Melissa Barrera’s Resolve Prepared Her to Survive in the Wilderness (& in Hollywood)

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
After wrapping her latest starring role on Netflix’s limited series “Keep Breathing,” Melissa Barrera hasn’t only solidified her spot in Hollywood — she has also learned how to survive in the wilderness. 
Premiering July 29, and currently ranking as Netflix’s most-streamed show in the U.S., “Keep Breathing” is a survival mini-series about a New York lawyer, Liv, who is flying to Canada to visit her estranged mother when her plane crashes in the wilderness. Alone, each 40-minute episode shows Liv trying to figure out how to escape alive. With flashbacks from Liv's complicated relationships with her parents and boyfriend, she must learn critical lessons about herself if she’s ever going to pull through in the wild. 
Advertisement
Liv’s resilience is a key component of the show — and also of Barrera’s career. From the age of 10, the Monterrey-born actress knew that she wanted a career in entertainment. After graduating from a performing arts school, where she appeared in the school's musical productions of “Grease,” “Aida,” and “Footloose,” she turned her dreams into a plan, leaving Mexico at 18 for the U.S. to study her passion at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. 
From there, the now 32-year-old actress has had roles in telenovelas like "Siempre tuya Acapulco" and "Tanto amor," shows like "Vida," as well as films like "In the Heights" and "Scream." But with “Keep Breathing,” the rising talent sees her first mainstream leading role — and if Netflix’s streams are any indication, it’s a hit.  
Ahead of the series' premiere, Barrera opened up to Somos about how she prepared for the role, tapping into Liv’s mind to gain survival lessons of her own, and the Latinas who have inspired her trajectory.
Congratulations! “Keep Breathing” is a thrilling new series, and you're amazing in it. How did you prepare to turn into Liv each day? 
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Oh my God! It was [wild.] I don't think I did anything to prepare every day. I would just try to get the most rest that I could to be able to do the next day, because it was such a grueling schedule. Two weeks in, I was already dead. I was like, oh my God, I'm not gonna be able to do this for another two and a half months. I need to figure this out. And I figured that I just needed to sleep the most that I could; that's what my body needed in order to be able to function. I would take baths, which is something that I never do. I'm not a bath person, but I would take some baths because sometimes my body needed it. I really actually enjoyed the cold water, and the ice baths that I had to do to prepare for the water scenes. I did cold water training and breath-holding training to prepare for this role. In the process, I found that the ice baths really helped me feel alive and they trigger all the nerves in your skin. It helped me feel alive and energized. 
Advertisement
That doesn’t sound easy. What was the hardest part about playing Liv?
It was a challenging role as a whole. It was such a high-stress role the entire time. Most of the time, it required me having to put my body into labored breathing, being tense, and going into a state of panic. That can take a toll on you. Also emotionally, everything that she's dealing with was exhausting. Everything was hard. The underwater stuff was hard. Being in the water those days was tiring. Between being out in the sun and in the water, those days were the toughest but most fun. It was a good feeling at the end of the day, though, kind of like you were just at the beach all day. 
Gah! I could never. Conversely, what was the most enjoyable part about playing this role? 
You rarely get to fully explore someone's mind like I got to do with Liv. We get to the point where her memories, imaginations, her fever dreams, and her reality kind of all melt into one. That was super fun to get to do — so was being able to explore different, weird reactions that would only happen in dreams and bringing those into her reality. Being able to fully walk around in every little corner of her brain and explore so I could fully get to know her as a character was very fun. I think Liv is probably the character that I've gotten to know the most deeply in my entire career. 
Advertisement
Out of all the characters you've played so far, which one are you most similar to IRL?
My character Liv in "Keep Breathing" is the one that I'm the most like, because she's so heavily work-oriented and wants to succeed. I could also relate to her because, before I met my husband, I used to be like Liv in the sense that I’d prefer to not talk about feelings or feel things and just keep moving. I wasn't very good at communicating. My husband has changed that and has taught me a lot. I've learned a lot from him, but I used to be much more like Liv. That’s why playing her was very therapeutic in a lot of ways. 
I love that! Talking about characters, if you were to act in a biopic, who would you want to play?
I would love to play either María Félix or Frida Kahlo. Even though Salma Hayek already played Frida, I feel like there’s another version of Frida’s life that is very interesting and darker that we could explore. 
If you could act alongside any Latina actress, who would it be?
Salma Hayek. I don’t even have to think about that.

More from TV

R29 Original Series

Advertisement