Making her way through the entertainment industry on a number of TV shows, including stints on Parks and Recreation, Girls, and The Newsroom, actress Natalie Morales has found a new home on the first season of the legal comedy The Grinder. On the show, Morales, 30, plays Claire Lacoste, an associate at a law firm in Boise, who isn’t impressed by the flirty nature of her colleague Dean Sanderson, Jr. (Rob Lowe). Dean, a former actor, is convinced his past role as a lawyer on TV gives him the experience he needs to be a real lawyer in his family’s practice.
We caught up with Morales about her new show, what she looks for when choosing projects, and the big reasons she thinks she needs to change her name.
The Grinder airs Tuesdays at 8:30pm on Fox.
On her character Claire and why she wanted to be part of The Grinder
Claire tells it like it is, which is something I try to do all the time. I thought it would be a fun role to have to constantly reject Rob Lowe. That was exciting. (Laughs) It’s a funny show and cast. The people behind it are great, so it was hard to say no.
On the inconsistent nature of TV work
That’s the actor’s life, man. TV is kind of nomadic. The shows I was on before also felt like home, but then they got cancelled or didn’t get renewed. It’s always like that. Hopefully [The Grinder] will go on for more than a season or two. It’s great to have a really cool set of people to hang out with every day.
On working the same occupation as one of her past TV characters
I thought it would be a fun role to have to constantly reject Rob Lowe.
One of the shows I’ve done was called The Middle Man. I played a superhero. I think I would not be horrible at that. If I could be a superhero, I could be pretty good at it. I didn’t have any superpowers. I was like Batman. I just had a bunch of gadgets. Having a jet at your disposal would be fun. I think I could pull it off.
On choosing her TV projects
I like to do stuff that’s interesting and different. I definitely look for something that’s not stereotypical, whether it be in general or because the character is a woman or Latina. I try to steer clear of that because I feel like there is so much of that out there. What is the point of doing another show like that? I try to do stuff that speaks to me and that I would want to see. I’ve been very fortunate to get to do that.
On exactly why she avoids stereotypical Latina roles
There are three roles that Latinas are always offered: the maid, the sexy seductress, or the tough girl that’s either from New York or the streets of L.A. Sometimes you can be both. You can be a sexy Latina maid, but usually those roles are not very interesting and are very stereotypical or one note. I don’t like to do those. I mean, there are people who are maids and tough girls from the streets and sexy seductresses, but they have to be written right so they’re not stereotypical.
On whether or not she auditioned for Devious Maids
I did not. I’ve never watched it, so I don’t even know what it’s about. At least the maids are the main characters, right? I didn’t turn it down, but maybe my manager didn’t even send it to me because she knows how I would feel about it. [Laughs].
On the cover of the November issue of The Hollywood Reporter, which featured eight white actresses considered as possible Oscar contenders
I saw [The Hollywood Reporter’s] explanation, which I thought was really interesting. They sort of called out the industry in general and said the only reason these actresses are on the cover is because [those are the roles] out there. There have been other years with more diversity in the Oscars. But if you look at TV – Empire, Jane the Virgin, How to Get Away with Murder – these shows are huge and are being led by diverse casts. Diversity is taking over in the TV world and in the film world – or at least the Oscar world – it’s slightly behind.
On fixing the problem of the lack of diversity in Hollywood films
I’m working on it. I know that people look at me [as an actress] and think I have limitations. I don’t see myself that way. I might have to work a little harder than, say, a white dude, but that’s OK. I’m OK with that and I’ll do it.
On whether or not she thought about changing her last name at the start of her career
I did. And I still think I should. [Laughs]. There’s a Today Show host with my name, so I’m sure that is a little annoying for both of us. We get confused all the time. I did have a stage name at first and I thought it was really cool. It was Natalie Moriarty. I was a big fan of [writer] Jack Kerouac. It was also a nod to Sherlock Holmes. I also liked that it kind of rhymed. Then someone looked at me and was like, “You’re not Irish.” Now, Sherlock Holmes is a big deal, so I feel like if I had that last name maybe I wouldn’t be confused with a Today Show host.