By Mary Em Burns
Nat and Cathy Fuller in You Can’t Take It With You
Longtime theater artists Nathaniel “Nat” and Cathleen “Cathy” Fuller are well known in the Twin Cities, not only for their professional success on stage and on camera in a variety of roles over the years, but also as an upbeat couple who have successfully blended their career paths and personal lives. It took them several years to fit the puzzle pieces of their lives together — each arriving in the Twin Cities and the acting profession in their own way — but what is less well known is that it all started for them in bed.
Nat came into acting by a non-traditional route. After growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, and graduating from college, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He spent time serving on a destroyer, followed by a stint at a remote base in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands. While stationed there, Nat and his fellow sailors passed the time by creating theatrical shows — think South Pacific, but with more rain, volcanos and seasonal ice. After the Navy, Nat started to pursue a graduate directing program at USC, but eventually found acting more fulfilling. After spending two seasons with the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, he moved to Chicago to pursue acting full-time, where he experienced for a time the real-life role of a starving artist. He worked intermittently and obtained both his AFTRA and SAG cards. His AEA card came in the mid-1970s, thanks to a visit to his brother in Minneapolis, where he auditioned for and was cast in a show at the Cricket Theater. After the show, Nat decided to stay. Shortly after, Nat landed his first commercial job, spending the whole shoot in bed with an actor wife. That “wife” turned out to be Cathy. Nat continued to appear regularly in commercials, industrials, print ads and a few plays.
Nat Fuller as Owen Glendower in Henry IV. Photo: Nat Fuller
When asked if any of these jobs stood out, Nat shared the following about a “slightly embarrassing” gig: “In the late '70s, I was dressed in a wide-collared paisley shirt and holding a can of product. My opening words to the camera were, ‘Men, can I get personal with you for a minute? Even if you shower twice a day, you can’t wash away jock itch.’” Much to his relief, the commercial never aired.
In the mid-1980s, Nat was cast as an understudy for a Guthrie Theater production and, soon after, went on tour with the Guthrie’s Candide. He attributes both his SAG-AFTRA and onstage success to his willingness to be versatile: “I played a wide range of characters with different accents and physical features, parts I never would have won on the basis of a first audition. I didn’t often play leads, but was handy to have around. I equated myself with the utility infielder on a baseball team.” Nat has now been a member of the Guthrie acting company for over 28 years.
Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, Cathy began her love affair with theater at an early age and acted throughout high school. At Elmhurst College, she studied theater and received a teaching degree. After graduation, she relocated to Minneapolis and happily fed her love of theater, working as a speech, theater and English teacher at Coon Rapids High School by day and acting at community theaters by night. After a brief detour to Ohio, she returned to Minneapolis and focused on becoming a professional actor. Cathy appeared in a few plays, but ended up doing more of the plentiful commercials and industrial work available in Minneapolis, receiving her AFTRA card in 1976, and SAG and AEA cards in 1980.
Cathy Fuller in Shakespeare’s Will
Even though they didn’t work together again after their “bedroom” gig, Nat and Cathy officially started dating in the early '80s, and were married on Valentine’s Day 1983.
Over the years, both Fullers have held leadership positions in their unions. Nat was on the Twin Cities Local AFTRA board for several years, including serving as president. Cathy was on the AFTRA board for almost 30 years, serving as vice president and then president for multiple terms. Both served as convention delegates and in other local leadership roles. Cathy served on the original Minnesota Film Board, (now Minnesota Film and TV Board) and was a founder of the local AFTRA Women’s Committee. She represented the Twin Cities Local in many regional and national SAG meetings prior to merger. About her years of service to the unions, Cathy noted, “One of the best things to come out of my SAG and AFTRA membership has nothing to do with jobs. It has everything to do with the time I served on the board as a representative to the SAG meetings, and also representing SAG and AFTRA on the Minnesota Film and Television board for 16 years. Not only did I listen and learn about our union and the importance of being in a union, but I met wonderful people at these meetings who I am still in touch with after 30-plus years. I value those friendships which are lasting a lifetime.”
The Fuller’s success onstage and onscreen is matched by fulfilling personal lives as a family with children from current and prior marriages. They attribute their comfortable lifestyle and professional success to years of supporting each other and to their dual theatrical incomes. His, hers and their respective adult children are all doing well, including their daughter, Amanda, a graduate of the Guthrie/University of Minnesota BFA program and union member, now exploring acting options in New York City. When asked about the secret to their theatrical and life success, the Fullers recommend having a life and friends outside of the theater, which helped them maintain a normal and balanced life while raising their children.
In recent years, Twin Cities theater-goers have seen both Fullers in action onstage. Nat is currently alternating the lead in King Lear at the Guthrie. Cathy appears regularly on various stages, including a portrayal of Anne Hathaway in Shakespeare’s Will at the Jungle Theater. It took quite a while after their bed experience to act together again, but in 2015 they were cast as husband and wife in the Jungle Theater’s popular staging of You Can’t Take It With You. Later this year, they will both take the stage in Park Square Theatre’s Amy’s View.
When asked to provide some parting advice to members, they stressed the basics: Be on time and know your lines. Nat also suggested that artists remain curious and continue seeking as many opportunities as possible to keep moving forward, but remember, finding the balance in your personal life will still be up to you!