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Natalie Morales had a busy quarantine. The Dead to Me star had been set to start filming her feature directorial debut, the teen comedy Plan B, right before the pandemic shut down production across Hollywood - but that didn't deter her creativity.

Natalie Morales
Credit: Catie Laffoon

Last summer, she directed Language Lessons, an affecting two-hander starring and co-written by Morales and Mark Duplass that takes place largely over Zoom. "So that ended up sort of becoming my first directorial debut, totally accidentally," she tells EW. Then, last fall, she was finally able to shoot Plan B under careful COVID protocols. Now, all of her 2020 work is getting in front of audiences - Language Lessons premiered at Berlin in March, and Plan B is now streaming on Hulu - and Morales has arrived as a director to watch. Here are the movies, TV shows, and one beautiful book that inspire her the most.

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Buster Keaton

At Los Angeles' beloved Silent Movie Theatre (since renamed and under new management), Morales discovered the artist she calls "the biggest inspiration [of] my whole life" when she was 20 years old. Her first Buster Keaton film was his 1926 classic The General, but she names 1924's Sherlock Jr. as her favorite of his oeuvre, which she considers "so incredibly ahead of its time." Morales adds, "It is so deeply funny, still today. And it has the combination of everything I have always wanted to do - absurdity and a ton of heart."

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Schitt's Creek

"I'm so excited that someone let them keep making it," says Morales, with a laugh, of the Emmy-sweeping Pop comedy. "If you didn't give that show time to breathe, it wouldn't have gotten where it was. So many shows need that." She names co-creator/star Dan Levy as "a definite inspiration" for both his creativity and his faith in his own vision. "I'm glad he made it, and I'm glad he convinced someone to let him keep making it." 

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Clueless

Morales' Plan B took inspiration from (and pays homage to) various classics of the teen-movie canon: "I wanted to bring back that feeling that we all felt when we watched teen movies, like it was us and our friends." But she call's Amy Heckerling's 1995 masterpiece "a perfect film in every way. Every element of that movie - the way that it's shot, its production design, the costumes, the dialogue, the acting, the casting - is so, so good."

The Little Prince
Credit: Mariner Books

The Little Prince

In addition to having one of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's iconic illustrations tattooed on her arm, Morales has found herself returning to his poetic 1943 novella throughout her life. "That book is really this touchstone. It's for all ages, and it means something different to you every time you read it." Early in the pandemic, she read chapters of it aloud on her Instagram Stories: "It was the only thing I could think of doing. I felt like I needed to do something, and I felt like maybe that could be soothing to anybody."

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One Day at a Time

The first time she watched the 2017 multicamera sitcom (a remake of Norman Lear's popular 1975 CBS series), which follows a Cuban American family, Morales found herself sobbing. "I was like, 'Oh my God, is this how white people feel when they watch anything?'" It showed her the kind of work she wanted to make herself. "A lot of the times when I've seen diversity on TV and movies - and that word is odd on its own - it feels shoehorned, and not made by the people who it is [about]. So it doesn't feel quite as honest. Nothing quite did it like One Day at a Time. I'm trying to do that, to make things that are relatable to everybody. And I think the way to do that is to do something that really connects to your own heart."

To read more from EW's 2021 Pride Issue, order the June issue of Entertainment Weekly - with covers featuring Lil Nas XMj RodriguezBowen Yang, and Lena Waithe. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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