Melanie Lynskey is an indie queen. The New Zealand-born actress went from starring in “Heavenly Creatures” as a teen to a rich career making the types of movies Hollywood doesn’t fund anymore: the ones about relationships, about people, about foibles and neuroses and bizarre but recognizable feelings. The latest is “Rainbow Time,” a dramedy about a man named Todd (Timm Sharp) who’s serious enough with his girlfriend Lindsay (Lynskey) to introduce her to his family. They happen to include an old school dad (Tobin Bell) and Shawnsy (Linas Phillips), Todd’s “slow” brother, who has the brain and the sexual drive of a teenage boy. Phillips, who also wrote and directed, coaxed Lynskey onto his dream project after doing an episode of “Togetherness,” her sadly passed HBO show with the Duplass brothers — like “Rainbow Time” a sharp and jagged look at people struggling to cohabitate.
Lynskey talks to us about indies, acting for friends and being chummy with the most evil people in the world: film critics.
Lindsay is thrown into this strange family, but she’s really open and understanding about it and doesn’t judge.
I think she’s understanding to the point where she makes it harder for Todd. Because he knows them. He grew up with them, he knows what the deal is. Even though I think he’s a little over-sensitive about it, she kind of forces him to places he doesn’t want to go to.
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The movie doesn’t get dark, but it does go to some weird places.
I think if this had come from a stranger I would have been more nervous about it, for sure. But knowing how gentle and loving Linas is, I really trusted he would be able to get it right.
You knew Linas from a stint he had on “Togetherness.” You seem to work a lot with friends. “The Intervention” was something you did for your best friend, Clea DuVall, and she got you to play a character you haven’t before: a bossy alcoholic.
I think she really wanted to write something for me where I got to do a lot of things she finds funny when I do them in real life, which is pretending to be drunk and pretending to be a very bossy person. Because it’s so different from me. It was really fun to have someone who knows me better than literally everyone else in the world create something for me.
Did Linas write the “Rainbow Time” role for you?
He wrote it with me in mind, but I know it’s based on somebody he knows. You have to be a little bit like, “It’s mine now.” [Laughs] He was a little bit protective. Sometimes he would start talking to me about how the actual person responds to things, and I’d like, “Ok, but…” But he was good at giving it over to me. It’s just sweet that he was so protective. He cared so much about this movie.
Do you find that happens often: that filmmakers can be, understandably, a little too protective?
It’s weird when that doesn’t happen. Some people are too protective, and every single line they know how they want it to sound. You’re like, “Stop.” Sometimes it’s like Linas, where it’s his child and he created this. He’s like, “Will you love her as much as I do?” And I’m like, “Yes, I will.” [Laughs] But it’s weird when you do a movie and the person just says, “That seems fine.” I worked with a director once who was going out every night, so late. I was like, “Aren’t you working?”
How do people act on movie shoots? For some reason I imagine everyone being at least a little monk-like.
It depends. Sometimes you get into a rowdy bunch of actors. With directors, it’s weird. When I worked with Steven Soderbergh [on “The Informant!”], we were all staying in the same hotel. He’d come and hang out at the bar with everybody and have some drinks. Then he’d go up and edit at night and wake up at whatever time. I don’t know how he did that, but he did. Then he’s still hanging out and seems so relaxed — just playing darts and having beer.
You seem to exclusively do indies.
It’s all I do. I feel like when people are casting action movies, I’m not the first choice. But I like it. It’s a little bit of a depressing time for character actors and female actors. With studio movies, unless you’re a movie star, there’s not a lot out there for women. There’s that whole wife on the phone thing: “Are you OK?” I’m on the SAG nominating committee, and they sent out the little booklet with all the names, and you fill in whoever you want to be nominated. I noticed that for male supporting actors, there were three more pages than for female supporting actors. If you think about any movie set at the CIA or “Spotlight” — it’s a brilliant movie, but it’s almost all men in great supporting roles.
You also fraternize with journalists and critics over social media, which is rare. Usually we think there has to be this wall separating artists from critics — that we shouldn’t be talking to each other, that we’re adversaries.
That’s so dumb. I’m such a nerd for criticism. Especially when people are good at it; that’s so impressive to me. There are some people I don’t think respond to me, but I still think they’re really good critics. There’s always something to take away from it. It’s fascinating to me. I love people’s responses to things. When someone has studied and trained and have a history of cinema behind them, why wouldn’t you want to listen to them? It’s just weird when people dismiss criticism to me.
Some have the line that they just don’t want to know. They don’t think they could take it.
I understand that. I have a friend who doesn’t read anything. I’m like, “You really should reviews of your work, you’d be so happy!”
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge