-Interview by Nic Brown-
Actress and model Melanie Robel is a self-described, modern day gypsy. Her affinity for travel has served her well, allowing her to take advantage of acting roles where ever the opportunity arises. What kind of roles? She’s played a post-apocalyptic assassin, a monster in a bikini, and an even worse kind of monster: a bitchy, wannabe model! One thing Melanie doesn’t play at though is her career. She’s not afraid to try challenging new roles. That’s how this young actress has amassed an impressive list of credits in just a few short years! Melanie took a short break from her work to talk to B Movie Man Nic Brown about making movies, her secret vice, and why we might think she’s nerdy, but dedicated to the art of acting!
Nic - Melanie, how did you get your start acting?
Melanie - When I was very young we discovered that I was able to memorize movie dialogs by listening, and then I would do one man shows. Complete with voice and expression changes. I remember my sisters and I would reenact the songs in Annie. My dog Bear played Sandy. It was all in fun, so I never really pursued it. Instead I was a musician, a ranking bassoon player. After a hand injury I couldn’t play anymore and we moved to Florida. Hoping that my injury had healed, I tried it again. It wasn’t, I couldn’t, so I was really depressed. This one kid, a redhead, kept picking on me so I punched him. Between that and making the Band Director cry, I was sent to the office. They called my mum and were going to expel me. My mum said that’s what I wanted, so it wouldn‘t be a punishment. So they put me in drama. That’s how it all began. I also was in training to be a classical ballerina. During a performance I was dropped and that was that. What a lot of people don’t realize is that this is my second time at acting. I went to Cali, but at the time I was marketed all wrong and couldn’t get an agent. I decided to take a break from it all.
What got me started again was meeting Jason Liquori, from Hocus Focus Productions, while I was on set for a short I was doing. He took pictures of me and people started to notice me. He also cast me in his movie STOPPED DEAD, as a cheerleader, which was a lot of fun. Then I was cast for INTO THE BASEMENT, which is directed by J.L Botehelo. Then for ZEN HUNTER, directed by Jim DeVault. I also feel that Joel and Cathy Wynkoop have helped me a lot and we have become good friends. I met them on the set of FOR NICOLE’S SAKE, by Dustin Hubbard. The Wynkoops have supported and helped me and have introduced me to others. I can’t list everyone, but you know who you are and as always, thank you.
Nic - You are involved with a number of projects right now including POST MORTEM AMERICA 2021 which features Linnea Quigley. Can you tell us a little about that film and your role in it?
Melanie - Where to begin? This is my first full length movie. POST MORTEM AMERICA 2021 is what I would call a spaghetti western meets zombies movie. There are twists and turns that no one is going to expect. It’s a wonderful story about revenge and I think people are going to be able to relate to it.
My character is Rattlesnake Sally, an assassin who is religious. The disturbing thing is that she is still only a teenager. It was a lot of fun because I got to run around in the woods, was thrown up against a fort, wrestle with zombies and play with guns. What more can a girl want?
Working with Linnea Quigley was amazing. She is my new hero. I got to do scenes with the original Scream Queen in my first movie. I am still pinching myself. She is such a nice person and a great actress. We had fun and I feel I learned quite a lot from her. I hope I get to work with her again.
Nic - Rattlesnake Sally sounds like an interesting character. What’s been your biggest challenge with that role?
Melanie- Yeah, Rattlesnake Sally is a very interesting character and it was fun to do. The biggest challenge was tapping into her religious side and her conscience. For example, one of the scenes with Joel Wynkoop has a lot of yelling in it and I wasn’t brought up that way. I mean with a family of six, we were very vocal but didn’t do a lot of yelling. So it took a lot not to react. Also the part where I had to torture someone was hard. Sally believes in God and she cares, but she tortures and kills people?
I portrayed her in a way that this was something she has to do. Every time she points the gun and kills someone, a part of her dies too. A lot of it was reaction shots, walking around, having to show how she is, physically and by her presence.
Nic - Of course POST MORTEM AMERICA 2021 isn’t your only film project right now. Tell us about some of the others like ZEN HUNTER, INTO THE BASEMENT, THE PERFECT SERIAL KILLER and the feature with my favorite title: BIKINI MONSTERS.
Melanie - THE PERFECT SERIAL KILLER is a project that I think it’s amazing that I am a part of. I mean, have you seen the cast list? Courtney Gains, Erin Moran, Tony Todd, Camden Toy, Larry Laverty and DeeDee Bigelow to name a few. Wow! It’s about two detectives who are faced with the challenge of figuring out who could be THE PERFECT SERIAL KILLER. When you think about it, it really gets your mind going in circles. I am Mary Crawford and I am the only one with movie parents. When you look at the character list, you see a lot of Marys and a lot of blondes. Could there be a pattern here? Guess you will have to watch the movie and see.
ZEN HUNTER is directed and written by Jim DeVault, who describes the film as “a sexy vampire tale set in modern day America. Zen, the title character, is captured by centuries-old vampire Quintana, a descendent of Spanish nobility, to serve as both obedient servant and (if she has her way) Zen's eternal lover. As Zen becomes accustomed to her new life, a battle of wills rages between her and Quintana that can have only one victor! As they clash, Zen's best friend Joni, and her boyfriend Brent, follow a trail of murders to Zen and Quintana. For Joni, what she finds at the end of the trail will be the ultimate test of friendship.” I am Joni. There is Nicole Kruex, Elissa Dowling, Tim Taylor, Sarah Virgina Brock, Larry Laverty and Thomas Daniel who is Brent. Lucky me.
INTO THE BASEMENT is written by Norm Applegate and Nichola Grabowsky. It’s based on the novel by Norm Applegate. Women are disappearing, hunted by a sadistic killer and the Police Department call in an unlikely hero to stop the madness. I am Susie Smallwood, a very young “entertainer”. In the project also are Courtney Gaines, Naama Kates, David Fine, DeeDee Bigalow, Larry Laverty and Jonathan Breck, from JEEPERS CREEPERS. Between these projects and a couple of internet shows, I’m having a lot of fun.
Nic - In addition to your work in film, you’ve also done some theatre work as well. Which do you find to be more challenging to you as an actress and which do you enjoy more?
Melanie - I think film is more of a challenge than theatre. In theatre you meet your partners and get to work with them for an extended period of time. You have everything planned out to a T. You have rehearsals and move from point A, to be point B and then C. However you only get that one chance and if you mess up there are no do-overs. You also get told what your character is and how they are feeling.
In film, a lot of times you don’t get a deep character breakdown. So I get to decide who they are, what they want in life and where they came from. I take “me” out of the character. You should know your script because it’s not filmed from A-C. You might be shooting C, which is dark and sad and then you’re doing B, which is cute and happy, like petting a puppy. You have to know when to bring it “up” and when to tone it “down“. You have to be “in the moment” so you can forget the camera is there and that everyone is watching. It’s a wonderful feeling when you get there, but you have to make it seem natural. If you overact then you look like a bad actor and if you move too much you’re out of the frame. Then you have to do it the same way as before. It’s hard work and we make it look so easy. That’s why we are actors.
Would I do theatre again? Not right now. Maybe later, down the road is more likely. It’s fun and stage performance is my roots, but film is my love. It’s what I want to do now.
Nic - You grew up in a military family. How do you think that has influenced your career as an actress?
Melanie - I think because I grew up in the military, I kept leaning toward careers where you can travel. Being a musician, a dancer, a hair dresser and an actress… in these fields you can travel and see the world, a modern gypsy like life style.
With moving around a lot, you become more independent. You don’t rely on others to get things done for you and you have to have a mind of your own. I truly believe this. When you’re the new kid all the time and you walk into the cafeteria you’re being judged based on your appearance and attitude. If you’re reading this and say you never did that, then you’re lying and shame on you. We all do it. In 12 years of school, I walked into 9 new cafeterias.
Also growing up overseas and with having a foreign mum, I sometimes feel I don’t have a normal American outlook on life. I get some culture-clashes. It’s not a bad thing but sometimes I have to remember to keep my mouth shut. Moving around a lot teaches you to pick up your things and leave. It’s easier to move on and adapt to new situations.
Nic - Do you have any desire to step behind the camera and write or direct your own features?
Melanie - I been asked this question before and for right now, NO thank you. Maybe some day, but not in the near future. If I were to write, it would have to be with a co-writer. To tell you the truth, I hate writing. I have an awesome idea for a full length film, but right now I am not ready to write it. One day I think it might be a possibility. Of course, if you sent me to a stocked cabin in Norway, then yeah. Maybe. I don’t think I will be in front of the camera my whole life. If I was going to go behind the scenes, I would love to be a casting director, or learn how to become a promoter, maybe even do hair again. I’m young and have lots of time and choices. There are so many things you can do in this industry, but I don’t want to think about it right now…. I want to act.
Ni c- What are your thoughts on the portrayal of women in horror films?
Melanie - I agree with Pamela Anderson’s quote, "Playboy doesn't exploit women, women exploit Playboy.” I pretty much feel the same way about women in horror. When you audition for a part in a horror movie, you know what you are getting into. You get a breakdown, a partial or whole script and until you sign a contract, you can always say, no.
I do feel it has gotten better though. There are strong women in horror now and I feel it isn’t a “career” killer for those of us who want to try other venues. Of course there are also women who only want to do horror and that is great too and they are changing the industry.
Do I feel all horror movies should be rated NC-17 or R? Yes, I strongly believe that. I feel kids don’t need to see a lot of the horror movies out there. They don’t need to be exposed to the shock of violence and blood, don’t need to be so desensitized. For example when my dad was in Desert Storm, the younger soldiers kept saying that,”this is so not like the video games.”
Nic - So what do you think is the reason that horror is such a popular genre?
Melanie - Well, back in the day if you liked horror you were considered very weird. I think it became popular because it was sort of taboo-ish. It seemed to be that horror was intense men, submissive women, hacking deaths and lots of blood and scary stuff. How many teenaged boys take their girls to a horror movie hoping they have to “protect” them from the stuff in the shadows? Or you yell at the movie screen,” You stupid blonde! Don’t go up the stairs!”
It has gotten more popular because people love getting scared and making fun of people who are scared. Today, it’s more about which director can push the boundaries and when you think about it, there are some truths in these horror films. Some are based on true events, but taken to the most extreme level without getting an X rating. That’s why haunted houses are also popular and Halloween will never go out of style. They are safe ways to push the limits of your deepest and darkest fears without being judged. The funny thing is that women are into horror more than men now, which I think is awesome and proves how much times have changed.
Nic - What would your dream role be?
Melanie - Wow, what a
question and it always makes me a bit sad. I don’t see my dream
role happening, because it’s not my character type. I really
want to be the lead in a Jane Austin style, period piece,
romantic movie. I know… most people would never expect that. I
love period movies, the clothes, the passing looks, the dialog
and it isn‘t always “Disney“ endings. If not that, then I would
love to be in a WWII movie. My great grandfather fought with the
Norwegian Resistance and had to go into hiding in
You’re also involved in a web series called
Melanie - FLUER DE MAI is very south-east coast, edgy and hip, fashion forward, very controversial and informative. If you like the shows The L Word, the BBC show Skins or Gossip Girls, then you are going to love this show. The twists and turns, ups and downs of the characters and their situations will definitely keep you very interested. For example, it caught your interest enough to ask me about it and it isn’t even horror…. I am very happy to be a part of this web-series. My character is Tiffany Geary. I am a bitchy, wannabe model and retail shop worker, but I do know that Tiffany is still “growing and developing”, so who knows? It will be out in spring 2010.
As a web series,
- I feel the internet is the greatest marketing and
entertainment venue ever. Let’s take Fleur de Mai for example. A
show like this you would not be able to see on mainstream
television. The subject matter is too out there and edgy.
Something like this would have to be on LOGO, SHOWTIME or HBO.
But if you don’t have the right connections it’s too hard to get
there. So, you post it on the internet. You get an amazing
audience and following. It could be picked up and get aired
overseas, you never know.
Then there is the fact that hipsters like myself, NEVER go anywhere without their ipods and cellphones. I would rather download my music than go to a store and buy the cd. I think that really soon we will go to stores and buy the downloads to our ipod and iphones directly. The same will also happen with the movie industry. Think about it from a business view point. As a producer, would you rather have $4.50 of a $9.00 movie ticket go to the movie theatre, or go directly into your pocket the possibilities of the internet can do.
There already are well known SAG actors doing internet shows. Hopefully we are going to be able to become SAG eligible with the internet soon. I think it’s great! Also, I really don’t understand why some actors are freaking out about internet. It all goes back to reading your contracts and making sure you get your residuals from internet sales. I think part of the problem is that some people are scared of the internet because they don’t understand it or see how good it can be. There are people who have an anti-technology attitude. I totally respect it, but you can’t live in society now and not have a cellphone, pda, computer, or lap top. I think those people need to get out of the eighties. We are very dependent on it and it’s not going to change.
The next thing you know, the major network televisions channels are going to have internet shows that you pay to see. However, I don’t agree with free downloads because that takes money out of our pockets and we deserve it.
Nic - We’ve talked a lot about you acting and making movies, but what kind of films do you like to watch?
Melanie - Oh my, my image is going to be ruined after this question! As I said, I love period romantic movies. Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Quills, Hamlet, and Pride and Prejudice. I love any movie with Clint Eastwood, as an actor and as a director. Bollywood and Musicals. Call me a nerd, but my favorite movie of all time is Lady and the Tramp. I am such a softie that I can’t watch movies where animals die. I was never allowed to watch Old Yeller and yes… I know… Yeller dies, but I still haven’t seen it! I love the old classic films and grew up with war movies. My two favorites are Memphis Belle and Saving Private Ryan. There are way too many to list. I know more about films than television because I also grew up in places where we couldn’t always get television reception. Buying dvds is my secret vice.
Nic - So Melanie, what do you do for fun when you aren’t making or watching movies?
Melanie - You are going to think that I’m really nerdy. I go to my coaching sessions when my coach is in town. Right now I’m looking for a challenging and fun scene class. Believe it or not I surf. At least I do a really good imitation of surfing, but it’s getting there. I have two boards and a spring suit, so I am semi-serious. I punch a boxing bag, especially after studying my scripts and class. Just kidding, it’s great exercise and helps me focus. I also take care of my two cats, Mindy and Kitten. Other than that… I really am a homebody. Remember when I said my secret addiction was buying DVDs? Well, I have to watch them sometime you know.