When Melissa Archer learned she would die at the hands of a serial killer, she made one last request: “I asked if I could have a death scene because I am a nerd.”
Her death had significance. It meant a long run as a mainstay and fan favorite of daytime soap operas was about to go on hiatus. It also meant she would have more time to devote to another passion — jailbreaking iPhones and inventing new features.
Of soaps and software
While the death scene was make-believe, her declaration that she’s a nerd is from her real-life script.
Archer, whose work in two soap operas spanned nearly 15 years, is now a familiar face at hacking conferences where the topic is circumventing the closed operating systems of Apple’s mobile devices.
Millions have seen her die, make love and engage in some nasty feuds, but in the jailbreak community, she is known for developing a tweaked iPhone function called Blocked — which allows a user to trigger a timed shutdown of the fingerprint pass I.D. on the phone.
“When people on the set would ask what I do to zone out, I would say I take an iPad apart,” Archer told Cult of Mac. “I fix iPhones and iPads because I wanted to learn the hardware stuff. I wanted to learn how to solder, so on one of my vacations, I went to see a guy who could teach me how to solder.
“It took me a really long time to get past what people in the industry might think …’Oh, you’re a big nerd.’ I embrace my nerdism.”
From One Life …
Archer’s career, well-chronicled online, might make soap fans wonder how a key character on a daily series would have time to pursue other interests. But have a conversation with Archer and it becomes quickly apparent she has energy and a childlike curiosity with no shutoff.
In 2001, she was cast as Natalie Buchanan in the show One Life to Live and became, as TV Guide put it, a “flame-haired fan fave.” Two years later, she won “Outstanding Newcomer” at the Soap Opera Digest Awards, and entertainment journalists often described her performances as “brilliant.” She played the role until 2013, when the show came to an end.
Days of Our Lives quickly signed her to play Serena Mason, a medical journalist who gets killed off in 2015 by, not a serial killer actually, but a team of new writers eager to change some of the show’s story lines.
Just as she wondered what her acting colleagues might think of her more geeky endeavors, Archer worried what a community of bright techies would assume about a woman whose day job is acting in soap operas.
… to jailbreaking iPhones
She approached her first of three JailbreakCons with the butterflies of a newbie.
“I was worried no one would want me at JailbreakCon. What do I have to offer?” she said. “I bought a book, Coding for Dummies, so that I would know some of what everyone was talking about. I got a warm welcome. Everyone was so awesome. It’s a very diverse group of people, a lot of future developers like myself.”
Archer always had a fascination with computers. When she owned a BlackBerry, she made several attempts to hack it in hopes of creating better functionality.
She loves the iPhone — the design, how it feels in the hand — but was frustrated that options to customize Apple’s smartphone are very limited.
“I want my phone to work for me, not the other way around,” she said. “I could get an Android, but I actually appreciate how difficult it is to break into the iPhone.”
Archer’s own app
The idea behind her app, Blocked, which can be found on jailbreak app store Cydia, is to make the phone more secure. Creating a trigger, like with the up-volume button, the user can disable the phone for a time so that it can’t be opened with their fingerprint. This is handy in case a user feels threatened by a potential strong-arm robber looking for an iPhone to swipe or if an iPhone user falls asleep in a public place, like a train. A person can’t just open the phone with the user’s fingerprint.
Archer had the idea and worked with a tweak developer from Germany, Nikias Bassen, to create Blocked, which garnered an invitation to speak at the most recent JailbreakCon.
Now archer is taking online coding classes so she can go deeper into development.
To understand where the role of jailbreaker ranks in her life, it is still second to her first passion, acting.
She has two different movies currently making the rounds at summer film festivals, and earlier this year, she won an Indie Series Award for “Best Lead Actress in a Comedy” for a YouTube show she also produces, called Viral. She is also busy with a new coldpress coffee company, Hacker’s Brew (Archer, and two other co-founders, Elias Ladopoulos and John Lee, are hackers).
Archer said she would love to someday play a part that would lean on her burgeoning knowledge of technology. “That would be badass,” she said. For now, she enjoys the time with fellow jailbreakers and is even trying to start a regular jailbreak meet-up event in the Los Angeles area, where she lives (if interested, you can reach her on Twitter).
As two worlds turn
At one JailbreakCon, Archer’s two worlds had a meet-up.
She was in a pub at a table full of some of the best-known developers in jailbreaking. They were all friends and she felt like they were all some alternate version of the comrades in the TV show Entourage.
Another patron recognized Archer as Natalie from One Life to Live. The fan was super-excited and a couple of others in the pub got in on selfies and autographs.
Her jailbreak friends watched with amusement — and a growing realization that Archer had reached a level of fame in her industry.
As the fans said thank you and goodbye to Archer, one pointed at the JailbreakCon attendees at her table and asked, “Are they famous?”
Archer said yes. “They thought that was awesome,” she said.