After becoming the barrio sweetheart in In The Heights last year, Melissa Barrera is back for more. This summer, she's starring in Keep Breathing, Netflix’s newest survival thriller, which follows the story of a lawyer who is fighting to stay alive after her plane crashes in the middle of the woods in Canada.
And although Melissa has an extensive list of film credits, this role has been different. For one, it has reminded her of the importance of listening to her body. The intensity of training and film shoots themselves were leaving her utterly exhausted.
“I was very in tune with my body and I had the freshness of the balance and the awareness of my body that really helped,” she tells Women’s Health. “It's not something that I do consciously at all. It's just something that I think once you learn it, it kind of stays with you.”
WH sat down with Melissa to talk all about how she trained for her role, and how she had to listen to her body in the process.
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Most of Melissa’s training for the role was underwater.
You name it, she did the work—scuba training, breath-holding training, cold-water training—and it was nothing short of intense. (And dangerous.)
Even though Melissa loves swimming, this role took her relationship with water to the next level.
“I admire people that are scuba divers so much because it's honestly the most nerve wracking and claustrophobic feeling I've ever felt,” she says. “The depths are something that is terrifying to me, so it was nice to conquer that fear in a way during this show.”
She performed some of her own stunts.
Although she did some of her own stunts for Keep Breathing, like the wire work (which is when an actor is attached to wires to aid in the performance of the stunt), she did have to use three or four stunt doubles for more extreme stunts. But they were doing things like swimming 50 feet underwater and falling 25 feet from a cave. I understand why Melissa sat those ones out.
Still, Melissa prefers doing the stunts herself when possible. “I always wanna do the most that I can without putting the production at risk and myself,” she says. “It's always better for me if the camera is free to see the face, ‘cause the stunt person always has to hide and then you can kind of tell that it's not the actor.”
Melissa actually had some previous stunt experience in Mexico, where it was a little more relaxed than it is in the United States. “There was a lot more liberty for actors to do their own stunts,” she says. “I find that in the United States, there's more rules and people are more afraid of actors getting hurt. In Mexico, I was like, ‘I wanna fall off that ledge. Can I do it?’ And they'd be like, ‘Yeah, sure, if you want to.’”
Her dance background helped with the stunt work.
Yup, you heard that right, her extensive dance background definitely helped her crush some intense stunt work in Keep Breathing. Some of the stunts required her to do things like hold her body in a horizontal position, which uses a lot of core strength.
She doesn’t stick to a strict workout or wellness routine.
Since each acting role she takes on is different, Melissa has learned to adapt her lifestyle around the project.
“If I feel like I need to get in shape, I will get in shape prior to the project,” she says. “I will hire a personal trainer and I will go four or five times a week to the gym.”
While Melissa loves being active, she prefers to go with the flow rather than stick to a specific workout schedule. “Sometimes when I finish a project, I literally don't wanna move a finger for two months,” she says.
Because this role required her to walk, run, and climb in the elements, it was easy to get workouts in on set. “I don't find that I have the extra energy to burn out," she says. Instead, Melissa would take the time to recuperate so she could be ready to work the next day.
She doesn’t follow a meal plan, either.
Instead, she lets her schedule and roles inform what she eats.
Melissa tends to eat more when she’s working on a physically demanding role. “I will order McDonald's,” she says. “Whenever I have a really, really hard day on set, I always just crave fast food.”
Her advice? “You gotta indulge.”
This role taught her to listen to her body.
Usually, Melissa is pretty diligent about resting in between shoots so that she can be fresh and prepared for what comes next.
“I'm like a little robot, I'll program myself. I'll be like, ‘Okay, this job is this many months, and I know that this is what I have to do. And so I go in and I'm up and at it and I'm fine, I don't ever get tired. Then it ends and I'm in bed for a week,” she says.
But this role exhausted her like nothing had before—and I can’t blame her. After all, the hours were long and she was out in the sun, in the woods, playing a highly panicked character.
“Two weeks into this job, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can't get up from bed. What did I get myself into?” She says. “It was very intense.”
Recovery for her means rest, rest, and more rest.
Melissa is perfectly fine with spending all day in bed, watching reality TV and hanging out with her dogs, thank you very much. “That, to me, is resting and is gonna allow me to be able to get up the next day and work.”
“I don't get FOMO...I know what I need, and what I need is to rest and to sleep and I love sleeping,” she says. “The only reason I leave my room sometimes is to walk my dogs.”
TBH, it sounds like an absolutely ideal day to me!
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