by Ali Formica
photography by Michael Tammaro
If our telephone interview were translated into a real life scenario, it would be like walking into your best friend’s home to a warm hug and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. The kindness that radiates from Melanie Lynskey’s sweet Kiwi twang is so genuine, it’s almost shocking. Who could believe that someone could be so good-natured and humble in Hollywood?
In an attempt to work through the façade, as I assumed it must be, I first question her as to what really made her mad, half hoping to dig up some presumptuous comment. Her immediate reply: “When people are rude to waiters.” I’m sorry, what? Did a Hollywood actress frequently appearing in one of the best sitcoms on television – Two and A Half Men – really just tell me that it makes her very upset when people are impolite to the wait staff in restaurants? From that point on, I knew Lynskey was as good as it gets, and I was certainly not mistaken.
Hailing from New Zealand, where very few people get into show business, Lynskey was discovered at the age of 15 while still in high school. She filmed the critically acclaimed Heavenly Creatures alongside Kate Winslet, but it did not do for her career what it did for Kate’s. Lynskey, dejected and insecure, returned from L.A. a bit defeated. She returned to the States later to film the movie Ever After, but even when she entered Hollywood, Lynskey had her head on straight, despite her young age. She recalls knowing that she had to finish high school before attempting to fully pursue an acting career, but also innately understood that acting was her true calling. Though she was insecure about her place in the acting sphere, she decided, “fuck it,” (abashedly apologizes for cursing, and goes on) “I need to make it happen or I’m always going to regret it. I still didn’t have a lot of self-confidence when I came to L.A. It was a big disaster. I was so shy and full of doubt when I went home and I just thought all I can do is embrace the things that I am and go back and try it again. And I’ve been working consistently since I decided to do that. I feel proud of myself that I didn’t let my attributes feel like a limitation. Things that are unique about me, I was getting really down on myself about. I’m glad that I turned that around.” Lynskey was able to take what the media projects as the formula to succeed in Hollywood – a.k.a., being a size zero, which she says doesn’t even exist in New Zealand – and shake it up a bit to suit her. Lynskey did not conform, as the majority of young actresses do; instead, she forced the acting world to mold to who she is, as is, and has been a better actress and a better woman because of it.
When I pose the embarrassingly typical question regarding body image in the acting sphere, Lynskey, refreshingly, holds nothing back. She is flat-out pissed (though she doesn’t use such crude phrasing), and utterly determined not to project unreachable standards to young girls. While she is a character actress and admits that the nature of her acting alleviates some of the pressure, she is certainly not immune to it. When she starts to feel the pressure getting to her, she steps back and considers the implications of being a healthy woman in Hollywood for generations of girls. With honest passion, she says, “I just hope there are little girls out there who are grateful to look at the TV or movie screen and see someone who isn’t that skinny. I’ve had all kinds of body issues, like most women, and it was just horrible because I remember looking for a role model back then and there wasn’t one. I just imagine that these girls are trying to find one.” Let me just say that, though I’m not a little girl, I sure as hell am appreciative of that attitude.
And Lynskey doesn’t stop there. She goes on to critique the system, the media, how every reporter given the opportunity to interview pal Kate Winslet feels that they have the right to ask her about her body. As accomplished as Winslet is as an actress – Lynskey refers to her as one of the best of our time – reporters inevitably ask her about her body, a question that is never posed to mega male stars like Will Ferrell, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The body image issues that women are confronted with everyday have reached levels enough to be called an epidemic. And while there is so much pressure to be thinner than thin, Lynskey rises above, as she has done throughout her career.
With starring roles in films such as The Informant alongside Matt Damon, and Leaves of Grass with Edward Norton (both in post-production), Lynskey continues to navigate Hollywood on her own terms. Her niche is character acting, exemplified by her frequent appearances as Rose, Charlie Sheen’s well-intentioned stalker on Two and A Half Men. Refreshingly, Lynskey seems to have little interest in two-dimensional starring roles, but rather loves playing complex characters who have no real definition – they can go anywhere. Perhaps that’s a metaphor for Lynskey herself. She really can go anywhere, and do anything, because she has cultivated such a firm understanding of who she is, quite a feat when you live in the world of Hollywood that does its best to make you everyone else. It also helps that she’s been able to play great characters in films that she genuinely believes in, and has built a home in L.A. with hubby Jimmi Simpson, of whom she says it would be statistically impossible to find anyone more perfect for her than him. And the possibility of babies? Lynskey candidly replies, “we’re in negotiations.”
There you have it. Melanie Lynskey is anything but ordinary. She is kind, honest, passionate, and welcoming, bringing values to a world that’s increasingly deprived of them. Lynskey is a true role model, both for fellow actresses and women and girls around the globe. She embodies that concept of being whoever and whatever you want to be, because she had truly done it. And may I just say, I hope negotiations are in favor of babies, because the world could use a little more of the stuff Lynskey’s made of.