The Complete Evolution Of Melanie Lynskey

The following article references addiction and an eating disorder.

Whether you know her as Shauna from "Yellowjackets," Kathleen from "The Last of Us," Betty Gore from "Candy," or even Pauline from "Heavenly Creatures," chances are, you know Melanie Lynskey. The Kiwi actor has been working steadily since 1994, when the 14-year-old landed her breakout role opposite Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures." She went on to appear in "Ever After" alongside Drew Barrymore, "Coyote Ugly," "Sweet Hope Alabama," "Up in the Air," amongst dozens of other films and shows. She also landed the leading role of Rose, Charlie's lover and stalker in "Two and a Half Men." 

After a long, busy career, Lynskey has found a new burst of fame with Showtime's hit thriller "Yellowjackets" and a role in HBO's acclaimed "The Last of Us." In addition to her career, Lynskey also has a relationship with Jason Ritter — the pair welcomed their first child in 2018. 

Things are certainly going better than ever for Lynskey — and, by the looks of things, she's still got a lot to look forward to in the future. Here's a breakdown of the complete evolution of Melanie Lynskey.

Melanie Lynskey grew up in New Zealand

Melanie Lynskey was born on May 16, 1977 in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Her parents were a nurse and orthopedic surgeon and they had four more children after Lynskey. Although they spent most of their time in New Zealand, the family spent one year in London when Lynskey was six. "We had a year in London, my accent was funny, I was painfully shy," Lynskey told The Times in 2023. As a result, Lynskey sometimes struggled socially as a child. "It's not that I was horribly bullied as a child but I was made fun of and was shy."

As the oldest of five, Lynskey's parents gave her a lot of responsibility when she was young. "I was put in an adult position before I was quite ready to be there," she explained to Rolling Stone. One reason that Lynskey may not have embraced her responsibility was that she had a propensity to worry about just about everything. "It was a general feeling of, 'Things are not really safe, something could go bad at any minute, and I have to be on the lookout for it,'" she confessed.

Melanie Lynskey got her big break in Heavenly Creatures

When Melanie Lynskey was 14 years old, a casting director came to her school looking to cast a leading role in Peter Jackson's upcoming "Heavenly Creatures." The film was based on a real-life murder case in which two teenaged best friends plotted to murder one of their mothers. The role, Lynskey told The Guardian, taught her to access the "dark, honest part" of herself. "I was so lucky that my first ever professional job was with somebody who knew how to look for that hidden part and bring it out," she said. Lynskey was widely praised for her performance.

After the film was released, Lynskey didn't immediately start auditioning — instead she went back to school. "Everybody around me was like, that was fun, but go back to high school and good luck," she recalled to Time. "Also, because they had come around to my high school [and found her at an open call] it didn't feel real. I felt like I had gotten a very lucky break."

Not only did the role introduce Lynskey to the world of acting, it also set the foundation for an important friendship early in her career. "There has never been anything like that bond with Kate and the depth: we loved each other," she told The Times in 2023. Sadly, the pair eventually grew apart. "When I lost touch with Kate, it was more heartbreaking than some breakups that I've had," she shared on the "Happy Sad Confused" podcast.

Melanie Lynskey returned to acting after a year at university

Following her turn in "Heavenly Creatures,"  Melanie Lynskey started college at Victoria University of Wellington. However, after a year, she decided to throw herself into acting once and for all. So, she set off for Los Angeles and started auditioning.

At first, trying to get a firm foot in the industry door was not easy. "I felt like all the things that were working for me back home didn't work all of a sudden," she told Backstage. "Like, it's good in New Zealand to be humble; it's good to be a quieter person. And then you get to this place where everyone wants you to be brash and confident, and I just was like, 'I don't know how to do that!'" Lynskey felt out of place in the sea of Hollywood hopefuls. She felt, as she put it, "bigger than everyone, weirder than everyone, and quieter."

Melanie Lynskey's career slowly picked up steam

Eventually, Melanie Lynskey began getting auditions and her career began to blossom. As she told The Guardian, one early audition for "The Crucible" starring Daniel Day-Lewis was particularly helpful — even though she didn't land the role. "It went well, and that built my confidence a little bit," she said. 

She also got her first few roles: Jacqueline, the ugly step-sister in the Drew Barrymore-led "Ever After" in 1998, Melody in "Foreign Correspondents" and Dunyasha in "The Cherry Orchard" in 1999, and Gloria in "Coyote Ugly" in 2000. Finally, she felt that she had found success, and while her career trajectory didn't line up with that of her "Heavenly Creatures" co-star Kate Winslet, she was okay with the way things were going. "I was so grateful to be working, I didn't need much — I had been living on nothing," she said of that period. "I understood that I was building it from the ground up at that point, and I felt lucky that the door had been opened again."

As a young actor, Melanie Lynskey developed an eating disorder

As Melanie Lynskey's career continued to progress, the young actor began to struggle with her self-image. After all, Hollywood in the early 2000s wasn't a particularly body-positive space for young women. "For such a long time I was on a chubby character actor list," Lynskey told Time in 2012. "The fat friend. Just super depressing roles where you are like, really?"

Lynskey became fed up with this typecasting. "I was like, 'No,'" she said to The Guardian in 2022. "It's so irresponsible that there are scripts like this at all." As a result of the pressures of the industry, Lynskey began to struggle with an eating disorder. By 2000, she had reached a size four — but some film executives were still pressuring her to lose weight. In fact, on the set of "Coyote Ugly," she was allegedly put on a diet. "I was already starving myself and as thin as I could possibly be for this body," she said to The Hollywood Reporter.

Eventually, Lynskey realized that she couldn't keep starving herself because of a sexist and sizeist industry. "I really had to learn to start being OK with how I was made," she said to The Guardian, adding, "To have been so unkind to my own body for so long, I was furious about how Hollywood was working."

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Melanie Lynskey's Mona Lisa Smile audition was life-changing

After Melanie Lynskey spent years feeling sidelined by the industry, she had one life-changing audition that helped her feel that she could do more than the "chubby girl" roles. In the early 2000s, the actor auditioned for "Mona Lisa Smile," a film about a progressive art teacher at a women's college in the 1950s. As Lynskey told the Independent, she was initially asked to audition for the role of Connie, which eventually went to Ginnifer Goodwin.

However, according to Lynskey, Mike Newell, the director, then made the bold move to let her read for the role of Giselle, which eventually went to Maggie Gyllenhaal. Giselle was a more wild, bad girl type of role. Being allowed to explore the darker side of her personality and play against her usual type was a revelation for the young actor. "Nobody had ever taken the time with me to stop and say, 'Hang on a minute, who is this person internally?'" Lynskey explained. She later wrote a thank you note to Newell. "It was just nice to have a good experience," she went on. "Sometimes that's enough."

Melanie Lynskey wanted to leave Two and a Half Men

From 2003 to 2015, Melanie Lynskey played Rose, the stalker slash ex-lover of Charlie Sheen's Charlie. She appeared in 63 episodes of "Two and a Half Men," making her last appearance in the Season 12 finale. However, as the actor later revealed, she had actually hoped to leave the hit series a lot earlier. 

As Lynskey said in an interview with Vulture, she was paid poorly and she didn't feel comfortable in the role. Plus, her contract limited her from taking on other more interesting roles. "I wasn't in every episode, but I couldn't do any other work," she said to the publication. "At the end of the first season, I had a conversation with Chuck Lorre where I told him I wanted to leave." He convinced her to stay but she still felt unhappy. "Finally, we came to an agreement where I could come and go," she said, explaining that even if she had been offered a raise, she wouldn't have wanted it. "Around that time, I did 'Shattered Glass.' I loved that movie. I had a tiny part. I was with all these great actors, and I believed in the story," she said. Lynskey probably was not too heartbroken when the show came to an end.

Melanie Lynskey dated and married Jason Ritter

Melanie Lynskey married actor Jason Ritter in 2020 — but their love story goes a little further back. "We had met each other over the years in passing a few times," Lynskey shared on an episode of The Drew Barrymore Show." "And he always forgot me. And I'd be reintroducing myself like, 'Is this guy for real?'" Then, they finally worked together in the 2013 film "The Big Ask." At the time, Lynskey explained, they were both going through breakups of their own. "At a certain point — it was kind of a mysterious thing," Lynskey said. 

However, their relationship wasn't always easy, as Ritter struggled with addiction at the beginning of their relationship. "I was dealing with some alcoholism issues... at a point I knew how amazing she was and I thought she would be incredible for someone who deserved her basically," Ritter confessed tearfully. "And I didn't feel like I was that person." When Ritter stopped drinking, he felt that he could give Lynskey what she deserved. "He did so much work on himself, I'm so proud of him," Lynskey said, also tearing up.  

The pair had their first child in 2018 and later tied the knot in 2020 out of fear that Ritter wouldn't be able to travel with Lynskey to Canada while she was filming "Yellowjackets." "We got married on our front porch of our little rental house in Atlanta. A nice lady came and married us. We had two friends there," she told People.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Melanie Lynskey loved working on HBO's Togetherness

In 2015, Melanie Lynskey landed a big role in "Togetherness," an HBO comedy about four friends in their late 30s looking for direction. The show, which was written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass, ran for two seasons. For Lynskey, the project was a welcome opportunity to dive into a layered character for an extended amount of time. "I love how I got to play someone who's unraveling without having to be like, 'Sorry, guys. She's kind of a mess.' ... I got to do all of that without having to be cute or sweet. And she got to be sexual, she got to have wants and needs," the actor told Deadline

In fact, as the actor explained to The Guardian in 2015, she ended up feeling that her character's sex scenes in the show were "radical" because they made a point of staying grounded in reality. "We're not showing perfectly manicured porn bodies — people are used to seeing that kind of image of sexuality, especially of the female body. It feels really exciting to me to be naked and be like, 'Hey, that's what some people look like!'" Lynskey is right. We definitely need more real women's bodies on our screens — and it's great to see her leading the charge.

Melanie Lynskey became a mother in 2018

Melanie Lynskey and Jason Ritter had their first child in December 2018. Lynskey announced the news a few months later on Twitter, writing, "We feel lucky to have been able to have our news just be for friends and family for a while, but I guess the story got out, so! Yes! @JasonRitter and I had a daughter in December. We love her so much; she's perfect." Several years later, Lynskey once again gushed about her daughter during an interview with W Magazine. When asked about her proudest moment, she replied, "In my life, I'm the most proud of my child. She's beautiful and so kind, and I just love her."

As Lynskey's daughter gets older, she's begun to think about her future. While walking the "Yellowjackets" red carpet, she opened up about how her daughter had begun to be interested in acting. "Listen, my husband is third generation acting dynasty," she said to Access Hollywood. "I think it's just in her genes... She loves being on a stage, she loves performing. It just — I think it just is what it is at this point." We can't wait to see where Lynskey's daughter ends up!

Melanie Lynskey found a new level of fame with Yellowjackets

Even though Melanie Lynskey has always been busy, it wasn't until 2019 when she was in her early 40s that she found international fame. As the adult Shauna in Showtime's "Yellowjackets," Lynskey plays a complicated woman with a dark past and, it seems, a darkness within. The show wasn't on anyone's radar, but as the first season was released, it became a hit — by the end of the first season, it was the second most watched show on TV. 

Lynskey didn't think the show would be so big — that is, until she spoke to her psychic. "This sounds so crazy, but I talked to a psychic, who I love, and she told me this was gonna happen," she told InStyle. "It had been months and months since we shot the ['Yellowjackets'] pilot, and she said, 'That show's gonna get picked up and it's gonna be really big, and you're gonna enter into a time in your career that you thought, if this didn't happen when you were 25, it was never going to happen. It's about to happen.'" And that is exactly what happened.

The show's success meant that Lynskey experienced a new level of fame and attention. "I think I've just kind of been under-the-radar, like, it's a bit nerve-wracking for me to be more public now," she explained. With the second season of "Yellowjackets" even more popular than the first, we can bet her profile will only continue to grow.

Melanie Lynskey stood up to criticism from some The Last of Us fans

Shortly after being catapulted to a new level of fame as Shauna in "Yellowjackets," Melanie Lynskey landed another major role as Kathleen, a villain in the HBO series "The Last of Us" alongside Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal. While many fans were thrilled with her turn in the show, some fans of the original game criticized the casting. Model Adrianne Curry even tweeted, "Her body says life of luxury... not post apocolyptic warlord." Lynskey responded, tweeting, "I'm playing a person who meticulously planned and executed an overthrow of FEDRA. I am supposed to be SMART, ma'am. I don't need to be muscly. That's what henchmen are for."

Lynskey later spoke to The Times about the mixed reaction from fans. "There are still some video game bros who are mad about it," the actor said. "Sometimes I understand that if I don't engage it goes away quicker." However, she added, she hates feeling like she's cowering to bullies. "I have a thing about bullies," she said. "I don't think they should be allowed to get away with it."

Melanie Lynskey has become fed up with comments about her body

Adrienne Curry's remarks about Melanie Lynskey's body in "The Last of Us" is only one example of a slew of comments from TV viewers and colleagues about her size. Even on the set of "Yellowjackets," someone in the crew recommended that she get a trainer. This did not sit well with Lynskey. "It was really important to me for her to not ever comment on my body, to not have me putting a dress on and being like, 'I wish I looked a bit better,'" the actor told Rolling Stone. Thankfully, several of her co-stars stood up for her behind the scenes.

As people have continued to body-shame Lynskey decades into her career, she has also continued to stand up for herself and for women everywhere. Understandably, she's long been ready for her body — and other people's bodies, for that matter — to no longer be subjected to scrutiny.  "Are we not in a place where we can accept that people can have different kinds of bodies?" she said during a 2023 appearance on "The Today Show." "There's still a lot of people with slender, wonderful bodies around on television, just let there be a couple of women who represent the vast majority of women in the world. I just don't really understand what the issue is and I'm just over it."