Even during an interview, it's difficult to remember that Melanie Lynskey isn't actually your best friend.
The New Zealander is genial in conversation, her expressions somehow familiar, a visage seen in her countless television and film roles where Lynskey's often played a confidant trustworthy enough for all your deepest secrets.
At 16 the actress played faithful friend Pauline with her break-through role in "Heavenly Creatures," and now at 38, is just as adept as the dissatisfied wife and mother on HBO's "Togetherness."
When Lynskey sat down recently for lunch in Downtown Los Angeles, it became clear she was far more interested in engaging on a personal level than being formally interviewed. She'd much rather inquire after your family, your job, your life than be the center of the discussion, and did so with an engaging earnestness.
"[Melanie] has a way of intuiting interpersonal dynamics that is beyond me," said Mark Duplass, who plays Lynskey's husband Brett on "Togetherness." He also serves as creator, director, and writer of the series along with his brother Jay. "It's beyond that old soul thing that people have. It's a next-level thing."
"Togetherness," which returns for its second season on HBO this Sunday, features Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, a woman who struggles to reignite her passion for life through building a charter school, all while navigating the difficulties of marriage and family. She's a key player in the series which deals with the messier aspects of a stagnating marriage and the frustrations of trying to find love and comfort as you age.
Last season, Lynskey's character was tempted to break her vows to husband with an intriguing stranger, and the season finale ended on a cliffhanger that left the question of Michelle's faithfulness up in the air.
"People will angrily say to me, 'I really hope you didn't do that,'" said Lynskey in regards to how the show's fans have reacted to the infidelity storyline. "People are very black and white about it. But life is complicated."
Lynskey starred in "Two and a Half Men" and "Up in the Air" before trying out for the part in "Togetherness" in 2013. She said after the audition she went to her car and prayed, "If I've ever done anything right in this life, please let me have this job."
Clearly, God was listening. "Jay and I knew within 30 seconds of her walking in the door that we were going to cast her," said Duplass. "The thing that really overwhelmed me was what Melanie does with so few words. I use a lot of words to express myself and she just says so little and does so much."
Lynskey grew up the eldest of five children. "[My parents] were pretty hands-off," she said, then explained that's why she came up with chore lists and appeals for allowances for herself and her siblings. "I wanted order so badly. Everyone was like, 'What a dork!' and I would say, 'Well, wouldn't it be nice to know that one thing was going to be consistent?'"
Who knew that stability would arrive via a career in acting?
When cast in "Heavenly Creatures," Lynskey was a complete unknown. "They just came to my school and auditioned people. I did every play I could, but I never thought, 'This is a career,'" she recalled.
It was several years before the actress began creating audition tapes and pursuing a career in earnest, landing a role as an evil stepsister in 1998's "Ever After," a re imaging of the "Cinderella" fable starring Drew Barrymore. Lynskey went on to master the art of playing the "funny, best friend" in films like 2000's "Coyote Ugly," and 2002's "Sweet Home Alabama."
She eventually relocated from New Zealand to London, where she lived for two years with "a Welshman I met on a movie, a real sweetheart." At a loss as to how to move forward after the end of her relationship, she finally decided to move to Los Angeles.
Slowly Lynskey began growing a support system of friends who helped Los Angeles truly feel like home. "I have these women in my life, this group of friends who are so incredible. If I ever get married again, I'd probably have 20 bridesmaids," she said.
"My favorite thing about Melanie is that she is not of this time," Duplass explained. "She is obsessed with, and only obsessed with, people. She doesn't care about her phone, she doesn't care about cars, she just wants to talk about people and how they are."
Lynskey's recent projects include a lead role in her best friend Clea DuVall's feature film and directorial debut, "The Intervention."
The film centers around four couples on a weekend getaway. Lynskey's performance in the film garnered a special jury prize at Sundance where the film screened in January.
The jury prize was special, she explains, because DuVall "wrote [the part] for me and it's such a validation of her as a writer. I was just so proud of her."
Working with DuVall also provided additional benefits which Lynskey didn't foresee.
DuVall occasionally made suggestions while filming about how Lynskey should play a scene. The said she even if she disagreed with the idea, she's at least try to follow the filmmakers advice. "When she was editing, Clea told me, 'You cannot lie,'" said Lynskey. "You're trying to do what I've asked and I feel you trying, but you look uncomfortable. It's crazy.'"
It's a concept that gets echoed when Lynskey is choosing projects to pursue as well. "Sometimes I read something so good and I know it's so good but I can't find a way into it," she said. "I don't know how to do that without being a liar."
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