Melanie Lynskey on her early career: ‘I kept getting reminded I was not thin’

Trigger warning: eating disorders
Melanie Lynskey has been working steadily in Hollywood for decades, but it seems like people are just waking up to her this year. That’s probably not true but it’s how it looks. I couldn’t be happier. She’s not only a great actress, she’s a refreshing interview because she’s brutally honest. Melanie is currently starring in the Hulu series Candy. It’s a Jessica Biel vehicle that I was going to skip because it looked like Biel’s wig was doing all the heavy lifting, but I didn’t know Melanie was co-starring in it. Now I’ll probably check it out. She spoke to Vulture as part of the promotion and they covered a lot of ground. Too much to put here. One of the things that kept coming up was how much of Melanie’s career was taken up by people telling her what she wasn’t, like “thin, confident, pretty.” Melanie has spoken about how important it was to her that she be shown in her own skin on film without it being the point of the story. In this interview, she gave a lot more background about why that means so much to her. Like her struggle with bulimia that started when she was 12 and was basically nurtured by her anorexic mom. And how Melanie pinned photos of Vogue models on her walls and thought that was what she was supposed to look like. Then she starred next to Kate Winslet in her first film, Heavenly Creatures, and every outlet reinforced these horrible ideas she’d impressed upon herself.

Hollywood kept reminding what she wasn’t: Harvey Weinstein was so excited to see Kate. He introduced her to people, like, “This is the next big thing.” To me he was just like, “Hi.” It was so dismissive. I was like, I think I did a bad job. I’m not the kind of person these people are looking for.

After Venice (Film Festive), there was nothing. No, “Would you be interested in this part, or I’m an agent who wants to represent you.” I kept getting reminded I was not the things you needed to be. Thin, confident, pretty. Mostly thin. There was a certain pleasant energy they wanted people to have. Unchallenging. And I wasn’t successful doing that.

She kept getting mixed messages: I was auditioning for the plain girl parts — not the cute lead — for any teen movie you can think of from the ’90s. So I was like, Well, they’re telling me I look like this. Even though my own life was evidence to the contrary. I never had an issue attracting anybody. I was always “very popular,” as my dad called it. I wasn’t sitting around on a Friday like, Nobody wants me. But in my professional life, I was viewed a particular way.

What they were offering her: A lot of best-friend parts, which I never booked because I wasn’t good at it. And then a lot of chubby friends. I said to the agency, I have a real problem being a size six — which is what I was at the time — and playing a chubby friend. I hate that these roles exist. I think it’s damaging. It’s weird for little girls to watch this movie and be like, Oh, she’s supposed to be the fat one.

America vs. New Zealand: I love living here, but I don’t feel very American. New Zealand is a more a feminist society, and I sometimes have to be like, Oh, right, things are different here. When I first came here, it was such a culture shock with dating. I was like, I think some of these dudes expect me to be a virgin. There was an expectation to be a nice girl. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to have all these weird rules about how we see each other and waiting for someone to call.

[From Vulture]

There isn’t space for me to do the interview justice. The comparisons between Kate and Melanie were all external. Kate herself was supportive of Melanie and Melanie spoke quite kindly about her. Melanie detailed how bad her bulimia got and she limited herself to 800 calories a day. It was an ex-boyfriend who intervened and really forced her to look at her eating issues. Prior to that, all her friends had the same eating issues, so they’d just swap tips. I could have written that same part of the interview. The actresses and dancers I knew were the best to share tips on what foods came up the easiest. And then a guy I was dating went to hell and back to find out how he could support me in stopping. (That boyfriend is now my husband.) I know some people roll their eyes when a 6-12 sized actress talks about body positivity on screen, but this is why. Because every day they are told there’s something wrong with looking like that.

Melanie said she even felt like her agents didn’t like her. And they definitely didn’t listen to her because they kept sending her of the same kind of sad wallflower parts. It was Emily Deschanel who suggested Melanie meet her agent. That’s when things changed for the better for Melanie. Not only did she finally start seeing herself in different roles, she found out how many people actually wanted to work with her in those roles.

I also found what Melanie said about America vs. New Zealand extremely eye-opening. I guess I have to wake up to “it’s a nice place but it’s hard to do without the feminism” being something that’s true of America.

Photo credit: InStar Images and Avalon Red

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31 Responses to “Melanie Lynskey on her early career: ‘I kept getting reminded I was not thin’”

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  1. Danbury says:

    I love that more actresses are speaking out about this. Hopefully it will help more people understand what unrealistic standards movies / models etc set for society.

  2. Ariel says:

    I have loved her since Heavenly Creatures came out- but when i started watching Yellowjackets i was shocked at how many people i talked to had no idea who she was.
    I also enjoyed her in 2 1/2 Men- which is a show that was much funnier than it had any right to be. And she was great in it.
    Love that she is talking about all of this.
    I don’t know if it changes anything- but putting a light on evils, small and large in this world- is thankless, but necessary job. And i appreciate that.
    And she seems happy with her husband and baby and new level of success.
    Also- can’t wait for season 2 of Yellowjackets.

    • HufflepuffLizLemon says:

      I wanted them to do so much more with Rose on that show-they kept showing glimpses of the depth but nope. She ends as a stalker chaining Charlie in the basement. *sigh* (I looked this up, I stopped watching that show after I learned all that mess about Sheen.)

      • AMA1977 says:

        I’m so late (work was insane so I didn’t get my usual gossip breaks!) that I’m sure nobody will ever see this, but I’m convinced that Rose and Charlie were going to end up “happily ever after” in another season or two if Sheen hadn’t gone completely off the rails. And she is a great part of that show, but the whole show is really quite amusing for what it was.

        I adore her, she tells it like it is and she is 100% herself. I admire that. And she seems like she’d be the most fun, funny, good friend.

        “Candy” is much better for her being in it (although Biel surprised me, she’s not half-bad!) but mannnn, they had to dowdy her up to make her look like Betty. My husband kept saying, “I can’t believe they did that to her!! She’s such a pretty lady, it’s hard to believe it’s really her.” I also want to say that whomever was responsible for the sets/props/wardrobe in “Candy” knocked it out of the park, it’s 100% early ’80’s in all its glory.

    • NotSoSocialB says:

      Yes to Yellowjackets! Riveting! She was also good in Castle Rock ( I think that was the name of the series). There’s a sweetness to her voice that I just love, and she is a terrific actress.

    • Justjj says:

      I’m low key obsessed with Yellowjackets. Can’t wait for Season 2. She and Christina Ricci are amazing in it. She’s 45?!! She looks so young. She’s beautiful and so talented, she commands every shot she appears in, in Yellowjackets.

  3. Sam Brown says:

    YAH NEW ZEALAND!! 🖤🖤🖤🖤

    • dlc says:

      she was incredible in heavenly creatures, and wonderful on 2 1/2 men, where I always found her very pretty. she is in no way overweight!

  4. HeyKay says:

    Took me a sec to recognize her, she was on Two and a Half Men.
    Talented comedic actress. She is also lovely and nothing needs to change in her appearance.
    Why does casting think all humans need to look starving thin?
    Not at all.

    Interesting when you watch productions from outside US, the cast is often much more “typical” in appearance vs. Hollywood. No fake giant chicklet teeth, huge breast implants, etc.

  5. J. Ferber says:

    I love her dark blue velvet pants suit. Yes, I can clearly see that she would be denied roles because she doesn’t weigh 100 pounds. Definitely and for sure. I’m surprised she’s still in the industry, frankly. No matter the talent, the weight comes first, I guess. More diminishing of women, literally and symbolically.

  6. KBeth says:

    I was not aware of her until Yellowjackets. I think she’s so talented & lovely.

  7. kgeo says:

    Came to say that I really enjoyed Candy. The wig is horrible at first, but way less noticeable as it goes on because Jessica Biel does a really great job, IMO.

    • Driver8 says:

      That’s good to know. I usually avoid anything Biel related and will probably still avoid this in spite of my decades long love for ML. I read the full Vulture interview. Her points about her eating disorder are heartbreaking and super relatable to people like me who still suff from ED’S. She is just so lovely and talented. I want her to be in everything, lol

    • L84Tea says:

      I watched Candy last week too and she did a fantastic job.

      • Lena says:

        I thought Candy was awful. I can imagine in my own mind how awful, restrictive and BORING being a Christian stay at home mother of very young children in small town Texas was in 1980 but being shown how boring it really was on TV was not fun. And her character was so pathetic. I felt bad for her to have taken it tbh. I don’t get showtime but I heard her character in yellowjackets is worth her real talents so I’m glad she has that, she’s deserving.

  8. girl_ninja says:

    I really like Melanie and enjoy her work. She is so lovely and talented and can act her ASS off. This goes with what Emma Thompson shared about actresses being a LOT thinner than we think/see. It is so unfair the abuse that women go through just to be SEEN. I know that to a degree men go through this too, but we are constantly bashed in the head with these unhealthy expectations.

    • Robert says:

      I know that men do a lot of the putting down. But lets be honest here. Fashion magazines are put out by women for women. Clothing designers are mostly men. But its the women who actually put which designers are popular or not. It’s mostly other women who are putting this mostly unachievable perception of what beauty is out there. Stop telling your friends they look better after they lose weight. Tell them how beautiful they are at any weight. Push being healthy not just skinny. Tell those overly skinny women to eat a sandwich and get over themselves. Tell Anna Wintour to get rid of that horrible hairstyle and put some actual women on the cover. Women are the only ones who can actually change this.

  9. Sue says:

    Candy had me hooked. It was dark. But I couldn’t stop watching for the 1980 aesthetic.

  10. Lurker25 says:

    “it’s a nice place but it’s hard to do without the feminism” is very true of America.
    Sadly America is very good at gaslighting. Lip service allows women here to feel like they have more rights than women elsewhere. And you can’t point this out without so many women responding “but but but…tHE tAliBan!!” Like that’s the only option for the rest of the world.
    I grew up in any Asian society where arranged marriages are still common. Moved to states and received so much pity from American women, like aren’t you grateful you’re here now?! You can do anything!
    I already knew that. And I never felt like I needed to please a man, have a man, be a man to do it. My birth country had a woman president in the 70s, so ..
    I didn’t grow up thinking I had to be thin, or that math was hard, or that boys needed their egos soothed and it was my responsibility to do it.

    Arranged marriages are like a matchmaking service. Few women (at least on the middle class and more affluent end of it) are pressured into it. And if that seems like it’s ignoring poor women, let’s face the fact that “getting on the pole” is a jokey fact of life for most less-affluent women in America.

  11. NCWoman says:

    Yes, women are already second class citizens in several states, and it’s going to be national if R’s take power again. Vote Democratic, and get your friends to vote Democratic in every election for the foreseeable future. They’re imperfect, but way much better than autocratic Christian nationalism.

  12. Kirsten says:

    I love her. She’s great in everything. I also always forget that she’s married to Jason Ritter, who is equally wonderful.

  13. Murphy says:

    Hearing about the treatment from agents, etc. makes me wonder if some of the barbs made on her in the script of Ever After were added JUST for her. Like they cast her b/c her face is beautiful and she fit the “less beautiful but sweet” description of the other step sister, but they just couldn’t resist having Anjelica Huston’s character tell her to tighten her corset so she couldn’t eat.

  14. Amanduh says:

    Not the point of the article, but the:
    “And then a guy I was dating went to hell and back to find out how he could support me in stopping. (That boyfriend is now my husband.) “ …legit brought tears to my eyes. So very sweet, Hecate.

  15. olliesmom says:

    She is such a great actress and I’ve loved her in everything that I’ve seen her in. I saw in Don’t Look Up on Netflix (bad movie, but she was wonderful) recently.

    The fact that a size 6 is heavy in Hollywood. Most American women aren’t anywhere near a size 6.

    And she has a cute husband. Jason Ritter is one of the good ones just like his dad was.

  16. molly says:

    I completely thought this was about Monica Lewinsky until I stared at the photos long enough.

    What a sad reflection on our society that a story about a famous woman with brown hair in her 40s being called fat all over the media applies to so many of them.

  17. Rice says:

    Melanie was so good in Two and a Half Men, but she was the best part of “Don’t Look Up” and I will die on that hill.

  18. FHMom says:

    I really only heard of her recently but went back to google some photos of her previous work. There are photos from when she was announcing the divorce from her first husband, and she was as thin as any actress in Hollywood. I really hope they weren’t calling her heavy because knowing she had a previous eating disorder, this would be horrific. She looks great now and it seems like she is very happy.

  19. raindrop says:

    I’ve loved her work since Heavenly Creatures. So glad she’s getting the recognition she deserves.

  20. Abby says:

    I have loved her since the Drew Barrymore “Ever After” movie, back in the day. 🙂

    She is great in Candy. I almost skipped it too, but it was worth watching.

    Personally, I find Melanie to be so pretty. My opinion certainly does not matter, as anyone’s should not, but I find her to be gorgeous, smart, funny, insightful and a great actress.

  21. Ben says:

    Watch her on Netflix’ I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.

  22. Lynne Davis says:

    I love how honest Melanie is! She is excellent in Candy. I recommend it despite being a very dark story.