Natalie Morales Talks Becoming An Extraterrestrial In I'm Totally Fine - Exclusive Interview

Grief can be all-consuming, and this sadness is something Vanessa (Jillian Bell) wants to get away from in the new film "I'm Totally Fine." After the recent passing of her best friend, Jennifer (Natalie Morales), Vanessa opts to spend a weekend away to help clear her mind. However, she suddenly feels as though she's losing her mind when her best friend appears in her kitchen — but this is not the ghost of her BFF. It's actually an extraterrestrial who tells her she has borrowed Jennifer's body for the next 48 hours in order to study humankind.

The experience is an otherworldly one for Vanessa, and it was actually a pretty surreal one for the stars of the film, too. "I'm Totally Fine" was filmed in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, leaving the cast and crew to get creative while working on a story about anguish and extraterrestrials — and we had the opportunity to ask actress Natalie Morales all about it.

In an exclusive interview with The List, Morales discussed her process for developing a voice fit for an extraterrestrial and how her time working on the film changed her thinking about the human experience. She also teased her upcoming roles in the series "Dead to Me" and "The Morning Show."

She originally read for a completely different character

You originally read for the role of Vanessa in "I'm Totally Fine." What ultimately drew you to the extraterrestrial role instead?

Jillian [Bell] and I both were reading the script and both had the desire to swap roles, which was very lucky. It sounded like more fun — I didn't have to cry as much. [Laughs] I was like, "I've never gotten the chance to play anything like that," and I love doing it. Any kind of character, I really like, so I wanted the challenge of doing something different.

Do you think it was easier or more difficult to portray a character who has no experience with emotions?

I don't know. It's a good question. It's maybe easier in some ways, because whatever happens organically is the right thing. If this character doesn't know what emotions are, or what it's like to be in a human body, or this is the first time they're in a human body, or this is the first time they're talking and walking and moving and making jokes ...

They have all that information in their head, but they're processing it in real-time. Anything you do, any organic reaction is fine, because it's not something that's been done. It's easier in that way. You have to be in the moment, and ... I don't know. It's scary. It's definitely scary to do, but it was fun.

How she created a unique voice for an extraterrestrial

How did you create your character's accent?

We didn't have a lot of time to prep for this. I was like, "Okay, what would it be if I had all the English words, and I could speak, and I had the muscle memory to speak, but I had never done it, and I had never talked to anyone and never communicated with anybody?"

I feel like it's the first time in a body, feeling what it's like to feel things and say things ... You wouldn't quite know where to put inflection on things, and you wouldn't know how to make jokes. You would have all the information, but you wouldn't quite know how to organize it. Perhaps things on your planet are different.

I took it all in a childlike way of: "What would it be like to have the ability to talk for the first time, and how would you eventually get used to it?" It's tracking the idea that the more time she spends with Vanessa and the more time the alien has practiced doing it, a little bit more normal it gets, but at the beginning, it should be very [unnatural]. Maybe the alien's also nervous and doesn't know exactly how this is their first time doing this, and they're trying to be cool.

It was a lot of those things that I took into consideration. Because it is my voice; I'm not changing my voice. I'm just changing the inflection and the way that I spoke as though I had never spoken before. That is what I was going for.

Filming the comedy only took a few days

"It's Totally Fine" took only about 9 days to film. What was the most challenging part about working on such a fast-paced filming schedule?

It was that I was directing my movie "Plan B" right before, so I literally finished directing that, flew home, and started filming this. I was exhausted, and my brain didn't have a lot of empty space for line learning or new things. I had to try to clear my head and let go of everything that I had done, not only for the sake of this movie but also for the sake of "Plan B." It's good to separate a little bit and do something different.

I had these nine days where my editor was doing his cut, his assembly cut of "Plan B," [that] I had free. That's what I decided to do — do this movie. It was difficult for me exhaustion-wise, and I would've probably preferred a little more time to prepare when I'm playing an alien. But I was like, "Let's jump into it and see what happens."

Her perspective completely changed while working on I'm Totally Fine

Do you have a favorite on-set memory from working on "I'm Totally Fine"?

I have lots. It was such a good time with everybody. I brought my dog Taco, and he would ... We shot it in Temecula, [California], and we were all staying out there. Taco would — every day — come to set and run around the house and say hi to everybody in the crew, and it was really nice. It was great.

Your character is so in awe of humans. After wrapping up the movie and playing an extraterrestrial, do you feel like it made you look at any particular aspect of the human experience differently?

Not only this movie or this thing ... 2020 shifted a lot of things for me. We are so lucky to be alive. So many people did not make it. Aging is a privilege. Being here is a privilege. Getting to see sunrises and sunsets is such a privilege.

I try and look at everything in my life like that. Every experience that I have with my friends, my family, my loved ones, my dog, and people that I'm just meeting like you, I try to appreciate and be in the moment of those things, because it's so ephemeral. It comes and goes, and what life's about is to appreciate those things.

Here's where else you'll soon see Natalie Morales

Another big project that you've recently been a part of that deals with grief is "Dead to Me," and Season 3 is coming to Netflix on November 17. Are we going to get to see more of your character Michelle?

Yes, you will, and I can say that now because the trailer came out today, and I'm in the trailer. I couldn't say that before.

It was also recently announced that you would be in Season 3 of "The Morning Show." Can you tell us about your new character, Kate, and how she'll be incorporated in the story?

I cannot. [Laughs] As you know, I probably cannot tell you anything except that I'm excited to be a part of it. Getting to work with those people is amazing, and I'm excited. I've only filmed one scene so far, so I'm excited to do the rest.

"I'm Totally Fine" will be in theaters and available digitally and On Demand on Friday, November 4.

This interview has been edited for clarity.