Melanie Lynskey plays a recent divorcee in "Goodbye to All That." Credit: Getty Images
At 16, actress Melanie Lynskey earned acclaim for Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures,” in which she and Kate Winslet played scarily close friends. Since then she has worked as a character actress, leaving New Zealand for America and appearing in “Ever After,” “But I’m a Cheerleader,” “Shattered Glass,” “The Informant!” "Up in the Air," “Win Win” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” as well as an on-again-off-again stint on “Two and a Half Men.”
She earned raves as a recent divorcee in “Hello I Must Be Going.” In “Goodbye to All That,” she once again goes through a split, this time with Paul Schneider's oblivious graphic designer. This divorce, however, is told from the guy’s side — not that Lynskey's character goes ignored.
The divorce comes suddenly in the film. Did you work with Schneider and filmmaker Angus MacLachlan to fill in the whys?
It was more in the script, and more in what we filmed, where you could see our tensions and him being oblivious. But I like that that stuff isn’t in there, because I like the mystery of it. I think you can see in the therapy scene how painful it is and how done she is.
How did you get involved?
Angus said he liked me for the part, for whatever reason. Maybe because I had just gone through a break-up. I needed to do this character. It felt really cathartic, because it was the opposite of how I felt [laughs] in my break-up — floundering around and clutching at things and destroyed and heartbroken and confused. It was nice to play a character who thinks, “Here’s what I want, here’s how we’re doing it.” It was empowering.
It is kind of the flip side to “Hello I Must Be Going.”
[Laughs] Exactly. And he’s going out for jogs and getting his life in order and sitting by himself and being peaceful. And in “Hello I Must Be Going” she's just like, [flails arms] “Ahhhhhhhh” — crying on the sofa.
How did you develop the character?
I talked to Angus about it. And my dream work helped, where I ask myself for a dream. [Laughs] The dream was so specific that I got for this character. I sound like a crazy person.
Wait, what is this technique?
It’s an acting thing where it’s about accessing your unconscious — things that come to you in your dreams from some weird part of yourself that you’re not letting yourself think about. You write a thing before you go to sleep, and whatever dream you have is what you use. You analyze it and you get stuff from yourself that relates to it, and it all comes together and informs the performance. It’s a really interesting way to work.
What was your dream?
I had a dream about Tegan and Sara. [Laughs] I realized they had this clarity to them. They’re so direct and focused, and their voices are so clear. It helped my performance.
One thing that’s key for this film is your character isn’t a bad guy or a shrew breaking some sensitive guy’s heart.
There was a scene where Michael Chernus’ character [a friend of Schneider] comes over and I get stressed out because everything’s messy. Angus took that scene out because he didn’t want her to be the wife who’s like, “You boys, drinking your beers.” I think it’s about [Schneider’s character] not being connected. He talks about it, saying she brought up going to therapy three years ago and he can’t remember why. He can’t even remember why she wanted to do that, and then they didn’t have sex for two years. And he was just like, [shrugs] “Okay.” That’s crazy.
Your character had an affair before the split. How do you compute that?
You have to make sense of it to yourself. I thought she was so desperate for someone to see her, and someone to be there with her and be present. It’s not a great way to go about it; no one wants to be cheated on. But I think she was desperate. She made a choice and she thought, “This feels amazing and I don’t want to go back to that.” It’s selfish, but people do bad things.
This film has Schneider thrust into the dating world again. Dating is just awful.
Oof. It’s the worst. That’s not how it works where I come from. We don’t go on dates in organized meet-ups, blind dates or anything like that. Everyone just hangs out and you get drinks then you go home with somebody. It’s more civilized, I think. [Laughs] You keep sleeping with them if you like them, and then you’re in a relationship. New Zealand women are the most promiscuous in the world, I will say that. [Laughs] There’ve been studies, I’m sure.
Sidebar: Supporting player Celia Weston on Lynskey:
“I think Melanie played it so that you know what her plight is. Even when she walks down the hallway in the hospital, she is very thorough in letting us know that she has a struggle,” Weston, who plays Lynskey’s marriage counselor and worked with MacLachlan on “Junebug,” which he cowrote.
“When she comes over [to Schneider’s house] disturbed that [their daughter] has found a sex toy in the car, and he confronts her about her own affair, you can see her reevaluating herself,” Weston explains. “It’s not like she flies off the handle like a fishwife and is screaming back at him. You can see her consider it. She’s heard him. He hasn’t heard her, but she’s hearing him.”