Melanie Lynskey is having an exceptional year, and it’s well deserved. Over the last few months, the actor has starred in the Oscar-nominated film Don’t Look Up and Showtime’s breakout series Yellowjackets, which earned her a Critics Choice Award for Best Actress in a Drama. Of course, these are just two jewels in a career that spans more than three decades—enough to merit not one but two Random Roles with The A.V. Club.
Most recently, Lynskey co-starred in Hulu’s true-crime limited series Candy, which ended May 13. In the show, Lynskey plays Betty Gore, who was brutally axed to death by her friend, Candy Montgomery (played by Jessica Biel), in 1980. The knotty miniseries dives into the lives of both women and comes from Nick Antosca and Robin Veith, with a cast that’s rounded out by Pablo Schreiber and Timothy Simons.
The A.V. Club spoke to Lynskey about the challenges of portraying Betty and why she wanted to honor her, how Candy and Yellowjackets tackle motherhood, and why she’s glad Hollywood is finally interested in nuanced stories about middle-aged women.
The A.V. Club: What was it like to explore some of Betty’s complicated facets as she struggles with loneliness, motherhood, and post-partum depression?
Melanie Lynskey: For me, that was the most heartbreaking part. I mean, of course, the way she’s killed is very heartbreaking as well. But the fact that this woman was struggling so much and was so alone, even though she was constantly asking for help, and everybody was just telling her to get on with it. That breaks my heart. I’m happy that now there’s more conversation around it, and women don’t have to struggle with it silently. I remember when I had my child, so many people said to me: “If you start feeling like this or this, just talk to someone.” There are more resources now. It made me sad that she had to go through that.
AVC: Candy’s a fictionalized version of a true story, so you have to rely on research and the script. But how much did you draw from your experience as a parent? I also ask because you shouted out your nanny during this year’s Critics Choice acceptance speech.
ML: Thank you because I just really love my nanny. I don’t know who cried more at that, me or my daughter [laughs]. And for Candy, I did think about my own life and how even with my husband, who’s so helpful and such a great dad, and my nanny, there are days when I’m just completely overwhelmed. Just think of being a woman who didn’t have a helpful partner or childcare and was doing it by herself.
AVC: Did you feel additional pressure as an actor to deliver with this show? We get to see part of Betty’s intimate life story, and obviously she was a real human being who was killed.
ML: I feel a huge amount of responsibility. In my very first job, 1994's Heavenly Creatures, I played a real person who was still living. In this case, part of my brain was going, “What will she think of this” and “What will her family think of this?” There were questions like, “Is this glorifying anything awful or is it not true to who she was?” At a certain point, you have to let go of it. I’ve agreed to play a fictionalized version of someone. For Betty, I wanted to honor her memory as much as I could. I didn’t want to sugarcoat it and pretend everything was great because she was struggling. That’s what we heard over and over from multiple people. It was on my mind all the time, just stuff like, “Would she feel represented?” The hardest part for me was in the final episode and filming the murder as it’s played out. It’s from Candy’s point of view. It’s so brutal. It was physically difficult for me to do because in my head, I don’t believe it’s the true story of what happened, but it’s the only story out there because the other woman isn’t alive. So I had to just say, “I’m playing a character, and this is a story.”
AVC: Speaking of the finale, your delivery of the line ‘That’s it?” when the trial ends in Candy’s favor is very striking. What do you make of that and how the show depicts Betty sort of witnessing the courtroom proceedings?
ML: I was nervous about that aspect. I didn’t know if it would work. But I’m grateful Michael Uppendahl was directing the episode. I’ve worked with him before and I trust him. He said, “If it doesn’t work, it won’t go into the episode; don’t worry.” I also loved how that was giving Betty some voice after the fact because she was put on trial in more ways than Candy. This part is not in the show but, from what we learned, they had a woman get on the stand who was just answering a few questions. At a certain point, she was asked to stand up, so she awkwardly did. Then they asked if she was the same size as Betty Gore, and the woman said yes. So they were basically like, “Look how big she is. Could little Candy Montgomery have done it to her?” What an awful thing for that woman to go through too. Betty was hacked to death. Why does that kind of thing matter? Her body and personality were on trial. The way she was treated was terrible.
AVC: There’s a brief period where Betty and Candy become friends in episode three, and it’s oddly nice to see her smiling and be momentarily happy.
ML: A friend of mine watching the show also texted me to say the same thing. It was nice to smile in Betty’s shoes. She just wants someone to host her a baby shower; it’s such a big deal for her when Candy offers. I loved working with Jessica on it so much. It was kind of a relief for both of us to play that. She’s an interesting actor who changes depending on what you’re giving her. There’s no set-in-her-ways kind of performance.
AVC: How do you feel now that the show is out and people are responding to these characters? You’re generally very lovely on Twitter when it comes to engaging with fans.
ML: Obviously, everybody’s reaction is so valid. This is a tough one because people who lived in the community and were around at the time are still alive. But I’m hoping people understand this is just one version of the story. It’s impossible to give every piece of information. I hope people still feel it was interesting or they learned something. I do feel behind on Twitter, and I looked earlier today and realized a lot of people are writing to me so I need to get on it.
AVC: What can you tell me about Jason Ritter and Justin Timberlake’s cameos in Candy as the investigating cops? It was kept well under wraps.
ML: As far as I know, Justin asked Jessica if he could be in it because he read the scripts and loved it. The creator then had the idea to make it more meta [by casting our husbands] and asked if Jason would also do it. He was open to it. He was there helping with our daughter anyway, so we just said, “Great.” It was fun.
AVC: Did you know HBO Max is also making a miniseries called Love And Death based on the same case that comes out in the fall?
ML: Isn’t it weird when that happens, like the two Fyre Fest documentaries that came out within the same week? I’ve seen both of them. To be honest, I cannot wait to see Love And Death. It has Jesse Plemons, one of my favorite actors, plus the incredible Elizabeth Olsen and Lily Rabe. The talent behind it is strong. I read the book it is loosely based on. There’s so much information in there, so I’m fascinated to see what they’ll bring out of it and what the tone will be. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be excited about it but I am.
AVC: Since we were talking about motherhood in Candy, even your Yellowjackets character, Shauna, has a complex relationship with her teen. The show focuses so much on the central friendships, but what was it like to develop that mother-daughter bond?
ML: It was actually hard for Sarah Desjardins, who plays my daughter Callie, and me since we love each other so much. We were bonding in such a genuine way, it was odd to be mean to each other on the show. But what I love about Shauna as a mother is that she isn’t willing to sit back after a certain point. She says, “Okay, you’re being kind of an asshole, so I will be too.” I think a lot of parents with teens felt empowered by that. It’s a tough time and kids can be difficult. I loved how realistic it was. Callie’s trying to one-up her, and Shauna doesn’t let it happen. It’s another example of how Shauna’s always underestimated on the show when she’s actually pretty dangerous.
AVC: Obviously one of the Yellowjackets’ biggest mysteries is what might happen to teen Shauna’s as-yet-unborn baby. Do you get curious about the suspense surrounding your character and ask in advance? Does it help you prepare as an actor?
ML: I would prefer to know as much as I could. At the same time, before I signed up for Yellowjackets, I didn’t know the creators or writers. I had a lot of questions to make sure we were on the same page, [that] the story [is] going to go in a direction I can get behind. Now I’m at a point where I trust them so much. I’m more relaxed now. There wasn’t a lot of script work to make it make sense to me. I have gone to them with a couple of very little changes, and they were on board. I want them to do whatever they think is best for the show.
AVC: How did you feel when you first read about the cannibalism of it all?
ML: It’s interesting because to me it wasn’t a huge part of the story except for the horror of imagining what would happen if I were in the situation. I was so focused on the other aspects of the story, I kind of forgot about cannibalism, which is actually a huge and crazy thing. It’s obviously something that’ll come up more and more in the future.
AVC: Everyone is waiting with bated breath for season two. Do you know when it’ll release or when you begin filming it?
ML: The last thing I heard is we begin filming in late summer, like by the end of August, because my co-star Christina Ricci said it during a Jimmy Fallon appearance recently. She always has all the information. I think the storyline, from what the creators have said, they’re calling it the “winter of pure discontent,” which is so funny. I guess they’re planning to make summer look like wintertime.
AVC: You’ve said in the past that you’re a character actor who’s drawn to smaller, weirder roles. Has your view changed since then?
ML: I was around 22 or 23 when I said that. It was a time when a lot of teen movies were coming out and the roles available just weren’t very interesting. I didn’t know how to be a popular girl. I couldn’t see the trajectory. With a smaller role, it felt like you could sneakily do something interesting. I do feel lucky now to work when people are interested in telling nuanced stories about women, specifically middle-aged women. It’s been varied and interesting.
AVC: You’ve done lots of enviable work. I initially pitched this interview as a Random Roles, but you’ve already done that feature twice and yet there’s still more to talk about.
ML: [Laughs] That’s what I told my team too. It makes me feel incredibly honored. I’m sure I was sitting in the same place with the same wallpaper during the last Random Roles. [Note: She is not wrong.]
AVC: Is there still something you want to cross off your wishlist?
ML: There are actors and directors I want to work with. I’d love to work with Jesse Plemons. I’m obsessed with Regina Hall. I love Olivia Colman.
AVC: You should all do a fun, relaxing comedy together.
ML: Can you even imagine? I would love to have a fun time with them. They’re all people who can effortlessly do comedy and drama, and that’s my favorite kind of actor. Right now, I really do want to work on a comedy. If I do anything before Yellowjackets begins shooting season two, it would have to be funny and something where I’m not sad or crying. I did a project after Candy that’s also going to be so dark. I really need a break.