Melanie Lynskey Never Intended To Actually Land A Part In Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures

Peter Jackson's 1994 drama "Heavenly Creatures" was based on the real-life Parker-Hulme murder case which took place in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1954. The story goes that the convicted killers, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, became friends as adolescents and began to obsess over each other. They lived a very vivid fantasy life, and even invented their own religion, to which they were the only adherents. When Parker's mother, Honorah, threatened to separate the girls, they plotted to murder her, a crime they committed in Victoria Park. They spent five years in prison and were spared the death penalty, as Pauline was 16 and Juliet was 15. Jackson's film maintained that the two young women could be released from prison under the condition that they never see each other again, but this, however, was not true. 

"Heavenly Creatures" was widely lauded at the time and was nominated for Best Screenplay at that year's Academy Awards (it lost to "Pulp Fiction"). It was quite a change of pace for Jackson, whose previous films — "Bad Taste," "Meet the Feebles," "Dead Alive" — were all goopy, gore flicks. 

"Heavenly Creatures" also helped the world recognize the talents of its two lead actors: Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey. The former immediately went on to star in other Oscar darlings, while Lynskey took a few years off to attend college before appearing in multiple high-profile studio features in notable character roles. This year, Lynskey is appearing in two gigantic hit TV shows, "The Last of Us" and "Yellowjackets." 

In a recent interview with NPR's Ann Marie Baldonado, Lynskey recalled her audition for "Heavenly Creatures," and how she and a friend merely tried out as a lark. 

Improv lessons

Melanie Lynskey, now 44, recalled being a teenager and the day when talent scouts came to her high school to look for leads. While "Heavenly Creatures" had a budget of only $5 million, that was a hefty sum for a New Zealand production in the mid-1990s. As such, there was a lot of secrecy around the film. Lynskey, instead of reading pages or sides, recalled how she had to show off her skills for improvisation:

"They came to my high school. There was just one day. Somebody said, 'Oh, some people are here auditioning for a movie.' And I thought, 'Oh, this is a good thing to put on my application to drama school, to say I auditioned for a movie, so I have that experience.' I don't know what I was thinking. But they were taking people two at a time into a spare room at the school. And they didn't want to show anyone a script or anything like that, so they just had us improvise."

Lynskey wasn't there to land any role — she was only testing out what a real audition felt like. She already had ambitions to be an actor but never dreamed that she would star in a feature film while still in high school. She and a friend went in without any expectations. It also helped that she and her friend were already taking improv lessons. She said:

"I was with my friend Susie [...] And we just improvised a few scenes together. And we, at the time, were in a dramatic improv class that we did every single Friday night. So we were used to it. It was, you know, kind of second nature for us."

'They're going to give you that part.'

Melanie Lynskey left the audition thrilled to have taken things that far. It was her friend who was confident that Lynskey had just begun her professional career. Because it was the 1990s, Lynskey and her friend had their conversation in a nearby graveyard, which was common for average-gloomy teens. She remembered the conversation thus:

"We were so excited afterwards. It was so much fun. And we couldn't go back to school. So we, like, took off for the rest of the afternoon and went and sat in the cemetery that was next to the school. And I remember Susie saying, 'You got that movie. They're going to give you that part.' And I was like, 'Don't be crazy. That's not how it works. It's a movie, you know?' And she said, 'No, I could tell by how they were looking at you.'" 

Then, of course, came the callbacks. It turns out that Kate Winslet had already been cast, and that Peter Jackson needed someone to match her performance. Winslet, from England, was the "outsider" to the New Zealand film scene, and it was Lynskey who would have to be her equal. Luckily, Lynskey was. As she recalled: 

"I had to do another very long audition. I'd got flown to Christchurch, where they were filming. Peter showed me Kate Winslet's audition tape and said 'This is how good you have to be. This is a professional actress from England who we've found. And she's this good.' And I said, 'All right. Let me give it a try.' And I did another audition, and I got the job. It was, really, a very, very lucky thing to have happen."

Lucky for us all, as now Lynskey is a noted and award-winning actor. Also a badass.