But like the clichéd end to some silly rom-com, she’s just been overlooked as “the best friend” all this time.
Shy, sweet, and hilarious, Melanie Lynskey made her debut in 1994 as the scowling teenage murderess opposite Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, and since then has become a familiar face in movies and TV as the step-sister (Ever After), wacky neighbor (TV’s Two and a Half Men), doe-eyed housewife (The Informant!) teary bride-to-be (Up in the Air), and messed up mom (Win-Win). She’s the type of character actor who makes you snap your fingers and say, “Oh yeah … that girl.”
In the new bittersweet and funny love story Hello I Must Be Going, her name is no longer on the tip of your tongue – it’s above the title.
In the film, which expands nationwide this weekend, the New Zealand-born actress, 35, stars as Amy, an out-of-work divorcée who moves back in with her parents and begins reliving the life of a sullen teenager, until she meets an actual teenager (Christopher Abbott, of HBO’s Girls) who is looking for someone more worldly than the kids his own age. A sweet and sexy romance blossoms. So does Lynskey.
Check out the trailer below. And find a theater showing it here.
“It is an amazing thing to be able to carry a character through an entire storyline,” Lynskey says over coffee near her home in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. “Amy starts out the movie and she’s nothing. She’s just a shell of a person. She doesn’t even have a hobby. She doesn’t belongings. She has a T-shirt! And a pair of denim cut-offs.” By the time things heat up, she ends up casting off both for a steamy (and funny) skinny-dipping sequence with Abbott.
Finally getting to be sexy onscreen was a nice change for the actress, who recalls being described in reviews for Heavenly Creatures in terms no 17-year-old wants to hear. “It was like: ‘Dumpy and overweight Pauline …’ I was like, ‘Oh. … Well.'” She swallows hard and purses her lips, nodding slightly with wide eyes.
At that point, Lynskey had never acted before and was recruited from her high school by Jackson during an open casting call. She was playing a real person, Pauline Parker, who had committed the brutal and notorious 1954 murder of her mother in New Zealand. When the Heavenly Creatures reviews came in flattering Lynskey’s performance, but undermining confidence in her looks, she tried to reassure herself by thinking, ‘”Well, I was playing a character. And people are just describing the character. It doesn’t mean anything about me.’ It was a good lesson in letting go of vanity.”
Still, it’s sort of like complimenting an insecure teenage boy by saying: You are perfect for Jeffrey Dahmer!
“Well, at least he’s handsome,” Lynskey says, then puts a hand over her eyes, fearing she’s made a fatal interview mistake. “Oh God. … ‘She thinks Jeffrey Dahmer is the hottest thing ever!’” she says, quoting another kind of description no actress wants to read in an article about herself. (For the record, Lynskey just meant no one spent much time criticizing Dahmer’s aesthetic qualities.)
THE RIGHT LOOK
When she visited Hollywood seeking work after Heavenly Creatures, she found the audition process to be just as withering. “My first-ever meeting with a casting director, she was like, ‘I don’t know why you’re here. You’re not going to work in America. You don’t have the right look. You’re not pretty enough …’ I was 18 at that time.” She sighs. “It was a horrible feeling of just trying to not cry.”
Despite the acclaim of Heavenly Creatures a few years before, breaking into the business was no easy feat – partly because Lynskey admits she had no idea what she was doing.
Her agent asked her to make an audition tape for the 1996 supernatural teen-drama The Craft, reading lines from the script in a performance that could be mailed to the producers for consideration. “[The agent] was like, ‘Put yourself on tape for this,’ and I was too scared to ask her what that meant. So with my little brother, I set up a lamp and put it directly under my face so the light would be in my face, but it looks like when people hold a [flashlight] there.” Lynskey leans on the table and covers her face. Again.
The story gets worse.
“I was having my brother read the scene with me, but it was apparent it was a child reading. So I was like, ‘Nevermind, you sound like a kid! I’ll just imagine the lines and have nobody read them.” So she started monologuing … half the script.
How did the agent feel about her tape? “She was like, ‘Okay, some notes: THAT WAS A TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE TAPE.’ You don’t hold a lamp under your chin like you’re telling a scary story.”
Luckily, things got better. And fast. And stayed that way.
NEXT: Lynskey’s second act …