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The Playlist Profile: Melanie Lynskey Talks Hollywood, 'Hello I Must Be Going,' 'Heavenly Creatures' & More

The Playlist By Maris James | The Playlist September 4, 2012 at 11:00AM

It’s coming on 20 years since Melanie Lynskey appeared in her first film, but she cannot get used to seeing herself on screen. “It’s awful. Awful,” she says in her kiwi accent, characteristically wide open and soft spoken, over iced teas in Manhattan’s East Village. She has a new movie coming out, “Hello I Must Be Going,” in which she’s the lead and is in every scene -- a first for the actor. Her work in this film is widely being referred to as her breakout performance, which could be a frustrating identification for anyone who saw her in “Heavenly Creatures,” almost two decades ago. Many are hoping the label sticks this time, but after so many years in movies and television, Lynskey refuses to have expectations about where her career is headed.
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Melanie Lynskey Hello I Must Be Going

Lynskey left L.A. defeated, and began to view her experience on “Heavenly Creatures” differently. Kate Winslet ascended after that film, scoring accolades in "Sense and Sensibility" and Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet" before going supernova in James Cameron's "Titanic." While Winslet had five years’ professional experience and a TV career already under her belt, Lynskey had come into ‘Creatures’ as a total unknown. “I started to feel like, ‘Well, acting is her thing. How dare I think I could just show up and say, 'Oh, me too?' It was a slow process of building my belief in myself and trusting that I could do it, and trying to work out a way I could do it that didn’t feel massively compromising to my soul.”

It was another audition, this time back in New Zealand, with Kiwi director Gaylene Preston (2003's "Perfect Strangers" starring Sam Neill) that set her back on track. Mired in self-doubt, Lynskey gave a weak performance. Preston halted the audition and confronted her, and the actor broke down crying. “She was the first person in a long time who sort of listened, and wanted to help me move forward. She also said ‘You’re really good. Stick with it and keep going.’ ” Words Lynskey was unaccustomed to hearing. Preston helped her to create a life plan, instructing her to make a list of everything that was making her unhappy, and change each of those things one by one. Lynskey says the life-coaching session served as a reset for her entire life. “This woman was like an angel to me. She talked to me for an hour, in an audition situation, about me and what was going on with me.”

"I’m going to do it the way I want to do it. All I have is that I’m myself and I’m not like anyone else."

Fortified, Lynskey returned to L.A. “I was like ‘Fuck it, I’m going to do it the way I want to do it. All I have is that I’m myself and I’m not like anyone else.’ Everything changed when my attitude changed.” She started auditioning again and got a part in “Ever After,” the 1998 updated Cinderella story starring Drew Barrymore. And she’s worked as an actor steadily ever since. Lynskey is perhaps most widely known as Rose, the wacky neighbor from sitcom “Two and a Half Men” who stalks Charlie Sheen’s character, but she’s had standout supporting turns in several recent films like “Win Win,” “Up In the Air,” and Steven Soderbergh’s “The Informant!,” the last of which she identified as the greatest experience she’d ever had working with a director. Soderbergh had noticed Lynskey in “Heavenly Creatures” and kept tabs on her until he was able to cast her as Matt Damon’s wife. As he told the LA Times, "She is so watchable... Her rhythms are really unusual, like her cadence and her reaction times to things, and the way she sort of lays out a sentence. It's just really, really interesting."

Director Todd Louiso says it was impossible to imagine anyone else in the lead of “Hello I Must Be Going” after watching Lynskey read the script. She reminds him of some of his favorite actresses, like Toni Collette, Holly Hunter or Frances McDormand, who found their own unusual trajectories from character actor to atypical female lead. “As leading ladies, they’re so much more interesting. They bring out a depth and a reality to the characters that allows me or an audience to connect with them more in a role than, say, if Jennifer Aniston were in the role of Amy.” He also mentions, laughing, that while standing in his wife’s family’s kitchen in Westport discussing rehearsals, Lynskey began to wash the dishes in the sink. Bewildered, he asked what she was doing. She explained that she was a guest there, so it was the polite thing to do.

Her co-star in the film, Christopher Abbott, categorizes Lynskey as a “generous actor,” and credits her, in part, with the quality of his own turn. "It's easy to give an authentic performance with Melanie. The way she talks to you and looks at you during scenes, she's totally present and she really listens. It may seem like an obvious, normal thing, but I think it's actually very rare."

Hello I Must Be Going

When I ask Lynskey if she thinks the ability to be a great actor is inborn, she immediately says “I don’t think I’m a great actor.” She cites Samantha Morton in her first movie, "This Is the Sea," explaining that everything the actress is today and everything she’s capable of is already present within that performance. Of course, some would argue the same for Lynskey as Pauline Parker in “Heavenly Creatures,” but she would graciously disagree. She does observe that the actors she respects and admires most seem to be open to life, change and people around them, including fellow colleagues. “They possess a willingness to let the world in and explore things and experience things and feel things.” The actors she is close with are ones that are like her, she says, character actors who are just trying to work. “Sometimes there are actors where I’m just like ‘I feel like I’m just a different person to you entirely. I don’t even understand what your thing is.’ ” She laughs. “There are some people who do this job for very different reasons.”

"Hello I Must Be Going" begins rolling out in limited release on September 7th. Check here to see when it's coming to a theater near you.

This article is related to: Melanie Lynskey, Hello I Must Be Going, Interviews, The Playlist Profile


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