As Rose, the loony stalker-turned-wife of Charlie Sheen’s womanizing Charlie (and as it’s alluded to, also the one responsible for his death) on “Two and a Half Men,” Matt Damon’s loyal and patient wife in Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!, George Clooney’s sister in Up in the Air, and a murderous teen in her film debut, Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures starring opposite Kate Winslet (remastered and released on Blu-ray last year), New Zealand native Melanie Lynskey has intrigued audiences for years with her unique portrayals of interesting characters, often a stand-out in her many supporting roles.
Most recently appearing in the Steve Carell-Keira Knightley romantic dramedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, there’s no doubting the camera loves Lynskey, as humble and as shy as she might be at the suggestion, which I discovered in a recent poolside interview at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills. On this occasion, the main topic of discussion was her upcoming movie where she takes center stage, Hello I Must Be Going, opening first in Los Angeles on September 7th, with more cities to follow.
In the dark comedy directed by Todd Louiso, Lynskey plays Amy, a 30-something forced to move back into her parents’ Connecticut home following her recent divorce. Depressed, she rarely leaves her bedroom or changes out of her pajamas, much to her parent’s annoyance. But things change when she musters the energy to attend a dinner party where she meets a 19-year-old actor, Jeremy, played by Christopher Abbott (HBO’s “Girls”). Their instant attraction turns into an intensely intimate affair that starts to bring Amy back from the brink of emotional destruction, giving her a new take on life, on her circumstance, on her newfound independence, on the hope that love can find her again.
Sneaking off at night to meet up with the teenager, it becomes clear that, despite his occasional naïveté, Jeremy is the more mature of the two. Not making matters much better is the fact that Amy is like her mother in many ways, as portrayed with great desperation and fret by Blythe Danner, all thanks to her retirement-focused husband (John Rubinstein). Like her mother, Amy lived her own marriage doing what pleased her husband (Dan Futterman), essentially abandoning her photography career, finding little to fulfill her own wishes and desires.
Watch the trailer and then read my interview with Lynskey, who dives into the movie’s skinny-dipping scene, why she thanked her lucky stars when Christopher Abbott was suggested to play Jeremy, what she loved about Blythe Danner and her upcoming movies Teddy Bears and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Gerrad Hall: There is such good comedy in this. You hate to laugh at Amy and her situation, but I think the balance of drama and humor was done really well. Was there a lot of attention paid to how to poke fun at this character’s depression?
Melanie Lynskey: It wasn’t really a big conversation. It was sort of inherent in the script that there was a little bit of distinct … the script felt for Amy, but at the same time, like, come on now! Because there is comedy, even when terrible things are happening to you, I think it’s important to realize the absurdity of it.
GH: Does sitting out here by the pool bring back memories of the skinny-dipping scene? Do you have that association with things in real life that remind you of characters you’re portrayed?
ML: No, thank God! Now I’m traumatized, I’m going to start crying…the interview is ruined. (laughs) No, I never want to think about that skinny-dipping scene ever again.
GH: Really? Was that a tough one to shoot?
ML: I was naked, and it was freezing, and I was a little self-conscious. I was naked filming that, like, very, very naked. When I saw the movie, I was like, you didn’t even really see anything. I don’t know why I was walking around so naked. (laughs)
GH: So then you were following up with Todd asking why you did all of that for nothing?
ML: Yeah, hang on a second … somebody could’ve tapped me on the shoulder and given me a little cover-up to put on. I kind of felt like that – I was all prepared and [thinking], ‘Ok, this scene is going to be crazy!’ and then I saw it and I was like, ‘Oh (sigh), all right.’
GH: So then in hindsight, do you think had you had cover-ups that you would’ve been in a different mental space for the scene?
ML: Actually I do think so. There is something about being forced to be so free – when you’re standing and you are physically naked in front of people, it puts you in a crazy place. It was kind of the place [Amy] was in also, which is just this abandon, ‘whatever! I don’t fucking care!’ [attitude]. So I think it would’ve been different if I had a little towel on or something.
GH: Well, it was still an incredibly brave scene, so you certainly get that credit.
I want to talk about the title, which comes from a Marx Brothers movie, Animal Crackers. We see Amy watching that movie a couple times with her father. Those scenes are so sweet and innocent.
ML: Yeah, it is very sweet. But then it’s interesting because Amy’s relationship with her father is something that’s really kind of screwed her up.
GH: In a way she doesn’t realize.
ML: In a way that she doesn’t realize. And that’s what her marriage was also about, enacting that same dynamic. And it’s interesting that their elements of connection were moments of sitting in the dark together watching movies. They can’t actually have a conversation with each other. So it’s still kind of sad. It’s very sweet and it’s nice that they’re connecting, but it’s not…
GH: Not quite healthy.
ML: Yeah, yeah.
GH: Let’s talk about the other man in Amy’s life, Jeremy, played by Christopher Abbott, who is just fantastic. This is a tricky role he’s playing as Jeremy, a very easy one to mess up. Did the two of you spend much time together before shooting or was it important to be separate and then find the bond on-camera?
ML: We didn’t spend a lot of time together beforehand. I was so relieved; Todd showed me [Christopher’s] audition and I just was like, ‘Thank you!’ (her hands pressed together as if in prayer as she looks up). I was so relieved that they had found him because it is such a tricky role. Some names were being thrown around and I was just like, ‘My God, what have I gotten myself into? This could be really bad and really embarrassing.’
GH: Meaning because of the actors’ skills, they had “name” but nothing to back it up?
ML: There were a couple people I wasn’t sure about acting-wise, and then…there was a weird thing with the age difference where it’s important that he seems younger, but if he seems too much younger, it’s seriously creepy and you think something is wrong with her.
GH: Child predator versus cougar.
ML: Exactly! Yeah, you don’t want to seem like a molester. But he had the right balance, he has a maturity to him, a youthfulness. And he’s just such an interesting actor – everything he says you truly believe it’s the first time it’s come out of his mouth. He’s so spontaneous, he’s so real that his performance is so ‘lived in’…
GH: Very natural.
ML: Very, very natural. We spent one afternoon together before we started filming, and then when we started to work together we had to really work on being comfortable with each other and breaking down boundaries and just being like, ‘Ok, I’m here, I’m open to you.’ It’s a weird relationship.
GH: His character is a teenager, but he is actually in his 20s. But you started acting when you were in your teens, you’ve been acting now for more than half your life now.
ML: Yeah, that’s true.
GH: Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures was your first movie, correct?
ML: Yeah, it was my first anything. It was my first professional [job.] I had done school plays and local theatre.
GH: That was a pretty big platform to be launched onto.
ML: Yeah, it was crazy!
GH: Does it seem like it was actually that long ago?
ML: It does. Feels like a really long time ago.
GH: When you look at your résumé, you have made a lot of movies since then, and most of them independent movies. Do you find more comfort, better material? What do you latch onto in that world?
ML: I think the material is better. It’s just such a different world now. Studio movies are so expensive, people are so afraid of spending money, and there just are really not that many roles. If there’s a woman in a studio movie – even for a 35-year-old woman who’s not super gorgeous, there’s not a lot of stuff. In a studio movie, they’re maybe someone’s assistant who comes in [and says], ‘So and so is on the phone.’ There’s really just not that much around.
GH: Speaking of a great woman in front of the camera … Blythe Danner is a riot in this.
ML: She is so good!
GH: She has some of the funniest lines amidst all of her own heartbreak. If she only has two words to say in a scene, they stand out. There is a certain energy she brings to every single role. Is it tangible on-set as well?
ML: Absolutely. And she also does a wonderful thing where she [seems] completely distracted, but there’s a focus to it. There’s this weird thing she does, it’s so funny.
GH: It is something that throws you off or makes you more present?
ML: No, it’s just such an interesting energy to work with. She’s not like that in person, she’s not [flighty] – she’s very sweet and present and kind, but she really does that high-strung thing very well.
GH: She has such great lines, as does Julie White who plays a psychologist – and it’s so great how inter-personal relations and psychology are strung throughout the story. There is her great line about “the greatest American tragedy is the…”
ML: “…unlived lives of parents.” Yeah.
GH: So important to the bigger story here. Also the fact that Amy doesn’t feel compelled to tell anyone about this “therapy” she has found with Jeremy. Did you talk much with Todd about the psychology of the story? Are those things you think about?
ML: I like to talk about it, but I don’t want to over-think it. I don’t like to plan within the scene, I like all of that to be spontaneous. But it’s good to know that you’re both on the same page about the psychology of the character and the story progression and that your timeline matches up.
GH: I have to ask about the movie Teddy Bears, which you shot earlier this year and has a great cast.
ML: Such a great cast!
GH: All we really know about it is there are three couples who go out of town for the weekend to help a friend whose mother just passed away.
ML: Yes, David Krumholtz and I are one couple, Gillian Jacobs and Jason Ritter are another couple, and Ahna O’Reilly and Zach Knighton are the third couple. [It was] the most amazing group and the most fun, beautiful group of people. So David’s character’s mother has just died, he invites everybody out to this house in the desert for his birthday and everyone goes to support him. When we get there, he’s like, ‘I want to have sex with all these women.’ That’s what the movie is about.
GH: Well, you certainly wouldn’t expect that from the title Teddy Bears.
ML: No. The teddy bears are a type of cactus found in Joshua Tree where we filmed it. [The movie] is so interesting. Krumholtz…his performance…I have never seen anything like this. It’s the weirdest, funniest…I can’t wait to see this movie. I’m [wondering], ‘What is this going to be like?’ It’s such a great group of actors, everybody is so good.
GH: You’re also in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which there is such anticipation building around.
ML: That movie is beautiful, it’s really good.
GH: And everyone who has seen it is talking about Logan Lerman.
ML: I have to be honest, I had never seen him in anything before. He is astonishing in this, he’s so good in this movie. It’s really crazy.
GH: How would you say it differs from other coming-of-age stories?
ML: I think it’s really embracing the outsider kids, as a group. It’s not just ‘one kid who feels a little bit different and then he gets accepted into the normal kids.’ It’s really embracing that outsider status that a lot of kids have, and it’s that feeling of when you feel a little weird and then you meet other kids who are also a little weird, and then you start listening to The Smiths and your life changes. For me, that was my high school experience. It really…when I read that script, I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’
And Logan is crazy, he’s so good.
GH: And you play his aunt?
ML: His aunt. When the movie begins, she’s dead. She died when he was a child, but she had a lasting impact on his life for various reasons.
Teddy Bears does not yet have a distributor, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is in theaters September 21, 2012.