If you don't know Kiwi actress Melanie Lynskey by name, chances are you likely do by face. Since breaking out at 16 opposite Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson's brutal and sad "Heavenly Creatures," Lynskey has worked with some of the best directors in the business (including Steven Soderbergh, Jason Reitman, Sam Mendes, Clint Eastwood and Thomas McCarthy) and acted alongside stars like Matt Damon, George Clooney and Keira Knightley. Yet despite her obvious talent and impressive CV, Lynskey has yet to make a dent as a leading lady. That's all about to change with this Friday's release of her Sundance opener, "Hello I Must Be Going."
In "Hello," Lynskey stars as Amy, a divorced and depressed 35-year-old who moves in with her parents to get her life back on track. Things aren't looking up for Amy despite her parents' best wishes, until she meets a teenage boy ("Girls" star Christopher Abbott) who changes everything and brings some spark back into her life.
In our interview with Lynskey, the actress candidly reflects on her struggle to leave New Zealand and make a name for herself stateside and opens up about what she and Amy have in common.
I saw "Hello" way back, when it opened Sundance.
Oh my goodness. That’s a long time ago now.
Yeah, I know. So I wanted to get your thoughts—given that so much time has passed—on how the whole experience went for you.
It was great, I think. It got such positive response when Chris and I were just kind of walking around. And, you know, a lot of the reviews were really positive. It was terrifying, though. It’s a scary thing to be the opening-night movie.
I bet. The funny thing is, you’ve been to Park City with other films like “Win Win,” but this in many ways was treated as your breakout vehicle by the press. Did it feel any differently coming into the festival with this film in particular?
Yeah. It felt like a completely different thing, ‘cause I’m so used to being part of an ensemble, or, you know, in a supporting role, and you don’t feel that kind of responsibility. You know, I always wanted them to like the movie, but I did what I could, and the rest of it doesn’t have a lot to do with me. But, you know, I’m in every scene of this one, so I feel like if people don’t like it, it’s completely because of me. It’s because they hate my face or whatever, you know? So I felt very, very responsible.
How did you deal with that extra attention?
It’s scary because it’s something that I’m not used to, and that sort of comes along with expectation. People kept asking me, like, “Oh, how do you think things are going to change after this?” And, I was like, “Oh, God. I didn’t even think about this type of question.” And that concept is such a terrifying concept to me, because I’ve been doing this for so long, you know. It was hard to give a good answer.
Did the role seem like a kind of godsend for you when you first received the script?
Oh my god, yeah. I mean, when I read it, I thought I was just going to be doing a staged reading of it, which I did do. I’ve done so many readings of things that have then gone on to be movies that other people star in. So I just, I was like, “Oh, I’m so excited to do this reading, I think the script is wonderful, but then I’ll probably just let it go after that.” So it was so amazing when Todd and Sarah started to say they wanted to make it with me. It was crazy.
On paper you're nothing like Amy, having remained so busy on the work front following "Heavenly Creatures." Could you relate to where Amy finds herself?
Oh, definitely. I feel like the point that she’s at is just a time of like, complete self-assessment, where everything you know has disappeared and you have to sort of sit there with yourself and say, “OK, who am I now and what’s my life gonna be, and how do I sort of pick up the pieces?” And, you know, everyone’s had times in their life like that, where they really have to sort of examine everything that’s happening to them. In the movie, it takes Amy a very long time to even start examining. She just sits there and eats chips for three months, but eventually she starts asking herself those questions.
Did you go through a similar thing immediately following "Heavenly Creatures?" You noticeably took a break before launching into your next project, unlike your co-star in that film, Kate Winslet, who hit the ground running.
You mean did I have a late-teen crisis?