Independent horror is booming. The budgets may be low but the gore and scare factor is high. And the scene creates its own heroes and household names, with Tom Six and the Soska twins being its biggest stars behind the camera right now. As far as actors are concerned, Texas-born Deneen Melody is an important name to watch and a stunning beauty hard to ignore. Having entered the industry in 2008, the sheer amount of productions she was involved in since then (seven in 2010 alone) proves her ambition to become a lasting brand of her own. Freshly nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Dark Carnival Film Festival and in the midst of her first film as a producer, Deneen took the time to sit down with us and talk about her career, horror, comics, seven siblings, a background in ballet and a lifelong fascination with Tolkien.
screen/read: To start on an ironic note, why is a nice young girl like you so busy with doing all those gory horror movies? And what does your mom say?
Deneen Melody: Oh, my mom has not seen any of my movies. If it was up to my parents I would be doing romantic comedies [laughs].
screen/read: Which you probably won’t. Anyway, so far horror is pretty much the genre you’re identified with and known for in the independent scene. Did that happen by chance or was it actually an intentional decision?
Deneen Melody: Actually the thing with horror, you know, it’s one of the most popular genres, if not the most popular genre of all. It has such a huge fanbase. I mean, you don’t hear about drama or comedy festivals and conventions necessarily, but horror, there are quite a few. So for an independent actress it was just easier to go out to auditions in that field, because that is what is most available in the independent market. And so a lot of the publicity comes from horror and most people just know me from there. But I’m also a fan and love getting bloody and all that. My favorite genres aside from horror though would be fantasy and science fiction, and I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in productions like the webseries „Western X“ which has more of a science-fiction, post-apocalyptic, fantasy type of story, and the „A Midsummer Nightmare“ which is more fantasy than horror and then the upcoming dark fantasy „Rose White“ which I am also producing.
screen/read: Nowadays, the horror genre has found its profitable place in mainstream cinema and the majority of today’s independent gore films with micro budgets certainly benefit from that development.
Deneen Melody: Exactly, at the moment Hollywood is jumping back into the horror genre cue with successful movies like „Zombieland“, „Twilight“, „The Wolfman“ and that sort of thing. They’re really big right now, and that helps the independent horror getting out there even more. I am involved with it for the last 2 or 3 years now and of course I know that it can go up and down, but right now it’s pretty high up there. I know a lot of people are making horror films whether they have a budget or not. Filmmakers that want to get a start, they’re starting out with horror films. And as I said, there are a lot of film festivals out there and because of them it’s easier to get publicity and a fanbase.
screen/read: When you were younger, a child or a teenager, what type of horror movies did you watch and what was your response to them? Any that scared you to death, kept you from sleeping and haunted you in your dreams?
Deneen Melody: [laughs] I think because I started watching horror movies at such a young age I was never really scared of any of them. Even the dolls in „Child`s Play“ or „Puppetmaster“ did not really scare me. I rather found it very fascinating to see these toys come to life even though they were killing people. My favorite straight horror film would be „Day of the Dead“, which has just such a great storyline and I love Lori Cardille in it. Aside from that I like the more science fiction related ones such as „The Thing“ or „Alien“. But although I had occasional nightmares about the face huggers jumping at my face, there wasn’t really one film that has particularly scared me at a younger age. Now that I’m older though I have actually seen films that scared me. „Wolf Creek“ freaked me out for instance and „A far cry from Home (Gallery of Fear)“ by Alan Rowe Kelly. They are just very very scary in a sense that the situation is realistic and there’s actually people out there willing and able to do all the horrible stuff you get to see in those films. I think the difference is that I couldn’t tell what’s real and what’s not when I was a child, but now I do. And that can be a very scary thing.
screen/read: „Wolf Creek“ is a good example for a film pretty much at the crossroad between independent and major productions and a chance for people involved to move on to a mainstream market. Is that something you’re aiming at, making it to the majors, or do you enjoy the freedom of independent filmmaking way too much for that?
Deneen Melody: I have a lot of respect for the independent film world, and so I feel as though I will always do independent films just because there is so much freedom and creativity and you can do certain things that you couldn’t necessarily do in mainstream, no matter if you’re an actor or a writer or director. But as much as I love horror and independent films I would appreciate an opportunity to do more of a mainstream sort of work as well. But I’m working on that. But even then I would like to always hold on to doing independent films. There are examples for actors out there going both ways. And I would love to do that as well.
screen/read: Do you see a danger of becoming typecast due to the fact that you are almost exclusively in the horror genre, or is that nothing you’d in any way be scared of?
Deneen Melody: I’m not necessarily afraid of being typecast. It is true that some actresses once they get that Scream Queen label do have to struggle with being only identified with horror. But there are also examples like Jamie Lee Curtis who got famous for „Halloween“ and then went on to become successful in mainstream as well. So I’m not too scared. I always try to show as much variety of my acting abilities as possible. You know, acting in horror movies doesn’t mean you always have to play the same type of character over and over. I’ve been the heroine, I’ve been the insane girl, I’ve been the villain, so there’s always a chance to do something different even within the range of the same genre. And I’ve been very fortunate to do other stuff as well and as I said will follow that path even more in the future.
screen/read: I guess it’s still better being typecast in horror films than being typecast in romantic comedies.
Deneen Melody: [laughs] Agreed. You know that’s very funny because I can do horror, I can do drama and fantasy but I can not do comedy very well. Not that there’s anything wrong with romantic comedies, they’re defintely fun, but I think there’s a lot more variety to the characters and to the stories in the horror genre.
screen/read: Now there’s also a second field you’re busy at. You’re working as a comic book model, which is something rather new to actors but happening more often nowadays even with big household names. Let’s talk a little about that. You appeared in a couple of comic books already, so how did this come about and what is the process like?
Deneen Melody: First of all I have to say that I am a nerd and I love comic books. And I think everybody who is like that would love to become a comic book hero one day. In my case it came up on two different occasions. The first one was with Legion Studios in Chicago, an independent horror comic book company. I did one of their films called „Master’s Devils“ with Ari Lehman, who played the original Jason in „Friday the 13th“. Afterwards they let us know that they’re doing a companion comic based on the likeness of all the girls who were in the film and I was also offered being the cover model for their upcoming comic called „Xes“. On another occasion I was approached by Jeff Hughes of Comic Book Divas and he asked me if I wanted to become a part of them. Now in either case they basically draw the characters based on our likeness. Sometimes we will also do reference photos, which means we model for the pictures of the comic. They send you a script and you have to kind of model for it. In both cases it’s just very cool because when you then see the comic book, it’s you. And at the point where we promote the comics we go to the conventions, we sell them, people see that it’s us and we can autograph the books. So that’s basically how it started. I’m involved in quite a few comics at this time. There’s a vampire comic by Jeff Hughes called „Fangs“, then there’s the zombie-related „Ginger Stein: Life of the Undead“ and also „A life behind the Mask“ which is an online web comic featuring several models, actresses and scream queens from all over the country portraying different superheroines and villains. My character is called Blackbird and she is actually a Batman parody. She is very intense and a tough little thing and as a Batman fan I was quite excited to do this.
screen/read: Moving a few steps backwards in your history, you are originally coming from ballet?
Deneen Melody: Yes, that’s right, I actually started off as a ballet dancer for most of my life I’ve been training and dancing, so I could be a professional ballet dancer. That was always my goal, and when I was older I started training a lot more intensely. I was homeschooled, I basically schooled myself during my junior and senior years of highschool so I could dance and focus on my training. I danced professionally for four years, but unfortunately due to a foot injury that I had at the time when I was sixteen I just got to the point where I couldn’t keep up with it anymore. It was very heartbreaking but being a professional dancer is extremely hard. Anybody who is involved in the dance community or is trained in classical ballet knows it’s very demanding for your body and if something like your foot is keeping you from doing classes and from doing hours of rehearsals, you kind of have to accept the fact that you can’t do it anymore. But you know, if it wasn’t for that I would not have been involved in film, and that’s what I love doing now.
screen/read: Fortunately that’s what life has to offer sometimes. I’m quite sure though there’s a certain part very central to ballet dancing that has an impact on your work as an actress as well. So would you say there’s a certain approach that you have which is different from other actresses and which is due to the fact that you’re coming from ballet?
Deneen Melody: You know, a lot of people ask me where I got trained for my acting. And I will always have to admit that I have never been professionally trained. But I think a lot of the ability just comes from ballet. People who know ballet, especially the classical ballet, area aware that the final art form is basically very emotional and dramatic. And I think a lot of my emotion comes from ballet. Because in some way it is acting as well. You are in theatre and whether it’s a ballet like „Sleeping Beauty“ or „Swan Lake“ or „Don Quixote“ you are playing a character. Your expression comes through and the emotion comes through. And so for me when I started film I was able to connect with that level of ballet, where you kind of have to deliver a certain emotion and become that character. And whether you are running around, kicking butt or if you are crying and screaming, you have to add a certain level of theatricalness to it, and that is where a lot of that comes from. And above that I love to be very active, I want to do something physical, I love to do stunts, I like to fight, and it all comes from ballet. It really helps with the acting because there aren’t that many actresses being trained or willing to do their own fight scenes or stunts. But I do in most of the cases. In „As Night falls“ for instance I got to sword fight, I got thrown into a fence, I had to hang from a rope, I had to do stunt falls and stuff like that. It sounds tougher than it is though cause if you are trained you don’t have to worry about getting hurt. So if you’re on a set you know what’s safe and what’s not. And it comes in quite handy for the production because they don’t have to hire someone all the time jumping in for me. Which helps saving money.
screen/read: Thinking of your family background, you actually have seven siblings, which is rather unusual these days. I can imagine that because of that it’s probably easier to get along with people on the set and maybe they even become some kind of part-time family for you.
Deneen Melody: Definitely. I am the youngest of eight kids but funny enough I actually didn’t have a very close sibling relationship because by the time I was born most of my brothers and sisters were already out of the house. So when I am on a set, there’s a lot of people that I work with that I consider family, such as Anthony Sumner who I did „III Slices of Life“ with and others who knew me from the beginning of my career and are very close friends now. So when I’m around them there’s very much of a family atmosphere.
screen/read: Let’s speculate a bit. If a fairy came around and offered you the chance to be in a film that’s already been done or a role that’s already been taken, is there one you would immediately chose?
Deneen Melody: Oh, that would be „Lord of the Rings“. I am a huge Tolkien fan, I love the books, I love the movies, and I would not want to change them. But if I had the opportunity to pick any role or film I would absolutely love to be a part of that. I would love to be Arwen because she has the fight scene and she is a strong character. So yeah, that would definitely be my dream role. In terms of horror movies it would be Ellen Ripley in the „Alien“-movies. Sigourney Weaver is just amazing and it’s such a good role. Or even the bride in „Kill Bill“. You get to run around, you kick butt, and that is just fun. But first and foremost „Lord of the Rings“. „Rose White“ will probably be the closest I’ve ever gotten to a comparable fantasy story like that so far.
screen/read: Let’s talk a little bit about that one, as you’re involved in the production process there. Is it an adaption of a novel?
Deneen Melody: It’s a story based on the Brothers Grimm tale „Snow White and Rose Red“, which not many people have heard of here in the US. It’s one of my favorite stories and being a fan of fantasy and fairy tales, I wanted to do something that was along those lines. So the script is a contemporary fairy tale, very gritty and very dark and very bloody, but at the same time there is a fantasy aspect to it. So I think it’ll be interesting. It’s going to be shot on the Red camera and we just finished the casting process.
screen/read: Well, we wish you good luck with that and with all the other projects you’re involved in. Thank you for taking the time.
Deneen Melody: Thank you for giving me this opportunity and reaching out to me from Germany.
Recommended LINKS for further reading:
- Deneen Melody Official Homepage
- Deneen Melody @Facebook
- Deneen Melody @Twitter
- Rose White Official Homepage
- Rose White @Facebook
- Rose White @Twitter
- Rose White Review