Some actresses dig their way into the pleasure center of your brain so deeply it's impossible to extract them. From that point forward every time they appear on screen, a message is sent to your frontal lobe and a smile spreads its way across your face. Such is the case with Melanie Lynskey.
By the time the credits rolled on 1994's "Heavenly Creatures" I felt like I had discovered a diamond wrapped up in that gem of a movie. And while her "Heavenly" co-star Kate Winslet has gone on to be one of the world's biggest stars, Melanie has quietly amassed an equally impressive resume and a loyal fan following.
Thanks to scene stealing roles in "Ever After," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Shattered Glass" and this year's back-to-back-to-back brilliance of "Away We Go," "The Informant" and "Up in the Air," Melanie is one of the most in demand actors when it comes to creating cracker jack supporting women.
And as Melanie tells PopWrap, that's just how she likes it!
PopWrap: Between "Away We Go," "The Informant" and "Up in the Air," it's like the last half of '09 is all about Melanie!
Melanie Lynskey: It is weird -- I filmed them very close together though. I know sometimes actors will say they made their movies far apart, but I just had this crazy year where I was pinching myself over every script.
PW: You had be doing a lot of TV, so where did this renewed interest in big screen roles come from?
Melanie: I was getting frustrated because I wasn't working on things I wanted to be working on. Well, I wasn't really working [laughs] and I started to think, "Oh god, is it me?" So I changed it up and got a really amazing new movie agent who has great taste and got me in the room for all these wonderful projects.
PW: "Up in the Air" was named National Board of Review's Best Picture of the Year and is one of the major Oscar frontrunners -- what attracted you to the role of Julie, George's sister?
Melanie: Well, it's not really the biggest part, but I was so attracted to the scenes I would have with George's character. The depiction of the relationship with your family, how awkward and skewed it can be. How your family can basically be strangers to you. I don't see that too often, so I was really interested in those smaller moments.
PW: You have a knack for honing in on these amazing supporting roles, do you prefer them?
Melanie: I kind of do. Even when I'm reading a script where I'm supposed to be looking at the lead role, I'll find myself gravitating toward some small weirdo in a few scenes instead. I'm very instinctive like that and I love the challenge of not having a lot of time to create someone who feels real. People don't tend to scrutinize the supporting characters as much, so you're allowed to be more interesting.
PW: What are your feelings on the term "character actor?"
Melanie: I like it. I think a lot of actresses are afraid of it and think, "Oh god, that means I'm ugly!" [laughs] But I've never been the ingenue. I've never been the leading lady type. I feel like a character actress -- it's where I'm comfortable.
PW: Despite that, you came out of the gate pretty hard in 1994 with one of my favorite movies, "Heavenly Creatures." What was that experience like?
Melanie: I knew Peter [Jackson, director] from his horror movies in New Zealand, and when Kate auditioned he showed me the tape and said, "This is where you have to be." So imagine seeing a tape of Kate Winslet and being told, "Here's what you have to do." She was this beautiful, professional, successful actress from London and I was very intimidated. But they were so kind to me while making that movie -- they taught me, to this day, everything I know.
PW: And you will forever hold the distinction of being the first actor to share a big screen kiss with Kate Winslet!
Melanie: [laughs] Right! I was watching the Oscars at home in my pajamas and when Kate won, it popped across the screen! I thought that was so funny.
PW: I must admit, I got to witness the "Heavenly Creatures" reunion you two shared at the "Away We Go" premiere back in June!
Melanie: I knew your voice sounded familiar! That was so fun! I hadn't seen her for so long, so it was lovely. We went through such an intense experience together [making that movie] and it was like we still knew each other. I am so proud of her -- everything she does is amazing.
PW: A lot of your films feature strong female leads, which obviously spills over onto the set -- do you like that sense of female empowerment that comes along with it?
Melanie: I do! I love it! Someone like Reese [Witherspoon, "Sweet Home Alabama" co-star] is such an inspiration. Gosh, that was long ago. She was just this tiny little blonde girl who was so in control. So professional. I would watch her every second. She's very impressive. There was not one moment where she wasn't doing something: reading a book, taking care of the kids, prepping the next scene. She's just amazing.
PW: And yet your character is incredibly memorable -- when fans approach you, what role does it tend to be for?
Melanie: It's a bit of everything. Usually I can call it -- if I see someone looking over I can make a good guess. Although sometimes I'm totally surprised. For example, there was this tough-looking security guard at the airport and he's looking at me and goes, "Hey! 'Detroit Rock City,' what's up!" Usually in airport it's "Two and a Half Men" and at bars it's "Sweet Home Alabama."
PW: Just think how much that would increase if you actually had a baby in a bar!
Melanie: [laughs] God forbid!
PW: With a trio of terrific films this year, what would you like to do next?
Melanie: It's funny, I've been a working actress for so long, but I've never been able to pick and choose. Usually I'm just trying to do projects I feel good about, so if I can just continue on this path, I'll be very happy.
"Up in the Air" is in theaters now, while "Away We Go" is on DVD.
Photo: WireImage; Paramount