Starlet Michelle DeFraites Talks Second Chances, Bullying and Fashion
We’ve all heard the stories of the pain, both physical and emotional, that bullies inflict on their victims. We often view them as soulless, heartless menaces to society that lack reasonable compassion. However, in the teenage fantasy-thriller Project Almanac — currently available for pre-order on Digital HD and Blu-Ray — where she plays the bully, 21-year-old Michelle DeFraites wants people to realize that these intimidators are human too. “I hope that my character shows that bullies aren’t just one dimensional,” says the brown-eyed actress. “They’re not just mean, they have all these layers.” Throughout the 106-minute flick, her character, Sarah, goes through an array of emotions, which leads us to an understanding that the anger some bullies harbor may actually stem from a deeper place. Though they go around making the lives of others a living hell, they too are tormented souls — most of the time, anyway.
In contrast, as the face of Neutrogena online, DeFraites is all about the empowerment of young girls. It’s the reason she loves working with the company and what she wants to accomplish with her career. (After getting to know her, we couldn’t help but be inspired by her passion and confidence-building nature.) Realizing her purpose in life as a teen, she made the move to Los Angeles, where she ended up with her own show on the Disney Channel. Shortly after, she went on to star in Lifetime’s The Pregnancy Pact, and well, the rest is history. Her success in scoring her first role in a major film is a true testament to her dedication. In fact, she is so determined to be in control of her career that she is currently studying business in college. The reason is practical enough: So that she can handle her own finances and contracts. Talk about a go-getter!
Aside from acting, she has her own fashion blog, Street 23, which she shares with her best friend, T.C. Carter. As for future endeavors, DeFraites hopes to work on something in the action realm — specifically something Tomb Raider-esque, given her celebrity inspiration is none other than Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie. Read on to learn more about what this Mississippi native would change in her life if she had a second chance, her thoughts on bullying and her fashion inspiration.
GALO: You are no stranger to the entertainment industry. You’ve been in multiple TV shows and movies, from Hannah Montana to The Pregnancy Pact. You’ve done voiceovers for commercials, and you’re even a model for Neutrogena. But Project Almanac was your first role in a major film. Describe how you landed the role in Project Almanac. Was there something in particular that initially attracted you to the script?
Michelle DeFraites: Well, what I loved so much about the script was that it was based on these real life kids, and how the [people behind this film] wanted to keep it really genuine and make it seem like they’re five normal teenagers. I feel like a lot of [projects] in Hollywood lately take older [individuals] to play younger [ones], and I really like that they wanted to stick with a genuine “teen feel” for this movie. That’s initially what attracted me to it.
The process for me was [as follows]: I sent in my tape because they were shooting in Atlanta, and some of the cast members lived in Atlanta as well. So I sent in my tape, and then a few weeks later, I did a callback over Skype. And so, I interviewed and read over on Skype, and I got the call that I booked it and had to fly out in the next couple of days down to Atlanta to shoot.
GALO: In the movie, we see your character go through various changes. She goes from being a bully, to being best friends with the girl she’s bullying, to losing her father in a plane crash. It really showed that our choices could greatly impact those around us. I’m curious, were there any challenges for you specifically in playing a character that goes on such an emotional rollercoaster? And how do you think the film speaks to those who either have or are being bullied?
MD: Yeah, I mean, I think it was really fun to play a character that gets to show so much emotion. That’s really rare, especially in fun teen movies like this [one]. Sometimes they can be a little one note, so that’s what was really great about this film. But I liked it. I think it did challenge me, but it [also] exposed me to new possibilities in my acting. It was a really great opportunity to get to play that type of character.
And bullying — through this movie, I hope that it shows that nothing good comes from it. Like, they get me back, but in the sense that that’s bullying, too. And so, it’s funny in the movie, but I hope people understand that bullying is just not a good thing either way, because they’re just a real person. Like, you see when her father died that she’s [so] emotional — you know, that wall is broken down, that shell is broken and she’s no longer a bully, she’s truly emotional. So it shows that they’re just people, too. And if someone’s bullying you or if you are bullying someone, kind of just take a look back and figure out what’s really going on in the situation — don’t just react based on how you’re feeling, really try to analyze it. I hope that my character shows that bullies aren’t just one dimensional. They’re not just mean. They have all these layers.
GALO: Going off that, one of the central themes of this movie is second chances. How does Sarah fit into that theme? Did the group’s time traveling involuntarily give Sarah a second chance to make it right with Christina (Virginia Gardner)?
MD: Yeah, totally, because after they went to Lollapalooza, Sarah is all of a sudden best friends with Christina. I think, like you said, she involuntarily got that second chance, because, you know, maybe my character wanted to be friends with Christina and she didn’t know how to do it until there was kind of like a redo [moment]. And so, second chances are always fun?
You always think, ‘What would happen if I could time travel, go back and change something?’ I think it’s just good to realize that you obviously can’t time travel. So try to just live in the moment and try not to regret anything. And just make the right decisions, so that you don’t have to constantly think back and regret and be like, “Ugh, I wish I could go change that,” you know?
GALO: Let’s imagine for a moment that time travel is possible. Given that information, if you had a second chance to change something in your life, would you take it?
MD: I think that I would maybe move to California sooner. I love it out here. And I love [having the chance] to pursue acting, and I wish that I would’ve had the opportunity to start at a younger age. And so, if time travel was in fact real, I’d definitely go back and convince my parents to move me out here when I was younger.
GALO: Put yourself in your character’s shoes for a minute. Now tell us what it was like to film the scene in which Christina dumped coke all over you after she went back into the past to get her revenge on you for bullying her? Do you think exacting revenge on those who harmed us sends the wrong message to teenagers?
MD: You know, in the movie, I think it was a really fun moment, but I think in real life that’s probably not the best thing to do. I’m very much an emotional person and when someone does something to me, I get really angry. I’ve learned to stop and take a second and think, ‘You know what? I don’t know where they’re coming from — where that emotion stems from and why they did that. Maybe it’s something deeper than just me.’ I think it’s better to not retaliate on somebody. I think it just makes the world a better place — for lack of, you know, sounding a little cheesy, but it really does. It makes the world a better place. You [should] just take a step back and be like, “You know what? I forgive that person. I don’t know where that came from or why they [did that], but I’m not going to let it bother me and I’m not going to take any steps of revenge.”
GALO: There has been a lot of talk about the film’s usage of found footage and how it sometimes makes a movie hard to follow. What was the most difficult part of acting in a film being shot in this style?
MD: The most difficult part for me was learning where the camera was, because they found such unique ways to place the camera when we were shooting the scenes to make it really feel like it was a girl holding a video camera or holding her cell phone. When you’re shooting a normal movie, you know exactly where your cameras are, what angles you’re going to be [at]. But when you’re shooting found footage, like the scene where I come up and I’m really nice to them, it [the camera] was sitting cockeyed on a lunch table. So it’s really interesting. You had to relearn how to get your angles right on the camera to make sure your face was going to be seen in the right way. That was probably the most interesting learning curve that I had.