Melanie Lynskey’s one of those actresses where, when you see her name on the cast list, you know the chances of that project being good are very high. Because Lynskey is fearless in her desire to relate to the everyday foibles of being alive. Relationships, crossroads, emotional upheaval, and nuance — all of it is impressive when in her very capable hands. And in the role of Michelle on the Duplass brother’s new HBO series, Togetherness, all of those aspects are on display. We were lucky enough to chat up Lynskey about the series, what it’s like to have sex with your boss on screen (spoiler alert: it can get awkward!), and why Amanda Peet is weird in the best way.
Nerdist: So much of what I loved about this show is that it’s trying to get to the realness of authentic human relationships. And you do that a lot, I feel, in the work that you do.
Melanie Lynskey: Yeah I mean I guess it’s what I’m interested in, in my life. And I have a weird sort of instinct — I mean I don’t have all the choice in the world, I’m not Angelina Jolie — about what in my life I want to examine. You know sometimes I’ll go into a painful time and the idea of playing someone that’s kind of cold and tough really appeals to me because that’s not how I react when I’m in a sad situation. And so much of this stuff about relationships is really fascinating to me, it’s one of the trickiest parts about being a human so I’m always really interested in looking at that stuff.
N: Both as a TV viewer and a writer, it’s something that I think is so important. There are very specific roles and relationship tropes that people would lowest common denominator them into. It’s equal parts scary but so exciting that TV, especially HBO, is really trying to look at the spectrum of what those are.
ML: There’s something for people to relate to — my favorite thing about going to the movies or watching television is when you witness something that you’ve felt or you’ve seen, or articulate something in a way you haven’t been able to, and you feel part of a bigger human experience. And that’s so amazing.
You know there are so many people in the world, myself included, that feel so very alone much of the time, and I think it’s just such an amazing thing to see such a complicated experience on screen and be able to say ‘oh, that’s what my life looks like. Maybe I’m not fucking up completely.’ You know? Maybe its just normal that we don’t have everything figured out.
N: Well speaking of not having things figured out: I am sort of obsessed with Amanda Peet on this show. She’s so good and your sibling relationship is just great.
ML: I adore her so, so much and I was a huge fan of hers from Igby Goes Down and that Nicole Holofcener movie [Please Give]. She is just so brassy and funny.
I got to read with her [during] her audition, and it was just so weird. [laughs] We improvise a lot, so a lot of the audition was improvising — and she just sat there on her phone. I was trying to talk to her and do the scene, an improvised version of it, and she was just so insular and distracted and I thought, ‘this is amazing.’ It was such a great choice.
N: I love the way she plays Tina — there’s something that’s so frenetic, in a different way, compared to your own character’s frenetic energy, because she so wants a relationship, but she doesn’t really know what she wants, and she doesn’t see how she’s self-sabotaging. [laughs]
ML: And I feel like we all have friends like that who are just always like ‘oh gosh, I wish I had this and I wish I had that, I wish I had stability’ and you see all the ways in which they reject that when it comes to them, and you think ‘do you really want that?’ [laughs] It’s like, ‘I’ve seen it in front of you many times and you’re just making choices that don’t support it.’
N: I was surprised at how equally devastating and hilarious a lot of what happens to the characters is, actually.
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ML: I’m really happy that you saw episode four because that’s the only one I’ve seen — and I only saw it because of the nakedness — but I think it’s such a good episode. It’s so, sort of, tough and interesting and sad and funny.
N: That episode in particular — and that sex scene — is so painful and sad and relatable. Because they both really want to be there together but neither character is getting on the same page.
ML: Yeah, there are so many issues that come up in relationships and so many things that are just exhausting to deal with and that kind of intimacy is a really hard thing to maintain. It was really interesting, when I read that script: I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a sex scene like this.’ I mean you’ve seen sex scenes where it’s not super-exciting, but here ourpeople are really doing their best and trying to go through with it and it’s just not happening and it’s so sad, they just really want it to work.
N: Yeah you see it all just sort of disintegrate and fall apart.
ML: Yeah, it was so carefully scripted, all that stuff. Like every little moment where you see Michelle start to think like, ‘oh, I might actually be into this’ and it all just sort of unravels, like you said. And when I read it I was like, ‘oh god’ and shooting it was also weird and super painful.
N: Yeah, what was it like shooting that? I can’t even imagine because just watching it I was half anxious, half-covering my eyes because you knew the fallout was coming, that it wasn’t going to work out despite their efforts to try and get on that same page. What was it like being in the room doing that?
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ML: Well [laughs], Mark is my boss, you know? So we’re acting together, but I had to let that part of my brain that was like ‘this is my director’s brother!’ because Jay [Duplass] was directing. It was just such a weird situation for all of us.
Jay was next to the bed like, ‘OK now put your hand on her boob — now move your hand down to his fluffer.’ [laughs] I think we were all just sort of professional about it [to get] through it. Then at the end of the day we were all like ‘That was one of the weirdest things, like, ever.’ [laughs] Jay was just like ‘Dude, I was freaking out! It was so strange to tell my brother to touch someone’s boob.’
N: That makes me relieved, though, a little bit that you come out of those situations like ‘oh, that was fucking weird, right?’
ML: Yeah, I’m really happy nobody was like ‘good day, guys’ and that was it. [laughs] Everyone was like ‘Um, congratulations to us for being able to get through it.’ But it was basic knowledge that it was really strange.
N: I imagine there must be a lot of that, though, working with the Duplass brothers because that’s something they do so well. They’re able to pinpoint these really seemingly mundane and intimate moments and fleshing them out to explain how these tragic miscommunications of being human affect on a larger scale.
ML: It’s something they’re so amazing at, and kind of my favorite thing about them is their radar for bullshit [laughs]. Like, they’re incapable of creating a false moment. If there’s a line when we’re doing a scene that sounds a little scripted they’ll just stop everything and go, ‘how can we make this better? That sounds like somebody wrote it.’ And it’s so amazing to be in a situation where people are willing to give moments the real truth, the reality.
Togetherness airs Sundays at 9:30 PM on HBO.