It's not that often an actor digs their way so deeply into the pleasure center of your brain, extraction becomes impossible -- although in the case of Melanie Lynskey, extraction isn't desired since her presence not only instantly speaks to a film's quality, but also guarantees something special is about to unspool.
And it's been that way since her cinematic debut in Peter Jackson's still-powerful Heavenly Creatures. While watching Melanie and Kate Winslet burn and bloody up the screen, it felt as if I'd discovered a diamond wrapped up in that gem of a movie. Something her subsequent choices have continually reinforced as she's vacillated between comedy (Sweet Home Alabama), drama (Away We Go) and everything in between.
But while the genres have changed, her ability to create resonant supporting players has never wavered. All of which makes her latest cinematic endeavor all the more exciting since Melanie not only delivers her most layered and powerful performance to date in Hello I Must Be Going, but she also steps into the lead role, proving that decades of developing second-tier characters perfectly prepared Melanie to take center stage.
TheInsider.com: When you first read the script for Hello I Must Be Going, what attracted you?
Melanie Lynskey: I loved how patient the script was. At the beginning of the movie, the character's such a mess and it really examines the depression that people can fall into. But then the movie really sits with her depression and allows her to be sad, kind of annoying and [shows her] not trying to help herself. It felt so real to me. And then there's this awakening, which just felt so organic and not cheesy. That allowed me to create a character in the middle of the movie -- it was so interesting bringing her from nothing to a real person.
Insider.com: Your character (Amy, a newly separated woman who moves back in with her mother) does go to some dark places in the film, how emotionally taxing was making this movie?
Melanie: It was crazy. When I'm doing a movie, I always have a scene-song. I do a lot of indie movies where there isn't a lot of time, so an easy way to get yourself into a particular headspace is to have your iPod with you and play a song that triggers an emotion. I had two theme songs for this movie because I was bouncing back and forth between this sexual amazing joy and this crushing depression.
Insider.com: What were they?
Melanie: Radiohead's Let Down would send me into a deep depression. It's the most beautiful, meditative song. And then Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill is the sexiest song of all time.
Insider.com: Do you have a song or a process for shaking a character off at the end of the day?
Melanie: The most fortunate thing that ever happened to me was being in Heavenly Creatures – talk about training for shaking heavy material off at the end of the day [laughs]. Kate and I were literally taught by Peter [Jackson] and the others how to literally let go of it. Sarah [Peirse], who played my mother, taught me this physical thing you can do at the end of the day to get the weight off you and feel like yourself again. I've gone through my whole career with this tool of how to get right into something and come out again the other side without being a crazy person.
Insider.com: While the film does get heavy, there are also some wonderfully light moments once Amy meets Jeremy (played by Girls' Christopher Abbott). There are also some pretty intimate scenes. What's the key to building that chemistry?
Melanie: It's funny because [Christopher I met each other for one afternoon and there's this weird pressure to connect put on you by everyone else. It's like being set up on date. The whole thing was very rushed, so when it came to shoot that first kissing scene, we just felt so much pressure. That resulted in the world's most awkward, least sexy kiss [laughs]. So we just went away and had a talk since we still didn't know each other very well. We talked about where the line is, what we were comfortable doing and found out nothing would make the other feel weird, so that allowed us to feel comfortable making mistakes. It resulted in a really wonderful working relationship because we knew nothing would upset the other. We felt safe.
Insider.com: Your husband Jimmi [Simpson; Date Night, Breakout Kings] has a small role in the film, and it's the first time you've worked together. How was that?
Melanie: It was so great. He's so talented and I've always wanted to work with him. Jimmi really saved us in that scene because the actor who was supposed to play that part left the country for some reason and they couldn't find anybody, so I asked him to do the scene and he was just so great. Plus, it was great that Jimmi got to come to set because he was visiting for a week and there were so many days I wouldn't let him near the set because I didn't want him to see anything I knew he wouldn't want to see [laughs].
Hello I Must Be Going opens in limited release September 7, click here for more information!