An Interview with Melissa Ponzio
You might know Melissa Ponzio as Mama McCall on Teen Wolf, Donna Robbins-Boden on Chicago Fire, or even Karen on The Walking Dead, but Friday afternoon, we got to talk to her as Melissa Ponzio, just the amazing actress that portrays all these beloved characters. Something [some] of you may not know is that she lives in Atlanta – when she’s not having to fly across the country to maintain her cross-genre filming schedules – and she was kind enough to let us steal a little bit of her downtime to talk about these characters and storylines – and, of course, the fans. I was amazed not only by her genuine and sweet personality (with which many fans have had first-hand experience through her social media activity), but also by the thought and intention that she and the shows’ creators put into really developing the storylines and characters we all love so much. Read the Q&A below for the discussion (and to see if your question was answered), and don’t forget to keep up with Melissa via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!
(If you are not up-to-date on Teen Wolf and/or Chicago Fire, beware of some spoilers ahead! Proceed at your own risk.)
To start, let’s talk about Monday’s episode of Teen Wolf. Mama McCall has always had this sort of unending acceptance and belief in Scott’s responsibilities as both a werewolf and pack leader. In “Ouroboros,” she actually saw just how much stress Scott was under. @irma5208 wanted to know if you could talk a little bit about that, and the effect that is going to have on Melissa going forward?
It’s an interesting question, and it’s one that Jeff [Davis] and I have talked about – and even Tyler [Posey] and I have talked about – because… we started the show 5 years ago, so we’re all four or five years more seasoned, and now? The “kids” on the show… they’ve all grown. At some point, when you’re a parent, you look at your child and you realize that – though they are still your child – you cannot treat them as children.
The way I like to say it is: when your child is growing up, you throw all these amazing ingredients into a bowl, then you mix that bowl up and put that in an oven, and what comes out is a fully baked cake. Then at that point, you just hope that you put all the right ingredients in – and you can frost that cake and hope that it tastes good, but if you haven’t put in all the right ingredients, it won’t [taste good]. So, as a parent, you’re hoping that – as you’re rearing your child – you put in all the right ingredients, and at some point you just have to sit down and hope that everything you put into them, pours out of them as adults.
I think that was specifically what happened in that scene, where there wasn’t really a lesson for me to tell him about; there wasn’t really anything that I could tell Scott that would assuage him. I just had to listen, and tell him that it was going to be okay, and believe that everything that I put into him as a child growing up, that he would be able to pull from that, and get out of the situation on his own. Because you can only do so much for your child.
Would you react as well as Mama McCall if you found out your son was a werewolf?
I would hope so! But, that would be odd. But I just found out that they think octopuses are aliens, so I guess anything could happen! You would think that, if any child came to you, and they were telling you that they felt different or that they were different, that you would have the love and compassion to help that child through it. So, I would hope I would have that same compassion that Mama McCall had.
Speaking of parents, Melissa and Sheriff Stilinski have always been this… sort of team, regarding how to handle their teens and the supernatural element in Beacon Hills. This week, we finally see them “disagreeing” on the best path forward. Are we gonna see more of that in the upcoming episodes?
I think that’s one of the major themes, and I think it’s very interesting coming from the writers’ room, where Mama McCall and the Sheriff actually join forces just one episode before, and then all of a sudden, it’s falling apart. I think it was fast, and it was fun, and I think it is springboarding us into different emotions and things that are gonna happen coming into [Season] 5B – not only for the parents, but for the kids as well.
So, is that something they’re going to be able to get past?
I do believe there’s going to be conflict. Obviously, I don’t think one gets over slap quite that fast and I think that right now, we’re kind of separate places on things… and I think that he needs to apologize. [laughs]
And @spraynberry was curious to know what it was like, filming that scene?
Well, I was nervous – because you don’t ever really want to slap somebody. But, you know, Linden [Ashby]… he’s an action hero, so [that slap] was nothing to him. I was much more nervous about it, but he was amazing, and he helped me through it. We only had to do it maybe 6-8 times, but I was nervous every time. When you shoot a scene, you know, they go through different coverage, so there’s a wide shot that they do, medium shots, and a close-ups of each actor, and I wanted to make sure that I gave him the “big” slap on the close-up. So I kept going up to the director and the producers during his close-ups asking: “Is this the big shot? Can I really give it to him?” So, that was fun. And then what was really funny was that his wife Susan Walters (Natalie Martin on Teen Wolf) tweeted me during that episode, and said something to the effect of: “I wish I could do that!”
I’ve always wanted to do that…. https://t.co/JaerzwpsJ6
— Susan Walters (@swaltersashby) August 11, 2015
As you know, the Sheriff/Melissa ship is wildly popular. Something several fans (including @teenwolfingdead, @30SecsToHeaven, and @newtmastydia) wanted to know is: how is that moment going to effect their relationship?
I don’t know. You know, a friend of mine recently said that the Sheriff and Melissa should get together because it’s the only ship that the entire fandom can agree on. And I thought that was the hugest compliment, and then also, I thought: “Wow! Let’s not give it to them until the absolute last minute, if we’re going to.” But, I know that Jeff has a plan – and I believe in him and his plan, and I believe in where he and the writers take us every season. As everybody knows, I’m a huge fan of the show – as well as a fan of working on the show – but I just have to wait and see with everyone else where this relationship goes… because I don’t know. None of us really know.
Even beyond just Melissa and the Sheriff’s relationship, fans love seeing the bond between the McCall and Stilinski families as a whole. It’s always been clear that they’re pretty well intertwined. @shoujoKey wanted to know whether we will ever see flashbacks with Melissa and Claudia, or even just their families, from before Claudia’s death?
That would be interesting. Jeff and I haven’t specifically spoken about that, but when we had that episode a few weeks ago with the flashbacks, and the Sheriff was on the rooftop with Claudia, and she took everything out on Stiles… I thought that was one of the most heartbreaking scenes that we’ve ever done. Joey Honsa, she portrayed Claudia beautifully, with a lot of emotion, and Dylan O’Brien knocks it out of the park every scene. That scene was really heartbreaking for me to watch. I hope we can go back and learn more about that family’s dynamic before she passed.
Let’s switch gears and lighten it up a bit. As you’ve experienced, Teen Wolf has a pretty active fanbase, and you’re playing a character that is one of the most loved moms on television. What has that been like for you?
It’s actually an honor! It’s amazing, and it’s humbling. Never in all my years would I have thought that I’d portray a consistent character that would affect those who watch it. That’s a gift; this role has been a gift to me. And… now I’m going to make myself sound a thousand years old, but to be able to “interact with people on the Twitter”…
I love that, and paired with a great old-lady voice!
Got to use the old lady voice. [laughs] But to get that immediate reaction… that is something new and interesting and fun, to see people’s true reaction.
Along those same lines, @ftsharman wanted to know: how would you describe the fandom, in three words?
You know, off the top of my head, it would be… “rabid pack mentality”. You know, when you’re on different shows, you can see how much you’re affecting the different audiences, and which audiences are on social media, and by far – BY FAR – Teen Wolf just kicks everybody’s butt! And… that’s just amazing; we all take a lot of pride in that.
It’s been quite a change over the last few seasons, with characters leaving and new characters being introduced. What’s that been like?
It’s interesting, because it’s just like any other job, where you have people that come and go. But for us, it’s a real family, so it feels kind of like that last day of school and you know you’re probably not gonna see them again, and it makes you feel sad. But you also know that they’re going off to do other things, and with new people coming onto the show, it gives the writers and creators new direction and new things to explore. As much as it can be a sad thing, but it can also be exciting and fun. I’m very… I’ve sort of just come along for the ride for all of it. Because sometimes, other people make the decisions for the actors to stay or go, but a lot of times on our show, it’s been the actors making that decision. And Jeff, with as much grace as he has as a creator, has always worked it out so that, if you want to leave the show, you may; he will write you through it, and that’s something that doesn’t always happen on shows.
From @HurtadoStevie: Do you have any particular good memories or stories on set?
Not one story in particular, but it’s a lot of fun to remember the first season. You’re exploring this character work, and this new Beacon Hills as a town, and that was a lot of fun. Where the actors hang out is called “Base Camp,” and it’s where the trailers are, and where we can be found between scenes and takes. It’s kind of like our little campsite, so to speak. We’ve been working together for five years now, so it’s really great to go there and catch up, see what everybody’s doing. And, with a cast so young, everyone’s doing all this new wonderful crazy stuff, like other roles and travel, and it’s just really great to experience new things through everybody on the show.
@Manth_12 wanted to know whether you like filming the dramatic scenes or the comedic scenes more?
I like the comedy. So… I vote more comedy! Because, just the way that the world is for Beacon Hills and Teen Wolf, it’s gonna be a bit darker of a show, so I think that we need those light times, we need the beauty in all the carnage, to balance it out. When you really look at all that’s happened in the last eight episodes, I mean: we’ve had people getting their teeth pulled out, getting injections with mercury, we have a guy with a third eye… we need a joke in there! We need something to bring a little light in there, and the writers are really good with that.
That’s very true; they sure do have to deal with a lot in that town!
Yeah. But you’re in Beacon Hills. You either accept it, or you get a realtor.
And I’m surprised no one has done that.
Have you ever been grossed out or creeped out by any of the storylines?
Two times, this season. I am one of those people, I have those alien surgery/doctor dreams. Like, some people have dreams that they’re being operated on? I have those dreams. Very archaic instruments, people in the closets, and those have been recurring dreams all my life. So, imagine you literally step on set, and those things are standing in front of you. And I know all the actors inside the costumes, but it still creeps you out a little bit when you’re seeing your nightmare standing there eating an apple at craft service.
It was daunting. In fact, when I was reading about the Dread Doctors, and then when I saw them, I pulled Jeff to the side and I said: “You’re not gonna believe this, but I have these dreams where I’m being operated on. This is crazy; you have literally brought my nightmares to life. Now, if you just write something where someone is pulling their teeth out, that would be my second nightmare…” and he says “Oh, I think that’s gonna be in episode 504.”
The other thing that was super gross this season was when Corey got stung by the scorpion. The scorpion sting on his forearm? Man… in person, that looked like a combination of an acid, third-degree house fire, nasty, pus-filled mess. That looked very real, and it looked like it hurt. Our special effects team is awesome – and the wounds they come up with, and all the different special effects with all of our villains? It’s amazing, with the prosthetics and all that they do – I don’t even know the right terminology, but they’re amazing. And we have one of the best in the industry.
Do you ever reach a point when you’re reading scripts where the cliffhangers and twists no longer shock you?
Well… I, personally, usually only pay attention to the scenes that I need to know about as the character. Because I feel like, if I’m too informed, then it shows. I feel like that affects acting, knowing too much about what’s happening. So, I really try to, organically, only know what Mama McCall would know on the show. For example, the whole first season and into the second season, I didn’t really read any of the scripts at all. I didn’t want to know; I didn’t want to have that information in my head to inform my emotions. Then, when Scott presents himself as a werewolf to me in the prison cell, then I felt like I could actually read the rest of the scripts, from that point on.
So, when you watch the episodes and live-tweet with the fans, it’s really like you’re seeing a lot of it for the first time, too.
Let’s talk about Chicago Fire. When you auditioned for the role, I imagine you didn’t know how long Donna would end up sticking around. So, how much did you know about Donna’s arc?
I knew that Donna was introduced as a love interest for one of the main characters. I knew that it was going to be a short episode arc, it might have been 5 episodes. Then something along the line changed, and it became this beautiful love story between these two middle-aged people who thought that they would never find love, let alone a beautiful family together. When I talk about the relationship on the show… we are the stable ones, we have the longevity of love. We know, because we’ve been through life when it hasn’t been lovely and awesome, and we’ve waited a long time for this, so we as a couple are going to get right – and I think we’re in for the long haul. All the other people can flip-flop around, but that’s not gonna happen [for us]. In my opinion. Though, Dick Wolf never likes things to be good forever, so we shall see.
The Chicago Fire cast is one that’s pretty well-known for being very close. What was it like to jump in with a cast like that?
They were very warm, everyone was very warm and welcoming, and it’s true. You know, I’m somebody that goes up, and then I leave – but those guys they’re up there for 10 months. So, they go riding motorcycles together, and they have dinners together, and they know everybody’s kids, they get together for special events and go out. They’re a real family up there; it’s not bullshit. And I know you can’t say bullshit in this interview, but it’s no bullshit. I mean, they’re really, really close. You know some casts are like “Oh yeah, we love each other!” and then you turn off the cameras and they’re like “I hate that person!” but that’s not true [with the Chicago Fire cast].
And it’s great that they have that, especially since they’re all kind of stuck in that cold Chicago area together!
Yeah! That is… a very happy cast. And when you have a happy cast, and a happy crew, you’re going to have a happy set. It’s like if we all worked at IBM, if everybody is happy and enjoying their jobs, it’s gonna be a beautiful day.
As you mentioned, Donna and Chief Boden now have a family together. Since you really can’t give a baby direction, does that make things more challenging on set?
It does, because the baby is the hero – and it’s not just one baby girl; we have two or three sets of twins, and then two other babies. Because of the rules of television, you can only use a baby for so long. So they’re only allowed on set for two hours total, and our days can run anywhere from 10 to 16 hours, sometimes as late as 18 hours. And when you’re working with a baby, the baby is the star. When you’re doing scenes, sometimes you need crying babies, sometimes you need awake babies or sleepy babies, and then it becomes this kind of round robin for which baby is going to be on set. And everybody knows it’s the baby day, so everyone has to be very quiet and respectful.
Eamonn (Chief Boden) is really wonderful; he’s a father himself. So he’ll take the baby and kind of rock it… and he’ll really cajole the baby into being peaceful with us. Because, for the baby, it’s kind of shocking, you know? The baby doesn’t know us! So, we try to make these days as good as you can [for the babies]. And sometimes, you don’t even get the real thing. Like, in the beginning, when we first give birth in the firetruck… because it was too cold to use a real baby, we got this animatronic thing. So, sometimes you get a robot, sometimes you get the real thing.
I imagine your filming schedule must get pretty hectic sometimes. Do you ever have any problems where your schedule for one show overlaps with another show?
I have been very lucky that – so far – with all the shows that have overlapped, there hasn’t been a PREVENTATIVE overlap for doing any one particular show. All the producers are able to work it out, and so, we’re very lucky – Seth [Gilliam] and Matthew Del Negro, who’s also on Scandal, included. Everyone on Teen Wolf loves being a part of the show, and also being able to also do other [shows], and be in other fandoms. It’s a dream come true, really, to be working with people that are so amazing and want you to work and be happy not only on the show that they’re doing, but on other peoples’ shows, too.
Is it ever hard for you to, sort of keep track, jumping back and forth between these different roles and having to switch not just characters, but entire universes and genres?
Everybody has their process, as an actor. For me, it depends a lot on how you feel, what you’re mood is, what you’re thinking. So, when you think in terms of Teen Wolf, the show is about the teenagers, and the parents are sort of ancillary in the world. And when you’re talking about The Walking Dead, you’re literally put into middle of summer heat, outside, you’re sweating, you’re dirty, you haven’t had a shower, and you’re dealing with ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And on Chicago Fire… you’re freezing. [laughs] You’re cold! And you’re dealing with life and death, and with your husband possibly not coming home, and a new baby with health concerns. So, each character on each show has a different environment, and you feel different. You’re working in terms of different age ranges, environments, and moods. It feels very natural when you’re dropped into a different place; it’s almost like your body takes over and you know what to do.
One last question, @fernandees_c wanted to know, what’s your favorite ship on Teen Wolf?
I always liked Greenburg and Coach. [laughs]
That’s a good one; we’ve missed seeing Coach this season!
I know! We miss him too!
Don’t miss an all new Teen Wolf Monday, August 17th at 9PM on MTV!