Melanie Lynskey

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Melanie Lynskey
Lynskey in 2016
Born (1977-05-16) 16 May 1977 (age 46)[1]
New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand
Alma materVictoria University of Wellington
OccupationActress
Years active1993–present
WorksFull list
Spouses
(m. 2007; div. 2014)
(m. 2020)
Children1
AwardsFull list
Signature

Melanie Jayne Lynskey (/ˈlɪnski/ LIN-skee;[2] born 16 May 1977) is a New Zealand actress. Known for her portrayals of complex women and her command of American accents,[3][4] she works predominantly in independent films and television. She is the recipient of numerous accolades, including two Critics' Choice Awards and nominations for three Primetime Emmy Awards.

Lynskey made her film debut at age 17 in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures (1994), earning critical acclaim for her portrayal of murderer Pauline Parker. She later had supporting roles in Ever After (1998), But I'm a Cheerleader (1999), and Coyote Ugly (2000). After moving to the United States, Lynskey became known as a character actress through parts in Sweet Home Alabama (2002), Shattered Glass (2003), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Away We Go, Up in the Air, The Informant! (all 2009), Win Win (2011), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), and Don't Look Up (2021). Her starring role as a depressed divorcee in Hello I Must Be Going (2012) proved to be a turning point in Lynskey's career,[5] with subsequent lead roles in Happy Christmas (2014), The Intervention (2016), and I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017) establishing her as a prominent figure in independent cinema.[6]

On television, Lynskey appeared as Rose on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men (2003–2015). Her other credits include HBO's Togetherness (2015–2016) and Hulu's Castle Rock (2018), as well as the miniseries Mrs. America (2020) and Candy (2022). Since 2021, she has played Shauna on Showtime's Yellowjackets, winning the 2022 Critics' Choice Award for Best Actress and being nominated twice for the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress (2022, 2023). She received a further Emmy nomination (Guest Actress, 2023) for her work on HBO's The Last of Us. Lynskey is married to actor Jason Ritter, with whom she has a daughter.

Early life[edit]

Lynskey was born in New Plymouth, New Zealand, to Kay Lynskey, a real estate agent, and Tim Lynskey, an orthopedic surgeon.[7] Their surname is Irish.[8] Lynskey is the eldest of five children, and has three brothers and one sister.[8] Growing up, she was often solely responsible for the care of her siblings.[9] Lynskey was raised in the Baptist faith.[10]

When she was six, Lynskey's family moved to England for one year before returning to New Zealand.[8][11] She recalls moving "a lot" due to her father's profession: "My dad was a medical student when I was born, so he was studying and going to different universities. And then he was doing his residency, so I was always the new kid in school".[12] She later attended New Plymouth Girls' High School, where she was involved in the drama department and school plays.[8] She has spoken about being shy at school and finding comfort in acting: "It was so freeing, having someone give me the words to say and not being myself for a minute. It just felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders".[13] After graduating high school, Lynskey studied for eighteen months at Victoria University of Wellington, majoring in English literature, but dropped out to focus on her film career.[14][15]

Career[edit]

1994–2002: Film debut and early work[edit]

Lynskey's professional debut came at age 15 with a starring role in Heavenly Creatures, a psychological drama based on a 1950s murder case.[16] Lynskey played schoolgirl Pauline Parker, who carries out a brutal crime with the assistance of her best friend, played by Kate Winslet. She auditioned for the role when a casting director visited her high school;[17] prior to this, five hundred girls had been considered for the part of Pauline, but "none were right".[18] Fran Walsh, the script's co-writer, admired Lynskey's "quiet intensity" and said, "We knew immediately that she was right for the role".[18] Lynskey turned 16 during the making of the film and was 17 by the time of its release in 1994,[16] whereupon it was met with critical acclaim.[19][20] Roger Ebert praised its director, Peter Jackson, for picking "the right two actresses", noting that "There is a way Lynskey has of looking up from beneath glowering eyebrows that lets you know her insides are churning".[21] Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman described her as "extraordinary",[22] while Richard Corliss stated in his review for Time:

The film's serendipitous stroke was to find Winslet and, especially, Lynskey, a first-time actress. They are perfect, fearless in embodying teenage hysteria. They declaim their lines with an intensity that approaches ecstasy, as if reading aloud from Wuthering Heights. The giggles that punctuate the girls' early friendship are not beneath Winslet and Lynskey. The screams that end the film are not beyond them.[23]

Heavenly Creatures is recognised as a landmark in New Zealand cinema.[24][25][26] It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 67th Academy Awards, while Lynskey was named Best Actress at the 1995 New Zealand Film Awards.[27][5] She regards working with Jackson and Winslet as an important learning experience,[28][29] and grew particularly close to Winslet during filming. Winslet later told The Irish Times, "Mel is like the left side of my body. [We] had the exact relationship in terms of communication and love that Pauline and Juliet had. From the minute we saw each other".[30] Despite the film's success, its creators tried to discourage Lynskey from pursuing a full-time acting career, as it was not thought to be realistic.[31] She later revealed, "[People were] looking out for me ... 'Thanks for doing this movie for us, and now be sure that you go to university and get a normal job.' No one wanted to be responsible for me being like, 'I'm gonna run off to Hollywood!' ... New Zealanders are very practical. Everybody was kind of like, 'That was fun [but] it's not what your life is gonna be'".[31]

During a three-year hiatus, Lynskey continued her education and auditioned for parts in films such as The Craft and The Crucible,[32][29] as well as making a brief, non-speaking cameo appearance in Peter Jackson's The Frighteners (1996). She returned to more substantial roles with the independent drama Foreign Correspondents, playing Melody, a timid receptionist who forms an unusual friendship with an overseas pen pal. The part was offered to Lynskey in an email from the film's director, Mark Tapio Kines, who had seen Heavenly Creatures and read online that she was eager to work in America.[33] Filming took place in Los Angeles in 1997, with the project garnering attention for its use of crowdfunding, a strategy that was considered a "breakthrough" at the time.[34] That same year, she was cast in the supporting role of "charming and funny" stepsister Jacqueline De Ghent in Ever After,[35] a feminist re-imagining of the Cinderella fairy tale.[36] Filmed in the south of France, it was released to favourable reviews in 1998.[37][38]

Lynskey appeared in four features in 1999: teen comedy Detroit Rock City, period drama The Cherry Orchard, British gangster drama Shooters, and the cult hit satire But I'm a Cheerleader, which is often referred to as one of the best LGBT films ever made.[39][40][41] Next, she wore "big hair and fake nails" and adopted a New Jersey accent to play Gloria—the best friend of main character Violet—in Coyote Ugly (2000),[42] and returned to New Zealand to star as Alice—a free-spirited drifter who embarks on a dangerous road trip—in the award-winning thriller Snakeskin (2001), which screened at the Cannes Film Festival.[43][44] For the latter, she received strong reviews and a nomination for Best Actress at the New Zealand Film Awards.[45][44][43]

In 2002, Lynskey re-teamed with director Andy Tennant, whom she previously worked with on Ever After, to play a key role in the record-breaking romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama.[46] Writing for The Austin Chronicle, Kimberley Jones called it an "earnest, affectionate portrait of a town that refuses to keep pace with the rest of the world", mentioning Lynskey as a highlight among the ensemble cast.[47] In recent years, the scene in which her character—Lurlynn, a young mother of four—nurses her baby in a crowded bar has been noted for its cultural relevance.[48] Next, she co-starred in Abandon, the directorial debut of Stephen Gaghan. The psychological thriller received negative reviews,[49] but Lynskey's portrayal of a mousy librarian was considered to be one of its strengths, with Todd McCarthy of Variety pointing out that she "does some self-conscious scene stealing".[50] That same year, she made her television debut in the Stephen King miniseries Rose Red, a ratings hit with an average of 18.5 million viewers over three consecutive nights.[51]

2003–2011: Two and a Half Men and continued film career[edit]

In Shattered Glass (2003), a drama based on the career of disgraced former journalist Stephen Glass, Lynskey appeared as Amy Brand, a writer for The New Republic. IGN praised the film's "excellent cast",[52] while Andrew Sarris noted that "the performances [of] Ms. Sevigny, Ms. Dawson and Ms. Lynskey do more than [just] complement Mr. Christensen's central characterization; they provide a sane backdrop for [his] pathological deceptions to steadily unravel against".[53] Later that year, she landed the part of Rose, the devious but lovable neighbour of Charlie Harper, on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men. After initially appearing in the pilot as a guest star, she was invited by the producers to become a series regular and went on to appear frequently throughout the first two seasons.[54] Fearing that she might become typecast as a result of her involvement with Men,[55] Lynskey decided to leave the main ensemble in 2005 to concentrate on film work—a move that series executive producer Chuck Lorre said he had "a lot of respect for", despite "not [being] happy at first"—but continued to make guest appearances up until its final episode, which aired in February 2015.[56][57] "Doing three or four episodes a year enabled me to pay my mortgage and do independent films", she later said. "People in [the indie world] didn't know I was on this huge sitcom. Then, [others] would recognize me from Two and a Half Men and think that I never had another job. But I couldn't have done one without the other".[58]

Lynskey played Pauline Harnois, the fame-hungry fiancée of soldier Rene Gagnon, in Clint Eastwood's epic World War II film Flags of Our Fathers (2006), which was warmly received by critics.[59][60] She then joined the main ensemble of the short-lived Fox series Drive (2007),[61] with Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara describing her portrayal of Wendy Patrakas, a new mother desperate to get away from her abusive husband, as "especially compelling".[62] The following year, she took on a supporting role in the Western miniseries Comanche Moon, a three-part prequel to Lonesome Dove (1989). The CBS show received mixed reviews, but People felt that Lynskey's performance was among the best in the cast.[63] She then appeared as fashioner designer Clea Mason in two episodes of Showtime's The L Word,[64] before returning once again to New Zealand to headline the 2008 romantic drama Show of Hands, for which she earned a Best Actress nomination at the Qantas Film Awards.[65][66]

Lynskey received strong reviews in 2009 for her appearance in Away We Go, a dramedy directed by Sam Mendes, where she played a woman who has suffered a series of miscarriages.[67][68] Referring to the scene in which her character, Munch Garnett, performs a pole dance in front of her grieving husband,[69] Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe stated, "Lynskey dramatizes sadness and dysfunction with quiet, moving physicality. [Her] whole life is there in her long face and drooping limbs. It's the best performance in the movie".[70] Next, she co-starred as Ginger, the foolishly devoted wife of FBI whistleblower Mark Whitacre, in Steven Soderbergh's darkly comedic biopic The Informant! Based on real events, the film was described as "devilish fun" by Peter Travers of Rolling Stone,[71] while Geoffrey Macnab felt that Lynskey provided "sterling support" in his review for The Independent.[72] During promotion of the film in September that year, Soderbergh told the Los Angeles Times:

She is so watchable. You never quite know what you're going to get, you just know it's going to be good. Her rhythms are really unusual, like her cadence and her reaction times to things, and the way [she] lays out a sentence. It's just really, really interesting.[73]

While making the film, Soderbergh discouraged Lynskey from contacting the real Ginger Whitacre, as he wanted Lynskey to reach her own conclusion about whether she had been complicit in her husband's crimes. "I decided she had no idea what was going on", she later said. "She was trusting, she [thought her job was] to stay in the house and take care of the kids ... She wasn't asking too many questions".[74] Lynskey counts her time working on The Informant! as one of her favourite professional experiences.[56]

Lynskey promoting Up in the Air (2009) at the Toronto International Film Festival

Also in 2009, Lynskey co-starred as the pregnant fiancée of a cannabis farmer in the Tim Blake Nelson-directed black comedy Leaves of Grass, with RogerEbert.com's Seongyong Cho writing that her performance was one of the key contributors to the film's "quirky charm".[75] Nelson said of her casting, "Melanie came in and read for me and, though she's from New Zealand, she was by far the most credible version of an Oklahoma girl I saw. And I probably auditioned 50 actresses for that role".[76] Next, she received positive notices for her portrayal of Julie Bingham in the Oscar-nominated dramedy Up in the Air.[77][78][79] In his previous work, director Jason Reitman had always rejected the idea of casting non-American actors in American roles,[73] but Lynskey said that she "tricked" him into giving her the part by avoiding conversation with him during her audition, thus concealing her real accent; Reitman admitted to being "thrilled" by this.[80] In October that same year, she was presented with a Spotlight Award at the Hollywood Film Festival.[81][82]

Lynskey played a dissatisfied wife in Helena from the Wedding (2010), which The Hollywood Reporter called a "wise, luminous low-budget comedy", adding, "The actors form a seamless ensemble, but [the film] belongs to [Lynskey]".[83] She then starred in the sports drama Touchback (2011), receiving praise for her role as the wife of an ex-football prodigy,[84][85] and garnered positive reviews the same year for her portrayal of drug addict Cindy Timmons in Tom McCarthy's Win Win.[86][87] Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney commended the film for its "character-based comedy and emotionally honest drama", noting that Lynskey brought "welcome soft shadings to the story's disruptive element",[88] while Mary Pols stated in her review for Time, "[Lynskey] has become one of the most reliably intriguing supporting actresses in film ... she had [parts in] Away We Go, The Informant! and Up in the Air [and was] wonderful in all three. In Win Win she gives a very different kind of performance and is even better".[89]

2012–2020: Transition to leading roles[edit]

In 2012, Lynskey appeared in the doomsday romantic comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and had a key role as Aunt Helen—the sexually abusive older relative of main character Charlie—in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a coming-of-age drama based on the novel of the same name.[90] In his review of Perks for The Tuscaloosa News, Corey Craft said the film's strengths "lie in its details and performances", believing the cast to be "uniformly strong".[91] Due to the nature of her character, Lynskey said it had been a difficult decision to take the part.[92] Also in 2012, she played professional dancer Sally in Putzel, a romantic comedy set in the Upper West Side. Writing for the Tallahassee Democrat, Mark Hinson said that Lynskey "steals the show" and that "[the film] sparks to life whenever [she] arrives on the screen";[93] while in his review for Redefine, Allen Huang described her as "delightful" and "deftly believable".[94]

Lynskey's portrayal of Amy Minsky in Hello I Must Be Going (2012), an unemployed divorcee who finds herself having to move back home with her parents, was met with critical acclaim.[95][96] For the first time in her career, Lynskey appeared in every scene throughout the film; she described the experience as "a lot of pressure" and said that, because of her lack of bankability at the time, she had initially assumed the part would be given to somebody like Michelle Williams or Maggie Gyllenhaal.[97] Speaking of his decision to cast Lynskey, director Todd Louiso said, "I knew if I cast her, the film had the potential to resonate on a thousand different levels".[97] In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan wrote:

If you know the name Melanie Lynskey, you're already planning to see her in Hello I Must Be Going. If you don't, this film will have you making up for lost time. That's how good an actress she is ... Though there is something of the sad sack about [Amy], Lynskey inhabits the role so completely, brings such exquisite naturalness to her performance, that she becomes someone we root for unreservedly.[98]

USA Today praised the film for being "funny, well-written, involving and emotionally honest", while noting that "Lynskey brings dimension and intelligence" and a "sympathetic blend of humor [and] dignity to the role".[99] The performance earned her a Breakthrough Actor nomination at the 22nd Gotham Independent Film Awards.[100] In 2015, Screen Rant placed Lynskey's portrayal of Amy at #6 in their ranking of the best film performances of the early 2010s.[101]

In 2013, Lynskey took on a lead role in The Big Ask, an independent black comedy. The film received a mixed reception,[102] but Lynskey's portrayal of Hannah was praised,[103][104] with Brian Tallerico stating in his review for RogerEbert.com, "[Lynskey] so often finds ways to elevate lackluster screenwriting, and does so again here. She's the best thing about the movie".[105] In April the following year, she was named an Emerging Master honouree at the RiverRun International Film Festival.[106] Her next role was in Happy Christmas (2014), where she played Kelly, an aspiring novelist whose passion for writing is rekindled when her sister-in-law comes to visit. The film drew attention for being almost entirely improvised.[107] Stephen Holden of The New York Times commented, "The performances in Happy Christmas are so natural that the actors melt into their characters",[108] while other critics singled out Lynskey as a highlight.[109][110] Later that year, she appeared in David Wain's satirical romantic comedy They Came Together and played the female leads in We'll Never Have Paris—the directorial debut of Simon Helberg—and Goodbye to All That, a dramedy. In his review of Goodbye, Bilge Ebiri said Lynskey's portrayal of a frustrated wife was "fantastic",[111] while Variety described her as "heartbreaking ... This is what falling out of love looks like. It's not screaming matches and altercations; it's apathy and indifference".[112]

Also in 2014, Lynskey provided the voice of Beatrice, an ill-tempered bluebird, for the Cartoon Network miniseries Over the Garden Wall. Writing for The Guardian, Brian Moylan said the ten-part animation was filled with "existential dread" and "profound uneasiness",[113] while Kevin Johnson of The A.V. Club noted, "Lynskey steals the show with her amazing putdowns and passive-aggressiveness, smartly avoiding overdone sass or sarcasm".[114] The series won several Creative Arts Emmys and is now considered a "cult classic".[115][116][117]

Between 2015 and 2016, Lynskey played Michelle Pierson on HBO's Togetherness, which focused on the lives of two couples living under the same roof. Created by the Duplass brothers, the heavily improvised series was a "dream" job for Lynskey,[118][119] who referred to its co-writer and director, Jay Duplass, as her "creative soulmate".[10] Critics commended the show for its intimate storytelling and skilful mixture of comedy and drama, while paying particular attention to Lynskey,[120][121] with Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times writing, "[Lynskey] is all deep waters and live wires; soft and steely, trying on new personas for size, her Michelle becomes the series' gravitational center. You can feel her feeling".[122] The performance earned her a nomination for the 2015 Critics' Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.[123] Despite missing out on an Emmy nomination in the same category, she was mentioned as a worthy contender by various publications in the run-up to the 2016 ceremony.[124][125][126] In March that year, it was announced that HBO would not be renewing Togetherness for a third season;[127] Lynskey compared this to having her "heart broken by someone I'm still in love with".[128]

Lynskey accepting her Special Jury Prize for The Intervention (2016) at the Sundance Film Festival

For her starring role in The Intervention (2016), Lynskey received the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance at the Sundance Film Festival.[129] In his review for IndieWire, Russ Fischer pointed out Lynskey's "tremendously good comic timing",[130] while Ethan Anderton of /Film noted, "Lynskey is the standout, delivering a performance that is genuine, funny and touching all at the same time".[131] The film was the directorial debut of actress Clea DuVall, who wrote the character of Annie, an uptight alcoholic, specifically for Lynskey.[132] She sought the help of a therapist before the film went into production to prepare herself for working with DuVall, a close friend of several years: "I didn't want anything to happen to our friendship and a big challenge was being able to stick up for myself and my perspective in regard to the script and this character".[132] Also that year, she co-starred in the BBC Two comedy pilot Our Ex-Wife,[133] followed by prominent roles in the independent features Rainbow Time, Little Boxes, and The Great & The Small. Joe Leydon of Variety described her performance in the latter as "quietly devastating".[134]

Lynskey's performance in the Netflix crime thriller I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017) was roundly praised by critics.[135][136] The film's director, Macon Blair, wrote the character of Ruth—a downtrodden vigilante who teams up with her neighbour to hunt down a gang of thieves—with Lynskey in mind.[137] The role proved to be physically challenging for her, as it involved stunt work and the use of prosthetics.[137][138] Peter Debruge of Variety commended Blair for giving Lynskey "something unforgettable to do" and felt that she delivered her "best work yet",[139] while Time Out described her as "seething and magnetic".[140] In his review for RogerEbert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz said:

[Lynskey is] one of those actresses I'm never not glad to see, and it's a treat to see her front-and-center here, carrying an entire movie mainly with her eyes, face and shoulders. A performance like this one can be quite tricky—you're essentially reactive a lot of the time, more of a sponge for the film than the motor driving it along—but Lynskey makes everything active by letting you feel Ruth's emotions and sense her train of thought as she puts various pieces together in her head, drawing correct or wrongheaded conclusions. She's also just a terrific audience surrogate. When she snarls or snaps, I wanted to cheer.[141]

I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Sundance Festival, while Lynskey received a nomination for that year's Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Actress.[142][143]

Also in 2017, Lynskey headlined the controversially themed independent drama And Then I Go, playing the concerned parent of a troubled high schooler.[144] Parade critic Samuel R. Murrian called the film "stark, timely, unsettling" and felt that it featured "quality work" from Lynskey.[145] Next, she received a Golden Nymph nomination for her portrayal of a headstrong criminal defense lawyer in the well-reviewed Australian miniseries Sunshine;[146][147] co-starred as the mother of a teenage girl with supernatural powers in The Changeover, a fantasy thriller shot in New Zealand;[148] and appeared as a flustered housewife in the horror film XX, in which she frantically tries to conceal her husband's corpse after finding him dead. In her review of the latter, Stephanie Zacharek of Time wrote, "The picture has a wry, comic charge, and Lynskey, terrific as always, brings a grace note of pathos to the wicked proceedings".[149]

In the 2018 drama Sadie, Lynskey starred as a woman struggling to raise her daughter while her husband is serving in Afghanistan. Variety described her work in the film as "compelling",[150] while Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter commented, "It's no surprise that Lynskey, who has quietly [been] establishing herself as one of indie cinema's finest actors, is once again superb in her emotionally complex turn".[151] Next, she appeared in the principal role of Molly Strand on the first season of Castle Rock, a psychological horror series based on characters and settings from the novels of Stephen King.[152] The series premiered on Hulu in July 2018 and garnered positive notices, particularly for the cast: Paste referred to Lynskey as "delicately complex",[153] while Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone felt the show was "the latest example of how much humanity and grounding [Lynskey] can bring to the most surreal and macabre of stories ... a tradition that goes back to when she was a teenager in Heavenly Creatures".[154] The series was renewed for a second season, but, due to the anthological nature of the narrative, it featured a different set of actors.[155][156]

Between April and May 2020, Lynskey appeared in the nine-part period miniseries Mrs. America, a political drama centred on the life and career of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, played by Cate Blanchett. The series aired on FX on Hulu to widespread acclaim, with James Poniewozik of The New York Times calling it "meticulously created and observed".[157] Lynskey's portrayal of the real-life Rosemary Thomson, an ambitious champion of Schlafly and staunch opposer of the Equal Rights Amendment, was described as "delightful" and a "standout" among the cast.[158][159] Despite not sharing her beliefs, Lynskey said that her own Baptist upbringing enabled her to empathize with Rosemary's position.[10] She called working with Blanchett "one of the great experiences of my life".[160]

2021–present: Yellowjackets and awards success[edit]

Lynskey starred as a layabout stoner in the 2021 comedy Lady of the Manor. She signed on to the project, the directorial debut of actor Justin Long, because "the thought of being in sweatpants [and] acting like I was high for a whole movie was so freeing".[161] Critics were dismissive of the film's reliance on toilet humour,[162] but Lynskey's performance was well received, with Angie Han of The Hollywood Reporter commenting that she "brings the same airtight commitment to hot mess Hannah that she does to all her varied roles";[163] while Screen Rant felt she "unabashedly embraces physical humor [and] really commits to the gags".[164] Adam McKay's satirical tackling of the climate crisis, Don't Look Up, was Lynskey's second film role of 2021. Her portrayal of June Mindy, a put-upon wife, was described as "terrific" by The Hollywood Reporter,[165] and "low-key brilliant" by IndieWire, who felt that her "clear-headed" presence grounded the story's more absurd elements.[166] Upon its debut on Netflix, Don't Look Up set a record for the most viewings of any film on their platform in a single week, making it the third most-watched item in the company's history.[167]

On the Showtime series Yellowjackets, which premiered in November 2021, Lynskey stars in the role of Shauna Sadecki (née Shipman), a suburban housewife and mother who, along with three old high school friends, has been harbouring secrets about a plane crash that occurred twenty-five years ago. The series was commended by Judy Berman of Time for its "psychological realism" and ability to mix different genres together successfully,[168] while Lacy Baugher Milas of Paste believed it was "one of the fall television season's most compelling new offerings, a twisty mystery [that] grounds its story in a specifically female experience".[169] The cast were unanimously praised for their performances, but Rolling Stone felt that Lynskey was the "standout", noting, "She's always great, but Shauna feels like the kind of dark, messy, and charismatic part she's been waiting her whole career to play".[170] In a similar review, The Guardian agreed that "Lynskey does by far the most emotional heavy lifting of the series".[171] She admitted it was Shauna's "internalized rage" that attracted her to the role, as well as "a real dark streak [that I] loved and was also terrified of".[172] For her work on the show, Lynskey won Best Actress in a Drama Series at the 27th Critics' Choice Awards, where her acceptance speech drew attention for paying tribute to her daughter's nanny.[173][174] She has since received many other accolades for Yellowjackets, including two nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress, in 2022 and 2023, respectively.[175][176][177]

Lynskey co-starred as Betty Gore, the victim of real-life murderer Candy Montgomery, in the true crime Hulu miniseries Candy, which aired over five consecutive nights in May 2022. Despite receiving a mixed critical reception, with some finding the show too similar to others of its type,[178] the acting was unanimously praised: Entertainment Weekly felt that Lynskey "captures the sadness and seething resentment of a woman stifled by the confines of stay-at-home motherhood",[179] while RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico said, "She does so much with just a sigh or defeated body language".[180] Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Richard Roeper believed she "gives Betty a memorable and constant presence ... [she] was clearly depressed and in need of help [and] through Lynskey's performance, we find that tragic and heartbreaking".[181] She went on to receive Critics' Choice and Satellite Award nominations for her work.[182][183]

On HBO's The Last of Us, an adaptation of the action-adventure game, Lynskey appeared in the guest role of Kathleen Coghlan, a ruthless war criminal.[184] The character was created specially for the series by executive producer Craig Mazin, who wanted to work with Lynskey.[185] The show premiered in January 2023 to strong reviews: Stephen Kelly of BBC Culture called it "The best video game adaptation ever", adding that Lynskey's "chillingly violent" performance was "superb".[186] Daniel Fienberg felt she was "thoroughly effective" in his review for The Hollywood Reporter,[187] while Ben Travers of IndieWire wrote that one piece of dialogue in particular—"kids die, they die all the time"—stood out for him as "an all-time cold-blooded bad guy quote, delivered with exhausted gravity by the great Melanie Lynskey".[188] The performance earned her a nomination for the 2023 Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress.[176][177]

Acting style[edit]

Lynskey described herself as a character actress in the early stages of her career, but has since renounced the term.[189]

Regarding her acting technique, Lynskey has said, "I don't have any [professional] training ... so the only thing I have to go on is my own instinct. So if a director gives me a note that doesn't feel like it's in line with my instinct, it's very hard for me to do something that ... feels like a lie. So, I'll argue it, and I can get kind of feisty because I feel it in my body, I know what is right".[190]

Asked by a journalist in 2012 about how she felt being cast—up to that point in her career—as a supporting player rather than a lead, Lynskey said it was something she had thought about a lot, and that the "meaty" parts are mostly written for men, or actresses like Meryl Streep.[97] She told a different journalist the same year, "It's been a big issue that I'm not [famous] ... I'll audition for something and then the feedback has been, 'The director wants you, the creative people want you, but the studio is saying no' ... but I understand. People are investing a lot of money and they want somewhat of a guarantee".[191] Lynskey has subsequently taken on leading roles in numerous independent films and has been labelled an "indie queen".[192][193][194][195]

Speaking in 2017 about taking risks in her film work, Lynskey said, "I want to tell stories about women who are interesting and complicated and not like people you've seen before ... There aren't that many opportunities [to do that] except in the independent film world. I've made films that have cost $50,000 for the entire film. If you're willing to work like that, you get chances to do really creative, interesting stuff".[6]

Lynskey is often complimented on her ability to perform an American accent.[196][4][197][198][199] She attributes this to staying with Joss Whedon when she first moved to Los Angeles: "When I came here, I stayed in his guest bedroom ... I watched movie after movie and learned American accents".[200] Tim Blake Nelson recalled that when she auditioned for the part of Colleen in Leaves of Grass, "she came in and auditioned for me and then ... opened [her] mouth and started talking in a New Zealand accent and I just couldn't believe it, because her south-eastern Oklahoma accent was so spot on, and it's a very specific accent".[201]

Lynskey is known for her improvisation skills, which she attributes to classes she attended in her youth.[107][202] She regularly employs dreamwork when preparing for projects and uses music to help her get into character.[202][203][204][205]

Other work[edit]

In 2012, Lynskey voiced an animated version of herself in a pre-flight safety video for Air New Zealand.[206]

In February 2013, she participated in a Live Read performance of the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross. The read-through was directed by Jason Reitman, who assembled a cast of women to read the all-male script; Lynskey played the role of George Aaronow, originally portrayed by Alan Arkin.[207][208]

Between 2014 and 2016, Lynskey featured on several occasions as part of The Thrilling Adventure Hour, a staged production and podcast in the style of old-time radio, which was held monthly in Los Angeles.[209][210]

In 2015, she starred in the music video for the song "Waiting on Love" by Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers, alongside Jason Ritter.[211]

In June 2018, Lynskey was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[212]

In 2023, Lynskey narrated the children's book Memoirs of a Hamster (by Devin Scillian) in a video for Storyline Online, a branch of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation that specialises in child literacy.[213]

Public image[edit]

Lynskey has appeared on the covers of magazines such as The Hollywood Reporter, InStyle, Variety, TheWrap, and Backstage.[214][215][216][217][218]

Writing for InStyle in 2022, Laura Norkin referred to Lynskey as "the nicest person in Hollywood" and "one of the most skilled and compelling [actresses] of our time".[219] In the same article, actress Danielle Brooks said of Lynskey's reputation in the industry, "People are like, 'She's the real deal. She will deliver'".[219]

In a 2023 article for The New York Times, Alexis Soloski described Lynskey as "polite almost to the point of pathology", adding, "Offscreen, Lynskey is a very nice lady. Unnervingly nice. Onscreen she specializes in a ferocious deconstruction of that same type. For the past decade, and particularly in the past couple of years ... she has embodied women who seem innocuous on the surface — breathy, meek, bland — only to reveal limitless anger and desire".[203] Writing for TheWrap that same year, Libby Hill called Lynskey a "pop culture fan favorite".[220]

Lynskey told a journalist in 2012 that, for a while, the only roles she was being offered were "fat-girl parts", adding, "Seriously? Sometimes I feel like I'm making some kind of radical statement because I'm a size 6".[97] In a 2022 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she discussed being body shamed early on in her career: "It was ridiculous. I was already starving myself and as thin as I could possibly be ... people [were] putting a lot of Spanx on me in wardrobe fittings ... [costume designers would say], "Nobody told me there would be girls like you" ... the feedback [around that time] was constantly ... 'You're not beautiful'".[214] That same year, when asked how she was dealing with the response to her role on Yellowjackets, Lynskey explained to The Guardian that a lot of attention was being placed on her weight: "It's [about] trying to tune out [the negative comments] and [listening instead] to the women who say: thank you for just being on screen and not pinching your tummy, or being like: 'I wish I was thinner'".[13] Meanwhile, she said that the creators of Yellowjackets were "excited" about her being "an average-size woman": "Nobody's pressuring me to look a different way [and] that's something that I did not think would ever be possible".[221]

In February 2023, Lynskey responded to criticism about her involvement in HBO's The Last of Us, when fashion model Adrianne Curry implied that Lynskey's body type made her ill-suited to the role of a villainous leader: "[The character is] supposed to be smart, ma'am. I don't need to be muscly. That's what henchmen are for".[222]

Though not gay herself, Lynskey is widely considered a gay icon.[223][224][225]

Personal life[edit]

In 2001, Lynskey met American actor Jimmi Simpson during the filming of Rose Red, in which they both appeared.[7] They became engaged in 2005 and were married on 14 April 2007, in a chapel on Lake Hayes, near Queenstown, New Zealand.[226] Lynskey filed for divorce from Simpson on 25 September 2012, citing irreconcilable differences, with TMZ referring to it as "the nicest divorce ever".[227][228] The divorce was finalized on 23 May 2014.[228] The two remain good friends.[118][229] In February 2017, Lynskey announced that she was engaged to Jason Ritter, whom she had been dating for four years.[230] In December the following year, they became parents to a daughter.[231][232][233] Lynskey and Ritter were married in 2020.[234]

Lynskey has lived in Los Angeles since 2000.[203] She is a close friend of Clea DuVall, whom she met when they appeared together in But I'm a Cheerleader.[235] She became a vegetarian at age 10 after learning about sheep farming, but she now identifies as pescetarian.[236][237] Lynskey has misophonia.[28][238] She describes herself as a feminist.[160][13]

Lynskey has been open about her past struggle with an eating disorder, saying that she was "very unwell" for a long time: "I was so unhappy and my hair was falling out ... [eventually] I was like, 'I just need to look the way I'm supposed to look' ... I [had] to truly become comfortable with myself, because you can't fake it".[239]

Filmography[edit]

Accolades[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]