In the new Steven Spielberg film The Fabelmans, Keeley Karsten plays Natalie Fabelman, alongside a cast including Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, which marks her first major film release. Keeley attended the film’s premieres at both the 2022 American Film Institute Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, and The Fabelmans is due a UK cinema release in January 2023. Having appeared in the short film On Being Twelve, Keeley won Best Young Actress at the Snow Leopard International Film Festival, and during the pandemic, she wrote and starred in her own short film Viceroy. Next year, Keeley is set to work on a new, unannounced film in Spring. Speaking with Keeley, she talks about playing Natalie Fabelman in Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, winning Best Young Actress at the Snow Leopard International Film Festival and releasing her short film Viceroy during the pandemic.
Can you tell us about your character Natalie Fabelman in the new Steven Spielberg feature film The Fabelmans and how did you prepare for your first day working on the project?
I play Natalie Fabelman, who is the middle sister to Sammy Fabelman. I really connected with Natalie and would describe her as fierce, smart and very outspoken! There is one scene where she tells Sammy that he should put more girls in his movie. To me, that’s Natalie! She stands up for others and herself, and she also fiercely loves her family! I didn’t meet Steven and Sue Spielberg until I was on set, so I tried to find as many clues as I could in the script that Tony and Steven wrote. I googled all the information I could find and what I couldn’t find, I made up! I created a journal for her to really become Natalie.
What was Natalie like to play, and do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role?
I loved playing Natalie! I found her more and more each day on set and was able to bring more of Sue Spielberg’s feelings into her as she shared more details with me, but there is also a lot of me in Natalie! I cried when I got cast, happy tears! I couldn’t believe it, it was a dream come true.
How did you find the experience being directed by Steven Spielberg and working on set of The Fabelmans?
Working with Steven Spielberg was amazing. I knew some of his movies, and I found that so much of the magic in his movies is how he actually is! He is so imaginative, so kind and gentle but also full of support for his actors. I think once he casts somebody he believes in them fully and he gave us so much freedom to create with him. That also made for a wonderful set!
What was it like working with the rest of the cast and do you have any favourite memories from filming that you can tell us about?
Working with all of them was really amazing. We truly became a family on set, and I felt taken care of and respected. Michelle (Williams) was kind of like a mom to me and gave me lots of good advice, and just being able to work with this whole cast was a dream come true. I have so many fun memories, and we had so many laughs! Some involved gutting fish and me pushing Paul Dano into the river by accident, others included singing and dancing with Steven, and making impromptu La Croix commercials.
How was it attending the premieres at the 2022 American Film Institute Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival and how did you feel watching the completed film for the first time?
Attending my first two festivals was crazy. I didn’t know what to expect, but thankfully, my publicist, my manager, and Steven made it all so easy and fun. Toronto was a bit more relaxed, and the AFI, a little more intense. What I loved most was seeing everybody again, having Sue there, and just enjoying being back with the family. Seeing the movie for the first time was incredible, although I loved the second time even better because I saw so many things that I did not notice the first time, like the gorgeous score!
Why would you recommend watching The Fabelmans, and how has it been seeing the fan response so far?
I recommend The Fabelmans to everyone. I think not only is it a magical movie, but it deals with pursuing something that you love, overcoming obstacles and hard times, and in the end being forgiving and being loving. I think that’s a message we all could use. I’m so happy that the film is getting good reviews because I think it’s the best movie and everyone deserves all the praise they’re getting.
Is there anything you enjoyed most about having The Fabelmans as your first major film?
Everything! I couldn’t have asked for a better first feature film. I will be forever grateful to Steven, Tony (Kushner), Kristie (Macosko Krieger), Cindy (Tolan), and everyone else who helped me get there.
You won Best Young Actress at the Snow Leopard International Film Festival for your role in short film On Being Twelve, how was it working on the film and winning the award?
I loved playing the Cheerleader in On Being Twelve because she went through being assaulted at school and although it was hard to film, I was proud to be able to give life to that story and that character. I am happy that people enjoyed my performance!
Can you tell us about some of the other acting projects you’ve been part of, which includes your own short film Viceroy which you wrote and starred in?
Yes, I made that film during the pandemic when everything was shut down because I wanted to stay creative. We pretty much filmed it in isolation, but I was really proud that I created something that was important to me during that time when I easily could’ve just done nothing, I think art, just like Uncle Boris talks about in The Fabelmans, is something you have to do if it’s in your heart.
Do you have a favourite aspect of working in the acting industry?
I definitely like the work the most. I love being on set or in the theatre and really digging deep. I don’t very much care for events or red carpets, for me it really is the work that I love so much.
How did you get into acting and is it something you always wanted to do?
I acted and told stories from when I was a little girl. I also grew up in the theatre with both my parents being in it, and I told them when I was about five that I was going to be in the movies! They waited as long as they could before allowing me to pursue it professionally, and here we are!
What are some of your favourite films and TV shows to watch?
I watch so many films, classics to teen dramas. I love Stranger Things! But I also love shows like Gilmore Girls, or Gossip Girl.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
I love to sing and I have a new puppy! An English Cream named Maxine, she keeps me busy.
Have you been given any advice over your time as an actor so far that has stuck with you?
I definitely got lots of advice from my parents about having to work hard and never thinking the work was good enough. But most of the advice I got from Michelle Williams. She really was a great guide on set for me. I learned from watching her, but also from what she shared with me. And Steven also told me to be patient. I’m working on that.
What are you hoping 2023 brings for your career?
A new movie! I’m supposed to start filming a new movie in the spring and I can’t wait. I want to work on many different projects, different roles and with different directors. There is so much for me to explore and I’m ready and excited for it!
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