A simple yet powerful line runs through Melissa Barrera’s most recent roles: a commitment to showing fearless vulnerability and openness in the face of turmoil.
In her latest role, the ‘Scream’ and ‘In the Heights’ star plays Liv, a high-powered New York lawyer who survives a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness, in Netflix’s ‘Keep Breathing’. six episodes. series from July 28.
“It was very intimidating for me to go places with this character,” Barrera, 32, said, “because I felt very vulnerable — stripping myself bare and letting people see parts of me that I doesn’t normally let anyone see. She’s most like me in some ways, I don’t feel comfortable sharing that, but it would be a disservice not to cast me in that role.”
Barrera fully established herself in the Hollywood sphere following the release of “Vida,” Starz’s three-season series about two Mexican American sisters forced to return to the Eastside of Los Angeles; she played one of the siblings, Lyn. She then landed the role of Vanessa in the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning musical “In the Heights,” released last year. Her cinematic universe debut “Scream” premiered earlier this year.
“I’m grateful to have played such rich and complex women, because imperfect women are rarely portrayed on screen, especially Latinas, and my whole point has been to flip the categorization,” Barrera said. “It cost me a lot of opportunities and slowed my career down a bit because I said no to a lot of things because I actively didn’t want to be typecast, and that’s very easy for this industry. to do. .”
Having gracefully emerged into the Mexican television landscape after a stint on the reality show “La Academia” and New York University before that, the Mexican actress cut her teeth in her home country in telenovelas (television serials). “I had small roles, playing characters that were in all four to five episodes,” she said.
Insisting that her early career was how she became strategic about the roles she pursues, “I learned to say no early on and expect something better, no matter how badly I I was afraid of the sarcastic remarks from the leaders,” Barrera said. Those instincts paid off: she eventually booked her first starring role in the telenovela “Siempre Tuya Acapulco.”
When she decided to move from Monterrey, Mexico to New York to pursue an acting career, she knew it would be one of the hardest things she would ever do.
“What I didn’t know,” Barrera said, “is that I would be dealing with culture shock and the fact that I was surrounded by people who were more talented than me. I wasn’t the best actress or singer The space that existed for me in school and in the industry, a Latina, was pretty tight.
Barrera’s emotional clarity shines through in the conversation. She said it took time and learning to move on and embrace her emotional and physical strength while sometimes accepting the feeling that “your dreams wouldn’t come true.”
“Hard and intense experience”
Barrera said she sympathizes with her character Liv in “Keep Breathing,” perhaps because of her independence and because she, too, has difficult family dynamics.
“Even though I’m married, the nature of this job requires you to be alone most of the time. I’ve also lived a very independent life, and most of the things I do for myself are for me and by myself,” she said. “I don’t have a close relationship with my dad, so going through this healing journey for Liv has been very therapeutic for me.”
Luckily for Barrera, and unlike Liv, she’s happy with where her choices have gotten her, because they’ve made her a “less valuable” actress.
“This difficult and intense experience forced me to stretch in ways I don’t normally do, and it changed me both as an artist and as a person outside of work,” she said. “The Melissa that I was going into ‘Keep Breathing’ and the Melissa that left after those three months were very different, and I’m a stronger woman because of it.”
The thematic power of women is a common thread woven throughout Barrera’s work. When taking on a new role, she said she fleshes out the crevices of her character’s inner life, making sure the character doesn’t become flat or archetypal, adding that she likes to come up with “specific details like her birthday or if she would. eat a certain snack that somehow translates to the screen.
With each new project, the multifaceted artist said, she checked herself in and reassessed her next steps.
“I achieved a lot of goals, I had looping moments,” she said, explaining that the first Broadway show she saw was “In the Heights” — and that she later starred in the film adaptation.
But she is clear that she wants, in her words, to do more.
“I want to do a bit of everything, like Catherine Zeta-Jones or Hugh Jackman,” Barrera said. “I know it will be harder because I’m not white, but I know I can do it.”
It’s that confidence that has helped Barrera convince casting directors, brand executives and any skeptics that she can play roles as varied as Liv or Lyn in ‘Vida’ – and become one of the global ambassadors. from make-up giant Clinique.
Barrera said her family and closest friends encouraged her to “go for it” despite the fear of setbacks.
“Every person you’ve come in contact with in your life has made you who you are, let them see the totality of what you can do or be,” she said. “We also see that clearly in Liv, as it all comes together when she regains her strength and doesn’t wait for death and becomes the best, strongest version of herself.” She paused and added, “It shows that you need to be confident in yourself and your choices.”
She finds comfort in thinking about the days when she dreamed of where she is now, saying it ultimately comes down to one thing: “because you believe in yourself.”
Therein lies the thrill of Barrera’s craft: making his art ignites his imagination, launches much-needed discourse, and hopefully inspires cultural change, not just around casting, but what it means to connect. , cry, strengthen your resolve and be alive.
“‘Keep Breathing’ isn’t just about tragedy and skewed family relationships,” Barrera said. Instead, it’s about “strength, empowerment, and ultimately healing.”
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