Melanie Jayne Lynskey (born 16 May 1977) is a New Zealand actress and voice actress. She is the recipient of several accolades, including a New Zealand Film Award, a Hollywood Film Award, and a Sundance Special Jury Award, as well as Critics' Choice Award, Gotham Award and Golden Nymph Award nominations.
Lynskey at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival
Melanie Jayne Lynskey
16 May 1977
|Residence||Los Angeles, California|
|Alma mater||Victoria University of Wellington|
|Occupation||Actress, voice actress|
(m. 2007; div. 2014)
|Partner(s)||Jason Ritter (2013–present)|
Lynskey made her film debut at age 17, starring as a teenage murderer in Heavenly Creatures (1994). After moving to the United States, she built a career playing supporting parts in films such as Ever After (1998), Detroit Rock City, But I'm a Cheerleader (both 1999), Coyote Ugly (2000), Abandon, Sweet Home Alabama (both 2002), Shattered Glass (2003), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Away We Go, Up in the Air, The Informant!, Leaves of Grass (all 2009), Win Win (2011), Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (both 2012).
Lynskey received critical praise for her performance in Hello I Must Be Going (2012), which proved to be a turning point in her career. Subsequent lead roles in Happy Christmas, We'll Never Have Paris (both 2014), The Intervention, Rainbow Time, Little Boxes (all 2016), I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, And Then I Go (both 2017) and Sadie (2018) have established her as a prominent figure in the American independent film community.
Outside of film, Lynskey achieved fame with her portrayal of Rose on the sitcom Two and a Half Men (2003–2015). From 2015 to 2016, she starred as Michelle Pierson on the HBO series Togetherness, for which she earned a nomination for the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. She provided the voices of Beatrice for Cartoon Network's Over the Garden Wall (2014) and Megan for Disney XD's Future-Worm! (2016–2018). In 2018, she starred as Molly Strand on the Hulu series Castle Rock. Lynskey is engaged to actor Jason Ritter; they have one child.
Lynskey was born in New Plymouth, New Zealand, to Kay Lynskey, a former nurse, and Tim Lynskey, an orthopedic surgeon. She is the oldest of five children, and has three brothers and one sister. Her surname is Irish.
During her childhood, Lynskey's family moved to England for one year before returning to New Zealand. She attended New Plymouth Girls' High School, where she was involved in the drama department and school plays. After high school, Lynskey studied at Victoria University of Wellington.
1994–2002: Film debut and early work
Lynskey made her professional acting debut at age 17, starring in Heavenly Creatures, a psychological drama based on the Parker–Hulme murder case. Lynskey played Pauline Parker, a teenager who carries out a brutal crime, aided by her best friend (played by Kate Winslet). She auditioned for the role when a casting director visited her high school; prior to this, 500 girls had been considered for the part of Pauline, but "none were right". Fran Walsh—the film's co-writer—admired Lynskey's "quiet intensity", and said, "we knew immediately that she was right for the role". The film, which was directed by Peter Jackson, was met with critical acclaim upon its release in 1994. Roger Ebert praised Jackson for casting "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". Owen Gleiberman described Lynskey as "extraordinary", while Richard Corliss wrote 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".
Heavenly Creatures is recognized as a landmark in New Zealand cinema. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 67th Academy Awards, while Lynskey was named Best Actress at the 1995 New Zealand Film and Television Awards. She regards working with Jackson and Winslet as an important learning experience. During the making of the film she grew particularly close to Winslet, who later said, "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".
After a two-year gap, during which she attended university and auditioned for a part in The Crucible (1996), Lynskey secured a leading role in the independent drama Foreign Correspondents, which was filmed in Los Angeles in 1997 and gained attention for its use of crowdfunding. The following year, she broke into the mainstream when she appeared as Drew Barrymore's "nice" stepsister in Ever After, a re-imagining of the Cinderella story. The film was a commercial and critical success.
In 1999, Lynskey appeared in four features: Detroit Rock City, The Cherry Orchard, Shooters, and the cult hit But I'm a Cheerleader, which is considered to be one of the best LGBT films of all time. Next, she had a key role in the romantic comedy Coyote Ugly (2000), and starred as an intrepid daredevil in the award-winning New Zealand thriller Snakeskin (2001). For the latter, she received strong reviews and a nomination for Best Actress at the Nokia New Zealand Film Awards.
In 2002, Lynskey played the childhood best friend of Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama, which had a record-breaking opening weekend in North America. She then appeared alongside Katie Holmes in Abandon, and made her television debut in Rose Red, a miniseries written by Stephen King. The series was a ratings hit with an average of 18.5 million viewers over three consecutive nights.
2003–2011: Supporting film roles, and Two and a Half Men
In 2003, Lynskey played a writer for The New Republic in Shattered Glass, a film based on the career of former journalist Stephen Glass. Jeff Otto of IGN called it "a tension-filled drama with great performances". Later that year, she landed the part of Rose, the devious but lovable neighbor of Charlie Harper (played by Charlie Sheen) on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men. After initially appearing in the pilot episode as a guest character, Lynskey was invited to become a series regular, and went on to appear frequently throughout the show's first two seasons. Despite leaving the main cast in 2005 to concentrate on film work, she continued to make guest appearances on the show up until its final episode, which aired in February 2015.
Honestly, doing three or four episodes a year enabled me to pay my mortgage and do independent films. I had this double life: I had this whole indie side of my career, and people in that world didn't know I was on this huge sitcom. Then, people 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.
In 2006, Lynskey appeared in the Clint Eastwood-directed war film Flags of Our Fathers. She then played one of the principal characters on the short-lived television series Drive, which ran for just six episodes in 2007. The following year, she had a supporting role in the miniseries Comanche Moon, and returned to New Zealand to star in Show of Hands, for which she earned a nomination for Best Actress at the Qantas Film and Television Awards.
In 2009, Lynskey received strong reviews for Away We Go, a comedy-drama directed by Sam Mendes in which she played a woman who has suffered a series of miscarriages. Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe called it "the best performance in the movie". Next, she co-starred as Matt Damon's wife in Steven Soderbergh's dark comedy The Informant!. The film—which is based on real events—was described as "devilish fun" by Rolling Stone, while Geoffrey Macnab wrote that Lynskey provided "sterling support" in his review for The Independent. 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 sort of lays out a sentence. It's just really, really interesting". Lynskey counts her time working on The Informant! as one of her favorite experiences.
Matt Damon said something to me that I really have lived by ever since ... “At the end of your career, when someone looks over your filmography, all they remember is if the movie was good or not. They’re not saying, ‘Oh, he [played] that crazy character!’ [or] ‘Oh, all those people were in that movie’ ... all people know is if the movie was good or not” ... so, if you consistently choose good scripts ... you’re going to build a very strong résumé.
Also in 2009, she appeared as Edward Norton's pregnant fiancée in Leaves of Grass, and as George Clooney's younger sister in Up in the Air. The latter was nominated for Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards. The film's director, Jason Reitman, had never before cast a foreigner to play an American character, but Lynskey said that she "tricked" him into giving her the part by not speaking to him during her audition, therefore concealing her native accent. Reitman said he was "thrilled" by this. In October 2009, Lynskey was presented with a Spotlight Award at the Hollywood Film Festival.
In 2010, she had a starring role in Helena from the Wedding; Jon Frosch of The Hollywood Reporter called it a "wise, luminous low-budget comedy", adding, "The actors form a seamless ensemble, but [the film] belongs to ... Lynskey". The following year, she received praise for her portrayal of Cindy—a recovering drug addict—in Win Win, where she co-starred with Paul Giamatti. Writing for Time, Mary Pols said, "[Lynskey] has become one of the most reliably intriguing supporting actresses in film ... she had small parts in Away We Go, The Informant! and Up in the Air ... she was wonderful in all three. In [this] she gives a very different kind of performance and is even better".
2012–2016: Transition to lead roles and greater success
In 2012, Lynskey appeared alongside Steve Carell in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and had a key role in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, playing the mentally troubled Aunt Helen. Due to the nature of the character, Lynskey said it had been a difficult decision to take the part. Also that year, she starred in the romantic comedy Putzel; Mark Hinson of the Tallahassee Democrat felt that her performance "steals the show ... [the film] sparks to life whenever the charming Lynskey arrives on the screen".
Lynskey's portrayal of Amy—a divorcee who finds herself having to move back in with her parents—in Hello I Must Be Going (2012) was particularly well received by critics. 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 she initially assumed the part would be given to Michelle Williams or Maggie Gyllenhaal. 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". 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". USA Today praised the film for being "well-written, involving and emotionally honest", noting that "Lynskey brings dimension and intelligence [to the role]". The performance earned her a nomination for the Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Actor. In 2015, Screen Rant placed Lynskey's portrayal of Amy at #6 on their list of the '20 Best Acting Performances of The Last 5 Years'.
In 2013, she had a starring role in The Big Ask; the film received a mixed reception from critics, but Lynskey's performance was praised. In April the following year, she was named an Emerging Master honoree at the RiverRun International Film Festival. 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 (played by Anna Kendrick) comes to visit. The film drew attention for being almost entirely improvised. Stephen Holden of The New York Times commented, "The performances in Happy Christmas are so natural that the actors melt into their characters", while other critics singled out Lynskey as a highlight. Later that year, she appeared as Amy Poehler's best friend in They Came Together, and played the female leads in We'll Never Have Paris and Goodbye to All That; in his review of the latter, Bilge Ebiri described Lynskey as "fantastic". Next, she provided the voice of Beatrice, an ill-tempered bluebird, for the Cartoon Network miniseries Over the Garden Wall. 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". The series went on to receive three Creative Arts Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Animated Program.
From 2015 to 2016, Lynskey played Michelle Pierson on the HBO series Togetherness, which focused on the lives of two couples living under the same roof. The show ran for two seasons, and was praised for its intimate storytelling and the performances of its cast. Robert Lloyd of The Los Angeles Times wrote, "[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". The performance earned Lynskey a nomination for the 2015 Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Despite missing out on a Primetime Emmy Award nomination in 2016, she was singled out as a worthy candidate in the run-up to that year's ceremony. In March 2016, it was announced that HBO had decided not to renew Togetherness for a third season. Lynskey later compared this to having her "heart broken by someone I'm still in love with".
For her role in The Intervention (2016), Lynskey received the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance at the Sundance Film Festival. In his review for IndieWire, Russ Fischer pointed out Lynskey's "tremendously good comic timing", while Ethan Anderton of /Film noted, "Lynskey is the standout, delivering a performance that is genuine, funny and touching all at the same time". The film was the directional debut of Clea DuVall, who wrote the character of Annie—an uptight alcoholic—specifically for Lynskey. She attended therapy before the film went into production to prepare herself for working with DuVall, her 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". Also that year, she starred in the BBC Two comedy pilot Our Ex-Wife, as well as the independent features Rainbow Time, Little Boxes and The Great & The Small. Variety's Joe Leydon described her performance in the latter as "quietly devastating".
2017–present: Continued success
In 2017, Lynskey's portrayal of a downtrodden vigilante in the comedic thriller I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore received widespread critical acclaim. The film's director, Macon Blair, wrote the character of Ruth with Lynskey in mind. The role proved to be physically challenging for her, as it involved several stunts and the use of prosthetics. Peter Debruge of Variety felt that Lynskey delivered her "best work yet", while Time Out's Joshua Rothkopf described her as "seething and magnetic". The film was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, while Lynskey received a nomination for the Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Actress. Also that year, she starred as the parent of a troubled teenager in the controversial drama And Then I Go; as a defense lawyer in the Australian miniseries Sunshine, for which she received a Golden Nymph Award nomination; as the mother of a girl with supernatural powers in The Changeover; and in the horror film XX, in which her character frantically tries to hide her husband's body 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".
In 2018, she had a starring role in the independent drama Sadie (2018); Variety described the film as "quietly absorbing", adding that Lynskey's work was "strong" and "compelling". Next, she appeared as Molly Strand on the first season of Castle Rock, a psychological horror series based on characters and settings from the novels of Stephen King. The series premiered on Hulu in July 2018 and garnered positive reviews from critics, particularly for the cast; Paste referred to Lynskey's portrayal of Molly as "delicately complex", while Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall felt the show was "the latest example of how much humanity and grounding Melanie 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". In August 2018, it was announced that the series had been renewed; however, Lynskey has said the next season will feature a different set of actors.
Lynskey describes herself as a character actress. "Even when I'm reading a script where I'm supposed to be looking at the lead role, I'll find myself gravitating toward some small weirdo in a few scenes instead". Regarding her acting technique, Lynskey has said, "I don't have any 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 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".
Asked by an interviewer in 2012 on how she felt about typically being cast—up to that point—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 written for men, or Meryl Streep. "For a while, I was only being sent fat-girl parts", she said. "Seriously? Sometimes I feel like I'm making some kind of radical statement because I'm a size 6". She has subsequently taken on leading roles in numerous independent films and has been labelled an "indie queen".
Speaking in 2017 about taking risks in her film work, she 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".
In 2012, Lynskey voiced an animated version of herself in an airline safety video for Air New Zealand.
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 portrayed the role of George Aaronow (originally played by Alan Arkin).
Lynskey appeared on several occasions as part of The Thrilling Adventure Hour, a staged production and podcast in the style of old-time radio that was held monthly in Los Angeles. The show ran from March 2005 to April 2015.
In 2015, she featured in the music video for the song "Waiting on Love" by Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers.
In 2016, it was reported that she was attached to star in a television series written by Pamela Ribon. Lynskey described it as a "dream" part; however, the project has yet to materialize.
In June 2018, Lynskey was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In 2001, Lynskey met American actor Jimmi Simpson during the filming of Rose Red, in which they both appeared. They became engaged in 2005 and married on 14 April 2007, in a chapel on Lake Hayes, near Queenstown, New Zealand. Lynskey filed for divorce from Simpson on 25 September 2012, citing irreconcilable differences. The divorce was finalized on 23 May 2014. In February 2017, she became engaged to actor Jason Ritter after four years of dating. Lynskey had her first child, a daughter, in December 2018.
Lynskey lives in Los Angeles. She is best friends with Clea DuVall, whom she met when they appeared together in But I'm a Cheerleader. Lynskey became a vegetarian at age 10 after learning about sheep farming. As of 2018, she identifies as a pescetarian. She suffers from misophonia.
|2002||Rose Red||Rachel Wheaton||3 episodes|
|2003||The Shield||Marcy||2 episodes|
|2003–2015||Two and a Half Men||Rose||63 episodes|
|2007||Drive||Wendy Patrakas||6 episodes|
|2008||Comanche Moon||Pearl Coleman||3 episodes|
|2008||Psych||Emily Bloom||Episode: "Black and Tan: A Crime of Fashion"|
|2008||The L Word||Clea Mason||2 episodes|
|2009||It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia||Kate||Episode: "The Gang Exploits the Mortgage Crisis"|
|2010||Memphis Beat||Annaliese Jones||Episode: "Polk Salad Annie"|
|2010–2012||The Life & Times of Tim||Becky (voice)||6 episodes|
|2012||House||Natalie Tavares||Episode: "Better Half"|
|2014||Over the Garden Wall||Beatrice (voice)||8 episodes|
|2014–2015||Jake and the Never Land Pirates||Pearl (voice)||2 episodes|
|2015–2016||Togetherness||Michelle Pierson||16 episodes|
|2015||Key & Peele||Fiance||Episode: "The Job Interview"|
|2016–2018||Future-Worm!||Megan / Madeline Madison (voices)||13 episodes|
|2016||Animals.||Linda (voice)||Episode: "Squirrels"|
|2017||American Dad!||Sharon (voice)||Episode: "A Whole Slotta Love"|
|2017||Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later||Laura||2 episodes|
|2017||Sunshine||Zara Skelton||4 episodes|
|2018||Summer Camp Island||Sun (voice)||3 episodes|
|2018||Castle Rock||Molly Strand||10 episodes|
|2019||Easy||Beth||Episode: "Blank Pages"|
|2020||Mrs. America||Rosemary Thomson||Filming|
Awards and nominations
- Awards Circuit Community Awards
|2009||Up in the Air||Best Cast Ensemble (shared with the cast)||Runner-up|
|2012||The Perks of Being a Wallflower||Best Cast Ensemble (shared with the cast)||Nominated|
- Central Ohio Film Critics Association
|2010||Up in the Air||Best Ensemble (shared with the cast)||Nominated|
- Chicago Alt.Film Fest
|1999||Foreign Correspondents||Best Actress||Nominated|
- CinEuphoria Awards
|2011||Away We Go||Best Supporting Actress - International Competition||Won|
- Denver Film Critics Society
|2010||Up in the Air||Best Acting Ensemble (shared with the cast)||Nominated|
- Fargo Film Festival
|2010||Up in the Air||Ensemble Cast (shared with the cast)||Nominated|
|2012||Hello I Must Be Going||Breakthrough Actor||Nominated|
|2017||I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore||Best Actress||Nominated|
|2009||Melanie Lynskey||Spotlight Award||Won|
|1995||Heavenly Creatures||Best Actress||Won|
|2009||Show of Hands||Best Lead Actress in a Feature Film||Nominated|
|2014||Melanie Lynskey||Emerging Master||Won|
|2012||The Perks of Being a Wallflower||Best Performance by an Ensemble (shared with the cast)||Won|
|2016||The Intervention||U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance||Won|
- Visa Entertainment Screen Awards
|2010||The Informant!||Best Actress||Nominated|
|Melanie Lynskey||Best New Zealand Export||Nominated|
|2009||Up in the Air||Best Ensemble (shared with the cast)||Nominated|
- Behind the Voice Actors Awards
|2014||Over the Garden Wall||Best Vocal Ensemble in a New Television Series (People's Choice) (shared with the cast)||Won|
|Over the Garden Wall||Best Female Lead Vocal Performance in a Television Series - Comedy/Musical||Nominated|
|2015||Togetherness||Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series||Nominated|
|2018||Sunshine||Golden Nymph Award for Outstanding Actress (Long Fiction Program)||Nominated|
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