Melanie Lynskey and I got on a fabulous tangent about beauty issues in Hollywood. And it wasn’t a tangent from her new movie at Sundance, Hello I Must Be Going. It was when I went back to her debut role in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures with Kate Winslet. That was juicier than my question about Two and a Half Men.
In Hello I Must Be Going, Lynksey plays Amy Minsky, a 35-year-old divorcee who has to move back in with her parents. A relationship with one of her father’s client’s sons helps her open up and find herself for the first time. It’s a comedy though, so lots of teenagers call Amy “old,” and her lover is only 19. Lynskey also strips down in a pool and sings “Oh Canada,” so it seems she’ll do anything for art.
With snow literally falling outside the window on Main Street, there probably couldn’t be a more quintessentially Sundance way to interviewing a quirky indie star.
Movies.com: How did you feel about all the old jokes at Amy’s expense?
Melanie Lynskey: [Laughs] I didn’t really ever think about that. It sort of makes sense when you’re dealing with teenagers and someone who’s 35. It’s funny, you do get to a point in life where you’re like, “Oh gosh, I’m mom age suddenly.” It sneaks up on you but I’m so fine with it. I’ve never really had an aging issue or vanity about that kind of thing.
Movies.com: Did you have any apprehension about playing a character who sleeps with a teenager?
Lynskey: No. [Laughs] Should I have? I really responded to the love story and the chemistry that they had together. I like the sound of that. Also he’s 19 so it’s not, like, totally creepy.
Movies.com: Yes, he’s legal. We weren’t implying that.
Movies.com: Was it fun to make yourself look foolish by singing naked in the pool?
Lynskey: No. It wasn’t fun. It really wasn’t fun. I was naked the entire time we shot that and then I saw the movie and there was nothing. I was kind of like, “Well, why was I completely naked the entire time we were filming. I could’ve had a little towel on or something.” It’s always very strange exposing yourself and I hate singing. That whole aspect of it was very difficult. The pool was freezing.
Movies.com: But you know those are going to be the big laughs in the movie, so does it help you get through it?
Lynskey: Yeah, I don’t really anticipate what the laughs are going to be like because people could just be sitting there like that [arms folded.] It’s a part of the story. It was funny to me when she’s discovering everything.
Movies.com: Were you happy with where the laughs were at the premiere?
Lynskey: I really was. I felt like people really responded to it. Everyone seemed to really love Blythe which is great. She’s so funny.
Movies.com: Amy has to find herself in her 30s. Did you find yourself early in your life?
Lynskey: I suppose so. I don't know how to say this without sounding like a hippy, but I guess life is a process of self-discovery. You keep finding different things out about yourself. I’ve had the same job for a very long time and have always wanted to act and I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager. I’ve been with my husband for 11 years so there are aspects of my life that have been in place for a long time.
Movies.com: Figuring out what you want to do must be a huge step.
Lynskey: Yeah, and then it happening, so that kind of set me on the path.
Movies.com: Have you been able to avoid the problems Amy has or did they just happen earlier?
Lynskey: I luckily have been able to avoid a lot of her problems. You know, everybody goes through difficult times but I have such a great support system around me. She kind of is adrift in the ocean with nobody to help her.
Movies.com: Who is your support system besides your husband?
Lynskey: I have four younger siblings who are amazing and my favorite people, and just a great group of friends. I’m pretty lucky.
Movies.com: How do you reflect on Heavenly Creatures today?
ML: It’s funny, I saw Peter last night at his afterparty for the West Memphis Three [documentary]. He was talking about the case and how long the people have been in prison for and he was like, “You know, that case was going on when we were in Christchurch shooting Heavenly Creatures.” First of all, it’s the most heartbreaking story but it put it in such perspective for me because I just thought about how much has happened in my life and Peter’s life and Kate’s life obviously since we made that movie. It’s just such a long time. It’s my entire adulthood. I just couldn’t believe it. He’s telling me this one person was in a maximum security prison, couldn’t walk, couldn’t see light. I can’t wait to see that documentary.
Movies.com: Will you get to see it while you’re here?
Lynskey: I hope so. They told me when some screenings are but they’re all sort of coinciding with other obligations. There’s one right now but I’m going to try to.
Movies.com: When you start with Heavenly Creatures is it hard to find roles that juicy again? Do you even try?
Lynskey: It was such a strange experience because I was in high school when I made that movie. I wanted to act. It was always my dream to be an actor but I’d lived in a tiny town in New Zealand and I didn’t know how you made that happen. Then suddenly I did this movie and then I had to go back to high school. So I was in this very strange position. The movie came out while I was in high school and I went to film festivals and everything. Then I just didn’t know what to do. I just didn’t have a plan in place. I went to University. I felt well, I guess I just carry on now with my life. But then I missed it so much and I really decided I wanted to give it a go. There’s such a long time between me trying to act again, so it felt like starting from the ground up at a certain point. And I was aware when I was filming that movie that that was a once in a lifetime role, that it was so specific and so wonderful. There was just so much to do in it. And I’m aware that especially for women who aren’t completely beautiful there are not a lot of great roles in the world. That’s just how it works unfortunately.
Movies.com: Boy, I get into trouble when I talk about beauty, but I hate that idea that there’s a collectively agreed upon beautiful.
Lynskey: Why do you get into trouble?
Movies.com: Because when I try to explain what I think is beautiful, it sounds backhanded or objectifying.
Lynskey: No. It’s a tricky area, but I feel like the standard of beauty in our culture is a very, very narrow one. There’s a particular thing that people think is beautiful and if you’re anywhere outside of that then you’re another thing. It’s tough. I’ve read a couple of reviews of this movie that have said, “Why would he want to be with her?” That’s weird. That feels to me like that’s a physical dig or something because they have a sexual connection when they meet each other. It’s just an intense connection people have. I think it’s confronting for people sometimes to see an ordinary looking woman.
Movies.com: Those qualifiers bother me. “Ordinary” feels negative. I’m trying to avoid qualifiers.
Lynskey: You don’t need to with me though. I’m fascinated with this topic and I don’t have any vanity. I feel very confident with myself and my life and I’m aware of Hollywood requirements, and that I fall outside of that whole thing.
Movies.com: It bothers me that they say Christina Hendricks is an alternative example of what a “real” woman’s body is. No, Christina Hendricks is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.
Lynskey: Yeah, she’s unbelievably looking. The woman looks like she was made in a dream factory. It’s just bizarre to me. The thing that upsets me the most about it is that there’s such a diverse range of men working in leading roles in movies and they don’t ever get questions about why was that beautiful woman attracted to your character? It’s never called into question why a not super handsome man can be the lead of a movie and have a conventionally attractive love interest. It’s just such a double standard and then we have to go into a whole discussion about how great that people are thinking that Christina Hendricks is beautiful. Are you crazy? I just feel it’s such a narrow thing that women are allowed to be. God bless Christina Hendricks. I wish there were 1000 Christina Hendrickses. She also was a model and looks like a model and has the world’s most perfect face.
Movies.com: It feels like anyone in Hollywood is the top 1% of beautiful people, so the ones who are only 99%... Wait, now I feel bad about saying they’re only 99% beautiful because that’s not really what I think either.
Lynskey: No, it’s not what you think but there’s been a decision made somewhere along the line, this is the beautiful thing.
Movies.com: Yes! And I wasn’t consulted.
Lynskey: Exactly. I mean, I find a lot of different people attractive and I also really, really appreciate when I go to the movies and see a woman who looks somewhat like me. I feel very grateful and thankful for that.
Movies.com: Would you have thought about this as deeply if you weren’t in the industry?
Lynskey: Yeah, I think I would have. It always was something that really interested me from the time I was really young and I started to get interested in fashion and stuff and I was looking at magazines. I started to think, “My gosh, none of these women’s legs touch in the middle.” It’s just such a bizarre thing.
Movies.com: How did we get on this topic?
Lynskey: I don’t know, it’s a rant I like to go on. [Laughs] It makes me angry. I just wish there were some diversity. I think it would be better for the world and better for little girls watching movies.
Movies.com: I want to do my part and tell all the women I think they’re beautiful, but that could be weird to say to strangers.
Lynskey: Yeah, I know it’s a weird thing.
Movies.com: I guess I should just stick to female friends who know where I’m coming from.
Lynskey: Maybe not random strangers on the street. [Laughs]
Movies.com: You played the crazy stalker girlfriend in Two and a Half Men. That was a funny character when they created it, but how did it feel to be the catalyst of changing the show?
Lynskey: I mean, I always just kind of show up and do what’s in the script. I’m very grateful to have had that job. It’s how I have paid my mortgage for a few years now. It’s been really nice to have a way to do that without being tied into a show and having a contract. I don’t ask a lot of questions. I just read it and say all right.
Movies.com: Is that definitely over now?
Lynskey: They don’t tell me anything. I’m assuming. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to bring my character back now.
Movies.com: Does your sense of humor align with Hello I Must Be Going?
Lynskey: Yeah, it does pretty much but I’m from New Zealand so I like a lot of British comedy. It’s what I grew up with. The funniest most amazing thing I’ve ever seen is The League of Gentlemen. You know that British show? It’s amazing. It’s brilliant, just character comedy and really smart. But yeah, I found this script really funny when I read it. I thought it was really sweet and funny.