Melanie Lynskey led two lives.
Known by millions as Rose, Charlie’s sweetly unhinged stalker on the megahit sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” the New Zealander has also spent a good deal of the past decade building up an impressive list of indie film roles.
Impressive in quantity as well as quality. Just last week, two of the actor’s movies, “The Great & the Small” and the all female-directed horror anthology “XX,” hit local theaters. On Friday, “I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.,” Lynskey’s starring vehicle that won the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize last month, goes worldwide on Netflix.
She loves making this stuff, just as she loved playing Rose. Sometimes, though, indieland feels like another planet.
“Often, people in this independent film world that I’ve been working in don’t know about ‘Two and a Half Men’ at all,” Lynskey, wearing a modest summer frock on a warm February day in Pasadena, points out. “On ‘XX,’ I was having a conversation with one of the actors who was about to test for a big TV show and she said, ‘I feel like I’m selling out; I’m really worried about it. You have these great principles. and you always just do things that are so pure ...’
“And I was like, ‘How do you think I can afford to do that?’ You make $100 a day before you pay your agent, your manager, business manager, taxes; you can’t afford to do independent movies for a living. I’m very fortunate that I had that ‘Two and a Half Men’ job.”
“I don’t feel at home” was a fortunate project for Lynskey, too. Actor Macon Blair, a rising indie film star (“Blue Ruin,” “Green Room,” “Gold”) wrote and made his directing debut with the loser-comedy-turned-violent-crime drama and conceived lead character Ruth Kimke with the actress in mind.
“The main thing that attracted me was just what an interesting character she was,” Lynskey explains. “I’m so used to reading things where it’s someone’s mom or it’s someone’s wife, the character’s defined by her relationship to another person in the movie, usually a man. When I read the first scene of this, she was just standing alone, looking up at the sky, drinking a beer.
“Then the journey that the character takes was so interesting to me. Think of going from somebody who’s repressing everything and letting other people trample on her, thinking like, ‘OK, this is how my life is going to go until I die and not feeling excited about anything,’ and then for her to take this turn and find somebody who is listening to her for a change. That’s a big moment.”
That listener is Tony, played by Elijah Wood. Another loner who lives nearby the house that Ruth returns to one afternoon to find burglarized, the self-described martial artist enthusiastically joins his neighbor’s crusade to recover her stolen goods. It’s absurd and goofy until it gets very, very dark, and Lynskey holds the film’s center as its tone radically shift.
Even when Ruth’s vomiting. Lynskey noticed that Blair’s acting background aided the slippery assignment, mainly via his ability to understand her sometimes difficult process.
“For sure, Macon has a great sensitivity,” she reveals. “I’m very specific, I’m not the easiest person to work with if you’re a director because it all comes from instinct for me. I don’t have any training, and I’m not very good at being shuffled away from what my instinct is. I’ll try it, but for me there’s something that feels right and feels real, and it’s tricky if someone has a different idea — which, y’know, some people just don’t like. But he was really wonderful. He was so understanding about that and very, very collaborative.”
Although heading straight to Netflix may seem like a comedown for a Sundance prize-winner, “I don’t feel at home” was actually financed by the streaming service. According to Lynskey, it took some negotiating on the festival’s programmers’ part to get Netflix to agree to give them the film for their opening night feature. And although you won’t be able to see it in commercial theaters — where movies with buzz from the Park City bubble often struggle to find audiences — Lynskey is thrilled that it can be watched at home in much of the world starting today.
“Honestly, for me it’s such a relief to be able to say to people that I love, also my family in New Zealand, ‘It’s on Netflix and the day that it comes out you’ll be able to see it,’ ” she says. “That’s a really wonderful thing. It’s like, sending out e-mails that say ‘My movie’s going to be in one theater this weekend, please try to catch it if you can,’ I don’t have to do that. It makes it easier for people. It’s just how people are watching stuff now. I still love going to the movie theater, but I don’t do it as much as I’d like to.”
“XX” is currently available on VOD as well. In her sequence “The Birthday Party,” Lynskey plays a controlling housewife who’s determined to make her daughter’s eighth birthday party come off without a hitch, despite a totally alarming turn of events having to do with her husband.
The black comedy segment, which marks the directing debut of singer-songwriter St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark), was right in Lynskey’s wheelhouse.
“It’s a really weird one,” the actress chuckles. “I know Annie a little bit and I just love her; I think she’s so talented and she’s such a cool person. She just out of nowhere sent me an e-mail that said, ‘I’m directing something, would you do it?’ I trust her sensibility and her style so much, I knew that would be a lot of it. And it was just so fun, and a great thing to be a part of.”
Lynskey also won a Special Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance Festival for her performance in another friend’s — actress Clea DuVall’s — ensemble dramedy “The Intervention.” Her connection to indies goes back to the beginning, when she was cast at age 16 — opposite another first-time movie actress, Kate Winslet — in pre-”Lord of the Rings” Peter Jackson’s acclaimed 1994 psychodrama “Heavenly Creatures.”
The low-budget sector has nurtured her ever since.
“I want to tell stories about women who are interesting and complicated and not like people you’ve seen before,” Lynskey notes. “I feel very fortunate that, on the world’s biggest sitcom, I got to do that, too. That’s not usually the case. There aren’t that many opportunities 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.
“It’s a scary time to be making movies and people just are not willing to take that much of a risk. So it’s in the smaller things that you really get to do risky stuff.”
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