After roughly six years away, Melissa Ponzio is returning to Beacon Hills.
Ponzio, who starred as Melissa McCall in “Teen Wolf” from 2011-2017, is one of the returning cast members who will appear in “Teen Wolf: The Movie,” which hits Paramount+ on Jan. 26. Melissa McCall is mother to the teenaged Scott – the teen wolf himself – but over the years, Ponzio helped solidify the character as more than just your typical teen show parent.
Ponzio is a Georgia State University alum who studied journalism and theater while she was in school. After graduation, she worked in journalism for about three and a half years – all while trying to make it as an actor on the side.
In a conversation with Rough Draft Atlanta, Ponzio said she caught the acting bug very early on, most likely from her mother, who was an actress and model when she was younger. After seeing “Aliens,” she joked, she was in it for the long haul.
“I always like to joke that I saw Sigourney Weaver in ‘Aliens’ and I was hooked,” she said. “I wanted to be that.”
Rough Draft Atlanta spoke with Ponzio about the beginning of her career, her time on “Teen Wolf,” what it was like reuniting with the cast all these years later. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What is it like to return to a role like this after a few years away?
Melissa Ponzio: We were coming back to family. I mean, “Teen Wolf” is a real family, cast and crew. To be able to walk back on some of the original sets that were still in place out in Los Angeles – we were able to walk the halls of Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital, the high school, the sheriff’s office. It was almost like a fever dream. Like, I can’t believe any time has passed.
We were able to shoot out in Los Angeles for a while and then come to Atlanta to have a whole new experience. To have it five years in the future in real life was so amazing, to be able to catch up with cast mates and crew, and talk about what their last five years have been. And then, in character to be many years in the future … we were able to meet these characters with all new experiences and adventures, and new relationships and past relationships surfacing. So it felt equally at home and new, because we were all meeting each other in new places.
Did you have conversations with other cast members about what your characters had been doing in the interim time and how that might affect what was going on in the film?
Ponzio: I didn’t personally, because for me, playing a parent, I feel like I wouldn’t be talking with Lydia – or with Holland [Roden, the actress who plays Lydia] about her character. So for me, it was prepping naturally in kind of an isolation, in an individual space, and then bringing that to each scene. But I don’t know about the other guys.
I’m glad you brought up the idea of being a parent. I feel like in a lot of teen shows, the parents can sometimes be sort of absent, at least in terms of the main action. But I think your character was pretty involved throughout the series. Was the character written that way from the beginning, or did that evolve over time?
Ponzio: When I got the call that they were interested – first off, I always say this in the most loving way, I wasn’t the first choice. There were a couple of other actresses that were approached. But for whatever their reasons, they said no. And I always like to say that somebody else’s no is someone else’s yes. It became a career-changing yes for me.
I remember on the phone talking with my managers … they were like, well right now it’s just three episodes, and you know how these things go with the kids – eventually, they’ll just write the parents out, and the kids will, you know, run the world. I think that Jeff [Davis], coming from the “Criminal Minds” background and coming from the type of spectacular writing that he does, in my opinion, for characters and character development, he realized how important the parents could be. He wanted to have that backbone of parental guidance and also relationships, and it made it a much richer story.
For my character in season two, when Scott is revealed for who he is, that also brought up a lot of richness of acceptance of your child. When your child is going through something, how do you support them? How do you love them through it? I mean, I know we’re talking werewolves here, but there was a great parallel that he brought up in the story. A lot of our friends of the show, fans of the show, bring that up – you know, talk about unconditional love.
I think I can speak on behalf of Linden [Ashby] and JR [Bourne]. We are so grateful and thankful that they had the thought to not only keep these parents, but get them involved. That has also opened up a whole new fandom because now adults have something to look forward to when they’re sitting there with their kids watching, or rewatching, or finding our show. There’s a different layer to it, and I’m just grateful and honored to be part of that
That’s a good point. Whenever I was in charge of the television in high school, I think my parents enjoyed teen shows I watched where the parents were a little more involved.
Ponzio: Also, if my heart could be more full when someone comes up to me and says something to the effect of, I wish you or my mom, or my mom and I have been able to watch this together and it has brought up issues in our relationship, or I’ve been able to point to you and Scott in a particular moment and realize that, good, bad, or ugly, there’s a different way to process things.
These kids, they’re watching on a different level. They’re absorbing on a different level, and I think that has to do with Jeff [Davis] and the writers and the characters and relationships that are on “Teen Wolf.” That has not only made us special from the beginning, but here we are 12 years later … and there’s still acceptance and love and wanting to see what happens next. I don’t think that we would have that if we didn’t have true organic relationships and issues in our show – outside of werewolves [chuckles].
I would like to pivot back to the beginning of your career and talk about how you got started. I read that you went to Georgia State University?
Ponzio: Absolutely. Panthers number one!
After high school, my family, they were in the restaurant business so we got transferred up to Atlanta. Instead of going to college down in Florida, I actually went to DeKalb Community College [now Georgia Piedmont Technical College] for two years and then graduated at Georgia State. They had a theater program there, which was amazing. I majored in journalism and I minored in theater, because my mom wanted to make sure that I could, you know, make a living if this whole acting thing didn’t work out.
It got to the point where I had to choose, so I chose acting and never really looked back. In Atlanta, we were very lucky to have corporate videos and commercials and a little bit of film and television back when I started, so there was enough to scrape together a living. Unlike now, when we have the wonderful Mr. Tyler Perry, and all the Marvel and Netflix [projects]. Our industry has blossomed over the last 10 years off of the very hard work of everyone from the Georgia Film Commission and beyond. In the beginning, it was real, real work to get out there, and we were very lucky if we had one episode of anything.
You said your mom wanted you to major in journalism. Do you think her experience in the acting world made her nervous for you to get involved?
Ponzio: Yes. In a short answer, yes. It was that journey of, “Mom, I think I want to try acting.” Okay, well you need to get a college degree. “Mom, I got a college degree.” Okay, well you need to get a job to get some money. “Mom, I got some money.” Okay, well do you have enough for health insurance?
There came a point where I asked my mom, “Mom, do you not believe that I can do this?” And she was like, “No, honey, I’m just scared for you. I’m afraid.” Well, I’m not afraid. I’m going to try this.
Those first couple of years, when you’re trying to figure it out, there’s no blueprint for acting. In other careers, I think that there might be some type of understanding of how to climb this ladder. There is no ladder – you are in a sea of misunderstanding about people,places and things in the acting community, and you just have to figure it out. And I wasn’t afraid of it. I wanted to take the jump. Luckily, knock on wood, I found my way, and that just makes you stronger – when you have to work for it, when you have to fight for it, when your career is a very slow incline. It took me years to get to where I am today, unlike other people who may have had a jump in one job, or may have had a jump in 10 jobs, or may have been in a bigger market at the time.
Do you remember the first job you had where you felt like, okay this is happening, I can make a living at this?
Ponzio: It was a collection of jobs. It was in those first couple of years, the ability to do corporate work, the ability to do convention work. It was the ability to do commercials – Atlanta at the time was a really big place for commercials. But I think my first real taste of what it could be like was, I had a very small scene on “One Tree Hill,” back in the day. That was my first really big set experience, up in Wilmington, North Carolina. You know, at that point, you couldn’t tell me that I didn’t make it. [Laughs] I have made it, and no one can take it away from me. If I never work again, I’ve reached a place where I’ve proven to myself that I can stand with these wonderful actors and actresses and pull it off.
I wanted to ask you about the difference between prepping a role for television versus film. You’ve had a few featured roles or recurring roles in shows like “Teen Wolf” and “Chicago Fire.” How is living with a character for that long different than doing something like a film?
Ponzio: Well, first, I have to say that it’s an honor to be in a position where you have a character that has any type of longevity on any type of television show. I am fully aware that not everybody gets to have that experience. You know, as actors, we’re lucky if we have one episode, maybe three episodes, but to have a presence and an understanding through the audience that you are a part of this world and a part of this cast is of the highest honor.
Time, I think, is what’s different, obviously. With a movie, you have such a small amount of time to really have your character arc. When you’re on a television show, if you’re lucky enough to be someone that’s asked back, you have time progression, you have more time with the character, you have more time with the audience who asks you into their living room once a week. It’s just a different, beautiful experience. You’re growing with that character as time goes on. You have great joys in your life, and great losses, and I think that shows in your body and shows in your performance. When you’re going through a six week period, you have six weeks of growth. But when you have six years, seven years, eight years, over a show, it’s just so much more layered and rich.
Sure, you change a lot more over six years than you do in six weeks.
Ponzio: And you’re acting changes, you know? You as a person change and your acting changes, your choices change, your feelings change. It’s the most beautiful experience to have.