If you want proof that dreams can come true, just look at Melanie Lynskey. She’s the girl from small-town New Zealand who dreamed of becoming an actress, then grew up to conquer Hollywood but somehow managed not to lose her soul, attract the paparazzi or believe her own publicity.
“I feel lucky,” she says simply. “Sure, I work hard – but I feel lucky to be able to do that.”
In an industry where most actors spend more time waiting tables than learning lines, she has a point. But Melanie (38) also has massive talent and a down-to-earth distinctly Kiwi attitude that endears her to the industry and her legions of fans.
This every-woman quality is well to the fore in her latest success, as the slightly crazy housewife Michelle in Togetherness – series two returns to Sky’s SoHo channel shortly – in which she faced up to a swathe of decades-old body issues to appear naked in a sex scene.
“We’re not showing perfectly manicured porn bodies – people are used to seeing that kind of image of sexuality, especially of the female body,” she explains. “It feels really exciting to me to be naked and be like, ‘Hey, that’s what some people look like!’
“There’s a part of that I feel weirdly liberated about. I saw it and thought, ‘This feels kind of nice for the world – just a fleshy, fleshy lady lying there.’
“It really helped once I stopped trying to become something that is physically impossible for me to become. I started working a lot more when I came to terms with that. There’s just an image of what a woman is supposed to look like. It’s hard to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter.”
Back in her teens, growing up in New Plymouth, it bothered her so much that she became bulimic. Today, she is finally happy in her skin, even if she isn’t a classic shape with Barbie measurements.
“People have concerns that you’re not hot enough, you’re not thin enough, you’re not young enough,” she explains.
“The only way I have found I’ve been able to have some measure of control is I made a vow to myself that I was never going to play a woman who was apologising for her body. The reality is, I’m a US size six [New Zealand size 10] – that’s how crazy our industry is, where I look like a giant. If every character I play is somebody who is happy with their body, then at least women can watch me and be like, ‘There’s somebody who looks somewhat like I do and she’s not eating candy bars and crying.’”
Melanie has had an enviable career that began when she was just 14 after being picked from hundreds of unknowns to star alongside Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures.
She has since taken on hit TV shows, including Two and a Half Men and more than 30 films, yet Melanie confesses that she still battles the twin demons of anxiety and depression.
Being good to her body with exercise, such as boxing, spinning classes and lifting heavy weights, helps her to stay in control.
“It’s easy for me to feel anxious and down, and a thing I’ve found that really helps me is exercising consistently.
"I really like the feeling of just being in your body and feeling all your muscles working and sweating, and just feeling so physical. There’s also something about it that makes me feel inherently grateful that I’m able to move. It’s a good way to not get too obsessive in your thinking. The endorphins and all that stuff really help you.”
Melanie tends to steer clear of the glamorous Hollywood scene – retreating to the beach or for hikes in the mountains with friends and hanging out at home with boyfriend Jason Ritter (35). He is the son of the late comedian John Ritter and, like Melanie, more interested in work in indie films, such as The Intervention and The Big Ask, in which they co-starred, than in making blockbusters.
Melanie even negotiated herself away from a full-time role in Two and a Half Men in favour of a guest spot because she feared being typecast.
“Maybe I was crazy but it meant I was able to come and go, and do movies and other things as well,” she says.
It has clearly paid off – she was recently given a special acting award at Robert Redford’s prestigious Sundance Festival.
Meanwhile, she and Jason, who got together after her divorce from actor Jimmi Simpson, cheerfully admit to being addicted to the TV series The Bachelor. They watch it together every Monday night, over a takeaway from their favourite Thai restaurant, Bulan – “We call it Bulan-achelor night!” Melanie laughs.
“My idea of a good time.” Spoken like a true Kiwi – even when she’s a long, long way from home.
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