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At 45, Melanie Lynskey has been working steadily and delivering standout performances throughout her three decades in the business. But no one can deny she is having a moment, coming off two back-to-back TV projects that had viewers talking.
In addition to her role in Hulu's true-crime drama "Candy," in which she played a Betty Gore, an unfulfilled suburban housewife who is killed by her husband's mistress, Lynskey is part of the sprawling ensemble of Showtime's "Yellowjackets," playing the adult version of Shauna Sheridan, a woman silently tormented by her trauma in adulthood. Shifting between 1996 and the present, "Yellowjackets" follows members of New Jersey’s state champion girls’ high school soccer team as they struggle to survive in a remote Canadian wilderness after their plane crashes en route to a championship game in Seattle.
Tell me about your morning.
Honestly, I always thought people were lying when they said they slept through the nominations because, like, if you thought you were gonna get nominated, of course you would be paying attention. But I honestly was too nervous. I decided to just sleep and I thought: Either I'll get woken up by a lot of texts or I won't. So, Jason [Ritter, my husband] got up with our daughter and then I got woken up by a lot of texts.
What did Jason and your daughter have to say?
They were very excited. He made some kind of awkward video when I woke up. He had told our daughter to say, like, "Mom got an Emmy nomination!" She didn't really understand what she was saying so she said something like "Mama's Emmy." It was very cute.
Adorable. So you must be aware that there's a consensus that, while you've always been someone to watch, in recent years we've truly seen this "Lynskaissance," as the kids say —
It's the clunkiest name.
It doesn't roll off the tongue. I'll work on it. But does does this era feel any different to you? What are you getting out of this chapter of your career?
I've always been so grateful to be an actor who works and has health insurance and makes a living. I know so many people who are great actors who don't have the careers they deserve. So I've always felt like I won the lottery to even be in this position. But then a lot of the time, I was doing work that I felt really proud of that people weren't really seeing — like, "Togetherness" was a show that I really loved and I felt very proud of and people didn't really watch it as much as I felt it deserved. And so it just feels very different. Because I know people are watching and people are paying attention, and it just feels really gratifying.
You've done a few women-led projects, but have you ever been involved in something with this many women? And what did that dynamic open up in your performance?
It felt very powerful. Really, it was so great to be reading these scripts and just realizing every core character is a female character. Not to disregard or disrespect the men on our show, who are wonderful and really giving and generous; I think a lot of male actors have an ego where they don't necessarily want to be supporting a bunch of women, and these men are so up for it. But it's just really nice to read the scripts and everybody's so complex, everybody's so interesting and dynamic. It's not just one difficult woman on the show. There's so many.
"With Yellowjackets" and "Candy," and even before these two projects, you've really brought complexity and depth to the sort of frustrated housewife character, really showing how women live in silence with their trauma and insecurities while trying to outwardly project normalcy. What did Shauna come to represent to you as you move through this series?
The thing I love the most about the show is how it explores what happens to trauma and rage if you don't address it. It's always going to come back; it comes out in different ways for different people. Natalie (Juliette Lewis) is responding differently than Taissa (Tawny Cypress), and she is responding differently than Misty (Christina Ricci), who is just a complete psychopath. And then Shauna is just trying to look like everything's fine. And she's arguably the craziest of all. The rage that she has, and the ways she feels repressed and the life that she doesn't feel she got to live. I think a lot of women feel that way.
How did she challenge you? Were you able to draw parallels between yourself and her?
There's some ways where I feel like we're similar. But she has kind of an innate toughness and confidence that I don't have and I would like to have. So in that way it was, like, quite empowering for me to play her. And I honestly took a lot from Sophie Nélisse, who played young Shauna. Sophie has this sort of inner grit and strength and confidence in herself that I think is really beautiful. And to me, I feel like Sophie kind of created Shauna, and I just ran with it. I was like, "I like what she's doing, I'm gonna try to make my performance more like hers."
Wait. So what were the similarities you felt you had with Shauna?
All the bad stuff — being reluctant to talk about anything, not being confrontational until you're to a point of snapping. I'm trying to get better at that stuff, talking about my feelings and what she just represses and represses.
There are so many moments that reveal something about Shauna — that scene where she's looking at a photo of her daughter's boyfriend while pleasuring herself, or the way she can sort of casually dismember a body. Was there a moment that was particularly revealing to you, that really gave you insight about her mindset, where she is psychologically?
Both of those moments were a big one, especially the first one, because that was in the pilot. I thought, "Oh, my God, this is a crazy thing." I really was interested every time they would write stuff with Shauna and Adam [Peter Gadiot], because I think, initially, I was like, "Oh, I want this relationship to be like a real love affair. I want it to be deeper." And then I realized, "No, she's living this kind of teenage year that she never got to have. She's having this completely free moment where she's not really in love — she has feelings for him and they have a great connection and chemistry, but she's just letting herself do something that she would have done when she was 20 years old, and four months later, they would have been like, "Nice to meet you" and gone on with their lives. This is not how this relationship ended. All that kind of stuff was so interesting to me, to see how much she longs to have that time back and how much she wishes she got to have an actual youth.
Speaking of longing for one's youth, there were several shows this year that really tapped into the ’90s era, including "Yellowjackets." Are there things you miss about that era, that time of your life? What do you remember about who you were at that time?
It's gonna be a little bit of a bummer of an answer, but, you know, just thinking about the recent Supreme Court decision. I just feel like there's less freedom now. There's more judgment on women, there's more control, there's more restrictions. And I remember as a teenager in the ’90s, the people I loved, the people I was obsessed with, were, like, PJ Harvey and Courtney Love and Kim Deal. And Naomi Wolf. I read "The Beauty Myth" and I was like, "Yes!!" And I just felt like we were taking the power back, there was this new wave of feminism that I felt very much a part of. I felt empowered to be an interesting person, a sexual person and a messy person and like I could be fully myself. I just feel worried that things are going backwards. I look at my little daughter as such a free spirit, and I want her to feel the same freedom that I did when she becomes a teenager.
It seems trivial, but shows like "Yellowjackets" do their part in galvanizing women. You took home the award for actress in a drama at the Critics Choice Awards and the younger cast gave you a standing ovation. Did that make you emotional? Describe the bond that's formed between the older cast and the younger ones.
[Her voice breaks] I just feel so supported by all of them, there's not any kind of that should be me kind of feeling. Just the joy in that moment to look over and see them all standing there and holding each other, the joy that they had for me, in that moment, just felt really honest and genuine and they're that way with each other. If one of them has a tricky scene, the rest of them will stay even if they're not shooting to watch on the monitor and saying like, "You did a great job; that was beautiful." I'm so happy our casting directors got nominated, and I'm just so happy the show was acknowledged and that we all get to be there together and celebrate. I mean, I voted for every single one of them, I'm not going to lie.
I feel like the cast is too big to have a decent group text thread; you probably have to have separate ones.
The old ladies have one — they hate it when I call us "the old ladies." It's the truth. So the old ladies have one and then the younger ones have one. And they are all individually reaching out as well, which is cute. I got such a sweet [message] from Sophie and Ella [Purnell, who plays Jackie] and, like, you know, their mode of expression is Instagram stories. I haven't watched them all yet. But I saw in my notifications like, "Samantha mentioned you" ... it's just so cute.
So how are you going to celebrate?
Tonight, I made a plan with my friend Maggie Lawson because I needed a plan that I would be glad to be doing if I got nominated for an Emmy or not. She's one of my best friends, so it's gonna be nice to get to hang out with her and have a glass of wine. Before that, Jason and I are gonna buy a fridge. So it's a very big day.
I hope you get a good deal.
I'm so excited, honestly.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.