Melanie Lynskey has been a face on screen since she was 16, when she made her debut alongside Kate Winslet in the 1994 psychological drama film Heavenly Creatures.
However, in the last 18 months she has arguably had more attention than ever thanks to the hit mystery series Yellowjackets, about a group of teenage girls who get stranded in the wilderness following a plane crash.
The show takes place across two timelines and Lynskey plays the older version of one of the teenagers, Shauna Shipman, who survives in the Canadian wilderness – seemingly turning to cannibalism in order to stay alive.
Yellowjackets was well received following its launch on Showtime in the US in November 2021, becoming the second-most streamed series in the network’s history and picking up various awards – including a Critics’ Choice win for Lynskey, who was named best actress in a drama series.
But for Lynskey, who says she was initially resistant to taking on more work at the time, life could have turned out very differently.
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“I was in the middle of another job – I was doing Mrs America, a limited series that I was doing – and I had an infant child and I was thinking to myself, ‘I don’t want to work, I can’t, I’ve got to take six months off, I’m so tired’,” she told Sky News’ Backstage podcast. “And then I got this offer and the moment I read it, I just knew, I was like, ‘Oh, this is great, it would be so silly to say no to this’.”
With so much attention on the show, Lynskey has been somewhat thrust into the spotlight; she jokes that “people are actually watching” Yellowjackets, compared with some of her previous work.
“I’m so grateful that people are watching the show, I’m a shy person… it’s a little tricky, you know, to have a lot of attention,” she said. “I’m so shy, I do need to, like, lock myself in a dark room at the end of some days and just kind of be like, ‘Oh, that was a lot’, but overall, it’s so wonderful that there’s such a response.”
While not every interaction is positive, the actress says most is – and she welcomes constructive criticism.
“I read every single review, so you can’t just take in the good ones and ignore the bad ones. I love criticism, I love constructive criticism, I like people having notes, I like in my personal life for people to tell me when I’ve upset them or whatever. So it’s easy to dismiss when someone’s just being mean for no reason, that’s just like, ‘all right, I don’t really understand what I’m supposed to do with that, just you’re trying to make my day bad, I guess?’.”
Yellowjackets sets up plenty of mysteries from the off – which girls survived and how, and in the later timeline, who is threatening those that did. Lynskey says she is confident the show will keep satisfying viewers, despite not knowing herself how things will continue.
“The first season they told me a lot because I had a lot of questions and I was very fearful of signing on to something – I had to sign for seven years and I just was like ‘I need to know that you have a plan’,” she said. “So they told me so much about season one that I understood they knew what they were doing.
“And then they initially said they had a plan for five seasons and they did not go over all the seasons with me. I trust them so much now, I’m kind of like, whatever you guys want to do, I believe will be right.”
While Lynskey knew what was ahead for Shauna while making the first series, viewers are dripfed details as the story unfolds. The actress says the character is holding so much in it was hard for her to relate at times.
“There was an interesting thing in the first season where I had to just keep reminding myself that she was repressing so much still, there were moments where I wanted to just burst into tears and have a big emotional moment because that’s what I would do,” she said.
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“I kind of had to keep reminding myself: no, this is a person who’s pushing everything down, pushing everything down, not feeling. But [the writers] are so good about the way that they let the information come out in the scripts.”
Yellowjackets isn’t the only hit show Lynskey has starred in this year, with the new series coming after The Last Of Us, the hugely popular drama series based on the hit video game.
It recently emerged that her husband, the actor Jason Ritter, also had a cameo in the same show – playing one of the infected monsters.
“It’s his favourite video game, so he was very excited,” she said. “He trained with stunt people, he did a great job, he learned all the things and they all said he was great.
“He was so excited, he was like a kid in a candy store – I think his favourite thing he’s ever done is playing one of the infected monsters on The Last Of US – it was really fun for him.”
The second series of Yellowjackets continues on Paramount Plus from Friday. Hear from Melanie Lynskey on the latest episode of Backstage – the film and TV podcast from Sky News