The lovely Miss Lynskey emerges a Master at RiverRun

It’s been 20 years since Heavenly Creatures was released, earning filmmaker Peter Jackson his first Oscar nomination (Best Original Screenplay) and launching the careers of young leading ladies, 17-year-old Kate Winslet and 15-year-old Melanie Lynskey.

After all the international acclaim, “I went back to high school,” Lynskey says simply, to the laughter of those attending her Emerging Master award presentation Saturday at the UNCSA School of Filmmaking in Winston-Salem, one of the major events of the 16 th annual RiverRun International Film Festival.

Along with filmmaker Debra Granik (director and Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Winter’s Bone), Lynskey becomes the second female artist to receive the award from the RiverRun International Film Festival – an honor both richly deserve, according to executive director Andrew Rodgers, who hosted the presentation alongside Angus MacLachlan, the noted playwright-turned-filmmaker (and Winston-Salem native) who cast Lynskey in his feature directorial debut, Goodbye to All That, which premieres this week at the TriBeCa Film Festival in New York City.

Following a seven-minute clip reel produced by the festival and the UNCSA School of Filmmaking, Lynskey was presented with her award, then talked with MacLachlan and Rodgers, and fielded questions from audience members.

The actress is as much known for her television work as her film work, having played the obsessed neighbor Rose on the blockbuster CBS series “Two and a Half Men,” in which she relentlessly stalked Charlie Sheen.

Lynskey was a cast regular the first two seasons but became concerned she might be pigeonholed playing romantic neurotics. She remains grateful to the producers for allowing her to pursue other projects while periodically returning as a recurring character in subsequent seasons. The series then became “a little place to go and relax.”

Whatever controversies or contretemps have rocked the sitcom, Lynskey has nothing but good things to say about the series and the people involved.

Lynskey, a native New Zealander whose natural Kiwi accent occasionally surprises people because of her aptitude for different dialects, seeks diversity in her roles. Whether it’s lead, supporting or merely a brief appearance, the selfdescribed character actress has no perfect role in mind. “I feel grateful to be working … I don’t have a dream of playing a one-legged Scottish drug addict,” she smiles.

Even a cursory glance at her feature credits indicates her versatility: The Cherry Orchard (1999), Sweet Home Alabama (2002), Shattered Glass (2003), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Away We Go, The Informant! and Up in the Air (all 2009), Win Win (2011), Hello I Must Be Going and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (both 2012).

Goodbye to All That, filmed in North Carolina, stars Paul Schneider (a UNCSA School of Filmmaking graduate and a previous Emerging Master winner) as a newly divorced father trying to juggle the responsibilities of being a single father with the rigors of being single. The cast includes Amy Sedaris, Heather Graham,

Anna Camp, Ashley Hinshaw and Celia Weston (a graduate of both UNCSA and Salem College, and a co-star in 2005’s Junebug, which MacLachlan scripted). Lynskey plays Schneider’s ex-wife, who broadsided him by leaving him.

“Her character is kind of the antagonist, and could have been written and played as severe and intensely unlikable,” MacLachlan observes, but Lynskey brought a “likable, vulnerable” quality to the role that impressed even him.

MacLachlan says he was struck by how “emotionally real she was every second. It must cost her a lot, that emotional truth – every take. Yet she’s really funny, too. It’s a really interesting thing she does that is unique.”

When she reads a script, “everything is about how I respond emotionally,” Lynskey says.

She enjoys working with directors like Steven Soderbergh (The Informant!), Sam Mendes (Away We Go), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) and MacLachlan, who provide a structured environment then allow and encourage her to maneuver within. With MacLachlan, “I felt really safe and protected,” she says.

MacLachlan was delighted when she accepted the role, and Lynskey was delighted she didn’t have to audition – a process she finds unnerving. “You didn’t ask me to,” she tells him.

“You didn’t need to,” he responds with a smile.

Working with Clint Eastwood on Flags of Our Fathers was interesting because the famously fast-moving Eastwood managed to film her entire role in half a day. He also complimented her by saying she was sexier than Paris Hilton. “Paris Hilton was really big at the time,” she laughingly notes, “but it’s still Clint Eastwood telling me!” Although she has sometimes taken as much as a year between projects, 2014 is a banner year. They Came Together, Teddy Bears and Happy Christmas are due for release, and she’ll also be seen (or heard) on the small screen in the upcoming HBO series “Togetherness” and the animated Cartoon Network series “Over the Garden Wall.”

“I was really shy as a kid and I’m still shy,” she says, explaining that acting allows her to overcome that by becoming someone else, someone perhaps very much like her or perhaps completely unlike her. Quite simply, she says, “I love acting.” !