In early 2019, Portuguese actress Daniela Melchior flew across the globe for the biggest meeting of her career. Filmmaker James Gunn and producer Peter Safran were in the midst of a global search to cast Ratcatcher II, a comic book character at the heart of The Suicide Squad (in theaters and on HBO Max on Aug. 6).
In Portugal, actors do not wear makeup to auditions, but Melchior’s manager persuaded her to glam it up for the pre-audition meeting. “I wore a biker jacket, skinny jeans, full makeup,” recalls Melchior, 24. But glamorous did not fit the description of the character, a loner with the power to control rats.
“After that meeting, they looked at each other and said, ‘no,’ ” Melchior says she later learned. But when she returned the next day for the audition (and a chemistry test with a real-life rat), she had transformed into “that weirdo, creepy girl,” as she puts it. Gunn’s “no” became a “yes.”
With The Suicide Squad, which centers on a ragtag group of DC villains deployed on a mission to a fictional South American island, Melchior is poised to go from regional fame (thanks to steady work on Portuguese film and television) to the global reach of a major comic book movie. Melchior gives a vulnerable, hopeful performance buoyed by chemistry with co-star Idris Elba.
Melchior describes herself as growing up a little awkward. “I was really, really skinny. I was not interesting at all. I never had a boyfriend,” she says. But when she discovered drama class at a young age, she realized it gave her an outlet to connect with her classmates.
At 17, she booked a role on the Portuguese TV drama Mulheres (Women). Her parents supported her career but noted that since she was making an income, she’d be responsible for paying for her own things. “My first two cars, it was all paid by me, and I am really proud of it,” says the actress.
She broke into the comic book world voicing Spider-Gwen in the Portuguese version of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which opened up an entirely new market to her: the passionate comic-book fan community in Brazil, where Portuguese is the main language. (Comic Con Experience, held in São Paulo, is bigger than even San Diego Comic-Con.)
“They love the fact that I speak Portuguese,” says Melchior. “If I post anything at all … they tweet about it. They start conversations about it. It’s crazy.”
During months shooting The Suicide Squad in Atlanta and Panama, she bonded with her co-stars. The cast had movie nights and celebrated her birthday on set, with David Dastmalchian, who plays Polka-Dot Man, bringing in polka-dot cookies.
“They explained to me that sometimes in some movies in America, you don’t meet as nice of people,” she says. “I really felt that I was really, really lucky.”
She even was given the opportunity to give acting notes to Oscar-winner Taika Waititi, who plays her character’s onscreen father in flashbacks. Though they shared no scenes together, Gunn wanted Melchior to watch Waititi filming to correct his Portuguese accent if necessary. “I was like, ‘It’s perfect. I am not correcting Taika Waititi!’”
It wasn’t just her human co-stars who made an impression. A rotating group of rats played Sebastian, a rodent her character controls. (One was named Chrisp Ratt, after Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt.) Though working with animals is not easy, she pushed the production to use the real thing. “I was the first asking every day, ‘Where is my rat? Can I have my rat?’ ” she recalls with a laugh.
Melchior recently watched a cut of the film with her manager in Portugal. “I was really emotional,” she says, “because I just wanted to go back and do it again.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.