Melanie Lynskey got her start in movies because she looked like a murderer.
It was the early 1990s, and Lynskey was a painfully shy 15-year-old, listening to The Cure and The Smiths, living in a small town in New Zealand. Director Peter Jackson was looking for two teenage girls to play the leads in his movie Heavenly Creatures, based on the true story of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, who murdered Parker’s mother.
Kate Winslet was cast as Hulme, but Jackson and his co-writer Fran Walsh were struggling to find a young Kiwi actress who looked like Parker. With just four weeks go to till filming started, Walsh got into a car with a casting person and started driving around the North Island.
“They’d visit every small town, go to the local school, visit the principal’s office and show a photo of Pauline Parker,” Jackson remembers. “She’d say, ‘We’re making a movie about Pauline Parker. Do you have any pupils in your school who resemble her who might be interested in this?’”
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Lynskey was discovered in New Plymouth and quickly cast. She developed a “very intense” relationship with her co-star Winslet.
“It was more intense than some love affairs that I have had in my life,” Lynskey told Time. “We developed such a bond that for a long time, we couldn’t let it go. We would write each other letters and talk on the phone all the time.”
Heavenly Creatures had critics raving, and it was nominated for an Oscar. Lynskey’s own performance was praised, but she remembers being “shocked” by reviews that were rude about her looks.
“She's the fat one in the back, the disaster, the smudge with the ugly scowl and unruly black curls,” The Washington Post wrote about her character.
Lynskey doubted her own acting ability, thinking she’d just had a “lucky break”. Her family didn’t praise her performance too much, not wanting her to get carried away with the idea of being an actress.
“They worried about that because 'she's a shy, chubby, 16-year-old' and they didn't want me to be disappointed," Lynskey told The Sydney Morning Herald.