Melissa George

Bullz-Eye Interview with Melissa

Amongst the many reviews, previews, interviews and clips which are currently flooding the net to promote Hunted, conducted a very insightful interview with Melissa – which we decided to reproduce below, due to the amazing depth and coverage the interview managed to achieve.

Thanks to the interviewer, Will Harris, for conducting such a great interview – and thanks to Bullz-eye for letting us reproduce it here. You can read the original (which features some great video clips) on their site.

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.

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!”

BE: You obviously latched on to the part pretty quickly, but—if it’s not a spoiler—do you recall the particular moment in the script where you first realized, “Oh, I’ve got to do this”?

MG: You know, it was just… I had a very good childhood, so it’s not like I related to this woman losing her mother and being tortured as a child and traumatized to the point where she has to be a spy in order to get revenge on the world. None of that. But when a woman suffers, whether it’s the role I’m playing or not, I just feel like I want to hold them and hug them and be there for them and help them. And as an actress, I also want to show the audience that they’re somebody more than just what you might read. So I think it was just a combination of me feeling for her and then trying to sensitize that. And then all the action…that’s lovely to read when you’re sitting in Central Park and having a coffee. It’s, like, “Oh, this is like a great book!” But the reality of actually shooting the show…? That’s a whole different thing. [Laughs.]

BE: You mentioning Central Park actually ties into what I was just about to observe, which is that you must’ve really wanted the part, given that it necessitated a major move for you.

MG: Well, you know, it’s so strange, because you start fantasizing about this life as this spy and living in London and Morocco, but it’s like I was saying: when you’re sitting in a park, it’s, like, “Oh, that would be so fun,” but then suddenly it’s, “Oh, my God, it really came true!” And once it comes true, you don’t regret it, you’ve got to run with it. But, yes, it’s hard. I mean, I moved to London, and I had the best time and…I miss New York, but I’ve learned that, as an actor, I can’t live my life missing things, because you’re always going to be moving around doing things, the more you fight it, the more depressed you get. You’ve got to approach it, like, “This is great, living in a house I’ve never lived in before!” [Laughs.]

BE: As a rule, fans of cable dramas tend to have different expectations for a series and are often willing to take time and let a new series grow on them, but “Hunted” has a very unique dramatic structure. Do you think casual TV viewers will be able to latch onto it?

MG: Nope. They’ll really have to concentrate, I have to say. It’s not easy. Because every question you have…which my boyfriend was having while watching it…I’m, like, “That’s a great question, but you have to watch!” This is one show that you absolutely have to watch, because, I mean, my God, when you get to the eighth one, it’s, like, “Wow…” It’s a show that’s…we don’t have commercial breaks, so it’s a very different formula right there, because we don’t have to resolve a problem before the ad break or leave people hanging until they come back. We aren’t governed by that. We’re given a set amount of hours – eight – to tell a story. But cable viewers are sophisticated viewers, for sure.

BE: Given the complexity, presumably Frank Spotnitz was never asked to dumb it down.

MG: No, Frank’s not going to dumb down anything. And it’s not my style, either. I don’t want to be doing that joke/rim shot stuff. That’s not my thing. I mean, “In Treatment” was 46 episodes with one patient taken over 10 weeks with a storyline that evolved. You just kind of stick with it or you don’t.

BE: “Hunted” is a physically demanding role, whereas “In Treatment” was more emotionally demanding, I guess you’d say. Do you enjoy the opportunity to mix it up like that?

MG: Yeah, I really loved what we did on “In Treatment.” I felt like it brought acting back to its purest form, which is just two people talking. With “Hunted,” yes, it’s got action, but, really, the plot of her journey and her revenge and seeking happiness, it’s really quite an emotional journey, too. So what I’ve been trying to do with “Hunted” is a bit of both. Because when the fighting happens, it’s not because, “Oh, let’s have a fight scene!” It’s really building up to her either trying to defend herself or trying to kill the man that she thinks was responsible for her potential death in Morocco. Really, the fighting comes with context. I’m not into that whole Jackie Chan thing and flying on wires or whatever. I can do that. And brilliantly. [Laughs.] If I have to. But if I’m going to take on a role that’s gonna be maybe a few years of my life, then I want to have a story and not just be an action girl. I’m good at it, ‘cause I’ve trained at it, but I’m not really equipped for that. I don’t like that.

BE: They’ve obviously completely different in tone, but do you think viewers who remember you from playing Lauren Reed on “Alias” will be able to step into “Hunted” relatively easy?

MG: Yeah, I think so. I, uh, think either people never wanted to see Lauren Reed again or they loved her and wanted to see more of her. Which I’m fine with either one, actually, because it was still fabulous, but I’m exactly the opposite of all these roles. I’ve been in situations where I was in a confined space with people after “Alias” was on the air, and they were, like, “Omigod, it’s Lauren Reed, we’d better get out of here…” [Laughs.] People couldn’t separate it.

I think they’re going to sympathize with Sam Hunter a little more. Nobody cared about Lauren Reed, because she had no heart. Zero. There was nothing to like about her. But that was beautiful at the same time, because she was an assassin, after all. This is a woman that’s a spy and a highly trained MI-6 agent who’s protecting a little boy and going undercover. But with what happens to her mother in front of her and what’s happened to her, she’s not going to give up. I mean, you see Jason Bourne or James Bond or any of the other characters, they kill and they’re vengeful characters, but you don’t hate them. Lauren Reed, though, you hate. Of course you do. [Laughs.]

BE: Is there a project you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

MG: Oh, that’s a great question. There was a film I did with Mandy Moore and Martin Freeman called “Swinging with the Finkels.” I had the time of my life on that film. But it’s usually the jobs that you have such a good time making that don’t work out so well. It just didn’t the love. [Hesitates.] But, you know, I don’t really know what the love is. I don’t know how the reviews were or how much it made or anything. Mine’s more of a personal journey through my life. Like, was it fun to make? Again, when I did a Brazilian film called “Turistas” with Olivia Wilde…I mean, hello, we were in Brazil for two months! [Laughs.] Time of my life. We didn’t get any love, but I didn’t care. I didn’t need that love, anyway, because it wasn’t my kind of movie!

You know, also, my character on “Grey’s Anatomy” didn’t get any love. At all. But it was weird, because I did “In Treatment” and I was exhausted, because it was just hard. Invigorating at the same time, but…anyway, I said, “I just want to do something fun! I want to wear scrubs, I want to be funny, I want to do whatever.” So I got “Grey’s Anatomy,” and I was on that for, like, nine episodes or whatever, and I remember being so upset when they were not writing for the role, because they’d promised me the role after “In Treatment.” I remember feeling, like, “Wow, I’m not getting the love,” and I was happy to leave. But I remember I finished at midnight on a Thursday, and on Friday morning at 5 AM, they announced the Golden Globes nominations. The next morning. Five hours after my character on “Grey’s” was no longer and I was driving home so upset, I got nominated for a Golden Globe for “In Treatment.” I just felt like…okay, it felt a little nice. [Laughs.] When people give up on a role that you’re portraying…that’s your face out there. It’s got to affect you in some way, be it you or your career. So to follow that by getting nominated for a role that you were so proud of…it’s just wonderful. It’s like life takes care of you. It all works out in the end.

BE: To throw a major flashback at you, what are your recollections about the experience of working on Fox’s “Roar”? Because I’ve got to tell you, I’m a huge fan of Shaun Cassidy’s work as a writer and producer.

MG: Oh, he’s so great, isn’t he? Oh, my gosh. Well, you know what? I fell in love with Heath (Ledger). We were husband and wife on “Roar.” It was just such a great time in my life. I mean, I was riding horses, the show was set hundreds of years ago, we were free…it was a great time. And Shaun Cassidy…I did a stunt on “Roar,” and I would never do this again, but I was so young that I was, like, “Oh, sure, I’ll go down the rapids with the strongest tide ever!” I mean, the rapids were really strong. And I had to go all the way down, with my bare body falling on rocks and going through the water, and I’m wearing this costume this long hair. And when my character gets to the cliff’s edge, I have to freefall 35 feet! Now, Shaun Cassidy was in American when I did this, and he heard about it from the stunt guy. The stunt guy called Shaun Cassidy and said, “Oh, my God, you’ve got to see this girl! She just did a freefall down the rapids, then hung onto the cliff and fell 35 feet into the water!” And Shaun Cassidy never forgot me. In fact, he hired me as my first lead in his next pilot, “Hollyweird.” He was, like, “I want that girl who did that rapids stunt. I want her as the lead!” I had to audition, of course, but he absolutely wanted me for the part. Just because I did that stunt! And when I got to Hollywood for the first time in my life, I got driven to audition, I got the part, and then I went to see Shaun, and he just hugged me and said, “My God! There she is!” And it was because I did the stunt for “Roar”! [Laughs.] But, you know, it’s amazing when you do something like that. When you work well, when you’re dedicated, people remember.

BE: You had a couple of other pilots that didn’t go, but they’ve still become a bit legendary among TV geeks because they really seemed like they should’ve gone. The first that leaps to my mind is “Lost in Oz.”

MG: “Lost in Oz” was actually my decision. It was weird, because my contract lapsed. They picked it up, they wanted to do a second episode, but my contract lapsed, and by that time I didn’t want to move back to Australia. I was living in America, and the show was shooting in Australia. So, y’know, it was partly my decision. But what a show! What a concept! And then “L.A. Confidential,” with Kiefer Sutherland and I. That was for HBO.

BE: With these examples having been cited, however, do you ever feel like you dodged a bullet by not making it into the final cast of NBC’s “Coupling”?

MG: [Long pause.] Oh, my God. You’re good. I like you. I like you very much. These are good questions! I won’t sleep tonight now, but thank you for reminding me of all these things. [Laughs.] I’m just kidding! With “Coupling,” it was an audition from hell. I had to be six different characters. I had to go for every part, and then by the time I got to the last one, they were, like, “Oh, you’d be great for Susan.” But then they fired the writers on set, they fired the creator, they fired me, they fired the other people…they fired everybody, and then they remade it with somebody else, I don’t even know who, and then it was gone. So, yeah, I dodged a bullet. And then I got cast as the lead in “Lipstick Jungle.”

BE: Now that I did not know.

MG: It was written by the woman who wrote “Sex and the City,” and, in fact, I got cast by Candace Bushnell, who was the creator and the producer of “Lipstick Jungle” at that point. She cast me as the lead, and then she got fired, I got fired, so it never happened.

BE: So was your role the one that Brooke Shields ended up getting, then?

MG: I have no idea. Mostly because I never watched it. I have a very good knack for forgetting the things I didn’t get. [Laughs.] It’s quite a skill, actually. I hope to pass it on to my children. But, yeah, I kept getting cast in things, but…for some reason I kept getting paid off for my contracts because the shows never happened.

BE: Well, that’s not a bad deal.

MG: No, it was a great deal! I have a great story about that, in fact. I was in a meeting with Brian Grazer, it was with about six actresses, it was pilot season, I had seven test deals on the table. Literally, seven. My lawyer was exhausted. And you know it works, I’m sure: you have to sign a deal and negotiate as if you’re going to get the part before you even audition. So I had seven test deals, but Brian Grazer had heard that the previous year every show I’d been cast for had either changed the cast or never got on the air, and that I’d get paid out but no one ever saw my work. So he yells out in the casting room, in front of all the actresses, “I want to meet the highest paid actress who’s never worked a day in your life.” I said [Sheepishly.] “It’s me.” He said, “Come with me!” [Laughs.]

So, yeah, I got cast and paid out constantly. But it was awesome, ‘cause then I’d go make “Mulholland Drive” with David Lynch and “The Limey” with Steven Soderbergh and all these great films. “Dark City,” with Jennifer Connelly, too. And “The Amityville Horror” and “Derailed.” I’d keep getting cast in these great, high-profile films, sometimes even in lead roles, and then I’d be doing a pilot, hoping it wouldn’t get picked up. [Laughs.]

BE: Since you brought it up, do you have any particular anecdotes about working with Terence Stamp on “The Limey”?

MG: I just loved working with him. I mean, what a legend, you know? I remember we were both staying at the Chateau Marmont, and there was some tour bus taking everyone to the Beverly Center, and…I’d just met him, but we went to the Beverly Center together. It was so random. I just remember being so young and being, like, “Omigod, it’s Terence Stamp!” [Laughs.] Very handsome. Beautiful blue eyes.

BE: And how was David Lynch to work with?

MG: David Lynch is my hero. He got me my first visa. I was cast in “Mulholland Drive” based on a photograph, and then when it came to me doing the movie, I had to reveal that I wasn’t actually an American, and he’s, like, “Oh, my God!” And so he got me my visa so that I was able to stay in America.

BE: Not bad.

MG: Not bad at all. [Laughs.] He just treated me great. He’s just amazing.

BE: Well, to bring it back to “Hunted” to wrap up, I’ve read enough interviews with Frank Spotnitz to know that he didn’t really want to end the season on a cliffhanger because he obviously didn’t know for sure if the show would come back. Can you speak to how your character’s arc goes over the course of the season?

MG: Well, she has two jobs. One is working for Byzantium (an espionage organization), so that case is going to be closing by the end of the season. But the journey of revenge, of finding out what happened to her mother and her in Morocco, is going to keep going.

BE: So those who follow the journey all the way, when they hit the last episode, even if – God forbid – there aren’t more episodes to come, will they still feel like they’ve had some sense of closure?

MG: Um…probably not.

BE: [Laughs.] I applaud your honesty.

MG: Well, I mean, there’s no closure because the finale…there’s a big, big reveal which will have people going, “Oh…my…God. I want more!” And that’s really the whole idea, isn’t it? [Laughs.]