“There’s no such thing as a small role – it is what you make of it.”
That’s a life lesson Toronto Film School grad Mélie B. Rondeau was fortunate enough to learn first-hand on the set of Les Affamés (The Ravenous) – a French-language zombie film that not only went on to take home the Best Canadian Film Award from the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, but also just recently made its Netflix Canada debut.
Initially cast as a background actor in the Robin Aubert-directed flick after answering a Facebook competition call-out for extras, Rondeau quickly caught the director’s eye during the September 2016 shoot with her “creepy” portrayal of one of a mob of zombies ravaging the rural town of Ham-Nord in northern Quebec.
“I was there as a volunteer, not getting paid, and I was initially thrown into this field with a lot of other background actors. Mostly we were doing landscape shots of all of us moving zombie-like towards this big pile of junk,” the Class of 2018 Acting for Film, TV and the Theatre valedictorian said of the experience.
“Then they gave me this wooden duck to carry for the scene, and apparently the way I was holding it by its neck and the look I had on my face were super creepy, so the director and the first assistant director ended up looking for me for most of the day.”
When at last Aubert tracked Rondeau down, he asked her if she could slowly turn around towards him in a curious, albeit menacing way.
After nailing that impromptu audition, Rondeau suddenly found her role upgraded to that of a stand-out zombie who engages in an epic, nearly-minute-long stare-off with two of the movie’s main cast members – an experience that proved almost zen-like for the Granby, Quebec native.
“To be honest, it’s not very difficult, being a zombie. You’re just shutting down everything: your mouth, because you’re not smiling; your eyes, because you don’t want to see any light in them; and your mind, because the goal is to not think anything,” she explained.
“So, a big part of it is actually really peaceful, even though the goal is to look really scary. It’s almost – and this might sound peculiar – but it’s almost a zen experience.”
What wasn’t so zen, Rondeau laughed, was the nearly yearlong wait after her day of shooting Les Affamés wrapped to see if her part had made the film’s final cut.
“On the day we were filming, I knew it was an amazing experience, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up – I was just a zombie in a field and I thought I might get cut,” she said.
“Then when the trailer came out and I saw there was a bit with me in it, I started to get really excited.”
By the time Les Affamés made its world premiere at TIFF 2017, Rondeau had relocated from Quebec to Ontario, and was just finishing up her first year of acting studies here at Toronto Film School.
Being able to see herself on the big screen down at the TIFF Bell Lightbox was a life-affirming moment.
“It felt like the universe was sending me a big sign that I was on the right path and I was doing what I was supposed to be doing,” said Rondeau, who went on to win Toronto Film School’s Best Actor, Best Female Performance and President’s Awards upon her graduation in 2018.
“My experience (on the Les Affamés set) gave me the energy and drive I needed to start this program. It was a beautiful lesson that day – and a lot of hope and a lot of inspiration came out of it for me.”
The fact that the film has now found a home for itself on Netflix is something that both excites Rondeau and makes her hopeful that her small part in its success translates into even more work in the future.
“Ultimately, I’m really proud. It was just a very, very small role with no lines involved, but for me, it still inspires me to keep going, because this role came out of nowhere and now it’s on Netflix, which is very exciting,” she said.
“For my career, it’s great to be able to tell people I have a movie on Netflix, because just the mention of ‘Netflix’ has a lot of impact these days. If you’re in something that’s on that platform, most people are going to go ‘Woah, that’s impressive!’”
Up next for Rondeau is a similarly “creepy” role in Godforsaken – a horror movie directed by fellow Toronto Film School graduate Ali Akbar Akbar Kamal, which is scheduled to begin filming in November in Harriston, Ontario.
“A lot of the time, I get cast as the nice girl, but for this project I got chosen to participate because I’m ‘creepy,’” Rondeau laughed.
“This time, I’m the not the girl next door who gets killed in the first 15 minutes – I’m the girl who kills.”