Melissa keeps win­ning us over

There’s some­thing about Jenny, Win­ners & Losers’ Melissa Ber­g­land tells Dar­ren Devlyn

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE -

EX­POSED to the cam­era, Win­ners & Losers’ Melissa Ber­g­land projects a star­tling mag­netism. Some might sug­gest she has the rare, hard- to- de­fine “it’’ fac­tor – a seem­ingly- ef­fort­less abil­ity to light up the screen.

But while Ber­g­land, 28, strongly res­onates with view­ers, she con­fesses there’s some­thing un­nerv­ing about play­ing the idio­syn­cratic, sen­si­tive Jenny: the fact there are so many par­al­lels be­tween the char­ac­ter and the ac­tor.

A plot­line in­volv­ing Ber­g­land’s screen mum Tr­ish ( Denise Scott), is a case in point.

Ex­plor­ing the trauma of Tr­ish be­ing di­ag­nosed with cancer af­fected Ber­g­land deeply, be­cause she’s been through a sim­i­lar or­deal with her fam­ily.

“I’m con­vinced the script writ­ers are steal­ing ideas from my life,” the 2012 Lo­gie win­ner for Most Pop­u­lar New Talent says.

“I picked up a script the other day and thought, ‘ Here we go again, you [ writ­ers] are har­vest­ing my per­sonal pain for the show’.

“It’s fine, re­ally. It’s a cheap form of ther­apy for me”.

Asked to elab­o­rate on how fre­quently scripts re­flected real- life, Ber­g­land added: “Well, deal­ing with a par­ent who has cancer, find­ing out as an adult you have two il­le­git­i­mate half- sib­lings, hav­ing ex- boyfriends or friends com­ing out as gay in later life.”

A true all- rounder, Ber­g­land is an ac­com­plished singer who started play­ing piano at four and flute at seven. Born in Ade­laide, she com­pleted a Bach­e­lor of Arts at Flin­ders Univer­sity, ma­jor­ing in drama, then moved to Mel­bourne in 2007 to study at the Vic­to­rian Col­lege of the Arts. She then stud­ied act­ing for six months in New York, where she se­cured an agent and per­formed in the New York Com­mu­nity Fes­ti­val’s pro­duc­tion of Fat Camp.

She cred­its her par­ents, who sup­ported her artis­tic en­deav­ours, as a driv­ing force be­hind her suc­cess.

“My fa­ther died when I was 14,” Ber­g­land said. “You grow up very quickly when some­thing like that hap­pens to you.

“When Jenny’s mother was sick, she felt re­spon­si­ble for look­ing af­ter ev­ery­one. For me, I was an only child, just hav­ing my mother there. I had to be strong for her and she had to be strong for me.”

New York was an­other defin­ing in­flu­ence.

Soon af­ter ar­riv­ing, a bike ac­ci­dent landed her in hospi­tal.

With no friends or fam­ily to sup­port her, the ad­ven­ture be­came a test of in­de­pen­dence and met­tle.

“That time proved to me I am brave. I could have been float­ing in the Hud­son for days be­fore any­one re­alised I wasn’t around,” she said.

“The first three months there was pretty ter­ri­ble. I had this white su­prem­a­cist crazy girl at­tach her­self to me.

“She was in­sanely racist and I didn’t know this un­til an­other girl from the [ act­ing] school said, ‘ Do you know why no­body [ apart from the racist] talks to you? Be­cause she is crazy and ev­ery­one thinks you are, too’.

“So I thought: ‘ Let’s not be friends with this per­son’. She was the kind of per­son who would go to an apart­ment in Har­lem for a cast­ing call and I thought, ‘ Lady, you are just ask­ing to be put in the boot of some­one’s car’.” When Ber­g­land tested for Win­ners

& Losers, pro­duc­ers had scant de­tail about what form char­ac­ter Jenny Gross would take.

Ber­g­land won them over with a high- risk ap­proach to the au­di­tion, bring­ing her own look – glasses and a shock of bright red hair – rather than present as a “blank can­vas”.

“Now I look like I’m play­ing dress- up ev­ery time I go out [ in pub­lic],” she said.

“I’ve only had about four au­di­tions in my life. They [ cast­ing di­rec­tors] would say, ‘ She’s not a blank can­vas, is a bit weird, we don’t know where to put her’.

“The Win­ners & Losers guys moulded the role to suit me – a dream for some­one who doesn’t look con­ven­tional.”

WIN­NERS & LOSERS Tues­day, 8.45pm, SCT

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