by Nathalie Kelley, a Peruvian-Australian veteran of shows like Unreal and The Vampire Diaries, Cristal is smart, savvy, confident and mysterious. In other words, she’s a soap star.

Yet Kelley is relatively new to the world of Dynasty. Having been born in Peru and raised in Australia, Kelley wasn’t exposed much to what she called “a uniquely American show” at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. This fish-out-of-water quality makes Kelley an ideal fit for Cristal: As a sharp businesswoman marrying into a family of sharks, the heroine is somewhat out of her depth, but always finds a way to succeed.

Ahead of New Dynasty’s October 11 premiere date, Remezcla hopped on the phone with Kelley to talk about her character’s Venezuelan background, why Dynasty needed to diversify its cast for the reboot, and making a show about a wealthy family in the Donald Trump era.

Dynasty airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.

On How Cristal’s Venezuelan Heritage Influences Her Updated Characterization

The character was not originally written to be Venezuelan. She was a general Latina, which is how most writers in Hollywood [write]. While I’m grateful to them for trying to be more diverse, being very specific about someone’s Latinness is very rare. … It wasn’t until my nephew, Sammy Jo [played by Rafael de la Fuente], was cast, that it came up, because he’s from Venezuela. I know it’s a ridiculous ’80s soap, but everyone was highly intelligent and really aware of what’s happening in the world. Of course, with a castmate from Venezuela, the situation there comes up. [Executive producer] Sallie Patrick smartly said, ‘Why don’t we make Cristal from there?’

On How Venezuela Relates to the Energy-Focused Business of Dynasty

Not only do we bring awareness to what’s going on, it sets up such an interesting realm of story possibility. Venezuela was a very oil-rich country, and the characters’ money comes from oil as well. Venezuela is also a good example of what happens when a very oil-prosperous country goes very wrong, and the political situation goes south. Cristal growing up there — in her 33 years, she would have … witnessed the country deteriorating. She would’ve gone to very good schools and eaten well growing up, had a cosmopolitan upbringing. But as she grew older, she would’ve seen lines wrapped around blocks to get food, and a complete breakdown of the political system. She would have witnessed her country completely fail as a nation-state.

On Playing a Venezuelan Character as a Peruvian-Australian Actress

What’s happening in Venezuela is part of a cycle that has been happening in all parts of Latin America since we were colonized. A right-wing dictator comes in, a left-wing coup comes up and takes that guy out. They give power and money back to the people, but then he becomes a dictator himself. That cycle has been playing out endlessly, whether you’re in Peru, Chile, Brazil — we’re watching some form of it take place in every country in Latin America. If you wanna get really deep into it, it’s because we inherited systems of exploitation. We were not set up to be healthy, self-governing, self-functioning nation-states. We were set up to be exploited by European colonial powers.

It’s the same story being played out. Even though I didn’t grow up in it — I escaped the cycle because my family was lucky to immigrate to Australia — I stayed very close to what was happening in all of South America. There’s a oneness that Latinos feel, no matter where you’re from. We’ve all experienced a similar history and similar politics. Apart from educating myself a little more deeply and specifically about what was happening in Venezuela, it felt like a story that has already been told in countless nations across Latin America.

(L-R): Grant Show as Blake and Nathalie Kelley as Cristal in ‘Dynasty.’ Photo by Mark Hill. Courtesy of The CW
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On Cristal Working as a Senior Member of Carrington Atlantic Instead of as Blake’s Secretary in the Reboot

Back in the ’80s, in the original Dynasty, Linda Evans was the embodiment of ’80s femininity. She was beautiful, graceful — she quit her secretary job when Blake married her. She lived out her life as a wealthy wife and lady of the house. … She was kind of shut out of Blake’s work life, and all the important decision-making with the company.

It couldn’t be more different in this version. Not only is Cristal a formidable presence in Carrington Atlantic, she is Blake’s right-hand woman. He listens to her seriously when it comes to the company. She’s earned her way to the top as head of PR. When Blake offers her the COO position in the pilot, it’s not just because he wants to make his girlfriend happy. He really believes she can pull off that position. You see a very modern woman in Cristal: someone who is not about to quit her job just because she married her dream man.

On Why Dynasty Needed to Be More Inclusive in 2017

Dynasty is a uniquely American story. When it first came out in the ’80s, it only represented a very small portion of American society. It represented this very narrow world — and I think that was part of its appeal, actually. It was escapism. In today’s version, the storyline is still very exciting … but it’s a much more inclusive show. It represents a much more accurate picture of what’s happening in America. The show is doing a lot of things: It’s satisfying people’s need for escapism, but it’s also trying to provide social commentary. It can’t do that without being truly reflective of the country we’re living in now. There was more than just a kind of cynical, ‘Let’s tackle diversity in our show.’ They’re actually trying to make something that is relevant to what’s going on today.

Nathalie Kelley as Cristal in ‘Dynasty.’ Photo by Jordon Nuttall. Courtesy of The CW
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On Being Asked if She Came From Telenovelas at the Television Critics Association Press Tour

The person who asked that question, they were trying to include me in the dialogue. Their only way in — their segue into their knowledge of Latin culture — is through telenovelas. Which is fine! A lot of Americans are only familiar with Latinos in certain contexts. They’re their gardeners. They’re their nannies. When their maids clean their house, they turn on Univision. That’s fine; that’s a valid American experience of a Latin person. I don’t knock anybody for that.

On Being a “Very Unique Type of Latina”

[Few people] have met a Latina woman who grew up in Australia, has an Australian accent. I’m a very unique type of Latina. I represent how vast the Latin experience can be. … I’m very grateful to the show for casting somebody like me. [Cristal] could have been very stereotypical, had an accent and a very curvy body, big boobs — I don’t want to mention any names! But there are all kinds of stereotypes out there [to cast]. But they didn’t; they went for someone like me. And I’m grateful for that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.