Above Photo: Photo by 'G'
Greetings valued Dan's Movie Report and Action-Flix.com readers. Back in 2016 I had the opportunity to view Virtual Revolution, an amazing near future sci-fi film. I made a commitment to interview two of the leading ladies from the film as they have very diverse careers, not just acting. Petra Silander's interview included her extensive experience as a DJ, http://dansmoviereport.blogspot.com/2016/10/actress-petra-silander-interview-dans.html
forward to 2020, my Melissa Mars interview will be extensive, she
chats about her multi-faceted career which includes her beginnings,
singing and acting. Melissa's undulating style and flair for dramatic
realistic performances, make her a force on several fronts. Melissa
is as at home in the action film world as the more somber themed
dramatic projects. Melissa can sing at a concert, a
real gem. Her skill and talent is only matched by her honesty and
loyalty to the people she works for and with. Sit back, relax, grab a
tea, or whatever your drink of choice and tale a trip to Mars,
Danny Templegod: Chat about your musical background, how did you get started singing and performing.
Melissa Mars: Originally, my dream was to be an actress, which I proclaimed in class when I was 9 years old. Everybody laughed at me. I was born and raised in Marseilles, in the South of France, Hollywood was as far as the stars in the sky… But I insisted for four years until the age of 13 when my mom finally signed me up to my first acting class that was a theater company, Compagnie Delta Theatre. I was the youngest actor, they were all mainly adults. So, I would take classes and every Monday night we would perform on stage, in front of the public. A paying public! Soon enough, I also started to write stories, and short screenplays. I got my first camera around the same age and started to film people around me… piecing together random footage to make my first movies out of everything, and nothing… Two years later, I took singing classes. I needed to give my voice some “bass” frequencies and gravitas. I was tired of sounding like a little girl (which I was though, but you know at that age…). After a few months, my singing teacher, Xavier Cagna, who was a singer himself, offered me to open for his upcoming concerts, he totally saw a future for me as a singer. I was the one who laughed this time… I was in disbelief. Me, a singer? I’m an actress. Honestly, I was humbled by the offer, but I politely turned it down. After that, with my mom we moved to Paris. While studying in the most prestigious and top rated high school, I pursued acting after class and in the summer. It was about 2 years later, when a famous French filmmaker, André Téchiné, saw my head-shot at my agent’s office and asked to meet me. I was 18. And I knew that this was the moment I had always been waiting for. In some way, it was, but not for what I expected… During our meeting around a diner with him and my agent, it turned out that there was absolutely NO chemistry. The filmmaker was no very talkative. I wondered what I was doing wrong, I tried to desperately keep the conversation going, but I was hopeless… Later around midnight, like in fairy tales, a music producer came to say hi to my agent & the filmmaker. He sort of invited himself to our table, after some chit chat with my agent, he asked me: “You’re pretty, do you sing?” I felt quite offended at the moment. What kind of relationship could there be between being pretty and the ability of singing? And with everything else being such a disappointment, I responded that I certainly could sing since I had been offered to open concerts not too long ago, but I was an actress, not a singer. And this marked the beginning of my singing career: I left the table and returned home heart-broken from how the dinner with the filmmaker turned out to be… far from imagining that a few days later, the music producer would call back my agent. I officially met him in his studio… That man was literally a king of pop music, he had produced and launched a few French pop-stars. When he saw me, he had a vision, He said that “my insolence, mixed with the vulnerability and mystery I emanate inspired him” (his words). 3 months later I was signed by EMI. I discovered a whole new planet called… MUSIC.
Above Photo: Robert Presutti
DT: Do you like performing in front of a live audience or recording an album more?
MM: It’s equivalent to another question I’m asked quite often: if I prefer acting or singing. There is no answer for that. If I had 2 kids, would I prefer one over the other? (That would make me a terrible mom lol!) Would I prefer walking with my left foot rather than my right foot? (Maybe now that I have a scar on my right foot and still recovering from my injury I’d say my left foot, but I do need both my feet to walk, haha. Same difference with acting / singing and with performing live and recording in studio. Those provide such a different experience and feeling. Recording is an introspective experience; it happens in solitude. Your audience is essentially a mic (and sound engineer and collaborators - even though I’ve also recorded totally on my own). Playing live is the definition of being private in public, when recording in studio is being public in private.... I love both. It’s just a different context and process.
DT: Chat about how you started work in film, was it through music? Do you like acting or music more or is it a timing thing?
MM: Ha! Just what I was talking about regarding the second part of the question :P Since I love both, it’s really more like you say about timing, about being at that place, at that moment, that leads to music or cinema. I never really decide, it just happens. As so the beginnings in film… about a few months after I started acting on stage with that theater company in Marseilles, I booked my first role for TV through a casting that my agency submitted me for. That was a small role, but my first experience on set. Like Alice, I was in wonderland and was burning to return and repeat the experience. Soon after, I booked a more important role, with a few days on set, a lot more scenes and dialogue, time on set, time to get attached to people and feel that bond. So, when we wrapped, and it was over, I felt heartbroken. Everyone returned to their lives, most of the cast and crew was from Paris, and so we lost touch. I was about 14 or 15. We didn’t have cell phones then, let alone Facebook. So, at the time, a wrap was a wrap.
Above Photo: Robert Presutti
DT: Do you have a particular genre of film that you enjoy watching or being part of?
MM: I have very eclectic taste, I love watching thrillers, big studio action movies, romantic comedies, dramas, and above all dystopian science fiction... what’s left? Oh! Horror! I love watching that too but preferably in groups or in family. It’s like a ride, it’s no fun on my own... I’m a binge TV watcher. The latest shows I’ve been watching and adoring are shows such as City on the Hill, Little Fires Everywhere, Billions, Better Than Us, The Handmaid’s Tale... As being part of, for me it’s more about the story than the genre. I happen to have done a lot more thrillers and action, some dramas and fewer comedies, but it’s because that’s how the opportunities came up.
DT: You do not have to mention the movie, but have you ever acted on a project where you were told the story would be a certain way, and then was changed and you were kind of blindsided by it?
MM: I’ve had weird experiences. That I can confirm lol!… But in a different way… There is this one movie where I was blindsided… I had self-submitted for an indie project, and got called to deliver the self tape asap, the deadline was short, I was filming another movie and got home so late, I was exhausted and did the tape quickly before going to bed. So, when I booked it, I was quite surprised but happy and excited. I had to fly away right after I wrapped the previous movie… The dream life… so far…. Once on set… it was a different story, not in terms of script but in terms of conditions. It was absolute craziness, over-over-time, (meaning 20 hours of shoot in a row almost every day!) tension, and many other challenges. Only the people who were on set would know which project I’m talking about, and we had some opportunities to laugh about it afterwards, but on set, it was a real nightmare. I did go to the end, and finished it because when I commit, I commit. That’s my rule. I never give up. And what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. So, what I learned after that experience, was to research the people I was going to work with. When we start, we want to book and work almost blindly, regardless or whatever, with whoever, you know, it’s like feeling always hungry for doing what you love. But you learn quickly that it’s also about enjoying the experience itself, not just adding lines and credits to your resume.
DT: Chat about some of the acting training you have done, you seem very natural on your projects.
MM: Thank you for the compliment. I’d attribute this natural side to the time I spend connecting with my characters, their backstory, the foundations that make them who they are, their choices and what we have in common. When my character is a “villain” stereo typically speaking, I always go for understanding the motivation behind their villainy. What’s the good reason they give themselves to justify their “bad” action? I still train when I can… It’s easy to think that training belongs to the early age of a beginning actor. But an athlete constantly needs training to compete, I’ve learned to consider classes and acting training as my workout, to stay in shape and not risk to rust. The opportunities to act on movie sets are too rare to stop and wait until the next project... As far as where… I have my pillars. One of them is the famous Anthony Abeson. I love his take on the different methods deriving from Stanislavsky: they’re only tools, that sometimes work and sometimes don’t, so he helps you hone a set of different tools… He also brings the dimension of FUN, which not a lot of studios really have. Before him, I had been used to dramatic classes, even borderline traumatic with taking you back into past traumatic experiences. With Anthony, you feel safe if you go there [in the past], and he always reminds us of the FUN and the choice we are the only one to make and nobody else. We laugh. We enjoy it. We just explore what works best for us.
Above Photo: Melissa Mars in 'Virtual Revolution' Director Guy-Roger Duvert
DT: Chat about working on 'Virtual Revolution', I really liked the film, what are some of the memories you have from working on it, and your thoughts on the film.
MM: I’m really proud to be part of it. Visually it’s a kick-ass movie that looks like a big budget movie when it is an indie movie! It garnered so many well-deserved awards. That says it all. The fun fact is that I knew Guy-Roger Duvert, the filmmaker, way before he made that movie. We met through a common friend, Emilien De Falco, who also stars in Virtual Revolution. He introduced us at L.A Dances with Films Festival where Guy-Roger had his beautiful fantasy-world short movie selected, and that was my first festival I attended with a feature film in which I starred selected as well! We kept in touch and with him and Emilien, we would hang out as a French trio from times to times. A couple years later, when I went to Paris, my agent was really excited to get me an audition for a science fiction movie. She didn’t know I knew the director, and I didn’t know he was in Paris in the same time, auditioning for his first feature film! That’s such a different process when you’re friend with the person you audition for. On one hand, there was much more comfort in the audition room, since I knew him, but on the other hand, there is another level of fear of disappointing someone you know. There’s some sort of intimacy and exhibition that felt different, that I can compare to when family comes on set, it just feels different… He had 3 characters in mind for which I could fit, after the first audition, he asked me to do a self tape for the one he decided I was better for, which I did with Emilien. And then they surprised me with the good news at one of our dinners. That was nice and impressive to all work together, to shift from the restaurant dinner, to a huge set and very inspiring to see the level of investment Guy-Roger put into his project.
DT: Chat about working on action films vs dramas do you get into a different mindset?
MM: There is one thing common to every movie as it gets closer, it is that feeling of being hyper over the moon excited mixed with a shade of anxiety, wanting to give my best… As for the work steps, they are quite the same regardless of the genre, my own focus is on building and investigating my character’s truth. There is the prep work on my own, then the work with the director, and then the work with the other actors, then the work on set, in the heart of the character’s life. It’s such a blessing to be on set and make a movie in synergy with so many other people.
Above Photo: Texas Zombie Wars: Titan Base directed by A.K. Waters
DT: Chat about Texas Zombie Wars series, were they all filmed at the same time? I am curious how you got the part on there, and what made you be involved.
MM: This has been a very interesting project! I was rehearsing with Trevor Scott, actor, veteran, good friend and wonderful family man. We were working on a scene together for our acting class when the producers of Texas Zombie Wars he was already involved in (they had start shooting already) were in town for meetings. They were looking for a female actress. He thought I would be a good fit so he introduced me to the Producers including AK Watters who is also the director. It was a fun first meeting because I met them right before an audition for a vampire role so I was kinda dressed up for that. Not in costume, but I had quite a look. But I showed them my reel (and my other looks, lol). We had a good connection. A few days later I ended up on a flight to El Paso, TX. This has been a project in progress over a couple of years. Every three or four months, we would shoot a few days in the outstanding deserted landscapes of Texas. There was a lot of improv based on pages written by Sierra Rivers. They also brought in Michael Svoboda, writer on Dexter... who reviewed all the footage and the story and co wrote what’s now been released under the title of Texas Zombie Wars Titan Base. There are so many memorable anecdotes on this project. But above all, it’s been humbling to work with a cast mainly of veterans who served the country so bravely. I looked up to them, and sometimes I would feel like so small because of the history each of them was carrying, so I would joke that even though I was not a veteran, we had 2 things in common now: Texas Zombie Wars and Iraq. Some of them had been posted in Iraq, on mission and I also had been in Iraq for another type of mission: “shooting” the first international movie in the heart of the cradle of the civilization (Curse of Mesopotamia).
DT: What made you decide to do Your short film 'Perfect Chaos' a 48 hour film project? I thought it was very timely, and had a near future sci-fi feel.
MM: Thank you. Another friend from an online acting class based in Australia had recently launched this series of short films forming a collection of episodes or a chain movie. The tone was already set when he challenged me, and I originally thought and told him I can’t do it in 48h. Then I watched the episodes - for shorts shot in 48h even though imperfect, there was something very exciting and inspiring about them. I immediately had an idea, as I have been myself developing another dystopian project. That’s one of my favorite genres as a writer. There I was, brain fuming, computer fuming, sleep deprived, in a matter of just a few days I wrote, directed and edited the short. I barely slept. But enjoyed everything about it. And especially a challenge I added, I asked my costar, Joshua Charles Dowe, to film the other side of the scene in Melbourne, Australia, when I filmed my side in New York, as if we were in the same room. It’s not perfect but it does the trick, it’s called Perfect Chaos for a reason. And when you accept that fact, I’m actually pretty proud of it for the conditions it was made in, it looks like something cool, and it tells a story I was excited to create :)
Link to watch it: https://bit.ly/perfectchaos-episode10
DT: Chat about Polly, just a great short film, really looks like you put on a thespian show, and to add some vulnerability, is it harder for you to play characters outside of your real personality?
MM: Haha! I like that you think it’s outside of my real personality. But first of all, again thank you for your words. I think, as actors, that every character lives somewhere in us. We always have something in common and I always have been able to find that connection with every character I was blessed to bring to life as evil as they could be :P. When it comes to very dramatic scenes, like in Polly, it’s not harder when you connect to the inner drama that’s boiling inside. But what’s challenging is the level of focus and energy needed for those scenes. When we watch a dramatic scene on screen, as audience members all we see is the frame and the actors, we can hear the music soundtrack, some sound design. But on set, it’s another story, as actors, there’s the whole behind the scenes, as I’m playing there’s the camera movements, there’s all the crew behind that camera, there’s the lights, etc… sometimes (not in this case) you don’t even see the other actor because there’s no room or because it doesn’t make a good eye-line on camera, we have to cheat, and there’s also our own moves that sometimes are limited as we need to land in a certain spot for the camera…. And right before we start the scene, there is even more cause for distraction as the crew prepares the setting for the scene. So, my most important prop as an actress on set is my headset, especially for dramatic scenes. I have a playlist of music I select for my character, and when the director and the crew are setting up the next scene, I isolate myself by listening to it. I stay on the set, where my character is gonna be, but the music allows me to escape the reality and the agitation on set, and to stay focused until we are ready for action. And on Polly’s set, the whole crew was very helpful and understanding of that process. I have wonderful memories of that final scene of Polly that we had to shoot half-way into the shoot, since then we had to change and move location after we were done with all the therapist scenes. So, it was still early in the day. And Marco Bottiglieri, the director, had asked in between takes to keep it quiet on set for any technical changes so we could stay focused on our process. He was so connected. I must say he is a wonderful director. We had done just a couple of takes of that final scene, he was ready to move on, but he asked me how I felt, and I couldn’t get a word out. I was still so fully charged, that without another word he turned over to the crew, everyone was so connected, that was magic, and smoothly and quietly they started filming the take he kept in the final cut. That was a magic moment, it felt like everybody was connected. That’s why when I got so many awards for this short, I feel that it’s a collective award for all of us, even though it’s my acting work that’s rewarded, that was not possible without a fusion team work.
Link to watch it: bit.ly/pollyshortfilm
Above Photo: Curse of Mesopotamia Director: Lauand Omar
DT: What are or shall I say were you working on at the time of shutdown? New projects on the horizon? What is in the future for Melissa, any new music out?
MM: I was working on developing a dystopian project very close to my heart, born from The Last Touch, a short movie I shot two and half years ago, that I left uncompleted for a while. It was an acting class project, something quickly done. But the feedback I received on that first version quickly put together was so encouraging, and the story itself was so inspiring for me that I started to explore the concept further. And last year, I teamed up with the talented screenwriter Keith Armonaitis to co-develop a pilot for it. We continued building together the world of the story I had imagined. A lot of dark things… but when the pandemic broke out… and the first time I went to Trader Joe's and saw the lines with everybody six feet apart, it looked like the dark vision that had been in my head for a couple of years already turned into reality… I couldn’t believe it. It perturbed me for a while and created not a writer’s block but a writer’s fear. I know some other writers have those phenomenons happen too, where we write a story and then the reality manifests it… It makes us wonder if this is manifestation or vision and intuition. After a while I finally got back into writing. And I finally completed the original short movie, The Last Touch, that will be released soon after the festival circuit.
you have some advice you would give to new people starting out in
either acting or singing careers?
MM: We are in pretty strange times, so I’m in a position where I need advice myself. Every project is a new start, there isn’t a place where you settle down and can ever think I’m set up for life. Basically, we are in an industry where there is no safe place. It always feels like I’m restarting my career after every single project wraps up. It’s a confusing feeling, but you get used to it. I’m sure even for series regulars and a-list actors it might be the same at another scale, because we never know how our latest project is gonna be accepted by the audience and on the market, and even more so, you never know when next project is gonna land, and the one after etc… so my advice is to build a strong mindset to get ready for that instability. And create your own work to keep the ball rolling…
Thanks Melissa! To connect with Melissa Mars, please use these official web portals:
Official website: www.melissamars.com
My YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/melissamarsofficial