The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Melissa George (Cinemax’s “Hunted”)

Those with a soft spot for Australian soap operas may forever think of Melissa George as Angel from “Home and Away,” but they’re doing both her and themselves a disservice by maintaining that mindset, because George has handily proven over and over again that she’s a far cry from being just another soap opera actress, be it by her Golden Globe nominated performance on HBO’s “In Treatment,” her work with David Lynch (“Mulholland Drive”) and Steven Soderbergh (“The Limey”), or her despicable turn as Lauren Reed on ABC’s “Alias.” With her latest small-screen endeavor, Cinemax’s “Hunted,” George is returning to the spy side of things, but trust Bullz-Eye when we tell you that “Hunted” is on a completely different level of television than “Alias.” We talked to her in conjunction with the series’ premiere – 10 PM tonight and every Friday night for the next several weeks – while also quizzing her about a few other past endeavors, including working with Heath Ledger on “Roar,” getting the shaft on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and just barely missing out on being part of one of the most notorious sitcom flops in NBC history.

Bullz-Eye: To begin at the beginning, how did you find your way into “Hunted”? Was it an audition situation, or did they come looking for you specifically?

Melissa George: They were very strict about making people read. Some jobs, not so much, they know who they want. But “Hunted” is (being produced by) HBO and BBC together, and they were both having to choose and decide, so we had the English with the Americans, so that’s why the audition process was so long.

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I was walking on the West Side Highway in New York, and my phone rang. It was my agent saying, “I’ve just read the most dynamic role for a woman, it’s as complex as what you played on ‘In Treatment,’ with a bit of action, which you’ve done before. It’s shooting in Europe, it’s really good, it’s written by Frank Spotnitz, it’s an English and American production…you’ve got to get it.” That’s kind of what he said. And I hate when they say that, ‘cause that means no sleep for me. Because, y’know, of course if it’s that great I want to play it. And I was then shooting a movie with Julia Stiles in Los Angeles (“Between Us”) and I was busy with that, and I had a video camera set up in the hotel room, and I put together a scene. They asked me to do three scenes, but I just did one. It was the one where she confronts her ex in the apartment. Very emotional. And I remember I was just so choked up…and I was recording myself, not speaking to anybody, because I didn’t have an actor reading with me. And I was, like, “Oh, my God, I really love this part…” And I cut, printed, and sent it. I couldn’t do any more scenes because I was really upset. I felt really strongly about this woman. And I waited. I didn’t care, because I was shooting a movie.

Then I got a call saying, “They want you to meet with Frank and read a scene.” I was, like, “Oh, my God…” There were so many freaking people in this room. [Laughs.] So many people! I thought it was just going to be me. Every actor thinks that when you’re asked to read, it’s just gonna be you. But it was a lot of people, and I was on my own. But I met Frank, and he said to me later on, once I’d gotten the role, that he knew from when I put myself on tape, and when I went in to read, he said, “I just feel really connected to her.” But that was it. I didn’t hear for awhile after that, so I was, like, “Ugh, this is gonna be one of those jobs…” And then S.J. (Clarkson), who’s directing, got onboard, and…the director has a big say, so Frank’s got his choice made, BBC and HBO made theirs, but now I have to wait for S.J. to make hers. So I had to meet her. They fly me from New York to L.A. to have lunch, and all we do is talk about film, and then…I was the only girl, but I had to read with lots of guys. And none of the guys I read with got it. [Laughs.] But I was the only girl they were using, and yet still hadn’t told me that I’d got it! And I was, like, “What’s going on here?”

But I was so convinced that I was onboard that I went around convincing everyone else around me that I was. I was, like, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna be playing this role in a few months…” But I hadn’t heard anything, and I was going, “This is ridiculous! They’re going all over the world looking for this actress, every single country, and I’m, like, “Well, does she have to be from a particular place?” “No, they don’t care where she’s from, because she has to play so many nationalities, so many different languages and accents.” So I waited while they went around the globe, reading hundreds of girls, and they were losing me, because I was going, “Well, if they wait too long…” And then finally everyone was, like, “C’mon, S.J.!” So that’s the story. And it was so funny on set, because while we were filming in Morocco, S.J. would come up to me and speak French, then she’d say, “Oh, sorry, wrong actress.” Like she’d found a girl in France that she really liked. I was, like, “Shut up, I know you didn’t find anybody!” [Laughs.] It was one of those things where the joke went on forever. Like, the whole season of the show. “Sorry, what’s your name?” So I don’t quite know what happened that made it take so long to decide, but I know that when I seize on something, man, I’d better get the job. Because I was honestly delusional. I was, like, “Yes, I’m shooting London in a few months,” and everyone was, like, “But have they said ‘yes’?” “No. But I’m going to be shooting!”

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A Chat with Isabella Rossellini

Let us not mince words: Isabella Rossellini is one of the most beautiful actresses in the business. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows of her gene pool (she’s Ingrid Bergman’s daughter), but given that she seems to pop up all too infrequently in films and on television, perhaps a few more directors and directors need to be reminded. Fortunately for you and I, Rossellini can be found amongst the cast of the “The Phantom,” SyFy’s attempt to reinvigorate the franchise of the character often referred to as “The Ghost Who Walks,” which premieres on June 20th. This appearance was particularly fortunate for me, as it presented me with the opportunity to chat with Rossellini about her work not only in this production but also in “Blue Velvet,” “Friends,” “Alias,” “30 Rock,” and her infamous Sundance Channel short-film series, “Green Porno.”

Prepare for your heart to go pitter-pat as you read…

Isabella Rossellini: Hi!

Bullz-Eye: Hello! How are you?

IR: I’m fine, thanks. And you?

BE: I’m wonderful. It’s a pleasure to speak with you.

IR: It’s nice to talk to you. Thank you for interviewing me!

BE: (Laughs) Not a problem! Well, “The Phantom” is certainly not your first foray into the world of science fiction, but are you actually a fan of the genre?

IR: I’m not really a fan of the genre. You know, I do see some films, but I must say I don’t go see them religiously. I love working with the producer, Robert Halmi, with whom I’ve done several films, so when Halmi called me to play this small role in “The Phantom,” I had no hesitation. I’ve been with him for five or six productions in the last 25 years, among which are “Merlin,” “The Odyssey,” and “Don Quixote,” and they’ve always been wonderful. They’ve always been… (Hesitates) It’s been great to work with the group, he has a fantastic eye, and every time he hires a director, it’s always somebody young who…well, he just has an eye. He hires them, and they turn out to be fantastic and, a few years later, they’re top directors. That’s how it has been with Paulo (Barzman), the director of “The Phantom.” So the reason why I said “yes” to this small part was because of this history that I had with Bob Halmi, and…I was surprised, actually. I had a doubt. For me, the Phantom was so much that image that I had from the 1930s, and he kept on saying, “No, no, it has nothing to do with that. It’s not trying to be retro.” And that image of the original comic strip was so strong that I was amazed, actually, when I arrived and had seen how they had transformed it to be a contemporary, modern film.

BE: So what are the challenges of playing a part like this? Because I’d think it would be a challenge to play a live-action comic book character without taking it over the top.

IR: Well, actually, you know, to tell you the truth, there were no challenges. At the beginning, you search a little bit for the look, especially when you play a small part. Every beat counts, you know. Sometimes when you have the lead, if you think it, you maybe play a part too seriously. You think, “Maybe I should smile,” and you have other possibilities later in the film to add a smile or to add some softness to your character, for shading. But when you play a small role, in a way, you have to hit every note correctly, so I think that the way she looked also was very important. When I was told that they wanted me to be a blonde…because they told me on the phone: I live in New York, but the film was shot in Montreal…I said, “Oh, blonde, it wouldn’t work with me. I’ve tried it several times, but I can’t go with it. My hair is brown. I can become easily black-haired. I can even become red-haired. But blonde has never worked with me.” But when I arrived, inevitably, there were all these blonde wigs, so I said, “Okay, I’ll show you what I mean.” And, instead, it worked perfectly, because the character should be totally artificial. I had these metallic clothes that always tended to be on the silver side, so, actually, the look of this evil person was helped a lot…it helped me to imagine the character. But the challenge is not the words. It’s so much fun that I’m always amazed that I even get paid for it. (Laughs)

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