‘I’ve got a taste back for it again’ – Melissa George credits Irish film with reigniting passion for acting after tough year
The Australian actress speaks to Independent.ie ahead of appearance at world premiere of 'Don’t Go' at Galway Film Fleadh on Saturday
Melissa George has endured a rocky 18 months in her personal life which necessitated a break from acting. However, the Australian actress says an Irish film, shot in Spiddal last year, helped to reignite her passion for her craft.
Don’t Go, directed by David Gleeson (who co-wrote with Ronan Blaney), is a psychological thriller in which she stars opposite Stephen Dorff as a grieving married couple who move to the west of Ireland following the tragic death of their five-year-old daughter.
Irish actors Simon Delaney, Aoibhinn McGinnity and Charlotte Bradley also have roles in the film, which revolves around Dorff’s character’s belief that he can bring his daughter back from the dead through a recurring dream.
“It was beautiful,” George (41) tells Independent.ie of the shoot. “We formed a lovely family, David the director, and Stephen Dorff and all the cast and we had the most perfect scenery and location, and I got to get away from Paris for a little bit and make this incredible little movie.”
The Perth-born actress adds, “Sometimes after work I got to have a Guinness and a laugh and I love it so much. I think being Australian you feel quite connected to the Irish really. We’re very similar and I felt like everyone kind of looked like my dad, or everyone looked like my family, so it kind of felt like coming home.”
The actress flies back to Ireland from her home in Paris on Friday ahead of the film’s world premiere on Saturday as part of the Galway Film Fleadh where she will watch it for the first time with an audience.
While she clearly enjoyed the shoot, as a mum of two little boys, Raphael (4) and Solal (2), playing a grieving mother was an emotional experience.
“We’re grieving the loss of our daughter and I’m now a mother of two and just trying to imagine how does one get over when a child dies and how do you as a couple rebuild your love together?” she says.“It was an intense shoot but no way was it as intense [for me] as it was for Stephen. My role was very, very hard to play but he went through the whole thing, all in his head, and his part really was a lot stronger than mine.”
Given they play a married couple, chemistry is pivotal, and Melissa feels their real life ease together will translate to the screen.
“There’s a magic that happens sometimes when it’s the right chemistry and the right connection. You can’t cast that, it just has to be there or not,” she says. “In this particular case we had such a great friendship and we just got along so well and we just really kind of got in there and did it.”
While she has not yet seen the finished product, indications are good - the film has already sold to a US distributor.
“Sometimes it’s these little gems that work,” she says. “But for me it was just amazing. It was my first job back after not working for a good year and a half and since then I’ve kind of got a taste back for it again.”
The break from acting came in the wake of the actress’s split from her ex-partner, and father of her sons, businessman Jean-David Blanc. A domestic violence incident in December 2016 led to the breakdown of the relationship and an ensuing custody battle over their children.
They now share custody. A judge also ruled that the boys cannot leave France with their mother without their father’s consent and this has, understandably, had an impact on Melissa’s desire to leave their home in Paris to work.
“That’s why I’m not shooting, because I can’t be away from them,” she says. “I did my entire performance in Don’t Go in ten days straight. The crew were working day and night, weekends, to shoot me out. My mother flew in to have my boys and I needed to just try and squeeze it in the week I had my kids.”
She adds of her situation, “It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work really, particularly in the case I have. I’m just happiest when I’m with my sons.”
Despite the difficulties, she did manage to juggle her schedule to spend five months shooting The First, an eight-part miniseries for Hulu, with Sean Penn in New Orleans. She flew back and forth for a week at a time to be with her sons.
“It all works out in the end,” she says, adding of her planning skills, “I’m sitting here now with my plan A, B, C, and D for the next two weeks and I look at all of it and I keep four plans on the wall and each day I come home I say, ‘Well that one’s certainly not going to happen’ and then move on B, C and D and that’s what I do every day – just a process of elimination.”
The last project before her break was an Australian film, The Butterfly Tree, which just screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival. It was shot in the summer of 2016 and Melissa has fond memories of having her boys in tow during throughout the Queensland shoot.
She played a former burlesque dancer who becomes the object of the affections of both a father and his son. In fact, she’s a roller-skating burlesque dancer (George is a former roller-skating champion) and she says that aspect of the character was added in to suit her skills: “I’m not sure how many burlesque dancers are on roller skates!” she laughs.
Roller skating while dancing and swinging nipple tassles in that way that generally only trained burlesque dancers can do is no easy feat but one she had to master for the opening sequence of the film.
“The first thing we did, we didn’t do dialogue or rehearsals or anything, but we knew we had to work this out as it’s a huge part of the opening of the movie and actually there’s a lot of tricks to it so it’s great. It’s good to have another skill I can write on my resume,” she giggles. Will she ever get to use it again? “I hope I will. Of course I will! When you’re as good at it as I am you’ll get lots of work with it!” she laughs.
Not only did she have to get to grips with those particular niche skills, she had to do so while breastfeeding Solel, who was just four months old at the time. She roars with laughter, “It was hilarious because every time I did the nipple tassle routine, the milk... they just wouldn’t stick. I was like, ‘Guys, you shouldn’t hire a lactating mother to be a burlesque dancer’. That should have been in the contract.”
The joys of motherhood indeed. “It’s just great when you’re professionally and personally fulfilled,” she says wistfully. “That’s when I thrive. That’s my happy place.”
It has been ten years since Melissa bagged a Golden Globe for her performance in HBO’s critically acclaimed series In Treatment opposite our own Gabriel Byrne. He played a psychologist, she played one of his patients. The mere mention of his name elicits an outpouring of affection.
“Best actor ever,” she declares. “He’s the best. I honestly, if I wasn’t married [at the time she was married to Claudio Dabed], I would marry him! I would marry the man! I was looking at Gabriel Byrne in front of me going, oh my gosh, the most handsome Irish man that ever existed.”
She continues, “Obviously, creatively to just sit there and do two full days for each patient session and to be able to do that kind of work with an actor like Gabriel... and we all came out of that such better actors and such better people. It was exceptional. In fact I think it’s downhill from there.”
However, she says she “got the same feeling” working with Sean Penn, “of being back up there with actors you’ve watched your whole career and all of a sudden you’re on set with them. It’s like a dream.”
She admits it can be intimidating working opposite actors she particularly admires, but reveals a mantra she learned from her former Alias co-star Jennifer Garner, which she recites to herself in those moments of doubt.
“You kind of go into what I call ‘having a word to myself’. I picked that up for Jennifer Garner actually. She goes, ‘I’m just going to my trailer to have a word to myself. I’ll be right back’,” she reveals. “You go in and you’re like ‘oh god, oh god, this is too good to be true’ and then you kind of remind yourself that you’re the one who got cast, there’s a reason why you were cast, and you deserve to be there like everybody else and, let’s be great.”
Her stunning performance in In Treatment earned her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. She remembers cars on the street in Beverly Hills beeping at her after she won. When she found out she was nominated she had called her parents in Australia, waking them in the middle of the night.
“They thought I was calling to tell them I was pregnant. I was like, ‘Why would you think that?’,” she chuckles. “I just said I’ve been nominated for In Treatment. It was great. There are some nice moments along the way.”
While the award undoubtedly opened doors, the two year long writers’ strike kicked off in Hollywood immediately after that, “so all that momentum you’ve built just has to stop for two years. It was almost like we all had to start again after that. But, that’s the way it works,” she says.
This side of the world, George is fondly remembered as Angel in Aussie soap Home and Away. She played the role for just three years from the age of 16 before hot-footing it to LA where she worked steadily for five years before making an impact on the big screen in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
In the decade since she earned her Globe, she has racked up an impressive CV of TV roles from Hunted to The Good Wife, The Slap, and now The First. Prior to that she played Dr Sadie Harris in Grey’s Anatomy, appeared in Friends, the aforementioned Alias, and hit the big screen in The Amityville Horror, opposite Ryan Reynolds, and Derailed, opposite Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston.
The latter is one of three films she made under Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer who has been accused of rape and sexual assault by a number of high profile actresses. He denies all allegations.
While she says there was no #MeToo moment with Weinsten, she admits “there have been moments” in her career, but she adds, “It’s all about standing up for yourself and having self worth. I think women have to look at themselves and say 'you’re wonderful'.
“All women have something, we’ve all got something, all suffered something because you’re a woman, that’s for sure. It’s not an easy world being a woman, but it’s the best one. It’s the best one,” she says emphatically. “I think we all have to take care of ourselves a little more and have a little more self respect and I think a lot of the past issues will slowly go away.”
In terms of the industry she welcomes the ‘huge, huge’ changes that are happening in the wake of #MeToo, Time’s Up and the conversation around how women are treated at work.
“In the mornings now there’s no more little hit on the bottom, no more jokes on set,” she says. “Anything that’s remotely sensual is a closed set, no one can film, photograph, no one can look. It’s all about protecting women.”
She also welcomes the fact that Weinstein no longer holds such power over actress's careers.
“Before, when you got the call from Harvey Weinstein to say he wanted to meet you that was like the ticket of validation and now there’s nobody like that anymore,” she says.
“Now you just have to be great at your job, which we all were before but we looked for that king to put the stamp of approval on you, and now it’s just no, you just get a phone call to say you’re great at what you’ve done, great at what you’re doing, and you’re hired for the role based on your talent, not on what services you’re going to give.”
Melissa George will attend the world premiere of Don’t Go at the Galway Film Fleadh on Saturday. For more info on the Fleadh, schedule and tickets, check out www.galwayfilmfleadh.com