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Why Melanie Lynskey connects with indie films like her latest Sundance hit

by Cameron Kell and John Horn | The Frame

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Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey star in the new movie, 'I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore.' Courtesy of Netflix

To say that Melanie Lynskey has had an interesting career would be an understatement.

She had a breakout with her debut role in Peter Jackson's movie, "Heavenly Creatures," though she might be most widely-known for her portrayal of the crazy neighbor, Rose, in TV's "Two and a Half Men."

But she's appeared in dozens of indie films over the years, particularly shining at the Sundance Film Festival. That's where her latest film, "I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore," premiered this year, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for Dramas.

Directed by first-timer Macon Blair, the movie tells the story of a depressed, introverted woman named Ruth, portrayed by Lynskey, who takes matters into her own hands after her home is robbed. And with the help of her eccentric neighbor, played by Elijah Wood, things spiral wildly out of control.

Melanie Lynskey stopped by The Frame's studio to talk with John Horn about her love of indie movies and Sundance, how she tried to break into the superhero market, and why "I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore" spoke to her on a deeply personal level.

Interview Highlights

This movie starts with your character, Ruth, facing a series of everyday frustrations — too many people in the express line with too many groceries, dog poop in the front yard, someone spoils the book she's reading. And then it becomes a very different movie pretty quickly. As an actor, is that part of the attraction for a story like this? How do you navigate all those shifts in tone?

Well, it's a very satisfying thing to play somebody who's kind of being trampled on. I feel like Ruth is just going about her everyday life just thinking to herself, This is going to be what it is until the day I die. I'm just going to put up with people, I'm going to be lonely, nothing exciting is going to happen to me.

And then this shift happens which, for me as an actor, was really easy to play, because the script made you understand it so much. It's not like she suddenly snaps — she has this gradual awakening [laughs]. She gets robbed and she's like, I'm going to find the people who did this to me. It starts innocently enough, but then it really, really escalates. [laughs]

Sundance has been incredibly good for you as an actor. Where would you be in your career were it not for the movies that are seen at Sundance?

Oh, it's such an amazing thing to have that platform. Every movie that I've had at Sundance ... one of them, "Happy Christmas," cost $70,000 to make — the whole movie — and it played in competition at Sundance and it was bought for a bunch of money.

Every movie that I've had there has been made on such a tiny scale, just by people who are passionate about it. I've been fortunate that all the movies I've had there have been bought by somebody. And it's just such a nice environment — everybody's so supportive, everyone wants to love the movies they're seeing, so there's a great energy there.

Is it a question of people who are making independent movies having a character and a point of view that you're attracted to? Or is it that studio movies don't have those things, or that they're interested in Meryl Streep or Cameron Diaz?

Yes. [laughs] I mean, there aren't a ton of studio movies being made that have female protagonists ... or even that have female characters, honestly. And with the ones that do, people don't want to take too many chances these days, which I understand — not as many people are going to the movie theaters. I did actually audition to play a secretary in a superhero movie. I was like, This is how I could be in a superhero movie.

And what happened?

I didn't get in. [laughs] I didn't get the secretary part! But I was like, Oh, I think I could be in a superhero movie if I'm playing the secretary. [laughs] But otherwise, I'm not one to put a catsuit on and be doing tricks.

How much of your career is determined by the things that appeal to you as an actor, and how much is determined by the things that you're offered and able to play?

I think the latter is pretty much it. I mean, out of the things that I'm offered and people want to make with me, I have to have some kind of instinct, something that happens within me that says, Okay, there's something right about doing this at this point in time. There has to be something that's appealing to me, because I'm not making any money. [laughs]

There's gotta be some art there. [laughs]

There's gotta be some art there, otherwise it's really, really not worth it. But there are movies that I just don't get to see, so that is what it is.

So with "I Don't Feel At Home in this World Anymore," what appealed to you?

There was something very instinctive that happened when I read it — on the second page, I started reading it out loud. I just felt like the character was within me. And one of the things that appealed to me was that I know what that feels like. I'm a very, very sensitive person, and if I go out in public with my guard down and all my sensitivity out there, it's painful.

I get affected by people I see who are in sad situations, I get hurt by people, I feel sort of trampled upon a lot of the time. It sounds pathetic, but you can't go out and be open sometimes. So I have a little guard that I put up to go out in the world. And I read the script and I was like, God, that's what Ruth is doing. She just never takes it down.

I have friends and people that I love and people I connect with, and I'm able to be unguarded and vulnerable, and she just has the guard up at all times. She doesn't know how to take it off.

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