Rachel Melvin rivals her screen character, Days of Our Lives‘ Chelsea Benson, when it comes to car accidents — although luckily no one has died in her minor fender benders. That’s unlike her current storyline on Days, which had Chelsea struggling to keep quiet the truth that she was behind the wheel when her younger brother was struck by a hit-and-run driver and later died. As the truth begins to come out on the show, Rachel talks to PopGurls about her role, how she unwinds from such an intense period of work and proves she can keep a secret when it comes to Days of Our Lives spoilers.
Not only is Chelsea your first major TV role, but you’ve taken it over from another actress -– what was that like?
I had auditioned for the character before Mandy [Musgrave] had gotten it -– we both have the same agent, so we both saw each other on that audition. I was still playing the girl-next-door-type of roles because I hadn’t been out here that long, so when the audition came up again because Mandy [was cast on South of Nowhere], I was excited because I had a lot more experience under my belt at that point. So I went in there and I got to play the bad girl, something I hadn’t really done before.
When you took it over, how did you want to bring something different to Chelsea?
I wanted to give her a little more depth and make her a little more misguided. I talked to the producers, and I think we all kind of wanted to bring a sense of innocence to her, just so that she was lost and misguided and misunderstood, rather than mean-spirited and evil (laughs). So that’s what we worked on for a while — it’s very hard because of her character, but we’re trying to get the audience [to see Chelsea] kind of like how [Alison Sweeney’s Days character Sami Brady] is… you want to root for her but at the same time, she makes such bad decisions. We want to like you, but we want you to make better decisions and not be so dumb all the time! (laughs) So, I think that’s the direction we want to take Chelsea –- it’s all a work in progress.
Chelsea, who should be 7 years old, is now 18 thanks to the wonders of Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. How did you take that on — there was so much time that nobody saw Chelsea grow up?
In a way I wish they would have shown that to show why Chelsea is the way she is now, to show more sympathy or pull on people’s heartstrings. When I first came to the show I was excited to play younger because I, myself, have always been kind of younger -– I got along with Ashley [Benson, who plays Abigail Deveraux] right away and there’s a five-and-a-half-year gap right there. We just meshed well. Brody [Hutzler, who plays Patrick Lockhart] even said that I seem much younger than Mandy, and Mandy’s younger than me. It’s just because I still have the heart of a child, I guess.
But within a couple of months, I just grew up and it was really hard for me to be younger. I don’t remember what it’s like to be 16, I don’t remember what it’s like to be 18. And now I’m playing 18 and I kind of wish I could play my age right now and deal with the situations in life that I’ve personally had to deal with because the experiences and memories are so fresh.
Do you think they’ll age Chelsea again sometime soon?
I know it won’t happen now because Ashley’s so young (16) that she can’t play much older than her because she hasn’t experienced certain things –- so I think that we’re going to stay at the age that we are for a little while. Personally, I am looking forward to a time when I can play a little older, have a little more mature and realistic problems that I’ve dealt with and experienced.
You said that you’d been playing a lot of “girl next door” roles — Chelsea is one big bundle of drama. Is it hard to play someone so messed up?
I like it because it’s a challenge for me — it’s a great thrill for me to play. The other [roles] were becoming … not easy for me, but I understood them too well to where I wasn’t being challenged. As an actor you constantly need to be challenged, to be focused and dedicated and interested in your job to enjoy it. It was a great change to have an opportunity to play a different character and I love it.
I’m at that stage where I’m growing up, too, and learning a lot of lessons. As corny as it sounds, I’m learning things from [Chelsea] — like not to run over my little brother (laughs). And learning to think before you speak and that the results of your actions can backfire.
Speaking of Zack dying, what’s it been like doing such huge, heavy, emotional story? How do you prep for that?
I’m tired (laughs). But for the next two weeks I’m only working two days total so I’m looking forward to the vacation. Honestly, since we’ve been back from Christmas hiatus, I have been crying every day for a full month. And I was crying a full month before I went on hiatus — I’m so drained. It’s emotionally exhausting, but at the same time, it’s easy for me to do emotional scenes because I’ve done them so much — it’s my forte, it’s what I’m good at — it’s actually harder for me to do the straight scenes.
The great thing is that I’m able to leave all of it at the studio and when I come home from work, because you’ve had such a depressing day, I just want to do everything to be happy. So I’m doing more things that I haven’t done in a while, like painting -– it’s a good balance, it makes me look at the positive a lot more in my own life.
You ARE learning a lot from Chelsea!
I am (laughs).
What are your favorite ways to *unwind* from your big exhausting days?
It’s kind of hard because I work such long days and then I have long days ahead of me, so I literally come home, work on my script and go to bed. But I try to find an hour at least where I can either watch an episode of Friends or Sex and the City. I like to write a lot -– so I’ll write or I’ll read. Or just do really calming things like paint. This weekend I’m really excited because I have the weekend off and I’m going to choreograph dances -– I used to dance a lot -– and go painting and maybe take a trip somewhere.
Are you going to choreograph for yourself or someone else?
I just do them for myself. I used to do it in high school, and it’s a void that I feel and need to refill, I guess. [Dance] brings something to my life, I don’t know … it just completes me.
Have you been dancing since you were young?
I haven’t, and I wish I had. My mom didn’t want to put me in anything unless I asked to be. Although I wish she had, so I could have been dancing since I was wee (laughs), and I could be really good now. I started dancing when I was a freshman in high school, so all my dance background comes from what I learned in high school –- we had a really good dance company. I am by no means a professional dancer, which is hard because I want to take dance classes out here, but everyone’s so serious out here and I don’t want to be in that atmosphere -– I just want to have fun.
Do you go out on your own to clubs and dance the night away?
(laughs) I will as of [Feb. 9] — I’ll be 21.
Happy early birthday!
Thank you! I’m going to Vegas with my sister and a couple of our friends. So, we’ll see -– a whole new world will be opening.
Back to Chelsea for a minute — she gets into so many car wrecks, she clearly needs to rely on only buses or maybe a bike. Do you know how to drive? Do your friends and family tease you now about getting in cars with you?
Uhm, well -– a funny story: When I first started, literally within my first month, I had my first fan weekend and I drove there one night and afterward, I went out with a friend and I hit a car. A parked car. I was pulling in headfirst, parallel parking, and I honestly thought I cleared the car and I didn’t. So, I brushed against the car and my legs were shaking so bad and I stopped my car and couldn’t get out, so my friend totally handled the whole situation for me — the damage wasn’t bad, it was just paint. I felt so awful because I was just hiding in my car -– I was so embarrassed.
The next morning, I was running late for the next fan event and I was pulling out of my garage. We have so much stuff in our garage that I have to pull in at this funky angle so when I pull out I have to do a five-point turn to pull out straight. Now, my dad normally parks in the street, and I didn’t have my contact lenses in yet, and his car is grey … and I go out and I just nail his car. And I’m like, great, that’s two accidents in less than 24 hours with cars that aren’t even moving. That’s fantastic.
But nobody got killed?
Nobody died and we all had a joke. Actually, a week later, Chelsea got into her first accident. I thought it was funny, and then they keep putting me in accidents -– paralleling my life. The first [accident, when I was] in that little car and running away from the cops a while back, they had told me, “You’re going to pull into the driveway and we’re going to push the car in, when you feel it hit the sandbags -– hit the brake.” In the rehearsal it was great, then we did a take and supposedly they pushed the car a little harder -– I think they said that to make me feel better -– and I went to go hit the brake and I was in these huge platform wedges and nothing was happening. I look down and I see that I was hitting the clutch, so I moved my foot and the shoe got caught between the gas and the brake or the brake and the clutch and I popped right over the sandbag and straight through the wall of the set.
It was all too much -– this was all in one month. But I’ve been super, super good ever since then.
So we don’t need to get you a bike?
No -– I live in downtown Burbank, so I walk everywhere. I think that’s the safest route for me.
You mentioned fan events -– what kind of interaction have you had with your fans?
I think soap fans are more -– and I’ve heard this from other actors, too -– comfortable coming up to soap actors. I don’t know why, probably because we’re not as high-profile as other celebrities. I would like to think that no matter what I did in my career people wouldn’t be afraid to come up and say something. I feel bad for certain people that you can tell are nervous or feel awkward and I’m like, I’m just a normal person! I said that to one woman really early on (laughs).
Putting that out there, that you see yourself as a normal person without some huge ego, makes fans respect you so much more.
Totally. When I met my first star, so to say, I was so fascinated and enthralled and I’m just watching them and then I actually talked to them, and I was like “hey, they talk just like me, they scratch their forehead just like me” (laughs). They’re just … people.
What’s the best compliment you’ve gotten from a fan?
Early on, when I was shopping at Charlotte Russe, this woman said, “excuse me,” and I look -– she was almost crying, she was near tears. And she’s said, “I just wanted to say that I think you’re such a great actress.” It wasn’t what she said, but it was obviously how much she admired me, that she was crying and it obviously meant too much to her … it made me want to cry. That was the most flattering because when people cry it’s not something they can control. It was so genuine and honest that it really touched me.
You turned down a full-ride scholarship to Arizona State University to pursue a career as an actor — what were going to pursue?
I was either going to stay in theater, or interior design. Design in general. I also really liked math. And that was why I contemplated coming out here because I didn’t really know what it was I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to be an entertainer, but I wasn’t 100% sure. [And I worried that] all of my friends are going to go to college, and what if LA doesn’t work out for me and I have to go back and they’re all three years ahead of me and I’ll be behind. My dad said, “Rachel, you have to try it out –- you have the look right now, you look like you are a lot younger than you are and that’s something you can take advantage of … You can always go back to college.” I [decided] to leave it up to fate and it brought me here.
Chelsea’s been keeping one huge secret -– she was driving and ran into something the night her younger brother, Zack, was struck by a car and later died from his injuries. How good are you at keeping secrets?
Horrible! (laughs) That should probably be my New Year’s resolution. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I get excited about the littlest of things. And I want everybody to know. I don’t really censor anything that I say, and that’s where the childlike heart comes in. But I’m working on it because, you know, it can not be a good thing some times … but you learn from it.
With stuff I know is nobody else’s business, I’m good at keeping [secrets], but if it’s like “guess what I got so-and-so for Christmas,” you bet I’m telling that person. That’s another thing -– when people keep secrets from me, or if they say something [that I didn’t catch] and they say “don’t worry about it,” I have to know.
Are you pretty good at getting that out of them?
Sometimes (laughs). Not usually. Depends on the person.
Speaking of things that people want to know -– can you tell us what’s in store for Chelsea?
Well, if what I heard — what’s been going around the rumor mill at work -– if this happens, I will say that that I’m very excited because it’s nothing that I’ve ever done before and it will probably be the biggest challenge that I’ve ever had to do. It was actually something that I wished they’d do a while ago and I’m surprised that they’re doing it because someone told me that they wouldn’t go there because it was a soap. If, indeed, this happens, which I think it’s going to -– it’s going to be good, it’s going to be interesting.
What a great, properly vague and teasing answer!
See, I’m good at keeping secrets after all!
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