THE BATTLEFORDS — "She has hardly wavered. There've been times when it was very tough," says Rose Ray, mother of actress and dancer Natalie Krill. "She's very determined, she always was."
Ray and other family members and friends, including Krill's maternal grandmother Ruth Treiberg who watches her granddaughter on TV every time she's on, were guests at Thursday's Living Sky School Division Hall of Fame where Krill was the guest speaker. She was telling her story to students being recognized there for some of the same traits Krill herself showed as a high school student.
Krill is a rising star in television and film. The alumna of Battleford Central School, Battleford Junior High School, North Battleford Comprehensive High School and former student of Virginia Ross-Winterhalt and Margaret Stephen of The Dance Connection is building an increasingly impressive portfolio. She was recently cast as a regular in the fifth season the CTV series The Listener, as forensic technician Alex Kendrick.
She resides in Toronto, having moved there when she was 18 to pursue a career in performance, and lives in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in the southwest end of downtown.
"Pretty normal," she smiles.
Krill has become a busy actress, and when not working on the set, she is determinedly honing her craft.
"I'm always in an acting class, I take private voice lessons, and I do as many casting workshops and script readings as I can get my hands on."
While Toronto is the place she needs to be to achieve the goals she has set for herself, she's still a Saskatchewan girl at heart. A blossoming career in the big city means she usually screens her phone calls, but she always answers when she sees the 306 area code.
During her speech Friday evening, Krill said, "I have to tell you I am so proud to have grown up here in the Battlefords. Since graduating from the Comp, my journey has taken me all over the world, and I will tell you this, there is nothing better to me than the smell of harvest, a prairie sunset and ice fishing. And it's hard for me not to get emotional and cry just saying that. You just can't get those things in the big city. You can get a lot of things, but you can't get those."
While she says she was honoured to be asked to speak at the hall of fame event, the division says it was honoured to have her. Perhaps that's testament to the belief she shared with her audience that you should never forget where you come from.
"I think being raised in Saskatchewan is an asset," she said in her speech. "We are grounded, hard working, nature-loving and generous people."
Her advice was, "Wherever your path takes you, remember the prairie sunsets and remember the farmers working long hours in the fields. This will keep you humble."
Krill was the epitome of gracious guest throughout the evening, congratulating and shaking the hand of each of the students called up to the stage to be recognized for accomplishments in academic, athletic and special project categories, and signing autographs and posing for photos after the awards.
She said she was indeed honoured to be asked to the event.
"This is the first time I've ever spoken at something like this," said Krill.
A crowd of 850 people gave the 5'8" conservatively dressed actress their full attention. As the Living Sky superintendent who had issued the invitation, Jim Shevchuk, said, one could have "heard a pin drop" during her remarks.
One of the things Krill related to the audience was a life-changing episode when she was cast to appear as Lorraine Fleming in the Russian premiere of one of the most famous American musicals ever, 42nd Street. It was the first professional job of her career, earned after a year of auditioning for mainly dance-related roles. She had been named Saskatchewan's provincial dance champion and a Canadian champion via the Triple Threat Award for Excellence in Dance/Voice/Acting a year earlier and had highest mark awards from Dance Olympus in Las Vegas the year before that. Throughout high school, she had been that phenom everyone knew would go on to bigger things.
"I basically grew up at the Dance Connection. I loved being there. I even just loved watching other classes that I wasn't even in. My teachers Virginia [Ross-Winterhalt] and Margaret [Stephen] were such wonderful teachers. I'm so grateful to have been trained by them."
With a passion for dancing, she was excited at the prospect of a trip to Russia to perform in a musical.
"It was a dream come true," she said. "I was 19 years old and I was going to sing and tap dance in Moscow."
Krill said when she stepped off the plane, she immediately felt grateful for everything in her life.
"People don't have it so easy over there, and it really put things into perspective for me."
The experience of doing a quintessential American musical in Moscow was like no other, she said. She has many good memories of that time, but frightening ones as well.
Krill was working in Moscow during the time of the infamous 2002 siege of the Dubrovka Theatre. Armed Chechen rebels took 850 hostages and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. Russian forces eventually pumped gas into the theatre, entered and quelled the siege, killing the 40 attackers. About 130 hostages also died as a result.
Krill told the audience the theatre where she was working received bomb threats two or three times a week for three weeks, she said.
Later, Krill told the News-Optimist 11 of the cast broke their contracts and went home.
She said, "9-11 had just happened the year before, and a lot of our cast were from New York."
They had already gone through something awful and didn't want to go through anything like that again, she said.
Krill's mother said she was worried when the bomb threats were being made, but they were able to stay in contact as the cast had been supplied with cellphones. Her husband, Krill's stepfather, told the young actor, "Don't panic in the face of disaster."
Her mother said, proudly, "She stood by that saying."
Krill stayed, fulfilling her commitment, but she was happy when the time came to return home.
"A lot of people were killed at that time during the hostage taking and I can't tell you how glad I was to come back to Canada after that," she told the audience.
Upon her return, she continued exploring her career, with her sights set on film and TV. Krill believes all the years she spent dancing were also years spent laying the foundation for her acting career.
She'd always been in school plays through elementary and junior high school, but it became a passion when she went to high school and met drama teacher Sherron Burns, who is now the arts education consultant for Living Sky School Division.
"In Mrs. Burns drama class I found a real desire to act, and I say desire because it wasn't just for fun, it was deeper and more profound to me. Mrs. Burns gave us such interesting material to work with and projects that ignited our imagination and that was it for me. I knew at that point that I had to pursue this."
Krill said the film and TV world is not an easy one to break into.
"It is a very small world."
Taking stock of her accomplishments, she realized having done some "pretty awesome" high school drama wasn't going to impress the casting directors of big film and TV productions.
"So the task for me was very simple. I needed to become a good actor. I have to admit to you at that point in time I don't think I quite understood what I was getting myself into. To be honest with you, I think I thought that acting was easy, or that it should be. Well, that was a big wake up call. It's not easy. It's incredibly demanding emotionally and mentally and it is a craft that needs to be honed and practised. Just like a professional athlete needs to train and a doctor needs to study, the same is true for actors. There is a physical training for actors, there is voice training for actors, and then there is internal emotional work that you have to do."
Krill said when you figure out what your dream is, you must completely submerge yourself in that world.
"Basically, you need to read every book that's been written about that subject, take all the classes you can, eat, sleep, breathe, dream that subject."
She did, and it paid off.
"A couple of years after returning from Russia, I landed a couple of great roles which sent me down a more prosperous path. I booked my first television series, playing a ballet dancer actually, on MVP."
Shortly after that she was cast in the stage adaptation of Dirty Dancing, and performed eight shows a week for a year and half.
"There's nothing better than being paid to sing and dance on stage every night."
She has also worked on at least 20 film and television projects, and is now a regular on The Listener.
"I'm really grateful and feel so fortunate for the career I am nurturing. It was a dream that I had as a little girl, and to be living that dream is both satisfying and it's motivating."
Krill subscribes to five main beliefs as she nurtures that career. One is that you must make no excuses.
"Absolutely no excuses. If there's something you don't know how to do, ask someone. Do what you need to do to figure it out. I'm really grateful to my parents for teaching me this one. If there is a will, there is a way."
Krill always knew she wanted to perform. She has the will and is finding the ways.
"It really didn't matter to me what medium that took shape in. I just knew that I had these stories and these emotions inside of me that I wanted to express and that I wanted to share."
Krill is also looking toward sharing those stories as writer, and to work behind the lens as well as in front of it.
"For me, more and more I want to write my own film," she told the News-Optimist.
She has the will. No doubt she will find the ways to make this dream come true as well.