Nathalie Kelley never had the experience of growing up around other Latinos, as is depicted in her new show “The Baker and the Beauty,” an ABC series premiering Monday about a Cuban-American family running a bakery in Miami.
The actress, whose father is from Argentina and whose mother is Peruvian, moved to Sydney from Perú when she was a toddler. While the number of Latin Americans living in Australia has been climbing in recent years, as per the 2011 Australian census, Kelley and her family still felt like an anomaly.
“It was not like growing up Latino in the United States,” Kelley told NBC News. “Once a year there would be a Latin American festival and we would never miss it because it’d be my one chance to eat empanadas and hear Spanish being spoken and watch people dance salsa.”
Despite not finding many people who looked like her in Sydney, Kelley said she was drawn to learning more about her Latin American roots from a young age and found herself hanging out with Brazilians who had relocated to the country—so much so that she considered herself an “adopted” Brazilian.
As a teenager, she also held a part-time job performing samba, an Afro-Brazilian style of dance, on a cruise ship and became fluent in Portuguese.
Yet it wasn’t until she went back to visit South America when she was 16 that she fully connected with her cultural background.
“There were just so many feelings and emotions. It was the ultimate homecoming,” Kelley said. “I just felt this deep sense of belonging, but at the same time, I recognized, ‘Whoa, I grew up very differently and things aren’t all great here. It’s not this fantasyland I created in my head. In my head, I thought it was going to be like that Lambada video with everyone dancing on the beach.”
“I definitely feel a deep sense of responsibility to my lineage, especially coming from Perú; I’m so lucky to have that ancestry,” Kelley added. “My grandmother still speaks Quechua, the language of the Incas, so I’m very connected to my indigenous Latin America side, even though my Spanish is más o menos (more or less).”
Kelley said she witnessed poverty “for the first time” during that trip, which made her realize why her mother had pushed her so hard to succeed in her education and career — so she could “go back and full circle, help out back home.”
Kelley decided to pursue acting after watching “Shakespeare in Love” when she was eleven. She moved to Los Angeles nine years later and says that she had been “building up” to her current role in “The Beauty and the Baker” for 15 years.
A "boss woman" with a big heart
In the series, Kelley plays Noa Hamilton, an international superstar and fashion model who falls for Daniel García (actor Victor Rasuk), a regular guy who works at his family’s bakery. Though she's misunderstood as superficial given her celebrity status, Hamilton has an affinity for Puerto Rico and flies to the island, which had been hit hard by hurricanes and earthquakes before the coronavirus outbreak, to build schools.
“She’s really passionate about all her causes and looks out for the people that work for her, because they’re her family." said Kelley of her character, "in addition to taking care of her mom who’s sick.” “She’s got a big heart and that’s what drew me to her; it’s an opportunity to peel back the layers and see the real authentic and vulnerable woman underneath the strong, opinionated, powerful boss woman who lays awake at night wondering if she’s ever going to find love.”
The show, adapted from a popular Israeli series and set in Miami, was almost entirely filmed in Puerto Rico, reportedly generating $57 million in revenue for the island. According to Carlos Gomez, who plays the Garcia family patriarch, both the cast and crew of the show are almost entirely Latino.
While “The Beauty and the Baker" focuses on the romance between Hamilton and Garcia, Kelley says the show is just as much “a love story” as one that celebrates family.
“Seeing the love the Garcia family has for one another and the bonds that tie them together has been powerful, especially right now, especially when we’re hurting and scared and there’s so much uncertainty,” Kelley said. “I didn’t really have a great stable family background, so they’ve kind of helped me heal my wounds around love and family.”