The reviews are in: The Suicide Squad is a bona fide hit. Critics agree that the film is a romping—albeit gory—good time. They also agree that Portuguese actress Daniela Melchior, in the role of Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher II, is the film’s clear breakout. She’s described as “luminous,” “wonderfully guileless,” and “the film’s secret weapon.” In her first English-language role, Melchior is not only capturing the attention of audiences, but she’s also proving she has the star power to make it far in Hollywood. She more than holds her own alongside the likes of Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, and John Cena, bringing a refreshing charm and wit to the villainous gang of convicts while simultaneously giving the film its heart. It’s a performance that is not to be missed.
What’s more, Melchior has been serving up some pretty chic looks on the side. The 24-year-old is bringing Portuguese designers to the forefront with her press appearances for the film, including a particularly eye-catching polka-dot number by Constanca Entrudo and a beautiful bow-bedecked top by one of her favorites, Alexandra Moura. “Even if many people from my country don’t always understand the outfits that I choose, I love to feel like a little bit of a visionary in that way,” she tells me of her recent fashion choices. If this is just a glimmer of what we can expect from the young actress, I’m fully bought in. All of this is to say I’ve got my eye on Melchior, and so should you. As she has already built up a successful acting career in Portugal, I suspect we’ll now be seeing more of her in the U.S.
Below, I chat with the rising star about landing the biggest film of the summer, dominating epic game nights with The Suicide Squad cast, and the Lisbon designers to have on our radar.
You have had a successful acting career in Portugal, but The Suicide Squad is your first English-language theatrical film. What a huge way to break out in the U.S.! What was your reaction to landing the part of Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher II?
I was really emotional when James [Gunn] called me saying that I got the role. As soon as I hung up, I started crying. That was a turning point in my life because from that moment I had to (and it happened) give myself more value as a person, but particularly as an actor.
Can you walk me through the audition process?
So I self-taped from my home in Portugal, and I wasn’t proud of it at all. For me, it was one of the worst tapes that I have sent in my life. But actually, my manager called me a few days later saying they loved it and wanted to fly me to Atlanta to do a screen test. I was like, “Really?! They liked that?” While I was taping, I was reading my lines like this [on my hand]. I wasn’t at all comfortable with acting in English. I wasn’t proud at all of that tape, but they liked it. I flew to Atlanta and had a meeting with James Gunn and one of the producers, Peter Safran. I didn’t know what to wear. I didn’t know how things worked in America because it’s really different in Portugal. In Portugal, we have to go with no makeup. The more natural, the better. My manager told me, “Go dressed like a superstar,” and I was like, “What is that?” I went in black skinny jeans, a black top, a black leather biker jacket, and Dr. Martens because I was like, “Okay, it will be an action movie. I’ll go like a model.” [James] told me later that, after the meeting, [he and Peter] looked at each other and said, “No, she is not Ratcatcher.” But then the next day, I went to the audition and did my scenes, and James told me that as soon as I started to do the first scene, he looked at Peter again and said, “ Please tell me I’m not desperate. She’s the one,” and [Peter] was like, “No you are not desperate. She’s the one.” After that, I had a chemistry test with rats, with real rats, and it was amazing. I think I made friends there. I booked it a few days later.
Ratcatcher II has a special ability to summon and communicate with rats, which was passed down by her father. You also have your rat sidekick, Sebastian. Were you squeamish about having to work with rats?
I was fine. I had two hamsters when I was little, and I love animals, even if they are weird. Before having the actual chemistry test with them, I just thought, “I’m not going to overthink it. I’ll go in there open-minded and see what happens.” I just had to forget about the tails. Don’t look at the tails. They were the sweetest. And they are actually very smart.
Ratcatcher II brings a lot of heart to the film, which I really enjoyed. She’s a villain, but where do you think that compassion/sensitivity comes from?
She is really different from the others because this is her first mission, and her entire life was living with her father. As kids, even if our parents do bad things, we always find a good reason to justify (even if it’s just for us) that to be happening. The things that she learned from Ratcatcher were always to be good. She would steal with her father just to survive. It wasn’t ever being bad just because. So I really think that this makes the difference between her and the other supervillains. I am really excited to see if she will start to be like them—like, “This is fun. Okay, I can take lives, so let’s explore this.” I don’t believe that will be her future, but I’m really curious about it. I would say she doesn’t have reasons to be bad, even from a young age. Her heart is in the right place. Her values are in the right place. So I think that’s why she is different from the others.
The Suicide Squad is a big production with an even bigger cast. What are some of your fondest memories working on this project?
We had a lot of fun between takes. They gave me a lot of good advice as an actor. We had game nights. We had many gatherings with everyone, and I loved that because we really bonded. I feel like James was the strongest reason for that happening because he has a good eye for choosing people and bringing the best people to the cast and even the crew.
Who was the most competitive during the game nights?
I would say that David [Dastmalchian] doesn’t like to lose, but he deals with it really well. And they were really surprised by me. We would play mafia. Do you know the game mafia?
No, what is that?
We have some cards, you have a townsperson, and then you have the Mafia. So we all fall asleep, the Mafia wakes up and chooses somebody to kill, we fall asleep again, and we wake up, and suddenly, there’s somebody that is dead. And we have to find, just by talking, who is the Mafia and who is the townsperson. So I was the Mafia one time, and they were all saying—even James—“Daniela is the Mafia,” and I argued [against it] so many times, and they really believed me. So when the game was over, that round, I was like, “I’m the Mafia,” and they were like, “What?! You are so fake, Daniela!” I had really good arguments.
Note to self: Don’t challenge Daniela to a game of mafia! There are some jokes in the film nodding to the fact that Ratcatcher II is a deep sleeper, but you too seem to be an epic napper on set. There was even a #napcatcher hashtag started on Instagram. Inquiring minds want to know: What are your napping secrets?
Sometimes, I fall asleep very easily because I would use my headphones with meditation or Hz tones. I would only need one EarPod, and I would be okay because I was really focused on those tones and waves. But if I have a chair and as long as I have a comfortable position, I’m fine. Actually, we have a video that I didn’t post yet where I’m just sitting like this [moves into a hunched over position, laying her head on her thighs]. That position was comfortable to me, so I was fine with it. So the secret is to get a comfortable position, start meditating, and don’t feel ashamed about it. The worst thing that can happen is to have a video of you sleeping.
This isn’t your first comic book–inspired project. You also voiced the lead role of Gwen Stacy in Portugal’s version of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Are you a personal fan of the DC/Marvel comics?
I’m totally new to this universe. As a young kid, I would love to watch weird stuff like People + Arts. I don’t know if you know that channel. It’s like TLC with many reality [shows]. I would love Cartoon Network and sitcoms. So yeah, I am totally new to that. But actually, my favorite movie from the DC world is The Dark Knight. It’s the best after The Suicide Squad.
I have been loving all of your press looks lately. I think my favorite so far is the Constanca Entrudo polka-dot dress. Can you talk a little about working with your stylist Joel Alves and how the two of you wanted to approach your fashion for this film?
When I was younger and with my first agency… Because I didn’t have that much guidance and strategy, I have some looks that are really sexy that, if I were to go back in time, I wouldn’t choose. I would do it now. For now, our approach is let’s be a little bit sexy, but not obvious and in a different and more fresh way. Ratcatcher is not sexy at all, so let’s have fun now. And as long as I will be able to, I will continue to wear Portuguese designers because I think they have a lot of talent. Our approach was to use many colors. Even if many people from my country don’t always understand the outfits that I choose, I love to feel like a little bit of a visionary in that way. I believe they will get there, even if they don’t understand, even my mother. Sometimes, she’s like, “What?” That dress from Constanca Entrudo, I wore it with bold black shoes, and she sent me a picture saying, “What are those?” And I was like, “I wasn’t dressing for you, mom. Sorry.”
How has growing up in Lisbon influenced your sense of style?
From a certain age and when I changed my team, I started being more open to fashion. I started going to Lisbon Fashion Week to try and understand the designers and to see how much fun I could have with dressing. Dressing, for me, is not only to put on a dress and look pretty. What message do I want to send for this event? What statement do I want to make? So I really feel like that changed me. And in Portugal, we don’t only have the classic style. We have a lot of streetwear and clothes that can be unisex. I have a designer that I love, and she’s my friend called Alexandra Moura, and she is really inspired by Asian fashion but also brings the Portuguese and the traditional things to it. I love it.
Are there any Lisbon designers we should have on our radar?
I would say Constanca Entrudo. Alexandra Moura. I would also say Marques’ Almeida. He’s really famous in London. And Béhen. They actually have a showroom in L.A. Rosalía wore Béhen pants. I am obsessed with them.
So now that you’ve made your official Hollywood debut, what’s next?
I have a couple projects that are not official yet, but as an actor, I just love the fact that, for now, I can do whatever I want and whatever I feel is right for me. Before doing The Suicide Squad, in Portugal, I would do the TV shows that they wanted me to do. I was working to survive but not feeling fulfilled. So yeah, I’m not looking for anything in particular. I love to do interesting things. I love big-budget movies like The Suicide Squad, but I also like the small indie movies. I’m open to everything.
The Suicide Squad is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
Photographer: Ricardo Santos for Who What Wear
Stylist: Joel Alves