Melissa Ponzio is best known for playing the remarkably resilient Melissa McCall, Scott McCall’s mom on MTV’s Teen Wolf. [Scott was played by Tyler Posey.] But this Sunday, July 29 at 8/7c, she’s going to find out that raising a son who is a werewolf is nothing compared to having a teenage daughter who is feuding with the captain of the cheerleading team!
Cheerleader Nightmare is the newest Lifetime thriller. It stars Melissa Ponzio as Paula and Taylor Murphy as Sophie, Paula’s daughter. Like any good edge-of-your-seater, Cheerleader Nightmare is chock-full of cheating, secrets, betrayal, and murder! The perfect combination for a wickedly entertaining Sunday evening!
“As a little girl, I remember watching Sigourney Weaver at the end of Alien and saying, ‘I want to be that woman, I want to be on the screen that large and in charge,'” Melissa recalled.
Melissa’s mom was a huge horror fan. She introduced Melissa to scary movies when she was just 6 or 7 years old.
“I love the genre and I have a firm tolerance for that kind of stuff,” Melissa acknowledged. “And we see how my career is progressing… The Walking Dead… Teen Wolf. I feel like I’m home.”
But what makes good horror isn’t the gore. And what makes a good thriller, isn’t the murder that establishes the ruthlessness of the villain. It’s about the characters. Can you relate to them? Can you find something that makes you care about them and be concerned for their well-being? It’s the job of an actor to make that emotional connection so the characters matter.
“I modeled my character in Teen Wolf after my own mom, who passed, unfortunately, nine years ago,” Melissa revealed. “I thought about her a lot during that time because she was a single mom and I wasn’t the perfect kid. She always came to me, not at me… Well, unless I really needed a kick in the butt! But even then, she chose those battles wisely. So it was a very conscious choice for me to be that unconditionally loving mother.”
Melissa McCall was actually based on writer/producer Jeff Davis’ own mother and the experiences he had. One of the show’s most powerful quotes, “be your own anchor,” was something that Jeff’s mom once told him.
“I was honored to have that line make it into my dialogue.”
In many ways, the mom that Melissa plays in Cheerleader Nightmare is similar to the one she played in Teen Wolf. She’s strong, smart, practical, and tough when she has to be, but compassionate and understanding when her daughter needs support.
“Sophie is a girl who is already on her path to individuality. Some kids kind of follow the herd in high school, but my daughter doesn’t, she’s an independent thinker. She’s making her own waves and choosing her own course. She’s going up against everything that everybody goes up against in high school – being a little bit of an outcast, not quite fitting in, and trying to make her way. Then, someone close to her gets murdered and Sophie starts following the leads, trying to figure out who did it.”
In school, Melissa was lucky. She never experienced the uncomfortable situations many teens go through. She was a little bit of a jock, but not too much. She was also the senior class president, the yearbook editor, and the prom queen. Throughout high school, Melissa was friends with people from several different cliques so she didn’t really have any enemies.
“I still cherish those memories. I loved being involved with the yearbook so much that it led me to being a journalism major in college. [Melissa was also a theater minor.] Before I started doing acting full time, I was the assignment editor at the CBS affiliate in Atlanta.”
Cheerleader Nightmare was shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Melissa was on set for approximately ten days.
“I’ve never been to New Mexico before. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place to shoot,” she expressed. “And, I was there with a lovely cast and crew. But, I have to say, it was an exercise in my craft. I was used to doing these really short scenes for other shows, but I got walloped with this movie. We had a short deadline – we only had about three weeks to shoot the entire project – so it didn’t matter that I had four scenes that were five pages long, I had to know my lines.”
“Danny Boyle, our director, is a veteran at this,” Melissa continued. “He knows exactly what he wants. You have a phone conversation with him and he says, ‘Know your lines. Let’s get our work done so we can have more fun in the end.’ That’s what was really wonderful about this experience, everybody knew their lines and everybody was on their game. It made it a lot more fun because nobody really likes to do take after take after take.”
Lifetime movies have a way of hitting all the emotional bullet points, making them so indulgently satisfying on so many levels. Yet, there’s something more. You don’t always realize it right away, but it’s always there.
“Lifetime makes it a point to portray women who persevere,” Melissa noted. “When women are in distress, it can get very uncomfortable. But they can get out of a bad situation. And you can too. But that message only comes across if viewers really connect and feel something. Lifetime is able to do that.”
“I hope that when everyone hunkers down to watch Cheerleader Nightmare on Sunday they have as much fun watching it as we had making it. When I told my girlfriends I was doing this Lifetime movie, it was like I told them Christmas was coming. Their eyes lit up!”
Cheerleader Nightmare premieres this Sunday, July 29 at 8/7c on Lifetime.
Note: Teen Wolf fans, be sure to check out Melissa’s #MoonDayMemories posts on Instagram!