Melanie Lynskey on ‘The Intervention,’ Relatable Characters and New Zealand’s National Treasures
Melanie Lynskey is one of the best actors working today, and though you may not immediately recognize the name, you’ve undoubtedly seen and enjoyed her work many times over the last two decades. From her big screen debut in Peter Jackson’s 1994 drama Heavenly Creatures to her recent role in HBO’s Togetherness (RIP), Lynskey has been consistently fascinating to watch. Her latest film is The Intervention, a delightful and poignant story about a group of longtime friends who gather for a weekend retreat and, perhaps unwisely, plan to confront two married pals about their troubled relationship.
The Intervention hits theaters and VOD this week and reunites Lynskey with Clea DuVall (who also serves as writer and director) and Natasha Lyonne, her co-stars in the 1999 cult classic But I’m a Cheerleader. I have been a huge fan of Lynskey’s since my first viewing of Heavenly Creatures when I was about 12 years old, and although we’ve been acquainted with one another through social media in recent years, this was our first time actually speaking:
How are you?
I’m good! How are you? It’s so nice to finally be talking to you!
I was just thinking the same thing!
I know [laughs], it’s so funny. It’s so weird to just know somebody on Twitter.
I adore The Intervention for several reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a great But I’m a Cheerleader reunion.
I know, it’s so cute, it’s so cute, and Natasha could do it and I could do it and Clea had the idea.
Did you see The Invitation?
I didn’t, but I heard it was so good.
It is! And it would make a great double feature with The Intervention because they deal with similar themes of what we perceive as appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
Yeah. Ooh, that makes me want to see it even more.
You should, it’s really great.
My boyfriend [Jason Ritter] saw it without me, so now I am like, blah.
What was it like to work with him in this?
Well, it was really fun. We had done it before, that was the movie we had met each other on. It was fun, it was just easy. We get along really well. He is just such a sweet, easygoing person. It was nice, he is very easy to be around. He is such a good actor.
I love your character because she’s relatable in a flawed way, and sort of in the same wheelhouse as some of your other recent roles. Is that something you look for?
I guess so, I think my own set of criteria is that when I am reading it, there is just something that just clicks in me. I just sort of instinctively know to do it. Maybe because I am such a mess. It tends to be those kind of characters. It’s also just more to explore that kind of thing. You know, when somebody is making mistakes, and I guess I am really, really interested in people’s behavior.
Messy characters make for some of the best films. Like Young Adult, which is one of my favorite movies.
I think that is the greatest Jason Reitman movie. Oh god, I love that movie so much.
After I saw it with some friends, they kept calling me Mavis, like Charlize Theron’s character. I didn’t know if I should be insulted. They were like, well you drink a lot of Diet Coke and you don’t really like anybody.
[Laughs] That’s pretty funny. I had a conversation when that movie came out and they were like, “who is like that?” And I said, lucky you. You are watching that movie and you are like, nobody is really like that, nobody is that f—d up. I don’t know the types of people that you know, but…
I hear similar complaints about Girls, where people say the characters are unlikable. As if relating to someone is the same as approving of their behavior.
I don’t understand that at all. It’s so weird to me.
Your character in The Intervention is specifically relatable for me — especially when you try to cut the awkward silence at dinner by talking about Schindler’s List and how confusing it is for Ralph Fiennes to play a Nazi when he’s so attractive. I’ve expressed this exact sentiment many times.
I actually have never seen Schindler’s List.
I know. I don’t know how, there are just certain things that passed me by. That scene was so funny. I read that in the script and was just like, oh, this is so good.
I think we’ve all had moments where we try to make things less awkward and only succeed in doing the opposite. And your character does that by over-sharing.
It’s so funny, the panic about things getting out of control. It’s so interesting. She literally would do anything to get it back in her own control, including like, completely humiliating herself.
Which is interesting because she doesn’t understand that she’s humiliating herself. Did you ever watch My So-Called Life?
Yeah, but I watched it when it was on.
Angela has the best line about the agony of saying something you immediately regret…
Yeah, I do that all the time. I’m like, pathologically honest, which is a real problem especially during interviews or whatever, you know?
I listened to your interview on WTF with Marc Maron and thought it was so amazing and painfully relatable.
Aww, well I’m sorry but thank you! Yeah, He’s so good at getting you to just open up, it’s crazy. It feels so intimate in there that it’s like, impossible not to.
Did you find it more comfortable to make a film with your friends?
Well, I can be…not difficult, but I can be kind of protective of my own ideas. I think it’s because I don't have any training or anything like that, 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 sort of 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. Like, I’ll try it if it’s an interesting idea, but a lot of the time I’ll just be like, that is a weird choice, like, I don’t think this person would do that. So, I just have a particular way of operating and it’s okay when you can go home at the end of the day, or you know, leave the movie and be like, alright, that was that relationship.
But when it’s your best friend, it just adds a whole other layer to it because it’s like, oh god, I want to be able to stand up for myself but I also don’t want to hurt anyone. Like, you know, I’ll defend it to the ends of the earth if I think somebody is going to tell me to do something that’s going to make the performance worse, but you know, when it’s your friend you want to make her happy, and I’m so invested in getting the movie made and making it the way she wanted to make it, and so it was kind of a struggle for me to find a way to do that, that felt comfortable to me, but I think we really worked it out. We had a good communication about it. And at the end of it, we were like, this went really well! [Laughs]
It’s also one of the few really good movies we’ve had this summer. I don’t know how often you actually get out to the theater, but it’s been underwhelming lately.
Well I recently saw Don’t Think Twice, I really liked that.
I just saw it for the second time the other night and it breaks my heart.
I know! When Gillian [Jacobs] goes out on stage, by herself, like, the look on her little face.
When she says, “maybe I belong in the well,” I just want to shout, “me too!” I also belong in the well.
I know! Gosh, she’s so amazing, she’s so good. I love that movie, and I really loved Hunt for the Wilderpeople. And I really loved Captain Fantastic. I thought that was really great.
I love Hunt for the Wilderpeople! I interviewed Sam Neill for it.
Sam Neill is great! He’s been acting forever. He’s a national treasure where I come from.
He was so nice, even when I asked him about this silly Snow White movie he did with Sigourney Weaver in the ’90s.
Oh my god, I don’t know what movie that is!
It’s called Snow White: A Tale of Terror, and Monica Keena is Snow White.
And there’s this scene where Sigourney Weaver crucifies Sam Neill upside down.
I need to see this. When I won the thing at Sundance he tweeted at me and said, “We’re all so proud of you, sweetheart,” and I like, wept. To get New Zealand’s congratulations from Sam Neill was one of the happiest moments of my life.
They should start sending him around with special certificates and gift baskets to congratulate everyone in person.
“We’re all so proud of you, sweetheart. Here you go.”
I do have to ask you about one thing. During Taika Waititi’s scene in Hunt for the Wilderpeople he mentions Burger Rings, which I had to Google because I never heard of them before. Have you had them?
Yes! One million times. They’re like Cheetos. When you were a kid you’d get a little package of Burger Rings in your lunch or whatever and you’d put them all on your fingers and eat them off.
Sort of like Funyuns.
I have to bring them back for my ex-husband when I go to New Zealand. He has a list of stuff that he likes from New Zealand and one of them is Burger Rings.
Sam Neill said he’s never eaten them, but the way he said it was like, [scoffs] “No, of course not.”
Wow, now I feel like a real commoner.
Is Taika Waititi someone you’ve thought about working with? I don’t want to assume that everyone in New Zealand knows each other…
Yeah, of course I know him! I’ve known him since I was 18 years old, I think. I’ve known him and Jemaine [Clement] and Bret [McKenzie] from Flight of the Conchords for…we all were at university together and lived in the same city. But, yeah, I’d love to work with Taika. He’s so brilliant and he’s such a sweet person. That’d be my dream.
He seems so charming. His photos from the set of the new Thor movie make me think I’d almost enjoy a movie about the making of that movie more than the actual thing itself.
I did a Q&A with him for Hunt for the Wilderpeople when he was stuck on this, I mean, giant action movie. It’s pretty amazing, he’s doing so well.
But so are you! I think I’m still traumatized about HBO canceling Togetherness.
Aww, thank you. I’m so sad about it. It’s crazy.
Have you spoken with Mark and Jay Duplass about possibly doing something else together?
No, there are so many other things going on, I think they were able to just move on to the next thing. But I would always love to work with them, it was just such a dream. I was like, where do I go now? What do I do? It’s so sad.
You’re so wonderful and this has been so great, and I know I’ve complimented you a thousand times, but I’m happy we finally got a chance to talk.
Aww, I’m so happy to talk to you and I think you are awesome as well!