KNOWN for her roles in Dark Matter and Games of Thrones, Melanie Liburd is a up-and-coming, highly talented British actor. Born in Hertfordshire, UK, Liburd graduated in fashion design before studying acting at The Identity Drama School, London. She has also worked as a model. The 29-year old has been seen on screen in various television productions, such as Strike Back, Dracula, Stalker, The Grinder and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – in which she appeared in the same episode as Sharon Osbourne.
A more recent role sees Liburd playing Alexis Wright, the personal assistant of Michael played by Billy Crudup, alongside Naomi Watts in the new Netflix drama series Gypsy, which had its premiere at the end of June this year and was shot in New York. Glass talks to Liburd to discover more about her life so far and future plans.
You have a BA honours degree in fashion design – what made you change your career and why did you decide to become an actress?
That is slightly different and it is really interesting, because I started as an art student so all through school I was always painting and drawing, I loved art. But I remember being very young, like seven, I was quite shy and I got involved in a school play. My cousin, who was actually rehearsing, dragged me along with her for one of the rehearsal. They pulled me in and I thought “Wow, this is one of the most amazing things I have ever done,” as I was so shy so it kind of brought me out of my shell.
But then I haven’t thought about it for a long time and I obviously got into fashion. But I find fashion and acting both very creative, so it kind of transforms, you are creative but in a different kind of way. And then I got back to acting, mainly because it always terrified me and I thought “Why not, I will give it a go!”, so then I tried again and went back to drama school and it was the most terrifying, but the best thing I ever did.
You are playing Alexis Wright in the new television drama series on Netflix called Gypsy, which had its premiere in June this year. How would you describe your character?
Alexis is an aspiring writer who has taken the job as Jean Holloway’s (played by Naomi Watts) husband’s assistant, whose name is Michael Holloway (played by Billy Crudup). She is very organised and good at her job, but she really wants to be a writer. She moved to New York from Cleveland and she is just working and hustling – you know what it is like when you move to New York City – she is looking for love and just trying to do what she wants to do, by for example entering in an online competition.
You will see in episode four, when she gets up and tells her whole story to the audience, which has been really fascinating to explore. There are two sides of Alexis. There is the one, who is working for Michael and she is almost playing a part as an assistant, which shows how she thinks and sees this job in her own mind. And then when she is writing, I would say she is kind of hipster and much more relaxed with it, and this is when she is the happiest.
You worked with Naomi Watts or Billy Crudup, what have you learnt from them?
Naomi Watts has always been one of my favourite actresses, because of the wonderful choices she makes and her story in general. She has been working as an actress for a long time. It is such a joy to work with people who are so inspiring because there are very passionate about what they do. So when you see that on set, it brings everyone up and you think “Wow, I have to work the hardest I have ever worke” and that for me is incredible. I do have a few scenes with Naomi but most of my scenes are with Billy. He is a wonderful actor to work with because he does a lot of theater as well. He is very collaborative in the scenes, and we talk about the scenes that we did, how we can work them out and make better. And this is very cool.
Have you ever considered working in theatre as well?
Lots of training in the United Kingdom is theatre-based. It is actually quite funny and terrifying at the same time, but my first job out of drama school was at the theatre production. It was a Nigerian play in one of the West End’s theatres, which was an amazing experience. I have learnt so much, mainly because it was all live so you just had to go with it. But I would definitely love to go back and do some more theatre.
What is your dream role or character that you would like to play?
I feel like I am just getting started so there are so many things I want to do. I love heavy drama, the understanding of why people do some certain things they do. Some of the troubles and stories that people have, it is quite amazing. And I love comedy too. There is a great British comedy called Chewing Gum that I literally just finished watching, it is hilarious. And there is the opposite of that, The Handmaid’s Tale with Elizabeth Moss, which is just fantastic. So I just want to keep on exploring and be versatile in lots of different roles. I would love to do a big action movie as I am very physical. If the writing is great, I am completely in.
And do you have a favorite director or any personality from film industry that you would like to work with one day?
While making Gypsy, we worked with many female directors, like Victoria Mahoney and Sam Taylor-Johnson, so I would love to work with more female directors and cinematographers, because it is quite rare in this industry. So definitely more women. Girl power!
You are also known for your role in the TV series Dark Matter. What was this experience like and have you learnt something new about acting during that period of time?
I was very lucky to do a season with those guys, in such a lovely and successful show as Dark Matter is. Joseph Mallozzi, who is the show runner, is just the sweetest guy. And the cast is brilliant too, because they have already done one season and then they welcomed me. It is definitely a fun set. And because there is so much action involved, for me it was just like going to work and having a play, but also hard work at the same time. I had to get to know all that choreography very quickly and it was such a great learning. You undoubtedly have to learn fast with television so it was a great experience. And Toronto is a very cool city too.
You were also a beauty and fashion model. What was it like to switch from modelling to acting?
I think I was just craving and that was one of the reasons I switched. I had a great career. I started modelling when I was 17 and it basically got me through college. So it was wonderful, I loved the traveling element of it, meeting people all over the World and experiencing different cultures and food. That’s why modelling was so wonderful for me but I wanted more so I transitioned into television commercials. Then I thought, “Hang on a minute, I want to explore this even more.” This is also what drove me into stopping that and going to drama school. It was just a great progression into acting really.
You enjoy snowboarding and Pilates. What else do you do for fun or to relax yourself that kind of helps you to get away from film industry?
I love to exercise, but it doesn’t feel like this is fun (laughs). Moving to Los Angeles was great because it is quite outdoorsy and you find different things. I got a bike and I go on bike rides, which is so much fun and beautiful. And there are the hikes too. I need to get back to snowboarding because I haven’t been in couple of years now, and this is my favourite thing. There is just something about mountains that I love. There is a place outside of Los Angeles called Mammoth Mountain. You get in your car, it is literally five hours drive from the city and you get to a snow-covered mountain and it’s amazing.
You travel all around the world – do you have a favorite place where you feel like home?
I do. I discovered St Kitts, where my father is from in the Caribbean. It is stunning because it hasn’t been crazily commercialised yet and it is like heaven to me that I can go on an escape to.
Melanie Liburd by Ssam Kim
What are your plans for the future and where would you like to see yourself within the next five years?
Just to keep on doing what I love, working hard and kind of go from there. I try not to put too much pressure on myself but as long as I am working hard and being kind to people, we will see what happens. But I am really excited to delve deeper into different acting roles and to work with some great directors. That is really exciting.
by Karolina Zielinska
Make-up by Vincent Oquendo for The Wall Group using EX1 Cosmetics
Hair by Naivasha Johnson for Exclusive Artists using Babyliss Pro Tools and L’Oreal Paris