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Culture > Entertainment

Melissa Barrera Talks Wilderness Survival, ‘Keep Breathing,’ & The Importance Of Representation

Melissa Barrera doesn’t wear glasses. And if she were trapped in the Canadian wilderness, and needed to find some way to survive, this would be her ultimate downfall. 

While the idea of the In The Heights and Scream franchise star stranded in the middle of a forest on a quest for survival may seem pretty far-fetched, Barrera’s newest project, Keep Breathing, makes the scenario a reality.

Brought to life by two female directors, Maggie Kiley (episodes 1-3) and Rebecca Rodriguez (episodes 4-6), Keep Breathing is a survival thriller told through the female gaze. Set deep into the Canadian wilderness, Barrera plays Liv—a Manhattan attorney whose private jet crashes, leaving her alone to survive. 

Dealing with themes such as abandonment, commitment, and workplace pressure, Keep Breathing is a show about overcoming obstacles, both physically and mentally.

Her Campus sat down with Barrera to talk more about Keep Breathing, representation in film, and how she would survive—if spontaneously dropped in the wild (I know I wouldn’t).

The team behind Keep Breathing is predominantly female, How was that?

It was incredible. I mean, I’ve worked with really great male directors too, but when it’s a woman, it just feels different. The energy on set, it feels more nurturing. It feels safer. You feel taken care of, especially since this was a hard shoot. It was very demanding for everyone. 

You know, this is a story about a woman, stuck in the wilderness and dealing with very human issues. But also, very specifically, female issues. And that perspective is so important to have also behind the camera. The creators, Martin Gero and Brendan Gall, wrote this beautiful character for a woman and did it so incredibly. They created Liv with so much love that they were like, “we need female directors” and “we also need a female writer to come in and help us write a realistic character.” When you have leaders like that, that’s how the industry starts to change.

your character is put through a lot, not just physically, but emotionally. Were you intimidated by taking on this role?

100%. I was terrified. I was terrified, but I was also so excited. I knew it was gonna be very challenging and I knew it was gonna be hard—and it was harder and more challenging than I ever could have imagined, but it also was the most rewarding role; it helped me grow so much, and it changed me. It really did. 

I had never had an experience like this before, like where you’re on set all day, every day, and like the camera’s on you all the time. There’s no hiding. You just have to be extremely honest and give the best performance that you can in the most organic and truthful way you can. For projects like this, you have to go to places that are scary to tell the story in the way that it’s meant to be told. It was a gift. Truly.

So you’re drawn to these tougher, more compex characters?

For me, it’s all about what the message is and what the relationships are in the story. I gravitate more towards the character than the genre. I’m more like, “what’s the character that’s gonna stretch me,” you know? I always just look to the character, and if the character feels like it’s calling me, then doesn’t matter what genre it is. I wanna do it. 

How do you hope to inspire your viewers when they watch your work in these horror-thriller type of roles?

I know that I love seeing stuff like Keep Breathing because as an actor, it inspires me to wanna do something like that—like these tougher roles. It like, lights a fire in me. So I hope that I can inspire other actresses, especially Latinas, to know that there’s stuff like this for us. Which is rare in genres like this. But that’s changing, and doors are opening. Playing characters, like Liv and like Sam in the Scream franchise, that weren’t originally intended for a Latina, is just so important.

I am me and I cannot hide that I’m Latina. So, that becomes a part of the storytelling, not the focus of it. And I feel like that kind of representation is the kind that I crave—where we can just be human, and we don’t have to be like constantly justifying our existence by like, speaking in Spanish, and doing all sorts of things to make the audience feel comfortable with it. Representation that can just…be. And it doesn’t matter where we come from, but it’s still a part of us and it’s still present in the story.

So, if you were stranded in the wilderness, what three things would you hope to have with you?

Definitely a knife. Because with a knife you can hunt, you can, like, carve out things, and do just general handy-work. I would also want a lighter. Just ‘cause I know that I would never ever be able to make a fire by myself. If I don’t wear glasses, how am I gonna make a fire? I just don’t want to struggle with that. So, if I were stuck in the wild, I would definitely need a lighter. And then, maybe a bottle of water, or a big bag of jerky? I don’t know. I feel like something like of substance.

Don’t get me wrong, I still would die most definitely. But I feel like I would last a little longer because of what I learned making this show. 

You can watch Melissa Barrera brave the wild as Liv in ‘Keep Breathing,’ now streaming on Netflix.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

julianna (she/her) is an associate editor at her campus where she oversees the wellness vertical and all things sex and relationships, wellness, mental health, astrology, and gen-z. during her undergraduate career at chapman university, julianna's work appeared in as if magazine and taylor magazine. additionally, her work as a screenwriter has been recognized and awarded at film festivals worldwide. when she's not writing burning hot takes and spilling way too much about her personal life online, you can find julianna anywhere books, beers, and bands are.