Natasha Henstridge Survived Hollywood’s Predators. Now She Wants to Be Hired.
The “Species” actress opens up about her new film “The Night of the Sicario,” speaking out against Harvey Weinstein and Brett Ratner, and much more.
“They don’t mess around with this quarantine stuff,” says Natasha Henstridge with a nervous chuckle. “I literally had someone from the police department check on me to make sure I was quarantining properly last night. And I’ve been vaccinated!”
The Canadian actress is abiding by her home country’s strict COVID-19 travel protocols en route to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she’s set to shoot the third season of Diggstown, a television series that made history as the first Canadian primetime TV drama to feature a Black woman (Vinessa Antoine) as its lead. The hit show, exploring the altruistic team of lawyers in a legal-aid office, will be broadcast stateside on Fox later this year.
Of course, you probably know Henstridge from her Hollywood oeuvre—The Whole Nine Yards films, the John Carpenter cult favorite Ghost of Mars, her arcs on Commander in Chief and The Secret Circle, and, last but certainly not least, the Species franchise. The then-model was only 19 when she was cast as Sil, an alien-human hybrid who escapes from the lab on a mission to reproduce, in the 1995 sci-fi actioner Species. The film, which featured acting heavyweights Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Marg Helgenberger, and Forest Whitaker, grossed over $100 million at the box office and made Henstridge an instant star—something she wasn’t quite prepared for.
“I was super grateful but was completely unprepared,” she recalls. “I didn’t like being the girl in the fishbowl who everyone was curious about it, and I felt super sabotage-y after doing that movie. I didn’t want to do big things. But ultimately, I wouldn’t change it.”
Recently, Henstridge became a silence-breaker—one of the brave women who came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood heavyweights. In Henstridge’s case, it was not one, but two accused serial predators who she says targeted her: Harvey Weinstein and Brett Ratner. (Weinstein is rotting away in prison; Ratner has denied the numerous allegations against him.)
Her latest film is Night of the Sicario. She plays Taylor Ward, a nurse at an assisted-living facility who must hide the daughter and husband of a woman set to testify against a murderous Mexican drug cartel. When a group of sicarios enter the home, Ward is left with no choice but to stall the assassins until help arrives. The indie film was shot in the fall of 2019, before the pandemic hit, and is available on demand now.
The Daily Beast spoke with Henstridge about her new film, her career, and the cost of coming forward.
These are dystopian times. How are you doing?
It’s so bizarre. Obviously, it’s one of those things that will forever do down in history. So many people haven’t lived through anything like this, so it is dystopian. I haven’t seen family through the entire pandemic. Even in Canada, we have different sections up here, so if you move from province to province, you still have to quarantine. My parents are in Newfoundland, and if my mother came to visit me here in Halifax, she would have to quarantine for two weeks separate from me. I’m missing family so much right now.
I hope you’re reunited with them soon. With Night of the Sicario, it did strike me as timely given how it’s about a group of people quarantined in an old-persons home and you as the nurse trying to protect them all from cartel members.
We’re sort of quarantined in this house because there’s a storm outside and we’re not allowed out, and it’s very true, there are definitely some parallels between the film and what’s going on. This film takes place over the course of 24 hours, so it’s a much shorter quarantine time. We shot it in an old mansion in rural Pennsylvania and it has this eerie vibe to it. But it’s about how people come together in times of strife. There is something really beautiful about the human condition in that way. We can all complain and be selfish, but when the chips are down and people are really in need, you see communities come together. That’s why I always believe in the good in people. I choose to see the good in people.
There’s a scene in the film where your kidnapper asks if you’ve invested in cryptocurrency, and I’m curious if you have in real life.
Oh man, I wish! I kick myself. I have a few different friends who did invest in crypto and are very, very happy campers today. They said, “Really Tash, you should be investing in crypto,” and I said, “Oh, I don’t know! Is it real? It feels like it could be inflated.” And they made a ton of money.
You should’ve listened to your movie kidnapper. You have a pretty incredible story, by the way. Is it true that you grew up in a trailer park in Newfoundland?
I came from a kind of humble beginning. Initially, we were in an apartment building, and then moved to a beautiful trailer park—which I saw as an upgrade from living in the apartment, because we had our own space and our own yard, as well as friends that we knew there. I spent a few years living there when I was younger.
And then you became a model and moved to Paris as a teenager, which is pretty wild.
I did! I believe that was before my 15th birthday. I left high school and had this opportunity with modeling because of the Look of the Year contest, which I ended up getting first runner-up, and so then I got this contract that said if I came out there, they’d pay for the model apartment, but it’ll go against whatever money you make over the next year. It seemed like now or never, and I finally convinced my parents to let me go, which was challenging. A few months later, I felt homesick and would call my parents to tell them I wasn’t sleeping, but then I got over it. It was a massive culture shock. Going from my mother’s home-cooked meals every day at six to France where they were eating blue cheese—the food, the smells, the language, everything was so different. But I’ve always been a person who’s up for adventure, so I loved it. I would never let my kid do that. I saw a lot of girls fall through the cracks and find themselves in trouble, but I came out of it OK.
How did you land Species? That’s a splashy first role.
I’d always wanted to act—I did theater when I was a kid—but when I was traveling around modeling and stuff, once I got to New York, I had this commercial agent and started booking commercials a lot. I felt like I was better on film than in pictures, and I took acting classes, and my third or fourth audition was Species. It went on for months though, and then I came out to L.A. for a screen test with a whole bunch of girls. I did two or three auditions fully clothed, and then in the screen test, obviously there was nudity in the film, so I’m sure for their part they thought, “Well, we can’t tell her to take her clothes off,” but I was in a hot tub in a bathing suit. It was a proper screen test though where we acted out the scene.
They had you do some crazy stuff in that movie. There’s a sequence where you’re birthed out of a cocoon on a moving train and I read that you literally were covered in lubricant and had to slide out of this gross-looking shell. And this is your first movie!
[Laughs] Totally. I’m basically nude—I think I had some kind of privacy patch on my vajayjay and had these special effects guys behind me pushing me through, greased and oiled up with KY and all the other stuff they used. I was holding this trapeze bar up high and then they reversed the film, so there were six hands on me just pushing me through! Very funny and very awkward, but I’ve never been a particularly shy person. I had to run down city streets in Species nude. They had to shut down an entire city block and I had to run for one of the scenes and I was naked. It helps when you’re 19 or 20 years old and have a cute body. It makes it a lot easier. But I think it’s more about your personality.
I probably could never do that, so props to you. You know, I recently re-watched your acceptance speech for Best Kiss at the MTV Movie Awards, and it was during this strange era where guys would just plant kisses on unsuspecting women while accepting awards. When that happened to you, it looked like you were pretty uncomfortable.
I was not expecting it and had no idea it was happening. I took it as a laugh, and I’d obviously kissed the actor in the movie, but it’s different when you’re doing a role. That shit would not fly today. [Laughs] But it was all in good fun, and I don’t hold anything against the actor who did it. You’re right, though—the times have changed, for sure. Women and everyone are just less conditioned to take whatever comes their way. It’s just not considered OK anymore, and rightfully so.
Being the “it girl,” what sort of job offers were you getting after Species? Did Hollywood producers try to typecast you as the seductress?
You definitely get typecast and all of that. I had a sexy body and didn’t look like the average teenager, and if I’m being really honest, I was open and comfortable with my sexuality, so it was easy for them to typecast me and it became harder to get other roles. I’m 46 years old and am so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to move out of so many of the cute, hot-girl blah, blah, blah. I’ve had the chance to play astrophysicists, lawyers, and doctors. It could have been a lot worse. It could have been, “Your career is dead once you’re not wearing a short skirt anymore.”
I have to ask what it was like to work with Jean-Claude Van Damme on Maximum Risk, because he has a reputation for being a maniac on set.
[Laughs] He does, doesn’t he? Jean-Claude… he’s a colorful character and has a lot of different layers to him. He’s much smarter than a lot of people give him credit for. I had a fantastic time working with him, if I’m being honest. I think he’s struggled with some drug issues over the years, but I didn’t see any of that stuff. He has a very big heart and he’s charming. I’ve worked with actors that were amazing one time and then I’ve worked with them again and they were absolute nightmares.
Are you describing Bruce Willis? Because he’s also supposed to be a handful and you worked with him twice, on the two Whole Nine Yards films.
[Laughs] Man, you’re good. It’s just interesting… where people are in their lives, and they can seem one way one time, and another way next time. That’s all I’m going to say about it!
I know you’ve spoken out against Harvey Weinstein and Brett Ratner before, but I’m curious how speaking out against Harvey Weinstein may have impacted your career? Because he has a reputation for smearing women to producers and filmmakers.
Rosanna Arquette talked a lot about that and other actors, too—Mira Sorvino, others—and they know specifics on how they were blacklisted. I don’t know specifics. I do know that Harvey was making a lot of empty promises to me, and at the time I had my run-in with him it was about him saying, “Talk to me about this book? Let’s talk about it.” And it was all made-up bullshit. Whether or not he was talking about me and blacklisting me behind the scenes, I don’t know about that. But some women do. Some women have the proof and know that he told other producers, or this, or that. I sure as hell wasn’t working a whole lot after turning him down, I can tell you that.
To be a fairly young actor and have to deal with that, how did it color the way you saw the movie industry? It’s quite a traumatic thing to happen.
This happened for me at Sundance, and I wasn’t completely new [to Hollywood], but was very naïve. What’s so similar about my story to so many others, which is so sad, is you feel like you’re the only one, you must have done something wrong, and you must have put something out there—all the nonsense we tell ourselves, where people in those situations try to blame themselves. So much interior dialogue that we do. I’d been in situations with producers before where I’d hear, “So and so wants you to come over and do a chemistry read,” which felt like, “Huh… what is this about?” One thing that infuriated me is when Pamela Anderson came out and said, “What do you think is going to happen if you come to somebody’s hotel room?” Well, I’ve done that for years and years. We do interviews in hotel rooms. We do press junkets in hotel rooms. We constantly meet up with producers or directors—who are in town to take meetings—in hotel rooms. I was so annoyed by that comment. What do you think is going to happen? The same thing that happened the other 25 years, which is: you go for a meeting.
It’s a ridiculous comment to make given the nature of the industry.
That was super frustrating. But to be honest with you, I didn’t look at it so much as a “career” thing. I thought, “Why did he think it was OK to do that with me?” When all these stories came to the surface, it was pretty eye-opening—this underground thing that was happening that I was completely naïve to.
At least he got his. I don’t think he’ll be making movies again. But Brett Ratner is trying to mount a comeback of sorts now with this Milli Vanilli biopic. How do you feel about the way that Hollywood’s treated men like Ratner who’ve been accused by so many women and yet are still getting projects green-lit?
Look, it’s very complicated whenever you have sexual-assault allegations because typically, there’s nobody there, there’s no actual “proof.” It’s such a complicated issue. I have kids and would hate for one of my kids to be falsely accused of anything, and there are people who say, “I’m not onboard unless you’re found guilty in a court of law.” I have some sympathy for that perspective. But when there’s a lot of smoke there’s fire, and I think somebody having a comeback when they’ve never acknowledged, apologized, and even retaliated and sued people in response, and never took any accountability—that I have an issue with. People make mistakes all the time, but this is an abuse of power. And there’s no amount of money that you could pay me to take back what I said, and to not stand by those other women. And I could use the money, believe me. To have the courage to stand up and shed light on this, and for future generations to not have to deal with the same crap, is one of the things I’m the most proud of in my life.
It took an incredible amount of courage.
I’m not a hateful person and don’t wish to ruin anybody’s life. That’s not it. For me, it was about shedding light. I just wish people would come out and hire the people who have been victimized. Make steps in the right direction by hiring these women—and men—and giving them the jobs that they deserve to get.
I totally agree with you—Hollywood needs to do right by these people who have been done so wrong. I was going to ask you how you’ve found the hiring process since coming out with your assault stories? Because to me, it seems like Hollywood has done the opposite and not hired these people who have come forward, and almost seen them as “trouble” or some nonsense.
That’s why I stopped talking about it. I think that’s exactly it. Look, I’m not out to get anybody or cause trouble. I can still have a laugh. I get that at some point, everyone says something in their life that’s off-color or wrong. I get that. And I think free speech and all that stuff is important, and I’m not some crazy person who’s going to rail against someone who looks at me sideways on set. I don’t agree with people who are overly sensitive about things that are said and this or that, but there’s a very big difference between that and someone forcing themselves upon you. And I’m not saying that uncomfortable work environments shouldn’t be taken seriously as well, but there are a lot of different layers to this. And you’re exactly right: there are so many women whose reputations became tarnished because they think they’re “difficult” to work with now and wonder how they should behave around them. Don’t be an asshole, don’t be a racist, and you’ll probably be fine! It’s not that hard.
So, you’ve got Night of the Sicario and you’re shooting Diggstown, but I know Hollywood is incredibly ageist toward women. How have you seen the types of offers change as you’ve gotten older?
It happens with men too, but on camera, actresses, women, if they’re not a sexual being anymore—or men don’t want to have sex with them—then yes, they’re less likely to get roles. There are lots of older actors and actresses who are getting cooler roles, but there’s definitely something to be said for it. Do I get the same opportunities I got when I was younger and more attractive? Of course not.