Born at Fort Riley, Kansas, actress Melanie Robel spent her childhood moving from place to place, always having to deal with new surroundings. Such is the life of an Army brat. In her late teens, she settled in Florida and (after some ugly incidents regarding punching a redhead and making a band director cry) set her sights on a dance career. After an injury sidelined that, she decided to go to an open casting call and ended up being signed by a management agency, which led her to to Los Angeles. When that didn’t lead anywhere after a few months, she moved back to Florida and decided to try a “normal” life as a college student. She graduated from Paul Mitchell School (of cosmetology) but realized that acting was still in her blood. So, after doing a couple of short films, Melanie enrolled in acting classes and decided to once again pursue her passion. She’s since been in such works as the horror film Post Mortem, America 2021, three episodes of Stories of the Paranormal and the TV series La Fleur De Mai. One of her latest projects is the upcoming movie Disciples, in which she will be among a very impressive cast of horror alumnae.
Among Melanie’s list of people who inspire her are, Tom Waits, Clint Eastwood, and Jessica Lange, whom she bears a striking resemblance to. It was no surprised to learn I wasn’t the first to notice that. It was a surprised to learn she prefers Hello Kitty to Moonie. Well ….maybe more of a disappointment than a surprise. (Above photo by ES Remy Da ‘neil)
CHRIS CHARLES: Great to have you hear Melanie. I see you’re a Tom Waits fan. My favorite quote that has been attributed to him (among a couple of others) is; “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” Ever hear him say that one?
MELANIE ROBEL: I love him and I love that quote too, but my favorite quote is, ” I’ll tell you all my secrets but I’ll lie about my past.” Tom Waits, proves you can be very strange and make it work for you. That anyone can have a “out of the box” type and still have a successful career in acting and music. He is also part Norwegian, too.
CHRIS: Okay, now that we’ve broken the ice; I know you grew up in a military family and moved around a lot during your school years. What were some of the more interesting places you’ve lived?
MELANIE:The most interesting place I lived was Waco, Texas. We lived there when David Koresh and The Davidian Compound burned. It turns out that years later we were watching a documentary about the incident and it seems our postman was Koresh’s relative. A news reporter was wandering about near the compound and was lost. He flagged down a postman and asked for directions to the compound. He told the postman that the ATF and FBI were gathering and were going to confront them. The postman, of course, went straight to the compound and warned Koresh and there you have it. It was very traumatizing, one day your postman was there and then the next day there was a new one. He was so nice, he knew us all by name and used to give us treats. The whole situation was so sad.
CHRIS: Wow, that’s quite a jaw-dropper to share. So, was it tough so often being the new kid in school?
MELANIE: Yes, it was very tough being the new kid all the time. You’re judged at every new school and in eight grade and above, it is really hard to find your place, because all the “cliches” have already been formed. It’s like in the film Mean Girls, you have to figure out where your place in the lunchroom is. You have to make new friends and when you make them, you have to move again, or they have had to move. Also, it is really hard to stay in touch, because you get caught up in where you moved too and wind up with different interests. I was lucky in that I’m from a large family and we were all into sports and music.
CHRIS: I see from some of your photo shoots that you’re sure not afraid to “rough it” and get a little dirty. What would say was the most uncomfortable photo shoot you’ve done?
MELANIE: I would have to say the roughest shoot was with Sid Graves, in a graveyard, here in Florida. It was a really old graveyard, north of where I live and the weird thing was that a motor boat had been dumped there. It was such a crazy shoot. It was raining, cold and I had on a sheer, cream colored dress that I had used at my Ballet debut. I was shivering between shots and my lips where blue. It was hard, but so much fun. I was posing, jumping, running and got down and dirty in the wet mud. I actually had pictures of me taken crawling out from under an old wooden church that was there. I was down and dirty and loved every minute of it. Sid Graves is one of the best photographer that I have worked with.
CHRIS: In certain photos, you look like a young Jessica Lang. Am I the only one who’s ever told you that?
MELANIE: Nope, you are not the first. My actor friend, who told me to get braces, is the first one to mention that and this old man that I was sharing a bench with at the mall, while I was waiting for a friend. However, she is one of my favorite actresses and she is amazing. I feel she is the best actor in that new show, American Horror Story
CHRIS: Coming from someone who’s had tattoos, regretted them, and spent a small fortune getting them removed, I give you kudos for not having any visible tattoos. Are you tattoo-free or do you have any I don’t see?
MELANIE: Contrary to popular belief, I am tattoo free, which for some reason, people find hard to believe. Here’s the real story, when I was a kid, I was really sick. I went to Army hospitals and a lot of my doctors and the techs had tattoos. When I had to get blood work done, or had to get shots. They would distract me by showing me their tattoos. The pretty pictures of animals, boats and the hula girls that would dance while they flexed their muscles. So I’ve been around them my whole life. I figure that when I want to go behind the scenes, I’ll start getting tattoos. For right now, nope. Yes, the rumor is true that an actor friend did lift up my shirt at a convention, because this he didn’t believe I was tattoo free. It was really quite amusing.
CHRIS: Your character in Post Mortem American 2021, Rattlesnake Sally, has weaponry and fighting skills. Did you have to do much training for that role?
MELANIE: NO, I had no training for this film. My dad is a expert marksman, so I had him show me how to properly hold a gun. You would be shocked about how many indie film actors don’t know how to do this and you can tell in their pictures. It’s all body positions, I mean, stand sideways to have a minimal target area. I did have basic boxing from a trainer, but a lot of my training came from dance and partner training. If you show me what I need to do, I can do it. I might need a walk through, but then I can deliver. My thing is, if I can’t do something the way you want, I have no problem asking for help. Look on my IMBb and resume. Does it say I have stunt training? Nope, because I haven’t been to Stunt School. When I think “stunt training”, I think as though you’ve been to a school, jumping off buildings, doing fire work, high wire work, falls and car stuff. Just like about guns, never assume they aren’t loaded, never point any gun at any person, you can injure yourself, or your cast. Safety is so important. However, that is another soap box.
CHRIS: Besides having had basic boxing training, your exercise regiment has included boxing. Ever had any matches or do you do it just for the workout?
MELANIE: Sadly, it was only for the workout, though I do have a bag at home to work with. I didn’t do any matches, because I have this fear of being hit in the back of my head. I have a childhood friend that hit the back of her head and went deaf. Another friend, stumbled over a hurdle during practice, hit the back of her head and died. So between that and having a glass nose, instead of a glass jaw, I would have had a very short career. I wish I could have. My grandfather was a light weight boxer, but quit because he was vain and didn’t want to keep braking his nose. My trainer was sad about it, though I knocked him out one time, he had the glass jaw. I felt so bad, but the guys at the gym left me alone and quit teasing me.
CHRIS: You got to work with Scream Queen icon Linnea Quigley in that one and I’ve read where you stated you learned a lot from her. What are some of the things you learned?
MELANIE: Working with Linnea was amazing. She is such a wonderful actress, a sweet person and a very supportive friend. A lot of what I learned from her, was to trust your instincts, to stand up for what you believe in, to have standards and to stick by them. To never let anyone tell you that your standards are unacceptable and not to let anyone talk you out of them. I can’t wait for the opportunity to work with her again.
CHRIS: You’re slated to work with Linnea, along with other Scream Queen icons Brinke Stevens, Debbie Rochon, and Debra Lamb in Disciples.
MELANIE: Actually, as of right now, I haven’t been on set, but I am going out to California in February to do my part in the shoot. I know its going to be amazing and I get to watch and work with the best. I feel I am very lucky to have this opportunity and to be a part of this project. Working with these female horror icons will be a lot of fun.
CHRIS: Even though you already know Linnea, do you think you’ll be nervous working with the likes of those three ladies together or feel star struck?
MELANIE: I have been in the entertainment world, music, ballet and now acting, since I was 13. There are actors that I am in awe of, like Tim Curry and Diane Keaton, but I have been very lucky in who I’ve met. For example, when I played bassoon, I met and got to work with Danny Elfman, who composed for Tim Burton and The Simpsons. He composed a score for a band that I qualified for at a competition and he signed my copy of the music. Then another time, I was walking with friends and my sister in a parking garage and I saw Jeff Goldblum with his wife. I said, “Jeff!”, which echoed in the garage. They turned around and his wife looked at my sister and said, “Ashley!”, she looked like Ashley Simpson at the time. Anyway, we talked, my sister and I got a hug and they went to the movies. Here’s my thoughts, I love working with stars. You can learn so much, even if you just sit back and watch.
CHRIS: You played a cheerleader in Stopped Dead. I don’t know if you’ve read my other interviews with ladies who’ve played or posed as cheerleaders, but I always ask if they were ever really a cheerleader. So, were you? (If not, what activities did you participate in and enjoy when you were in school?)
MELANIE: I’ve always had a hard time in school, so I never really did extra school activities. Except in middle school I got special permission to go to music competitions. Anyway, I was never a cheerleader and I was actually bullied by them and the football players. One day I got sick of their bullying, so, I beat the shit out of one of the football players that was really mean to me that day. After that, they all left me alone. I won’t say violence solves everything, but in some situations, ignoring them doesn’t work either. You have to stick up for yourself, but make sure you don’t throw first punch. In this case it worked, because I think I really surprised them. I’ve done theatre and ballet outside of school and I was on a competitive swim team with my sisters. I was a long distance swimmer, so for me a 200 meter swim was a warm-up.
CHRIS: In an interview I read with you two and a half years ago, you said that you’d love to appear on Law and Order SVU because it’s one of your favorite TV dramas (mine too!). Are you still pursuing that goal?
MELANIE: Yes, it’s still very true. It’s my dream show to be on, but I want to be someone who has lines and not just an extra. Though I know that without extras, we wouldn’t have the realism in scenes that makes the show work.
CHRIS: What role would you most like to play? Witness, victim, suspect …maybe cop?
MELANIE: You know, it depends on where I am in my career. If I still look young, I would be a victim, but if I look a little older, I would love to be a cop. The cool thing about the show is that, if you are on it, It seems you have”made it.” Look at all the guest actors that have been on it. Absolutely amazing!
CHRIS: I saw at your IMDb listing, that you’re credited as Melanie Rhodes in Girl Scout Cookies, the status of which is still “in production.” However, I was surprised to find out from my interview a couple of months ago with Jessica Cameron, who was also slated to be in that film, that the entire production was very unprofessional and fell apart right after they attempted shooting it. What were your experiences with the staff and production, or rather attempted production of that movie?
MELANIE: Before I answer this question, I want to say, this my opinion on what happened. What I have to say, does not reflect on other cast and crew opinions. Yes, some of what Jessica Cameron said is true and some of it is her opinion of things. Yes, we are still waiting to get paid, but from what I understand, there isn’t any money left to pay us with. So, I think they need to either, go to court, or move on. But then would you want to work with someone who sued their boss? Besides, if you sue for under a thousand dollars, I bet the winner would be the lawyer.
At one point, I was called inexperienced as an actor and new to the business. However, I am not. From what I understand, only two of us turned in our signed contracts to Mark Cray and we felt we needed to fulfill our legal contract and not be accused of “breaching” it, because that is unprofessional. So, yes they wanted two of us to jump off a 10-40 foot cliff, the height kept changing, with only training from a teenager. I was waiting to be taken to the site, to see it and then see if it was safe. If it wasn’t, then we could walk away, without any legal problems. But we never made it out there. Yes, the director, Bobby Jones did yell, but he yelled at everybody. I am going to be on a project with a director who has already warned me that he is “a screamer”. My reaction was, ok, thank you for the warning. I think Bobby Jones is a good director and has a lot of potential. The funny thing is, I was originally what Bobby wanted as Melanie Rhodes, when he wrote GSC. I mean, look at the name of the character as compared to mine, but Mark Cray said no. Deneen Melody was cast, then Alison Kyler, who dropped out to sing with Motely Crue. Then with less than a week to prepare, I was brought on. Problem with this production was they didn’t have enough money. I think that when things fell apart, the executive producer, who was in charge of the funds, tried to put the blame on the director and that was just plain wrong. The directors job is to direct. I think that if you put Bobby Jones with a producer who has some business sense and just let him direct, things would be fine. I really do hope they get everyone paid, get their stuff together and shoot this movie. It’s a great idea, very different and has everything going for it, but I am not sure about the future of the project.
CHRIS: To date, what role would you say you are most proud of?
MELANIE: To tell you the truth, I am very critical of myself. However, I would have to say, La Fleur de Mai. But I have only seen the trailers and some of my ADR work and not any real footage yet, but what I’ve seen of my scenes look pretty good. We will see when the pilot is released. I am also extremely proud of what I did for Girl Scout Cookies. The clips that I’ve seen are really good and we did some crazy stuff in it. Sad it’s not finished and I wish there was enough to make short.
CHRIS: I know this is a tough question for most, but who have been some of your favorite people to work with, on either side of the camera?
MELANIE: You are going to get me in trouble, because that’s a loaded question in this business. I have to say though, Linnea Quigley and Larry Laverty. I feel I connected with, learned from and had such fun with both of them. I would work with both of them again, at any time. They are really good actors and great teachers. I haven’t worked behind the camera, so no favorites there.
CHRIS: Okay, another tough one: I won’t ask for names, but do you have a list of some people you’d never work with again?
MELANIE: This is also a question that can get me in trouble. I think we all have a list of people that we don’t want to work with and I bet I am on that list for some people. Okay, here is my answer. I feel that when I am on set, I am professional, Which means that even if I don’t like you, I will still be polite, work with you and get the job done and the odds are that you won’t know I don’t like you. That is what I was hired, cast to do. To make the directors job as easy as I can and do it in as few “takes” as possible.
CHRIS: I understand you’ll be at the Stiletto Film Fest in Boston in February. Tell me a little about that and any other events you’ll be at in the near future.
MELANIE: This is the festivals second year and the submissions are amazing. I am so excited to be a part of this event and to be one of the judges. Megan Sacco started this festival for women in the production end of the entertainment business. She asked Spike Lee once, what percent of female directors are in Hollywood and Indie Films. He told her, 3% in Hollywood and 5% in Independent films. She didn’t like the odds and started this to celebrate and encourage women to get into the production end of things. She is an amazing woman to have done this. This is my first convention as a judge and I’ve been a guest at another, here in Orlando. You never know though, maybe I will be a guest at others, we will see.
CHRIS: Are you really a Moonie fan and if so, have you read all the comics in that series?
MELANIE: Okay, here is what happened: My friend and author of the Moonie series, Nicola Cuti, asked me to do a commercial to promote the series. He explained to me that Moonie was the character of his anime, graphic novel. So, I thought cool and had fun doing the commercial. Later on, I was sent the novel and started to read it and then put it down. I know people think I am a bit out there, but I am really quite conservative. The book was out of my comfort zone.
CHRIS: Ahh, that’s too bad because I was going to ask if you could hook me up with Moonie for a possible interview. Anyway, there’s a lot of info I can get on you online but what is something you can share with me here that you don’t normally include on your bios or mention in other interviews?
MELANIE: Good question and a hard one. Well, I have a dimple in my right cheek. When I was about five, I was playing in the living room and jumped into a bean-bag chair. I missed, hit the corner of the table and broke my cheekbone. After it healed, my doctor asked me if I wanted to break my left cheekbone, because I looked so cute. I cried! The funny thing was that it was around Christmas and there were only 10 kids in my school class and Becka and I were the only girls. She had fallen off her brothers skateboard. So we went to the Christmas program in pretty dresses, with black eyes, broken bones, bruise, scrapes and all the boys walking behind us in clean suits. Our teacher was so embarrassed.
CHRIS: Well, now your friend Nicole Kruex will no longer have bragging right on you because you’ve been featured here as well, Melanie. As we wrap this up, any shout-outs to anyone?
MELANIE: I want to thank everyone who have been so supportive to me and given me a lot of great advice over the past three years. You know who you are. Also, a special thank you to John. Who noticed my “gnarley” teeth and advised me to get braces. Thank you.
CHRIS: Oh, one last question: Do you still go “ape shit” over redheads in uniforms?
MELANIE: Oh, do I ever! It’s a sickness and I need an intervention. Just make sure that whoever you send is a redhead and if he is in a cop uniform, military, EMT, or even the fireman uniform ….then my life would be complete.
With Scream Queen icon Linnea Quigley in Post Mortem American 2021
The cheerleading squad of Jason Liquori’s 2009 thriller, Stopped Dead: Michelle Dion, Brianna Cellini, Melanie, and Toni Renee Randall.
From Melanie’s wet and muddy graveyard shoot with Sid Graves
With the Jessica Lange resemblance in my mind, running across this
“Marilynesque” photo of Melanie caught me a little off-guard.
Melanie answering a few questions I didn’t ask her. Courtesy of Presage Entertainment
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music business there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of the quarterly magazine, Effective.