NEW YORK (Associated Press) — Since playing Vanessa in the adaptation of In The Heights, Melissa Barrera hasn’t stopped working. Just this year, she appeared in “Scream 5” and is filming a sequel, starring in the upcoming films “Carmen” by Benjamin Millepied and “Bed Rest” by Lori Evans Taylor which she co-produced.
Since Thursday, the Mexican actress can be seen in “Keep Breathe” (“Keep Breathing”), a short series on Netflix about the lone survivor of a plane crash in the middle of a Canadian forest.
Barrera—along with Cuban Ana de Armas—is one of the few Latina actresses to have been given a wide variety of roles, far beyond the characters Latinas have been allowed to play, while the debate about underrepresentation continues in Hollywood.
“It’s very easy for the industry to keep us in the corner and keep us in a side lane and only give us certain opportunities that we’ve designated,” Parreira said in a recent interview with the Associated Press from Montreal. He is filming “Scream 6.” “If we don’t fight our way into the middle lanes, they’ll keep us on the sidelines the whole time.”
“I crave the kind of acting where my identity is not the center and most important in the story we tell,” he added. “I know Latinos have to tell stories and I want to do it. But I also want to tell stories.”
In “Keep Breathing,” the 32-year-old actress plays New York attorney Liv, a cold and focused woman who has to battle an unforgiving jungle and ex-personal trauma in order to survive. It was a very challenging role that quickly brought her to the point of burnout, but Parreira says she pushed herself and used that in her performance, which she also fueled with traits from her younger character.
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
AP: The series begins with a crash. Have you ever had a stressful experience in the air?
Barriere: I’m relaxing on planes. I literally have no concerns. I’ve never been through bad turmoil before. I’ve never been in an air pocket where the plane has deflated. I’ve never had an experience where a plane hits the ground and back up again, you know, the kind of thing that would make your stomach bloat. Start! So I’m not afraid of planes at all.
AP: How did you deal with that scene then?
Barrera: Well, I dreamed of plane crashes. I have this recurring dream where I’m on a plane and I look out the window and there’s another plane coming right at us, and right before it crashes I wake up every time. He’s creepy. I don’t know, you channel some other fear. I channel the thought of dying and never being able to see my family and loved ones again. Usually this is what I do. They also built this wonderful platform and put an airplane on top of it. It was like a Disneyland attraction. The plane was shaking and shaking, and that helped too.
AP: It seems like a very difficult role, both physically and emotionally. Was it as difficult as it looked?
Barrier: It was more difficult. (Laughter). I knew that because of the nature of the show – you’re out on your own most of the time, it’s very physical and also the emotional arc very intense. I feel like it’s really a survival show about surviving your mind, surviving your insecurities, and your childhood traumas. It’s about mental survival and I knew it was going to be tough, so I prepared myself psychologically and mentally. It usually works for me in everything I do: I don’t get tired, I can do the whole shoot, and then, eventually, I need to stay in bed for a week. This time, after two weeks of filming, I couldn’t get out of bed. He said, “What trouble did I get myself into? How am I going to live this for another two and a half months?” And then you do! You use exhaustion and give it to your personality and let it fuel frustration, anxiety, panic and all that.
AP: Liv is a lawyer and you are an artist. Did you find any common ground between the two of you?
Barrier: a lot! I discovered that we are similar in many ways. We are both work oriented, we like to keep ourselves busy. I used to be more like Liv because I find it hard to express my feelings. I prefer to keep moving and distracting so I don’t have to deal with emotional issues, so it was easy for me to go back to my old self and put that into it.
AP: What made you change in real life?
Barrera: My husband (Mexican singer and businessman Paco Zazueta). My husband taught me a lot about communication, letting people in, trusting, expressing and all that. You changed me so much in the time we were together; I learned a lot from him and I feel better than that.
AP: From the amount of work you’ve done since In the Heights, it seems to have opened a lot of doors for you. How do you feel about your career now?
Barrier: I feel fine. I feel like everything is a rung on the ladder. “In the Heights” definitely opened a lot of doors for me, it was my first big movie, so it was the first time a lot of people saw me. I love being able to show different sides of myself through different personalities. I am always striving to move on to a completely different or completely different project than what I just did, and I feel fortunate to have been able to do so so far. But I still feel like I’m starting.
Sigal Ratner-Arias is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sigalratner.