Melissa Barrera: I wouldn’t ever sacrifice my morals”

Ahead of her latest horror flick, Abigail, the former Scream actor tells us what it was like working with Angus Cloud on his final project and why she’ll always stand up for what she believes in.

Melissa Barrera is a multitasker. It’s 8:45am and the actor is cruising through Los Angeles, on her way to a photoshoot, with her morning coffee in one hand and her phone in the other (don’t worry, she’s not driving). She’s squeezing in an interview before getting into hair and make-up for the first time today. Later, Melissa will get glammed up again for the premiere of her new horror film Abigail.

It’s been nonstop,” says the 33-year-old of an intense promo week for the film. But it’s been good because people have been having good reactions to Abigail. It’s nice to do a film that people have actually watched and liked – it’s easier!”

It’s not hard to see why Abigails getting rave reviews. Set to be the funniest and bloodiest horror film of 2024, it’s a campy, spiritual successor to 2022’s M3GAN in tone – just swap the creepy AI doll for a bloodthirsty child ballerina. Melissa plays Joey, one of six criminals-for-hire (including a final performance from the late Euphoria actor Angus Cloud) who are contracted to kidnap the daughter of a very rich man. Unbeknown to them, said daughter is actually a sadistic and sarcastic vampire, and the house they’re instructed to hold her hostage in is, in fact, a trap. Horror (and laughter and dance routines) ensue.

Melissa is no stranger to the horror genre, of course – or working with Abigails directors, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. They were also behind 2022’s Scream reboot and its sequel Scream VI, in which she starred as the illegitimate daughter of the OG Ghostface alongside Jenna Ortega. Last November, Melissa was fired from the franchise for sharing pro-Palestine content on social media.

Having also starred in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights (2021) and opposite Paul Mescal in musical Carmen (2022), Melissa is big on telling immigrant and Latin stories – usually, it seems, in the form of a musical. Her obsession with the all singing, all dancing genre started when she was growing up in Mexico. But the drive to increase representation in the industry took shape when she moved to the US and witnessed the reaction to her first big gig in the States, Vida, the 2018 TV series about two Mexican-American sisters.

I was like, Whoa, this is a big deal!’” Melissa says, now sitting under a tree outside the location for her shoot. And with my privilege of having the opportunity to be in movies and shows like that, I have taken on that responsibility [to represent the community].”

With T‑minus 15 minutes to go before she needs to be sat in the glam chair, we took the small window of opportunity to probe Melissa on how she’s continuing to make space for diverse stories in Hollywood and, of course, what it was like to film Abigail. Spoiler: there will be blood.


Hi Melissa! Abigail was filmed in Dublin, but you had to pause the shoot because of the SAG-AFTRA strike. What was it like being so close to the end but having to put the project on hold?

We only had three weeks left when we paused, so we were almost done. That was hard. We were also sure that the strike was only gonna last, like, a few weeks, so I even stayed in Ireland for a week. And then that did not happen. It’s a weird feeling because it feels like we shot it last summer, but we finished it at the end of the year. The turnaround has been so quick and that’s nice, because I’m a very impatient person – I don’t like waiting for movies to come out!

The Dublin weather must have been very different when you returned in November…

It was crazy. I got to see a weird summer in Ireland – it was very sunny and very hot. I kept saying, Oh my God, this is incredible!” And everyone was like, This is not normal, Melissa.” Then I came back in November and it was rainy and cold, and they were like, This is Ireland.”

Did you get a chance to take in the local culture while you were there?

Everything. I was very fortunate that during the summer I had a lot of days off, so my husband and I rented a car and drove [across] the entire country. We literally got to see everything except for the North. I fell in love. They’re very good at soups, so I would just eat soup every day.

Angus was such a joy, such a light, and so incredibly, naturally talented. It was magnetic”

Nice way to spend your days off. The Abigail shoot is particularly special as it’s the last thing Angus Cloud filmed before his death last year. What was he like to work with?

Incredible. He was such a joy, such a light, and so incredibly, naturally talented. It was magnetic. He would improvise a lot and he never did the same thing twice, so it was always thrilling to work with him – you never knew what you were going to be reacting to. And he was so funny and such a sweetheart. We were all so shocked and sad to go back [to filming in November] without him. But we dedicated the movie and our last month of shooting to him, and he was very present in all of us. I think he would have loved the movie. He would have laughed so much.

His humour really shines through on screen. What was the general vibe like on set? It looks like it was a lot of fun to shoot.

We spent a lot of time together – we would be together on the weekends, but also on set. [When I’m working with] Matt and Tyler, they alway give us a green room that we can go to instead of going back to our trailers and being alone. We would play Uno and chat, and we became so much closer, like a family, because we were spending so much time together. That really helped the chemistry between all of us on screen. And that’s also why the movie ended up being so funny. There was always comedy in the script, but there ended up being a lot more because of everything that everyone brought to their characters. That’s why the tone is so unique. You’re scared and laughing out loud at the same time – which is a hard thing to pull off.

You’re a seasoned horror film star by now, but Abigail is particularly gory with a lot of blood. How was it being totally drenched in it?

Yeah, there’s more blood than I’ve ever seen in any movie. Honestly, I love being covered in blood! I’ve gotten used to it and it’s kind of become my natural state. You’re sticky, they put your warming coat on and it dries and then they have to wet you down again [with more blood], but it’s just like, when else am I going to be covered in blood, you know? I also think it’s such a badass look for a character that’s survived all these things. It’s part of the Matt and Tyler sauce. They always ask for more blood.

(It gets bloodier than this, trust us.)

When you look at your career so far, the stand-out, big screen moments mostly fit into two categories: horror films and musicals. What draws you to these projects that are, in theory, at the opposite ends of the spectrum?

To me, it’s never about the genre – even though I’m a musical theatre kid. If I had the chance to only do movie musicals, I would. But I’m always drawn to the story and it has to be a character I can see myself [in], and I’ve got to feel like there’s something that is going to require me to do something new and different. I grew up being a fan of musicals and horror movies, so the fact that I get to do both now is amazing. I actually have a movie that just premiered at Sundance called Your Monster that’s like a horror rom-com musical – all the things I love!

Another thing that ties a lot of your work together is an emphasis on telling Latin or immigrant stories. Is this something you actively think about when choosing projects?

Honestly, that’s something that I never thought about before moving to the United States. Because I grew up as a Mexican in Mexico. The idea of feeling underrepresented was foreign to me. But when I moved to the US and I did Vida, a lot of people would be like, Thank you, I’ve never seen myself represented in a show [before]”.

So I became educated about those issues. I don’t want to say that it’s a weight, but I do take it seriously. I do understand that, as one of the faces of my community in the industry, I gotta keep fighting for more space and for more stories to be told, so that it doesn’t have to be a conversation forever. Eventually, we’ll get to a point where movies and shows are an actual representation of what the world looks like and we can stop talking about representation.

I’ve also been very fortunate to be cast in movies like Scream and Abigail, where my characters were not meant to be Latinas, but they gave me the role, and so they are. It’s an implicit, unexplained kind of representation, where I don’t have to speak Spanish, talk about my culture or my food or my abuela. They just allow me to live and breathe as a human being. That’s my favourite kind of representation.

Abigail is also your first return to horror after being dropped from the Scream franchise last year. What has that experience taught you, about navigating Hollywood but also life?

Well, I learned a lot. The veil was lifted about a lot of things. I was disillusioned, I think, about a lot of people in the industry and how nobody is brave enough to stand up for what’s right, if it means sacrificing anything that you’ve worked to build. I can understand the fear – I was very scared – but I wouldn’t ever sacrifice my morals and my values. It’s important to speak out about injustices and lend a voice with my platform to people that don’t have it. If we don’t, things are never going to change for the better. There’s so much more good in the world and we can make it a better place – and we can also make the industry a better and safer place.

So, yeah, I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t regret anything. I stand by what I said. And I did also get support from a lot of people in the industry, too, so I know that there’s like-minded and like-hearted people, and I know that those are the people that I want to work with.

I’m just looking forward to this next chapter. And I’m going to continue to be vocal and use my platform for good. Because why would you even have a platform if you’re not going to use it to try and leave the world a little better than how you found it?

Abigail is out in UK cinemas from 19th April.

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