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Melanie stars as "Rose" on CBS's comedy series "Two And A Half Men". Lynskey first received acclaim for her role in the feature film "Heavenly Creatures." Her other feature film credits include "Sweet Home Alabama," "Snakeskin," "Ever After," "Coyote Ugly," "Detroit Rock City," "But I'm a Cheerleader," "The Cherry Orchard," "Foreign Correspondence," "Abandon" and "Shattered Glass." She will next be seen in the film "Donut Hole." Her television credits include the mini-series "Rose Red" and the series "The Shield." Melanie was born on May 16, 1977, in Plymouth, New Zealand. She currently resides in Los Angeles.
Melanie Lynskey's proud mum is guest at Disney premiere
Taranaki actress Melanie Lynskey's latest movie, Coyote Ugly, is to be premiered in New York at the end of the month. Disney Productions is spending millions promoting the film, billed as a romantic comedy, as their big summer release.
Lynskey (23) plays the role of the smart-mouthed pal of actor Piper Perabo, who plays a barmaid at Coyote Ugly, the hottest spot in town.
And joining in the hype will be Lynskey's mother, Kay, of New Plymouth, who leaves for New York on Thursday .
Disney has provided an all-expenses-paid trip for her – including first-class air tickets – to New York for the premier at Ziegfield's next Monday.
Mrs Lynskey will meet her daughter in Los Angeles, where she is now based.
"I'm just so excited. I've never been to New York before. And there'll be some time for some retail therapy," Mrs Lynskey said.
The movie, also starring John Goodman and supermodel Tyra Banks, is set in the actual Manhattan nightclub Coyote Ugly after which it is named.
The story is about velvet-voiced Violet Sanford (played by Perabo) who goes to New York to pursue her dream of becoming a songwriter. Her aspirations are sidelined by the notoriety she receives at her day job at Coyote Ugly.
The film is Lynskey's 10th since her career took off following Heavenly Creatures. Her favourites to date are Ever After and the just-completed New Zealand road movie Snake Skin, by new director Gillian Ashurst.
Lynskey is soon to appear in an episode of Angel, a spinoff from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in a role written for her by the series' creator Joss Whedon.
Melanie Lynskey's Hollywood story
It isn't really a rags-to-riches story. However, Melanie Lynskey's move from starring in Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures" to working opposite Drew Barrymore in the big budget Hollywood movie "Ever After" is a story well worth hearing.
Living under the shadow of imposing famous icons seems to be a habit for Melanie Lynskey. The softly spoken actress, who catapulted onto our screens and into our conciousness with her stunning portrayal of a 1950s schoolgirl murderess in Peter Jackson's HEAVENLY CREATURES, grew up with the majestic figure of New Plymouth's Mt Taranaki as a backdrop to her childhood. These days, it's a man-made structure that frames her environment. Several stories tall, it spells out a metaphor for the unbridled dreams and shattered illusions of many Americans -- HOLLYWOOD.
Until recently, Lynskey has also been living in the shadow of her first ever co-star, the Oscar-nominated British darling of Hollywood, Kate Winslet, who played Lynskey's partner in crime in Jackson's internationally acclaimed film. But, while the 20-year-old is content being dwarfed by her surroundings, she's finally starting to make some serious headway establishing her own career as an in-demand actress. In fact, it seems that it may not be long before the shadow cast by her own career is as imposing and impressive as those of her successful peers in Hollywood.
Despite a worrisome lull of a couple of years after the making of HEAVENLY CREATURES, over the past two years Lynskey has won roles in no less than five films, all due to be released within the next 12 months. These roles will finally prove to the film studios, the public at large and Lynskey herself that what was essentially her lucky break with HEAVENLY CREATURES wasn't just a one-off piece of propitious casting. Of course, the highest profile film in this cavalcade of new roles is undoubtably EVER AFTER, a modern take on the Cinderella story starring non other than Drew Barrymore and Anjelica Huston and filmed in the south of France. Lynskey plays a somewhat mutated evil stepsister. "I was the nice stepsister," she explains over the phone from Los Angeles, where she's flatting in the Hollywood Hills, just beneath the infamous HOLLYWOOD sign. "It's the whole twist of the role. I was the good girl."
With EVER AFTER proving Barrymore's second consecutive hit film in America after the runaway success of THE WEDDING SINGER, Lynskey's role in the film is already providing her with the kind of attention HEAVENLY CREATURES promised yet largely failed to deliver. While it's stretching the truth to say the film offers are flooding in, at least Lynskey is now being sent the good scripts, given highly sought after auditions and getting work in an increasing number of interesting films. Meanwhile, the irony of her major Hollywood break coming in the form of the rags to riches fairy tale about Cinderella isn't lost on Lynskey.
Despite the attention and accolades generated by Lynskey's portrayal of Pauline Parker in Jackson's first foray into serious drama, her role in HEAVENLY CREATURES wasn't the kick-start to a film career many, including Lynskey herself, initially anticipated it would be. While critics and moviegoers were captivated by her performance as a sullen, sensitive and palpably unstable schoolgirl, Lynskey was actually living a far less glamourous life. Tucked away in a small New Zealand town intent on finishing her seventh form year at New Plymouth Girls' High School, she spent some long, hard months weighing up her future and worrying that her unexpected break into an acting career was destined to be very short-lived indeed.
"I think the hardest thing was to go back to school," she muses, quick to assure me that most people were extremely supportive of her success. "It's a pretty catty environment at an all-girls school and things happened. For example, 60 MINUTES came to do a story on me and followed me around for a day. At school, you just don't need that. And then I would have to go to New York or Sydney for a week and take time out. And, while they were amazing experiences, it was hard because I had these two completely separate lives. I think a lot of people resented that. It put me outside of them a bit."
For the academically-inclined Lynskey, finishing her final year at school was essential. But, while her classmates were relocating to various university hostels around the country, Lynskey was flying halfway around the world, convinced she was going to finally reap the benefits of HEAVENLY CREATURES' success. Only it didn't work out that way. After a month-and-a-half in LA expecting to walk through the doors that should have opened with the film's success, Lynskey made the disappointing trip home with nothing to show for her time abroad except some fairly hefty emotional baggage.
"I felt really self-conscious the first time I came here to LA," she explains. "HORRIBLY self-conscious! There were these girls at auditions who were all SO old and SO skinny...I wasn't ready for it. I was terrified of being here. I thought: 'I have to grow. I'm not ready for it yet.' Now, I feel like LA is my favourite place in the world but only because now I've got the strength to tackle it and to live it a bit. It's a very competitive environment and when I came here I was like 17 or 18.
"It's hard when you've gone away and everyone is like, 'Oh, she's gone to LA. She's going to be a movie star,'" Lynskey continues, explaining the disappointment and self-doubt she experienced on her less than triumphant return to New Zealand. "It's hard to turn around and say, 'I'm not ready for it'. It was a really hard thing to do and I felt like I'd failed. I thought: 'I should be ready for this. I should be able to do this.' I was scared. I thought: 'God, maybe I can't do it! Maybe I can't even remember how to act anymore! Maybe it was a big fluke!'"
For the next 18 months after returning that first time, Lynskey attended Wellington's Victoria University, studying film, theatre and English. But the hardest lesson for the young actress to learn was adapting to life as an ordinary student after glimpsing what it would be like to live her dream. "There were times when I went back home and I felt like I was going crazy," she confesses. "I've always loved acting and I misssed it so much."
Just when Lynskey had virtually resigned herself to a life without any further Hollywood hype, in stepped a new fairy godmother in the form of Gaylene Preston (Frances Walsh, co-writer of HEAVENLY CREATURES and the woman who discovered and cast Lynskey in the film, will forever be her first fairy godmother). After auditioning for the lead in Preston's on-again, off-again film OPHELIA, the director took Lynskey aside and suggested that, before she throw herself into the thespian world, she needed to "do whatever she needed to do to make herself strong". The advice rang true for Lynskey, who was still suffering from low self-esteem after the failed pilgrimage to LA. The young actress began looking after herself physically, took voice lessons and "just grew up as a person".
While Lynskey was waiting to hear whether she would be Preston's Ophelia, another offer came in. It was a role in Mark Tapio Kines' independent film FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS, filmed in LA and co-starring Wil Wheaton of STAND BY ME and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION fame. Lynskey had already completed a small, blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as a police officer in Jackson's THE FRIGHTENERS, filmed mostly in Wellington. But, finally, she was off to tinsel town again. Only, this time, she not only had a part in a film but a renewed confidence in her ability to become the actress she had always dreamed of being.
It was while she was filming FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS that Lynskey successfully auditioned for Andy Tennant's third feature, EVER AFTER, which meant she got to spend four months in Southern France, working and partying on a major Hollywood production. On her return to the United States, Lynskey found she had suddenly achieved a tangible name for herself as an actress. Roles in THE CHERRY ORCHARD, based on the Anton Chekov play and directed by Michael (ZORBA THE GREEK) Cacoyannis in Bulgaria, and DETROIT ROCK CITY, the tale of a group of teenagers and their exploits en route to a KISS concert, filmed in Toronto by Adam Riskin and starring T2's Eddie Furlong, followed. Filming has just wrapped on DETROIT ROCK CITY and Lynskey plans to return home for a fleeting festive visit. Before long though, she'll be back in LA to revisit the role of a teenage lesbian in the independent film BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER, which also stars her new friend from DETROIT ROCK CITY, Natasha Lyonnne (EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU, SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS), who recommmended Lynskey for the part.
Speaking to Lynskey from the Hollywood apartment she shares with one of her deep-voiced CHERRY ORCHARD co-stars (it's his voice on the answerphone), I oscillate between musing on how much her burgeoning success has changed her and how unaffected she still seems to be. There is a discernible new-found confidence in Lynskey's speech and attitude towards herself and her career. Yet, while she's forthcoming and honest about her rising fortunes, Lynskey is quick to downplay any talk of stardom. The first 10 minutes of our interview are entirely occupied with Lynskey excitedly recalling the successes of various people she grew up with in New Plymouth. And, when she does allow herself to admit that things for herself are looking better than they ever have, she quickly becomes concerned and sweetly inquires: "Do you think I'm really arrogant?"
One on One with Melanie Lynskey
Q: : Like your character in HEAVENLY CREATURES, a lot of girls fantasise about growing up to be a famous actress. Was it the same for you?
Melanie Lynskey: Oh, yeah, completely! I always wanted to be an actress or a writer. I can't remember ever wanting to do anything else since I was 12, when I discovered that these options were open to me. It was always such an important part of mine, and the people I was growing up with's, lives. I mean, we went to drama class on Friday nights and it was a very social thing. It was so important to get that release every week, I guess, from where you were living. It was funny doing European press for EVER AFTER because they were all saying: 'Isn't it a dream of all young girls to grow up and be princesses?' And I sort of thought about it and I guess the modern daydream of young girls is to grow up and be a famous actress or a supermodel, God forbid, which are sort of modern day princesses.
Q: Considering it was your ambition from the age of 12 to act and that Fran Walsh's discovery of you was such a lucky break, do you think there's some kind of fate or destiny at work in your life?
L: Yeah, I think so. I feel so lucky, I don't want to jinx it! They [HEAVENLY CREATURES' Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh] found me at the perfect moment in my life, when I could play this really individual character. They picked me out of 600 other people because they could see that it was the right time and they could see in me what they needed. I think it is some kind of destiny for someone to come to New Plymouth and find you in this group of girls and give you this amazing opportunity which has opened up so much for me.
Q: So, do you think that if it had been a year earlier or a year later, you wouldn't have been the perfect girl for that role?
L: Yeah, I think so. I was going through all the normal teenage things, but some fairly intense teenage things as well, that I think were perfect. In a way, I was young enough but I had that kind of maturity that Pauline had as well. I was in a very sort of adult relationship and a close friend of ours had died. There was a lot of stuff that was open to me. I don't know that a lot of 15-year-old girls have access to a lot of the emotions that those two girls were feeling. But I had it all in me and if it had been a year earlier, I wouldn't have been ready. And if it had been a year later, I would have resolved it all.
Q: In retrospect, was it a step backward for you to go to LA that first time to pursue your acting career, only to return to New Zealand unsuccessful and pretty depressed?
L: I think I just needed to grow up and I needed to believe in myself. I think that's the biggest thing you need here. You just have to have such confidence because you're getting turned down for things left, right and centre.
Q: Did your parents ever give you the "It's time to stop dreaming and get a real job" speech?
L: They didn't do that. I mean, it was crazy of me to go to LA right off the bat. Maybe I could have gone to Australia and done that...Just a little step. I think they really felt for me. My parents understand me and they know me really well and they knew it wasn't a healthy choice I was making. So, when I came home, they were really protective of me. But, last year, when they saw that I was ready for it, that I couldn't do what I was doing anymore, that I couldn't stay in New Zealand because I was desperate to act--I was HUNGRY for it--they said: 'Go and do everything'. They were great about it.
Q: Was it hard for you to understand why you weren't successful initially, especially considering how HEAVENLY CREATURES really seemed to launch Kate Winslet's career?
L: No, not really. I mean, Pauline in HEAVENLY CREATURES was an amazing performance and I'm very proud of it but it's not the kind of character that makes people in Hollywood go, 'Oh, my God! The girl can do anything!' I got a lot of attention from it and I'm finding that it's helping me now because...It sounds so dreadful to say this and I hate the way thing work here, but, physically, now I'm of a type that's accepted here. I lost a lot of weight and my face is a different shape and I just kind of grew up and grew into myself. So now I find that I'm going up for any type of role...The girlfriend, the pretty girl, whatever. Now I've got EVER AFTER behind me, where people can say 'Well, we know she can act because she's done this.' Whereas, with HEAVENLY CREATURES, it was like, 'Well, we know she can act but I don't think she could fit into this part or this part or this part...' With Kate, she's gorgeous and she played the part of a beautiful girl in the film and it's easy for people to watch it and go, 'I can imagine her in this and this and this...'
Q: Still, despite your physical transformation, you're hardly the typical American beauty. Is that working in your favour now?
L: I think I'm comfortable with myself now and...I don't know how to say this because it's a funny thing to be talking about...Now, physically, I fit into a lot more places. There are a lot more different parts people can cast me in now. There are a lot more ways they can see me. I didn't go out and try to change myself so I could get work. It just happened when I spent that time growing up and taking care of myself. It just happened, honestly, when I had that talk with Gaylene Preston. I just felt like my whole life opened up and I got this new confidence in every way. Also, I think people's attitudes are changing. Because independent films have been so successful in recent years and more interesting actresses, like Christina Ricci, are being cast in bigger movies, I think people are more open to a quirky kind of attractiveness. I mean, by no means am I like most of the girls that are at these auditions with me. They're SO skinny. They look like they've never eaten in their lives and spent their whole lives on a tanning bed. The leathery waif...[laughs] I'm not like that, by any means. It's so funny. Maybe it's a New Zealand thing but I still get so much guilt about saying I look better.
Q: Celebrities, especially actors, seem very fond of claiming that success hasn't changed them. But you don't even sound like the same person you were two years ago!
L: I mean, I'm still so nervous of even discussing this because I'm so scared that I'm going to wake up tomorrow and it will all be gone. I know that I'm not experiencing any huge success or anything like that. I feel like it's going good and it could keep going well. I think the main thing that's changed is that, although I still get terrified, I think now, maybe, I could make this my life. I'm putting 'actor' on my forms for immigration. I always used to put 'unemployed' or 'student' or something and now I'm writing 'actor'. I can say that I do this. I think it's what I was always meant to do. And I just feel so lucky to be allowed to do it and it's made me happy--happy with myself--and that's changed me.
Q: The other cliché actors often insist upon is that being in the movie industry isn't glamourous. But, here you are at 20, jet-setting around the world, living in LA, earning lots of money, going out to dinnner and getting drunk with people like Drew Barrymore and Anjelica Huston...Surely you can't say your life isn't glamourous!
L: It's so funny because when you get picked up at three o'clock in the morning to do a night shoot and it's horrible weather and you've got to make out with some guy you don't even know, it's not glamourous! The work isn't glamourius but the life is. I mean, I'm not living any movie star life but, like, the other night, Natasha Lyonne, Claire Duvall [also in BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER] and me got front row tickets to a KISS concert. And to treat ourselves, we hired a limo [laughs]. It sounds so terrible and decadent but we spent the night like three young actresses, roaming around LA in this limo, saying 'Take us here and take us there.'
Q: Acting the lifestyle...
L: Yeah, completely. And I thought then: 'It is kind of glamourous.' Even though we were just playing, it was fun. Nobody had a clue who any of us were but it was something fun and girly and glamourous!
Q: Something which really struck me when I was going through the EVER AFTER press kit was how visually similar you and Drew look in the film.
L: Everyone says that. It's so funny.
Q: What's it like to be compared to this woman who men and women go crazy over?
L: Well, I mean, obviously it's amazing! [laughs] It's such a huge compliment. I don't know... I can't see it myself. Drew, it's like she's got this light inside of her, which I think is why people love her so much and are so drawn to her. And it's so bright inside her that I think: 'Oh my God! I can't compare myself to Drew!' Because, honestly, she's like she's from another world or something. We've both got chubby faces and long chins...She'd love it if she read that!
Q: On the subject of Drew, there's been a rumour circulating back here that the two of you had a torrid affair while you were making EVER AFTER...
L: [Laughs] That's not true! I was going out with her production assistant! [laughs] She's got a boyfriend who she's been with for years. Oh, I wonder where that got started? We're pretty close, though, Drew and I. She's pretty touchy-feely; she's a huggy girl. But that's cool. We weren't making out in each other's trailers or anything! I wouldn't mind! [laughs] I'm selling that one to Woman's Day. It's an exclusive, I'm afraid [laughs].
Q: Keeping that rumour in mind, and considering that BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER will be your second lesbian role, do you think that you might replace Lucy Lawless as New Zealand's new lesbian icon?
L: Oh God! [laughs] I think I already am! But I think CHEERLEADER is definitely going to contribute to that.
Q: Okay, despite the fact that we can't all fantasise about you and Drew together now, it must have been pretty wild to be getting drunk with people like Drew and Anjelica, whom you must have previously considered these movie icons far removed from your own reality...
L: At first, it was terrifying. Drew was cool. I mean, for a long time, it was just me and her cast in the movie, so we had lots of correspondence. She said how excited she was to be working with me and I said it back. So we kind of broke the ice and she's my age and she's very easy-going. But the first time I met Anjelica, we were having makeup tests and she came in in this big white robe [laughs]. And her hair was all swept up and she's got that amazing, gorgeous face. And I was like 'Oh my God! Oh my God! What do I say?' And she came over to me and said [mimics American accent]: 'I think you're a marvellous actress and I loved HEAVENLY CREATURES'. And from then on it just got cool. There were moments when we were sitting around drunk, doing some ridiculous thing, or crying or something, and I'd go: 'Oh my God. It's Anjelica Huston!' Or: 'It's Drew Barrymore!'"
Q: So they always made you feel part of that lifestyle?
L: It's weird because we were in France and we were sort of shut away from everything and we had a normal kind of social life. Then when I came back to LA, the times I've gone out to dinner with Anjelica here are weird because she's got a defence--and Drew has, as well--just to shut off from the fact that people are openly staring or following her around. It's terrifying to me. I went into a bar one night with Drew and we were in this little curtained booth, for celebrities or something, and someone came in and pulled back the curtain and started taking pictures of her. People were sliding bits of paper under the curtain all night, saying 'Can I have your autograph?' She was bugged all night and yet she's so sweet and so gracious about it. I was just thinking: 'How can she live that way?' She's so famous, it's crazy. I mean, it's even weirder for Kate, I think, because the British press are so unbelieveably cruel and invasive.
Q: Although you want to be a successful actress, does an experience like that make you question whether it's worth aspiring to be in that league of fame?
L: Yeah! I mean, the only benefit of fame I guess I can see is that you get the first choice of all the best movies. Everything that I audition for, Drew's been offered, Kate's been offered...And I've really got to work to get them.
Q: Are you working towards any grand plan, then?
L: I will win two Oscars in the next year! That's my plan [laughs]. Best Supporting and Best Actress in the same year! No, I just want to keep doing it. I mean, my agents have a plan, which is a bit scary to me. They don't want to sit me down because they know what I'm like. They know I'd panic. But, occasionally, they slip up and say, 'Well, the next film has to be a lead.' And I'm like, 'Why? How do you know that? What do you mean?' I'm too scared to make plans because who knows what's going to happen. I just want to keep working, to keep doing cool things. I'm just so happy with where I am. I mean, I'm going into meetings and people are respecting me and saying things like: 'Oh, I love your work.' And I think: 'Oh God! I actually have a body of work!' I feel like that's an achievement. Like, this is my dream come true. Obviously, it would be nice to get statues and houses and whatever else. But I imagined my life would be doing plays and doing a movie, if I was lucky. And now, it's just incredible!
Melanie Lynskey: An L.A. Story
Melanie Lynskey took years to leave her plump schoolgirl image behind. But, as she tells Lynda Herrick, Hollywood caught up with her just as she was finding herself.
Actor Dean O'Gorman is urging Melanie Lynskey to cut short the interview and come out for dinner. She'll go along for the company-- "but I won't be eating. I've got a scene in my underwear tomorrow". It's a far cry from the days when Lynskey, 22, made her glowering 1993 screen debut in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, about the Parker-Hulme murder in Christchurch. That was when the New Plymouth schoolgirl tasted the poisonous chalice of the critics.
"Some of the reviews of Heavenly Creatures said wonderful things about my performance, but it's hard to be a teenage girl and read yourself being described as plump and dumpy," says Lynskey, who is working in Methven with O'Gorman on a feature film called Snakeskin-- her first work in New Zealand since the Jackson project. With six films due for release over the next year, including Snakeskin, Lynskey's career is getting busy. But it hasn't been as easy or spectacular as the rise to superstardom of her Heavenly Creatures co-star Kate Winslet, via a voyage on Titanic. Too soon after making Heavenly Creatures, Lynskey--who was discovered by Jackson's partner Fran Walsh-- moved prematurely to Tinseltown armed with that single much-acclaimed body of work, but no self-esteem.
"When I went to LA that first time I had no confidence, it was crazy, like jumping into the fire."After six weeks and some humiliating auditionsalongside "leathery waif" wannabes, she fled back home and studied film and theatre for 18 months at Victoria University, while pondering the prospect of one-hit-wonder oblivion. Then film-maker Gaylene Preston advised her that if she wanted to get into films, "make yourself strong"and Lynskey's attitude began to evolve-- as did her figure.
"The most important thing anyone can do if they're going to be an actor is take time out and decide whether you're strong enough within yourself to cope with all that rejection and scrutiny," she says. "You need to think about who you are. Acting is using things from within yourself to create a character and if there's not enough in yourself, you can't do it." It's helped that Hollywood is moving beyond bimbo stereotype, thanks to the commercial opportunities of a burgeoning indie film industry and the success of unconventional looking actresses such as Christina Ricci and Drew Barrymore, who Lynskey worked with on the Cinderella remake Ever After.
"There's been a real change in Hollywood," she explains. "I go up for romantic leads all the time now. They are more open to interesting looking people and more open to what qualities people can bring rather than having stereotypical skinny blonde things. I always think people like someone they can relate to."
Her most mainstream project so far is Coyote Ugly (out in August), a film by Hollywood blockbuster kind Jerry Bruckheimer of Flashdance, Top Gun, The Rock, Con air and Armageddon fame-- none of them exactly bastions of the feminist cause. But Coyote Ugly, explains Lynskey, is a "chick flick" set in a raunchy New York bar. One of its big strengths is that it's written by Kevin Smith, who made the hugely controversial Dogma (as well as Clerks and Mallrats). It's also a plus that it stars the incomparable John Goodman (The Big Lebowski).
There's more Hollywood chick-flick fodder for Lynskey in But I'm a Cheerleader, with Natasha Lyonne (American Pie), and she enters the strange world of obsessive KISS fandom in Detroit Rock City, with Edward Furlong (Terminator 2).
Last year she worked in Bulgaria in a remake of Chekov's The Cherry Orchard, with Charlotte Rampling and Alan Bates and has just completed Shooters, set for first screenings at the London film Festival later in the year. It's a London gangland film in which Lynskey plays a tough young woman married to a coke fiend intent on "just one last job". It seems Lynskey likes "tough and sexy". In Snakeskin, a twisted road movie written and directed by first-timer Gillian Ashurst, she plays a wild young woman called Alice who is "really sexy".
"Not overtly sexy, but one of those people who has incredible energy. She looks like she's been up all night doing bad things and still wakes up looking gorgeous," she sighs enviously. Lynskey has been based in London for the past couple of years, but when she leaves New Zealand at the end of May, she'll make her home once more in Los Angeles, where she has three suitcases stored in her agent's garage.
The Lynskey buzz is growing, she says. "If you have work in the can which hasn't been released but people are talking about positively, like Coyote Ugly, your currency increases-- which sounds nasty and it is nasty.You get to go up for different kinds of movies and you cross your fingers someone will give you that big break." Dinner with Anjelica Huston, parties with Drew Barrymore, auditions and movies in Europe, London, New York, Hollywood-- and Methven: there must be times when Lynskey ("just call me Mel") must pinch herself? "It's strange, it's bizarre, it's like living in a parallel universe," she says. But she'll never forget how it started, when Fran Walsh scoured the land looking for "a sullen, brooding schoolgirl"-- and found Lynskey two weeks before shooting started.
"When Fran found me it was one of those weird things when you have to believe it is your destiny, that it was meant to happen, because it was so random and strange," reflects Lynskey, adding that her family in New Plymouth are all "a bit over it now". And what of her Heavenly Creatures co-star, Kate Winslet, who got her first film job on that movie as well? They got together for dinner last year with Jackson and Walsh, and Winslet, laughs Lynskey, "is an old married woman now!"
Melanie Lynskey : Go After My Dream
Hollywood's home now for Taranaki-born actor Melanie Lynskey, but five years after leaving New Zealand to forge an international career she's returned to her grass roots to star in the movie "Snakekin".
Melanie Lynskey can be as slippery as a snake when it comes to pinning her down for an interview. It's not that Melanie, who shot to fame in "Heavenly Creatures" with Kate Winslet, doesn't want to talk. She does. Lots. It's just that she's in the middle of a punishing shooting schedule for her latest movie, "Snakeskin". The final scenes are being shot at night and filming doesn't finish until daybreak. After all night on set, Melanie snoozes until around 3pm, then it's right back to work. After four aborted attempts at catching up with the Los Angeles-based actor, I finally hook up with her during a break in filming in the South Island. Munching mouthfuls of pretzels and sipping chardonnay, the 22-year-old chats about what it's like rubbing shoulders with Hollywood stars, Drew Barrymore's sensational parties, and how her family and friends in New Zealand keep her grounded.
-You've described "Snakeskin" as the best script you've read since "Heavenly Creatures"-- what made it stand out?
The fact that it was so completely original. There were some plot twists that caught me completely by suprise. I kept thinking, 'What can they do? Where can they take it from here?' The way it unfolded was unlike anything I had read. The character Alice, who I'm playing, was just so strong and sexy and cool. I thought, 'I'm desperate to do this.' It was a real instinctive reation.
-In "Snakeskin" you're working alongside two of New Zealand's hunkiest actors, Taika Cohen from "Scarfies" and Dean O'Gorman from "Young Hercules". What's that like?
Taika Cohen is a spunk. He's just the cutest. In fact, everyone wants to have sex with Taika. Even boys look at him and say 'Oh, he's so cute'. With Dean, I have a brother-sister relationship--actually, I have a brother-sister relationship with both of them.(Much laughter)
-What do you like about working here?
I have always wanted to come back here to work. There's nothing like being at home and being around people who have grown up the same way as you. Being in the place you are meant to be means there's more of a family feeling to film-making here. I have done every kind of movie-- British low budget, American low budget, European art house, Hollywood studio. They are all such different ways of working. I really prefer low-budget movies because people are not just in it for the money. They put their heart and soul into it. It can be that way on a studio film, too, but sometimes you get the sense of people gritting their teeth and thinking about their bank account to get through it.
-You've been based in London and Los Angeles recently-- are you a bit like a rolling stone at the moment?
I've been living in London for the past couple of years. My ex-boyfriend bought a house in Shoreditch (a semi-industrial area popular with writers and artists). We moved there because it was cheap and near a tube station and it just got trendier and trendier. I really, really miss all the cafes around there. It had a really artistic vibe to it. But to be honest, I feel most at home in Wellington. If I could live anywhere in the world, it would have to be there, but there's just not enough work. I'm sort of homeless at the moment. All my stuff is in three suitcases in my agent's garage in LA. But I do need to find my own place because I'm obsessively buying cushion covers and anything I can fit in a suitcase. I need to make a home and I need to buy a big sofa and put it somewhere. I looked at a few apartments just before I came here.
-Why the move to LA?
I've decided that's where I have to be at the moment. There's just so much going on. Even now my agent in LA is calling me every day to let me know what's happening back there. Anywhere else in the world you sit around waiting, but when you're in LA you go out on castings every day. You can keep yourself occupied. It's hard to sit around waiting. At those times I think, 'How can I call myself an actor?' You tend to question yourself all the time when you're not working, and it's nice to be too busy to worry.
-What's your favourite travel destination?
I have never been anywhere for a holiday, but I have gone to a lot of different places around the world for work. I have been so lucky to be paid to see all these places. I went to the south of France for "Ever After" and it was like a holiday. They rented us a big house with a swimming pool and it had gorgeous views. One of the scariest places I have been to was Bulgaria. I did a movie version of the Chekov play "The Cherry Orchard", a European art-house movie where I spent three months in this tight corset. My whole body changed shape.
-If you settle down, where do you see yourself living?
I have to live in LA at the moment because of work. But I have this dream of having a nice house in Wellington by the water and having a place in LA out by the beach so that I can look across the Pacific and think, 'Everyone I love is just across the water'.
-Did you have a chance to become friends with Drew Barrymore on the set of "Ever After", or was it just a working relationship?
We became friends. I still see her and she has the best parties of anyone I know. She has just got a really big heart and she loves fun and she knows how to make people have fun. She has this great place in a canyon in LA which is a whole bunch of little houses on this property. When she has a party she strings up fairy lights and has this one hut which is just a bar and she has one room where people can do paintings. It's great fun and a lovely feeling being around her. She has the warmest energy of anyone I have ever met.
-Angelica Huston is like acting royalty. What was she like to work with in "Ever After"?
She is amazing. She is my ideal of what I would like to be like. She is well educated, has read everything, she is funny and beautiful. She is wise but she is not an old lady; she is a young spirit.
-"Heavenly Creatures" gave you and Kate winslet your big break--have the two of you kept in touch?
We kind of have. It's interesting how our paths have entwined. We were both at very formative times of our life when we met. We had an amazing connection in that film, which we will always have when we see each other. She is like a sister to me and I see her sometimes, but she is married and having a baby and doing all these grown up things.
-How is your love life? Is there anyone special at the moment?
I have been living with someone for the past couple of years, but I'm based in LA now and he's still in London. We both sort of need to know where we are at before anything happens. It's really difficult moving around all the time and trying to have a relationship.
-Are you close to your family?
Yes. I come from quite a big family, three brothers and one sister. They are all younger than me. They are an anchor for me. I'm close to my parents and I would like it if they were with me. I think my best friend is going to come and live with me in LA. We've been friends since we met at drama class when we were 11. He plans to go to LA and work in a bar to see what it's like. That's the hardest thing about being away. I have a lot of close friends overseas but when you have grown up with someone it's a whole other thing. They were there the first time you got drunk and they know everything about you.
-What's the most important goal in your life?
To feel like I have never chated myself. To be true to what I want to do. It sounds like a selfish goal but I think if you have dreams you should do everything you can to make them happen. I would hate it if I ever got to the end of my life and looked back and felt I had been too scared to go after my dreams. I don't have any materialistic goals. I just want to be fulfilled.
She's Gonna' Rock This Town!: Melanie Lynskey
Kate Winslet's name pops first to mind at the mention of Peter Jackson's 1994 stunner, Heavenly Creatures. But that cult classic about a pair of killer adolescents also marked an indelible screen bow for Melanie Lynskey, a then 16 year-old New Zealand high schooler chosen over 600 other contenders.
"Making that movie, working with brilliant Peter and amazing Kate, were like gifts from God," says Lynskey, today a captivating, petite 21 year-old with a winning Down Under twang. What Lynskey found out, though, was that even heavenly gifts exact a price.
"Right after the wonderful attention for Heavenly, I spent three long months in Hollywood auditioning with skinny, gorgeous, terrifying girls. Casting directors would look me over, sigh and say, 'You were so good in that movie, but I don't know what else to do with you.' I then got fixated on how I looked, whether I was thin enough or my face was too wide. It was awful."
After missing out on such hoped-for projects as The Crucible, Scream and Cousin Bette, Lynskey returned to New Zealand, and to a new variety of doubt: "Acting was all that I'd ever wanted to do, but after an amazing director for whom I was auditioning told me, 'I'm getting nothing from you. Something's destroyed you,' I broke down crying, saying, 'I've just had the worst time in Hollywood.' She advised me, 'Go away for three months and reclaim yourself.'"
So that's what Lynskey did, mixing practical strategies like voice lessons and a healthier diet with soul-searching.
Lynskey then came back to Hollywood, and after playing Drew Barrymore's un-wicked step-sister in the revisionist fairytale Ever After: A Cinderella Story, she got her footing. She'll next turn up opposite Edward Furlong in the comic road adventure Detroit Rock City, in which she plays a Cleveland girl who does the nasty in a church confessional en route to a big, climactic KISS reunion show.
"That scene won't dispel the fears of my grandmother who says, 'The movies have changed you, Melanie.' But it's more of a teen movie than a KISS movie. When I got cast, I called my best friend saying, 'I'm doing a movie about KISS, those guys with their tongues out, but I don't think I even want to know their music.' It turns out that I knew their music, I just hadn't put it together with those costumes and that make-up."
With her career nicely heated up, Lynskey has chosen to live in London with her Welsh actor boyfriend, Andrew Howard, whom she met while both were shooting a movie version of The Cherry Orchard.
"Some actors only like doing what they know they're good at, but not me," she concludes. "I want to be like Julianne Moore and get to do things that scare me - and keep on doing them until I'm very old."
How Melanie Lynskey was discovered
Scenario: I know you found Kate Winslet at an audition in England. How did you come across Melanie Lynskey, who played Pauline? I understand she was not a professional actress.
Peter Jackson: Well, it's one of those stories that sounds like it's not true. We wanted to cast someone in New Zealand, and we'd auditioned a lot of people-- five or six hundred-- who were either videotaped or photographed. I wanted to find someone who was young around 15 or 16 years old; I didn't want a 23-year-old in a school uniform. And we wanted someone who was physically very much like the original Pauline; I have a thing about being as accurate as possible. So we quickly exhausted the professional actors in New Zealand who happened to look like Pauline--- there's only about two or three. [laughs] We knew we were looking for someone with no experience, but we just had to find them. We kept saying, "Somewhere in New Zealand there's somebody who's perfect for this role."
We were actually about four weeks away from beginning shooting, and we had one or two people on the short list, neither of who we were happy with, but we were coming under enormous pressure to cast one of them, because, you know, the wardrobe department needed to make costumes and so on, and Fran said to me, "You're not happy with the choices, are you?" And I said, "No." And she said, "This is crazy; we've spent all this time and energy on this film and we haven't found Pauline. This is something close to a major tragedy." I was in Christchurch, so Fran decided to drive with a casting person around the lower half of the North Island of New Zealand---she was prepared to drive as far as she had to. They'd visit every small town, go to the local school, visit the principal's office show a photo of Pauline Parker. She'd say, "We're making a movie about Pauline Parker; do you have any pupils in your school who resemble her who might be interested in this?"
Fran Walsh: We were in a rusting Ford Cortina, and we had no official I.D. We'd roll up to these provincial schools, and we'd be greeted by some curious teacher. Although no one ever once questioned or authenticity, we would always get asked about the car: "If you're in films, why aren't you driving a Porsche?" [both laugh] SO then I would pitch the story to the entire classroom, scanning the room the whole time, looking for sullen, brooding school girls, all the while thinking, "What would she look like with her hair dyed black?"
Peter Jackson: I guess that went on for about a week. Every night I'd get a call from Fran. Anyone that was vaguely appropriate was videotaped, and I got a couple of tales in Christchurch, and it was a bit depressing. Finally, Fran called from a small town called New Plymouth, and said, "I think I've found someone very interesting." And this was Mel. We flew her down to Christchurch and gave her an audition and a screen test, and we cast her two weeks before the film started shooting. I called her mother up on a Friday night and said, "I'd really like Melanie to do the film." And she said, "When does she have to start?" And I said, "Well, she's got to come down here on Sunday." The poor girl didn't even get a chance to go back to school to out her locker.
Scenario: Do you think there was any correspondence between the two actresses and their backgrounds and those of the characters they were playing?
Peter Jackson: One of the things that we knew about Pauline was that she was incredibly witty and intelligent, and Melanie was very similar---she was the top student in her province in may subjects. And we knew if we cast an intelligent person, then they were going to hit it. Melanie's also very enigmatic. The character of Pauline doesn't have an enormous amount of dialogue. In a sense, the real Pauline speaks for her, through the diaries. So what we were looking for was an actress who has that kind of aspect to her that's a real movie-star thing: where you can film someone sitting in a room, doing nothing, and they're fascinating to watch. We found that in Mel.