This summer marks a very special anniversary. It’s fair to say we all remembered what took place on August 4, 2000. On that most likely quiet and peaceful summer day, one film dominated the cultural conversation, a true game changer unlike any other film of its kind. For years people had been asking, “What is this Coyote Ugly? Is it more than just some bar at the New York, New York hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada?” Kangaroo Jack director David McNally finally answered that question with his unconventional story of a small town girl trying to make it in the big city with Coyote Ugly.
That picture co-starred Melanie Lynskey as Gloria, the young girl’s best friend. Needless to say, it’s not Lynskey’s best film — that honor goes to The Informant, which is her personal favorite as well — but it was the last film I watched of Lynskey’s before speaking with her at SXSW, so why not discuss it? Lynskey wasn’t at the festival to promote the upcoming 14th anniversary of Coyote Ugly, though. Instead she was down for We’ll Never Have Paris, Simon Helberg and Jocelyn Towne‘s romantic comedy starring Lynskey as a woman whose relationship is thrown off track by her boyfriend’s selfish neurosis.
Since I hadn’t seen the film when I spoke with Lynskey, we mostly discussed other topics, including Coyote Ugly and never wanting to take a paycheck for something she doesn’t believe in. Check out our conversation below.
Film School Rejects: I have to admit, I haven’t seen the film yet.
I haven’t seen it yet either.
What are you expecting?
I think it’s going to be funny. I hope. I have a lot of faith in Simon’s sense of comedy. We did some reshoots on it a little bit, so I’m just curious to see how it all came together.
Does the end product usually reflect the experience?
It’s weird, it really depends. There have been times when I’ve had a great, fun time and seen the movie and been like, “What?” But most of the time you can kinda tell if it’s not coming together as it’s being put together. You can kinda get a sense of that.
Is it hard not to be dissapointed when that happens?
You just have to let it go. You have no control over how people work or how they want to do it. The thing that I try to do, I try to not compromise too much so I don’t really get in the situation of someone being like, “I saw it this way” and me being like, “Okay” and then hating it when I see the movie. I’ll totally have a fight with somebody if I disagree. This was not one of those, thankfully.
Was there not much time to try different ideas on a film of this scale?
For this one it was pretty much as written. Sometimes on an indie movie you don’t have a lot of time and they want the spontaneity of it, so they encourage you to improvise or just sort of see what happens. This one they really wanted to stick to the script. They knew what they were thinking.
Have you ever done a movie that’s all improv?
Yeah, this Joe Swanberg movie that I did that was completely improvised from a 10-page outline. It was like, “They are talking in a basement.” Then, “She says she doesn’t have time to write.” Then you improvise the whole thing around it. It’s so wonderful because if there is stuff that you are interested in discussing — like, I always want to talk about feminism, so that was a great opportunity for me and Lena [Dunham] to be like, “What the…?” [Laughs] I’m doing a TV show right now that is pretty much all improv. They have a script, but then they just sort of go off and do whatever, with the Duplass brothers.
The night before you go on the set of a Joe Swanberg movie, are you writing lines down or are you mostly reacting to what happens when shooting?
I’m just reacting. The most important thing for Joe is that it feels spontaneous and like real life. I came up with my own backstory like a nerd, because I had to know. I talked to his wife a lot, because she is a creative person and has a young child. A lot of my friends are in the same kind of situation. I wanted to get a sense of what that would feel like as a day-to-day existence. I didn’t write a plan, though.
You started out acting at a young age. What did you expect as teenager and how did acting meet your expectations?
I had done a lot of school plays, local theater, and stuff like that. When I did Heavenly Creatures I was 15. I really loved acting. When I discovered the thing of kind of reaching into your soul and pulling it out and putting it in a scene, I was just addicted, because it’s such a cathartic thing. And it’s such a personal thing that you are sharing. There was just so much about it that I was like, “Oh, God. I just want to do this forever.” That movie was like drama school to me, basically.
I read a quote of yours about how if you could go back and tell yourself anything, it would be to give yourself a break. Were you hard on yourself?
I still am. I’m probably going to be telling myself that for my whole life. I never really had a lot of faith. I’m always hard on myself. I always doubt myself. The hardest thing for me is feeling like I deserve to be here. Just feeling like, “I have something to offer.” The easiest time for me is when I am doing something that’s very personal, very connected and emotional and you can’t deny the fact that something is happening. I’m like, “Okay. I feel like I know what I’m doing.” But I am very hard on myself.
Is insecurity an inherent part of acting?
Yeah. You have to accept that. But there are some actors who are just like, “Fuck those guys! I’m the greatest! They don’t even know what’s wrong!” They are like stage moms for themselves. I learned at a certain point that I can’t personalize it, that there’s always some random reason that you didn’t get a job or whatever, or nobody saw your movie that means a lot to you.
As a consistently working actor, you’ve managed to maintain quality over the years. Is that a hard balance of having to work but also waiting for a great project?
Thank you, first of all, for saying that. It’s so hard. I recently got offered a bunch of money for a movie, and the movie wasn’t that bad. It was kinda cheesy, but I just was like, “I can’t. I can’t put everything into this. I can’t stand by it and be like, ‘This is something I really believe in.’” I would be doing it because I wanted to make some money. I just can’t do that anymore. At a certain point, I had kind of a crossroads in my life when I was on Two and a Half Men. I really made a decision to do stuff that I felt really passionate about.
Sometimes critics will criticize an actor for taking a paycheck, but it is a job. You can’t always work on the best projects, like most professions.
You can’t. It’s really, really hard to make money as an actor these days, especially as a character actor, kind of like middle-class actor. I haven’t made more than scale for a movie since 2005. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to go back and do an episode of Two and a Half Men here and there or maybe go to another television show. You can pay your mortgage that way. But it’s really hard for people to make a living. So I never begrudge anyone. If someone takes a TV show and people get all up in arms about it, then…
On a TV show at least you’ll know where you’ll be working and, if it works, it’s steady pay.
Yeah. Those actors must have seen something in it that they like. Sometimes people just don’t want to struggle anymore.
One earlier job of yours I want to ask about is Coyote Ugly. I recently revisited that film.
Yep! I actually enjoy that movie…
[Laughs] John Goodman is very charming in that movie.
John Goodman is so great. I love Piper [Perabo] and I love Adam [Garcia]. Meeting those two was totally worth it. Michael Weston is still one of my best friends. He played my husband. He got cut out of the movie. That was such a weird experience.
It’s a strange movie.
It’s a really strange movie. It’s a really interesting … I don’t know. For me it was really fun to play the girl from New Jersey with fake nails…