“Is there anything off-limits in this place?!” exclaims Katie Nehra, as she leaps full stride across the classic, plush red seats at the Kings Theatre. We’re in Brooklyn with full reign of the iconic performance arts venue to shoot Dolce & Gabbana’s Fall ‘16 collection on the actor/screenwriter/designer, whose buoyant energy and natural performance ingenuity bring both the boldly printed clothing and the ornate 3,000-seat facility to life.
The thing about Nehra is that she’s not afraid to go there—hence her triple-threat career title. Today, going there means she’s embracing the bold femininity of the clothing she’s modeling. “The minute the zipper goes up, it’s the most sensational feeling,” she says to dramatic effect. “I love the classic, Italian woman vibe of the dresses—so sexy and celebratory of the female shape. Once the shoes go on, I feel like Cinderella running around the Kings Theatre!”
Years ago, going there meant relocating from the East Coast—she grew up in Baltimore before attending college in New York—to the West Coast, where she moved 8 years ago to study comedy with the legendary L.A.-based improve group The Groundlings and pursue her passion for screenwriting and acting.
“As a child I wanted to be a brain surgeon—I have no idea why!” she laughs, admitting that it wasn’t long before the stage came calling. After getting kicked out of a private high school, she ended up at Baltimore School for the Arts—a move she calls a blessing in disguise. “I went from a school where people were concerned with what model BMW you drove to a school where most of the people had never been on a plane. I ended up loving it, and it was there that I developed my love of acting, writing, and creating things.”
As both an actor and screenwriter, Nehra employs an alluring combination of humorous self-deprecation and savvy aplomb. She recently starred across from Anna Kendrick in the action-comedy Mr. Right, and both wrote and acted in Alex of Venice, co-starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and directed by Chris Messina.
Currently, she’s putting the finishing touches on another screenplay, a challenge she calls arduous, visceral, and emotional. The script is the story of an interracial couple trying to make it in today’s complicated world, and she’s certainly going there. “I find that many films are about the history of race in America, but this is very much about what’s going on today,” she explains. “I’ve wanted to tell my story and experience with race for a long time, so it’s really personal. It’s a dramedy—that’s a cheesy word, but it’s true. There are really serious moments and really laugh-out-loud moments too.”
With Nehra, serious and funny have a way of coexisting, and she attributes her dark humor to both her father and her acting idol, Jack Nicholson. “He’s the ultimate! Even though he isn’t necessarily a traditional comedic actor, he always manages to lace things with humor, and I love watching him on screen. [Director] Chris Messina loves him too, so during the filming of Alex of Venice, he’d be like, ‘Let’s do a take where you Nicholson it.’”
Nehra’s effervescence on set starts to make more sense the more she discusses the scope of her projects, which also includes her fashion label Simone, a line of nuanced classics with a focus on jackets that she launched in 2006. As she danced her way through the last shot (Future on repeat, at her request), it’s clear that this is a woman with boundless creative energy, and not only is she not afraid to go there, she’s well on her way there already.