Melanie Lynskey and Natasha Lyonne reflect on playing lesbians in cult classic But I’m a Cheerleader

Melania Lynskey and Natasha Lyonne discuss 1999's But I'm a Cheerleader. (Variety/Lionsgate)

Melanie Lynskey and Natasha Lyonne have said their 1999 queer classic But I’m a Cheerleader was “very ahead of its time” in portraying so-called conversion therapy.

Despite the fact that neither of the pair identify as queer, Melanie Lynskey and Natasha Lyonne are two women who are beloved allies of the LGBTQIA+ community, in the sense that gay men love them, queer women are in love with them, and everyone in between is at least partially obsessed with them.

While the pair’s popularity can be linked to several of their more recent roles, including Lynskey’s captivating turn as Shauna in queer thriller Yellowjackets and as a brutal militia leader in The Last of Us, and Lyonne’s crime serial Poker Face, their connection to the LGBTQ+ community can be traced back to 1999, when the pair starred in the cult classic But I’m a Cheerleader.

The film (which also stars the one and only RuPaul in a distinctly pre-Drag Race era as an ‘ex-gay’) sees Lyonne’s character Megan sent to True Directions, a conversion therapy centre which aims to “cure” its attendees of their homosexuality, where she meets Hilary, another scene-stealing lesbian.

Now, speaking to each other in Variety’s ‘Actors on Actors‘ series, the pair have discussed the groundbreaking themes of the film, as well as their willingness to portray (albeit satirically), the horrors of conversion therapy onscreen.

“It’s a cult classic,” began Lyonne, prompting Lynskey to speculate on the film’s initial reception.

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“At the time, nobody liked it, and now everybody likes it. I do feel like the movie was very ahead of its time.”

Lynskey then asked Lyonne: “Did you have any hesitation, I guess, telling that story about somebody who was in conversion therapy?”

Lyonne went on to say that she was “not hesitant at all”, and discussed how the themes and topics in But I’m a Cheerleader are even more noteworthy now given the hostile political climate to the LGBTQ+ community.

“I’m consistently shocked by the things we consider shocking. I find it very patronising when we say something like, ‘Oh, did you see that this straight male actor is playing gay? Bravo.’ And it never crossed my mind to not try to use the arts to tell the truth about what’s going on.

“When Clea (DuVall) and I were on the cover of Out magazine, it just seemed so weird to me that people would care. It felt like what you’re supposed to care about is the conversion-therapy part. And we’re supposed to try to stop that.

“And I would say my biggest beef with the world is how insane it seems to me that certain people think they have a God-given right to tell other people how to live. And you’re seeing all these crazy things happening now – we’re going to remove facts from books,” Lyonne said.

“I’m never not struck by how dark and weird it is that we’ve indemnified a certain totally arbitrary group of people with the power to actually impact other people’s human rights.”

Second seasons for both Poker Face starring Natasha Lyonne and The Last of Us have been confirmed; though given that Melanie Lynskey’s character was brutally murdered by a mushroom-zombie, we’ll have to catch her elsewhere – Yellowjackets season three, for example.