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Black Country film-maker Natalie Cutler talks modelling, feminism and Wolves footballer boyfriend Danny Batth - interview

Birmingham | Entertainment | Published:

She's been a model, a beauty pageant contestant and is a footballer's girlfriend . . . she's also a staunch feminist.

Yes, Rowley Regis girl made good Natalie Cutler isn't your average WAG.

WAGs don't tend to write plays about the punishment for El Salvadorian women who suffer miscarriages (life in prison), or produce documentaries focusing on Indian women who've experienced acid attacks, or pen scripts about women footballers from the First World War.

They also don't normally write and star in a one-woman theatre show about progress made since the suffragette movement – and tour the country with it.

Natalie is a writer, director, actress and producer all in one. She also owns her own company.

It's hard, therefore, to define her, as Weekend meets her at the gorgeous Black Country home she shares with Wolves captain Danny Batth.

"I think I'm confused!" she jokes. "I suppose I'm a woman on a mission. That's why I set up my own production company (Entreprenher Productions) – I created it to be a platform for female stories – by women, for women.

"I certainly wouldn't consider myself a WAG, I don't fit that stereotype."

Natalie is what you'd term a 'modern feminist'. Her one-woman theatre show Not Yet Suffragette, which is touring the UK and comes to the Mac Theatre in Birmingham this Thursday, examines how far women have (or haven't) come since winning the vote 100 years ago.

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It's already received a five star review and was nominated for best in show at the Brighton Fringe Festival.

"It's not man bashing, or a rant," she's keen to point out. "It's an alternative look at women's rights and if we have actually made any progress since the suffragettes . . . I'll leave it up to the audience to decide.

"It's done in a very light-hearted comedic way. It's an hour long and the scariest thing I've ever done, being up on stage by myself.

"If I can survive that, I'll survive anything!"

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Not Yet Suffragette is a long way from the bra-burning stereotype many conjure up when they think of feminism.

Not that that's a notion that Natalie, aged 27, wants to ignore. Far from it. "They're the ones who got results in the first place," she says. "But you can't fight for gender equality and freedom of choice and then criticise a woman for going out there and making a choice you don't agree with.

"That's what needs to change. I don't agree with porn, I hate it, but I'm not going to criticise a women for doing it if that's her choice.

"She might even feel empowered by it. That's what it's all about for me – it's choice. There are feminists out there who might not agree with beauty pageants. But 100 years ago women wouldn't have had the choice to do things like that.

"People think we've come a long way in the past 30 years, which we have, but you do still need people that are fighting for it, radically. It was only that radical behaviour that got us so far in the first place.

"You've got to upset the status quo. Some people think we don't need to upset the current status quo . . . but we're still not there yet. There's a female Prime Minister, but that doesn't mean the whole system is equal, far from it.

"That's what I try and push it. If everyone feels the same but still keeps their mouth shut we get nowhere. I don't keep my mouth shut."

The model has set up her own company

After graduating from Birmingham Theatre School nine years ago, Natalie has gone on a personal journey of discovering what she wants to do with her life – and with her strong opinions.

She began with an internship at the Actors Studio in New York, run by Al Pacino, Ellen Burstyn and Harvey Keitel, no less.

"It was while I was there that I discovered I could create my own work," she adds. "A lot of the actors there, who are legendary in their own field, were just writing their own material and performing it.

"I was working with a woman called Angelica Page and she had a one-woman show called Turning Page, she was just starting to preview it while I was there and I was just helping her and she was the daughter of Oscar winner Geraldine Page.

"Her show was about her mother's life, she turns into her mother and tells the story of her life, to how she became one of the most famous actors in the world.

"It was so brilliant, powerful and inspiring. I knew then that's what I wanted to do.

"I've always known what I wanted to say, and what roles I wanted to play, but I kept auditioning and there was nothing out there I actually wanted.

"It's getting better now, but a lot of my experience for women in the industry is that you play the hot girlfriend or topless girl number five, or 'there's a sex scene, but it's tasteful'.

"The kind of roles I really wanted to play weren't there, unless you're Meryl Streep. So that's how I started writing, to discuss the things I wanted to talk about as an artist.

"And that's also why I set up my production company. I've always been a bit stubborn and rebellious. If people aren't going to hire me and will give a job to a man instead, I'll just set up my own company."

As a model and former Miss Universe Great Britain contestant, Natalie has experienced countless examples of sexism. Those experiences drive and shape her work, as does her upbringing.

Natalie meets acid attack victims in India as part of her documentary Not in Vain

But does the premise of being a model fit in with being a feminist?

"I get that question a lot. I think I've just always had these viewpoints. It's not something where I had an experience one day and the next day I was like 'right I'm going to do something about this'. "I'm really passionate about women. I love being a woman and love anything to do with us as a gender.

"When you're interested in things like that it leans you to actively seek how you can be involved in that, so I just always find any kind of women's' rights issue, I gravitate towards it and am intrigued by it.

"My nan always told me I was the first female in my family for 75 years – every Cutler before me was a man. I assume that planted a seed!

"There's a reason why I'm the first in 75 years and I've got to do something with that privilege. I carry that as a badge of honour, I love that about myself.

"I've experienced a lot of sexism. Just the normal things. Because I'm in the entertainment industry and because I've done modelling people can look at you as a mannequin.

"I don't necessarily think that's related to sexism, it's just us becoming desensitised. A doctor doesn't get squeamish about blood, because they see it every day.

"People become desensitised to the body, because it's an instrument, the way a doctor would use their scalpel. When people say there's sexism, yes there is, but I don't think we should misconstrue that with people actually being desensitised, because the female body can be used to sell an outfit.

"The sexism side comes more from behind the scenes in terms of how many opportunities we give women, and how many female directors and writers, etc, there are in comparison to men."

As part of her expanding media empire Natalie recently debuted her first ever film, Not in Vain, a documentary which looks at the beauty pageant scene in the UK – and shines a light on a dark underside of how beauty is perceived in India (where Natalie previously lived for seven months).

Future projects in the pipeline include writing a play called The 17, which tells the true story of 17 women who are serving life in jail for having a miscarriage in El Salvador (where a miscarriage is considered to be murder).

She's also penning a script about Bella Raey, who became famous during the First World War as a female football player – before the FA banned women's football in 1921.

Challenging subject matters they may be, but Natalie doesn't come across from someone who will ever shy away from tough issues. She wants to challenge perceptions.

"I'm at a point where I'm grateful that no one hired me," she says. "I've done a lot of work in the industry, but for every job you do there are 10 'nos'.

"When I got knockbacks I was down about it, but if I had been given those jobs I wouldn't be in this position now. It wouldn't have led me to want to tell my own stories.

"I've always dreamt of attending my first movie premiere, or being on the red carpet, but I never dreamt it would be for my own work. By not getting those roles it's forced me to create this own platform for myself.

"I'm realising my dreams – and then some."

By Tim Spiers

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