At 16 years of age, Melanie Lynskey kickstarted her career alongside Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson‘s masterful “Heavenly Creatures.” Ever since then she has built up a career as an indie queen, refusing to adhere to Hollywood conventions and going at her own free-spirited pace to smaller, more original scripts that the mainstream would never touch.
Her latest film, Macon Blair’s fantastic “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Blair takes quite a bit from his pal Jeremy Saulnier’s visceral style of filmmaking for his feature directing debut, which loosely borrows its name from Woody Guthrie’s song of isolation, “I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore.”
Lynskey and Elijah Wood make a formidable team in this tale set in a generation that is further dissolving into complete and utter narcissism. Her character’s home is broken into and her personal belongings, including stuff her grandma gave her before she passed, stolen. Wood is the weirdo neighbor she teams up with to find the “asshole” that committed the crime. Engrossing, comic, frightening, isolated and filled with dread, the film is a brilliant dissection of the current state in America. Blair is clearly influenced by David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” which depicted a dark underbelly of Americana that this film seems to embrace wholeheartedly. Lynskey is at the center of the weirdness lurking at the core of the film, with one odd set-piece after another involving her character’s further downward spiral into “I don-give-a-shit” mode.
The film’s Netflix run starts today and we spoke to the 39-year-old actress about the film, the sad current state of affairs and the indie scene.
What did you think when you first read the script?
Oh man, it was a wild ride. My agent just told me about the script. She told me she thought it was amazing and I read it and I was actually obsessed with it. I ended up reading it out loud. It felt so seamless in its tonal shifts, the suspense kept growing and the character really spoke to me. It’s just such an original movie that felt very honest with itself. Macon [Blair] had a vision and story he wanted to create that felt truly unique. The characters are so different. It really was unlike anything I had read before and it’s actually great, for a change, to play somebody that continuously gets trampled on [laughs].
There is an underlying tone in the movie that people are just assholes. It’s almost prophetic given the current president and what has happened to this country in the last six months.
I was actually sorely disappointed by the outcome of that election. I was, like, yay we’re going to have our first female president. What an exciting time and, of course, that didn’t happen. What I’m more concerned about is negativity, especially if you say something political or whatever. You can’t take a stance these days or you’re going to be attacked. It’s happened to me before. People get so upset and defensive about these things. What happened to intelligent discourse? Some of them are not even assholes anymore, they’re psychopaths. It leaves actually sort of wondering: “Wow, are people evil?” It’s astonishing to me how people behave with strangers. It happens a lot and this movie nails the rude, aggressive behavior that people think they could get away with no consequence.
Let’s go back to the movie before the entire interview spirals into venting ….
[Laughs] Yeah, good idea.
Did you know Elijah before shooting began?
We did, we met through Peter Jackson actually, around a decade or so ago. Funny story, we met at a “King Kong” ride, right before it opened. Peter invited us to come with friends and ride it.
You guys have a long history with Peter ….
“Heavenly Creatures” was, gosh, released more than 20 years ago. Elijah of course did “Lord of the Rings.” So the stars just aligned and we happened to meet before we ever stepped foot on set for this. We ended up developing this very unique chemistry on-set.
What was it like working with a first time director?
Macon was so great. He really made it feel very relaxed and familial on-set. I did get a little taken aback by some of his quirks, like for example whenever he would get a shot he wanted or a scene went according to plan you could see him in the corner of the set doing this weird, little happy clap/dance, jumping up and down, that totally distracted me from the mood I was trying to convey with my character [laughs]. I had to tell him to stop doing that, I’m bossy. At some point I put a curtain around him. He was being curtained [laugh].
I could see that happening with a first-time director
Yeah, he needs to work on that [laughs]. But Macon’s great, I had such an incredible time shooting this movie. He was very assured and very collaborative. It was also kind of intimidating because he is such a good actor because you start to wonder if you’re being judged.
Have you seen “Blue Ruin” or “Green Room”? He seems to be really inspired by those films with this one with the visceral feel and violence.
I’m a huge fan of “Blue Ruin,” that was my favorite film of that year. It was such a unique take on the genre. Malcon was transformative in that film, he was amazing. I also saw “Green Room” which I very much liked. So that definitely got me interested in this film and working with Macon.
On a side note, I think I’m still traumatized about HBO cancelling “Togetherness.” What a great show.
Aww, thank you. I’m still recovering from that. It was the best job ever. I use this analogy whenever I get asked about it, but it felt like my heart was broken by the love of my life. We had something truly great going on there and you’re not the first person to tell me this. We seemed to touch a lot of chords with the show and it just plain sucks it had to go out this way.
You guys had something great going on with that show. Have you spoken with Mark and Jay Duplass about possibly doing something else together?
It felt like family. Right now there are so many things going on for all of us, and it was tough to move on to the next thing, but we have. I would love to work again with them, and that’s an understatement. What we had was very special and I hope we can find something to work on again.
How do you perceive the current state for actresses in the industry. Do you find you’re getting scripts that tend to have fresh and primary roles for women or is it sorely lacking these days?
It is kind of difficult for me to answer because I don’t really work within the studio system. It is difficult, there are a lot of great actresses that are not getting the work they deserve to be getting. But for me doing independent movies, I’m very excited by the scripts I read. I feel really fortunate that the last couple of years I haven’t taken a break [laughs]. I keep reading stuff that I love, so it’s an amazing position to be in.
You keep hearing people say that cinema is in a dire state and there aren’t enough personal visions, but it seems to me like indie cinema is thriving.
I made a movie last year and the whole movie cost $50,000. I’m willing to do stuff like that. I basically worked for free. Whereas other people have requirements. If you’re reading a script and you think it could be something exciting and you’re willing to do it for next to nothing then you could have creative, exciting opportunities.
The film that cost $50,000 was Clea DuVall’s film [“The Intervention”], right?
Yea! We go way back, we met on the set of “But I’m a Cheerleader.” Now we just finish each other’s sentences [laughs]. She wrote the role for me actually in “The Intervention.” That was another great experience for me doing that movie.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know actually. I just finished this movie in Seattle with John Gallagher Jr. called “Sadie,” Megan Griffiths directed that movie. Other than that, I’m keeping my eyes and hears out for anything could potentially interest me. I’m open to anything that is good [Laughs].
“I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore” is now on Netflix.