Actress and singer-songwriter Melissa Mars catches up with The Horror Hothouse‘s Emma Knock about her role in horror comedy The Cabining, working with John Travolta and what’s coming up next.
The Cabining focuses on hapless screenwriting duo Todd and Bruce who have been given one last shot at ‘making it big’ by Todd’s wealthy stepfather Serge who promises to fund the entire project if they can write a worthy horror script in two weeks. Fresh out of ideas and with their deadline looming, they head to the tranquil artist’s retreat Shangri-La for inspiration. Proving to be anything but serene, the resident artists start to die off one by one and Bruce attempts to convince Todd that they should be using their current circumstances as inspiration, but things soon turn sour when Todd begins to suspect that Bruce may be behind the ‘accidental’ deaths.
Hi Melissa, thanks for chatting with us. Hi! Thank you, I’m happy to be a guest on your blog.
Firstly, can you give us a little background on how you got into acting?
I was nine years old, growing up in Marseilles in the south of France, with mum and no siblings (just some imaginary friends). I remember that’s when I decided I would definitely be an actress. I kept ‘making’ movies in my room, playing all [of the] characters. When I was 13, my mother finally signed me up to an acting class with a theatrical company. Weekly, I had my acting classes outside of school and on Monday nights I was on stage performing in front of a public excerpts of plays and improvisation.
A few months later I was on set for my first experience in a film for TV and I was always acting in the theater, both in French or English, whenever I had the opportunity. That was until the day I was signed by Universal Music records. I released three albums in six years, during which I took a break from acting and auditioning. I got back into acting only in 2009 when I was in the successful musical Mozart the Rock Opera, directed by Olivier Dahan (La vie en Rose), and when I appeared alongside John Travolta in From Paris With Love. Now, since I got my Visa O1, I have been living between USA and Europe and have already wrapped five American feature movies in one year.
You’re well-known as a singer-song writer. Which was your first love?
My first love was acting. The music was totally unexpected in my life. I was having dinner with a great French director with whom there was no chemistry, but a famous French songwriter joined us and asked me; “Do you sing?” Since this day, I’ve released three solo albums and featured in some other duets and a musical. The music inspired me some stories, I’m acting in my songs and I sing in the movies, it became a kind of unique passion.
How did you find out about The Cabining and what attracted you to the role of Celeste?
It went very fast! On a Sunday night I received a phone call from Mike Kopera (producer and actor) from L.A. He didn’t know that I was in Paris. I told him that I could videotape myself (which I did with my Mum reading the other characters’ lines with her strong French accent). I must have been charming because I had a call back the following day and they sent me the script. I found out my character was supposed to have French roots (which hadn’t been indicated in the initial breakdown), so that was perfect for me. I sent an email back to say how much I liked the dark horror comedy style and the dialogue of the script, among all the things I liked about the project. By Wednesday, I had booked the role! Only a few days later I Skyped with the director, Steve Kopera, to discuss my role. I loved that Steve was really opened to suggestions and I could really ‘sculpt’ this character.
How did you prepare for the role – did you take inspiration from any classic horror heroines?
Haha! Sometimes when I prepare a role I do take inspiration from movies, but for this one I didn’t. What I love to do is to dive in the past of my character. Mine was supposed to be a sculptor, an artist, which I’ve had some experience with myself. I remembered the feel of what it is to touch and sculpt. I also tried to understand Celeste’s reaction towards death. We discussed that a lot with Steve and I was glad that he elongated a scene [in order] to explain Celeste’s experience with death. I also went to NYC two days before the shoot to prepare my role with my acting coach Anthony Abeson.
The Cabining is your first foray into horror, what was it like to film/be around some of the more gruesome scenes?
So much fun! I could see the special FX artist Troy Holbrook assisted by Krisz Drouillard creating some awesome bloody things that looked so realistic. It was really impressive and exciting!
What has been your highlight of the whole experience?
I realized how hard it was to play dead, haha! Not to breathe or move anything for more than 30 seconds! But one more thing is that Bo Keister, whom I was the love interest of in the film, is really a great actor! Funny and inventive, he improvised a lot on set, and in the beginning it scared me since it was my first American feature. Also, English isn’t my mother tongue and I was scared that I would not to be able to answer back on the fly. But, he inspired me a lot and I found myself improvising too! Including one of my character’s cult lines. I was really proud of it because the director kept it and everybody loved it; “Poor Lacy… she died like a unicorn.” I had so much fun acting with him and the whole cast.
I know Bo Keister is trying to persuade Steve Kopera to make a sequel to The Cabining. If there was a sequel, would you like to be in it?
I would kill them if they didn’t put me in the sequel!
You have just starred in three films, Terms and Conditions, Sorrow and 6 Ways to Sundown can you tell us a bit about those?
Sorrow was shot in Texas, which allowed me to discover a little of Houston and meet new and nice people. I love travelling for work. That’s a horror thriller and I taped myself for this movie whilst I was finishing Terms and Conditions.
Terms and Conditions and 6 Ways to Sundown are both produced by the same team: Nadeem Soumah and Anoop Rangi. We enjoyed working together so much on the first film that they wrote a role for me in the second. I was happy to be able to make it since I encountered a conflict of schedule, but we finally arranged it!
The first is an action movie and I worked for first time with Vivica A. Fox and Tom Sizemore who are really great actors. Very inspiring. The second is more a crime action film, with the charismatic Vinnie Jones and Dominique Swain. The character they created for me was supposed to be French, but because I already had done that and I was on tour in Russia during the preparation, I asked if I could play a Russian. I learned the Russian accent and I really had to exaggerate it in one scene. It was a lot of fun.
At the moment, you’re filming a thriller entitled Lost Angelas alongside Mean Streets star David Proval, how is it going and what have been your highlights?
Again, I would have never thought that I would have the opportunity to work with such great actors, but here I am on the same set, starring in the same film. What I notice is that whatever the age, we are all children in grown-up bodies, playing to be someone else.
The Lost Angelas experience was special. When I auditioned it was for the role of Angela. During the audition I felt there was a chemistry and good vibes. I met with the director and his team, but he hesitated a lot between another actress and me… and finally he picked the other one, but he insisted to create a special role for me.
Rumour has it that you’ve also got another project in the pipeline. Can you share anything further with us as well as your secret as to how you manage to fit all this in – have you cloned yourself?
I need to find a way to clone myself for sure! I am currently on set in Algeria. It’s my first time working here and it’s on a series, I cannot say any more about it until it’s released but I’m sure we’ll have the opportunity to speak about it together as, once again, it’s scary and funny.
On a more general note – what was it like to work with John Travolta in From Paris with Love?
It was a short experience, but it’s been one of my best memories on set so far. He’s a myth but so human, humble and nice to work with. I remember he was always encouraging, he told me several times I would be very happy with my work. I didn’t realize how happy I would be until I heard I was in the US trailer shown in the Super bowl and all the airports. I was crazy happy and so proud!
Are there any particular filmmakers or actors out there that you’d love to work with?
OMG, so many! Firstly, I must say I’ve been so lucky already. I’ve been able to meet and act with big names like Travolta and Rhys Meyers. More recently Vivica Fox, Tom Sizemore. David Proval, as well as unknown actors who are inhabited by their passion. That’s always a privilege and source of inspiration to share the work with talented and passionate fellows.
The list of filmmakers and actors I’d love to work with is very long and includes: James Gray, Guillermo del Toro, Tarantino, Tim Burton, Julie Taymor, Peter Jackson, Steven Soderbergh, Sofia Copolla, I have a french list too among them Louis Leterrier, Eric Rochant… How about acting with Joaquim Phoenix, Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Meryl Streep, Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Kevin Spacey…
Finally…what’s your favourite scary movie?
Forever Halloween! I love that movie so much. When I was a kid my Mum organized scary Friday nights with my neighbour. Halloween still stresses me out when I watch it! Though The Exorcist was my first shock-horror–movie.
Listen to my little-horror story; for Halloween, I spent Friday 13th in a Hostel to escape to my Psycho fear of The Thing who haunted Amityville. But there I Saw Evil Dead walking, I couldn’t even Scream. I passed out and when I awoke Aliens were inspecting me in a Cube where I found a Ring. Who knows its power… [Edit: Brilliant, thanks Melissa! Haha]