The Good Lord Bird Star Natasha Marc Says Working with Ethan Hawke Was 'Surreal'
After Hurricane Katrina ravaged her hometown of New Orleans in 2005, Natasha Marc had two choices: stay, or go anywhere else in the world.
Disaster relief workers had offered to put hurricane victims on flights to other states where they had relatives while they waited out the damage. Standing on the roof of her high school to escape the severe flooding, Marc made a split-second decision that would permanently alter the course of her life.
"I told a little fib and said that I had family in California," Marc, 34, tells PEOPLE. "I had never been on a plane before but I knew I wanted to go there and pursue acting. This was my ticket out, and even though I didn’t know anyone there, I was never scared — I was just really, really driven."
Marc has worn many hats since moving to the Golden State 15 years ago: makeup artist, lash aesthetician, personal trainer and even professional poker player.
"People always told me I had a poker face, but I never knew what that meant until I started playing," she explains. "Then I realized, 'Oh, people can't read me!' So aside from being this cute girl who guys assume doesn't know what she's doing, I was racking money up going to Las Vegas all the time and just playing and winning … that's how I was able to save a lot of money and really focus on my career."
All the while, she was hustling to auditions and perfecting her craft, scoring small roles in shows like Bones, Ballers and The Rookie.
Now, Marc is starring alongside Ethan Hawke in Showtime's limited series The Good Lord Bird as Pie, the show's sexy, scheming hooker. Based on James McBride's 2013 novel of the same name, The Good Lord Bird tells the story of Henry "Little Onion" Shackleford, a newly freed slave who joins the holy crusade of whacky abolitionist John Brown (played by Hawke).
"Pie has good intentions, but she's a snake and goes about them in a very cutthroat way," Marc says of her character. "She feels very privileged, even as a slave, because she gets to make money and slap around people she wouldn't normally be able to."
Hawke, who serves as executive producer on the series along with his wife Ryan, is "brilliant," Marc adds. "Shooting with him was surreal, I get lost watching him work."
During filming last year, Hawke brought the crew to a local museum near the set in Powhatan, Virginia to look at artifacts from Antebellum America. "We all tried to meditate and think about what our ancestors experienced during that time," Marc says.
Marc also recalls an ongoing joke between her and Hawke, 49, as she was dieting for a fitness competition during filming.
"I used it to get in the mindset of my character because I thought, she's a slave, she doesn't have access to all the food everyone else does, so I stayed away from craft services," she says. "Ethan would be like, 'You're still not going to eat? Come get some of this chicken!' and I'd be like, 'No!'"
In her free time, Marc is using her newfound star power to give back to hurricane victims. After Hurricane Delta blew through her home state of Louisiana last month, Marc teamed up with retired Navy SEAL Sean Matson and his company Shop Decon to donate more than 4,200 supplies, including hand sanitizer and other bacteria-fighting products, via Team Rubicon, a non-profit organization in Louisiana.
"There's always some kind of natural disaster we're going to have to deal with in the world, so when there's an opportunity to give back and help the community impacted, that's amazing," Marc says.
The Good Lord Bird premiered in early October after the release date was pushed back several times due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Marc, however, says that the timing couldn't be more perfect.
"I think because of what's been going on all of 2020 with the election, the riots, the killings and all of this chaos, the show is eye-opening and can really reach people in a way that other shows can't because of the clever humor in it," she says. "It shows that there are good souls out there that want to help others and look at one another as equals … No one is better than the person next to them."
Marc teases that the last two episodes will continue to highlight some important history in the fight to end slavery. (Viewers have previously been introduced to Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.)
"You will see the accomplishments tied to John Brown's whole purpose and rant about freeing the slaves and having equality within the United States," Marc says. "It gets really, really juicy … you don't want to miss it."
The Good Lord Bird airs Sundays (9 p.m. ET) on Showtime.
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