Melissa Barrera’s path to the Hollywood dream

The Mexican actress plays the lead in ‘Scream VI,’ the new installment of the popular terror saga, while also working on other projects, including a film with Oscar-nominated actor Paul Mescal

La actriz mexicana Melissa Barrera en el estreno mundial de 'Scream VI'
Mexican actress Melissa Barrera at the world premiere of ‘Scream VI,’ in Lincoln Square in New York, March 6, 2023.ANGELA WEISS (AFP)

Like the victims of Ghostface, the serial killer protagonist of the Scream film saga, Melissa Barrera never saw what was coming for her. “I never imagined myself making horror movies,” the Mexican actress says. Now, the 32-year-old is the star of Scream VI, the latest installment of the Wes Craven’s horror franchise, created in 1996. In the new movie, the performer once again puts herself in the shoes of Samantha Carpenter to attempt to survive the ravages of the well-known murderer.

In the new film, Barrera follows up on the events of the fifth Scream film, which came out last year. Scream VI picks up where the previous installment left off. Sam (Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) are trying to put the trauma behind them and start new lives in New York, but the past isn’t buried. Once again, they have to face their demons, and the enemy that wants to destroy them.

Melissa Barrera
Actresses Melissa Barrera (left) and Jenna Ortega (right) play Sam and Tara Carpenter in 'Scream VI'.Philippe Bossé (AP)

When she was chosen for the previous installment, Barrera began studying the first four installments. The directors also gave her a list of horror movies to inspire her. “I fell in love with the genre again. Now I’m a horror fan again,” she tells EL PAÍS over a phone call.

With this new film, Samantha Carpenter follows in the footsteps and legacy of the other protagonists and survivors of the franchise, including Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers, played by Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox, respectively, in the five previous films. She becomes part of the pantheon of so-called Scream Queens, or actresses who become iconic within the genre. Actors such as Campbell and Cox share the distinction, as well as legends such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh, among others.

“It is an honor, because that title for me is something that you have to earn, something that the public has to grant you. Personally, I feel that I still have a ways to go, but I really appreciate the gesture. I really admire all the iconic Scream Queens, including Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox, who are legendary,” says Barrera.

The killer known as 'Ghostface' in a still from 'Scream VI'.
The killer known as 'Ghostface' in a still from 'Scream VI'.Photo Credit: Philippe Bossé (AP)

Scream, despite having touches of humor and parody of the serial killer genre, is a saga that deals with trauma and past decisions. For Barrera it was a challenge as an actress to face the duality of her character. Sam’s internal battle with light and darkness has dragged on since the previous installment. “Getting into those mental conflicts is difficult, but they are challenges that are welcome for me. It makes the character more layered and feels more human. Everything in the movie feels more dangerous. The chase sequences are more intense, along with the energy of New York. Everything in the film is rising in tone and is much more brutal than before,” she explains.

Barrera became known in 2011 on the Mexican reality show La Academia, a singing competition for new talent. From there, the doors opened for her, first in productions in Mexico, such as the soap opera Siempre Tuya Acapulco, in which she played her first leading role, and Netflix series like Club De Cuervos. Once she made the leap to Los Angeles, other leading roles began to arrive in series such as Vida (2018-2020) and Keep Breathing (2022).

In 2019, the actress won a starring role In The Heights, the film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway play. Now, in 2023, three of her talents and passions, dance, singing and acting, come together again in Carmen, a film based on George Bizet’s opera, in which she shares the lead with Irish actor Paul Mescal, recent Oscar nominee for Aftersun. The film opens on April 21 in New York and Los Angeles, and in May in the rest of the United States.

The Mexican actress Melissa Barrera and the Irish actor Paul Mescal in a still from 'Carmen.’
The Mexican actress Melissa Barrera and the Irish actor Paul Mescal in a still from 'Carmen.’Sony Pictures Classics

“The film is visually like a poem. It is a film that is basically told through dance. Music, acting and dancing are three disciplines that are really fulfilling for me, and I am always looking for projects that allow me to combine them. I studied musical theater, and that’s what I want to do. Now I found another medium where I can explore that. In The Heights was more of a Broadway-type musical. Carmen is something else entirely. I like to look for projects that feel like they are breaking the barriers of a genre,” she adds.

The actress moves between smaller and larger productions. On March 17, All The World is Sleeping, the first film role that Barrera landed in the US, was released. Barrera plays a mother from New Mexico who sinks deeper into her addiction as she struggles to recover for her daughter. “It is a very difficult story to watch, and I want to honor the women who have gone through this situation, especially the seven who shared their story for the writing of the script, which I fell in love with,” says the actress.

When Barrera appeared on La Academia, she was eliminated in round 13 of 18. But she is a firm believer that it is never too late to pursue a dream. “I am very grateful to my inner child, that she never stopped dreaming. That she pushed me to fight and take risks. I never stop learning and knocking on doors. I feel very lucky for everything I’ve done since I started with the theater in Monterrey, until now promoting Scream. I feel that I am just beginning, that the good things are just starting to arrive,” she says.

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