After playing Jenny Gross for five years on popular television drama Winners & Losers, Melissa Bergland did the last thing that people expected. She packed up her life and moved to the US.
“You know how sometimes in life you’ll make a decision to do something that seems so out of the blue and crazy to everyone else? But if you didn’t do it you’d have this nagging voice telling you to, so you just have to. I don’t know if this is going to be forever, but for right now it feels right to be here,” the actress says while stuck in Los Angeles traffic.
In a lot of ways, the Seven Network television show led her to pursue movie roles. “I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful that I get to do something so fun and ridiculous as a job and that it makes people happy and entertained… but towards the end, I was like, ‘I’m forgetting why I wanted to be an actor in the first place’.”
It was a rocky start. Melissa had to rebuild her reputation in a strange, cutthroat new city and industry. “LA is kind of a lonely place and it took me a little while to find my feet and to find my people. I used to joke to my mum that it’s a bunch of single people living in one-bedroom apartments all crying themselves to sleep.”
Her first few months were spent settling into her new life, fronting up to (and getting rejected at) hundreds of auditions and battling anxiety about where her next acting job would come from. “It’s like fighting a riptide: you eventually have to stop struggling against it and just relax and get a life and do other things with your time and then things start coming to you.”
The waiting paid off. Melissa booked her first LA film role, and starts shooting in January 2018. She can’t share too much, but says her character is, “Brash, bossy, hysterical, no bullshit and flamboyant. A little bit like a pit bull.” While the treatment of women in Hollywood fills the news as of late (“It is a very confusing time and very muddy waters to navigate”), Melissa feels like a change is coming – with more female creators fighting their way to the front. She is firm in her response to the reported cases of Hollywood sexual abuse. “If you operate as a piece of shit for 15 years you were just lucky you got that 15 years in because now the tides are turning. There are some amazing women at the helm of TV and film right now and they’ve stopped taking it, which is exciting and something I definitely want to be involved in.”
Her advice to young, green actors with Hollywood stars in their eyes is: “For the love of God, don’t move out here with debt or less than $10,000 in your bank account and no leads or a team or representation here. Don’t do it. You have to play the game of Chess. You can’t checkmate in the first move. You have to put the bricks in one by one.”