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Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images Melanie Lynskey
When Melanie Lynskey began working in 1994, she had one goal: to make a living as an actor.
"I never needed to be rich, and I didn't want to be famous," the actress, 44, who has played memorable roles both in movies (Sweet Home Alabama) and on TV (Yellowjackets), tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, on newsstands now. "I wanted to work as much as I could and do work that I liked without people necessarily recognizing me."
Nearly 30 years later, the actress says she's beyond fortunate for the resume she's built and perspective she's gained.
"It's pretty amazing to be 44 and still feeling challenged and excited," she says. "I had a lot of beliefs when I started about what I was supposed to look like, and it feels very nice to be in a body that I'm comfortable in, to be aging and have people want to cast me."
Looking back, Lynskey says she can't "remember a time in my life where I didn't know how somebody else felt about my body."
"There's not a time in my life where I was free from thinking how I could look better, which is a real bummer, but it's very normal for women," she says.
Though she's come a long way and generally feels "pretty positive" about herself, she admits "it's a challenge some days."
Lynskey can next be seen starring alongside Jessica Biel in Hulu's limited series Candy, streaming May 9. In it, she plays real life murder victim Betty Gore, a small town teacher who was axed to death by church friend Candy Montgomery (Biel).
When she took the part, the New Zealand native says she could relate to Gore as "somebody from a very small town who moved to a place that is so different from where I grew up."
"As someone who is shy to begin with, I understand how impossible it is to break into a world that is hard for you to understand," she says.
Tina Rowden/Hulu Melanie Lynskey and Jessica Biel in Candy
Getting into character for Betty, she says, was a stark change from playing her beloved Yellowjackets character Shauna.
"It's very fun for me to play Shauna because she's somebody who has a lot of confidence, and Betty is somebody who doesn't feel great about herself," she says. "It's a lot more fun to play somebody who's just like, 'I think I'm f---ing hot.'"
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When she's not onscreen, Lynskey relishes time with her husband, Jason Ritter and their 3-year-old daughter, whom she calls "a very confident little person."
"The other day I said to her, 'You're so cute,' and she goes, 'and smart,'" she recalls.
Lynskey says parenting duties with Ritter, 42, are very much "50/50."
"He's so helpful, so supportive, and he's willing to travel with me so the family can be together" she says. "I do the same for him, but I've been working a lot recently, so he's been making the sacrifice more often than I have. On the weekends, it's just me and him. But when I'm away on location, we'll have our amazing nanny come to work with us, and she's my daughter's favorite person. When I'm working, I have the support."
At this stage of her life and career, Lynskey says she feels "overwhelmed with gratitude."
"I don't understand how I'm this lucky," she says. "I have so much gratitude that I get to do work that I love, and I have a family that I love. I'm beyond fortunate. Every time I have a shower, I'm just like, 'God, here I am in a home with running water and hot water.' The gratitude is crazy."
Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME Melanie Lynskey, Tawny Cypress, Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci in Yellowjackets
For her next role, Lynskey is hoping for some comic relief after taking on such dark shows.
"I don't plan on working again until Yellowjackets season 2, but if someone came to me with a really funny comedy or a romantic comedy, I would be like, 'Sure,'" she says with a laugh. "Dark and sad, I don't think I could do it right now!"
For more from Melanie Lynskey, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere now.