To say that Daniela Melchior’s chances were slim when she sent in an audition tape to play the rodent pied piper Ratchcatcher 2 in The Suicide Squad, which just hit both theaters and HBO Max, would be an understatement. For starters, the 24-year-old up-and-comer only did so out of fear that her manager would fire her. “I was really, really new in the industry, so I thought that would be possible,” she recalls with a laugh over Zoom.
Still wondering if it was a ploy to attract viewers in her native Portugal, Melchior eventually showed up to the screen test in what her managers guessed was Stateside protocol: full glam. The moment she walked in, director James Gunn and producer Peter Safran later told her, the pair “looked at each other and were like, ‘No.’” It turns out Melchior’s first-ever departure from her bare-faced, toned-down appearance at auditions was an unfortunate fit for a superhero whose secret power is literally to harness the power of sewer rats.
Fortunately, Gunn and Safran were adhering to the mindset that there are two types of people in the world: those who would sooner perish than come into constant physical contact with rodents, and those who wouldn’t so much as blink an eye. Melchior immediately made it clear she fell into the latter category. It wasn’t until months later, when Gunn tagged her in a tweet, that Melchior learned that she was just one of three out of the hundreds to make it to the final hurdle to becoming Cleo Cazo, aka Ratcatcher 2. Up next: the “making sure she was okay chilling with rats” test.
Prior to The Suicide Squad, Melchior had only ever acted in Portuguese-language projects, starting with a role on the award-winning telenovela Mulheres (Women) at age 17. From there came a string of Portuguese TV shows and films, most prominently in 2018’s Parque Mayer and as the voice of Spider-Woman in the Portuguese version of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Still, Melchior had next to no experience with doing publicity. “We don’t have that star system that there is in the United States,” Melchior says. “I can be the actress who’s working all the time, but who is not that popular. I can go take public transportation and people still ask, Is she Daniela? No, she wouldn’t take the bus.”
While her next English-language project is still under wraps, things are changing after her DC debut. Twenty minutes before we talk, which was about three weeks before the film hit theaters, I checked her Twitter and saw that she had just posted a plea for anyone in New York City to send her a closer look at the Suicide Squad posters that had just hit Times Square. It was her first billboard, after all. And even if she’s one of the smallest figures pictured—her face completely obscured by a gas mask—Ratcatcher 2 is no tertiary character. Melchior ends up with just about as much screen time as headliner Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.
Melchior vividly recalls stepping out with Robbie while filming in Panama, and looking on in shock at how comfortable her costar was with fame. On set, though, she spent most of her time not with Robbie, but with rats. While many of the creatures are CGI, the one that’s always perched on Ratcatcher 2’s shoulder, Sebastian, was an actual rat actor—in fact, one of three real-life creatures named Jaws, Squeaky, and Crisp Ratt (Gunn’s nod to Marvel universe star Chris Pratt). “Every time I could, when it wouldn’t be dangerous for him, I asked for the rat,” Melchior recalls.
When the action scaled up, she filmed with either CGI or a stuffed animal that was so realistic, it occasionally had her cast members spooked. The human actors largely chose to stay clear of the rodents on set, Idris Elba chief among them. But it was a piece of cake for Melchior, after having already shot a scene with a live serpent on Portuguese TV. “If I can shoot with snakes, everything else will be peanuts.”
Special thanks to Polaroid.