'Lord of the Flies' with teen girls? 'Yellowjackets' actor leans into the role
Melanie Lynskey spoke with Fresh Air producer Ann Marie Baldonado about coming up as an actress in the '90s and 2000s, when she was typecast as the best friend. Now she's the lead in the Showtime series Yellowjackets.
Other segments from the episode on August 8, 2022
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I am Terry Gross. Our guest, Melanie Lynskey, is nominated for an Emmy for best actress in a drama series for her performance in the Showtime series "Yellowjackets." She spoke with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado about the show and her career.
ANN MARIE BALDONADO, BYLINE: Melanie Lynskey fans are happy she's finally getting the recognition she deserves for her leading role in the critically acclaimed and cult-fan favorite "Yellowjackets." After her first movie, "Heavenly Creatures," in 1994, she starred in so many film and TV shows including "Up In The Air," "Sweet Home Alabama," "I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore," "Don't Look Up," "Togetherness" and "Mrs. America." In "Yellowjackets," she plays Shauna, one of the survivors of a 1996 plane crash. She was a member of a high school soccer team on their way to the national championships when the plane crashes and the survivors have to spend over a year in the Canadian wilderness. Viewers slowly learn all the terrible things that the survivors had to do to stay alive. The show goes back and forth showing the teenagers before and after the crash as well as in 2021 when the few remaining survivors try to carry on with their lives while still living with the memories of the crash and the aftermath.
Here's a scene from the first episode of "Yellowjackets." It's the present day, and Melanie Lynskey's character is married with a teenager and living in the same New Jersey town where she grew up. She's at home when a woman claiming to be a reporter approaches her wanting to tell her story. The reporter is played by Rekha Sharma.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "YELLOWJACKETS")
MELANIE LYNSKEY: (As Shauna) I know what you want to hear. But the truth is the plane crashed, a bunch of my friends died, and the rest of us starved and scavenged and prayed for 19 months till they finally found us. And that's the end of the story.
REKHA SHARMA: (As Jessica Roberts) And I think we both know there's a bit more to it than that. I can't imagine what you guys went through out there. Nobody can. And that is worth something. It's worth a lot, actually. I can guarantee you a seven-figure book advance right here, right now. We could write it together, but it's your name on the cover.
LYNSKEY: (As Shauna) Mmm, not interested. Sorry.
SHARMA: (As Jessica) What if I told you the others were?
LYNSKEY: (As Shauna) Then, I would say that you're lying.
SHARMA: (As Jessica) So you are still in touch?
LYNSKEY: (As Shauna) I haven't spoken to any of them in years. I would not know how to get hold of them even if I wanted to. I moved on, and I genuinely hope that they were able to do the same. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm...
SHARMA: (As Jessica) Shauna, this is the kind of money that could change your life. You were an elite athlete - straight A's, early admission to Brown. Is this really how you thought your life was going to turn out? Sorry. I didn't mean to...
LYNSKEY: (As Shauna) I don't give a [expletive] what you meant, you smug, little bitch. You don't know a [expletive] thing about my life.
BALDONADO: Melanie Lynskey, welcome to FRESH AIR.
LYNSKEY: Thank you so much for having me. This is amazing.
BALDONADO: And congrats on the Emmy nomination and all of the much-deserved acclaim.
LYNSKEY: Thank you. Yeah, it's been a very surprising time.
BALDONADO: The show is about, among other things, friendships between teenage girls, particularly friendships that are pretty toxic. Was that something that appealed to you or a theme you like to explore because you have a lot of, like, flawed, like, toxic relationships in your work?
LYNSKEY: Yeah, I guess I - it's so funny. I mean, it's always more fun to play because there's just so much there when there's drama and there is hurt feelings and upset. I myself - I'm still friends with pretty much everyone I was friends with as a teenager, so I don't really relate personally. My female friends are the most important people in my world. But I do think it's - I love the storytelling, and I love how complex it is in the show. Also, when I was reading the pilot, I just thought, oh, these all feel like fully developed people. None of them are sort of stereotypes. It's not like the brainy one, the slutty one. It's - they're all interesting people who contain multitudes. And that was kind of rare for me to see in the writing of a group of teenage girls.
BALDONADO: Yeah, there is an interesting story about what inspired the show creators to make this series about a group of teenage girls surviving a plane crash. And it has to do with a rumored remake of "Lord Of The Flies." Is that true?
LYNSKEY: I think so. I've heard them tell the story at a panel where they were reading the comments, like, on "Deadline" or something. And people were like, oh, you could never do a all-female "Lord Of The Flies" 'cause what are they going to do, compromise to death? You know, like, all these things about women, these - about women not being vicious, women not being violent, not being willing to do what it takes to survive. And Ashley, who's one of the show creators, was like, well, these people have never met a teenage girl. And then, they got inspired to tell this particular story.
BALDONADO: Shauna, the character you play is very vividly, like, every day dealing with decisions that she made as a teenager - you know, the feelings she had, the relationships she forged. Do you relate to that? You know, I will say that sometimes, I still feel, like, very connected to the awkward teenager I was. Like, I can still access her. Like, do you relate to kind of what Shauna's going through that way?
LYNSKEY: Yes, very much. I feel the same. I think if you've ever been shy, if you've ever been awkward, it's almost impossible to stop feeling that way. I still have a thing when I'm at work, you know, and I have to eat lunch with a group of people. I still get heart-pounding anxiety about what table do I sit at? Who's going to reject me? Because as a kid, I didn't - you know, we moved around a lot when I was really little. And I didn't have friends, and I just never had a group of people I could sit with at lunch. So I think maybe that's why when - once I did make friends, I was like, you're with me for life. We're never splitting up. I was obsessively loyal. But yeah, Shauna is really - she has a lot of survivor's guilt, I think, about making it out of that situation, not feeling like an especially good person, but having survived and feeling very guilty about that. So that's an interesting thing to play.
BALDONADO: You were born and raised in New Zealand. Can you tell us about where you grew up and what it was like?
LYNSKEY: I grew up in a town called New Plymouth in a province called Taranaki. It's on the west coast of the North Island, and it's kind of provincial, I guess I would say. It's a very beautiful place. There's a volcano, and there's black sand beaches. It's now quite a, like, vibrant, little community. When I was growing up, it wasn't quite as great as it is now.
BALDONADO: When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?
LYNSKEY: When I was really little, like 6. I was so painfully shy I could not hold a conversation. I was just so shy. And I remember I did this thing that was completely out of character for me, and I auditioned for a play. I just had this feeling. And I didn't get a very big part in the play. But as I was doing it, my couple of little lines, I felt this freedom. I felt this lightness. And I just was like, oh, my gosh, I don't have to be me in these moments. I can just do whatever I want. I can be free. I'm in another person's body. I'm speaking as another person. And I got kind of addicted to it. And then I just did everything. I did plays at church. I did plays at school. I did local theater. And then when I was a teenager, I started to say, well, that's what I want to do for a living. And people just thought it was crazy. It's not really a job, (laughter) you know? It was really not seen as being, like, a viable career.
BALDONADO: My guest is actor Melanie Lynskey. She won the 2022 Critics Choice Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her role on the show "Yellowjackets." She's also nominated for an Emmy for that role. Her films and TV shows include "Heavenly Creatures," "Up In The Air," "Don't Look Up," "Togetherness" and "Mrs. America." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF WES MONTGOMERY'S "4 ON 6")
BALDONADO: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Ann Marie Baldonado speaking with actor Melanie Lynskey. She's been nominated for an Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her work in the Showtime series "Yellowjackets." She's the star of many movies and TV shows. This past year alone, she also starred in the Netflix film "Don't Look Up" and the limited TV series "Candy."
Your first big acting role was in the 1994 film "Heavenly Creatures." It was directed by Peter Jackson - you know, "Lord Of The Rings," the Beatles movie "Get Back" Peter Jackson. And it was an early film of his. And you co-star with Kate Winslet. And it was her first big movie, too. It's about two girls in the 1950s who are best friends, who fall in love and end up murdering your character's mother. It's based on a true story. I want to play a quick scene. At this point in the movie, the two girls are about to be separated because Kate Winslet's character is moving abroad, leaving with members of her family. The girls want to stay together even though they're just teenagers. And they're trying to find ways to do this. And in this scene, your character is arguing with her mother. And we also hear your character's voiceover. And the actual voiceovers were all pulled from the real girl, the real Pauline's diaries. Let's take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HEAVENLY CREATURES")
LYNSKEY: (As Pauline) The Hulmes will look after me. They want me to live with them.
SARAH PEIRSE: (As Honora) Don't be so ridiculous. You're our daughter. You belong here with us.
LYNSKEY: (As Pauline) I belong with Deborah. We're going to South Africa.
PEIRSE: (As Honora) You're not going anywhere. You're 15 years old, Yvonne.
LYNSKEY: (As Pauline) You have to let me go.
PEIRSE: (As Honora) We'll talk about this when you've calmed down.
LYNSKEY: (As Pauline) I felt thoroughly depressed and even quite seriously considered committing suicide. Life seems so much not worth the living. Death's such an easy way out.
PEIRSE: (As Honora) Love, you can still write to each other.
LYNSKEY: (As Pauline) Anger against Mother boiled up inside me. As it is, she was one of the main obstacles in my path. Suddenly, a means of ridding myself of this obstacle occurred to me. If she were to die...
BALDONADO: That's a scene from "Heavenly Creatures." How did you get the part in this film?
LYNSKEY: It is so strange to hear that. (Laughter) It's been so long.
BALDONADO: So long.
LYNSKEY: I just sound like a baby. I - they came to my high school. There was just one day. Somebody said, oh, some people are here auditioning for a movie. And I thought, oh, this is a good thing to put on my application to drama school, to say I auditioned for a movie, (laughter) so I have that experience. I don't know what I was thinking. But they were taking people two at a time into a spare room at the school. And they didn't want to show anyone a script or anything like that, so they just had us improvise. And I was with my friend Susie, Susie Schwier (ph). And we just improvised a few scenes together. And we, at the time, were in a dramatic improv class that we did every single Friday night. So we were used to it. It was, you know, kind of second nature for us.
And we were so excited afterwards. It was so much fun. And we couldn't go back to school. So we, like, took off for the rest of the afternoon, went and sat in the cemetery that was next to the school. And I remember Susie saying, you got that movie. They're going to give you that part. And I was like, don't be crazy (laughter). That's not how it works. It's a movie, you know? And she said, no, I could tell by how they were looking at you. And then I had to do another very long audition. I'd got flown to Christchurch, where they were filming. Peter showed me Kate Winslet's audition tape (laughter) and said, this is how good you have to be. This is a professional actress from England, who we've found. And she's this good. And I said, all right. Let me give it a try. And I did another audition. And I got the job. It was, really, a very, very lucky thing to have happen.
BALDONADO: I like that you went to a cemetery after auditioning, very fitting.
LYNSKEY: Yeah, exactly.
BALDONADO: Well, it's interesting that your career started with this - you know, we didn't call it toxic friendship back then. But, you know, it was this toxic friendship between teenagers that leads to murder. And I remember seeing this movie at the time and loving it because it was about these girls. It was dark. You know, it was a different take on an adolescent girl's story. What was it like making this movie that was pretty dark - you know, creepy is not - dark is kind of the right word - particularly at such a young age, as a young teen?
LYNSKEY: I wasn't a very light teenager. I was quite sort of depressed a lot of the time. I was - there was a lot going on in my life and my head. So it was actually an incredible experience to get to go to work and learn how to channel my actual emotions into acting and kind of free yourself from them. It can be very cathartic going through things in a performance.
And, I mean, to be working with somebody like Peter Jackson, who I understood at the time was a great director - he's so meticulous. You know, some takes, we would do 25 times. And the learning I got to do - they gave me a free day where I got to learn how to hit a mark, how to not look at the camera, how to find your light - you know, things, like - just technical things. And what a gift. Like, it just took all the nervousness away when we did get into the acting part of it. They had a coach on set for me who was tremendously helpful in helping me access the emotion and then, at the end of the day, let go of it so I didn't go home and just cry my eyes out all night. It was a very - I just feel so fortunate to have had that experience. It was pretty incredible.
BALDONADO: Well, what happened after you made the movie? Was it hard to go back to normal life? Or did you want to keep acting?
LYNSKEY: I did. I really wanted to keep acting. And I think - I understand what everybody was doing. But everybody around me, the, you know, people making the movie, were very, very worried that I would, you know, suddenly be like, this is my life now. And they knew it wouldn't be easy for me. It was 1993 when we made the film, and I was kind of a chubby, shy New Zealand girl, you know? There's just not roles out there for someone - well, at that time, there was nothing for someone who looked like me.
And they were really nervous. They were nervous that they had ruined my life. And I just remember over and over again, like, I would be so excited. I would finish a scene, and I would be so filled with joy. And they'd be like, uh-oh, she's got the bug. And I was like, well, yes, I do. This is all I've ever wanted to do. So it was hard, but I didn't really have - you know, I didn't have an agent. I didn't have anybody wanting to represent me. So it's not like I had other options. I just went back to high school and finished high school.
BALDONADO: Yeah. I could understand - like, the people who made the film, it's like - they put you through, like, a great experience but, like, with this heavy material and then showed you kind of this way of life. And then, I could understand how they'd be protective of you and not want you to get hurt.
LYNSKEY: Yeah, they just were like, oh, God, please don't let us be the ones who lead her into a life of misery. And I don't know what else they were thinking. But at the same time, you know, Kate was already a professional actress. She lived by herself in London. She was working steadily. And so for her, it was more of a stepping stone. It was her first movie. And she's beautiful, and she's English. And, you know, she was - started getting scripts, like, before the movie had come out. She got a very high-powered agent. And it was a really, really different experience.
And I think I understood that because I under - I was in awe of her for the whole production and understood I was not at that level, and I had not done the work that she had done. But at the same time, it's hard to have nothing, you know, have everybody be like, good job and now, you know, return to normal and then see somebody just, like, take off in the way that she did. It was a strange mixture of, like, pride and excitement for her and then kind of shame. Like, I felt like if I was prettier, if I was better, if I any number of things - I just thought, like, I wish I had what it took to also be in that position.
BALDONADO: A few years later - or maybe it was many years later - you moved to LA to become an actress. You've talked about how rough it can be to be a young actor. What was tough about it for you? Like, you worked throughout, but what was most difficult?
LYNSKEY: It was difficult hearing all the things that you weren't. And it would change from job to job. You know, oh, they're looking for somebody who's skinny or - you know, in the '90s, in the early 2000s, nobody had any issues telling you what was wrong with you physically. And that wasn't very fun or anything (ph). It was mostly a feeling of being appraised and falling short, again and again, that I didn't like. And then, some of the stuff I was going out for was just Not challenging, not interesting. Some of the stuff my agents were asking me to go and audition for was, like, outright offensive, like the fat friend, you know? I was like, I'm not going to do that part. I hate that this part exists. You know, you got to stop sending me scripts where there's a lonely girl eating a chocolate bar on the outskirts of the group. Like, I don't - I think it's kind of evil. So there was a lot of that kind of thing that I didn't like.
GROSS: We're listening to the conversation FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado recorded with Melanie Lynskey. She's nominated for best actress in a drama series for her performance in the Showtime series "Yellowjackets." We'll hear more of the interview after a break. I am Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL'S "GONE")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to our interview with actor Melanie Lynskey. She won the 2022 Critics Choice Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her role on the show "Yellowjackets." She's now nominated for an Emmy for that performance. It's her first Emmy nomination. But she's been a critic and fan favorite since her first movie, the 1994 Peter Jackson film "Heavenly Creatures." Her other films and TV shows include "Up In The Air," "The Informant," "Togetherness," "Don't Look Up" and "Mrs. America." She spoke with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado.
BALDONADO: In 2003, you were cast as a regular on a sitcom, "Two And A Half Men." And this was a pretty classic sitcom, you know, starring - it was a CBS sitcom starring Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer. You play the neighbor who has a thing for Charlie Sheen's character. And she would always just climb up the balcony into Charlie's house. I want to play a scene from the show. One of the times - this might be - may have been quite a while since you heard this, but one of the times that you pop in.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TWO AND A HALF MEN")
LYNSKEY: (As Rose) Marco.
CHARLIE SHEEN: (As Charlie) Not now, Rose.
LYNSKEY: (As Rose) Marco.
SHEEN: (As Charlie) Rose, I'm not in the mood.
LYNSKEY: (As Rose) Marco.
SHEEN: (As Charlie) Polo.
LYNSKEY: (As Rose) Hey, Charlie.
SHEEN: (As Charlie) Hey.
LYNSKEY: (As Rose) Something wrong?
SHEEN: (As Charlie) I'm not sure. Rose, do you think I'm a misogynist?
LYNSKEY: (As Rose) Oh (laughter), wow. Yeah.
LYNSKEY: (As Rose) Why, did somebody say you weren't?
LYNSKEY: (As Rose) Marco.
SHEEN: (As Charlie) How can I be a misogynist? My whole life is a testament to my love for women.
LYNSKEY: (As Rose) Oh, it's sweet that you think that.
LYNSKEY: (As Rose) But what you call love is really just an obsession to control and dominate based on mistrust and hostility.
SHEEN: (As Charlie) Yeah, so?
BALDONADO: That's a scene from "Two And A Half Men."
BALDONADO: How did you get the role?
LYNSKEY: I have no memory of being any part of that. That's so strange.
BALDONADO: Well, how did you get the role in this show?
LYNSKEY: I had just gotten my green card, and so I was able to go out on pilot season. So I was like, great, I'll go out for pilot season. And....
BALDONADO: Oh, and just to - the listeners, pilot season means you try out for new shows that are being produced. It used to be for back in the fall, like, when all new shows used to start on networks.
LYNSKEY: Yeah, exactly. Thank you for clarifying.
BALDONADO: Oh, no, but go on (laughter).
LYNSKEY: Yeah. So (laughter) I was just going out for everything. I really needed a job. And I got the script for this sitcom. And it was just to guest star, so it would just be the pilot. And I just thought, that kind of seems like an interesting challenge. To do a sitcom, like, a studio audience sitcom, what a crazy idea. And I read the script. And a voice came into my head. I just sort of felt like I had that character. And I was like, let's just see what happens. And then once the show was picked up, they asked me to be a regular. And I was a regular for two years.
And then I asked to leave the show. And they didn't want me to leave the show. So we renegotiated so that I could be, like, a recurring person, which means they call me and say, are you free on such and such date? Do you want to come and do two episodes? And I would say yes or no. So it really allowed me to do other work. And it was the way I was able to build an independent film career because I had this income coming in, so I knew that I was covered financially. Like, my needs were being taken care of. And then I just got to do other work. I'm very, very grateful that they let me do that.
BALDONADO: You've done so many great movies. But you've often played the wife or the friend, not the lead. I will say that, you know, these women that you play, they're not one-dimensional. Like, even if they're a wife or a mother, there's always something else going on, you know, like the suburban mom in "Yellowjackets," you know? There's always something more going on underneath. And I think that's something you bring to your roles. But is it also something that you look for, that you're attracted to those kind of characters?
LYNSKEY: Yeah, very much. You know, I guess, like, in "Don't Look Up," I was technically the wife, you know, the wife who gets cheated on. But I really felt like there was a lot to the relationship that my character and Leo's character had. And there was a lot to the history. And we got to do a lot of really fun scenes together. So I think, on the page, if you read the character description, you'd be like, huh? But then the actual performance of it and the role itself was very, very fun. So yeah, I am drawn to things that have more to them than just sort of a surface level.
BALDONADO: Well, you mentioned "Don't Look Up," which is the Adam McKay movie that came out, I guess, at the end of last year. And Leonardo DiCaprio's character is a scientist who realizes that there's a meteor or - is it a meteor?
LYNSKEY: Yeah, that's what it's called.
BALDONADO: A big rock that's going to hit Earth and destroy it. And he's trying to warn everyone. And he becomes very popular. Like, he's on television all the time talking about it, even though no one's listening to him. And he ends up having an affair with Cate Blanchett's character. And you play his wife...
LYNSKEY: Like, who wouldn't? (Laughter) It's Cate Blanchett.
BALDONADO: Well, I don't know. But...
LYNSKEY: I would.
BALDONADO: You - and you play his wife, who supported him this whole time, even when he's kind of gone off the deep end, sort of being kind of lured in by being famous. And I want to play a scene from "Don't Look Up" where your character confronts Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett's character sort of coming back to a hotel room. You're confronting them about their affair.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DON'T LOOK UP")
LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (As Randall) Oh, my God. June, what are you doing here, sweetie?
LYNSKEY: (As June) I had a feeling something was going on. And...
DICAPRIO: (As Randall) You know, we were discussing important business. I mean, that's what we're doing.
LYNSKEY: (As June) Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's really, very important.
CATE BLANCHETT: (As Brie) Can we just skip past this part, please, you know, where you get to feel self-righteous, and we put our tails between our legs? It is just so boring.
LYNSKEY: (As June) Oh, it's so boring? You want to skip the part where you feel bad for [expletive] my husband?
BLANCHETT: (As Brie) Oh, no. I don't feel bad. Randall and I are having a wonderful time. So I think the question is, do we keep having a wonderful time? Or does he go back with you to Wisconsin or Montana - Michigan?
DICAPRIO: (As Randall) Michigan.
LYNSKEY: (As June) You know, she is actually right. That's the only question, so...
DICAPRIO: (As Dr. Randall Mindy) Well, June, sweetie, sometimes, in life, things are - you know, they're complicated, and...
LYNSKEY: (As June Mindy) Oh.
DICAPRIO: (As Dr. Randall Mindy) ...They just...
LYNSKEY: (As June Mindy) Oh, OK. Wow, that was fast. Well, before I go, let me just give you some instructions on how to take care of Randall. Yeah. Here's the Xanax he takes for his panic attacks.
DICAPRIO: (As Dr. Randall Mindy) Oh, gosh.
LYNSKEY: (As June Mindy) Here's the Zoloft he takes for the crashing depressions.
DICAPRIO: (As Dr. Randall Mindy) Not so much recently, OK? You know?
LYNSKEY: (As June Mindy) Oh. Oh, good for you, great. This is for his blood pressure.
DICAPRIO: (As Dr. Randall Mindy) Ow.
LYNSKEY: (As June Mindy) Restless leg syndrome, that's a...
DICAPRIO: (As Dr. Randall Mindy) God.
LYNSKEY: (As June Mindy) ...Fun one. Oh, appetite suppressant to counteract the weight gain from his other meds. And for America's sexiest scientist, a bottle of damn Cialis.
DICAPRIO: (As Dr. Randall Mindy) Ow. Gosh.
BALDONADO: That's a scene from "Don't Look Up." Can you talk about doing this scene and sort of, like - you know, that character ends up being - you know, she sort of stands up for herself and against, you know, this - her husband, who's completely done her wrong.
LYNSKEY: I loved that scene. I just - I remember when I read the script, I was like, oh, this is so great. And it's, I think, how a lot of people feel when they've been in long-term relationships and the other person just kind of, like, takes off. It's like, oh, my goodness, the work that I have done to keep you happy, to keep you healthy - I just love that, you know, she's throwing all these different medications at him and saying, like, here - this one's for this issue, this one's for that issue. And Cate Blanchett is just so kind of blase about the whole thing. It's very funny.
The scene itself was absolutely terrifying. It was my first day. And I was literally thinking, God, that Cate was there because I had worked with her before on "Mrs. America," a TV show that we did that was nine episodes, I think. So every episode of that, I worked with Cate. And I knew that she was kind and warm and welcoming and fun, and I was just excited to see her again. If I had not had that, if I didn't know Cate Blanchett and I was going into that scene with Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett and Adam McKay - I was already so nervous. So Cate really came through and was very kind and lovely. Leo was great, as it turns out. And I had never met Leo before that day, so it was very strange to be - you know, it's like, nice to meet you (ph)...
BALDONADO: Throwing pills at him?
LYNSKEY: ...And now we're going to break up. Yeah. I remember Adam was directing over, like, a loudspeaker, and he was like, really try to hit him. Really try to hit him. And I was like, I - it's Leonardo DiCaprio. I don't want to hurt his face, you know? (Laughter) Like, it's the most famous face in the world. But he was very, like, also game for being hit. Like, he was very up for it. So it was a very nerve-wracking day that ended up being a lot of fun.
BALDONADO: My guest is actor Melanie Lynskey. She won the 2022 Critics' Choice Award for best actress in a drama series for her role in the show "Yellowjackets." She's also nominated for an Emmy for that role. Her films and TV shows include "Heavenly Creatures," "Up In The Air," "Don't Look Up," "Togetherness," "Mrs. America" and "Candy." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF NOAM WIESENBERG'S "DAVKA")
BALDONADO: This is FRESH AIR. I am Ann Marie Baldonado, back with actor Melanie Lynskey. She's been nominated for an Emmy for best actress in a drama series for her work in the Showtime series "Yellowjackets." She's the star of many movies and TV shows. This past year alone, she also starred in the Netflix film "Don't Look Up" and the limited TV series "Candy."
You've spoken before about having an eating disorder that started when you were younger. But it must be so difficult dealing with that, you know, just in regular life. But then having to deal with it as an actress, you know, coming up, you know, having, you know, sort of public scrutiny must be - must have been so difficult when you were younger.
LYNSKEY: Yeah. And honestly, everybody I knew was struggling at the time. It was a very common thing in Hollywood, people having eating disorders. Nobody was ever thin enough. I just - it was very frustrating. I was working as hard as I could to be as thin as I could. I was eating 800 calories a day, never anything over, writing down everything I ate. If I did eat anything over that, I would throw it up - very restrictive. First of all, that's horrible for your body. It's horrible for your brain. It's horrible for your metabolism. And you, know, now as a woman in her mid-40s, I - cursing that person, I make those choices with empathy. Like, I understand why I felt the way I did about myself.
But it was very hard to be literally starving and still being told it's not enough. It's not enough. You're not thin enough. I remember I went to audition for something, and they told me I didn't have the right clothes. You know, the note from my first audition was, you know, she needs to look sexier. So somebody who was working on the production took me to a costume designer who was working on a big show at the time. And they said, oh, there's all these characters on the show, and you can just pick something out. And I couldn't fit anything. And I was, like, a small, size 4. I was really small, and I couldn't fit anything. They were - everything was a zero, and it just was like, wow, this is how tiny people are. And I don't think people watching television really understand how little most people are. Like, people would meet me in real life and be like, you lost so much weight. What happened? And I would have to say, I didn't. I think I just looked bigger on your TV screen cause I'm standing next to people who were very, very thin. But that just happened to me constantly, where people thought that I had - in between the time they'd seen me on whatever show and the time they were seeing me in person, that I'd lost, like, 50 pounds. And it was - it's weird to get feedback on your body when you're really struggling. And it's been a very long road of making peace with it and trying to feel OK. You know, it's a journey that I'm still on. There are still days where I wish I looked different. But, you know, having a daughter now, I think it makes it a lot easier for me to model positivity, try to be positive around her and try to not ever criticize myself in front of her or say anything. I don't think she's heard the word fat, you know?
BALDONADO: Do you feel like it's changed at all, you know, in the last 20-plus years as far as how auditioning works or how actresses are perceived?
LYNSKEY: I definitely think it's changed. I really do. I think there's still a long ways to go in some respects. Like, you know, I remember at that time, like, in the early 2000s, it was hard for me. There was not a lot of stuff that I was quote, unquote, "right for" because of how I looked. But, you know, I've known Gabrielle Union for a very long time, and to look at how much harder it was for her - a beautiful, successful, incredible actress - just because she was Black, you know, it was 10 times harder. There was so much less material. She wanted to do independent films, and there was nothing in the world of independent films, or there was not at that time. And I just always had an awareness of, like - the difficulty for me is, like, at this end of the scale, and for women of color, it's, like, exponentially worse.
So I do think in that regard there's still like a very, very long way to go in creating, like, true diversity and true equality where everybody feels represented. Everybody gets to do interesting material. But it also has come a long way. Like, I do feel like casts are a lot more diverse than they used to be. And I feel like women who are older - you know, you're mid-40s. When I was starting out, like, that felt like the end of a career. There were so few people who were working past that point. And now there are TV shows and movies that are centered around women in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and there's an audience for them. And, you know, like, the creators of my show are excited about me being an averagely sized woman. Nobody's pressuring me to look a different way. They're excited about it. And that's something that I did not think would ever be possible.
BALDONADO: Do you ever sort of feel protective or, you know, sort of worry about what happens to female actors, particularly at a young age?
LYNSKEY: Yes, I very much do. And, you know, on "Yellowjackets," the cast is half made up of young actors, actors in their early 20s. And I really let them know, like, I'm here for you if you need anything at all, if you ever, ever need me. If you're nervous to talk about something, I'll do it for you. I'll do it with you - you know, just whatever you need. And I really was kind of astonished to find out that they have a lot more agency than I did at that age, than any of us did. All the older actors were talking about it, how incredible it is that they're so strong and capable of taking care of themselves and speaking up for themselves and having a voice in a way that I didn't feel was encouraged when I was a young actor. And that really made me feel great. Like, I'm happy that they knew I was there if they needed me, but they were very capable. And it just made me feel like things must be different now. Like, I think people are treated with a lot more respect and allowed to have more of a voice.
BALDONADO: Melanie Lynskey, thank you so much for speaking with me.
LYNSKEY: Thank you. This was so wonderful.
GROSS: Melanie Lynskey is nominated for an Emmy for best actress in a drama series for her role on the Showtime series "Yellowjackets." Production on season two begins this month. She spoke with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado.
The second season of "Reservation Dogs" has begun. It's about four Native American teenagers. Our critic-at-large, John Powers, will tell us why he thinks it's a great series after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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