Today we’re talking with actor, alternative healer and mother Melissa Paulo about her most recent horror film and the ongoing SAG-AFTRA and Writers’ strike. Let’s start by hearing more about this terrifying thriller of a movie.
Your most recent film Soft & Quiet is said to be “A painfully timely horror-fueled thriller [that] forces the viewer to confront the ugly underbelly of modern American race relations.”
Even just watching the 2 minute trailer I was terrified.
Nell: What’s it like to star in a film like this?
Melissa: Starring in a film like Soft & Quiet carries a responsibility as an actress that I did and do not take for granted - to have told the story as raw and honest as possible.
N: What kind of preparation did you do?
M: We shot the film in one take from start to finish, so a lot of the technical preparation happened during rehearsals which occurred over just 3 days. Through that process, the cast naturally formed a tight bond that really supported the outcome and level of comfort needed to shoot a film of this nature. But a lot of my personal preparation came out of pulling from real life experience and the relationship I have with my sister - specifically times where I or we have had to defend ourselves and each other from bullying and racist microaggressions - especially being mixed race.
My mother is Caucasian and my father is Asian. My mother recalls a story of finding me in front of a mirror as a fairly young girl, maybe 4, playing with my eyes. When she asked what I was doing I replied, “My teacher brought me in front of the class to show someone who is different…” When I was a little older, my dad, who traveled a lot for work as a musician, brought me home a shirt from Japan with little geisha characters embroidered on it. I was SO EXCITED to wear the shirt to school. And I can vividly remember kids chasing me around calling me “China Girl,” ripping my shirt and throwing dirt at me. My mom was devastated when she picked me up. This was the very same school where my teacher had used me as an example of different. It’s safe to say after that my mom pulled me out of that school.
It is for that little girl that I wanted to tell this story. We don’t realize how those moments shape us later; for a long time I was rejecting my Asian heritage. It was my motivation for doing the film. But ultimately, when it comes to the work on set - I had to put that aside and just live in the circumstances as told through the script. That is the only way, to me, to do it justice.
N: As a cast it seems you all grew quite close. What is that experience like when working on a film of this intensity?
M: I couldn’t have asked for a better experience or for a better cast and crew to work with. It was so symbiotic and supportive. We began every shoot day with a group meditation and wrapped up with a saging, cleansing and mental health check in to keep us all free, clear and connected! Telling a story of this intensity, absolutely required us to create an environment that was rooted in love, vulnerability, and truth.
N: For someone like me who is terrified of horror films but interested in watching Soft & Quiet, what advice would you give?
M: The film comes with a trigger warning and is not for the light hearted. Def do not watch with young children! My advice is to go in open minded, watching the film can be a very visceral experience. Take pause when needed. It is also my hope that viewers understand why we are telling this story. It is not to promote racism, It is meant to expose it.
N: At the moment one of the most talked about aspect of the entertainment industry is SAG-AFTRA joining the writers’ strike. In your opinion, what impact does the strike have on the overall landscape of the industry? What are the specific changes you hope to see implemented within the industry?
I think that, hopefully, the biggest impact will be artists being able to get back to doing their craft without the added stress and worry of how to keep a roof over your head. Many actors and creators are feeling encouraged to get back to indie film making and telling stories they want to tell - not the big studio blockbusters full of CGI and AI. Getting back to the heart and soul, the “why” behind wanting to be actors in the first place. A landscape where actors don’t need to make a choice between their craft and pursuing something with more “stability”. There is so much of the work we do that we don’t get paid for, the 100’s of auditions, the residuals (to me) always felt like the reward for all the unpaid time. Streaming has drastically changed that. Someone is making billions and it’s not the actors . But, without the actors, there is no show!
N: Have there been any moments of progress or positive developments during the strike that give you hope for a resolution?
I think seeing big A-list actors stand up in solidarity with working class actors has been very encouraging. We all start from the same place, and reminding studios as well as the public who may not understand the strike, is important. Whenever a group of people come together, powerful changes can happen. Who knows, maybe one day there will be a movie made about these strikes with a cast and everyone involved being fairly considered and compensated!
N: Beyond being an actor, you are also a creator and alternative healing practitioner. How did you find your way to teaching meditation and yoga and practicing reiki and sound healing?
M: Alternative healing is really a passion that naturally turned into a career. I spent years exploring my own spiritual & healing journey - at first as a way to cope with the anxiety that comes from growing up in this day and age and pursuing a career in the arts. Eventually it began to spill over into my social life - at first, just giving friends mindfulness tips and hosting meditation circles out of my living room…that led me to my first certification in reiki and then in yoga. My first sound bowl was actually a gift from a beloved student & it all unfolded from there!
N: As a mom, how do these holistic practices enter into your parenting?
M: I swear my son was born a zen monk from all the sound baths I hosted pregnant! He is the most calm & chill baby and is so drawn to all the instruments around the home. As a new mother, remembering to incorporate a daily mindfulness practice has been extremely helpful for self-regulating through all the challenges of being a parent. Keeping it short & simple has been the best way for me to stay consistent. I try to wake up before baby and promise myself just 3 deep breaths with some self reiki first thing in the morning and a 7 minute morning yoga practice. Starting my day that way has worked wonders!
N: Speaking of parenting, we love to pick our Kibou parents’ brains:
With a burgeoning toddler at home, what is the biggest challenge in parenting
M: The biggest challenge for me is balancing work & home life. Some of what I do requires me to work from home and doing so while making sure I am present for my son can be difficult. It’s easy to get caught up with what “needs to get done”... and then one day you look and realize how fast they grow. I’m constantly needing to remind myself that it’s okay to put a pause on whatever I am focused on and just give him my 100% full attention. That this time during these early stages happens fast and is not something you can get back, the work will always be there.
N: Any tips for other parents for success out of the house with a toddler?
M: WIPES! Lots of wipes! Haha! I underestimated just how often I’d be using them on and for everything! Also, always have a snack ready!
N: Any tips for other parents on being prepared without being weighed down?
M: Keep it simple and use a bag that can double as a diaper bag and your personal bag. For a while I was lugging around both, Kibou changed that and helped transition us out of the newborn phase - I realized I really didn’t need as much as I thought. And circling it back around to the wipes! The water proof compartment is a life saver!
N:Finally, we always have to ask, what’s in your Kibou??
M: Ooo! Everything I need (and probably more!) Card Holder, Sunglasses, Antibacterial spray, my keys, a snack for Mikey, a diaper and extra binkie!