“It’s a cheap form of therapy”
Art imitates life when Melissa Bergland faces heartbreak on Winners & Losers
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.”