Greg Gayne/CBS
January 20, 2012 at 10:10 AM EST

At one point in the Sundance opening-night movie Hello I Must Be Going, Melanie Lynskey strips naked and sings the Canadian national anthem to a 19-year-old lover during a playful skinny-dip in the family swimming pool.

There were more passionate scenes where that came from: late-night sex in her parents’ car, a tryst on a couch at a family party, sneaking into her young boyfriend’s room when his folks (who mistakenly think he’s gay) are away…

After the movie’s debut late Thursday, the actress known for playing sweet, soft-spoken supporting roles in movies such as Up in the Air, Sweet Home Alabama, and The Informant looked a little vulnerable onstage as she spoke to the nearly 1,000 moviegoers who just watched the raunchy and comedic love affair play out.

“I’m a character actress, and I’m very grateful for all that I’ve gotten to do,” she told the crowd. “But this was just something that was so fully realized, a complete journey that this person makes. It felt like such a gift…. It was a really nice feeling.”

Lynskey, who shared the lead with Kate Winslet in a very different story of scandalous teenage romance, 1994’s Heavenly Creatures, stars in Hello I Must Be Going as a 35-year-old who, after getting dumped by her husband, finds herself living back at home with her mother and father (Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein) and wallowing in misery — and the same faded T-shirt — while she tries to pull her life back together.

The best antidepressant turns out to be the 19-year-old son of her father’s business colleague, who can’t get enough of her.

“It’s really romantic,” says Lynskey. “I was just in my hometown in New Zealand, and there’s something about being back there that makes you remember all your first teenage romances and what they felt like and how strong those feelings were, and sneaking out and all that stuff. [The character] is 35 and was married, but she’s experiencing all this stuff again at her parents’ house.”

That puts her and her 19-year-old lover (played by Christopher Abbott) in similar stages of life, despite their age differences. Both are trying to map out futures while struggling with pushy, overbearing families.

Director Todd Louiso, whose wife Sarah Koskoff wrote the screenplay, says Lynskey was overdue for a chance to carry her own film. “The story’s about characters who take a back seat to others,” he said. “[Lynskey and Abbott] play the people paying attention to the narcissists. Much like character actors, they’re always in the background, giving their attention to the leads.”

Louiso has worked as a character actor in High Fidelity and Jerry Maguire, so he was happy to give someone else from that world a chance to be the star. “Melanie didn’t know she was going to get the part,” he said. “She thought she was just doing a reading, and said to me, ‘I’ll be so happy when I see it made, and Michelle Williams will get it, and I’ll get to say, I once read that part.'”

But nope — that’s her up there, skinny-dipping for all to see. Though, you know, the movie manages to keep things somewhat discrete.

NEXT: Where else you’ve seen her — Two and a Half Men, Win Win, more…

For more Sundance news, follow @Breznican.

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