Melanie Lynskey is one of those actors that shows up on screen and often catches the viewer off guard. Why? Because she has the ability to lose herself in any part she’s tasked to play.
Many associate Lynskey with her brilliant work on Yellowjackets which has not only received critical acclaim and a Critics’ Choice Award for the actress, but has lead to the show becoming a pop cultural phenomenon. But the New Zealand-born actress has consistently been delivering top performances as far back as 1994 when she made her film debut opposite Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. Her latest work can be found in Hulu’s limited series Candy which centers around the well-documented murder of Betty Gore in Colin County, Texas at the hands of her friend Candy Montgomery (played by Jessica Biel, interview here) in 1980.
In this interview Lynskey, opens up about her process as an actor and touches on the importance of authenticity in any role she takes. Lynskey dives in, talking about the connection between herself and Betty Gore and working with co-star Biel.
Dewey Singleton – You’re brilliant obviously in Yellowjackets, but I love Candy. You did a great job.
Melanie Lynskey: Thank you so much. Thanks. And thanks for watching it.
DS: In terms of Candy, what attracted you to this project?
ML: The main thing that attracted me that always is the thing that I look for is just how good the scripts were. I read them so quickly. I just thought the writing was beautiful, all the characters were so fully realized and on a personal level, there always has to be something internally that makes me go, “Oh, I want to read these lines. I want to play this person.” And I think the thing that clicked for me about this character was there’s an awkwardness that she has that I also have. I’m shy. It’s not easy for me to be in groups of people and be like, “Hey everyone.’ I sort of prefer to be in the background. And I felt really interested in that side of her story and how it even came up in her murder trial how people responded to her. And I felt for her and I felt like I understood who she was and I was very excited to do this show.
DS: One thing that I’ve noticed in a lot of the roles you’ve taken on is that you’re very effective with silence. You’re able to ramp up that intensity in key moments and it’s especially prevalent in Candy. Is that something you’ve picked up over the years or just something that you it’s natural to you or is just something that you call for it in the moment?
ML: Well, thank you for saying that. I think that it’s such a… I love writing where moments are allowed to happen, where you can just live in a moment that feels like reality and feels truthful. I love directors who allow you to live in that space because it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes people are like, “Okay, try it again. And just like faster, faster, faster,” which is hard for me because I like to really feel like it’s life. I think anytime I work with directors who let that happen and writing where there’s some room to breathe, that’s so exciting for me. It’s easy to kind of fill it out because it’s such a great thing to get to play.
DS: Now in terms of your character in this story that’s very well known, it’s the news, the trial, et cetera, I just got finished speaking to Jessica and she talked about her preparation. Did you do any sort of preparation on your own to find out more about your character before you signed on to the project?
ML: Before I signed on, because the scripts was just so amazing, I got told I was going to have a Zoom with Robin and Nick who were the creators of the show. And then at the last minute they said, “Oh, Michael Uppendahl is also going to be on the Zoom.” He’s directing episodes one and five. And I had worked with him on Castle Rock and he was one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with, one of the happiest experiences of my entire life. I would do anything for this man. I just think he’s brilliant. So that was very exciting. That was enough for me to sign on was the scripts and how much I liked Nick and Robin and then Michael, like it was just a dream. After I decided to do it, I read the book Evidence of Love, which is such a good read and it is just chock full of information. And there’s a lot about Betty’s history in there, which was so, so, so helpful for me. And Jess and I also got to have a Zoom with Jim Atkinson who was one of the writers of the book and just talk about generous. It was a couple of hours where he just answered every single question we could possibly have and it was incredible.
DS: You’re very deliberate in, I hate to go back, but everything you do in Yellowjackets, everything you do in Castle Rock, and even in this show Candy, you seem to be very deliberate in everything that you do, even the posture of your character in this story seems to be very deliberate at times, like almost you slouch a little bit, just to kind of reflect the way her demeanor. Was that a conscious choice or is that something you read or you picked up? The way you pick up on details is always so fascinating.
ML: Thank you. You’re being very, very nice and I really appreciate it. I think it’s not ever a conscious thing. I think I just sort of feel the character in my body and this is a character who’s very self-conscious about her body. She doesn’t feel great about her body. Her husband has judgements about it. She understood that the last time she was pregnant, she got bigger, he wasn’t interested. And I think she carries herself in a way to try to look smaller and she’s just a shy person, but she’s also a very forthright person with a lot of opinions so it’s an interesting kind of combination of things to be playing. But it’s very different to Shauna, who I play in Yellowjackets is somebody who I genuinely don’t think thinks about her body other than to be like, “I think I look fucking great today.” She has a lot of confidence that I love. And so, yeah, just kind of like, it depends how the person is feeling about themselves I guess.
DS: Do you connect in some way with every character you play?
ML: I have to, otherwise it feels like acting and I know that’s my job, but I can’t… If anything feels artificial, it’s like an alarm bell goes off in my head. It’s like “No, no, fake, fake.” And I can’t. So I have to understand something internally when I read it.
DS: Was there a part of this character that you felt closest to?
ML: Yeah, I think the kind of shyness. She was a mix of things that I also am. In talking to Jim and reading the book, I learned that she had a lot of boyfriends. She was popular in college. She dated a lot. She always had guys kind of, and I was like, “This is really interesting.” Like as a shy person and without… It sounds like a weird thing to say, but that also was true for me. I had a lot of relationships and stuff like that and I always felt very alive I guess when I was seen by a lover or somebody I was dating, like it’s easier for me to be one on one with people anyway. And I think there was something about those relationships to her that were very meaningful. It was how she blossomed and was her truest self and she felt very comfortable being in partnership with somebody and she felt sexy and desired. And that was something I understood. And I really understood it in the context of her marriage and how disappointing and unfulfilling her marriage was and how she was used to feeling a particular way with me and it had stopped. She had chosen this man who didn’t let her feel like that. And I was just really drawn to that and thinking what a horrible place that would be.
DS: The chemistry between you and Jessica in this show is unreal. She snaps into character she told me when she puts those glasses on and goes to another head space. Was there something that you put on in a particular scene that would get you where you needed to be before the camera’s rolled?
ML: This is going to sound a little bit crazy…
DS: I want hear it.
ML: I’m just going to say it. I had to, before every scene, just take a little moment. Usually it’s when the clapper is doing that and everybody’s getting set up and I just sort of quietly ask, “Is she here?” And I was asking if Betty or what I believe to be Betty’s spirit, I guess was with me. It’s hard to explain, but it was like a person came to me before the scenes. And I don’t know if it was a character I created. I’m sure it’s just that and it just feels like something else, but I knew something shifted in my body and I was like, “Okay, there she is.” And I don’t usually do that. And there were times when the thing settled in me and there was like somebody saying something like, kind of in a bossy way, telling me something that was important about the scene. And I was like, “Great. Got it. Thank you so much.” And it felt like Betty. And it’s a different process to anything that I’ve done before. And I don’t know if it was just the complicated thing of me playing somebody who I know is no longer on the earth and wanting to feel like I’m honoring her. I don’t know. I know it sounds really nuts.
DS: No, it was a very illuminating response to… I know I feel like I’m prying into your process and this has been lovely. And thank you so much for your time.
ML: Thanks. It was lovely to talk to you.
Candy is a 5-episode limited series event streaming exclusively on Hulu from May 9-13.
Photo: Tina Rowden/Hulu