Melissa Barrera ‘felt the pressure’ while bringing Carmen to the big screen | Films | Entertainment

Black Swan star Benjamin Millepied reached out to actresses in 2017 to audition for a groundbreaking musical. He asked them to send him a tape of them singing a song. The project? A cinematic adaptation of Carmen, the legendary French opera set in Spain around the time of Don José.

When actress Melissa Barrera saw the casting call, she jumped at the opportunity – but she waited a long time to be able to bring it to life.

Barrera exclusively told Express.co.uk: « I put myself on tape… then I didn’t hear anything back for, like, six months. »

Eventually, she got sent a large wooden box. Inside it was the Carmen script, an MP3 player loaded with songs, and « ten pictures – but thick paper pictures that were, I guess, inspiration for the movie. Some of them were dark and red and abstract ».

If the esoteric and mystical introduction to the script entices you, then you might love Carmen. Telling the story of the titular heroine, it follows a young Mexican woman crossing the border into America with help from a troubled veteran, Aidan (Paul Mescal). Throughout their journey, their emotions and issues are translated into dance and song in wondrous sequences that are equally as baffling as they are beautiful.

READ MORE: BBC fans divided by Paul Mescal’s appearance on Graham Norton

It took a while for this exciting script to take shape, though. « I read the script and, honestly, it was good – but it was not the movie you [saw], » Barrera explained. It basically changed completely. The first script that I read was more of a straightforward adaptation of the opera. »

Three years later, in January 2021, shooting began on Carmen. And then the real work began.

Director Millepied took the cast and crew to « the middle of nowhere in Australia » where they were « literally dancing in the sand in the desert ».

By the time cameras started rolling on Carmen, Barrera had already starred as the lead in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights – another song-and-dance extravaganza where the young Mexican actress stole the show.

But, she confessed, the musical was « very different ». She said: « For In The Heights I was doing some urban and a lot of Latin styles [of dance]. A lot of salsa, and that was a challenge in of itself. I had to learn that, but I … we were going to have a couple of days to shoot the numbers, and there was going to be 50 different setups from so many different angles and they were going to be cutting [between takes. I was safe, I felt safer in that. »

Carmen, however, was a drastic change in filming style.

« Carmen, » Barrera grinned. « Smaller movie, smaller budget, we have a few hours to do each number and they’re one-ers – no cuts; nowhere to hide. You have to nail it. And if you mess up a step, you ruin the take. So it was a different kind of pressure. »

Thankfully, she had the support of her Oscar-nominated co-star Paul Mescal by her side throughout the tough, sweaty shoots.

« I am a very hard worker, » she explained. « I like to nail things, I like to rehearse a lot, I like to drill until I’m perfect and I’m very competitive – and Paul is the same way! »

« So we were the perfect team coming into the dance rehearsals, » Barrera continued. « We were like: ‘Let’s go again, repeat until we get it.' »

By the end of rehearsals, there was a « lot of trust » between them, Barrera confessed. « Not only because we had to lift each other up and carry each other’s body weight, but also because we were kind of feeling vulnerable. »

With a knowing smile, she added: « It was a beautiful thing that we had that time before we started shooting, because it felt like you then saw the relationship between Carmen and Aidan that you see. It’s all looks and body and physical movement and no dialogue. »

Carmen is in cinemas now.

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