Better & stronger

Melissa Campbell, whose first brush with the world of showbiz began at six on the shoot of a toothpaste commercial, is returning to Malaysia to rediscover her potential in the entertainment industry. “I want to learn how to produce and direct. I want to do things that are fulfilling and meaningful to me. I suddenly realised that it was time for me to come back to Kuala Lumpur, back to my roots, to be grounded again.

The 28-year-old actress, who was born in Newcastle, Australia, left the city when she was five years old and grew up mostly here in Malaysia. “I don’t feel like I’m Australian at all because I grew up in Malaysia,” said Campbell, laughing.

After high school at Sri KDU in Kuala Lumpur, the budding actress moved to New York at the age of 18 to pursue her education at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts (NYCDA). After five years there, Campbell moved to Los Angeles for three years to go after bigger dreams as an actress.

While she was in LA, Campbell signed up with Mckeon Myones Entertainment, and says her life changed. While there were lots of opportunities – including visiting the Warner Bros set – it was also a reality check. “It was like La La Land but the acting ground was real life and I faced mostly rejection.”

Having been away for eight years, the Scottish-Malaysian decided to come back to Kuala Lumpur as she had started to miss home and family. “I wasn’t sure if it was necessary for me to settle down in the United States. I started to miss my family and I was getting burned out.”

More well known as a child actress who made commercials, Campbell also starred in a Malay series in 2008, Ghost, which was screened on 8TV and other series on Astro Prima and Astro Ria. She’s also done some hosting work as well as voiceovers for animation. Possibly her biggest claim to fame was the role in Hollywood flick, Anna and the King, in 1999 when she was cast as the little Princess Fa Ying.

Right after our four-hour long photo shoot in a cosy bedroom at RED by Sirocco, Campbell, still in an MDS black dress, let down her hair and got up close and personal with us, sharing anecdotes of her life, and her hopes  and dreams for the future.

What was it like to study at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts (NYCDA)?

It was amazing! I didn’t know what to expect when I went there. It was intense, and when you were there, you were competing with the best and they take their craft seriously. So, I got to push deep within myself. The more things that I faced that made me uncomfortable, the more I grew. I feel like New York formed me, it’s what makes me who I am and it has had significant influence on me.

What would define your career as – actress, model or social media influencer?

Definitely as an actress. Social media is still very new to me. In the past eight years, I have been overseas, and it is a very different path as I never have to think about it. I have been living in this little cocoon – focusing on acting classes and preparing myself for when I’m walking through audition rooms. So, I have not really had to care about social media there, and here, I am still learning about how it works in Malaysia. Clearly, my mind is set as an actress only.

My first post on Instagram was five years ago and if I’m not mistaken it’s like an awful selfie. I had always used Instagram as a personal platform – like a diary – and I have not been using it as a tool. I only started learning more about social media four months ago!

It is just a different culture. In Malaysia, there is more creative control over social media as it can be your own portfolio. It has also been fun for me to discover more about it through a collaboration with a talented local photographer.

I do model also but it’s more for commercials like for skincare and makeup. I am too short for runway!

What was Anna and the King like for you and has it helped you in your career as an actress and model?

It’s enforced me in terms of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I remember everything that happened – from the casting process to the end, until the movie premiere. I was very aware, into it and in control of what I wanted to do at eight years old. Everything I did was carefully thought out, and it was my decision and my parents always asked me if I was sure about it and yes, I was all in. But, being on that scale at that early age, I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

From the big screen to acting on YouTube, how did that come about?

So here is a funny story, I was a camera assistant on an airline commercial. So when I worked behind the scenes, I got to meet one of the staff working at The Ming Thing (TMT). He is one of the video editors at the company. We started to talk and he recommended that I meet Ming Han, the co-founder of TMT and The Core Studios. Then I met Ming Han and had a six-hour conversation just talking about our experiences – we vibed and I had so much respect for what they were doing as it was not easy. From then on, we just started to shoot together; they opened the door of opportunity for me. The first video that I did with them was “The Delivery Boy” for Christmas last year, that happened two weeks after we met!

You have been an actress since you were six, what is your dream role?

I love fantasy and fiction movies! So, I would like to play a superhero one day. Who doesn’t want to be a superhero?

Besides acting, do you have an interest in directing and scriptwriting?

The best part about coming back here is I get to work in the production field as a camera assistant (first AC) for music videos and commercials. That is a new thing for me and I am trying to learn more behind the scenes so I can produce and direct my own thing someday. I need to learn the technical side of things so that one day I get to achieve my own dreams.

Tell us more about the bike that you posted on your own Instagram – would you call yourself a biker?

I did! I have a motorcycle in LA. But I don’t think I call myself a biker. So here is the thing, my dad used to ride in Kuala Lumpur, and he  used to take me to school by motorcycle. I used to have the best feeling when I was at the back of the bike – and it became one of the things on my bucket list to get myself a motorcycle license. To be honest, I wish I could say that I wasn’t scared, but it was nerve-wracking for me, but it was a feeling that I want to overcome and LA is the best place to do it!

You are an avid traveller. What does travel mean to you?

I wish I could travel more! Travelling means perspective. Getting out of my comfort zone – sometimes we get stuck on the road and a lot of us can have tunnel vision. It goes to reinvigorate yourself, create memories and appreciate the world that you are living in. For example, seeing a beautiful sunrise by the beach in Australia is a reminder it’s good to be alive.

Tell us more about your fashion style?

I’m happily rocking my classic black Vans and that’s what I’m most comfortable in, but at times I also love to get dressed up – “ getting in a full glam mode – “ wearing heels and all the accessories. But sneakers would be my ultimate favourite and I don’t know how many sneakers I own as shoes always hit my soft spot!

My fashion style changes a lot and it depends on my mood but I would say it is a comfy chic. I would go for something edgier instead of girly clothes. Another thing is people would always see me carrying a backpack because I am always going places and I have so many things that I have to carry with me. It’s my staple piece!

Are there any upcoming projects that you will be on soon? Could you share your forthcoming gigs with Pursuit readers?

It has just been confirmed that I got the part in TV series for Viu Malaysia! The series is planning to premiere in June but I can’t share the title yet … hopefully soon.

Overall, my focus is more on TMT but my main goal would be to get more involved in TV series and film. For me, the good thing about YouTube is you get “trial and error” with the platform and you can make improvements from there.

I’m so excited about my role in Viu and the series is crucial for me to get back into the local industry. I’m not going to lie that its nerve-wracking for me! But, the nearest project that I just did was a fabric softener commercial and the shoot happened in Bangkok, Thailand for four days ago.

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