2013 is already shaping up to be a great year for actress Melissa Farman! Tonight she appears on CBS’s hit drama “Elementary”, in a role and experience Farman describes as incredibly valuable to her. And later in the year, Farman, who starred as Bristol Palin in HBO’s Golden Globe-nominated film ‘Game Change’, can be seen in Jennifer Aniston’s “The Five 2 Project” on Lifetime- a series of five short films focusing on the issue of mental illness and its relation to strong women. No doubt another piece of work that is sure to be of great value! And that is what you get when you speak with Farman. Intelligence, class and culture are just a few of the attributes one can use to describe the actress whose acting career began at the age of ten when she was accepted as the first child into the exclusive Bilingual Acting Workshop for professional actors in Paris. Raised in Paris, Farman is currently a student at the University of Southern California’s Thematic Option Honors Program majoring in Political Science and English Literature; which she says adds much depth to her work as an actress. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Farman and we chatted about what viewers can expect from her interesting role on “Elementary”, how her diverse background has enriched her acting and the advice she always holds close to her!
How was it to guest star on CBS’s “Elementary”?
Melissa- It was an absolute pleasure; in the sense that I was working with veteran actors who are really passionate about their characters and about the storyline. And I was also playing a character that had an arc that kind of reminded me of an abstract version of kind of an antigony figure. That was very fun for me.
Is there a moment that most stood out to you from working on the show?
Melissa- I don’t want to give anything away but I’m playing a character who is dealing with the loss of her mother and grieving and then she realizes that she has to deal with things that are way beyond her maturity level. And I think what I was really attracted to in the character was kind of seeing her as this girl that was trying so hard at being a pillar of strength amidst everything that was falling apart around her. That really attracted me to her-those elements of that dynamic duality of strength and vulnerability that kind of present themselves through every scene. So they were all really enjoyable to play. And on top of that I was working with actors that were so respectful of the process and the craft and so kind and giving to me as artists and as human beings.
That’s good to hear, that you had a good experience joining the cast.
Melissa-Yes they were really sweet. Because I do have a lot of dark moments and Lucy Liu she would make sure I was hydrated and warm. When were filming outdoors she would make sure I had all the heaters around me. She was kind of like an older sister, very nurturing. She would make sure I kept warm and always wore my gloves. And then when we were indoors she would make sure I was always hydrated; like I had to drink my water in between each take. She really took care of me. She’s such a kind artist and human being. It was wonderful to work with her.
Did you learn anything specific from her? What do you think you took away from the experience of working on “Elementary?”
Melissa- I think I learned so many things. I was working with Aiden Quinn, Jonny Lee Miller-who were all just veteran actors. But have very different processes that are equally committed to their process. I came away feeling just very excited and inspired by how dedicated people who have been doing it for so long still are. And also just how kind they are with everyone; the crew, the cast, to each other, and also how they really respected each other’s space. They gave the other the space to kind of create and find their groove. There are so many things I learned, but I think something that you always see on set is, just the general respect for the process. The dedication for the process, the kindness to the peers-which I think is just so important. You could tell there was this really great bond between the cast and the crew and that was just something shows in the work. Especially when you’re in the second season of the show-real relationships have been formed.
It sounds like you had a wonderful experience on the show.
Melissa- I did, yes. It’s just such a fun twist on an iconic story and character. But what I respect about this show so much is not only the murder-mystery genre but also adding to that empathy. You know it’s like Sherlock is struggling with the demons but also we’re bringing in contemporary demographics. We have a woman playing Wattson, which I think is such a wonderful, wonderful revival of a classic.
What do you usually look for in a role? Is there specific genre you prefer?
Melissa- Usually I don’t really gravitate towards genre; I gravitate towards ambiguity in a character. For me, usually the character I’ve just played I tend to want the exact opposite the next time I’m doing something else. So I feel like I don’t feel like I have a fixed genre I particularly want to be in. I feel that I tend to like diversity. But I also think whatever the genre, if the character has ambiguity to her, if she has an arc that shows growth or rather spiraling downwards, that’s what interests me.
I know from when we spoke last time that you come from a diverse background. You have lived in Paris, your family is there, do you find that you bring your upbringing abroad to your work? How do you think having an international background has benefitted as an actress you?
Melissa- For a project, you have all these people that are coming together that are kind of like nomads. There’s such intensity when you’re putting a project together. There’s communion between the crew, and there’s crazy hours; you’re waking up early putting together this project that you believe in and you’re all working together kind of playing pretend. And there’s a magic to that. So I feel like growing up in a kind of international way, I always kind of felt like, not that I was an outsider, but that I was always kind of observing normative communities; coming in and out of them. And traveling, kind of being an observer of behavior. And then going to the theater or going to set for me is kind of like that in the sense that I feel like I had kind of a nomadic upbringing. And also I feel like the whole nature of the theater is kind of home for people that don’t really have other homes. There’s something magic about that. I think also just in terms of being an actor, growing up in different communities I realized was something that was valuable. And that you change depending on where you are. You don’t really have the fixed identity you think you have. We grow a lot based on our environments, and based on circumstance, and the relationships we have. The narratives of our lives change very quickly and I think that kind of philosophy I use in my acting. I felt like I could easily relate to things because I never felt one identity. It takes away the judgment factor. As an actor you want to be your character’s lawyer, never your character’s judge. You always want to defend them. I heard Javier Bardem say that in an interview and that really affected me because it’s very true. And I think when you grow up in an international community; you realize that. I just always felt like I was observing everybody. And I never judge because I realized just how quickly people shifted. It’s easy to think that your world view is fixed when you’ve never moved around because your world view is stable and steady, so when you move around you realize that everything is contingent. You just have to let go of ego. You grow a certain way; you’re forced to have a humble perspective of the world in terms of realizing how everything is based on the circumstance.
I know that you’re a college student at USC as well. Is that challenging for you sometimes to balance both your acting and academic career together?
Melissa- It’s definitely a balancing act but it’s something that I really enjoy because I think when I’m in school my only responsibility is to sit and learn from someone who is really passionate about a subject. I’m a Political Science and English major, I’m studying different dynamics. When I want a more visual experience, I go to set and I get that. So I think that they balance each other out really well. And I think that also because when you’re an actor it’s so erratic that having school as a sort of safety blanket, as a stable, comfort zone, is really nice. I just think it opens your curiosity. It gives you an appetite for learning and for realizing new things. You always have that much more to learn.
From our interviews, I can gather that you are grounded and have a good head on your shoulders, what would you say is the best advice that was ever given to you that you would like to share? Something that you always take with you perhaps.
Melissa- I think the best advice I was given was just very straight forward, it’s something that I always try to remind myself of; it’s don’t compare yourself and bring your truth. It’s something that sounds almost self-evident, but especially in the society we live in, or even just being where we categorize very quickly or how our views of ourselves are kind of on other people’s validations. Even when you’re in school this happens. I remember just always wanting to get A’s as a kid and not really knowing why. And then I realized that my conscious is based on my grades. I think it’s really important to be in school for the love of learning, for your own personal growth. Don’t compare yourself and bring your truth because it’s really important to realize as a human being you’re enough. It’s like going into an audition room; when you’re a human being, you’re there, you’re present, you’re embodying the character. There’s nothing else that’s stopping you. That was the best piece of advice that I was given because it’s just so easy to compare yourself when you’re working in an industry that’s so competitive. And especially when you’re an actor, you have to have that delicate balance between an open heart and a tough skin, and so you really have to go in and just do it for the creative process and forget the competition and the rejection. You just have to go in for the love of the game. You’re playing pretend. Keep playing. Keep dreaming and cherishing that inner child that still wants to put those costumes on and doesn’t care what people around them are thinking.
Aside from “Elementary”, any upcoming projects?
Melissa- I’m very proud of being part of the Five 2 Project, which is a project by Jennifer Aniston. It’s a series of five short films that focus on the important issue of mental illness and how it relates to strong women. That will be coming out on Lifetime in 2013. I’m very excited about that project. I appear in the storyline of Grace. Laura Dern is directing this particular short and she’s just absolutely incredible. All the women on this, Melissa Leo, Sarah Hyland- it’s just a wonderful cast. In my particular storyline there’s a lot of other talent involved. We’re just really rallying around a cause and raising awareness on the issue of mental illness which is something that was very rewarding and gratifying to do.