Melanie Lynskey: Every scene's secret weapon on Togetherness, indie film, and more
'I’ve always known that life is very complicated,' says Lynskey of the complex, grown-up issues found on HBO's 'Togetherness'
Since her stunning debut in Peter Jackson’s 1994 classic Heavenly Creatures, Melanie Lynskey has made each project she’s been in just a little bit better, whether it’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Up in the Air, or Sweet Home Alabama (she was the subject of Reese Witherspoon’s classic line, “You have a baby … in a bar”).
The same can be said of HBO’s Togetherness — created by Jay Duplass and series stars Mark Duplass and Steve Zissis — in which she plays the restless mother and wife, Michelle, who must navigate some murky gray areas in her marriage. The show, which is equal parts sweet, poignant, and complicated, presents no easy answers. “When people are able to be black and white about those issues I think, ‘Man, you have must have had such a perfect childhood,’ ” says Lynskey with a laugh. With season 2 underway (Sundays, 10:30 p.m.), we talked to the 38-year-old actress about the joys of working on a show she loves and her own modest Marvel proposal.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Season 2 has been such a wild, emotional roller coaster already!
MELANIE LYNSKEY: It’s really good, right? I watched the whole season weeping.
How did getting on Togetherness all come about? Did you already know Mark and Jay Duplass?
I knew their work and really, really liked it all. Mark and I were supposed to do a movie together playing husband and wife at one point and I went to a premiere of their movie to hang out — but we hadn’t worked together. And then Togetherness came up and I had a meeting with Jay, whom I hadn’t met, and Jay had just seen this movie I did called Hello, I Must Be Going. And he arrived at the meeting still weeping having just watched it. I was like, Who is this magical creature? I’ll do anything he asks of me — I was so enchanted by him. We had this great this time talking, talking, and talking. I read the first two episodes and thought, yes, and then I had an audition. It was a long process, actually.
You had to audition?
Mostly it was improvisation. They wanted to see if I could improv with an American accent — that’s what they were worried about.
Can’t you do that in your sleep at this point?
[Laughs] They didn’t know that. I was cast and then I read with two people for Amanda’s part of Tina. But it was so clearly going to Amanda. She’s so good. She’s so good! It’s crazy! Even in her audition: she was so relaxed and confident and so different from her real self.
One of the nicest things about the show is that you really feel like this is a foursome that have lifelong ties to one another. It’s sort of amazing you all just met before shooting.
It was kind of interesting how that worked out. I never even read with Mark because he didn’t think he’d have time to do it — I think I read with six other dudes. I had no idea that Mark was even thinking [about playing the part of Brett]. At a certain point I even suggested my ex-husband [Jimmi Simpson]. I was like, What about Jimmi? Jimmi would be amazing! They were like, uh …
Why would you do that to yourself?
Well, we’re still very close. And he’d be so right for it and the dynamic would be so interesting cause we have this history together … but they were still like, You are a maniac. So when Mark was able to [take on the part himself] it was instantly so great. Something just clicked and it felt so natural and so very right.
And is there a lot of improvisation?
Yes. There’s a lot. Amanda and I have to fight them to do one version that it is scripted. The script is so perfect but by the time it gets to us they’re so sick of it and they love stuff to feel fresh. They don’t want to hear their words again.
Were you wary of signing on to doing TV? I think of you still primarily as a film actress.
The one time I was a regular on a show was on Two and a Half Men. I had to work so hard to get out of my contract after the second season. It was a whole big legal thing. Chuck Lorre was incredibly kind and let me out. I was super lucky that Chuck was so understanding, since I had signed a contract for seven years but left as a regular after two years. Chuck not only understood that I needed to do other things, he let me come and go for the next decade. Maybe I would have been a multi-multi-multi millionaire if I didn’t do that? [Laughs] But I got to make the kind of indie movies I wanted and that was such a dream. But because of that experience I was hyper-aware of signing on to anything that I didn’t feel 100 percent right about. I was really careful and then I got the Togetherness script and I didn’t even think about it. I was like, I will do this as long as I possibly can.
I think Togetherness is really good at showing how complicated grown-up life and marriage can be.
I know. When people are able to be black and white about issues I think, man, you have must have had such a perfect childhood. I’ve always known that life is very complicated.
You recently were awarded the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Award for your performance in The Intervention.
I know! It did so great! And to win a prize for a part that my dear friend [writer and director Clea DuVall] wrote for me? It was such a validation of her instincts. Sundance was so exciting to be a part of all that.
What is your career game plan, if you have one. Continue to do small indies and TV shows like Togetherness?
I feel so lucky and I feel very, very lucky right now. All the movies I want to do are all these weird little independent movies. So, I don’t know. … It would be kind of nice to do something where I have a trailer at some point. [Laughs.]
Just one Marvel movie …
Yes! I know. Aren’t there secretaries and things like that? I don’t think I could be a superhero, but I could play someone in the office who is giving them their messages or whatever. I’d be so happy!
I think you can dream bigger than that!
Really? That feels exactly right. Yes. Just being like, “Iron Man, your mother is trying to get a hold of you.”