Breaking Boundaries: The Remarkable Story of Actress Natasha Behnam


May 7, 2024

Kacey Perez

Among the current emerging stars from Hollywood, Natasha Behnam has become as a driving force for developing memorable characters on screen. Originally from Orange County, Behnam’s childhood dreams were always focused on acting. With the support of her family and despite the daunting, fiercely competitive industry, she pursued what she wanted without hesitation. Through countless auditions, sleepless nights, and unbreakable commitment, Behnam perfected her craft and positioned herself for cinematic distinction. Now, as she graces screens in the groundbreaking political drama “The Girls on the Bus,” Behnam’s ascent to stardom showcases her talent and commitment to authenticity and storytelling. As the series captivates audiences with its modern day narrative and thought-provoking commentary on contemporary politics, Behnam’s hope is to inspire viewers with a renewed sense of hope and understanding, reminding us all that the greatest stories are often found in the unlikeliest of places, waiting to be told with courage and conviction. Natasha Behnam is relatable – a true, inspiring storyteller from her personal perspective – and when that translates on screen, cinematic magic happens. It’s why we’re dubbing her one to watch for those who love cinema.

Actress Natasha Behnam photographed up close with her looking directly into the camera with her hair styled with a wet look, wearing a green denim cargo shirt.
Natasha Behnam, photographed by Timothy Fernandez.

Interview with Natasha Behnam

Would you mind taking us through your journey to becoming an actress? Where did you get your start?

I knew I wanted to be an actress by the time I was four years old, I think. I guess I got my start doing stand up for my family in the living room (I did a hilarious impression of my grandma). But, growing up first generation, I think Hollywood always felt like a foreign dream to my entire family. Cool in theory, but not real. My parents were always supportive of my dreams, but they had no idea how to help me get there. But it was all I ever wanted to do. So, when I was graduating high school, the only clear thought I had in my head was that I needed to move to LA. My brain worked like this: Move to LA, audition for something, become a famous actress. I try to remember that simplicity now, as I manifest things…hahah. It’s so pure. Anyway, my parents really pushed me to attend college (foreign parents), so I chose Loyola Marymount University’s film school. To make a long story short, I didn’t sleep for those first 4 years in LA. Outside of school, I took every acting class, I was on every improv & sketch comedy team, I auditioned for every non-paying-but-good-for-experience film I could get my hands on. And most importantly, I built community. Eventually, the auditions got bigger and the jobs got bigger and my external work elevated as I did internally. I got my “start” from the huge community of people who held my hand (and continue to do so) along the way. From trusting people who were kind and told me to keep going. And from learning (sometimes the hard way) what thoughts, people, and experiences NOT to trust. 

Your character, Lola Rahaii, in “The Girls on the Bus” is described as a politically engaged TikTok star. How does Natasha Behnam approach portraying such a contemporary and socially connected character and how is she relatable to those who watch the show?

Approaching Lola was actually quite easy, at first, because I knew so many types of “Lolas” in the world, including (in some small ways) myself. Plus, I follow so many incredible teachers on social media. Primarily, QTBIPOC people who are doing the work of education and empathy and community building for a better world. I saw those people in Lola. She may have a ridiculous and absurd exterior at times, but to me, she was always someone who cared passionately about making the world a better place, and using her huge reach on social media to do so. I found her audacious and righteous nature admirable, intelligent, and rooted in virtue, upon first read. I hope audiences can feel that authenticity when they see her. And for audiences that aren’t as connected to the world of social media, I hope they can see Lola and understand a deeper level of the work that’s possible when connection and evolution is the earnest intention. 

“The Girls on the Bus” delves into the world of political journalism, where every move of presidential candidates is scrutinized. How did you prepare for your role as a journalist, and what insights did you gain into this profession?

The cool thing about Lola is that she doesn’t know anything about traditional journalism, or what it means to be on the road as a journalist. So a lot of my work actually came in the form of building out Lola’s background, and what led her to this point of stepping into the traditional world of journalism, with a blank slate. She’s a survivor of a mass shooting and so much of who she is, is rooted in that tragedy. She is such an angry character, rightfully so, and that anger is both what drives her and what causes her to make so many mistakes. 

I did, of course, learn so much about the world of journalism throughout this process. It was so inspiring to learn about their lifestyles and how dedicated they have to be to do this job. It takes everything. The hours are insane, it’s competitive, you’re away from home for months at a time, you’re living out of a suitcase, you have to be aware of what’s happening 24/7 or you’ll be left behind…. It’s gnarly, and so, so cool. I gained a huge respect for it. 

It was a blessing to learn from one of the best to ever do it, Amy Chozick. I read her book “Chasing Hillary” in preparation for the show, and was always blown away by the stories she would tell us. She was incredibly generous with her experiences to help us along the way. One thing she told me, which blew my mind, is that journalists don’t vote in elections. They refrain in order to maintain objectivity, which was absolutely insane to me. I also loved hearing about times when she thought she wrote something objective or even positive, and the subject she wrote about would be furious about it. It tells such a powerful story about subjectivity versus objectivity, and where the truth lies. 

Lola Rahaii seems to have a strong individualistic streak, yet she finds a sense of family among the other journalists. How do you think Lola’s journey reflects broader themes of camaraderie and personal growth in the series?

I think Lola’s journey shows us that it’s possible to stay strong in your Heart-beliefs, and simultaneously meet others where they’re at. In the first episode of the show, she doesn’t let her ideological differences stand in the way of helping Kimberlyn, who is being attacked by a mob of students. I love that her relationships with the other characters show us that the truth of humanity is always right in front of us: in other people. She’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, but as she spends more time on the bus, she also finds friendship with people she never expected to relate to. Two truths can exist at once, Lola’s passionate belief system, and her love for people who don’t believe the same. I think the show does a great job of showing how that’s possible. It’s a vital lesson: every single person is nuanced, and you can always find friendship, familiarity, or even love in places you didn’t expect. 

Your background as a first-generation Iranian American artist undoubtedly brings a unique perspective to your work. In what ways do you feel your cultural heritage influences your approach to storytelling and character development?

I am so proud that the Rahaii family is one of the first and only Iranian-American families on TV. It felt right to bring my culture to this character, and I’m grateful that Rina & Amy and all the creatives let it happen! Middle Eastern people are so starved for representation in film & TV. It was so important to me to advocate for representation that was real to me, based on my experiences. I am so, SO lucky that Amy & Rina were so understanding and open to hearing me out. They brought me into the writers room to talk about my experience being first-gen Iranian American. I have a huge family and they’re all loud, passionate, and VERY funny. And, quite progressive. I think that may have been a shock (in a way) for some people to hear, since we literally have NO positive examples of modern middle eastern families just existing in a normal way on TV. We’re all so used to the stereotypes we hear about in the media. But I showed them videos I had of my family dancing, making jokes, and just existing together. I was like, if we’re gonna have Middle Eastern representation on this show because of me, THIS is my experience. I’m sure the stereotypes also exist, but my personal experience was that my family was always supportive of my dreams and who I was. I am honored to be able to bring my perspective to the table now. More representation for everyone, always!! 

A photo of actress Natasha Behnam from her waste up looking towards the ground, one hand rising towards her face, the other pointed towards the ground and she is wearing a forest green, slightly puffy coat.
Natasha Behnam, photographed by Timothy Fernandez.

Given your training in comedy and improvisation, how do you infuse humor into dramatic narratives like “The Girls on the Bus,” and what challenges or opportunities does this present?

Oh god, I have no idea. Most of the time I thought I was doing something so dramatic and everyone on set would laugh and I was like….why are you laughing? Hahaha. I do think that I generally look for the fun in characters. Even if I’m playing someone who’s not funny or silly at all, I’ll find places in the story where their unique sense of humor can come out, because that’s human. It’s real to laugh. 

Beyond the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, you’re also known for your passion for meditation and yoga. How do these practices inform your approach to acting and navigating the entertainment industry?

My meditation & yoga practices inform every single decision I make when it comes to my career. They ground me and simultaneously connect me to my Higher Power / Universe / God, whatever you believe in. From an industry standpoint, my spirituality helps me remember that everything is temporary, every moment is a blessing and a gift, and nothing is personal. And, that my path is mine alone, and has nothing to do with anyone else’s. From an acting standpoint, I find I’m a much better actor the more I meditate. It helps me be present, and throw all of my “Natasha Behnam” thoughts out the window, so I can make room in my consciousness for the thoughts of my characters. And it helps me separate those two things as well, because it can get confusing in the body! 

“The Girls on the Bus” is based on Amy Chozick’s memoir “Chasing Hillary,” exploring the behind-the-scenes drama of political campaigns. What aspects of the series do you find most intriguing in terms of its commentary on contemporary politics and media?

I love that the show doesn’t glorify one political party or one style of media. You see the good parts and the ugly parts of every character and every media outlet. Although our show is completely fictional, what we can take away from it is that no person, no political party, no channel of media, is perfect. Everyone, and everything, is flawed. And, even though every outlet and character is flawed, they all continue to TRY. That’s what keeps them alive, and that’s what keeps us interested. In a world where everything seems broken, how can we continue to try to evolve, tell the truth, and be human?

As an avid traveler and linguist, how do your experiences abroad influence your understanding of different cultures and people, and how does this impact your characterizations on screen?

I love traveling and being immersed in different cultures. I think it broadens my scope of humanity, which broadens my scope as an artist. I become more full when I understand and experience different people, languages, and cultures, and therefore all my characters can also be more full. We have so much to learn from each other on this planet. We all have so much to give. I feel so blessed that I’ve been able to travel and meet such beautiful people all over the globe who have expanded my mind and my heart in such big ways. I pray that those bits of life I’ve shared with others can show up on screen in my performances. There is a Universal language of loving connection that we all speak.

Lola Rahaii is described as sharp and quick-witted. How does Natasha Behnam personally relate to these qualities, and what aspects of Lola’s personality resonate with you the most?

If you’re asking me if I think I’m sharp and quick witted, the answer is no. But I do relate to Lola’s passion and her drive. We’re very similar in that we’ll do anything to accomplish our dreams. I relate to her ambition and her work ethic, and the way she won’t compromise herself for anyone or anything. I also think I probably make just as many mistakes as she does. Growth mindset!! 

Finally, “The Girls on the Bus” not only entertains but also raises important questions about democracy and the role of the media. What do you hope viewers take away from the series in terms of its social and political relevance?

I hope people take away a sense of hope that people still care, and that our world is still worth fighting for, the way these characters do. I hope people take away the idea that you can be friends with someone, and even love someone, who has different views than you. I hope people take away the idea that human beings are nuanced and flawed and worth loving even when they make mistakes, and you can find really important friendships in unexpected places. 

Follow Natasha Behnam @natashabehnam.


Written by Kacey Perez | @studioblume_

Photography by Timothy Fernandez | @timothyfernandezphotographer