One of Disney’s fall titles, Black Beauty, takes on the classic story from Anna Sewell’s nineteenth-century novel (and nearly a dozen film and theatre adaptations) and brings it into 2020. Horse drama, love, and loss. It’s exactly the tear-jerking horse movie you expect. We caught up with actress Sascha Nastasi who plays Jennifer, a competitive rider from Birtwick Stables where Jo (Mackenzie Foy) and John (Iain Glen) live and work and Black Beauty is taken after being captured by mustang wranglers.
Jennifer is a mean-girl type with a competitive streak. She is jealous of Jo’s relationship with the wild mustang and her natural affinity for horses. Jennifer isn’t a Regina George by any means, though. She’s an antagonist you can’t help but love, and her, at times over-the-top, actions and gossiping add humor to a heartfelt film.
Showstopper Magazine Online: How did you prepare for your role as Jennifer?
Sascha Nastasi: I did some equestrian research — via YouTube and via one of my best friends, a former competitive rider. I rewatched Mean Girls and Heathers, because I love those movies and because the “mean girl” performances in those movies are epic and inspire me. I learned my lines. I thought about physicality and mainly tried to improve my posture because I felt like Jennifer would have perfect posture and unfortunately I do not (I am working on it).
SMO: Had you ridden horses before the film?
Sascha: I rode horses a bit as a young girl — never seriously, just for fun. And I loved it. But I have not ridden in a long time and would not consider myself experienced in the horse realm. It was absolutely lovely to be around so many horses for prolonged periods of time on Black Beauty.
SMO: You have a background in dance, specifically ballet. Did your dance training help with your work on this film in any way?
Sascha: I do not know that it is Black Beauty specific but I like to dance a bit in the morning before a day of filming or right before an audition. I don’t necessarily dance beautifully or technically well in those moments but I find it really helps to get me out of my head and into my body, and to invigorate me. I also think my dance background helps inform physicality choices — I am definitely more aware of people’s physicality and comportment because of my dance background.
SMO: Do you have a favorite on-set moment?
Sascha: It’s almost impossible to pick just one. I think I’ll say my first moment on set — I was nervous and very excited that first day. It was hard to process everything, the whole day felt very surreal to me. But we were filming the Earlshall Classic horse show scene and the set decoration was so gorgeous and it felt (fittingly) like I had stepped inside a Disney fairytale. Meeting a lot of the other cast members that day, too, was awesome.
SMO: What about a favorite scene from the film?
Sascha: I think my favorite scene in the movie is the opening scene. I love that very first shot of hooves on the beach and then of Jo and Beauty riding together. It’s such a beautiful introduction to the story and gives me chills. My favorite scene that I was in is probably the horse hay manure push one (I think that is a good name for it). I also loved filming a scene which did not make it into the film in which I am coming back to the barn after winning a riding competition.
SMO: What was it like to play the antagonist in the film?
Sascha: It was very cool to play an antagonist in the film. I don’t know that it changed the way that I approached the character, but I’ve never played a role like that before (though I have not yet played many roles) and it was great fun. I loved the freedom it allowed — there was definitely no pressure to be likeable.
SMO: How do you think this adaptation stands up to other versions of this story?
Sascha: I have not seen all the other adaptations so I am perhaps not the best person to adjudicate. However, I think this film honors the original story (I have read the book — just have not seen the film adaptations) and is imbued with its message and heart.
Black Beauty is streaming now on Disney Plus. You can also see Sascha in the short film Being and Nothingness directed by Black Beauty director Ashley Avis.