Interview with Melanie Chandra (Code Black)

Recently, I once again had the pleasure of interviewing “Code Black” actress Melanie Chandra. Talking all things Season 2, we specifically spoke about revisiting Malaya’s attack from Season 1, Melanie’s process, the response and how Malaya’s continued growth is seen. Melanie also gave insight into her hopes for Malaya as well as the importance of all types of stories continuing to be told through the medium of television. From myself and the team at TV Series Hub, we’d like to thank Melanie Chandra for her time and offer congratulations on another captivating season as our beloved Dr. Pineda.

 

  1.       When the writers first told you about revisiting Malaya’s attack, how did you feel?Honestly? I got chills. Malaya’s attack episode last season was character defining. And filming something so gut wrenching is an experience you never forget as an actor.

    2.       The first scene between you and the young girl was absolutely heartbreaking, what was it like to film that scene?

    It was absolutely heartbreaking to read the scene on paper, and when I first read the words aloud, I could barely get them out without choking up (kudos to the writer Kayla Alpert for her skill).

    To film it was another level. It’s one thing to imagine the scene in your head, but when you work opposite a fully committed actress like True O’brien, who gave everything she had to that role, it’s electrifying, and in this particular scene: soul-crushing.  We were both extremely vulnerable and in between takes, we would sit in silence and squeeze each other’s hands for strength, support, and comfort.

    3.       Was it a different process, for you personally, before filming this episode than what it was when Malaya was attacked?

    When Malaya was attacked last season, I needed to do a lot of emotional preparation for her scenes. As an actor, it was the first time I had to find a connection to something so tragic and objectively horrifying. I needed to make it raw, visceral, and utterly truthful.  For this episode, my process was much simpler for two reasons. One, the deep work I did to prepare for Malaya’s attack was still in my blood; it was accessible. Two, this script was so strong that even just saying the words aloud prompted a deep, organic emotional response. My preparation was simply staying emotionally open, present, and fully committed to Malaya and the circumstances at hand. To breathe, say the words, and allow anything to happen.

    4.       The rape kit scene has to be one of the most beautifully put together pieces that Code Black has ever done, what’s it like as an actor when a scene like that calls for no dialogue, and is just communicative facial expressions etc.?

    The scripted version of the scene actually included dialogue, mostly with Dr. Pinkey providing instructions and Malaya being there to assist, while trying to stay strong for her patient. Somewhere in the editing process the creative choice was made to remove the words and let the emotional life speak for itself. And that was a brilliant choice, as the must gut wrenching moments wereunspoken.

    5.       You’ve given Malaya such a peace and balance since the attack. How was it to play a different side of her, more unsteady and vulnerable?

    As an actor, it’s a blessing to be given such an emotional range to play. Allowing myself to be my most vulnerable in front of the camera is liberating and allows me to bring so much more humanity into Malaya.

    6.       What can you tease moving forward for Malaya? Has she received the closure she needed, or do you think it’ll be one of those things that continues to inform her from day to day?

    She’s been through so much. This will always be a part of her, but going through this experience has given her a chance to heal. It informs her inner strength.

    7.       Have you received any particular feedback about the episode that really resonated with you?

    The response to the episode on social media was absolutely overwhelming, in the best way possible. True O’Brien (who played Joy) and I poured our souls into this story, and you have no idea how much it meant to us when people spoke up about how they were affected, moved, or inspired by the story.  There was something powerful that also happened. A friend of mine, after viewing the episode, told me that she is a sexual assault survivor.  I had no idea. She said the storyline hit very close to home for her, but that it illuminated this topic in a way that’s never been done so respectfully and with such dignity. She said it moved her, strengthened her, and compelled her to start sharing the story with more of her close friends. It was also extremely humbling to have The Huffington Post highlight this sensitive storyline. I really hope that we can play even just a small part in driving more awareness and change.

  1.  If you could choose a storyline for Malaya in an upcoming episode what would it be?

    I would absolutely love for a complex storyline to develop among Malaya, Angus, and Mario. We’ve seen splashes of relationship building during various episodes, but it would be really meaningful to develop, deepen, or challenge their friendships over the course of the season. Right now we are often tied up in our separate storylines; it would be nice to see us come together. Additionally, we are all very close friends and just really enjoying working with each other!

    9.       With more and more LGBTQ stories coming to the forefront of television, why do you think it’s important that Malaya’s continue to be told?

    I really believe it’s important to create characters that can serve as role models for youth, especially those whose voices are often underrepresented or misrepresented in mainstream media. TV and film have the opportunity to tell stories that influence social change by encouraging empathy and understanding.  Malaya’s story has the potential to reach and inspire so many groups out there, from the LGBTQ community to sexual assault survivors to young girls that dream of entering the medical profession.  I also believe that we need to create more multidimensional stories for leading women, and especially for women of color. We are on the brink of change in so many ways, we just need to be fearless and continue to tell these stories.