British actress Melanie Liburd is already making a name for herself in Hollywood. From roles on everything from HBO’s Game of Thrones to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Liburd has brought a fierceness and elegance to all of her performances, and she’s just getting started.
At the end of June, the 29-year old actress will star in the Netflix psychological thriller Gypsy opposite Naomi Watts and Billy Crudup. In the series, Watts stars as Jean Holloway, a Manhattan therapist with a seemingly picturesque life who begins to develop intimate and illicit relationships with the people in her patients’ lives. As the borders of Jean’s professional life and personal fantasies become blurred, she descends into a world where the forces of desire and reality are disastrously at odds. The cast also includes Crudup as Jean’s husband, Michael, and Liburd stars as Alexis, Michael’s paralegal, who is also an aspiring writer.
Recently, EBONY.com chatted with Melanie Liburd about the upcoming female driven series, her forthcoming Ernest Dickerson film Double Play and the advice she gives to aspiring actors.
EBONY: Hi, Melanie. How are you?
Melanie Liburd: I’m good, thanks. How are you?
EBONY: I’m wonderful, thank you. Thank you so much for talking to me. Congratulations first of all on Gypsy. I just screened the trailer, and it was sensational. I’m really excited to see the series in full.
ML: Thank you very much.
EBONY: What was it about this story that drew you in? It’s a true psychological thriller. We’ve been seeing films like Girl On a Train and Gone Girl, but Gypsy seems to take things to an entirely different level.
ML: The writing. Initially, it was quite a long process actually of casting, but I was only sent a side. I said, “What is this? This is fantastic.” I love anything psychological and script-wise where everything is bubbling underneath the surface. As an actor, that’s the juicy stuff for me. The what’s not said. Just the writing, Lisa Rubin, she’s amazing, and it really was a breath of fresh air to read. My character Alexis, she’s quite interesting, and very complex, and very layered. That’s the lovely thing about how Lisa writes. She really finds the detail and then gives you the freedom to add on to your character, and really she’s open to lots of the ideas that I had too, which was brilliant.
EBONY: Fantastic. I know that it’s really important that someone like Lisa Rubin writes the script, and then having Sam Taylor-Johnson come in and direct it from a female’s perspective. Was that important for you as well, to be in something that was not only written by a woman but also told through a female lens and from a female gaze?
ML: Yes, definitely. That’s why it was just so exciting. This is quite a male-dominated industry, and I haven’t had the opportunity to work with many women at all, so that was just brilliant. We worked with a few male directors as well, but it really was a treat. Sam Taylor-Johnson is such a talent anyway, and I learned so much from all of our directors, and Sam was very free as an artist. Because she’s an artist, she really talks to you as an artist, and gives you that freedom. What was great about working with female directors is, some of the scenes really complemented some of the sensitivity in the scenes. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the episodes.
EBONY: Not yet.
ML: I don’t want to tell you too much, but yeah, in episode seven, there’s really sensitive content. I think because it’s a psychological drama, and being a woman, it was just wonderful to have a female director direct that. We had Victoria Mahoney come in as well, which is awesome.
EBONY: Wow. I love her.
ML: Just a gift. I was a big fan of hers from her movie Yelling to the Sky with Zoë Kravitz. That was just great work. She worked in a different way, and she got us into workshops with scenes, and we really found the nitty-gritty detail and the depth in them, which was brilliant. That was a really good time working with female directors. Also, we have really strong women across the board. Our producer is female, Liza Chasin, and then we’ve got Lisa Rubin and Sam Taylor-Johnson. We all get together, and we’re all coming up with this creativity on set, so it was really fun, a really fun environment.
EBONY: That’s so important. Can you tell me a little bit more about your character, Alexis? I know that over at Netflix they like to keep things super under wraps, and I know that she’s a paralegal, but we don’t know much else about her. I know you probably can’t give me specific details, but why was it important for you to play her?
ML: What was so interesting about Alexis, and I’ll give you a bit of backstory about her. She is a quirky aspiring writer that moves to New York to pursue her dreams and winds up working with Michael Holloway, who’s Jean’s husband, as a paralegal. The interesting thing about her is, she almost has two sides to her. She takes her job as a paralegal very seriously, and she likes it, but her dream is to become a writer. When she goes to be a paralegal, she’s perfectly dressed and everything’s in place. An interesting thing to explore as an actress and why people and characters do things that they do. The other side of Alexis is, when she’s writing, she gets up very early to write. She doesn’t wear make-up. She’s very relaxed, and she almost has a hipster side to her. She’s very creative in that way. It was very interesting to play those two sides of her. Then the relationship that she has with Michael Holloway who’s married to Jean Holloway. She’s almost like his work wife. She spends more time with him that he does his wife. The interesting thing about the way the show goes is the impact of Jean’s actions on her life. They have a knock on effect on every single on of the characters’ lives. Being a paralegal and being an efficient in everything to do with Jean and Michael’s life, and almost help them arrange their life that is very interesting.
EBONY: I think a lot of people in that position are privy to a lot more information than they probably would like to be. [Laughing]
ML: Some, but it’s very fascinating, and in fact, she’s pulled almost innocently into their life and their marriage. Yeah.
EBONY: How was working with Netflix different than working on your other projects like Game of Thrones or CSI, or some of the other different television programs you’ve worked on in the past?
ML: Yeah, I can only really speak about the stuff I’ve done really. Working on Game of Thrones was huge. I remember walking into a set thinking, “Oh my goodness, this is just on a scale I’ve never ever worked on before.” You look around and you see 300 background actors and they’re all in costume. You just say, “Wow.” It can be daunting and really really exciting at the same time. With Netflix, this is my first time working with Netflix and what I will say about them is, everyone I’ve spoken to is young and just excited. They want to help with your online content. They’re very open and fresh about things, which I found really refreshing.
EBONY: Wonderful. Well, I know that your latest film, Double Play will be out later this year. That’s very different since it was set in the 1960s on the gorgeous island of Curaçao. What was that transition like for you, working on that project versus working on something that’s a bit more contemporary?
ML: Yeah Curaçao, that was such a gift. Working with the incredible Ernest Dickerson. He and his wife just pull you in and make you part of their family, which was just so nurturing and lovely. Then to be able to work on a beautiful island and have these costumes by Dana Campbell. Ah! It was just wonderful. It was just breathtaking, some of the scenes I’ve seen from the movie, the setup and the work that went into it. The detail … It’s just a joy to work on. To me, as an actress, it’s easy to get swept away in things, and ultimately it’s about the work; doing the work. Playing an activist like Solema in Double Play was just fascinating. The research I did on the era … It was just fascinating just delving into a different time and how women were treated.
EBONY: Wonderful. Would you have any advice for anyone trying to break into the business? Now, there are so many different platforms that are available to artists now that weren’t available five or ten years ago. What would your advice be?
ML: I would say, always make it about the work. I think there are so many people I talk to, young people, and they ask me these questions. I still feel like I’m beginning my journey. I trained like six years ago. I feel like saying, I’m kind of on the right path of doing things that I want to be doing. I feel like it should always be about the work. There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not reading another acting book or looking at online content, even looking to see the work that people are doing on Netflix and HBO and Hulu. There’s a great series that I just binge watched this week called The Handmaid’s Tale, which is fantastic.
EBONY: It’s so good.
ML: Yeah, there’s so much available and there are so many courses like MasterClass. There’s a MasterClass that I watch in my free time. I’m thinking what’s going on? There’s a MasterClass I can pay for and watch Kevin Spacey online. He gives all his tips and information and advice. It’s fantastic. It’s things like that that I think is so important and really readily available. I would say don’t get caught up in all that crazy show of it all and do it out of the love of the art and the work.
EBONY: That’s beautiful advice. So what’s next for you? I know that Double Play is out this year. Gypsy will be out at the end of June, do you have anything else on the horizon that you’re working on? I don’t know if you can even speak about it yet.
ML: I’ll be promoting Double Play when it airs in America. That will be great fun. I’ve got the Gypsy premiere the end of June. That’s going to be really exciting too.
EBONY: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Melanie. I really appreciate you chatting with me and I’m really excited to see Gypsy. I don’t think it’s like anything we’ve seen so far so it should be a definite fun ride.
ML: Aw, thank you so much. It was so lovely talking to you.
All 10-episodes of Gypsy will be available to stream June 30th on Netflix.