Melissa Bolona is a woman we love
Melissa Bolona thinks she’s funny. Or, at least, she makes herself laugh, and that is enough for her. A charming, infectious giggle punctuates the story she is telling about the time she was riding a camel out in the middle of the Dubai desert.
“You can’t go to the Middle East without riding on a camel! So, I went onto Google to see if I could rent one. It turns out the one I got was specifically used for children’s birthday parties!” she breaks to laugh. “By the way it was walking, I wasn’t sure it had even seen a desert before!”
It’s hard not to laugh with her, but she doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would care if you didn’t. You don’t set out on the treacherous path of being an attractive, young, Hollywood actress without developing a tough skin – a trait she attributes to having spent her teenage years working in a restaurant, giving as good as she got from regular customers – and a knapsack full of self-confidence. And it’s a path the model-turned-actress has negotiated pretty well so far.
This year will see Bolona feature in eight – that’s right, eight! – different films, in roles ranging from light-hearted turns in The Year of Spectacular Men and Frat Pack to more serious ones in Dog Eat Dog and The Neighbour.
In The Year of Spectacular Men, Bolona will be showing off those aforementioned comedic chops (and quite a bit more) where she plays Lea Thompson’s young, yoga-loving girlfriend; a role that she took to with relative ease. “She’s a super-chill character who loves life,” says Bolona in her sun kissed-accent, “which, for me as a Pilates fan, was pretty easy to relate to.”
But what really drives her as an actress are the more serious roles that challenge to step out of her comfort zone. The best example of this is on display in the Paul Schrader (the co-writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) directed film Dog Eat Dog, which stars both Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe.
“My scenes with Nic weren’t intimidating at all,” she laughs. “He plays a real tough guy and is very effective at that. But what was impressive was seeing just how consistent and committed he was to his scenes. He delivers every take with the same amount of energy as the previous one, regardless of how many times we have to do it. Just keep hitting your mark – that’s something I learned from him.”
Although she was born in Connecticut, Bolona spent time growing up in New Jersey and Lima (her father is Peruvian). Despite constantly running around the house as a child declaring that she was “going to be an actor!”, it wasn’t until she went to Paris to study international marketing at The American Business School, that she started to take acting seriously. “I was young, free and in Paris, so I decided to enrol in some acting classes, and kept doing them while at college.”
Helped by her centre-fold good looks, as well as booking bit-part roles in films and TV shows, Bolona has gone on to model for several magazines and brands. Her sex-appeal was all but confirmed in 2013 when she would beat out more than 20,000 hopefuls to win the Beach Bunny model search competition to become the face (and body) of the swimwear brand’s campaign alongside supermodel Irina Shayk. But now her focus is on her budding acting career. Although when pushed she won’t rule out the odd modelling job if the right one presents itself.
“Modelling auditions are tough. Some of them are like an episode of The Bachelor,” she laughs. “I went to one where all the girls were told to leave one-by-one. If you made it through the next round you were allowed to go into the next room, and that’s pretty tough on your self-esteem. It was like being on reality TV.”
Charlize Theron and Keira Knightley are two names that jump from Bolona’s lips when asked which actress-slash-models she admires. “They are such incredible actresses who lend themselves to campaigns with Dior and Chanel. Their images are stunning.” Of that, we can confirm.
But, as with Theron and Knightley, to pigeonhole Bolona as just-a-pretty-face would be doing a disservice. In 2015, she was included as part of New York’s ‘Top 20 under 40 philanthropists’ as compiled by The New York Observer, for her fundraising work in support of the American Heart Foundation, the J/P Haitian Relief Organisation and the Clinton Foundation to name but a few.
As a serial fundraiser, acts of charity have been very much part of Bolona’s upbringing. “My family would wrap gifts for under-privileged children during the holidays, and at times literally go door-to-door to raise money for the American Heart Foundation. When I was older I did a modelling job for Gents Co. and through that I met the CEO, Josh Reed. We started the Gents Gives charity together.” It’s something that she hopes to do a lot more of in the years to come as she takes advantage of her growing profile. For example, as the besotted owner of four dogs, she wants to start a charity to help pet owners pay for surgery for their sick companion animals.
What about the more immediate future? With eight films under her belt this year alone, you’d forgive her for wanting to put her feet up and take stock, but this month she starts work on the first of four more films – one of which shoots in Panama. “As a young actress, it’s a numbers game,” she says. “I’m eager to do as much good work as possible, and if that involves travelling to Panama or Mississippi, then I’m game!” What about a scene on the back of a camel? “Sure. Why the hell not,” she laughs.