Men like Vulnerability: Melanie Lynskey on Hello I Must Be Going

The star of the Sundance smash on feminist nudity, the origin of her t-shirt and her new David Wain comedy.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


Hello I Must Be Going premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Melanie Lynskey stars as Amy Minsky, a divorced 30-something who moves back home with her parents (Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein) and doesn’t really get back on her feet. Until a neighbor’s son (Christopher Abbott) romances her and brings her out of her shell. Their skinny dipping scene has become the film’s poster. Releasing on Sept. 7, the film now seems to follow the trend of recent “girls in crisis” movies and TV shows, though it was made before any of this talk started. We chatted with Lynskey poolside at the Avalon hotel in Los Angeles about the women’s mojo going on this year.


CraveOnline: Now we’re all talking about these women in crisis either comedies or comedy-drama since “Girls” became so big. Did you see this movement coming since you finished this film long before it was the popular discussion?

Melanie Lynskey: No, I didn’t. It’s nice. I feel like the exciting part of it is that there are so many women getting their own projects made and starring in things, and women who seem like real human beings which is very exciting to me. But I didn’t have a psychic moment where I was like, “I feel like this is the beginning of something bigger.”


Has it been a long time coming?

I think so, yeah, definitely.


What do you think it is then? You picked this film, “Girls” got going, “New Girl” got going. There’s something about this time right now.

I don't know. Somebody just asked me that and I don't know what it is. I feel like for myself as an actor, as a female actor, I got very frustrated with the types of roles that I was seeing and the women that were being portrayed in movies and the narrow view of women in cinema. So it’s exciting that people are allowed to be real human beings. Maybe other people also got frustrated and they did something about it.


We could probably talk for hours about the subject, so what more specifically do you mean by the narrow view of women that’s being portrayed?

Even in some of the reaction to this movie, most of the reaction has been incredibly positive but a couple of the negative reactions have been mostly male critics, honestly, saying, “Well, she’s so unlikeable and she’s a disaster. What man would ever want that?” It’s like okay, but when Jason Segal does it, nobody blinks an eye. It’s just like oh, that lovable mess or whatever. For some reason it’s very confronting for people to see a woman who’s kind of schlubby and not dressing very cutely and a little chunky.


In that red T-shirt.

Yeah, sitting around eating and just being like nyagh. People get very upset about it because they want women to look a particular way and behave a particular way and be sweet and beautiful, subservient. A lot of men are very invested in that.


It’s funny you say men’s reaction is who would want a woman like that. I see the Kate Hudson/Katherine Heigl type of high powered, high maintenance girls and I go, “Who’d want to deal with that drama?”

[Laughs] Yeah, it’s true. The thing that I think of true is men is that men like vulnerability. If a woman is feminine and vulnerable, then a lot of men find that very appealing. You don’t have to look like a supermodel but if you’re an open person and you’re very transparent emotionally, a lot of people are going to connect with that. I really like “Girls.” I know everybody does, but I love “Girls.”


We’ve gotten to speak with Lena Dunham as well.

She’s so awesome. She’s like a real woman.


And she really puts herself out there. The sex scenes on “Girls,” she really gives a lot for our entertainment.

It’s really giving a lot but she does this kind of miraculous thing which feels so feminist to me and so important, because she’s showing her body without any comment on it. She’s not showing her body and being like, “Look at this. How amazing.” But she’s also not being like, “Look how hilarious.” She’s just naked. She’s just a naked human. I feel like it’s so rare that you see a female body in that way without it being funny or sexy. It just is what it is and it’s such a statement to me.


That’s an amazing point because I feel like whenever we talk about images of women, everyone has to be a spokesman for either side. She does it without comment.

She’s just a human being.


How about that wardrobe with the red T-shirt?

Oh God. That was our producer, Hans’s T-shirt. He lent the T-shirt to the production. I understand that. I have this My Own Private Idaho T-shirt that I’ve had since I was 15-years-old and it’s gigantic. There have been weeks at a time where I’ve walked around in that T-shirt because I’ve been depressed. It’s like a blankie. It’s a comfort thing.


But now nice is it when the entire makeup and wardrobe is… that?

Yeah, exactly. [Laughs] That’s the thing though, I’m always like, “Great, I’m just wearing this old T-shirt now, wearing no makeup and I’m not going to work out.” Then I see the movie and I’m like, “Oh, God.” It’s so depressing.


But then you come to the premiere all dressed up and made up with great lighting!

Yeah, it’s like, “Look what’s possible, right?”


When you talk about wearing a T-shirt for weeks, in what way do you relate to Amy and how do you get through those times?

I mean, everybody goes through challenges. There’s stuff that happens personally that’s challenging, stuff in work that’s difficult, disappointments that happen. I’ve lost some people that I love, my grandparents and stuff like that. I’m lucky that I have a really good support system around me. I have a lot of really amazing friends and I’m the oldest of five kids. My siblings and I are super, super close so that’s kind of been what I rely upon.


Do you think Amy could have come out of it without this relationship?

No, because she didn’t have anything. She isolated herself so much in her marriage that she didn’t even really have friends. She didn’t have interests. She didn’t have hobbies. She was just like a blank slate supporting this husband. So I think she needed somebody to come into her life and show her the potential of what happiness could be and what love could be and who she could be. That’s the beautiful thing about this story I think.


You probably don’t have a lot of rehearsal time anyway on an indie film, but when you have something like the pool scene, can you rehearse that?

I don't think I would’ve wanted to rehearse that. It was so torturous doing it anyway. We didn’t really do a lot of rehearsal. I’m not big on rehearsal. I kind of like the spontaneity of it. I like the first time I’m saying it to be captured on film.


Does it help to go into that scene cold and have the awkward feelings you’re supposed to express?

Yes, I love that. I like to talk about it a lot. I like to talk about the script and talk about where the character’s at in the relationships, but I don’t want to read it over and over again.


Had you done a nude scene in a film before?

In Heavenly Creatures I was naked. Oh yeah, I was naked in another movie which I very much regret.


So that wasn’t a new thing?



When Amy finally has that confrontation with her mother, was it fun to just get in another actor’s face with Blythe Danner?

It was fun, yeah. It was really fun. We both were going for it in that scene. She was so good in that scene. That’s always fun to work with somebody who’s so great.


Was that a scene you rehearsed together?

We rehearsed it a little bit but we saved it for the filming pretty much.


We’re happy to see you as the lead in a movie. Is it still a fight?

Thank you. Yeah, I feel like every job I get is kind of a fight. It’s jumping through hoops and convincing people I can do it, trying to get people who are financing things to take the chance on somebody who’s not famous. It was nice. It was nice to be trusted with a movie in this way and get to carry it I guess.


If you’re not considered famous outside the film circle, aren’t there still productions that just want a good actor, someone they know can deliver?

I think filmmakers are always interested in getting the best actor that they can find, the person who’s the most right for it. Then the people who ultimately make the decisions are the ones who are putting the money up, so those are the ones who are like, “Oh, no, she hasn’t been on the cover of magazines.”


Is Hello, I Must Be Going the type of movie that would benefit from a “star?”

I don't know, I love it when I see movies with people who are not super familiar to me or people who I’ve seen in smaller parts who are suddenly getting a chance to do something bigger. For me that’s very exciting.


It’s weird for me because you’re very familiar to me and I’ve seen lots of your movies. That’s actually why I saw it at Sundance.

Oh, that’s so nice.


This might be a silly question, but when you read the script and her name was Minsky, did you have any weird thoughts on that?

You know, I didn’t really think about it. Is that weird? People keep asking me that.


I thought it was cute is all.

Yeah, it’s just a weird coincidence. They didn’t think of me writing it.


But did they think of changing it in case people wrote about that too much?

I don't think so. I think it never really occurred to any of us. [Laughs]


When you talk about how it’s still a fight, do you have more tools now to win those battles?

I think the tools are more of a self-protective thing, not letting myself tell myself that it has anything to do with who I am as an actor or who I am as a person or what I look like. It’s just like all right, I understand it’s a business decision. I can’t take it personally. I have to move on. I’m better at that now. It used to devastate me for weeks. Now I’m just like, “Well, too bad.”


Have you been working a lot recently?

Kind of. It’s been pretty steady. It’s been good.


There are a bunch of movies you’re in coming out. Are any of them lead roles?

I just did this movie called Teddy Bears that’s an ensemble with a lot of actors who I really, really love. It’s one of those movies where it’s a group of friends in a house and crazy things transpire. David Krumholtz, Jason Ritter, Gillian Jacobs, a really good bunch of people. Then I just did this comedy that David Wain directed that was really fun.


How weird is that? Because I love his weirdness.

It’s very weird. It’s like amazingly weird.


Did you see The Ten?

I did, yeah. I’ve seen everything he’s ever done.


The Ten is my favorite and that’s a controversial pick.

Oh, you really love the weirdness. Wet Hot American Summer is my favorite. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time.


This isn’t Wet Hot 2, is it?

No, but it’s similar. Like how Wet Hot American Summer is a summer camp movie, this is a romantic comedy but it’s treated in the same way. They’re kind of deconstructing it a little bit and parodying it but it’s totally a romantic comedy.


What kind of character do you get to play, one of the more out there ones or a more normal one?

I’m the best friend, the romantic comedy best friend but it’s very funny. She’s like the high powered career woman best friend who it’s just in one scene and then never referenced again.


You’ve done the real version of that in movies, haven’t you?

I kind of have, yeah. I guess I only really did it once in Coyote Ugly. In Sweet Home Alabama, I was someone she grew up with but I wasn’t really her friend. People are like, “You always play the best friend.” And I’m like, “Only once.”


There was a while when I remember any reference to you was “Coyote Ugly’s Melanie Lynskey.” I thought that was weird.

It’s so weird.


There were four or five other women who could be identified with that movie.

A lot more than I was in it.


Coyote Ugly’s Piper Perabo, or even Coyote Ugly’s Maria Bello, but that’s what you pick for Melanie Lynskey?

I know, it’s so weird. Even Ever After felt more appropriate.  


We remember the show “Drive.” Would you have run the race if the series continued?

Yes. Oh, I don't know who would’ve run the race. Isn’t it crazy, that show? It was such a good cast. Emma Stone was on that show. It’s crazy. I loved that show.


Now there’s a movie called Drive too so that’s what people think of when they hear “Drive.”

Oh yeah, I love that movie.


When you see that little girl in Heavenly Creatures, what do you think now?

I think, “Oh my God, I look like my little brother with a wig on. I look like a frumpy little boy.” I don't know, I feel very fortunate that I got to have that experience.


How much younger is your brother?

My little brother is 24 and I’m 35.


But at that age, that’s what he looked like?

Yeah, that’s what he looked like for a long time. He looked very similar.


How different would your life have been if you had not been plucked out of school to be in Heavenly Creatures?

It’s crazy, I don't know. I always had wanted to be an actor so I think I would’ve tried to make that happen however I could have. I probably would be living in Wellington and doing plays, writing my own stuff probably. It’s crazy to think about. It changed my life.


How much time do you actually get to spend watching movies?

I watch a lot of movies, yeah.


How important is that as an actor to see what other people are doing?

It’s the most important thing, apart from living in the world and experiencing life and being open to people, stuff like that. The other aspect of it is seeing what people are doing and seeing what’s out there.