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Natasha Behnam

Exclusive: Natasha Behnam on The Girls on the Bus season 2 and the power of Gen Z activism

The Girls on the Bus season 1 is available on HBO Max now. This story contains spoilers for the final episode.

Rebecca Lewis
Rebecca Lewis - Los Angeles
Los Angeles correspondentLos Angeles
Updated: May 10, 2024
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HBO's The Girls on the Bus is a messy, flawed and honest look at the world of journalism in 2024 – and nowhere is that more clear than in the character arc of Lola Rahaii, portrayed by the brilliant Natasha Behnam. 

Lola is Gen Z, a social media warrior with no traditional background in journalism, and the victim of a shooting when she was a teenager, which led to her activism. A first-generation Iranian-American, Lola is angry, and confrontational, and rails against the establishment whenever she can, only to learn that perhaps not only can she teach the other women on the bus something about the world today, but she can also learn and grow by listening. 

Natasha is a first generation Iranian-American as well, and tells HELLO! that showrunners Rina Mimoun and Amy Choziak (whose book the show is based on) were open to Lola's ethnicity being whatever it needed to be after they hired the actor, asking Natasha to sit and talk to the writers to ensure that her personal experiences were woven into the fabric of Lola's character. 

It was an eye-opening experience for Natasha – The Girls on the Bus is her first major role – and one that will stay with her forever. Here she talks to HELLO! about having "beautiful and constructive conversations about what makes something moral" on set, her hopes for a second season, and how her own knowledge of Gen Z slang helped with the role…  

Note: This story contains spoilers for the final episode.

Natasha Behnam© Timothy Fernandez
Natasha Behnam

What was it about Lola in particular that you really loved? 

Natasha: It felt like something in me really understood the complexities of this character and what she's trying to do. I think it may be because me and my friends relate – we get our news from social media, and I know quite a few activists that organize via social media – so I really understood what this young woman was trying to do. 

Every side of the argument in the first episode of the series from every character was also laid out so well, it was not one sided, it was very multifaceted for each of them. 

At the end of the season, Lola has taken a job with a traditional newspaper. How do you feel about that decision? 

Natasha: That's a crazy decision from Lola. I hate that it's happening at the last episode because we can't see what comes of it!

So hopefully we get a second season and we can dive into that — and I thought that even the casting was brilliant because her new boss is this tall white man and I thought it was so hilarious. But maybe that's the whole point, that everything is nuanced and complex and that we evolve and maybe Lola was so desperate at the end of it to get into the convention, that she finally was at a place where she knew she had to do what she had to do to so that she could be herself.

Or maybe it'll blow up on her face! 

The Girls on the Bus© HBO
Natasha (left) as Lola in The Girls on the Bus

If there is a season two, what arc would you like for Lola? 

Natasha: I have no idea what will happen if or when we do get a season two, but my instincts say that Lola will be quicker to change an institution than to let an institution change her. What is so great about Lola is that she's still so young and at the beginning of her journey so I would love to see her go through it, and really lose herself in order to come out the other end knowing who she is. 

Plus, she has a lot of power – she is already famous from this horrific trauma that's happened to her – and so if funneled truthfully, I bet she could be a really, really powerful voice in the world. 

How much input did you have in making sure that Lola remained a fully nuanced character? 

Natasha: It was important to Rina Mimoun, our showrunner, and Amy Chozick, to have Lola be a real person. They certainly didn't want to make her a stereotype and it was important to them that she felt very real and grounded, so they were so open to any issues or thoughts that I had. 

There were a few times in the script where I would read a word and I'd call Amy and I was like, 'Hey, Amy, I don't think anyone's ever said this word,' so it was little tiny details of Gen Z slang here and there, but they were very open to collaborating with me. 

Natasha Behnam as Lola in The Girls on the Bus © HBO
Natasha Behnam as Lola in The Girls on the Bus

Did you speak to any online activists and ask for advice on or inspiration on how to build out Lola? 

Natasha: I actually didn't although that probably would have been a great idea! But I focused more on developing Lola and her back story; what's gotten her to this point in order to develop why she is using social media to do what she's doing. 

Was Lola's history built into her character when you first saw the pilot script? 

Natasha: That was something already planned from the beginning; I don't remember how early on they shared that information with me but I know when I got the first script I had been told that she had survived some trauma in her past and was trying to figure out how to move in the world, despite that. And that really was the backstory that grounded Lola and, for me, justified so much of her behavior and her actions. 

I think when people go through trauma like that, sometimes you can just be stunted from that moment on if those emotions are unprocessed and that's a lot of Lola's reality. Her anger and how quick she is and how sharp she is, all of her responses and her fears are all coming from a place of protection because she's holding on to this pain. 

The Girls On The Bus season one trailer

As an actor, what is your process to find that character who on the surface is one thing but is actually something else? 

Natasha: I'll give an example: in episode three, when Lola thinks a pool day means going to the swimming pool, she has on a bikini and it's just a joke, right? It is very funny when it happens. 

But when I was getting those scripts, I'm diving into that moment a hundredfold to understand what that meant for Lola – what was she thinking? How is that going to make her feel? Then understanding that I can play that as a joke but that there are layers and layers of the human underneath that; a young girl that wants to fit in, that pretends that she knows what she's doing, but she doesn't know what she's doing and she is going to be hurt and embarrassed, but doesn't want to show it. 

Christina Elmore, Melissa Benoist, Carla Gugino and Natasha Behnam in The Girls on the Bus© HBO
Christina Elmore, Melissa Benoist, Carla Gugino and Natasha Behnam in The Girls on the Bus

You shared previously that you were taking a lot of Lola and her pain into your body and daily life; how did you find a way to stop that and discover who Natasha was again? 

Natasha: It's all a learning process for me as well as I'm still at the beginning of my journey as well. We shot season one for six months so this was the longest character that I've ever embodied, and it was my first TV series, and so it took me two or three months to even realize, 'Oh, I'm not getting upset at my friends. I'm just carrying home some level of aggression from Lola'. 

That awareness helped to separate it, but I'm a big meditator so I would do a lot of breath work and sort of imagine all of Lola stuff melting off my body. 

Lola and you are both first generation Iranian Americans, how important was it for you to ensure accurate representation? 

Natasha: All the creatives were open to Lola's ethnicity being whatever after they hired the actor, which is brilliant, so Rina brought me into the writer's room once I was hired to talk to all of the writers about my experience being Iranian American, and what that was like. 

It was so sweet and so special for me; I think it's really rare to have creatives that care about representation in that way and so I just shared my stories but I said, 'I can't speak for the entire monolith of the Middle East and and what it means, but I can share my experiences and if that's what you're interested in here, they are.' 

Then they used that to sort of carve it into Lola's story which I was really appreciative of. 

The Girls on the Bus© HBO
The Girls on the Bus

How easy it was for you and Carla and Melissa and Christina to build that chemistry as a foursome? 

Natasha: It was such a blessing and so magical. We all got along so well. To this day, I cannot believe it. It was just quite easy. All three of those women are so kind and so generous and so grounded, and I think we got really lucky to all get on so well. 

We found these real friendships that informed the chemistry that you see on screen, I hope, and it just made the job so much easier. All of us would say our favorite days were when the four of us got to have scenes together and we always wanted more of those. 

Carla as Grace and Melissa as Sadie in The Girls on the Bus© HBO
Carla as Grace and Melissa as Sadie in The Girls on the Bus

Did the commentary of the show lead to interesting conversations on set between you and the other actors? 

Natasha: It did – what was really cool is even the four of us had four different perspectives to the job, and as we would get each new script, which dealt with new issues and different parties and different viewpoints, it was really brilliant to hear what each of us had to say about something. 

We did create this family so I think it led to really beautiful and constructive conversations and debates on what's important and what makes something moral. 

What do you hope viewers are taking away from the social commentary that the show has to offer? 

Natasha: I hope people take away a bit of hope and empathy and lightheartedness, and that you can find friendships in places you didn't think before. Plus a bit of escapism as well. 

Our show is not a direct depiction of what's happening in our political world right now; you can turn it on and almost see what it could be like if we hear each other out and have space for the discourse that we actually want to be having. 

What have you learned about yourself from playing Lola? 

Natasha: Simultaneously through this role and also having it be my first project, I learned to chill for sure!! This is a long life we are leading and I care so much and I want everything to be perfect, and I think this show taught me it's OK to just go with the flow a little bit and not know what you're doing. 

Just show up and just learn and if you mess something up, you're gonna be better the next time around.

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