Monday, April 06, 2015

Acting Inspiration: Melanie Stone

If I were a "real" journalist, I'd be starting this by describing the restaurant that Melanie and I are meeting in, and what brands she's wearing when she breezes into the table I've been saving for us.

But I'm not a real journalist, I'm a blogger. And I conducted this interview over the internet and not in a fancy restaurant. But I'm as excited about this interview as I would be if it were Jennifer Lawrence, or Tina Fey, or Cate Blanchett. I will never get over having talented, successful, brave, and beautiful friends.

This is Melanie Stone. Melanie and I met way back in 2009, when we were in a BYU-Idaho production called "Pioneer Song." (I had seen her before in a production called "Smash," but I was a little distracted at the time by another cast member in the show named Jacob Chapman, so I just thought, 'Man, she's good' and then watched Jacob.)

But then we did "Pioneer Song" and she really was fantastic. Melanie is one of the most beautiful people I know, inside and out, and her performance in "Pioneer Song" as the youngest daughter of a woman crossing the plains was heartfelt and endearing. We never got to work together as closely as we both wanted to, despite plans we made to film a short about two girls who discover a computer that's alive. (My fingers are still crossed that somehow, the universe will allow us to work together someday.)

Between 2011 and now, Melanie has managed to land some pretty awesome work, most notably the 3-part feature film "Mythica," in which she plays Marek, the magician's apprentice who scrounges up a handful of adventurers to save the day. (You can watch it for free here!)

And you guys. She's so so so good.

Like, I'm not even sure how I have a friend this good. I mean, she's up there on that screen with Kevin Sorbo, and winning "Best Actress" at the 2015 "Filmed in Utah Awards." See, look how awesome:


So, completely unashamed, I sent her a message asking if I could interview her for my blog. Because I want to learn from people I admire. And I figure that while I'm learning, the rest of you could too. I feel so lucky to know people like Melanie. Because going out and DOING this kind of thing takes courage. A lot about this industry is luck, or looks, or who you know. So it takes courage to just get out there and go for it...to be brave enough to put yourself in places where luck can find you, and to go out and create your own art when it doesn't. I love that about Melanie. I love that her career so far has been about just going for it. Even when she was skeptical. Even when she was discouraged. It means that even when I'm skeptical or discouraged, I can still go for it. It's inspiring.

I had originally planned on creating a profile kind of article from this interview, but Melanie just said so many awesome things that I couldn't bring myself to cut any of it. So here's the good old-fashioned transcript. Thank you thank you thank you to Melanie for doing this! I learn so much from you.

How did you become involved in Mythica?
I was auditioning for a smaller role in another one of Arrowstorm’s previous films, “Survivor.” The director of that film (John Lyde) recommended me to the producers of Mythica. I think it was a few days later that I received a call from them asking me to audition. I remember going in to their office and they were using a cell phone to record my audition. That definitely took the edge off, to say the least. Admittedly, my initial thought at that point was, “So this is the kind of project I’m dealing with." I was called back a few days later to read with another actor, and to be honest I was a bit skeptical throughout the entire audition process. I’m glad I was dead wrong on my first impression though; Mythica really surprised me. It’s been the greatest thing I’ve worked on so far.

What was your favorite thing about playing Marek?
This question is hard for me to answer. I’ve been asked it a few times and whenever I get done answering, I think “That’s not quite right.” So let me try and get it right this time.
I think my favorite thing about playing Marek was the fact that this was the first character I had really gotten to know and experiment with. It was the first time I had really grown attached to a role. Halfway through filming I found myself defending her all the time, on and off set.
On top of that I like how conflicted she is. She’s always struggling against this dark side, but she’s also spunky, sensitive, and caring.

What was the most challenging thing about playing Marek?
Making sure I was hitting the emotional beats. We were shooting movies one and two at the same time, and there were days when I would be in a scene from the second film and I’d realize, “Oh crap! That was totally a movie one Marek move!” She changes a lot, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t playing the wrong emotion because of the whole out of sequence thing… like I said it’s a struggle for me!

It seems like it would be kind of surreal to see your face on all these posters, and on the big screen. What is it like for you? How do you feel when you watch your own work?
It doesn't really feel like anything. Ha! I don't know, I think I might be weird or something.
As far as seeing myself on screen, I usually feel uneasy about it. I had a unpleasant first experience watching myself in a theater with an audience; I was suddenly made aware of all these flaws I had and it almost made me stop acting. I thought I was so bad. Obviously I didn't. Now when I see myself I try to enjoy it for what it is, but I'm always playing the critic when it comes to my performance.

When you first started working on movie sets, what were some things that took you by surprise?
Shooting out of sequence. I mean I knew this happened, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be for me. I really struggled with it… I still do, but I’ve come a long way.
Also all the food! There’s so much food to eat! That was a pleasant surprise. I like to sneak crafty [snacks] from set at the end of the day.

How is film different from the stage for you?
Like I mentioned earlier, shooting out of sequence in film really threw me. In Theatre it’s nice as an actor to just follow the flow of the story; it’s not as emotionally jarring.
Sadly I didn’t really figure out how to truly connect as an actor until I started doing film. I would rely on really good mimicking of what I thought I should be feeling as my character. I was doing it all wrong and no one was calling me out on it. To be honest I didn’t even realize what I was doing was wrong, so when I started acting on camera, I kept on doing it. It wasn’t until I had watched a few films I had done that I stopped and thought “Wow…this is really bad. I’m really bad!” Film doesn’t lie; it’s in your face and if you’re not feeling it, it shows. So I finally went out and took some private lessons from an awesome teacher in Provo, Ben Hopkin, and he steered me in the right direction and taught me about the importance of connecting.
I really would like another stab at theatre I think. I can imagine how rewarding it is to allow yourself to be in the moment for the entire show and not have someone yell “cut” or “okay, now say that line three different ways."

What about acting appeals to you?
How much I learn from it. I’m definitely a more empathetic person because of acting. When I was younger is was all about the rush I got from being on stage and being told I was great, but as you get older you have to find a better reason than that...otherwise it’ll drive you crazy. To be honest, it still does sometimes.

What are some of your goals as an actress?
To always be challenging myself, and to always be improving. I think if I can keep to those two things I’ll be fairly happy.

Where would you like to be in one year? Five years? Ten years?
In a year I’d love to be in New Zealand shooting a successful Fantasty or Sci-fi series! I’m a geek so of course that would be ideal. Although, I’d be grateful to still be getting paid for this sort of thing in a year. If I’m ever in a financially secure situation I’d love to go back to school and really study acting, take some time off to really wrap my head around it. As far as ten years from now… I haven’t a clue.

What hobbies and interests do you have outside of acting?
Being in nature. Any chance, I make it a priority to escape into the mountains. It’s oxygen for my soul. Aside from that I’m constantly changing my hobbies. Right now it’s Yoga, last month it was sewing ties.

Who are some of your major influences and inspirations?
I mentioned Ben Hopkin earlier. He really is fantastic. I think I’d still be stuck in my bad habits if it wasn’t for him. I mean I still have so much to learn (and always will) but it’s nice to feel like you’re headed in the right direction. I have him to thank for that.
Also Gary Oldman. I’m trying to figure out how to describe what it is I feel for that man’s performances… just complete awe and respect. He makes me want to spend years and years just learning and honing my craft.

What advice would you give to actors who want to get into film?
Aside from the typical “Take a class! Get out and audition!” I would say this: when you get discouraged (which you will), create your own work; write, produce, direct—whatever other aspect appeals to you—and share it with others, even if it’s bad. I’ve learned so much from dabbling in these other things, and I’ve learned about acting while doing it. This is a tough career, and it helps when other people in the industry see how passionate and proactive you are.

Finally, what are some of the things you've learned during the whole Mythica experience?
This industry is not easy. I recently stumbled across a journal entry from my niave 17 year old self that said something along the lines of “I want to be an actor because you’re getting paid to do nothing.” Yes, I also had to suppress vomit when I read that. I feel so lucky and fortunate to be doing what I’m doing, but I work very hard, and although it’s rewarding I also deal with a lot of disappointment. It is, however, certainly worth it. So I guess I’ve learned that to be a part of this industry, you have to really care about creating; you have to one of those people who doesn’t mind working hard, even if you're not making large amounts of money like the Hollywood A-Listers...because at the end of the day, it's still all worth it. At the end of the day, you're there because you really wanted to tell that story.

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Anonymous said...

Loved the movie and the performance was great for what I think is Melissa's first lead role? Hope it leads to big things!

Anonymous said...

Dammit, not Melissa, MELANIE! Maybe some day everybody will know the name!