There’s something about a Polaroid; an intimacy you can't achieve with the usual cameras and other high-tech equipment. The same goes for a really good interview—it's personal. In our series The Close-Up, we spend time getting to know our favorite celebrities, influencers, and internet phenomena while they get their photograph taken and compile it all together for you in one special package. You’ll see handwritten beauty advice, exclusive stories, and of course, a few product recommendations.
More than anything, Melissa Barrera is warm. Engaged and earnest, she’s whatever you'd call someone who is fully present. My interview with her was supposed to be a call—I was expecting to be greeted by a blank screen because of her hectic travel schedule (the 30-year-old actress returned to her native Mexico after filming In the Heights). Instead, Barrera received me with a wide smile, gamely logging into Zoom from the back of a car. The gesture was not lost on me—Zoom fatigue is so real—and she was insistent we connect face-to-face (or as close to that as possible).
Like many of us, Melissa Barrera is ready for a big year. However, unlike most, her 2021 includes more than a return to normalcy. The actress is breaking boundaries—she is the first Latina face of Clinique—and starring in one of the most highly-anticipated movies of the year. In the Heights, adapted from the award-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, is set to premiere this June and will undoubtedly catapult the actress to stratospheric levels of fame.
“It feels like the moment I've been waiting and preparing for my entire life," she tells me. Not surprising, considering the actress has been consistently working since her role in 2013 on the telenovela Siempre tuya Acapulco. But, right now, she’s "just soaking it all in, getting a little bit nostalgic, and spending time with my family because, for some reason, I feel like things are going to change once the movie comes out." Change, they will.
Though we met remotely (me, from a Brooklyn apartment; her, straight off a flight from Austin), Barrera opened up. Keep scrolling to learn all about her work with Clinique, why we need Latinx representation in Hollywood, and the beauty look that helped get her into character for In the Heights.
On In the Heights
"What gets me the most excited is finally being able to share this movie with the world—for people to be moved by it, touched by it because I feel like that's inevitable. In a weird way, I think it's the perfect time for it—it's going to do a lot of good for people because it's such a joy-filled movie. And it's a family movie and so positive. It's exactly the energy that the world needs right now."
On Bonding with her Co-Stars
"We were lucky that we had an extensive period of rehearsals for the movie. Anthony Ramos and I started first, rehearsing for 10 weeks. And then the cast started trickling over the next few weeks. The choreographers were very collaborative. So it was the gift of time: we got to bond and become the family that you see on screen. And the movie radiates love because we got to spend that time together and connect. I went to school for musical theater. So this is like returning to my first love and my home. To be able to sing, dance, and act at the same time is my dream. If I could just do musical movies, I genuinely would. There's nothing like it. It's like a party every day on set.
"I also want to keep working with everyone from In the Heights forever. They're such great talents and great humans—and it's nice to work with good people you love. So, if I can keep working with Jon, Lin, Leslie, Cory, Daphne, and everyone from the movie, I would do it in a heartbeat—I wouldn't think twice."
"The most important part of skincare is wearing sunscreen—even when I'm on set. An actress once told me that she wears sunscreen indoors because the lights on a stage are so harsh that they can damage your skin. So since then, I've always used sunblock every day.
"My favorite product right now is Clinique's Moisture Surge 100 Hour Auto-Replenishing Hydrator ($56). It feels so delicious and refreshing, and it has Aloe bio-ferment (basically Aloe to the 10th power), which I've always loved for my skin. I swear it feels like drinking a glass of fresh water when you're thirsty—my face loves it."
On Her Partnership with Clinique
"I care a lot about skincare, and I think every single person should be able to feel good and confident about their skin—and that is precisely the mission of the company. I love that Clinique has always been about giving everyone the means and knowledge to have great skin. Since its beginnings, Clinique has been revolutionary in its approach to skincare—they were the first to tell you, with their Clinique computer, your skin type and customize your needs over the counter! It's a fascinating history, and I love that they were the first to do so many things in the industry. And, it's a company that is over 80% women today and continues to innovate. It makes me proud to be a part of the family."
On the Beauty Moment That Got Her Into Character
"I always have short nails, and I rarely have them done. Because I'm the kind of person that, when I leave the salon, I grab a door, put my hand in my pocket or my purse, and they're ruined. For In the Heights, I went, and I got nail extensions for the first time. And I was obsessed because it makes you want to talk with your hands. That small little thing helped me get into character [editor's note: Vanessa, her In the Heights character, works in a salon]. I was thinking; this is her world—it really helped to be in the salon for those three hours. Watch people at work, chatting, all the things that go on at a nail salon. That is like therapy.
"I always start from the inside out. For me, it's all about what do I have in common with this person? What can I connect with? And then I started building off of that. But sometimes, the whole character doesn't come into view until you're in full hair, makeup, and costume. And then you look in the mirror, and you're like, 'Oh, there she is.'"
On Her Professional Bucket List
"I want to keep doing movie musicals, and I feel like there's a wave coming. After periods of great sadness, we need musicals for some reason. It lifts our spirits. So I think there's a wave, and I'm happy that In the Heights is part of that.
"I also want to do an action movie. I love training and having to learn a new skill for a role. For In the Heights, it was salsa dancing. And that was my Everest. It was the source of many panic attacks, frustration, cries, and doubts. But in the end, when you conquer it, it feels so good. And you think, if I can do that, I can do anything."
"I think the industry is changing because we're demanding it to change. We're realizing that people of color are more powerful than we ever thought we were. When you come into your power, you start raising your voice. I feel so lucky to be in this industry at a moment when I see peers and people who have come up before me get loud, get vocal, and demand equal pay.
"I've been so blessed to be able to advocate—not just for me—but for everyone that's coming up behind me. Because we need to: we need to take steps forward so that it doesn't feel like there's one role that we're all fighting for. When I first moved to LA three years ago, even though the industry was already taking steps in the right direction, I would run into the same girls in every audition. Even though we all looked different, we all had different types—we were all Latina. And so we were all going for the same role.
"We shouldn't feel like we're competition. We should feel like we're peers and that there's room for all of us. And the only way to do that is if there are more opportunities—if we demand that more roles are created for us. And that stories about our community are told. So, I think that we're definitely moving in the right direction. Do I think we're in a good place? No, there's still a long way to go. But, I do feel like we're beginning to understand the value of diversity in TV and film."
We need to take steps forward so that it doesn't feel like there's one role that we're all fighting for.
On Embracing Her "Flaws"
"I used to need mascara and concealer on because I was so self-conscious of my dark circles. And then, one day, I stopped fixating. While I was doing telenovelas, I wore heavier makeup—always a full face of foundation and contouring. And, I got a little turned off from always having to look flawless and perfect. I started embracing a clean face with the flaws in my skin—the darkness under and above my eyes, the redness beside my nose—because I'm human."
On Beauty Icons
"In Mexico, we have a really famous actress called María Félix, who was an icon of the golden age of Mexican cinema. She was this badass, feminist, tough woman with arched eyebrows. And she had a beauty mark on her cheek. And she was gorgeous and had a deep voice. Everyone wanted to be her. She's an icon that I love."
"I love being active. Sweating makes me feel good about myself. And when I'm in Mexico, I do a lot of hiking with my mom and boxing with my sisters. I think it's such a good workout. I also love doing Reiki for inner beauty spirituality. It helps to be in alignment."