After taking on In the Heights, Scream and Melissa Barrera was ready for a new kind of adventure. On July 28, you can see it all unfold through Netflix’s new limited series Keep Breathing. Ahead of the show’s premiere, Barrera spoke with LA Confidential about preparing for the survival thriller and the physicality of an emotional journey.
You're particular about the roles you take on. What made the role of Liv something you wanted to move forward with?
I read the scripts and I fell in love with the character and I fell in love with the show and it felt like exactly the kind of role that I consider a dream role because it's a perfect balance of very physical and is also deeply emotional. Really, the emotional journey is what carries the show, even though it's also very physical. And it's just so beautifully written and you get a lot of time with the character so you really get to know her, and that was really appealing to me.
Having to do underwater scenes and wirework and stunts, and having to dig really deep emotionally and carry the show was scary, and most of the time when something scares me, it’s when I know that that's what I need to do. And so I fought for it.
One of your worst fears is drowning. What was it like for you navigating the scenes with big underwater moments, like the plane crash?
I'm not afraid of the water, I like swimming. But there's something about the depths of the ocean and lakes and the darkness that's down there that's really scary to me. I'm not a scuba diver, and I've never done that because I have a lot of respect for bodies of water that you can't really see and you don't know what's down there. So this was a perfect excuse for me to conquer that fear and I had to get my certification and I had to spend a lot of time learning to increase the time that I can hold my breath, doing breath hold training, during cold water training and the scuba thing.
Doing the underwater scene was actually some of the most fun that I had on set. I enjoyed the tank work a lot and being on the lake, even though it was really hard because the water was super cold. But the scariest part was also being inside of the plane underwater. It was very claustrophobic and probably the most tense and nervous that I've ever been on a set.
Can you tell us more about filming in the wilderness and how that helped you get into character?
It was long days. Having to deal with whatever Mother Nature wanted that day and if it was raining or if it was cloudy and it was supposed to be sunny or the other way around and just having to be flexible and being out there in nature and in these remote locations was very helpful to me to get into character because it felt very real. We weren't on a soundstage pretending that we were outside.
We were exposed to all the elements and it was as exhausting as it was thrilling and beautiful because I had quarantined for two weeks prior to starting shooting and we had over two years of being indoors and not being able to connect with nature and so this felt like the perfect show for me and for all of us. We were just happy to be outside.
As you mentioned, Liv’s physical and emotional journeys serve as mirrors to each other. Why do you think that was an efficient way to tell her story?
A lot of people don't think about us dealing with our mental health as surviving. And I think now more and more we’re starting to talk about it and it's become less taboo and people are more open about it and we are now more understanding of the difficulty of what that is like— dealing with trauma and dealing with anxiety, depression, all of that stuff. And so I think this show really puts that in perspective. She's out trying to survive and trying to get back to civilization and stay alive, but really she's trying to survive her past. She's trying to move forward. She's trying to heal and she has to do that by herself because she has no choice. And she might not ever get out of this and if she doesn't, she's not going to get the answers that she was looking for, so she has to do this by herself.
I feel like a lot of times we are put in that situation in our own lives and we have to learn how to navigate our own minds and come out stronger and with acceptance and resilience and find some sort of peace. And so the show is about all of that. It's about that physical and emotional journey to survive.
What was the toughest scene to film?
There's a cave at some point in the show, and that was pretty excruciating, emotionally and physically. Everything is a metaphor.
Just when you think you're on your way out of something, it just pulls you back in and then there's this weight on top of her that's a physical manifestation of what she's dealing with and she has to chip her way out.
What do you hope audiences take away from Keep Breathing?
I know that it was very healing for me, personally, to go through this journey with Liv. I know that every single person on Earth probably has a strained relationship with someone that they love and a complicated relationship with someone that they love, and I hope that seeing Liv go through that journey and find acceptance in a lot of things that happened to her helps people also find some relief.
Sometimes seeing a character go through so much and you as an audience going there with them can feel like an accomplishment in the end. I know I feel that. I feel a great sense of relief after I'm done watching something. I hope that they get that. I hope that they go on this journey with her and suffer with her, but also find relief and release.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Courtesy of Netflix