Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
The Performer: Natalia Dyer
The Film: Yes, God, Yes
You’re watching Yes, God, Yes for maybe a minute before you realize what kind of movie you’ve stumbled onto.
That’s when the answer to what it means to “toss someone’s salad” is splayed onscreen for the unknowing to digest. It’s maybe the biggest wake-up call for romaine lettuce since E. coli.
Soon after, we meet Catholic teenager Alice (Natalia Dyer) as she stumbles into an AOL chat room where she encounters “HairyChest1956″ in the early days of dial-up. Prior to this brush up, her most hands-on sexual experience had been rewinding the steamy car scene from Titanic.
From this point on, we realize that Alice’s journey through her blossoming sexuality is going to be, well, a thing. Luckily we have Dyer’s dedicated performance — playing roughly 10 years younger — to take us through the journey. A journey where an uninformed teenager “struggles to suppress her new urges in the face of eternal damnation” as the film’s description so aptly puts it.
No small feat.
The centerpiece of Alice’s awakening is a school retreat where she starts obsessing over hairy-armed hunk football star Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz) and things that buzz. At the same time, she’s also become the victim of a rumor that says she in fact did some salad tossing at the hands of a male classmate. Just to be clear, it’s not a reference to her work in the school cafeteria.
As Alice’s failure to debunk the rumor leads her down more subservient roads of repentance, she simultaneously becomes witness to “sinful” behavior from older student chaperones as well as certain authority figures from the school who diverge from the Jesus and Mary chain.
In bringing Alice’s journey to screen, Dyer does an incredible job at spotlighting this uncomfortable time of life: a teenager’s quest to balance sexual curiosity and discovery with comical bouts of boldness. It’s a portrayal of hormonal hubris that shines a light on bigger life lessons, the hypocrisies of the church, and one girl’s quest to figure it all out.
It’s hard to imagine Dyer’s performance in this smart — yet somewhat short — film at 77 minutes will not resonate with others who’ve grown up in a similarly constrictive religious bubble.
In a nod to entertainment that throws back to different time, it’s worth mentioning at the top that Dyer is best known for her portrayal of Nancy Wheeler in the wildly popular Netflix sci-fi/horror series Stranger Things.
As the world awaits the announcement of when Stranger Things’ season four production will resume, it’s become largely apparent it may have already premiered and that we’re all living in it.
Long before Dyer was getting perennially nominated in the “Ensemble Acting” category by the Screen Actors Guild (including a win in 2017) for her work in Stranger Things, the 25-year-old actress grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, playing Scout in a school production of To Kill a Mockingbird at age nine.
Dyer eventually moved to New York City, enrolling at NYU in 2013, where she studied at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. At this point, she’d already dipped her toes into Hollywood waters with roles in Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009) and The Greening of Whitney Brown (2011). As she continued to shoot shorts and an occasional TV project, other juicier dramatic roles began to appear once Stranger Things dropped on the cultural landscape.
These projects include dark dramas such as Mountain Rest (2018) and After Darkness (2019) co-starring Kyra Sedgwick and Tim Daly. Then there was also her role as Coco in the Netflix horror film Velvet Buzzsaw (2019), an L.A. art-scene satire co-starring Renee Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Until Nancy Wheeler returns to fight the forces of the Upside Down, you’ll have to say Yes, God, Yes if you want to see Dyer act in anything new.
Worth noting: Yes, God, Yes was shot as an 11-minute short starring Dyer by writer/director Karen Maine in 2017. Soon after, Maine made it into a full-length feature that landed the Special Jury Winner at 2019’s SXSW Festival.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.