Melanie Lynskey started talking about herself as a character actor very early on, she said in a recent interview — possibly because deflecting the spotlight was easier than having makeup and costume people constantly body-shame her size-4 frame as unacceptably fat.
“I think I just was like, ‘That’s what I am,’” the star of Showtime’s “Yellowjackets” told the Hollywood Reporter in an interview published Wednesday.
Plus, she told The Times this week, she was dealing with an eating disorder around that time.
The actor has been recalling playing Piper Perabo’s “best friend from Jersey” in the 2000 movie “Coyote Ugly.” The flick depicted women who were all, as screenwriter Gina Wendkos once described them, “sexy, they’re hot, but they’re not objects of sexuality.”
“[T]he scrutiny that was on Piper, who’s one of the coolest, smartest women, just the way people were talking about her body, talking about her appearance, focusing on what she was eating. All the girls had this regimen they had to go on,” Lynskey recently told THR. “It was ridiculous.”
Around that time, through the 1990s, Lynskey — now known and appreciated for her nervous, off-center charm — was getting a lot of feedback about all the ways she wasn’t “right.”
“It was really hard …,” she told The Times this week. “The ways my body wasn’t what they wanted. I didn’t wear enough makeup. My clothes weren’t tight enough. If my clothes were tight enough, my body had problems. People were so thin, and I was a tiny little person at that time, but just always told, like, ‘Not enough, not enough.’ And it was very demoralizing. It was difficult. It sort of stripped me of that confidence that I had.”
Her “Coyote Ugly” stint couldn’t have helped.
“I was already starving myself and as thin as I could possibly be for this body, and I was still a [size] four,” she told THR about that on-set experience. “That was already people putting a lot of Spanx on me in wardrobe fittings and being very disappointed when they saw me, the costume designer being like, ‘Nobody told me there would be girls like you.’”
Girls like you, indeed. These days, Lynskey is an Emmy nominee for actress in a drama series for her work in “Yellowjackets.” (She also starred in Hulu’s “Candy” miniseries this year.)
But as an actor in her early 20s who’d had an eating disorder since she was a tween, it stunk.
“I had an eating disorder from the age of 12, honestly, when my body started changing. And then it just got progressively worse. And then working in this industry and being literally judged against women who were completely different body types to me, which just got worse and really, really ramped up for a few years,” she told The Times.
Her live-in boyfriend at the time found out about her eating disorder “because it’s hard to hide,” she said.
“He was just heartbroken. He was just, like, ‘I don’t want this for you,’” Lynskey said. “And he was trying to say, ‘You’re beautiful. You’re perfect.’ That stuff, you don’t hear that stuff when that’s not how you feel about yourself.”
Ultimately, he tried some tricks with cooking and food and encouragement — he called what she was doing to herself “so violent” — and Lynskey said it helped her break some patterns.
A few years later, after they had broken up, she overcame the eating disorder. But even then, she exercised “obsessively” — until she had her daughter, now 3 years old, with husband Jason Ritter (son of the late actor John Ritter).
“She tells me all the time how beautiful I am and how soft I am,” Lynskey told The Times, referring to her daughter. “And my body’s just kind of settled into a place that is healthy. And, you know, years and years of having an eating disorder kind of messes with your metabolism, unfortunately, but I’m just, I’m giving my body some grace. … It’s OK to have a person who looks like a lot of women look.”
She doesn’t want to be onscreen judging her own body, she said.
“I wanna be onscreen as a free person who’s just living her life in the body that she has, because that’s the reality. That’s what we do. …,” Lynskey said. “I just live.”
Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.