Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present and future.
Melanie Lynskey was just 16 when she first broke into Hollywood, thanks to a bold and bright turn opposite Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson’s fact-based “Heavenly Creatures.” Since then, she’s carved out a career that’s wholly her own, one that includes roles in tiny indies like “Hello I Must Be Going” and big studio films like “Sweet Home Alabama,” exceedingly popular television series like “Two and a Half Men” (when asked about the roles she’s recognized most for, Lynskey laughed and said, “At the airport, it’s ‘Two and Half Men'”) and critical darlings like “Togetherness” — and just about everything in between.
But one thing has held true from the start: Lynskey requires great material. She could scarcely ask for better than the kind she got in Clea DuVall’s directorial debut, “The Intervention.” The pair have been best friends since they starred together in 1999’s “But I’m a Cheerleader” — and the rest of the cast is filled with other people they are both close to in real life, including Natasha Lyonne and Lynskey’s longtime boyfriend Jason Ritter — but Lynskey shines brightest in her tricky role as the meddling Annie.
“The Intervention” follows a group of friends — led by Lynskey as Annie and DuVall as Jessie — who hatch a plan to intervene on the marriage of two of their own (Cobie Smulders and Vincent Piazza), convinced that their seemingly toxic relationship is hurting both them and everyone around them. The film is funny and smart, and it’s never afraid to go deep just moments after a big laugh. It premiered at Sundance to solid reviews, but Lynskey was quickly singled out as its greatest strength, ultimately picking up a special jury prize for her work in the film.
“I Knew I Had to Do It”
DuVall had long known that she wanted to make a film and that she wanted to build it at least partially around a role written specifically for Lynskey. DuVall started with small ideas — Lynskey recalled snippets of conversation like, “I want to do one of those people-in-a-house movies” and “I think it’s really funny when you act like you’re drunk” — before penning a full script in just a few days. Lynskey laughed while recounting DuVall’s lightning-fast writing spree, but admits she was terrified by the possibilities.
“I knew I had to do it, because she’s my best friend,” Lynskey says. “I was kind of like, ‘Oh God, oh God, please be good!’ And I loved it. I just thought it was so funny and so good.”
Yet DuVall didn’t write an easy role for Lynskey, one that echoes her best traits or is just a bigger version of her actual personality. In fact, Lynskey doesn’t even really like Annie all that much when she first read the script.
“I think she’s like a nightmare,” Lynskey laughed when asked about her first reaction to Annie. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, she’s a nightmare,’ and I just was like, ‘This is so funny.'”
But Lynskey found an entry point, because Annie’s most extreme attributes are spun off those of someone she loves: DuVall.
“I kind of understood that it was the most intense parts of Clea, turned up to like a thousand,” she says. “I think the reason she’s so likable is that it’s very personal, and [Clea] has an understanding of how that type of person operates. As I was reading it, I just had her voice in my head.”
Lynskey, who says that she’s never too hung up on making her characters “likable,” also found freedom in Annie’s worst behavior. And there was at least one unexpected lesson.
“Women are allowed to be assholes as well, you know?”
Though Lynskey is unabashedly the star of the film, “The Intervention” is, just as DuVall hoped for, a “people-in-a-house movie,” kitted out with a large and impressive ensemble.
“There’s just something about the storytelling that has a real ease to it,” Lynskey says. “The chemistry, just being able to make an ensemble movie, I think that was the thing she really wanted to do. She had a lot of different characters in mind, and I’m just so proud of her.”
The One That Got Away
Lynskey appears to thrive in those sorts of environments, ones built on mutual trust and admiration and featuring plenty of other talented folks. That’s the kind of experience she had on the recently cancelled HBO series “Togetherness,” the loss of which she’s still reeling from.
“I mean, it was really hard. I think it was hard for everybody,” Lynskey says when asked about the cancellation. “We all loved each other, and we all had worked so hard.”
“Togetherness,” a grown-up dramedy about the ins and outs of modern relationships as beautifully drawn by Mark and Jay Duplass, also offered Lynskey something she’s always looking for: a rich and real role that any actress would kill to get.
“I think Amanda [Peet] and I had a particular understanding that we were very lucky to have these parts,” Lynskey adds. “It’s also kind of scary, because it’s like, ‘Well, what now?’ I’ve used this analogy before talking to my friends, but I just sort of feel like I was dumped by the love of my life and now I’m reading pilots and it just sort of feels like I’m on Tinder.”
Despite that particular heartbreak, Lynskey is optimistic about her future. In some ways, she feels like she has to be.
“This Is What I Have to Do”
“I don’t know how to do anything else,” says Lynskey. “I don’t have any training and I don’t have a degree, so I think there’s been a certain element that’s been like, ‘Well, this is how I make my living, so this is what I have to do.'”
But after more than two decades in the industry, the actress also knows how to handle what can be a tumultuous career path, one she approaches with charming pragmatism.
“At the times where I have gotten frustrated,” she says. “I’ve just had to really hold steady and just be like, ‘Okay, something else is going to come. You don’t have to agree to do something that you think is terrible, you don’t have to do something that you don’t feel sort of right about.'”
Right now, Lynskey is especially excited about the possibility of another project — one that offers those kind of rich role she’s always looking for — that might return her back to television. She’s currently attached to an untitled script by Pamela Ribon, who previously wrote and produced “Samantha Who?” and recently made the jump to the big screen with credits on “Moana” and the upcoming “Wreck-It Ralph” sequel.
Samuel Goldwyn Films/Paramount Pictures
“We’re trying to get that set up,” Lynskey explains. “But then that’s also hard, because it’s like a TV show about a 40-year-old woman and people are like, ‘No!’ We’re trying. It’s a great, great, great script and I’m really hopeful that all comes together, because she’s one of the greatest writers.”
Lynskey knows a good role when she reads it — as for the series with Ribon, she doesn’t mince words in calling it her “dream” part — and she seems more secure than ever in trusting that instinct.
“I don’t have imaginings of the type of thing I want to do. It’s really just a matter of feeling it my body when I read it,” she says. “Like something sort of sizzles in me and I know how to do this. I’ve said yes to things before when I haven’t had that feeling, and it’s just never good.”
It was, in many ways, a hard-won lesson.
“Early in my career, I think I would get more panicky if a couple of months had gone between jobs,” Lynskey continues. “I was more likely to make a choice that I didn’t feel 100% great about, and then I’d be at the premiere and I’d be like, ‘Why am I in this?’ This didn’t happen that often, but when it did happen, it just feels crappy. It became easier at a certain point to just be like, ‘Okay, remember the last time you felt like this, you waited it out for 4 months and then something great came along.'”
“The Intervention” opens in theaters and On Demand on Friday, September 26.