The term “undersung” gets thrown around a lot, but it definitely applies to the talented Melanie Lynskey. The actress first wowed both audiences and critics in Peter Jackson‘s “Heavenly Creatures,” and while her star hasn’t exactly risen to the same degree as Kate Winslet, she’s amassed no less impressive of a resume as Lynskey can count Clint Eastwood, Steven Soderbergh, Jason Reitman and Sam Mendes among those she’s worked with. She’s earned a reputation as an ace supporting player, but soon that all may change, with opportunities sure to open up for bigger roles, thanks to “Hello I Must Be Going.”
Directed by Todd Louiso, the film premiered at Sundance and brings with it Lynskey in the lead role in a performance that is earning notice, playing a 35-year-old in the midst of a life crisis, moving back in with her parents and developing a relationship with a 19-year-old. Playlist correspondent Cory Everett caught up with Lynskey in Park City, and she talked about her work in the film as well as the projects she has on the way, including “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”
So what first attracted you to the role? How did you first hear about it and how did you get involved?
I first heard about it, I was up in Toronto visiting my husband on a job and my manager said, “Do you want to do this reading?” And I read the script, it was so amazing. So I came back early from Toronto to go to the Sundance Institute reading of the script. [And] when it came time to make the movie they decided to make it with me which was a big surprise.
Did you know director Todd Louiso at all?
Not at all, I didn’t know either of them [screenwriter Sarah Koskoff]. I know they asked some other people to do the reading before me and they didn’t want to. More famous people I think and then someone said how about Melanie Lynskey and they were like “Sure, she’s great.” I don’t know, I don’t think they were like “Yeah!” But when we did the reading there was a really good sort of chemistry and I think they liked my take on it.
You’ve had a lot of supporting work over the years. Is it a different responsibility to be the lead in the film? Do you prepare differently? Is it a different burden on you?
Yes it is. I used to have the time in the day to regroup and sort of think about the scenes that I have coming up and check my email and you know especially on a little tiny film like this, we shot in three and a half weeks. So you’re just going, going, going from one scene to the next and the challenge is in keeping the story line straight in your head and letting it make sense to you. But the nice thing about it was when I saw the movie for the first time, it was like “Wow, that’s my whole performance.” Because when you do a supporting role and you’re a peripheral character in the movie, sometimes you have some nice little scenes to let people know a little bit more about your character, and those are the first things to go if the movie is running long. Because there’s no need for it in the story.
So do you feel like you get to show like the whole of the character instead of what bits are there to serve the scenes?
Yeah. The whole of the character and performance wise it’s what’s I intended it to be. Even sometimes in movies that I have loved with all my heart, if two scenes are cut out it’s like 30% of your performance you know and it changes it. So it’s just nice to look at it and go okay, that’s what I’d hoped for.
You’ve gotten great opportunities to work with top directors like Steven Soderbergh and Sam Mendes among others, what have you learned from working with them?
Just so much and I don’t have anything in my mind of like, well now I want to play the leads or you know I just want to be able to do good movies and play interesting roles and getting to work with people is just such a privilege. The last few years of my life has been like a dream. If Steven [Soderbergh] called me up tomorrow and said, “Will you come bring Matt Damon a cup of tea in this scene?” I would say “Yes, absolutely.” I would do anything that he asked of me, you know? It was the greatest experience in my lifetime. You know Sam [Mendes] and Jason Reitman and Tom McCarthy and it has just been such a blessing so if it can continue on then it will be amazing.
What are the pros and cons of working on a smaller budget film like this? Are there certain constraints or anything that makes it preferable to the machinery of a larger film for you?
It’s tough. I’m not opposed to not having other takes, I usually just like two or three takes and I’m happy. But the thing that can get a little tricky is you know you have to try to manage time and you know with this movie, the camera was very important. So it would take a long time to set up a shot and sometimes we would get one take and that sort of thing can be frustrating…so it’s difficult because in a bigger movie everyone has the time they need…but you find a balance and we had to work out that balance in three weeks while you’re barely getting to know people, but it worked itself out.
You’ve worked with several actor/directors. Todd Louiso, Clint Eastwood, Tom McCarthy. Do you feel that directors who are also performers have a different style of directing?
It’s interesting, actor/directors who I’ve worked with, I don’t know how to put this, directors who I’ve worked with who are not actors are a little bit more sort of, “Where do you want to be? What do you want to be doing?” Are a little more open in that way. Actors/directors are always a little…they have it thought out a little bit more, it seems to be to me. I’ve worked with Clint Eastwood and the scene is sort of set when you walk in. It’s like here’s the scene and welcome, and you shoot it one time and you’re home by 2:00 p.m., it’s crazy. I don’t know what that is, I sort of expected that an actor/director would be a little looser and freerer, but it’s a little more structured, but there’s freedom within the performance, but there’s a little bit more sort of discipline to the style.
If you don’t mind talking about your upcoming movies for a minute, I know you’re involved with “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Is there anything you can tell me about that movie?
Well, I feel like I can’t really give it away [if you don’t] know that book at all. It’s a really interesting character. It was a difficult role to decide to take, but I really liked the script. I thought to myself when I read it, “Gosh, if I was fourteen when I saw this movie I would be so excited and head over heels for it.” I think it’s going to be a really nice movie for a particular sort of group, sort of insular teens. I think it’s a really delicately told story and a really important story and very personal to the man who wrote the novel who also wrote and directed the movie [Stephen Chbosky]. There’s some great young actors in it. Ezra Miller is so good and Johnny Simmons I think is so amazing, he’s in it. That kid is so good.
You’re also in “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” with Steve Carell and Keira Knightley? Can you tell us anything about that?
Yes. It’s script was so crazy and awesome. I’m literally in one scene of that movie but I felt like it would be worth it because it’s such a crazy character. The world is about to end in a couple of weeks and I basically play a woman, a typical mid-30s single woman who’s sort of desperate to find a man but now she has two weeks and she doesn’t want to die alone. It’s like an accelerated version of that woman, she’s crazy.
Is it more of a dramedy?
I’m really interested to see it because I was like I don’t know what the tone is going to be, it’s really funny but it’s also really tragic. I think Steve [Carell] is the greatest at that. He can really sort of like walk that line really well between real sadness and crazy comedy. He’s so good I think.
You’ve already worked with some amazing filmmakers but do you have any directors that are still on your wish list?
I do, I have a wish list. Basically my wish list is Noah Baumbach, Jane Campion, Michael Haneke and that’s it I guess, that’s kind of my top dream directors. Nicole Holofcener, I love her movies. “Walking and Talking,” I saw that when it was first released and it was kind of my introduction to Catherine Keener and Anne Heche who I adore as well, that movie is perfect. So that’s my wish list, dreams.
—Interview by Cory Everett