"30 DAYS OF NIGHT" With Melissa George

Greg Truman

Horror movies tend to keep Australian actress Melissa George up at night.

She is not spooked watching them. Rather, she's wary of being haunted by her decision to act in them.

That's not to say blood, guts and ghosts haven't been kind to George, the 31-year-old former Home and Away star and Logie winner. Her impressive, nearly decade-long march toward the top tier in Hollywood has been aided by a few high-profile roles in scary flicks, most notably the hit 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror.

Her star was still ascending when she starred alongside Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston in the mildly successful suspense film Derailed in 2006 but flickered with the release this year of Turistas, a flabby horror movie set in Brazil. Now George is in the schlock-light again, fighting off vampires alongside Josh Hartnett in 30 Days of Night, director David Slade's take on the stunning graphic novel by Steve Niles and Perth's Ben Templesmith.

Produced by Hollywood heavyweights such as Sam Raimi, it is Slade's first film since the widely acclaimed Hard Candy. It features a script by Niles, Brian Nelson and Australian Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean series, Collateral). Slade lobbied hard with the producers for the Perth-born actress to fill the lead role.

George was suitably impressed with the film's creators and its potential to be a new take on the tired vampire format but admits she did "pause" before agreeing to sign up for more horror.

"I know it's a vampire film but it's also a fantastic dramatic piece as an actor," she says from New York.

"And who am I to say I don't want to make a movie about a great original story?" She conceded, however, that if she did another horror remake "I'd be in trouble, big trouble".

In 30 Days, George's character, Stella Oleson, is pitched into a month-long battle for survival alongside her estranged husband Eben (Hartnett) and a few nervous townsfolk as vampires descend on the tiny, isolated Alaskan village of Barrow, which endures 30 days every year when the Arctic sun doesn't rise.

Shot and post-produced in New Zealand, the film honours the graphic novel with a striking grey-blue wash, grim atmospheres and innovative cinematography. It topped the box office on its first weekend of release in the US, hauling in $US16 million ($17 million).

The movie is one of three George has on the big screen this year but there is not a ghoul to be seen in any of the other projects. Music Within is a true-life drama that was released in the US a week after 30 Days.

Waz, a psychological thriller in which George plays opposite highly regarded Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard, has been a favourite at several film festivals this year and is expected to get a cinema release in Britain, Australia and the US.

The actress is also heading to Berlin to shoot the on-again, off-again suspense movie Stopping Power with John Cusack. She is also completing a highly anticipated HBO series, In Treatment, with Gabriel Byrne and Diane Wiest.

It is a full slate for the former darling of Australian television, who started working in front of a camera as a 15-year-old and has barely stopped since. A determination and discipline garnered from her early teen years when she was an international-class rollerskating champion helped her stick out a few tough years in Hollywood and make the most of a few crucial opportunities.

One was to feign an American accent while auditioning for director Stephen Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean's Thirteen) for a part in The Limey. She got the role but didn't have a visa. The director, who was apparently shocked to find out four days before the shoot George was from the other side of the world, dipped into his own pocket and sponsored the actress's US working papers. George is now a US citizen but also spends time in Buenos Aires with her husband, Chilean director Claudio Dabed.

After a series of well-paying but hardly headline grabbing parts in pilots and short-lived television series in LA, George also made the most of two memorable television roles: as the "lesbian nanny" in the comedy Friends and as nasty Lauren Reed in Alias.

"Alias definitely was a turning point. It led to a lot of things including Amityville and Derailed," she says.

Having reached a point in her career where she has far more offers to work than she can accommodate, George recently took the next step in her development: "I am learning to say 'no'.

"I've said no to three films in the last two weeks. I could buy an apartment in New York with those movies but I said no. It's just ridiculous."

Instead, she plans to concentrate her energies on "quality" projects and developing her own scripts and projects with her husband.

"It gets harder the better you get at doing this," she says. "Decisions become harder [because] they become so important."

Her new focus coincides with a recent sea change in her personal life.

A self-described "very positive person", George says she had become negative and started to "lose my humour. I needed to take a step back ... I had to get away from Hollywood."

The solution was to buy and renovate a home in Buenos Aires. She plans to split her time between Argentina and the US and a move to New York is likely.

"I want to do a movie in Buenos Aires. We've got an idea and we're starting to work on that heavily," she says.

George is quietly determined to work towards accumulating the kind of respect afforded to other Home and Away alumni such as Heath Ledger and Guy Pearce.

"I have an innate desire to be respected for what I do. It's like any profession - you want to establish some level of credibility and it's more intense the older you get.

"You know, I was too young to go to NIDA in Australia but I learned on the job. I'm still learning. I feel like I'm taking steps in the right direction."

There is intense talk about a sequel to 30 Days of Night. The second of three 30 Days of Night graphic novels, Dark Days, focuses on George's character, Stella. Carrying an action movie as its central character is a rare and coveted challenge for women in Hollywood.

"My favourite by far," George says of Dark Days.

While there's nothing official yet, she admitted to being interested about the possibility of being involved in a sequel. Any offer to take up the role, particularly if her champion Slade decides to direct, may sorely test her new-found ability to say "no".

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