I recently got the chance to talk to Melanie Lyons about her role in ‘Tape 407’. Here, Melanie talks about how she got involved in the project in the first place and what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set…
Hey Melanie. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘Tape 407’ – (also known as ‘Area 407’).
Pleasure – thanks for having me!
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
It’s a very simple plot – on New Years Eve, a plane on route from New York to Los Angeles crashes mid-flight, leaving the surviving passengers stranded in a remote government testing area. The passengers are then insistently pursued by unknown predators that are, unbeknownst to them, part of the government’s top secret Mesa experiment.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
My character’s name is Laura Hawkins, and she’s an air marshal. Luckily for the surviving passengers she makes it through the crash alive! She tries to protect the group as best she can but can only go so far. She ends up being a bit of a “mum” figure, trying to control the situation in very difficult circumstances.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
One of the directors, Everette Wallin, called me up one day and said that he was shooting a low-budget feature film, which had no script and would therefore be fully improvised, and would be shot in just five days. He asked me to play Laura, and it sounded like a huge challenge so immediately I said yes. It was very difficult, but that’s what made the work enjoyable.
In your opinion, what makes this film different and unique to most horror films?
The circumstances under which the film was shot make it very unique. It was completely improvised, and shot in five days, so for what we had to work with we all did the best we could. Some of the actors in the film were very new to acting so it provided a great experience for them and they were able to really get a feel for what it’s like on a professional movie set.
The film stars Abigail Schrader, Samantha Lester, James Lyons, your good self, Brendan Patrick Connor, Ken Garcia and Samantha Sloyan – with Dale Fabrigar and Everette Wallin onboard as directors – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
The cast and crew were fantastic. Some of them I had known for a while, and my husband is also in the film, so it was a lot of fun to work with him. Everyone really looked after each other when the shoot started to get tough, for example if someone was starting to fade a little bit in the early hours of the morning, we would all band together and try to keep the energy up. Everyone got along really well.
One funny thing that I can think of – the creature itself was actually just a head and torso on a stick that one of the crew members operated. So on-set it wasn’t scary at all. We had to shoot one scene where Jimmy Lyons, Abigail Schrader, Samantha Lester, and myself were sitting in a car which was being attacked by the creature, and then Jimmy gets out of the car and runs off and I chase him. We obviously had to act terrified, but in one of the takes Jimmy and I looked out of the window at the same time and saw this torso on a stick bobbing up and down outside the car making circles, and we both just cracked up laughing. We desperately tried to hide it, and got out of the car and ran away, and when we stopped we doubled over in laughter and couldn’t breathe for about five minutes.
Because the film was entirely night shoots, we would start shooting at about 8pm and wrap at about 5am, so you can imagine we all got a little delirious and crazy. Especially those of us who had to be covered head to toe in fake blood for hours on end. We all had a great time on the shoot though, and I think that’s the main thing, really. To have a good time, and do the best you can with what you have to work with.
Let’s talk a bit about you Melanie. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
I have loved acting since I was a little kid, and a huge inspiration to me was my Mum. She is very passionate about theatre, and is an actor, director, producer and runs a theatre in Adelaide, South Australia. She has always encouraged me to follow my dreams and I have learned so much from her, not just about the craft but about persistence and dedication. This is an incredibly tough business, and it’s not just about how good you are but how hard you work and how long you stay in the game. I remember when I was about six years old, Mum did a play in which she played a Sea Witch. When I sat in that theatre and watched my Mum up there, I thought to myself “I wanna do that!”. I started doing school plays at a young age and fell in love with the work, moving on to amateur theatre when I was about 15. When I was 21 I was accepted into the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, and that put me on a great footing to start my professional career. While acting can be tough, it is always fun for me, and I think that’s how you know you’re in the right job – when, even in the difficult times, nothing else you can think of would make you as happy as what you’re doing right now.
I’ve heard people say many times that if you can do anything else besides acting that you think would make you happy, then do that, because it’s such a tough business to “crack”. But I could never do anything else. You only live once, right? Live the life you want to live.
I also want to be involved in projects which make a difference in the world, as most actors do. Even if it’s just something small – for example, I love knowing that no matter how hard things may get in people’s lives, they can always go to the movies or the theatre and be swept away for a couple of hours into a different world and forget about their troubles for a little while.
You’ve been in a number of different films and TV projects – which actors/actresses have been your favourites to work with so far and why? Any good stories?
You know I have been lucky enough to work with really wonderful people, and I have never had problems with anyone on a set. I guess the people who stand out to me are Rhys Muldoon and Corey McKernan from ‘Lockie Leonard’, Josh Lawson and Lisa McCune from ‘Sea Patrol’, and Stephen Curry from ‘Cloudstreet’. Rhys and Corey were hilarious to work with, they had a great dynamic and made everyone on set laugh all the time.
‘Locke Leonard’ was my first job out of drama school so as you can imagine I was pretty nervous. My first scene ever was one where I had to drive a manual police truck with a jet ski strapped to the back through a town I had never been to before, and have a conversation with Rhys, with the director lying in the back seat telling me where to drive between our dialogue. This was really nerve-wracking – (I know it sounds simple but it didn’t seem it at the time!) but Rhys just made lots of jokes and calmed me down, so I managed to get through the scene without stalling the car too many times!
Josh Lawson was a huge joker on the set of ‘Sea Patrol’ – he was very serious about his work but he kept everyone in stitches between takes, and Lisa McCune was very kind to me. She took me under her wing a bit which was very sweet. On ‘Cloudstreet’, Stephen Curry made me laugh a lot, and we had a lot of fun working together. I also have to mention Gillian Jones – I worked with her in the theatre, she played Amanda in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ and I played Laura. She was also one of my teachers at WAAPA. She is a delight in person and is wonderful to work with, and I have probably learned more about acting from her than anyone else in the world. She’s one of my favourite actors of all time and a very kind, generous person.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three ‘personal’ things could you not live without?
I’m not a huge ‘things’ kind of person…I don’t really have anything material that I would not be able to live without. Can my cat be counted as a thing? I’m assuming humans can’t…is there wireless and a phone tower close by? J If there is I’d like my computer so I could Skype with my family. I’d want a really good book that I could read over and over again – (maybe the ‘Game Of Thrones’ series?), and a bottomless tub of cookies’n’cream ice cream. Hey, ice cream is personal to me. J
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
My husband Jimmy, because he’s always at the top of my list of people to hang out with. Meryl Streep, so I could quiz her on her work process and how she does what she does because I think she’s extraordinary. Rameses II, so I can find out what really happened between him and Moses. I’m a bit of an Ancient Egypt nut.
What is your favourite word?
I don’t think I’m allowed to write it.
During off-shoot days, how do you like to kick back and relax?
I love to spend as much time as I can with family and friends, reading is one of my favourite things to do, and I enjoy watching really great shows like ‘Game Of Thrones’, ‘Mad Men’, ‘Breaking Bad’, and many more. I find I learn something new about acting in almost every episode, because most of the actors on those shows are masterful. If I have the time and the means, I love to travel and see the world as much as I can.
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
My husband and I have just completed our first draft of a screenplay that we’re really excited about, so we’re concentrating pretty hard on that at the moment. I’m also shooting a very funny web series in the next few months called ‘Bathroom Confidential’ which I’m really looking forward to, and there’s also a couple of films in the works but I can’t say much about those right now.
Thanks for the interview!