If the Bluths of “Arrested Development” fame made being despicable an art form, the Swallow family from the Audience Network’s “Hit the Road” is turning it into a catchy song that you just can’t shake. The new series from “Seinfeld” alum Jason Alexander, which premieres on October 17, follows the band-on-the-run exploits of the dysfunctional songwriting clan as they traverse the country in search of fortune and fame.
Series star Natalie Sharp plays lead singer and diva-in-training Ria Swallow, and from what we have seen thus far, it’s a star-making role for the Canadian-born actress and songwriter.
We recently sat down with Sharp to discuss getting to play the daughter of a TV legend, why her character is a total badass on stage, and how she got to see “Supernatural” star Jensen Ackles riding around on a tiny, yellow motorbike.
TrunkSpace: You’re starring in the new series “Hit the Road” from co-creator Jason Alexander. When you’re cast in a series developed by one of the great icons of television, what goes through your mind? How did you celebrate?
Sharp: Confusion, and OMG! My friends have been spotting us on billboards together, and none of it feels real! I feel incredibly lucky to be acting with Jason. He has taught me so much and is so warm and welcoming, and HILARIOUS (obviously). I love being his troublesome teenage daughter!
I was actually with my friend in Mexico when I got the call. After all the screaming, we celebrated with some margaritas!
TrunkSpace: The series follows a family band as they tour the country. Are we talking a dysfunctional version of the Partridge Family… a sort of siblings Guns N’ Roses? And on top of that, what type of music does the family focus on?
Sharp: A VERY dysfunctional version of the Partridge family. Our family is ridiculously chaotic. We lie, cheat, steal… you name it! Our music is cheesy and lame, which adds to the contrast between our onstage persona and offstage persona. You’ll see. We are despicable people. It’s amazing.
TrunkSpace: In the show you play the lead singer and eldest daughter of Jason, Ria. Looking over the history of music, who would you best compare Ria to as far as lead singers of the past or present? Who does she embody?
Sharp: Definitely Avril Lavigne and Christina Aguilera.
TrunkSpace: Playing a character like Ria seems like it would be a lot of fun to inhabit, not only because of the music angle, but also just because of the attitude you get to exude. Now that you’ve had some time to spend with Ria and discover who she is at her core, what has been the best part of the performance journey for you?
Sharp: I am constantly discovering new things about Ria, which has made this whole process so exciting. Even in a comedy, I was able to go very deep emotionally and, as you said, figure out who she really is at her ‘core.’ I am very protective of my character because I love playing her. She has definitely become a part of me and I would stand up for her any day.
My favorite part of the process has been discovering the relationships between each of her siblings and parents. I love the family dynamic we have created and being able to work with such an amazing cast is half the battle.
TrunkSpace: You’re actually a singer/songwriter in real life as well. How much of your knowledge of music and performance were you able to inject into your role?
Sharp: A lot. I was given so much freedom when it came to my performance, and my style of singing. We all created harmonies together, and would have jam sessions almost between every take! The music is what really bonded us as a family. Personally, I have been singing and performing on stage since I was five years old. It comes much more naturally to me and so I am very comfortable with it. Singing helped me understand Ria because it is something we have in common. I know how it feels to walk on stage and feel like you’re on cloud nine. I know why she loves it, and I know how much it means to her. If I weren’t confident in my singing and stage presence then this role would have been incredibly tough!
TrunkSpace: Double-edged question. What is your favorite fake lyric that Ria got to sing and what is your favorite real-life lyric that you’ve written?
Sharp: “I’m an outlaw, I’m a champion, turn up my amp now, and I’ll teach you a lesson.” Ria is so confident when she is up onstage singing. She knows she is great! Total badass!
My lyric would probably be from the first song I ever wrote: “If you’re going to judge me on what I did, you can’t say you know me.” Which is, now that I think of it, also at the heart of Ria.
TrunkSpace: We mentioned getting to work with an icon like Jason already, but that’s not where the icons stop as far as “Hit the Road” is concerned. Richard Dreyfus is also guest-starring in the series. With all of the incredible people surrounding the project, what is the biggest lesson you took away from your work in season 1 that you will apply to your career moving forward?
Sharp: To never stop wanting to learn! To not put so much pressure on myself to be ‘perfect,’ but to enjoy the moments and ultimately have fun!
TrunkSpace: The concept is great, the cast is incredible, and the buzz is building around the show. It seems that the biggest hurdle now is just informing people about where the show will live. With so many networks and streaming platforms these days, what is the key to getting people on board with the AT&T Audience Network so that they can watch the show?
Sharp: Because I come from Canada, Audience and AT&T network don’t exist. So this is all very new to me too! Marketing and publicity for both the show and network are very important. If people are interested in watching our show, they need to know how. They have done an amazing job with spreading the word on social media for “Hit the Road,” AND other new, hot shows on the same network, so it is only a matter of time that Audience starts buzzing as well!
TrunkSpace: We are suckers for the series “Supernatural” here. As it turns out, you guested in one of the most memorable episodes of all time, “Fan Fiction.” For fans of the series, what was that experience like, especially with the concept of the episode involving so much of the show’s past?
Sharp: It was incredible! It was my first big acting gig and I really had to do my research because I had never watched the show (I know, I know… sorry guys)! It was also a musical episode, which made me feel right at home. The boys were obviously amazing to work with, and it was hilarious watching them improvise! I didn’t know they were so funny! I thought it was the coolest thing when I saw Jensen Ackles riding around a miniature, bright yellow motorbike on set.
And I also loved the fact my character got kidnapped by a scarecrow and then I get to fight a demon witch? I’m very much into the action adventure.
TrunkSpace: As that particular episode touched on, the series has a very loyal fandom. Having now been a part of the series, have you felt the reach of the fandom in real life, either through social media or via day-to-day interaction?
Sharp: I have surprisingly been approached a couple times! And fans message me through my artist Facebook page, and Instagram. I can always tell when my episode re-airs!
TrunkSpace: You are currently in school and working as a professional actress at the same time. How do you strike a balance between studies and work?
Sharp: I have been doing this for four years now and I have learned to go with the flow! Even though I have a crazy schedule and homework, and exams, and a social life… I know what my priorities are, so it hasn’t been too hard (even though it can be a little stressful). I just feel so lucky that I am able to do both!
TrunkSpace: You’re still very early in your career. With so much future ahead of you, what do you hope to accomplish? What are some of your bucket list items that you’d like to check off?
Sharp: Well… I have already filmed a volleyball movie, which is another huge passion of mine, now I am doing singing… I definitely want to be a superhero and work on a post-apocalyptic type show! Action/Adventure is one of my favorite genres along with sci-fi. Working with Christopher Nolan would be a dream! He is such a smart director and I love how he stretches and twists people’s minds! Other than that, I don’t want to look too far into the future. Whatever happens, I believe is meant to happen. Of course, it would be amazing to win an Oscar…
“Hit the Road”pulls into town October 17 on the AT&T Audience Network.
Featured image by: Ryan West