I was a senior in high school when Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures” rolled into my local art house theater in 1994. My friends and I were thrilled by the story of one of the most infamous murder cases in New Zealand’s history. We saw it over and over again and I knew that we’d be seeing a lot more of the lead actresses in the film – Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey.
Earlier today, Seattle-based director Megan Griffiths (who recently directed Lynskey in a film called “Sadie”) sat down with Lynskey at SXSW for a revealing chat sponsored by SAG-AFTRA. She discussed everything from her first acting role (in a play at age 6) to the way she’s been able to manage an eclectic career in independent cinema while getting paid from a big television gig.
Here are a few great moments from their conversation.
Life was weird after “Heavenly Creatures”: “I stayed in New Zealand. I had two more years of high school, so it was very strange. I literally was living my dream and had the most incredible experience. I’d been telling everyone that I wanted to be an actor and they said, “you have to choose a different job. That’s not a real job.” And then I went off and did it. It was sort of a weird thing of coming back and everyone was like ‘that was fun, good for you’ and now get on with life as though it didn’t happen.”
She’s pretty confident about picking the right roles: “I learned that I operate very much from instinct. It has to come from somewhere that’s very truthful inside of me…”
She’s had some horrifying auditions: “One time, they were making a movie about Janis Joplin. It was years ago and I read the script and I just was like…’Janis Joplin is a step too far.’ I just knew instinctively that it was not for me. I was reading the signs…I can’t do it. But I got talked into it. And later I heard that Rachel Griffiths, an amazing actress had gotten a movie because someone had seen the videotape of her audition for Janis Joplin and she was so great and she had gotten a movie from it. And I was like ‘those tapes are out there.’ It scared me so badly. That the casting director was just like showing the tapes to people.”
Acting on a network sitcom allowed her to keep the rest of her career choices pretty indie: “‘Two and a Half Men’ was like a whole other thing. I did it because it was pilot season and there was a guest-starring role in a sitcom and I was like ‘what’s a sitcom like? That’s interesting. I want to try that.’ And then I became a regular for a couple of years and then after that I got to come and go from the show, which I am so grateful for. I don’t know how people make a living doing independent films. I had this job. I wasn’t getting rich from it…but…I could pay my bills. And I was able to build an interesting independent film career because I had this secret job…that a lot of people didn’t even know I was on…I’m so grateful to the creators of that show.”
The best director she’s ever worked with: “My favorite director I think is probably Steven Soderbergh [Lynskey appeared in his 2009 film “The Informant!”]. He was so great. He wanted it to be so loose and so free. There was a real sense of fun and adventure and just trying stuff that I got addicted to very quickly on that set.”
Melanie Lynskey’s most recent projects include a short film by indie rocker St. Vincent in the female horror anthology “XX” (available now on VOD) and Macon Blair’s Sundance award-winning thriller “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore” (streaming now on Netflix).