JUL 21, 2016

From 'L Word' to 'X-Men': Mei Melançon's Journey from Asia to Hollywood

privy profile   |   By Bonnie He

Occupation: Actress, Writer, Former Model

Based in: Los Angeles

Last Education: Larry Moss and Nancy Banks


It’s any wonder that Mei Melançon is so eclectic. She’s of Chinese, Japanese and French descent, was born in the Philippines, grew up in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and moved to the United States in her early teens.

During Melançon’s cross-border upbringing, her mother taught her how to play guitar, and she started touring around Asia in a children’s band called Blossoms at the young age of 5.

That early foray into show business helped cut her teeth in the industry. Once in the States, she easily established a modeling career. Her transcontinental look landed her over 100 commercials. Melançon's very first job was with mega company McDonald’s, and from then, has advertised almost every brand under the sun, including Old Navy, Samsung, Garnier, Volvo, and a Bing commercial directed by Roman Coppola.

After modeling, Melançon transitioned into acting successfully. She’s well-known for playing Jamie Chen on Showtime’s hit, “The L Word,” and as Psylocke in “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Recently, she’s moved on to writing television shows and feature films. In between her writing endeavors, she’s hosted a couple of large galas, one with co-host James Kyson, and the other with Privy Circle CEO Stephen Liu.

Random fact: when she was younger, she met Michael Jackson, who gave her sage advice about working hard to get ahead. “Don’t practice for 2 hours. Practice for 10 hours,” Melançon recalls him saying.

We believe she’s taken that advice to heart, and there will certainly be more of Melancon’s signature yet to come.




You co-hosted a very private, upscale gala with our fearless leader, Stephen Liu last year. What was that experience like?


It was a fun night I will always remember! I met a lot of intriguing people and hopefully some new friends. And I was pleasantly surprised by Stephen’s improv ability. He’s got that great voice, you know? I enjoyed being his wingman and I’d do it again with him. He had great comic timing.




You are product of international origins. What was it like to grow up so multi-culturally?


It felt normal at the time, as that was my ‘normal’. But I am now more aware of how unique my younger years were, as I discuss childhood experiences with friends and colleagues. People talk about their hometown or childhood home, but I didn’t have one of those. The world was my backyard. In retrospect, it was a little overwhelming at times but also highly educational and socially enlightening.


Being a mixed child was something I was much more conscious of from an early age. My parents were pretty good at explaining or defining the impression we (my brothers and sisters) were making on people around us. It was obvious that we were mixed as we had light hair and Asian eyes. At one point when we were living in Japan and interacting with more Western children, I could say it was difficult. I wasn’t sure whom I fit in with. Though my mother is Caucasian, she always prided herself in adapting culturally out of respect. She had lived and worked in Asia for 5 years before I was born. So when studying at a predominantly American international school, I felt quite awkward. I spoke English but was mainly around Australian and British kids, who are culturally different. Having never been to the USA, I felt intimidated by the stronger personalities of my American peers. I always felt I was playing “catch up” and that feeling lingered through moving to the States. Though obviously, I’ve grown out of or worked through those feelings, I still feel like a foreigner at times here in the US.


Trying to understand human behavior when one feels unsafe or out of the comfort zone is an education in itself. My eyes were always open. I am pretty sure that my constant assessment of the differences and adapting to new settings compelled me to be a writer and actor.




What did you learn from your early exposure to the entertainment industry when you were in Blossoms?


Most of the events that we performed at were for charity, as my parents were heavily involved in non-profit and missionary work. My mother was a talented singer herself, and a lot of what I learned about performing was from her. It mostly had to do with ‘showing up’ and giving 100%. This was hard for me as I was a very shy, emotional child. I hated being the center of attention. Ironic that I’m in the field I’m in now! I had a few speech impediments that I was working to correct and would have rather stayed at home and wrote in my little journal and read books. But she pushed me to connect with people. She was always saying to “shine your light” and at the time it really was difficult, but I was always happier after the fact. Pushing myself out of the comfort zone is not something I’ve forgotten in my work today.




Of the countless campaigns and commercials you’ve booked as a model, what were some of your favorite projects? 


I’ve been very fortunate to have worked as much as I have in the advertising world. It’s what footed the bill for my acting classes and gave me time to hone my craft in writing. There’s a lot of talent in the advertising world and they have to make something look perfect in a short amount of time. I learned a lot from watching what was going on behind the camera. It’s undoubtedly informed my work now as I get more into the producing side of the business.


What were my favorite projects? Hmm... That’s hard to say. What comes to mind were the jobs that I got to be in nature for the shoot. For example, I shot a surfing, beachy type adventure campaign for APPLE with photographer Ben Watts and a bunch of fun folks. We stayed at Turtle Bay on Oahu and got to basically have fun and explore waterfalls, jump off Waimea Rock. Run around the beach etc. for a week. There was a freak swell on the North Shore and I got to surf for a couple days and get paid for it. So fantastic. Another job that just came to mind was an AVEDA makeup campaign that we shot out in Joshua Tree, California. There is something so sacred and magical about that place. We’d wake up at 3:30am and be out there when the sun was peaking over the hills and as tired as I was, I felt so fortunate to be in that peaceful place and be paid for it.




How do you feel your modeling career helped you when you transitioned into acting?


Every stage of the expansion of my career has brought me back to being the shy little girl for a stretch of time. Why I’m saying this is because – modeling didn’t really help me that much in the creative elements of acting. I was used to pausing for focus and then moving again. That was a hard habit to break. I’ve trained a lot as an actor. But where modeling did help were in two areas. Getting used to applying for a job every few days, sometimes a couple times a day and the self-employment aspect. Learning how to manage my life and finances and the extreme highs and lows that are part of both careers. Both can be tough gigs if one doesn’t create a personal sense of stability.




You were very memorable as Jamie Chen in “The L Word.” Our readers want to know about your experience on the show!


Ending up on that show happened so fast. I was actually auditioning and was up for a role on another fairly known TV show that same week. The other show would have been more action-packed as it was the TV version of a film franchise, but the role of JAMIE CHEN had more heart. My character was a director of an LGBT organization and cared about the well being of homeless teenagers who were kicked out by their parents. This struck a chord in me, as does anything to do with children. My heart breaks to see them suffer. Showtime gave a deadline for when I had to decide to do the show and I said yes. As an Asian American actress, there aren't very many roles that come along that are multi-leveled and this one happened to be. We shot up in Vancouver and it was cool to join a cast that had already worked together for so many years. I was also one of the younger girls working on the show at the time so I learned a lot from people.




You’re very supportive of other Asian women in the entertainment industry. What impact do you hope Asian women can make in the future of entertainment?


I guess to answer that, I have to look at how things are now. I am just one little voice, pursuing what I’m passionate about and doing my best to encourage my peers. There are a lot of talented, hardworking women in this biz.


It’s definitely an exciting time. But as it stands, there are still minimal roles for Asian women that don’t swing from cliché to cliché. Is it the writing? Is it society’s idea of Asian women? Is it the perception we have of ourselves that we show to the world? I don’t know. Maybe a little of all of these. But I am positive things can, and are, changing for the better through individual efforts by each of us in the industry. I think it starts with really having the inner conviction that we belong and have viability beyond physical attractiveness. That we have a voice and that we can be seen for who we are, in acting roles but also as filmmakers, and not be afraid to show complexities of character and create braver content.


To me the most important thing as a woman in this industry, is to only do what feels right by my own moral code. I do believe it’s imperative for us all to work on our craft and strive to be the best. To be the most versatile. We really can’t complain and hope for doors to open in the industry if we aren’t doing quality work. Talent doesn’t lie.


On the other side of the camera, there are more and more Asian women in creative positions that are making their mark and changing things for the better. I look up to and admire these women. As a beginning writer, I am a part of the change as well.




Can you tell us about upcoming projects that you’re excited about?


I love acting so much but in the last 3 years I’ve taken a huge step back and been concentrating on writing and learning the ropes of producing. On that note, I have a television show that I wrote based on “The 8 Immortals of Taoism” which is a modern revamp of the original myth that was just bought by a major studio. I am excited to get this show going. I also have a co-fi young adult feature film trilogy that I wrote, based on another Chinese myth. I can talk more this project when the time is right. But acting-wise, I just did a little part in a movie with Sam Elliott called “The Hero” which was short and fun. And if other really great roles comes up that don’t take me away from my writing too much, I would love to do them.




Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?


That I’m looking forward to traveling to all the cities that are represented on Privy. To meet more new friends.




When you’re not hustling in the entertainment industry, what do you like to do for fun?


I am so focused on work right now, that simply getting out into nature could be one of the most enjoyable parts of my life. It clears my head. I love going on long hikes. Los Angeles has so many beautiful ones. We’re fortunate. But even going on long walks through new cities and seeing where some street will take me is one of my favorite past times. I think my rather nomadic upbringing has definitely played into my desire to explore.




What are your top 5 favorite places to eat in LA?


I try to eat organic as much as possible when I have the choice. Some of my favorite restaurants in LA are Shojin, Laurel Hardware, Gjelina, Matsuhisa, and if I’m in a hurry, M Café. I’m open to suggestions!




What do you like about Privy Circle and the promise it offers?


As I travel a lot, I love all the suggestions from people I know and like. The exclusivity and invite factor was also appealing to me as there is a comfort in that. I spend so much time researching for my writing, that sometimes I just don’t want to be online searching for somewhere to go. So having the restaurant suggestions has been pretty great. I’m interested in exploring the new layout. Congrats!




Onto the Fun Stuff!



My last meal on Earth would be:
Almost any dish at Shojin in downtown L.A. Seriously, their food is fantastic.

Home away from home:
Cannes, France when I’m with family or Pender Island, Canada.

Dream vacation:
I’ve always wanted to go to Zanzibar. I watched a cartoon around age 7, where it talked about it being the hub of the ancient spice trade. Been dreamin’ about it ever since.

Essential wardrobe item:
Repetto Zizi brogues.

Essential gadget:
My laptop. Is that a gadget? If so, yes.

Last great book I read:
I have to say more than one! “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo and “Lincoln’s Melancholy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk.


Photo Credits: Rochelle Brodin, David Yen, Don Le, Jar Concengo, Brent Weber, Uno Magazine, Asians on Film, Keye Luke



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