Melanie Lynskey

Melanie Lynskey
Born Melanie Jayne Lynskey
(1977-05-16) 16 May 1977
New Plymouth, New Zealand
Residence Los Angeles, California
Nationality New Zealand
Occupation Actress
Years active 1994–present
Jimmi Simpson
(m. 2007; div. 2014)
Partner(s) Jason Ritter (2013–present; engaged 2017)

Melanie Jayne Lynskey (born 16 May 1977)[1] is a New Zealand actress and voice actress. She is known for playing soft-spoken, yet quirky and often flawed women.[2][3] She first gained recognition as teenage murderess Pauline Parker in Peter Jackson's 1994 drama Heavenly Creatures. This was followed by supporting roles in a succession of American comedies, such as Ever After (1998), Coyote Ugly (2000), and Sweet Home Alabama (2002).

After relocating permanently to Los Angeles, Lynskey established herself as a character actress with appearances in films such as Shattered Glass (2003), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Away We Go, Up in the Air, The Informant! (all 2009), Win Win (2011), and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012). She received critical acclaim for her leading role in the comedy-drama Hello I Must Be Going (2012), which proved to be a turning point in her career.[4] She has since starred in Happy Christmas (2014), The Intervention (2016), and I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017). These and other roles have made her a prominent part of the American independent film scene.[5]

On television, Lynskey achieved fame with her portrayal of Rose on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men (2003–15). From 2015–16, she starred as Michelle Pierson on the HBO series Togetherness, earning a Critics' Choice Award nomination for her performance. She also provided the voices of Beatrice in the Cartoon Network miniseries Over the Garden Wall (2014), and Megan on Disney XD's Future-Worm! (2016–18). She currently plays Molly Strand on Hulu's Castle Rock (2018–present).

Early life

Lynskey was born in New Plymouth, New Zealand,[1] to Kay Lynskey, a former nurse, and Tim Lynskey, an orthopedic surgeon.[6] She is the oldest of five children, and has three brothers and one sister.[6] Her surname is Irish.[6]

During her childhood, Lynskey's family moved to England for one year before returning to New Zealand.[6] She attended New Plymouth Girls' High School, where she was involved in the drama department and school plays.[6] After high school, Lynskey studied at Victoria University of Wellington.[7]


1994–2002: Film debut and early success

Lynskey made her feature film debut at age 16, starring as Pauline Parker in Heavenly Creatures, a psychological drama based on the notorious Parker–Hulme murder case. She auditioned for the role of Pauline when a casting director visited her high school.[8] Prior to this, 500 girls had been considered for the part, but "none were right".[9] Fran Walsh, the film's co-writer, admired Lynskey's "quiet intensity", and said "we knew immediately that she was right for the role".[9] The film, which was directed by Peter Jackson and co-starred Kate Winslet, was met with critical acclaim upon its release in 1994.[10][11] 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".[12] Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman described Lynskey as "extraordinary",[13] 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".[14] Heavenly Creatures received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay,[15] and is considered to be one of the best New Zealand films of all time.[16][17][18] Lynskey was named Best Actress at the 1995 New Zealand Film and Television Awards.[4] She regards working with Jackson and Winslet as an important learning experience.[19][20]

After a two-year gap, during which she finished high school and auditoned opposite Daniel Day-Lewis for a role in The Crucible (1996),[20] Lynskey returned to acting in 1997 with the independent drama Foreign Correspondents, which gained attention for being the first film in history to use crowdfunding.[21] 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.[22] The film was a commercial and critical success.[23][24]

In 1999, she appeared in four features: Detroit Rock City, with Edward Furlong; The Cherry Orchard, with Charlotte Rampling; Shooters, with Gerard Butler; and the cult hit But I'm a Cheerleader, which is often cited as a favorite among fans of LGBT cinema.[25][26] Next, she played a key role in the romantic comedy Coyote Ugly (2000), alongside John Goodman, and starred as an intrepid thrill seeker in the award-winning New Zealand film Snakeskin (2001). For the latter, she received strong reviews[27][28] and a nomination for Best Actress at the Nokia New Zealand Film Awards.[29]

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.[30] She then appeared opposite Katie Holmes in the psychological thriller Abandon, and made her television debut in Rose Red, a miniseries scripted by Stephen King. The series was a ratings hit with an average of 18.5 million viewers over three consecutive nights.[31]

2003–2011: Two and a Half Men, and supporting roles

In 2003, Lynskey played a writer for The New Republic in Shattered Glass, a film based on the career of former journalist Stephen Glass (played by Hayden Christensen). Jeff Otto of IGN called it "a tension-filled drama with great performances".[32] 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.[2] Despite leaving the main cast in 2005 to concentrate on film work,[33] she continued to make guest appearances on the show up until its final episode, which aired in February 2015.[34]

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.

Lynskey, IndieWire, November 2016[35]

In 2006, she had a supporting role in Clint Eastwood's epic war drama Flags of Our Fathers, based on the book of the same name about the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima. Next, she appeared as a principal character on the FOX series Drive (2007), co-starred in the miniseries Comanche Moon (2008), and returned to New Zealand to star in Show of Hands (also 2008), which earned Lynskey a nomination for Best Actress at the Qantas Film and Television Awards.[36]

In 2009, Lynskey was praised for her performance in Away We Go, directed by Sam Mendes, playing an adoptive parent who has suffered a series of miscarriages. Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe called it "the best performance in the movie".[37] She then co-starred opposite Matt Damon in Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!, a dark comedy based on the true story of ADM whistleblower Mark Whitacre. The film was described as "devilish fun" by Rolling Stone's Peter Travers.[38] In his review for The Independent, Geoffrey Macnab wrote, "Sterling support comes from Melanie Lynskey, as Whitacre's ever-loyal wife".[39] 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".[40] Lynskey counts her time working on The Informant! as one of her favorite experiences.[41]

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 six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.[42] The film's director, Jason Reitman, had never cast a foreign actor to play an American in any of his previous films,[40] but Lynskey said that she "tricked" him into giving her the part by not speaking to him during her audition, therefore concealing her real accent. Reitman said he was "thrilled" by this.[43] In October 2009, Lynskey was presented with a Spotlight Award at the Hollywood Film Festival.[44]

In 2010, Lynskey appeared in the independent drama Helena from the Wedding, alongside Gillian Jacobs. In his review of the film, Jon Frosch of The Hollywood Reporter noted that "it feels full of both the ache and the joy of real life", and singled out Lynskey's performance as a highlight.[45] The following year, she received praise for her portrayal of a recovering drug addict in Win Win, opposite Paul Giamatti.[46][47] 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 Win Win she gives a very different kind of performance and is even better".[48]

2012–present: Transition to lead roles and greater success

In 2012, Lynskey appeared in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World with Steve Carell, and starred in the romantic comedy Putzel.[49] She also had a key role in the film adaptation of Stephen Chbosky's novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, playing the mentally disturbed Aunt Helen.[50] Due to the nature of the character, Lynskey said it had been a difficult decision to take the part.[51]

Lynskey's performance in Hello I Must Be Going (2012), where she played Amy, a dispirited 30-something who finds herself having to move back in with her parents, was particularly well received by critics.[52][53] It was a landmark film for Lynskey because, for the first time in her career, she appeared in every single scene.[54] She described the experience as "a lot of pressure", and said she initially assumed that the part would be given to Michelle Williams or Maggie Gyllenhaal.[54] 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".[54] Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times 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".[55] USA Today called the film "a funny, well-written, involving and emotionally honest tale", while noting that "Lynskey brings dimension and intelligence to a role that might have come off as unsympathetic".[56] The performance earned her a nomination for the Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Actor.[57] 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.[58]

In 2013, she co-starred with David Krumholtz in The Big Ask. The film received mixed reviews, but Lynskey's performance was considered to be one of its high points.[59][60][61] She next starred in the comedy-drama Happy Christmas (2014), directed by Joe Swanberg. Lynskey was praised for her portrayal of Kelly, an aspiring novelist whose passion for writing is rekindled when her sister-in-law (played by Anna Kendrick) comes to visit.[62][63] The film drew attention for being almost entirely improvised.[64] Stephen Holden of The New York Times commented, "The performances in Happy Christmas are so natural that the actors melt into their characters".[65] That same year, she appeared with Amy Poehler in David Wain's satirical romantic comedy They Came Together, and played the female leads in We'll Never Have Paris,[66] opposite Simon Helberg, and Goodbye to All That, opposite Paul Schneider. In his review of the latter, Bilge Ebiri called the film "charming, beautiful, and sad", and described Lynskey as "fantastic".[67] In April 2014, she was named an Emerging Master honoree at the RiverRun International Film Festival.[68]

Also in 2014, Lynskey was the voice of Beatrice, an ill-tempered bluebird, in Cartoon Network's ten-part miniseries Over the Garden Wall. Kevin Johnson of The A.V. Club described Beatrice as "the series' standout character", noting that "Lynskey steals the show with her amazing putdowns and passive-aggressiveness, smartly avoiding overdone sass or sarcasm".[69] The series went on to receive three Creative Arts Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Animated Program.[70]

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—which was created, written and directed by the Duplass brothers—ran for two seasons, and was praised for its intimate storytelling and the performances of its cast.[71][72] 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".[73] The performance earned her a nomination for the 2015 Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.[74] Although she eventually missed out on a Primetime Emmy Award nomination in 2016, Lynskey was singled out as a worthy candidate on numerous occasions in the run-up to that year's ceremony.[75][76][77] In March 2016, it was announced that HBO had decided not to renew Togetherness for a third season.[78] Lynskey later compared this to having her "heart broken by someone I'm still in love with".[79]

For her role in The Intervention (2016), Lynskey received the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance at the Sundance Film Festival.[80] In his review for IndieWire, Russ Fischer pointed out Lynskey's "tremendously good comic timing",[81] while Ethan Anderton of /Film noted, "Lynskey is the standout, delivering a performance that is genuine, funny and touching all at the same time".[82] The film was the directional debut of Clea DuVall, who wrote the character of Annie, an uptight alcoholic, specifically for Lynskey.[83] She attended therapy before the film went into production to prepare herself for working with DuVall—her close friend of several years—and later said, "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".[83] Also that year, she starred in the independent features Rainbow Time, Little Boxes, and The Great & The Small,[84] and co-starred with Robert Webb in the BBC Two comedy Our Ex-Wife.[85]

In 2017, Lynskey received praise for her portrayal of Ruth, a downtrodden vigilante, in the comedic thriller I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore.[86][87][88] The film's director, Macon Blair, wrote the character with Lynskey in mind.[89] The role was physically challenging for her, as it involved several stunts and the use of prosthetics.[89][90] Peter Debruge of Variety felt that Lynskey's performance was her "best work yet",[91] while Time Out's Joshua Rothkopf described her as "seething and magnetic".[92] The film, which co-starred Elijah Wood, was awarded the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.[93] Lynskey received a nomination for the Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Actress.[94] That same year, she starred in the controversial drama And Then I Go,[95] opposite Justin Long; the Australian miniseries Sunshine, opposite Anthony LaPaglia; the movie adaptation of Margaret Mahy's The Changeover, opposite Timothy Spall; and the anthology 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".[96]

Next, she starred in the independent drama Sadie (2018); Variety's Joe Leydon described it as "equal parts coming-of-age story and slow-burn thriller [...] quietly absorbing and methodically disquieting", adding that Lynskey's work was "strong" and "compelling".[97] Writing for Birth.Movies.Death, Jacob Knight commented, "Lynskey reminds us of what a treasure she is in any movie, creating this ball of raw concern in Sadie's mom, Rae [...] It's an incredibly nuanced performance".[98]

As of July 2018, she stars as Molly Strand on the psychological horror series, Castle Rock. Her character is described as "a woman with a rare medical condition who's barely scraping by as a real estate agent in a town where every third property is the site of someone's worst nightmare".[99] Set in the Stephen King multiverse, the show is named after the fictional town that features in many of King's works, and also stars André Holland, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Skarsgård. Castle Rock premiered on Hulu on 25 July 2018,[100] and has received positive reviews from critics. Jacob Oller of Paste called it a "compellingly sketched mystery", adding that Lynskey's portrayal of Molly is "so delicately complex that you're drawn physically closer to the screen trying to suss out how she's really feeling",[101] while Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall feels the series is "the latest example of how much humanity and grounding Melanie Lynskey can bring to the most surreal and macabre of stories — it's a tradition that goes back to when she was a teenager in Heavenly Creatures".[102]

Acting style and "indie queen" status

Lynskey describes herself as a character actress.[54] "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".[103] 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".[104]

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.[54] "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".[54] She has subsequently taken on leading roles in a variety of independent films and has been labelled an "indie queen".[105][106][107][108]

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".[5]

Lynskey is often complimented on her ability to perform an American accent.[109][110][111][112]

Other work

In 2012, Lynskey starred as an animated version of herself in an airline safety video for Air New Zealand.[113]

In February 2013, she participated in a Live Read performance of David Mamet's screenplay for the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross. The performance was directed by Jason Reitman, who assembled a cast of women (Robin Wright, Catherine O'Hara, Maria Bello, Lynskey, Mae Whitman and Carla Gugino) to read the all-male script. Lynskey portrayed the role of George Aaronow, which was originally played by Alan Arkin.[114][115]

She 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.[116]

In 2015, she featured in the music video for the song "Waiting on Love" by Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers. The video "tells the story of a world under attack by an unlikely villain—a couple (Lynskey and Jason Ritter) blinded by love and oblivious to the threat they pose to the world around them".[117]

In August 2016, it was revealed that Lynskey was attached to star in a television series written by Pamela Ribon.[118] Based on the memoir Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska,[119] the series was reported to be in the early stages of development. Lynskey described it as a "dream" part.[118] 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.[120]

Personal life

In 2001, Lynskey met American actor Jimmi Simpson during the filming of Rose Red, in which they both appeared.[121] They became engaged in 2005 and married on 14 April 2007, in a chapel on Lake Hayes, near Queenstown, New Zealand.[122] Lynskey filed for divorce from Simpson on 25 September 2012, citing irreconcilable differences.[123] The divorce was finalized on 23 May 2014.[124] In February 2017, she became engaged to actor Jason Ritter after four years of dating.[125]

Lynskey lives in Los Angeles.[126] She is best friends with Clea DuVall, whom she met when they appeared together in But I'm a Cheerleader.[118] She has been a vegetarian since age 10,[6] and suffers from misophonia.[19]



Year Title Role Notes
1994 Heavenly Creatures Pauline Parker
1996 The Frighteners Deputy
1998 Ever After Jacqueline de Ghent
1999 Foreign Correspondents Melody
1999 Detroit Rock City Beth Bumstein
1999 But I'm a Cheerleader Hilary Vandermueller
1999 The Cherry Orchard Dunyasha
1999 Measureless to Man Short film
2000 Coyote Ugly Gloria
2001 Snakeskin Alice
2002 Shooters Marie
2002 Abandon Mousy Julie Credited as Melanie Jayne Lynskey
2002 Sweet Home Alabama Lurlynn
2003 Claustrophobia Lauren
2003 Shattered Glass Amy Brand
2004 The Nearly Unadventurous Life of Zoe Cadwaulder Zoe Cadwaulder Short film
2005 Say Uncle Susan
2006 Flags of Our Fathers Pauline Harnois
2007 Park Sheryl
2007 Itty Bitty Titty Committee Plastic Surgery Lady Uncredited
2008 Show of Hands Jess
2008 A Quiet Little Marriage Monique
2009 Away We Go Munch Garnett
2009 Up in the Air Julie Bingham
2009 The Informant! Ginger Whitacre
2009 Leaves of Grass Colleen
2010 Helena from the Wedding Alice Javal
2011 Win Win Cindy
2011 Touchback Macy
2012 Hello I Must Be Going Amy Minsky
2012 Eye of the Hurricane Amelia Kyte
2012 Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Karen Amalfi
2012 The Perks of Being a Wallflower Aunt Helen
2012 Putzel Sally
2013 The Big Ask Hannah
2014 Happy Christmas Kelly
2014 They Came Together Brenda
2014 Chu and Blossom Miss Shoemaker
2014 We'll Never Have Paris Devon
2014 Goodbye to All That Annie
2015 Digging for Fire Squiggy
2016 The Intervention Annie
2016 Rainbow Time Lindsay
2016 Folk Hero & Funny Guy Becky
2016 Little Boxes Gina
2016 The Great & The Small Margaret
2017 I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore Ruth Kimke
2017 XX Mary Segment: "The Birthday Party"
2017 1 Mile to You Coach Rowan
2017 And Then I Go Janice Hanratty
2017 The Changeover Kate Chant
2018 Sadie Rae


Year Title Role Notes
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 Travers 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 (voice) 9 episodes
2016 Animals. Linda (voice) Episode: "Squirrels"
2016 Our Ex-Wife Sara Pilot
2017 American Dad! Sharon (voice) Episode: "A Whole Slotta Love"
2017 Girlboss Gail 3 episodes
2017 Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later Laura 2 episodes
2017 Sunshine Zara Skelton 4 episodes
2018 Summer Camp Island The Sun (voice) 3 episodes
2018 Castle Rock Molly Strand 10 episodes

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Work Result
1995 New Zealand Film and Television Awards Best Actress Heavenly Creatures Won
2001 Nokia New Zealand Film Awards Best Actress Snakeskin Nominated
2009 Qantas Film and Television Awards Best Lead Actress in a Feature Film Show of Hands Nominated
Hollywood Film Awards Spotlight Award[44] Won
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Ensemble Up in the Air Nominated
2010 Gold Derby Awards Ensemble Cast[127] Up in the Air Nominated
2012 Gotham Independent Film Awards Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Actor Hello I Must Be Going Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Performance by an Ensemble The Perks of Being a Wallflower Won
2014 RiverRun International Film Festival Emerging Master[68] Won
2015 Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Togetherness Nominated
2016 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance The Intervention Won
2017 Gotham Independent Film Awards Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Actress I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore Nominated
2018 Monte-Carlo Television Festival Golden Nymph Award for Outstanding Actress (Long Fiction Program)[128] Sunshine Nominated


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