This last week I had the opportunity to interview Melanie Chandra, cast member of the high-intensity, medical drama Code Black. Talking everything from medical training to her acting process, Melanie Chandra offered an insight into how it has been to delve into such traumatic storylines and to represent the LGBTQ community. See below for the full interview, and if you haven’t yet, go watch Code Black you’ll be inspired, floored and completely overwhelmed with respect for this ensemble. Thank you Melanie, for taking the time to speak with me, it has been an honour.
It seemed like this week’s episode required quite a bit of emotional commitment and vulnerability, how did you prepare for such an episode? Do you have a particular process you go through to prepare for such difficult scenes?
Most of my homework comes from digging into the “why” and then the “how.” With this episode in particular, the stakes where so high and gut wrenching. I needed to dig deep inside and find something, real or imaginary, that fueled me at a visceral level and pulled the emotions and physicality right out of me. I had to ask so many questions. “What triggered all of this, why me, why now, why here?” I needed to make the answers very specific and very real for me. Before getting to set, I’d do warmups on my instrument (body/voice) to ensure I was open, affectable, and vulnerable, allowing my emotional life to flow uninhibitedly. There’s also something to be said about how costume has an affect on your character. I think being covered with prosthetic lacerations and blood, and buying into the idea that they are real, takes things to a whole new level.
The scene where you were bought into Center Stage, screaming, was incredibly intense what did it take for you to get to that place? Did you ever feel nervous in your ability to portray such a traumatic event?
What it took to get me to that place is a bit personal, but I will say that I was nervous about being able to embody such a traumatic event for a character, for sheer lack of having attempted anything like it before. There’s also the pressure of working on TV, where production moves VERY quickly, and you don’t have the luxury of time to explore and see what works for you. With so many moving pieces of a scene and with you, the actor, being just one small part of it, when the director yells “Action!’ you have to be ready and able dive in with 100% commitment. There are also SO many distractions on set that can easily take you out of your element. So, I just focused on my preparation, the one thing I can control. I did my homework both on the role, but also on how to take care of myself and stay focused when the distractions came my way. .
Once you secured the role, did the cast have to go through any intensive medical training? Did you have to shadow in an ER? What type of training and research did you do prior to starting in the role?
Before we filmed the pilot episode, we were put through two weeks of “medical boot camp” where we were trained on the basic medical procedures that we’d have learned if we were actual first year residents (intubations, centrals lines, etc). We also shadowed ER doctors, which was fascinating and really humbling. These people are heroes. Literally everything they do will change the course of their patients life. It’s a huge undertaking, but these doctors do it with humility and ease.
I feel like this episode really bought to the forefront the camaraderie of the Angels staff – regardless of opinions and beliefs. Do you feel going forward the Angels ER team will be stronger than ever?
This last episode (Ep 115) is by far my favorite to date. It’s a prime and heartbreaking example of how tragedy brings us all together. I think the relationship within the Angels ER team will take on a whole new dimension, especially in the unspoken moments. It will create more unity, but also unravel pent up tension and conflict.
What was the reaction like when the cast found out that Gina Perello (Christina Vidal) didn’t make it? Were you shocked?
Absolutely no one saw it coming. We were shocked. And from a story and style perspective, it was such a departure from what we had been filming to date. It was more personal, more dangerous.
It seems as though Malaya has had a pretty tough run of things lately, first the love of her life passed away from cancer and now this, how is she going to be moving forward? What can you tease of her future? New love interest?
It’s going to take some time for Malaya to get-refocused at work. Everything about the ER is a reminder of her tragedy, but it’s also a reflection of why she chose to do emergency medicine in the first place. I don’t think you’re going to see much of her recovery process. That’ll take place off screen. In the remaining few episodes of the season, our writers have been working hard to flesh out our other core characters while introducing some new ones.
How has it been to portray an LGBTQ character on television? What has been the most rewarding part about playing such a role?
The LGBTQ community has been so strong and supportive of Malaya, and I’m so grateful. The most rewarding part is when I receive messages from young girls, sharing that Malaya’s character inspired them to come out. It’s so incredible how a character, a story, can help others find their voice and their confidence. I hope that continues.
The story arc of Malaya and Carla was particularly heartbreaking, what was it like working with Shiri Appleby? You had such great chemistry.
I love Shiri. She is one cool, grounded gal. She tells it like it is. And she was incredibly generous as an actress. She inspired me to go on a fully committed emotional journey with her in every scene. She doesn’t hold back and by virtue of that, she gave me permission to do so as well .
We didn’t have much time to get to know each other before shooting our first scene, which was particularly emotional. It was honestly like, “Hi, I’m Melanie, it’s nice to meet you,” and then we started filming. As our days went on, we became closer, and developed our own natural banter and chemistry with paid off in later episodes.
You have such a talented cast, what is the atmosphere like on set?
We call ourselves a family. And we mean it. Our days are filled with endless jokes, laughter, pranks, singing and impromptu dance parties, selfies, you name it. These folks are now my best friends. We can’t get enough of spending time with each other. Even if we’ve all been filming untill midnight or later every weekday, we are still down to hang out on the weekends. If, and whenever the show finishes, the thing I’ll be most sad about is not getting to see them every day.
Is there any insight you can give into the last few episodes of the season? And also, what is everyone’s thoughts around being picked up for a second season? (I for one am campaigning hard)
Thank you for being such a supporter of our show! We are hopeful for a second season, but I think much depends on how our ratings fare these next few weeks. If there is anything I’ve learned, is that network TV is a tough business.
In the last few episodes, we have some really great guest star appearances (Odell Beckham Jr, Beau Bridges). There are some interesting twists with Christa & Neal, as well as with Angus, as he deals with the aftermath of Episode 115. Audiences will also get to see more of the latest additions to Angeles Memorial: Dr. Campbell, Heather Pinkney, Mike Leighton, Ed Harbert, and Grace Adams (introduced tonight, played by Meagan Good!).
Marcia Gay Harden is such a force of nature, how has it been working with her?
Marcia Gay Harden is one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met in my life. The very first day she stepped into the role of Dr. Leanne Romish, she immediately made each and everyone of us feel loved and respected, and quickly established us as a family – organizing cast outings, writing funny emails to lighten our spirits after stressful days, and organizing gifts to our crew and background actors to show our appreciation for all that they do. Her experience in this industry is absolutley priceless, and I can always turn to her if I’m every feeling lost or unclear about the road ahead. It’s been a true honor.
What advice would you offer to aspiring actors/actresses, screenwriters etc. trying to break into the business? What has been the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Two quotes I love:
“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” – Seneca
I recommend actors to work first and foremost on their craft. When you do meet that agent or have that big audition, you should have the skills to make a lasting impression. Form positive relationships with everyone you meet, your classmates, your teachers, your crew from a student film – you never know how they might help you in the future. And lastly, take care of yourself, mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s a tough industry, but if others are going to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself and keep the faith alive.