Actress Melissa Barrera, who made a splash (sometimes literally) in last summer’s “In the Heights,” is the star of the latest installment in the “Scream” franchise (technically the fifth entry but without a number). She plays Sam, whose younger sister (Jenna Ortega) is attacked by a new killer dressed in the iconic Ghostface mask. Drawing her into the mystery reveals some unspoken truths about her lineage (spoiler: she may be related to one of the characters from the first movie) and a bigger agenda at play. Eventually, several legacy characters from the original franchise (including Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette) return, as it’s all hands on deck to unmask the killer and put the mayhem to an end.
TheWrap spoke with Barrera about jumping into the franchise, the secrecy that surrounds a “Scream” movie, sharing scenes with a legacy cast member that has yet to be revealed, and whether or not she’d return for another film.
Obviously I think that I’m legally required to ask, what is your favorite scary movie?
Melissa Barrera: Oh my gosh. I feel like I’ve been saying the same thing in all my interviews, so I’m going to switch it up. I’m going to say “Cats.”
“Cats” the musical?
It was scary.
What was your relationship with the “Scream” franchise before signing on?
I have an interesting relationship with “Scream,” because I didn’t see it when it first came out. I was six years old and thank God my parents… good parenting skills in not letting me see it when it came out. But then I had a period of my life where I was obsessed with scary movies when I was 11, 12, 13, up until 15 probably. I was obsessed with scary movies and that’s when I discovered “Scream,” the first three movies that had come out, and it sent me down a rabbit hole of just watching every scary movie that I could get my hands on. I would make all my friends in sleepovers watch them with me and they hated me for it. Then I saw “Saw.”
It freaked me out so much. It was just too gory. I think it was the first very graphic, mind games scary movie that I saw that really fucked with my head, and so I was like, No, I can’t. Can’t do this, and I stopped. I literally stopped watching scary movies. For over a decade I didn’t watch a single scary movie, and then when I heard about this new “Scream” movie, I was like, “Ah, I’m going to revisit the movies because I haven’t watched them in a while and I used to love them,” and I re-watched them. First of all I was so impressed how they’re so good and they hold up so well. They’re so smart and I was just like, Of course, this is why the fandom is what it is, because this movie was so revolutionary. It just changed everything. It changed the game, and so I became re-obsessed and now I’m obsessed again and I’m watching everything that I could get my hands on, all the scary movies that came out in the last few years. I’ve fallen in love again.
Well, were you intimidated at all about taking this on?
Oh, a hundred percent. I was a nervous wreck. I was trying not to think about the fact that I was going to have to act with Neve and Courtney and David. It was just too much for me to handle. I was just trying to focus on my character and on building her and trying to make her a complement to the characters of Sidney and Gale, because she is not the typical scary movie female character. She has a dark past. She has a secret. She’s very complicated and I just wanted to be as truthful to that as I could be.
The character was written so beautifully and it didn’t really dawn on me that I was going to make a “Scream” movie until David arrived in Wilmington. We were all in the common room that we had where we used to hang out, and he walked in and we were all like, “Aah, aah.” We couldn’t breathe. It was like, Oh my gosh. Growing up watching someone and following their careers, and then getting to join that thing that you’ve watched and be with them and act with them, it was just… it’s insane. I still can’t believe it.
Also pretty cool that you are a Latina lead of one of these movies. Not a franchise known for its diversity or it’s inclusivity.
So that aspect must have been fun.
It’s so funny because yes, it was such a white franchise at the beginning, and then you actually forgive it because it would comment on that. The characters would talk about how, “Oh, the token black character that’s going to die.” They would talk about it and so you forgave it for not having diversity. But I’m also very grateful that this fifth movie is the most diverse cast that we’ve ever seen in the saga, and it looks more like the world does today so I think it’s beautiful to be more reflective of that, not just in skin tones and ethnicities and nationalities, but also in, now there’s queer characters and we’ve never seen that, so that’s good.
Well, how much secrecy was there around the script? Infamously they had to reshoot parts of “Scream 2” after the ending leaked online.
The script that I got sent was a full script and I thought it was it. I thought that was the script, and then I found out that they had given me a fake ending, so I actually didn’t know who the killers were going to be and who was going to die or not. I was freaking out because I was like, “I don’t know if I die or not.” It was insane. There were a few different endings, just because they protect themselves because of what happened with “Scream 2.”
When we all got to Wilmington and we had our table read, we read up until page 80. They didn’t give us the ending of the script, so a lot of the actors didn’t know who Ghostface was and they kept it… they tried to… Wes Craven used to do that, and so they tried to do that with us as well. Of course, some of us would have to learn more information than others.
I am such a bad liar. I am so transparent. I ended up having more information than a lot of them sooner, so they would all come and ask me and I’d be like, “I don’t even want to look at you because I feel like I’m going to give it away.” It made it so much fun. It made for a fun dynamic off-screen as well, because we were all suspecting each other and trying to not give anything away.
You share scenes with another dynasty character who we can probably talk around and not get in trouble.
I feel like we can be vague.
Okay, good. Were you actually physically sharing the same space as this actor or were you shot separately?
I shot all my scenes by myself with a tennis ball and with Matt reading some of the lines and someone else reading the lines, but then when that character came on, because we had already shot all my side of the scenes, we did them together, so I was there for their part. I was there for their part of the scenes just to give them the performance that I had done so that they had something to play off of, and it was thrilling. It was incredible. I wish that we had done it together. I wish that we had done it together for my part of the scenes. But that’s the part of being an actor. You have to use your imagination a lot of the time, so I got to do that.
This movie is, in part, about toxic fandom. Are you ready to have that conversation around this new “Scream” movie?
Yes. I’m so ready. I think it’s necessary. I love it because I feel like… Because of all the metacommentary in the movie, the movie itself protects itself from the criticism. It’s like, “We already told you what you’re going to say. We’re already talking about it, so you’re an idiot.” It’s like, “If you try to bring it back to us, we’ve already covered it. We’ve already done three laps around the rink, so you say whatever you want,” and I just think that that’s why these movies are so loved and so amazing and so smart, because they talk to the audience. The characters are saying the things that the people in the theaters watching the movie are also thinking and it’s great. I love it.
Since you had become a huge fan again, what was it like being in Stu’s house for the climax?
It was insane, because it was built to a T. It was the exact replica. I’ve only seen what I saw in the first movie, but to watch Neve, Courtney and David enter the house and their reactions and all the memories that it brought back for them, it was incredible.
“Scream 6” – you ready to come back?
There’s nothing more exciting than to keep going. I feel like if there ends up being another one, whoever gets to be a part of it is so fortunate. That’s all I’m going to say.
Would you try to convince the legacy cast to come back? As someone says in the movie, “is it even ‘Halloween’ without Jamie Lee?”
I agree. I agree. They are “Scream.” Yeah, I would do everything in my power to try and convince them.
As a fellow “Scream” fan, what are you most excited for the fans of the franchise to see in this installment?
There’re so many things. There’re so many connections and there’re so many Easter eggs and there’re so… This script is so brilliantly written. A line… an offhand comment that is made in the first movie becomes a whole storyline in this one. It’s just… it’s insane. It’s so cool, and I just hope that… I know that the fans that are hardcore fans are going to get every single thing, and that’s what I’m excited about.
“Scream” is now playing exclusively in theaters.