Interview: Melanie Papalia from "The Den"

Photo Credit: Bernard Hunt | © 2014 - IFC Midnight
March 12th, 2014

Actress Melanie Papalia is most known for her roles in “American Pie Presents: The Book of Love”, and as Pippa Venturi on TV’s “Endgame”.  Melanie now is starring in one of the most unique horror films of the year called “The Den” which revolves around the internet and what can happen when someone dives a little too deep in it’s darker corners.  Melanie was kind enough to take the time to talk with us here at Movie Room Reviews all about her new film which comes out March 14th.

Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: How excited are you for this new film “The Den” to come out?

Melanie Papalia: I am pretty excited. Yeah. After some of these reviews have come out already, I'm getting pretty stoked for people to see it. I was just excited that it was coming out at all. It's hard enough these days to get anything seen. So the fact that it is coming out, and that people have actually liked it... [laughter] So yeah, it's pretty exciting.

MRR: Well good. It comes out March 14th, right? The Den.

Melanie Papalia: Yeah. March 14th.

MRR: I've seen it and it's hard for me to watch horror movies, but I did enjoy it. The blood gets to me.


Melanie Papalia: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It kinda gets to me, too.

MRR: Can you tell us  about your character, Elizabeth?

Melanie Papalia: Yeah. So Elizabeth is basically like this 26-year-old girl who, in writing her thesis, she wants to study the habits of people that use the web. And more specifically, this site called, "The Den", that's basically like a Chat Roulette, and for anyone who hasn't been on Chat Roulette, there's like a lot of weirdos. I think, she thinks, innocently she's just gonna go on, meet some people, get a whole bunch of different personalities and sort of see why people would rather meet people on the Internet, not meet them in person and kind of why people do what they do. She's a bit naïve. We're very different, Elizabeth and I. She's a bit naïve and kind of gets wrapped into this web of Internet torture. Yeah, I think she knows she's living a bit of a life where she doesn't really feel like she needs to go out and explore and be like a regular person. She doesn't see any faults in spending her time on the Internet from morning to night talking to people. She hasn't seen her sister or her family in a while, but she feels like Skyping with them every now and again is just fine. So, she kind of gets wrapped up in this world, and doesn't see any fault in it. But soon enough, everything kind of goes to s&^% and desperation sets in.

Looking back, if Elizabeth lived, I think she'd probably think, "You know if I could do things differently, maybe I wouldn't be on the Internet so much". [laughter] If she could do anything different, I'd say, "Hey, maybe do your thesis from somewhere else". But having said that, it was a really, really interesting concept, which is sort of what drew me to the movie. No one's really done a movie as twisted as this, that's found footage about the Internet. I know there was that movie, "Catfish" or something... I don't know, "Dogfish", or what was it about the guy on Facebook, and it was definitely creepy, but this is very different.

MRR: Well Elizabeth, she isn't just the typical horror movie chick. What do you think separates her from those girls that are the typical horror movie hot chick?

Melanie Papalia: Oh God, so much. So, so, so much. I mean, she's not stupid. She does do some pretty naïve things, but she's not stupid. And I would have to say what drives her to maybe overlook a few things or be naïve, is the fact that she gets so caught up in this world. You know there's a few people that say to her, "Hey, maybe it's not real". But she doesn't think that, she's not thinking logically. Whereas, a lot of the girls in horror movies are just dumb. They just do dumb things. Where I actually think Elizabeth is very smart. She just sort of gets, obviously, caught up in a really bad situation. But also, it's very different. I feel like the way the camera is looking at me allows for nothing to be hidden. It's like very raw and truthful and catches so man moments. I hope at least, you can see Elizabeth's thought process behind what she's doing, as opposed to just some dumb girl, the killer at her door, and she runs up the stairs. Not out the back door, but she runs up the stairs where, obviously, she's gonna get murdered. So, yeah, I guess the main difference is Elizabeth's smart. A lot of other horror movie girls, not so smart. [laughter] I mean, we do agree, right? We do agree?

MRR: Yeah. Now you mentioned the way that the film is shot. It's supposed to look like a web cam and things like that. Tell me about the challenges you had to do filming that. I bet it was a lot different than what you're used to, huh?

Melanie Papalia: Oh yeah. Oh my God. There were so many times I'm like, "I'm sorry. You want me to do what?" Like "What? !" I'd never had to think so... I mean, the acting, okay, yes, you have to think about that. Hands down you do on everything, every project you work on, but like on top of that, I had to think about, I basically was kind of a camera person for a lot of this too. We would have our camera guys sort of work out the movements that I had to do to make it look like I was holding my cell phone, or look like I was carrying around my laptop.

But, I mean, the amount of times I was wrapped in cords, and just trying to get my face in frame, it was definitely challenging. What I think people will find interesting is, we actually had a really bad Skype connection for a lot of the times I was chatting with, say, the Max character, or my boyfriend in the movie. So we had to pre-record a lot of that. And almost on every single time I'm chatting with someone, especially a lot of those chats that are on The Den where I'm just chatting with random people, they're all pre-recorded.

So, I'm actually acting either to a blank screen or to pre-recorded footage. Which I've never had to do that before and I was worried about it, I said, "Oh God I need it to not look like that's what's happening at all". Or like if I'm kind of playing around with my screen and clicking a bunch of stuff, it was funny it was Zach being like, "Now look up, now look down, now click this, now click that." And I'm really not an Internet savvy person myself, so I was trying to understand everything that I was doing, it was very challenging. But also fun.

MRR: I had talked to Zach about that, and I was pretty surprised that that's the way that it was, I bet the timing issues were just a pain in the butt.

Melanie Papalia: Oh my god, it was. There were so many things we would try and then because we were on such a tight budget and such a tight time frame, if it didn't work we didn't really have the time to figure out how to make it work. It was just like, "Okay let's throw it out, try something else." So, it really was that type of shoot, just 'cause we knew we had to get it done and make it also look right and believable. So it was yeah, if there was something that wasn't working there was no time to be precious about it, just had to throw it away and try something else.

MRR: Well, what are your initial thoughts or apprehensions about taking on a role like this?

Melanie Papalia: I think that I wouldn't make it believable or real. I think that's basically what I was most nervous about because I've seen so many scary movies and you know when the audience sits there and kind of goes like, "Ugh, why would she do that?" Or like, "That's so stupid." I just didn't want it to be one of those and I think that the fact that this character Elizabeth is basically camera all up in her face every single scene made me nervous, because I knew that I had to basically bring my A plus, plus, plus, game. Otherwise it just wouldn't work. And so, I think going through everything Elizabeth goes through in the movie, from the stuff where she's just kind of starting out and life's all great and then things start going bad, and then to the part where she's actually being tortured and terrorized. I was very nervous that I wasn't going to be able to get to those places.

Before I’d get in my car I'd be like, "Okay Melanie, don't f*$# this up." How am I going to pull this off and I honestly didn't have the answer, but I just had to dive in head first and really not think about it. And just think about what I would want to see as the audience. I thought about that a lot. Like, if I'm looking at this from the outside, what would scare the s*%& out of me? And try and do that.

MRR: I think the thing that would freak me... I'm not an actor, but I think the thing that would freak me out the most is basically looking at the script and say, "Okay, I am this movie, I am 99% of this movie." 'Cause you were in like every scene.

Melanie Papalia: The amount of times, I thought, "Okay, so they are going to fire me, first day, second day, third... I don't know when are they going to fire me?" I don't know "Somehow in the audition I tricked them into thinking I could do this, because I don't know if I can. And I'm like... I must really be a good faker because they hired me." But it's funny though because in the casting process after... I don't know if they had seen a lot of girls, but I remember going in and thinking, "Okay, yeah, I have something great." I had this feeling. I feel like I could really pull this off. And it excited me, thinking that I could maybe make a movie, to kind of like scare the crap out of people.

But after I read, there was the producers in the room and Zach, and no one said a word, and I just left. And I thought, "Oh god, I screwed that up somehow, I don't how but they hated me." [laughter] Because they didn't say anything. And I just left. But yeah, when I did get cast in the movie, the thoughts that went through my head, I was really, really nervous. Even the days that I showed up and I had to do some of that torture stuff or, there was a lot of stuff that made me very uncomfortable that I had to do. It was just challenges left, right and center. But, I think I said to someone else, you know, now that I have done this, anything else that comes my way, like this movie was such a challenge for me on so many fronts, that I can now be like, "oh I did “The Den”, that's fine, I can do anything." I can do anything else, it's okay.

MRR: What have your friends and family said about this when they watch it with you being tortured?

Melanie Papalia: Okay, so my mother will not see it. It's just, you know she loves love stories, it's not her type of movie anyway, but she does not wanna see me being tortured. I only have a few friends that have seen it. I know the rest of my family will definitely see it, I don't think they're going to enjoy it like an audience that doesn't know me will. Some friends of mine that have seen it, I kind of sat in a screening, watching them with their hands over their mouth, their eyes closed, I think they had a hard time watching that. We go to some pretty dark places, so, I have a lot of friends who have said to me that they will go see it, but only 'cause I've liked begged them, they don't, first of all like scary movies, but secondly don't want to see that torture. And then some of them you know, I dont' even really tell them what happens. I'm just like, just go [laughter] And then I guess it'll be a surprise; murder and torture.

MRR: [laughter] "You wanna see me get tortured, go see this movie."

Melanie Papalia: [laughter] Yeah yeah, exactly, I'll just tell them it's like a chick flick. [laughter] Yeah it's a popcorn movie, yeah. Some of them, I'm just gonna lie to get them to go.

MRR: [laughter] Well now that it's coming out March 14th, what else are we gonna be able to look forward to seeing from you coming up in the future?

Melanie Papalia: Okay, well I actually have two other movies coming out relatively soon, I have a movie called “Frankie and Alice”, with Halle Berry and that comes out on April 4th. I play someone totally different, there's no torture and murder in that one. And then my next movie called “Extraterrestrial”, is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival at the end of April.

MRR: I'll be there.

Melanie Papalia: Oh you will, awesome. So, yeah, look out for it, you should come to the screening, “Extraterrestrial”. And yeah, that one should actually be a pretty wild ride as well, but it's not found footage, it's very, very, very different than “The Den”. So yeah, those two you guys can look out for.

MRR: Cool. Well thank you so much for talking with me, Melanie, I really really appreciate it.

Melanie Papalia: I appreciate it too, thank you so much.