Natasha Calis as Ashley Collins in NURSES - Season 1 - "Achilles Heel" | ©2021 NBC/Ken Woroner/eOne

Natasha Calis as Ashley Collins in NURSES – Season 1 – “Achilles Heel” | ©2021 NBC/Ken Woroner/eOne

NURSES is airing its first season Tuesday nights on NBC. Season 2 wrapped shooting in October, 2020. The medical drama deals with the nursing staff at the busy (fictional) St. Mary’s Hospital in down Toronto, Canada.

Natasha Calis plays nurse Ashley Collins, dedicated to her patients and loyal to her friends. Calis began acting at the age of seven, with a live-action role in THE CHRISTMAS CAPER. Soon after, Calis was voicing characters in animated BARBIE and DINOSAUR TRAIN programs. Other credits include leads in the films THE POSSESSION, THE HARVEST, and HEARTBEAT, and in the series THE FIRM and TIES THAT BIND.

Speaking by phone from her home in Vancouver, Canada, Calis talks about embodying on of the title characters on NURSES.

ASSIGNMENT X: From early episodes, it seems that Ashley is very helpful and supportive to her fellow nurses, to the point of perhaps overlooking their ethical and legal lapses?

NATASHA CALIS: Yeah. She’s definitely an outspoken character, and she’s a tough one. Once she’s in a friendship with you, she’ll do anything to protect you. So, yeah, she’s definitely a good person to have around in the hospital.

AX: What else can you say about Ashley as a character?

CALIS:. Ashley is really fun to play. There’s more to her than meets the eye. She’s got lots of layers. There’s a certain depth to her that I don’t think you find, or see, until a little bit later on in the season, but I think when we first meet Ashley in the first couple episodes, she might not be the most likable character. She has sort of a tough exterior, a tough face that she puts on, but I think that’s all just a defense mechanism from her life. She grew up in a small Christian town, in a big Christian family, and so, being gay, she was always the black sheep of her family and her town. So, she fled, and put herself first, and got into medicine, and nursing school, and became a nurse to help other people. And so, that really shaped who she is as a person, and it’s fun to play, because she does have this vulnerability to her, deep down, and she really has this huge heart, which is why she went into nursing, to help people, and to care for people, and to be there for people.

Natasha Calis as Ashley Collins in NURSES - Season 1 - "Achilles Heel" | ©2021 NBC/Ken Woroner/eOne

Natasha Calis as Ashley Collins in NURSES – Season 1 – “Achilles Heel” | ©2021 NBC/Ken Woroner/eOne

AX: Did you have to learn anything to play a nurse, like how to give an injection, or how to do stitches?

CALIS: Yeah. It was fun. Before we started filming, we had a week of medical training, where our on-set [medical technical advisor], Josh Hehner, who’s there every single day with us, gave us this crash course of medicine to make it look like we know what we’re doing. He’s pretty hands-on. We did learn how to administer IVs, and we learned CPR, and we learned how to use all of the equipment, because it’s actually all fully-operating, real hospital equipment. So, we learned how to use all those machines, and he taught us everything, and whether we retained that information or not, it was good to know the basics, and learn about what all these devices do, and how they help people. So, it was really interesting and educational.

AX: How is it working on a medical show during the real-world COVID pandemic?

CALIS: It was pretty crazy. We filmed Season 1 in 2019, before COVID was a thing. Then going back and filming Season 2, we started filming it in the beginning of March [2020], right before COVID, and then got shut down an episode-and-a-half into filming, and got sent home. And then we resumed filming in July, and finished in October. So, what was interesting about that was, filming half an episode before COVID, and then having to resume the other half of the same episode during COVID. So, it put everything into perspective for us, and I think I can speak on behalf of all of the cast when I say that we really wanted to fill the nurses’ shoes, and play nurses as best we can, and show the hospital life as realistically and raw and authentic as we can. It was just an added pressure of wanting to do this show justice, and play nurses, and make them proud. I think it was such a good opportunity for us to, in these times, have the opportunity to tell these stories, and to showcase everything that goes into being a nurse, emotionally, mentally, so on and so forth. So, yeah, it was definitely a different experience, filming Season 1 before COVID, and then filming Season 2.

AX: You were on an episode of THE GOOD DOCTOR before you were on NURSES. Was that in any way helpful in preparing to be on NURSES?

CALIS: What’s funny about that is, I actually got the phone call that I got NURSES while filming THE GOOD DOCTOR. I was in the middle of a scene, and the director yelled, “Cut!”, and I went to my phone, and I saw missed calls from my team, and then I called them back, and they were like, “Hey, we’ve got some good news, you got NURSES.” So, it was really cool to be in the green room with the cast of THE GOOD DOCTOR. Freddie Highmore and everybody got to share that moment with me. I screamed when I was in the green room, and everybody was like, “Oh, my God, are you okay?” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, it’s all good! I’m going to be a lead!” Because I was just a guest star on THE GOOD DOCTOR, so it was cool being able to share the excitement of, “I’ve going to be the lead in a new medical drama!”

AX: Getting in the Wayback Machine, how was being a dinosaur voice on DINOSAUR TRAIN?

CALIS: That’s another funny story. I did that show originally when I was, I want to say, ten or eleven. And then they brought my character back years later – I think I was eighteen or nineteen – and they’re like, “Hey, can you still do that voice that you did as a kid?” And I was like, “Oh, I can try.” And they sent me a recording of myself when I was ten, and I had to match it, and I was able to do it.

Natasha Calis as Ashley Collins in NURSES - Season 1 | ©2021 NBC/Matt Barnes/eOne

Natasha Calis as Ashley Collins in NURSES – Season 1 | ©2021 NBC/Matt Barnes/eOne

AX: Do you have younger relatives, who enjoy your voice work, who are going, “Oh, look, it’s Natasha”?

CALIS: I have a little niece, so her auntie Natasha is pretty cool, because she watches DINOSAUR TRAIN and all the BARBIE stuff. Well, I keep forgetting, she’s seven now, so she’s like, “Auntie Natasha, I don’t watch that anymore. I watch …” whatever it is kids watch these days. But yeah, that was pretty fun for me.

AX: You were also in the 2018 SUPERNATURAL episode “The Scar.” Who or what did you play?

CALIS: I played a character who was cursed with an aging spell, and so [the regular characters] had to help me with that. They put a bunch of prosthetics on me, to make me look old. So, they put prosthetics on my hands, and on my chest, and made me look all wrinkly. I had to sit in the makeup chair for a couple hours and get that done, but that was super-cool. I’m so into all those special effects makeups, and that was really fun. And it also films in Vancouver, and I did a horror movie, years prior, called THE POSSESSION, and the special effects makeup team was on THE POSSESSION, and did some of the effects on [SUPERNATURAL]. So, years later, the team was like, “I recognize you!” I was like, “I recognize you, too!” We connected the dots, and it was pretty cool.

Sometimes as an actor, you have standout sets where the crew and the cast are exceptionally amazing, and exceptionally welcoming, and kind. Because being a guest star – they’re there every day, and guest stars come and go, and you never know what your experience is going to be like, but SUPERNATURAL was just exceptional. They were honestly the most welcoming, loving, friendly, funny – that was really great. I’m happy that I was able to be on it before it ended.

AX: You were also in THE HARVEST, and carrying a lot of that movie, even though you were fairly young. It was your character’s point of view for a lot of it. How old were you at that time?

CALIS: I was fourteen or fifteen.

AX: Did you feel like that was a big responsibility at that point, or were you ready for that already as an actor?

CALIS: Yeah. I think I felt ready. Going back to THE POSSESSION, that was sort of my first big movie where I felt that pressure, and I was a bit younger, I was eleven. And that also rested on my shoulders, but never did I feel intimidated or scared or anything. I was just so lucky and honored and excited to be able to do these films.

With THE HARVEST, John McNaughton was an amazing director, and I got to work with Charlie Tahan, who’s now in OZARK, and is absolutely incredible. We were around the same age, and we became such good friends. So, never did it really feel like I was carrying the movie. It felt like another day on the job, and something I love to do, so I was really honored to be able to play that character, and tell that story.

AX: And you were a series regular on two other shows, THE FIRM and TIES THAT BIND?

CALIS: I was, yes. Again, they were all really great experiences, and it was really fun. THE FIRM filmed in Toronto, and that’s my first experience in Toronto. We filmed for close to ten months, and I just absolutely fell in love with the city. That was my first time having to relocate for a project. I longed for the day that I would get to go back there again. And then NURSES comes along, and it films in Toronto, so I was so excited that I got to go back to what I call my second home, Toronto, and live there again.

AX: Is there any kind of a different feel in the film communities between Vancouver and Toronto?

CALIS: I don’t think so. I think that there is definitely a different feel in the film communities between Canada and the U.S. I remember, as a kid, having to do on-set schooling. So, one of the main differences between Canada and the U.S. is the on-set tutor in the U.S. was also almost like a guardian. They would always be there to protect the kids, and there as like a second parent. Whereas in Vancouver, it was more like a teacher and a student type of situation. [In Canada], my parents or my mom would always be there. But there are just little differences in the way things work.

AX: Back to NURSES, did all of you who are playing nurses get together and bond when you first started, to work out the relationships between your characters?

CALIS: Yeah, absolutely. I think our bonding and our friendships evolved instantaneously. We all really hit it off, and we’d go for dinners, and we’d hang out before and after set, and we’d work out together. I think one of the first bonding experiences was with the medical training. So, we all got to laugh at ourselves and learn how to do all these cool things together, and we were all so excited to start filming, and be a part of the show. During Season 1, we’d have table reads, and our whole cast, and the writers, and the producers, and the director would all sit in a big conference room, at this big table, and we’d all read the script together. Unfortunately, Season 2, we couldn’t do that, because of different COVID protocols. But I remember our first-ever table read for Season 1, Episode 1, that was a really special moment. There were cupcakes, and a welcome, and champagne, and we all did a toast. The energy in that room is indescribable, and it’s a moment that I will always remember, because we all were so excited just to get started, and to be a part of such a wonderful show.

AX: Do you have a favorite scene, or a favorite episode, of NURSES that you’ve gotten to do so far?

CALIS: I would say my favorite episode is Episode 7. That was a really pivotal moment in showcasing the nurses, all of our friendships. We come together in that episode and show that we’re a family, and we’re all there for each other. We also filmed outside of the hospital a little bit more than usual as a group. And my favorite scene would have to be in Episode 8, when I’m riding on the stretcher, and there’s blood, and it’s a little bit more gory, and it’s a little bit more hands-on for me, so that was just fun.

AX: Do you have any other projects coming up that we should know about?

CALIS: Not as of right now. Tiera Skovbye, who plays Grace on NURSES, and I are doing this fun little Instagram live show every Wednesday where we interview and chat with our fellow castmates, and we get the viewers to ask us questions the night before, when the episode airs, and so it’s just a fun way to engage with the viewers, and chat, and get everyone to get to know our castmates better. It’s called SPILLING THE TEA WITH GRACE AND ASHLEY. So that’s just a fun little side project for us.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about NURSES?

CALIS: I would like people to take away from NURSES a newfound respect for nurses, and how emotionally trying [that profession] can be, and how it’s so much more than just medicine. The job is also compassion and being emotional support for their patients, and it’s hard, and I don’t think nurses necessarily get the credit that they deserve.

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Article: Exclusive Interview with actress Natasha Calis on NURSES – Season 1


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