How Melissa Barrera and Courteney Cox Became Bloody Good Friends
Despite all the murdering, shooting Scream movies are apparently a good time. The cast of the original have said that making it felt like summer camp, which might explain why many of them have returned for the franchise’s latest installment, 25 years later. Also back are the vibes, which, according to Melissa Barrera, were strong. Coming off her breakout performance in the adaptation of the Lin Manuel Miranda musical In the Heights, the 31 year old actor, who was already a star in her native Mexico, joined the latest Scream as part of a crop of young performers (Jack Quaid, Jenna Ortega, and Jasmin Savoy among them), who were united with the Woodsboro OGs to take on the latest iteration of Ghostface. One of them was Courtney Cox, who took an immediate liking to Barrera, as you can clearly see in the following conversation.
MELISSA BARRERA: How are you? I’m so sorry I didn’t go to your party. I just assumed that it was going to be a lot of people and that you weren’t even going to notice that I wasn’t there, so I didn’t want to text you because I knew you were gonna say, “Come!” It would’ve taken me an hour to get there.
COURTENEY COX: I always notice when you’re not in a room and it was pretty good music that night! We’ll do it again. I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions, and I don’t actually know the answer to any of these. When you started acting, how old were you? Was it before or after the music reality show that you did?
BARRERA: If we’re talking about the first time that I was ever in a show, it was in sixth grade. It was a weird take on Orpheus. I literally just danced in it. I maybe had one line in the whole show, and I fell in love.
COX: Did you ever act in TV shows or movies in Mexico?
BARRERA: I did. I was 21 when I did the singing competition show La Academia, and then I started doing soaps for Mexican TV. I did four telenovelas, some theater, and a few movies before moving to L.A.
COX: What was your first job in L.A.?
COX: How long ago was that?
BARRERA: Vida was kind of crazy because I’d just finished doing a show for Netflix that was really popular in Mexico called Club de Cuervos. I was in the third season of it and it was huge. It was probably the only thing that I did in Mexico that anyone ever saw. I played this character that became really beloved, and after I did that I was like, “I need to move to L.A. now.” My thinking was that I was never going to do anything better than this in Mexico, which was stupid, because the content in Mexico is great now. But in my brain I was like, “I need to move now.” So I took a plane to L.A. for three weeks to find representation. I didn’t have representation in Mexico, it wasn’t a thing back then. You kind of just auditioned for things by yourself and you would get called in by casting directors, so I didn’t need a manager. I made a reel and edited it by myself on iMovie, with subtitles and everything. I came to L.A. and I started asking people out to lunch. I would text them and be like, “Hi, I got your contact from a friend of mine and I’m new in L.A. I’m an actor wondering if I could invite you for a coffee or lunch.” That’s how it started.
COX: And people said yes?
BARRERA: People said yes. Some said no, obviously.
COX: I hate lunches, so the fact that you were just willing to sit with someone in the middle of the day, that’s great. [Laughs]
BARRERA: It was desperation. But out of those meetings came more meetings, and that’s how I met my first manager. I went back to Mexico City after three weeks and I had to close up my apartment and buy myself out of a contract, because I had an exclusivity contract with a network. Basically they would pay me money just to live, and then when I was actually working they would double it. So a lot of actors in Mexico are super comfortable, because sometimes you don’t work for a year, but you’re still earning money. You can’t work anywhere else but you’re making money, so when I told them that I wanted out, they were like, “What?!”
COX: Nobody leaves the family. You gave them back the money you already lived on, the money you already spent?
BARRERA: Well I’m a saver, thank god. They asked for it back and then I was like, “You know what? I can make the money again.” I flew back to L.A. and within a month, I booked the pilot for Vida. We didn’t know if it was going to go to series, but I still felt like the timing was perfect.
COX: How did you end up losing your accent?
BARRERA: It’s something that some people hear and some people don’t. When I’m drunk or when I’m angry an accent comes out.
COX: You are the most infectious, warm, person. I met you and immediately I knew that you were someone I’d be close with forever. I know on the set of Scream you guys all became really good friends, you lived in the same hotel and had a connection. You have your group text, and I think you’re going to be friends with them forever.
BARRERA: I think so, too.
COX: Is that the way you are? I want to know if you get this close with people on every movie that you’ve done—and you’ve worked so much recently it’s crazy—as you did on Scream?
BARERRA: I do. Every project is different, but some of my best friends are my Vida castmates. They’re the first people I met when I came to L.A., they became my best friends, they were at my wedding. Every time I’m in L.A., I have to have a night out with them. When we wrapped In the Heights, we were so sad because it was a once in a lifetime thing—we’re never going to be able to repeat it, the bar is so high. And then on Scream it happened again! People that aren’t in the industry don’t understand the type of bonding that happens while you’re on a set.
COX: I also think it’s you, too. You attract people, and those people can be themselves around you. So In the Heights was your second job here?
BARRERA: Technically, after the first season of Vida I shot an indie movie called All the World Is Sleeping. We’ve been doing a bit of a festival run and tonight is the premiere in L.A. It’s this bare-bones movie that we shot in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It’s based on the lives of seven women that have experiences with substance abuse and being moms and having their kids taken away. It’s a very intense, true story. I don’t know how I got cast in that, but it changed my life. There’s this whole thing with indie movies that sometimes they disappear into the void, and I feel like if I was more famous this movie would have been bigger and the message would have gone further, but I’m very proud of it.
COX: Can’t it still get picked up by a streaming service?
BARRERA: We hope so.
COX: I hope so, too. Can you watch Scream with your eyes open?
BARRERA: I can, yes.
COX: I cannot.
BARRERA: I know you can’t, you’re such a scaredy cat.
COX: Did you have to learn how to scream for this? Like, to really belt from your abdomen or your gut? Was that hard?
BARRERA: You know what? I actually don’t scream in Scream. They made us all scream for the promos.
COX: So you did Scream, then you went to Australia and did Carmen. When does that come out? `
BARRERA: This year. Hopefully we get into a good festival. Then Bedrest comes out, which is this other thriller that I did, and I screamed so much in that.
COX: Wes Craven taught me to scream, so I wanted to know. I remember when you went to Australia and you were in a room for 14 days by yourself, you couldn’t go out. I FaceTimed with you once during that, and you are the most independent, brave girl. Then you move to Texas and live by yourself. You come from a big family. Where did you learn to be so independent?
BARRERA: It probably comes from being in a full house and always having people around. That fed my need to have my alone time. I’m also not as independent as you think. I’ve never traveled by myself.
COX: Can you go to restaurants by yourself?
BARRERA: I have in the past, but it’s more of like, “I’m out and I’m hungry, I’m just going to go eat.”
COX: You live pretty far from your husband. Is it hard having a long-distance relationship?
BARRERA: It’s hard, and it never gets easier. You just learn that that’s how the relationship is. My husband is very supportive and it helps to have the unconditional love and support of your partner when you live a life like this.
COX: Will you ever live together?
BARRERA: I hope that at one point, if we ever want to have kids, we live together, because I’m most of the time freaking out that I’m alone with the dogs. When something ever happens I’m like, “What am I going to do with human babies?” I once heard this beautiful analogy of a relationship growing in parallel. You don’t have to be on top of each other, you don’t have to depend on each other for everything, it’s more like we’re in this together and we’re going down a parallel road and we’re waving at each other through our car windows.
COX: Do you know what your next project will be?
BARRERA: I don’t know for sure. I’m a workaholic, but I’m learning to be more selective with the things that I do.
COX: Well, you’ve picked some great things. Have you had to audition for any of them?
BARRERA: For Vida, I auditioned. For In the Heights I auditioned. For Scream I didn’t audition. At least when you audition, you’ve earned it, and when you don’t, I almost feel worse.
COX: Oh god, I know. Auditions, to me, are the worst.
BARRERA: Aren’t they so unfair?
COX: I know. Do you ever use your sides, or do you prepare like crazy?
BARRERA: I prepare like crazy, I’m like a sociopath in that sense. I need to know every word. I get really stressed out about auditions and self-tapes. I actually have to do a self tape and I’ve been procrastinating. I’ve just been doing everything to not do it, even though I really want that part.
COX: There’s something about it. Even during Friends, as soon as I had props and things to do, everything just got easier. If I’ve read all of your interviews, what would I still not know about you?
BARRERA: I really, really hate singing in public.
COX: But you’re so good!
BARRERA: I have trauma. That reality show that I did in Mexico destroyed my confidence. It was mostly the judges, like three Simon Cowells. Every concert, they would tell me that I couldn’t sing and that I was pitchy, and asked what I was doing there and told me I should just try modeling. In the beginning, I was like, “Motherfuckers, I got into NYU, and it has one of the most coveted musical theater programs. I can fucking sing.” If you hear people saying something over and over, it gets to you. It’s an interesting social experiment, because I started saying to myself, “Maybe they’re right, maybe I can’t sing.” Then I would perform badly in the concerts.
COX: What great revenge with In the Heights. I didn’t know that you went to NYU. Did you like New York?
BARRERA: I love New York. It was an amazing place to study musical theatre, because you’re in the epicenter of it all. It was nice to feel so close to what my ultimate dream was, which was booking something on Broadway. It just pushed me. The growth that happens in the first couple years of college is insane. The person that went into NYU is not the same person who came out.
COX: I wish I had had the opportunity to be around actors and to learn so much in such a short period of time. Did you not want to go on with your third and fourth years? This is no judgement, I went to college for one year.
BARRERA: My intention was to fully graduate and book a job and stay in New York forever. As I was there, I started to realize how hard it is for an immigrant. I didn’t have papers, I was on a student visa, so I couldn’t work. You either have to get a working visa, or you have to get out of the country. So I got an opportunity after my sophomore year, I booked the reality show in Mexico, and I thought maybe that was my path. I also saved my mom a lot of money because NYU is expensive, especially as an international student.
COX: I definitely want to visit you in Texas sometime. Is there any place that you found in America where the food is authentic to where you grew up? Because it’s obviously not Tex-Mex.
BARRERA: It’s not Tex-Mex.
COX: Let’s be clear, that’s pretty damn good.
BARRERA: My husband cooks, and I found that the Mexican food in Texas tastes more like Mexico than California Mexican food.
COX: I think you should learn to cook. If we’re as similar as we think we are, you might love it.
BARRERA: I’m a very impatient person. I’ve taken a lot of cooking classes and a lot of baking classes, but when I’m hungry, I just want the food to be there.
COX: That’s like Coco [Arquette, Cox’s daughter]. She wants pasta for every meal—breakfast, lunch, dinner. I also want to ask you what your skin care routine is.
BARRERA: I’ve always been very skincare oriented. I started really young with my skincare routine, and it’s helped me have the skin that I have. I started using sunscreen very young. What I have to do now is take care of my entire body, because I focus just on my face. My dermatologist gave me a really good tip. She gave me a really thick body lotion and said, “Put it on within the first three minutes that you get out of the shower.”
COX: Trust me, I didn’t even know that I had skin on my body until I was over 50. Just wait.
BARRERA: Did I ever tell you what I used to do with my friends when I was younger? They asked me if I ever told you, and I don’t think I ever did. The first episode I ever saw of Friends was the finale, when it aired lived. It was 2004, I was 14, and I was on a school trip to a model U.N. conference in Dallas. We had gone to Medieval Times, and on the TV was the last episode of Friends. I didn’t know what it was. Then for Christmas, I asked for Friends and my mom gave me all the DVDs and I became obsessed. My two best friends and three guy friends would pretend that we were you guys, and I would sit in front of the TV with a notebook and write every line out. Later on I figured out that all the scripts are online.
COX: Who did you play?
BARRERA: I was Rachel.
COX: Did anyone ever film it? I sure would love to see it.
BARRERA: [Laughs]. Can I ask you something? I know this is not the dynamic, but I want to know how it feels to be in two of the most successful things that have ever been made. Do you feel like the badass that you are?
COX: I’m just glad they made another Scream, because the first one was so incredible and Matt and Tyler did such a good job bringing it back. I never thought it would come back in a million years, and I love that I’ve done these two historical projects that have lasted such a long time. I don’t feel like a badass, but then again I’ve only done one pilot that didn’t land.
BARRERA: I remember Cougar Town.
COX: I’ve always done these longer-lasting things. Now I have a new show coming out, and it puts a lot of pressure on you. You want it to go on for a long time, and hopefully it will, but you never know. I’m a little spoiled in certain ways that I’ve gotten to do things for a long time, with the same people and enjoy it. I feel like you’re a badass. I can only imagine where your career is going to go, and if you stop now, you’ve done more than most people do in a lifetime.
BARRERA: I’m not stopping!