[IMG:L]Did you know that she is the daughter of a noted playwright and the great-great-granddaughter of a North Carolinian Republican Congressman? Or that she graduated from an Ivy League, then Julliard? ... That she was recently engaged?
Ever read that the angularly-cherubic dazzler was camera shy--to a fault--as a youth? And that her pure focus, growing up, was to be a theater actor?
Not much is reported concerning the personal life of the exceptional Tony-winning, Oscar-nominated N.Y.-born actress--and she "prefers it" that way. And subconsciously, so do her faithful admirers who can bask in the utter adventure of getting lost in Laura Linney's consistently impressive, multi-dimensional character work. The cleverly reserved actress has a gifted knack at sublime portrayal of each varied role she inhabits.
So, the less we see and know about her inner-world the better, as the chameleon-like Linney achieves something that very few actresses of her A-list stature can: pure believability--untainted by the baggage that accompanies having too much media visibility--à la Meryl Streep. Instead catch her in You Can Count on Me (2000) or Mystic River (2003) or Kinsey (2004) or The Squid and the Whale (2005) or The Hottest State (2007), or....
In 2007 alone, her meaty work includes: Jindabyne; Nanny Diaries; and now The Savages, in which she plays the utterly flawed yet lovable Wendy Savage--an ambitious, hapless playwright who reaches a turning point, as she reunites with her brother (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) on a journey to care for her dying, ornery father whose emotional volatility deeply infected the siblings, now struggling to find happiness and their mature selves.
[IMG:R]Hollywood.com sat down with the already Oscar-buzzed Linney for a chat.
Hollywood.com: You tend to play flawed characters...
Laura Linney: Wendy was terrific. She’s not your typical protagonist--and neither was Phil Hoffman’s character. She lies. She cheats. She steals. [Smiles] She’s a fraud. She is in an adulteress relationship. But for some reason you go with her because she’s not a malicious person. She’s just desperately trying. She doesn’t have the tools to live, and she makes the most ridiculous choices!
LL: The thing that I thought was interesting was that she would set up situations so that she could watch someone behave well--like [announcing], "I’m sick..." so she’d want someone to say, "I’ll take care of you." She would set up these situations like, "I need money" so then someone would give it to her. She wanted to see people behave well, so she’d create drama to see the decisions that people would make.
[IMG:L]HW: While playing this character, your being a younger person, did it make you take pause and think about your future, getting older, and who’s going to take care of you?
LL: I’m not so worried with my getting older as I am terrified about my parents getting older. To most people it’s sort of the inconceivable that becomes conceivable. I’ve certainly thought about that. My parents are very much alive fortunately, but there are several people who I’d be responsible for because I know it’s my responsibility to help them out.
Wistfully smiling, Linney takes a moment and continues.
LL: I went to them [my parents] and sort of said to them, "Look. The greatest act of love you can do for me is to help me make all these decisions now--while you’re still sane, and I’m still sane. It could be awkward. It might feel morbid. But at least we’ll laugh about it because when you go, I’m gonna be a mess and I won’t be able to make the proper decisions; so if you can guide me a little bit now it would help me so much when that times come. I’ll also feel like you’re with me."
[IMG:R]HW: Were you drawn to the film's unconventional concept?
LL: To be honest, I would love to say it was being in a film dealing with the issues about aging, but it wasn’t. It was really the most 'actable' script I’ve seen in a long time: for a script to be at that point--so early in the process--ready to be executed into another medium?! [Impressed sigh] Most of the time they’re not like that. I’ve been really lucky cause there’s been The Squid and the Whale and there’s been Jindabyne and Kinsey and they were all in good shape as well. It jumps off the page immediately. You can see it when you start reading it. It really was about how much was there and ready to go.
HW: With such an impressive body of work, how do you flesh out layered characters like Wendy Savage?
LL: For me, it always boils down to the script. At least in this situation, there were so many opportunities to ask myself questions which would then give me an answer and then I could ask myself more questions as far as learning and fleshing everything out. I could ask "why" until there were no more "whys" to ask and the answers would reveal themselves. It was more about answering questions about why she [Wendy] was the way she was … why she did the things she did. You flesh out everything in the script … you don’t let anything go by.
[IMG:R]HW: What would you say to someone who avoids the film due to its daunting confrontation of mortality?
LL: I don’t blame them. I can certainly understand that. Fortunately, I feel it’s really a worthwhile and worthy [viewing] experience. If it was completely sentimentalized ... unrelenting--that would not be a fun cinematic experience. It’s really a story about a brother and sister connecting. They’re in a context that has issues that are unpleasant ... What they go through within the relationship, I feel, is really worthwhile and entertaining. I think they’re hysterical!
HW: In her physicality, Wendy is so precise. Was she written that way?
LL: It makes you feel safe and then you are relaxed, and when you are relaxed you can be specific with your choices and when you’re specific you can be fierce.
[IMG:L]HW: Phillip Seymour Hoffman's spot-on Jon and your Wendy have these great inappropriate moments, like eating cookies ahead of the 'aging' reception's start. Were these detailed flourishes that arose during rehearsal?
LL: Nothing. ALL in the script. Everything was in that script. Everything. I mean she [director Tamara Jenkins] worked on that script for a long time. So everything was in there.
HW: From Wendy's cat to her married boyfriend's dog, the pets take on dynamic significance in Savages. How were they to work with on set?
LL: I’m highly allergic to cats. And for some reason there’s always a cat in every movie I do! Every time I see a cat I think, "Oh!" It’s not just a little allergy, it’s a severe allergy!] [Gasps] So I always have to run to the allergist.
[IMG:R]HW: There's a lot of biting, visual humor in many aspects of Wendy confronting her strained sibling relationship with Jon. Did you improvise to achieve a balance?
LL: There’s something about executing the tone. I’m following the direction script is telling me to go in, some of it is me, but it’s a combination of the two. I think?
HW: You consistently emerge with these types of nuanced, complex roles. In terms of the film industry today, do you think these roles are hard to come by?
LL: It seems to be a lot of them out there. This is a great example. There’s a lot of wonderful movies out--Lars and the Real Girl, The Hottest State--granted these all tend to be independent movies, well they’re not really "indies"--no indie is really an indie anymore. It also has a lot to do with the actor. You can take a really shallow script and flesh it out, so it's sort of nuanced. The question is whether or not the movie will hold it [the performance]. You must be careful about that because sometimes you can overact and the story won’t play well.
[IMG:L]HW: Do you relate to your unique character in any way?
LL: I can certainly relate to her desire to want to be in the theater. There’s a very specific kind of theater she wants to do which is the Off-Off-Broadway world, which is something that I grew up around. I knew the world she so desperately wanted to be a part of, so I could certainly relate.
HW: You’ve been mentioned as an Oscar potential nominee! How does that feel?
LL: You have to make a choice about how it’s going to affect you. I mean, it’s really nice; it’s a really high compliment. It’s much better than hearing [in a monotone voice] "Boy. She was really good" or "She sucked. That was not a good movie." For these [smaller] films--that are a little more layered, and maybe force the audience to engage in a certain way that other movies may not--it’s important for people to see that.