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'Small-town girl' Kate Nauta finds success on runway, big screen and the stage

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO | WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - Model, actor, singer and Woodburn High School graduate Kate Nauta poses for a photo with musical artist and actor Lenny Kravitz, who performs on and is producing her as-yet unreleased debut album.Kate Nauta was 15 when she was first discovered by modeling agents at a concert in Portland.

Then a Woodburn High School student who had never once contemplated a future on the runway, Nauta rebuffed the efforts.

“I’ll be honest: I had never opened a fashion magazine in my life,” Nauta, now 32, said with a laugh during a recent phone interview. “That was completely new territory for me, so I sort of brushed it off.”

She forgot the incident until, later that year, representatives of the same agency found her again while she was at the Oregon State Fair in Salem with her brothers.

“I turned around and they’re running after me,” she said. “So, I thought, you know, this is two times now, and both of my parents said, ‘You should go and see what they have to say.’”

What they had to say, as it turned out, was that they wanted her to be part of a runway show in Italy. She agreed — making the trip with her mother — but things didn’t quite go as planned.

“That was my first taste in the industry and it was horrible,” she said bluntly. “I ended up leaving early.”

Though her first brush with modeling was less than ideal, she decided to give it another shot after being invited to an event (slightly) closer to home: New York City. The Big Apple offered her a much better experience.

As Nauta’s career blossomed, however, she would return to the overseas circuits. Throughout high school, she split time between classes at Woodburn High and runways in London and Paris.

As exciting as that life may sound, it wasn’t always easy for the self-described “homebody” who had never envisioned herself doing anything like that.

“When I would have to go on trips during school or the summers, I remember crying all the way to the plane because I didn’t want to go. I grew up in Woodburn, you know. It’s not like I grew up in Chicago. I’m a small-town girl,” she said. “The idea of a life outside of my town was not something I really thought about. I was dating someone in high school, and the house with the white picket fence was where my mind was.”

In fact, she said she almost quit more than once.

“There were times I called my mom and said, ‘I’m going to throw in the towel. I don’t want to do this anymore,’” she said. “Thankfully, I come from an amazing family that was super-encouraging and always supportive. I learned that if you just keep going and keep fighting, things tend to work out.”

After graduation, she moved to New York City to continue a modeling career that would eventually include work for L'Oréal, DKNY, Clinique and Motorola, and stops everywhere from Miami to Sydney, Australia.

Her resume would soon broaden into other avenues as well. Her film debut came quite unexpectedly in 2005, when — after seeing her modeling work — French film producer Luc Besson cast her as the villainous, dual-automatic weapon-wielding Lola in the blockbuster action-thriller “Transporter 2.”

“That whole experience was super cool,” she said. “Everything was so new for me. They flew me out so this martial arts team could train Jason (Statham) and me. There was a five-month production in Miami. It was terrifying, but also a lot of fun.”

Her page on the Internet Movie Database lists 13 credits to her name, including her most recent role as Dani in the 2014 independent film “37,” but she said the best part about her big-screen roles has been how they have allowed her to focus on her true passion: music.

“My main passion in life is music,” she said. “And acting has been a great platform for that, because I’ve been able to get songs into some of my film’s soundtracks.”

Her biggest break in the music world came when Grammy Award-winning artist Lenny Kravitz sought her out after hearing her cover of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” The multi-talented Kravitz is producing her as-yet unreleased debut album and performs a different instrument on each one.

“He can play anything,” she said. “It’s unbelievable.”

They’ve recorded eight tracks so far, all of them at Kravitz’s private studio in the Bahamas. With his support, she made the big decision to go into music full-time.

“Lenny — he’s an incredibly talented and gifted man,” she said. “I feel so fortunate to know him and have been able to work with him. I’ve met several producers, and he’s the first one who got me. He really believes in me, had if it hadn’t been for that, I’m not sure I would have had the faith to step out and just do music.”

Of course, the support of her new husband, noted Manhattan creative architect and designer Robert McKinley, didn’t hurt. They were married this summer in Montauk, New York.

Despite her success, Nauta said she loves returning to Oregon and does so regularly. Her parents, Rhonda and Louis Nauta, still live in Woodburn, and her brothers and sister aren’t far away.

On reflection, Nauta was humble about her career, and grateful she didn’t give up early on, when the steps outside her comfort zone had seemed like more than she could handle.

“I’ve been really blessed in this business. I think it was a matter of the stars aligning,” she said. “When I was 15, this was not something I ever thought I wanted to do, but I’m so thankful, looking back. I can’t imagine my life doing anything else.”

Tyler Francke covers all things Woodburn. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1195.

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