Sunday, August 7, 2022

Melissa Barrera speaks about Latino representation in Hollywood

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Ddespite her starring roles in Lin-Manuel Mirandas in the heights and the fifth installment of ScreamMelissa Barrera thinks so keep breathing is the biggest challenge of her career so far. “I think every role that I take on, I do it with all my heart and soul,” explains Barrera. “But this one demanded a lot from me. I left my heart in this forest.”

Created by Martin Gero and Brendan Gall, the Netflix series revolves around Barrera’s character Liv Rivera, a New York City attorney and the sole survivor of a plane crash on the Canadian border. To survive, Liv must battle life in the wild while confronting the demons of her past.

Instead of the dance routines she was used to, Barrera had to learn brand new physical skills for her outdoor scenes after studying musical theater at New York’s Tisch Performing Arts School. There was scuba certification, cold-water diving to prepare her body for freezing temperatures, and breath-hold training to expand her lung capacity for underwater photography. When they were shooting in a glacial lake that had frozen over a week earlier, Barrera couldn’t breathe.

“The water was so cold I couldn’t get enough air,” says Barrera. “I was a bit dizzy, but I took what I was feeling, the nervousness and shallow breathing, into the character and turned it into Liv’s panic.”

Barrera, 32, was born and raised in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico. Her career began when she competed The Academy, a singing reality show, and has since starred in several Mexican soap operas. In 2017, she joined the Netflix comedy-drama raven cluband the following year she got the lead role as Lyn in Starz’s Life. Her Hollywood breakthrough came when she was cast as Vanessa for Lin-Manuel Miranda in the heights.

Despite the negative criticism of in the heights and the film’s low box office numbers, Barrera says she appreciates her experience with the film and the impact it had on people and their careers. This year she starred in the fifth episode of Scream as Sam Carpenter. “The rush never stops,” says Barrera. “I never stop knocking on doors. I never stop auditioning.” Her latest series keep breathing Premieres July 28 on Netflix. Her upcoming films this year are thrillers bed rest and a music drama carmen.

When it comes to preparing for her role as Liv keep breathing, Barrera had to figure out a lot on his own. She says the directors would tell her, “Okay, now you have to build a shelter, go,” and the cameras would roll, and she would have to try to figure it out.

“A lot of the frustration that you see on screen is very real because I didn’t do any research into surviving because Liv doesn’t have those skills,” Barrera explains. “I wanted to be as honest with the character as possible because she’s really a city girl. She doesn’t know how to build a shelter and make a fire.”

As Liv battles the wilderness alone, she also struggles to find healing and peace from her past traumas, which we learn about through a series of flashbacks, many of which have to do with her unruly childhood.

“One thing I took away from the show is the idea of ​​breaking generational patterns in families,” Barrera explains. “Just because your parents are like that doesn’t mean you have to be like that. Even though we often become like our parents without even realizing it, we have the strength and power to break those chains.”

Like Liv, Barrera considers herself a survivor and a fighter. As Liv learns to survive in the wilderness, Barrera is able to relate to her as she survives in Hollywood and advocates for Latino representation in film and television.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming against the current and fighting for my life,” says Barrera.

Barrera explains that keep breathing wasn’t written for a Latina lead, but hopes it can serve as an example to give more Latinos the opportunity to star in projects where their characters aren’t based solely on their identity. “Yes, I’m a Latina. But that’s not what the show is about at all,” Barrera said. “It’s rare that you see a show with Latinos in the lead who don’t constantly talk about being Latinos or force them to speak in Spanglish or talk about where they’re from.”

Growing up, Barrera recalled that Hollywood’s breakthrough Latina actresses could be counted on one hand. “Before, we only had Salma Hayek and that was it,” Barrera said. Now she takes her status as a role model for Latina actresses as a blessing. “I’m writing, producing, acting and fighting for more roles that aren’t written for a Latina,” Barrera continues. “I keep fighting because I know that one of us will eventually be able to push open that door and change someone’s mind. And so we’re starting to change everyone’s mind about us being leads. And not just in shows that are categorized as Latino or Latinx or whatever, but in mainstream media and shows that are global.”

Barrera says the best way for Latinos to be in Hollywood is by producing their own content. “That’s how we actually make meaningful progress, not just by waiting for opportunities, but by creating them,” says Barrera. But even with her current accomplishments, she admits the rush never ends. “It’s never really easy,” says Barrera. “The landscape just changes. But you have to keep digging and I find a lot of comfort and motivation and support from my people in Mexico.”

As Barrera continues to pave the way for Latinos in Hollywood, she says she looks to her family and roots as motivation for her career. Whenever she sees comments that remind her of starting her career in Mexico, she realizes how much she’s grown over the years.

“It just reminds me of how far I’ve come,” Barrera said. “Knowing that there are people who have followed me and have been with me on this journey ever since, I just want to keep walking for them. I just want to keep fighting for them and for my gratitude that they stood by me.”

Keep Breathing is currently streaming on Netflix.

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