Rising Star Melissa Mars: “BREATHE!; We keep running towards our goal, while we are out of breath; that’s how we burn out… ”

A tip I need to remind myself of sometimes too: BREATHE! I think that’s the main one in any step of the process, to remember to take a deep breath and release. No joke, we tend to forget that. We keep running towards our goal, and we are out of breath, that’s how we burn […]

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A tip I need to remind myself of sometimes too: BREATHE! I think that’s the main one in any step of the process, to remember to take a deep breath and release. No joke, we tend to forget that. We keep running towards our goal, and we are out of breath, that’s how we burn out…

I had the pleasure of interviewing award-winning actress, singer and writer, Melissa Mars. Melissa received major notice after appearing alongside John Travolta in From Paris With Love produced by Luc Besson (Lucy), winning a best supporting actress award in The Cabining, multiple best actress awards for her “heartfelt, spectacular and vulnerable” performance in the drama Polly and having her song “Beautiful” picked up by Coca-Cola Music for their “52 Songs of Happiness” worldwide music compilation. She is well-known in France for her pop music career, with 3 solo albums (Universal Music), and concert tours praised in the press as “singular, fairy and rock n’fun” (W magazine, Elle, Madame Figaro…). She featured on many duets, including “1980”, a hit that reached #5 in the charts and is also well known for her leading role in the smash hit musical Mozart the Rock Opera, that sold more than 1,500,000 tickets, directed by Olivier Dahan (La Vie en Rose), and for which she received with the cast a best ensemble NRJ award and a diamond record.

Thank you so much for joining us Melissa! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was 9 years old when I proclaimed in class that I wanted to be an actress. Everybody laughed at me. I was born and raised in Marseilles, in the South of France, far from Hollywood, so movie stars etc., that was a dream you could only imagine with your eyes closed, at night.

But my eyes were wide opened, day or night, I had only one dream: to be an actress. The first play and character I ever read and fell in love with was Antigone (a modern adaptation by French playwright Jean Anouilh), inspired by her passion and confidence at any cost, I took the path I had this internal calling for and never stopped.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

There are a lot of interesting stories and turning points in my career. One of them is how music landed in my life or rather how I landed on a Planet of Music like a meteorite crash.

My dream was to be an actress and soon enough a filmmaker as well. I started instinctively to write short movies and film people around me… everything, and nothing, I was just a teenager.

I took singing classes to give my voice some “bass” frequencies and gravitas as I sounded too much like a little girl (which I was… but I hated the way I sounded). So, when my singing teacher who was a singer, offered me to open his concerts because he believed in my potential and my future as a singer, I sort of laughed in disbelief and politely turned him down. Me, a singer? I’m not built for that!, I thought.

About 3 years later or so, a famous French filmmaker saw my headshot at my agent’s office and wanted to meet me. I was 18. And I knew that this was the moment I had always been waiting for. Except that during our encounter together in a restaurant with him and my agent, there was absolutely NO chemistry. The guy didn’t talk. I wondered what I was doing there, I tried to desperately keep the conversation going and all I could picture in my head was my house of cards falling apart card by card… When, suddenly, a “King” of pop music came to say hi to my agent & the filmmaker. He literally interrupted the end of our dinner, sat with us, and then asked me: “You’re pretty, do you sing?” I was so offended at the moment with everything else being such a disappointment, that I responded that I could sing, since I was offered to open concerts, but ultimately I didn’t because I was an actress, not a singer. And this marked the beginning of my singing career: I left the table and returned home heart-broken from the disappointing dinner, but the music producer called back my agent a month later and we officially met in his studio… That man was literally a king of pop music, he had produced and launched a few French stars, and he appreciated “my insolence, mixed with the vulnerability and mystery I emanate” (his words). 3 months later I was signed by EMI and discovered a whole new planet called… MUSIC.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

I don’t think mistakes only belong to when we start. They happen all the time. A funny one though, I’m not sure if it was a mistake, was when I auditioned for the musical MOZART THE ROCK OPERA, it was being created and produced by two producers of hit musicals and directed by Olivier Dahan (who made the Oscar-winning movie MA VIE EN ROSE). The Casting director told me, and it was also written on the notice, if you play an instrument, bring it. So, what did I do? I brought my electric guitar to play along on a song I wrote that had some operatic feel (which was what they were looking for). Well, here I am on the stage, facing the spotlights blinded from seeing a jury of about 10 people (The casting directors, the producers, Warner Music, the songwriters…), I had never auditioned for music before and I had released 3 albums and a few duets among which one was a hit… So, I had never felt that nervous and close to a breakdown… Anyway, I’m about to sing my song, and then I hear a voice coming from behind the lights in my eyes, I recognized the voice of the producer: “Melissa, do you think they played electric guitars at Mozart’s time?”

I felt like I wanted the ground to open under my feet, If I could have just vanished at that moment, I blushed, and stuttered “Well I thought, you know, you wanted some musicians… And my acoustic guitar sucks… so…”The casting director leaned so I could see his face and told me to not worry, that the producer was just toying with my nerves. (Well, he succeeded!!) But I kept on and did my song shaking inside…

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, what is there to learn here? I think that having more humor rather than being stiff and overwhelmed by my nerves would have allowed me to respond something like “You’re trying to make a Rock Opera, so electric guitars seem appropriate…” And I would have added a wink with it.

Yes, that’s the big constant lesson: try to make the audition process something FUN. Play, have humor and relax rather than being result-oriented. And every time, I have to remind myself of that (and I don’t always succeed, it’s a work in progress, to this day)

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have several screenwriting projects I’m writing and am very excited about, among others a romantic comedy and a dystopian thriller.

I have a movie that was just released on Amazon, Texas Zombie Wars Titan Base. There were several sequels in this indie-movie franchise, this one is a standalone and my favorite! They brought in on the screenwriting team, Michael Svoboda (Dexter, The Walking Dead, Graves…), who added some unexpected twists and spice to my character, Dr. Corsini. I must say I had a lot of fun on set with the creators, alongside an ensemble of kickass actors such as Mikal Vega (Colony, Transformers), Jennifer Marshall (Stranger Things, Hawaii Five-0), most of whom are veterans and some still active soldiers!

You can check out the trailer here.

And I am very thrilled to be part of this short film in preparation Find Your Horn and Let it Kill You.

It’s the story of a suicidal French horn player who inadvertently finds enlightenment. It doesn’t sound like it, but it’s a fantastic romantic comedy in which I will play Felicity, Cooper’s love interest played by Lou Taylor Pucci (Evil Dead, American Horror Story…). This will be a real challenge because my character is deaf. I started to learn ASL (American Sign Language) for it. When I met Camilla Jackson, the co-writer and co-director of this movie, we just had an artistic love at first sight kind of experience. After a few minutes of chatting, we were both in tears talking about this project as this is a subject close to our heart.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

First name that comes to my mind is John Travolta. Not because he’s a star, or in fact because he is a star to everyone, but on set, his humility, collaborative and supportive energy just blew my mind. I guess we expect stars to be stars, so high in the sky that you can’t really reach them, but on the set of From Paris With Love, he was so down to earth, close to people. I remember us in a small street of Paris, waiting for the next angle and having a ‘casual’ conversation about love… It was so surreal to me, just because I would have never imagined when I was 9 years old, in Marseilles, being laughed at because I wanted to be an actress, while he was already the Saturday Night Fever superstar, that I would one day be having a casual conversation about love on a bench in a street of Paris waiting for the director to call for “Action” with John Travolta.

Then, I have to say I am very blessed to have in my entourage, actors, filmmakers and artists from around the world, that are so creative! To name just one, I am thinking of my cosmic brother Vanni Mangoni, he was one of my very first connections when I went to L.A for the first time, he opened his arms to welcome me like I was part of the family. He is the first person who ever gave a meaning to someone you can call a “brother”. He is a hugely talented Italian artist, he draws, paints, writes, makes movies and documentaries. On one of my first days in L.A, he took me run errands at Trader Joe’s, and there was a bag of rice that had spilled on the floor, just with his foot in a few seconds he made art out of it, and shaped a man’s portrait. On the stove, there would be some spilled coffee and before you could clean it, he would take a toothpick and draw incredible portraits.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

A tip I need to remind myself of sometimes too: BREATHE! I think that’s the main one in any step of the process, to remember to take a deep breath and release. No joke, we tend to forget that. We keep running towards our goal, and we are out of breath, that’s how we burn out…

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It has always been important for me to use my creative skills in the service of a cause that matters to me. For example, in 2007, I was approached by a small charity to raise awareness around the prostitution of children in China and Cambodia. They wanted me to be their spokesperson and I thought that pictures would speak much more than any words could. I happened to be going to China and loved photography, so I bought my first digital camera then and learned how to use it during the trip. I came back with a series of photographs ready to be exhibited, except the organization was too small, and I had little knowledge of all the HOW TOs, galleries were booked up years in advance and a lot of other technical challenges. But when the passion is there, and you still have some naivete, magic happens.

In 2 months, I knocked on so many doors and was able to gain some generous partners. In the heart of luxurious Paris, an exhibition that was supposed to last 10 days, was then extended to a month. I used the release of my 3rd album with Universal Music to promote the event, we had a beautiful exhibition with a launch that was even mentioned in Elle magazine and Metro newspaper. We did raise awareness but we didn’t raise funds, because I personally didn’t know how to. So that’s what I would do, resume my work under the title “The Right to Smile”, a project to raise awareness and funds for underprivileged children, because every child has “The Right to Smile”.

What are your “5 things you wish someone told you when you first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. DON’T WAIT. TAKE ACTION. I started as an actress. At a time when phones were still plugged to the wall and mobile phones or emails were just at the starting point (that does age me, but I also started when I was a teenager! :P) I was waiting for that phone call from my agent with a new audition, hoping, despairing. You need to work for your dreams. Stop waiting. Start acting. Thank God I was already developing ideas and writing, but it is all about networking as well which leads me to my second thing:
  2. NETWORK. I hate that word in itself. Because it sounds from the get-go manipulative and inauthentic. But what I like to do (with all the new means we have like on Facebook, Meetup, Festivals…) there are so many opportunities to just show up somewhere, appreciate the work of someone else, and share genuinely your appreciation, and possibly connect. I’ve always hated going to cocktails where I know no-one, but festivals, where I can see short movies and discover upcoming and rising directors, for me it’s more natural, there is a context, I have something to talk about, compliment or criticize… It’s all about being at the right place at the right moment, but you do have to go somewhere for that to happen 😉
  3. LISTEN TO YOUR INNER VOICE. Never silence it. It always has the answer. And most often the right one for you. For example, one day I got involved in a project, but my inner voice was telling me that I shouldn’t have, I knew already that it was a bad idea but I didn’t listen to it, I shut it up. I was thirsty for experiences and it ended up being the worst nightmare ever. I did my job but when it was over, I returned home diminished. What I mean by that is, I felt like I had shrunk, and been stripped of my light. It took me a few weeks to “recover”.
  4. Again: BREATHE. MEDITATE. YOGA. Dedicate time to yourself, do things that PLEASE you, if you align with your self (I made a conscious choice of writing your self in two words). Read THE ARTIST’s WAY or books like that. I have always been attracted to self-development books, but I always kept myself so busy and driven towards results instead of taking breaks to REFUEL. Now I can’t start a day without a meditation, I feel really cranky otherwise. I have other little things that help me get a smile back on my face and relax and stress less. For example, I have this aromatherapy lamp that I adore: I can pick the colors, (I love colorful lights) and it diffuses essential oils.
  5. READ. READ. READ. When we start, quite often we read more plays, and acting books, but we should open up our horizons. Acting is not only acting, it is also marketing. We are not only the instrument but the musician, and the seller, we are a business! For example, recent books I read that opened up my mind to new horizons were by Seth Godin and Simon Sinek. Their point of view on marketing is fascinating, simple and can bring you a lot as an artist.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

As a teenager, I started reading a collection of classic acting books by and on Stanislavsky, and I believe it was Sonia Moore’s book on Stanislavsky that opened up with this quote of Tchaikovsky: “Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.”

Tchaikovsky was my favorite classic music composer (along with Verdi) growing up (and still is). And this quote has always been a driving force to this day, whenever I feel discouraged, close to giving up, especially when writing, since it is such a lonely activity, it reminds me that all I have to do is show up.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There is a unique person without who I would not be here, where I am and on this planet. Her name is Lilas Klif, she is my mother and a very talented writer. She raised me alone and we grew together through every challenge. The most significant moment is when I graduated from high school, I was in Louis-le-Grand, one of France’s most prestigious high schools for which I got a scholarship to and approved to pursue my studies there on a scientific curriculum (I loved math and physics). I was very studious, had to be the best and was studying 40 hours a day, literally if it was possible. So, I had a dilemma, because I was already acting since age 13 and that was my passion and dream, and on the other side I had a great potential to succeed at a high level in my studies which I couldn’t do without sacrificing my passion. And my mom helped me make my choice: she told me: “You can take a break on your studies and resume them anytime in your life, but you can’t take a break on your youth and your passion. Go for it. You will reevaluate later.” Usually you hear the story of parents asking their kids to prioritize their studies, but my mom is so special, she helped me pursue my dream and always had faith in me.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

One of my dreams would be to meet Sam Esmail, Mr. Robot and Homecoming’s creator, or J.J. Abrams, Alias, Lost…’s creator. Why? They are such an inspiration to me and are like role models. I would ask them how do they manage time, creativity, health and life. We all have the same number of hours in the day and I’m always curious to know how people achieve so much more with the same amount of time. Also, I would ask them how they deal with the abundance of ideas in their head. Also, I would be curious about if they ever had a mentor or an inspirational figure and what was the best piece of advice they were given. Finally, if the breakfast goes well, and the chemistry is there, I would ask what it takes to be mentored by them.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

WEBSITE: www.melissamars.com

BLOG: blog.melissamars.com

FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/melissamars

TWITTER: www.twitter.com/melissamars

INSTAGRAM: www.instagram.com/melissamarsofficial

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

Thank YOU for the invitation, and thank YOU readers! ☺

Photo credits:

Black and white photographs by Robert Presutti

Portrait by Peter Lueders

“Respect Children’s rights” photography project by Melissa Mars

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