Meet Daniela Melchior, the heart of James Gunn’s ‘The Suicide Squad’

 A portrait of a woman in a black dress with white dots on it
Daniela Melchior makes her Hollywood debut with her role in “The Suicide Squad.”
(Cam Camarena for Art Streiber / Warner Bros.)
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Daniela Melchior’s first day of filming on “The Suicide Squad” took place on a beach constructed in a parking lot in Atlanta.

Warner Bros.’ blockbuster DC supervillain teamup, written and directed by James Gunn, marks the Portuguese actor’s first major studio role as well as her first English-language project. It’s now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max, but back during production Melchoir was, understandably, nervous. Her focus was on doing her best — she didn’t want this first Hollywood movie to also be her last.

And it wasn’t all smooth sailing: The rat she had perched on her shoulder for a scene pooped and peed on her.

“I think he was, like, marking [his] territory,” says Melchior while recalling the incident during a recent video call from Portugal. “And just getting to know me and getting to know my smell.”

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Less a sequel than a do-over, this supervillain extravaganza is the latest, goriest and flat-out weirdest emission from the DC Extended Universe.

Still, she says “it was really fun” and that shooting those beach scenes were some of her favorite moments because it was “a new experience for everyone.”

In “The Suicide Squad,” Melchior, 24, plays Ratcatcher 2 — an original character created for the film who is the daughter of Ratcatcher, a DC comic book villain. Like her father, Ratcatcher 2, also known as Cleo Cazo, has an affinity for rats and can communicate with them using a special wand she inherited.

 A woman covered in dust holds up a glowing ball on a stick
Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2 in Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure “The Suicide Squad.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures / DC Comics)

But it’s not just her animal centric powers that make the character stand out among a team of outrageous and violent criminals including mercenaries and a giant, hungry, anthropomorphic shark. And a cast that includes such established stars as Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Viola Davis and the voice of Sylvester Stallone.

“She’s the heart of the film in so many ways,” says Gunn. “She’s not a killer. She’s not a murderer. She’s in prison for doing something stupid with rats, that probably any of us would do, if we had a rat and a [special] wand and were incredibly poor.”

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Melchior, reflecting on Ratcatcher 2’s emotional arc and the backstory involving the character’s relationship with her father, says “she’s not the normal kind of supervillain” one might expect in a comic book tentpole.

Even over a video call, the natural charisma Gunn mentions when explaining why Melchior was right for the role shines through. She’s thoughtful and funny, and willing to admit she’s a bit nervous while pulling up a music playlist she made for Ratcatcher based on Gunn’s suggestions. It’s an eclectic mix ranging from Germany-based Korean DJ Peggy Gou to Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg.

As could be expected after playing a person who’s best known for her affinity for rats, Melchior has a number of stories about working with the rodents, going back to before any film started rolling. Her audition included a chemistry test with actual rats, mostly to make sure she wasn’t afraid of them.

A woman with a rat standing on her shoulders
Ratcatcher 2 would rather take a nap than go on any missions.
(Warner Bros. Pictures / DC Comics)

Presented with three rats in an open box but no specific instructions from Gunn or anyone from the production during this chemistry test, Melchior just picked them up.

“I had one in my hands, another in my hood, and suddenly I find myself with James taking pictures [of] me and the rats,” says Melchior.

It wasn’t until she flew to Atlanta for her costume fitting that she had an actual meeting with the rats who would be playing her faithful companion Sebastian. “It was really professional,” says Melchior.

Melchior traces the origins of her interest in acting back to drama classes she took while in school. She describes her younger self as “not very interesting” and says she had some problems concentrating on her school work.

“I used to read a lot, but just because we had obligatory books that we had to read for school,” says Melchior. “The thing that I loved the most was watching movies.”

Initially, her enjoyment of the stage came from the positive reaction she got from improvising and telling jokes. But she soon discovered a passion in the chance to live others’ lives and to try to figure out why certain characters behave the way they do.

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“If I didn’t pursue acting, I would pursue psychology for sure,” says Melchior, “because I just love working with feelings and trying to understand them.”

After studying drama for three years in high school, Melchior booked her first professional role and hasn’t looked back since, working on Portuguese TV and film projects such as “Mulheres,” “Valor da Vida” and “Parque Mayer.”

 A portrait of a woman in a black dress with white dots on it
“If I didn’t pursue acting, I would pursue psychology for sure,” says Daniela Melchior, “because I just love working with feelings and trying to understand them.”
(Cam Camarena for Art Streiber/Warner Bros.)

To land the role of Ratcatcher 2, Melchior had to stand out among hundreds of people from around the world who also submitted auditions. Gunn remembers watching her audition video and thinking “there’s something about her,” and Melchior was eventually one of three actors that made it through to the screen test phase.

“She had a naturalism about the way she acted this,” says Gunn. “Everything was real. Everything was present and I believed her. And for my stuff, it’s really important, because the characters are so outrageous, that they’re also very present. If you’re doing outrageous material in a cartoony manner, that doesn’t work. It’s got to be you’re doing outrageous material in a way that we believe you’re actually a real human being saying something.”

Melchior says for her audition she was told to present her take on the character from the lines she was given. So she decided to play the character “really, really lazy.”

“Knowing that [Ratcatcher 2] was a millennial and the lazy millennial [idea], I really exaggerated that,” says Melchior. “James told me, ‘I can really believe that you don’t want to be here.’”

Seven people in combat gear and an anthropomorphic shark standing in a jungle
Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), far left, Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Peacemaker with some allies in “The Suicide Squad.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures / DC Comics)

Gunn describes Ratcatcher 2 as “sort of a secret protagonist” of “The Suicide Squad.” She’s a character that is both relatable because of her backstory, and is also one audiences can’t help but “love as a human being.”

And it’s a quality he also attributes to Melchior.

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“She’s just a really sweet person,” says Gunn. “She’s just a really good human being. And I could see that in her and I said, ‘Daniela, I want you to promise me one thing. … Just promise me that you’ll remain a good person.’ There’s a lot of people that come into this industry seeming like good people and then changing. It’s important that good people keep working in this industry.”

While Ratcatcher 2’s future is unclear at the end of “The Suicide Squad,” Melchior sees the film as a good launching point for the character.

“She’s not a supervillain yet because she never killed anyone,” says Melchior. “This was a good opportunity to see her first mission and it’s a good starting point. Maybe in other things — if there are any other things — we can see her learning those skills. Learning how to kill someone if she has to, learning how to fight or learning how to deal with her daddy issues in a better way.”

Suicides! Squads! Spoilers! Don’t read this until you’ve seen ‘The Suicide Squad.’ (The good one.)