Breaking: Natalie Morales

Tom Haverford’s boo comes into her own on The Grinder—but that’s not even the half of it.

BACKSTORY: Multi-hyphenate talent who keeps busy directing and making art when not starring in hit television shows and films (and is also not one of the hosts of Today)
FROM: Florida, before briefly living in New York and now Los Angeles
YOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: Her recurring role as Lucy—the significant other of Aziz Ansari’s character Tom Haverford—on Parks and Recreation
NOW: Appearing on the FOX sitcom The Grinder as Claire, a new associate at the law firm where Fred Savage and Rob Lowe’s characters work

As exaggerated as it might sound, a typographical error involving a single letter almost changed the entire course of actress/writer/director Natalie Morales’s life. Back when she was fourteen and living in Southern Florida, she was excitedly celebrating her acceptance to a magnet high school that, uniquely, had a program designed for students en route to law school, which Morales had decided would be her course of study. Upon further inspection of the acceptance letter she saw it had been addressed to “Natalia Morales.” And, to her shock, a quick call confirmed that it was Natalia who had been accepted and the wrong address slapped on the envelope. There was no place for Natalie at the school.

Morales ended up enrolling in a nearby high school, narrowly securing a last-minute spot. Once there, she signed up for drama class on a whim. As she puts it, “that was that.” The class crystallized something in Morales, who had always put on magic shows, plays, and choreographed dances with her cousins. “Cubans are, just by nature, entertainers, but I never saw it as a career for some reason,” she says. “That was the first time that I thought, ‘Oh! Maybe this is what I can do.’” Then, with a laugh, she adds, “And I wasn’t good at all. I was really bad.”

Confidence took root, though, and eventually Morales ended up finding acting work in New York before settling in LA. She worked her way up the call sheet, appearing on shows like The Middleman and White Collar before landing the role of Lucy on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. As Tom Haverford’s (Aziz Ansari) love interest, Morales used her megawatt smile and ultra-dry sense of humor to make a lasting impression on viewers. She’s since appeared on Girls and in films including Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and most recently landed on the Rob Lowe–helmed FOX sitcom The Grinder. The show follows a fictional TV actor named Dean Sanderson, Jr. (Lowe) who returns to his hometown in Idaho and believes his time playing a lawyer on television means he can become a real-life litigator. Morales plays Claire, a new member of the family firm, who is impervious to Dean and his Hollywood charm.

“You audition and then you wait for someone to give you a job. I’m not good at that. So why not make work for myself?”

Morales counts herself as a huge cinephile and Hollywood history buff—her number one idol is Buster Keaton—which means she absolutely revels in the time she gets to spend on set with Tinseltown icons Lowe and costar Fred Savage. “What I enjoy most are the stories,” Morales says. “There’s a reason [Rob’s] the guy who has written so many books. He’s been through some crazy stuff. And then Fred, it’s in his bones. He’s been doing it since he was so tiny.”

When she’s not charming audiences through screens, Morales has trouble sitting still. “The more time that I have spent out here working as an actor, the more I realize that, as an actor, you’re always waiting,” she says. “You audition and then you wait for someone to give you a job. I’m not good at that. So why not make work for myself?” Morales has steadily built a résumé directing comedy videos for Funny Or Die and music videos for musician pals. In February, her latest effort for singer-songwriter Holly Miranda’s new single “Come On” premiered.

“I guess this is kind of cheesy but I just love creating things,” Morales says. “I love making something exist out of nothing. I love painting and cooking and I play music and I write songs. Any germ of something that I can make into an actual thing that you can see or feel or hear is very exciting to me.” FL

This article appears in FLOOD 3. You can purchase the magazine here.

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