Melissa Barrera was raised on telenovelas. Growing up in Monterrey, Mexico, "the TV in the kitchen was always on, and it was always on the telenovela channel," the actress reminisces. "I grew up watching people like me on TV — Mexicans speaking Spanish and telling stories — and I thought that felt very reachable. That felt like something that I could do."
"Originally, before even wanting to be an actor, I wanted to be a pop star," Barrera says. "I would see kids that would go on these reality competition shows that would then get cast in child telenovelas, and then they would do musical telenovelas. I was like, 'Oh my God, that's incredible! That's what I want to do!' So, I got into musical theater, and I fell in love with that and being on stage."
Barrera did finally appear on a singing competition series, La Academia, in her early 20s, which led to roles on telenovels such as La mujer de Judas, Siempre tuya Acapulco and Tanto amor. In 2017, she left Mexico to move to L.A., where Barrera landed breakout roles in the Starz series, Vida, and the movie musical adaptation of In the Heights. These days, Barrera is best known for her starring role in the Scream franchise, in which she plays the daughter of the original Ghostface killer.
"I do believe in the power of manifestation. My whole life has worked that way," she reflects. "The beauty of manifestation is that it happens almost unconsciously. You start living your life in a way that you're attracting that energy towards you. It's the same as The Alchemist saying of, 'You wish something and the universe conspires in your favor' — I truly believe that."
Her new movie is Carmen, choreographer-turned-director Benjamin Millepied's modern dance-inspired take on Georges Bizet's 1875 opera, a project Barrera auditioned for before even filming the first season of Vida. Now five years later, Carmen is finally in theaters.
"I feel a great sense of relief, honestly, because it has felt like the longest journey ever," the actress laughs. "I've shot movies after Carmen that have already come out. It's been crazy! I feel like I look at myself as Carmen, and I'm like, 'Oh, I was so young!' I feel like I'm looking at myself as a baby."
Below, Barrera shares with A.frame five of the films that have most inspired her as an actor — which, it turns out, she has made manifest in her own career.
Directed by: Rob Marshall | Written by: Bill Condon
Me being a musical theater nerd and going to school for musical theater, thinking that I was just going to be on Broadway for my whole life, Chicago was one of the most mind-blowing experiences of my life. And Catherine Zeta-Jones, specifically, in the role of Velma Kelly, I became obsessed with her. I started seeing everything that she was in and hoping to one day work with her. I just thought, "Wow, she's so cool, because she's been doing movies, but then it turns out that she can also sing and dance, and she won an Oscar for it!"
To me, that is one of the most beautiful adaptations of a Broadway show, because it was truly transformed. It's not like the Broadway show at all. To this day, that really is one of my favorite movies and performances.
Written and Directed by: Stephen Sommers
I've said it before when people ask me, "What's one of your favorite movies?" and people are always like, "Really?!" But I was obsessed with this movie. I forget that I was so into fantasy and sci-fi, but I was really into that when I was younger. Now, I want to do a movie like that, and I am going to now, it turns out!
There was a point in my life where I would get home after school and press play on Van Helsing and watch it every day. I love vampires and monsters and werewolves and all of that, and there was such a cool combination of all of them in one movie. I'm also a huge Hugh Jackman fan because, again, he's a musical theater guy. He's so talented, and also beautiful. I just loved the scope of it. I thought it was so grand and exciting, and I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I thought the visual effects were great. My 14-year-old self thought it was the best thing I'd ever seen. It was very transformational for me, and I realized that I wanted to do some big action-adventure sci-fi movie at some point in my life.
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky | Written by: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin
Natalie Portman has always been one of my favorite actresses. I just think she can do no wrong. Everything she does is weighted in truth and she's so natural, and at the same time, she transforms. She's such a mesmerizing person to watch in anything she does, but when I watched Black Swan, I thought it was so daring.
There's always got to be a musical connection I'm realizing, and Black Swan is all about dance. I was so intrigued by the darkness of the dance world, and how Aronofsky told that story and how scary it was without fully being a horror movie. It blew my mind into pieces in so many ways. I was in college when it came out, and I went to the theater and I saw it, and it ended, and I just stared at the screen for the next five minutes without being able to move. I was shooketh at the end of that movie. That doesn't happen a lot — that a movie leaves you speechless in that way — and that happened to me with Black Swan. I always think about that, and then knowing that Ben was a choreographer for that, when I heard that he was doing Carmen, I was like, "Oh yes, this is going to be brilliant!"
Directed by: Maria Schrader | Written by: Rebecca Lenkiewicz
She Said is a movie that I recently saw, but it really moved me so deeply. I found myself shaking and trying to hold back tears, and I thought it didn't get enough recognition. It was so powerful, so subtle and real, and important. And as a woman in the industry, I think it tugged at all of my heartstrings. It has so many powerful moments, and we know that it's true and that it happened, and that these people are real. So, getting to see the behind the scenes of the struggle that went into that, and then the women that came forward and how scared they were, and then those women and their relationships with their daughters, all of it was almost too much for me to bear
I was so grateful for the existence of that movie, and I thought, "This is why the industry is so important. This is the reason why we tell these stories, and they have so much power to change minds and affect the viewers in so many ways." I just thought it was so beautifully and tactfully and tastefully done and performed, and for a while, no movie had made me feel the way that I felt while watching that.
Directed by: John Musker and Ron Clements | Written by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
I grew up watching Disney, and we didn't have a Mexican princess. But Jasmine looked like me, and seeing a princess that looked like me was beautiful. And all the magic, and the flying carpet of it all! I'm always attracted to magic. I feel like Mexico is a very magical place. I grew up very in tune and knowing that there are sensibilities that connect you to something that goes beyond that's very spiritual, and I think whenever I see anything magical, I always enjoy that a lot.
But I think it was mostly that the characters looked like me, even though they're from a made up country in the Middle East. I felt like she was me and I was her, and that I could be a Disney princess. It's one of my favorite Disney princess movies to this day.
I'm working on a Mexican Disney princess, believe it or not, because I do think that it's important. For the longest time, the Latino community has completely been disregarded, and it affects a lot of people more than we want to acknowledge. It's really nice that I had Pocahontas and Jasmine as princesses that I could dress up as for Halloween — which I did for many years — but I want little Mexican girls to have their own princess that they can dress up as. I think that's important.