Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. Waaaaay back in October, I got a chance to spend a little time with one of the most beautiful and talent actresses I've ever met. I'm not going to hold back here; I'm smitten. Laura Linney has conquered the stage and the screen, and has continued to surprise me with each new role. She's never put forth a sub-par performance. Check out her work in such films as PRIMAL FEAR; THE TRUMAN SHOW; YOU CAN COUNT ON ME; THE HOUSE OF MIRTH; LOVE ACTUALLY; THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES; ABSOLUTE POWER; MYSTIC RIVER; BREACH; and THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. I think I first really noticed her in the "Tales of the City" mini-series, and she charms me every time, even when she's playing less-than-charming characters, as she has lately in THE SQUID AND THE WHALE; THE NANNY DIARIES; THE HOTTEST STATE; and her latest film THE SAVAGES (the Closing Night film of the Chicago Film Festival), in which she and Philip Seymour Hoffman play a brother and sister who are forced to come together to take care of their aging father. Linney and Hoffman give us all-too-believable portrayals of irresponsible, self-centered adults who can't be bothered to step up and do what's right for their father, who is slowly slipping away. It's a chilling film that offers performances so subtle and measured, I'm afraid people won't recognize how good this pairing actually is. Linney is a gracious woman, much more interested in conversing than being interviewed. She even introduced me to her fiancé, who happened to be in the hallway when I came to meet her. She makes it acting seem easy while looking like a million bucks; I think she may have actually hypnotized me in some way. Ahem, anyway, here is our talk…
Capone: Strangely enough, just about an hour ago or so, I was on the phone with Ethan Hawke, and I thought it was very funny that I was interviewing two people today who are playing Philip Seymour Hoffman’s siblings [Hawke plays his brother in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD]. Does he emit some sort of brotherly vibe?
Laura Linney: He’s just fantastic, yeah.
CAPONE: It’s interesting to watch a film where it’s clear that the writer/director doesn’t really care, at least initially, whether an audience likes these people or not. It’s almost tougher to watch them be so very selfish.
LL: Yes, they’re flawed. They’re really flawed.
CAPONE: You’ve been playing a few of those lately, especially…
LL: Yup, I’ve got a few doozies there.
CAPONE: You’ve got a few ‘Mom of the Year’ awards coming to you, I think.
LL: Yep, yep. [laughs]
CAPONE: Why have you been selecting those kinds of parts lately? Are they the most interesting?
LL: They’re the most interesting that have come along. They’re complicated and not one thing. How much can you give someone like that? At least in terms of Wendy Savage, the thing that was fantastic about this part--and different from some of the others--is that the boundaries of her character were really wide apart. She could be unbelievably childish and childlike, and then she could really sort of step up to the plate and be quite wise. Her energy could be very manic, and then she could be very still. She could be unbelievably narcissistic and then have great empathy, which gave me not only those extremes, but also a big span between. So, there was a lot that I could do with that. Sometimes characters are very narrow and they’re only one thing. And, then you play subterranean stuff. You can do that with that sort of thing. She’s an extrovert, and that’s very different from playing--like in JINDABYNE, this film I made in Australia--this woman who really dealt with depression on a deep level, and she had a self-righteousness and a deep need that was not healthy either. It was very, very different. When a protagonist is a flawed character and not heroic in any way, how do you translate that into something that helps move the story forward?
CAPONE: Why do think Wendy lies so much? Or, do you think she does just to her brother?
LL: No, I think she lies all the time. I think she lies all the time the way a six-year-old lies. I mean, it’s sort of the same thing, which is why she’s somehow still, hopefully, somewhat endearing, that you care for her, even though she lies, she cheats, she steals. It’s so childish. It’s so unbelievably immature.
CAPONE: Especially when she gets caught, she definitely acts like a child.
LL: Yeah, absolutely. And then, she gets pissed off, because she’s been caught. It just makes you laugh because it’s so absurd. The pride is so high, but she’s needy, and she doesn’t know how else to behave.
CAPONE: Do you feel it’s important in something like THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, or even your small role in THE HOTTEST STATE or THE NANNY DIARIES, do you look for something in those characters that maybe doesn’t make them likeable, but at least makes them a little more human?
LL: I don’t look for things that are that result oriented. But, I do know that no one is one thing. And, that a part will be more interesting if there’s more than just one note to it. Things can land a little heavier. Does that make sense?
LL: No one is one thing. So, when a character who is unbelievably selfish has a flash of generosity, there’s something even more tragic about the selfishness, because you know the generosity is in there somewhere. Or when someone who is an unbelievably sad, depressed character has a flash of joy, you know? And, I see that with people who I know. You can see the other side of someone, and someone who is… Or the opposite, you have people who are very, very happy, and then you see them look a certain way and you’re, like, Oh, dear, oh, boy, they’ve just gone to a very deep, dark place.
CAPONE: People always assume when somebody acts that way, that that’s the real them, but…
LL: You don’t know, right. Everyone is sort of a combination of things, a recipe of things, which are also results of something behind it.
CAPONE: I always wonder with the ‘mom’ roles you play, do people ever say…because I know you don’t have kids…Do you think you’d take those roles, or play them the same way, if you did? And, do people ever say, “If you had kids, you wouldn’t take roles like that, or you wouldn’t be so mean to your children.”
LL: [laughs] No, no one has ever said that. Who even knows if I would play them differently if I had a child? I mean, I don’t have a brother either. And, I’ve been in two films where that’s a major part of the movie. You never know. It’s a mystery.
CAPONE: Fair enough. Obviously, it’s been a long while since [SAVAGES] Tamara Jenkins made SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS. How long ago did THE SAVAGES first make its way to you?
LL: Oh, a while ago.
CAPONE: I figured as much.
LL: Yeah. I can remember at the opening night of THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, Tamara and I talking about it. And, we had already met before that. And, that’s four years ago…three years, three and a half years ago, I think. So, you know, it took a while. It took them a while to get it financed. And, the good ones generally do take a while. At least, with the films that I’ve made, some of my favorite films, you have to wait.
CAPONE: Name a couple.
LL: KINSEY took four years. SQUID took a very…long…time. This took a while. JINDABYNE took a while. You have to sit and wait. But, they always do get made. The really good ones always do get made. Sometimes, you have to wait. I mean, there’s one movie that I’ve been attached to now for…God, I read it when I was doing THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES , honestly. That’s a long time ago. And, I’ve been attached to it the entire time. And, it might be made within the year. Maybe, maybe…Or, we’ll sit and wait, and it’ll get made when it gets made. Thankfully, I’ve found that it’s always worth the wait, and that it always works out.
CAPONE: With someone like [THE SQUID AND THE WHALE director] Noah [Baumbach] or even Tamara, who’s still a relatively new director, or Ethan Hawke…These are all new directors. I know you like to take chances with new directors sometimes when it seems like they’re worth it. Is there something specific you look for when you’re in those early discussions with those directors that you just would say, Okay, now I see what they’re doing, and this is something I want to be a part of?
LL: No, it’s not really that. It’s more about…It’s usually about the story that they want to tell, and if I think I can help them do that, and if they’ll let me help them do that.
CAPONE: And of those names I just mentioned, a lot wrote their own scripts, too.
LL: Yes, I’ve worked with a lot of…with [YOU CAN COUNT ON ME director] Kenny Lonergan as well. I’ve worked with a lot of writer/directors. And, the writer really has to trust that the actors (a) know what they’re doing, and (b) are there to serve the story, first and foremost. And, sometimes, actors have a little more experience than a first-time director, and so actors will know how to place something or how to pitch something that will have a bigger impact. And, sometimes, directors have to…I’m sure it’s very difficult for them…but they have to trust the actors, that they’re navigating the part so that it will benefit the overall. And, sometimes that takes a young director a while to figure out. A lot of times, what I’ll do, if I’m working with a first-time director, is I’ll do exactly what they want me to do. And then, I’ll say, Let me do it one other way, You don’t have to use it. But, when you get in the editing room, you might need it, because sometimes I can see where a story…if it takes a shift, it’ll tell a very different story, and it might be useful as far as pace is concerned, as far as nuance is concerned. Just for them to have, so that they can see the options and what’s more powerful. Even though they have it so in their minds, they have to let it be its own thing. They have to let it have its own life. If you try and control it too much--any story, any performance, anything--it will be stale. So, you sort of have to let it go a little bit and, understandably, that’s a very hard, scary thing for writer/directors who have waited so long to get their movie made and everything is [put] into this project. And, that’s when they have to sort of really trust that all the work they have done so diligently and with such devotion will pay off.
CAPONE: My wife is an absolute obsessive about “Tales of the City.” I have to confess, we own every single episode.
LL: Oh, they’re fun!
CAPONE: That was really the first time that you were profiled that highly in something. You’d been in other high-profile projects, but in this you were one of the forefront people.
CAPONE: How did that find you? How did you get involved in that?
LL: It’s one of my favorite jobs, ever. I don’t think anything will feel as good as that did. I auditioned for that. I auditioned originally for another part, which I wasn’t right for, and then, the casting directory, John Lyons, who now runs Focus Features, had the idea they should read me for Mary Ann. And, so I went on tape for Mary Ann, and I got the part.
CAPONE: And then, just kept coming back to it.
LL: At the time, I really didn’t understand what a big deal that was, you know, what a really big deal that was. Thank god, I didn’t know what a big deal that was. But, the friends that I made on that show and the experience that gave me from being on something from beginning to end. It was really with that job, I thought, Oh, maybe I can do this. Maybe I can do this and enjoy it and not be intimidated or scared of working in front of the camera, because I had spent my whole life on stage. And, that’s really where I thought I was going to spend all of my time. If someone had told me that, You’re going to be working in film and TV, I would have found that very, very far fetched.
CAPONE: Speaking of TV, I am very much looking forward to the “John Adams” series. Granted, calling HBO television is sort of a joke at this point, because it’s so much more than that, especially when it comes to their films and miniseries. But, you really haven’t done a lot of television, other than “Tales of the City” and I remember you on a few episodes of “Frasier." Obviously, you enjoy be married to Paul Giamatti [he also played Mr. X to her Mrs. X in THE NANNY DIARIES]. That’s a huge time commitment I assume, too. What kind of woman was Abigail Adams, and what about her really made you say, I have to be in this?
LL: Well, I didn’t know much about her, to be honest, and then I realized…shamefully, what little I knew about American history at that period. I really think American history is somewhat wasted on high school sophomores, because you don’t remember it, you’re not really interested. And, it’s an unbelievably important period of time to know about--not just the events, but those people, and what their history was, and what tradition they came from. And, how this sort of chemistry all came about, and that a country was created. And, really, the relationship between England and France and the United States and with the Netherlands. It’s just fascinating. Now, I really understand American history fanatics, because you read one thing, and you really get interested, and it leads you to something else. Like, you read about John Adams, and then you read about Abigail Adams, and then you read about Jefferson, and then you read about Ben Franklin, and then you go back to Jefferson, and then you research Monticello, and then you go to Madison and Monroe, and then you learn about George Washington. You just sort of go on and on and on. A little bit of George III, and then you go to King Louis, and the French Revolution. It’s really something.
CAPONE: I also recently spoke to Anthony Hopkins, and he was talking about working with James Ivory again on CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION, which you're also in. Obviously, James Ivory and Anthony Hopkins have made some of the greatest period films in recent years. How is it to be introduced into an already established partnership?
LL: Oh, it was amazing. I had one of those moments where I was on set, and it was so beautiful. The production design was so exquisite, and the atmosphere was so-o-o beautiful, it was, like, Omigod, I'm in a Merchant-Ivory film. I just couldn’t quite get it. Anthony was only there. They bordered him, so his part was…He was only there for two weeks. But, you know, he’s [makes a gesture to illustrate the immensity of Hopkins greatness] …Watching him is fantastic.
CAPONE: When I was talking to him he did a great Marlon Brando impersonation for me that I didn’t even ask for. He just started doing it.
LL: [laughs] He’s a sweet, giving, wonderful man who’s still delighted by the work, still delighted by it. He’s energetic and positive and giving, and you can play with him. He’s still interested in engaging with actors. Because some people, they just don’t, they stop after a while. They show up and they do a really good job, but they don’t really intertwine with you.
CAPONE: It’s a job to them?
LL: Yeah, it’s a job, and they’re expending the effort to really become close to people who they’ll never see again, and they just can’t do it. It happens.
CAPONE: In BREACH, a lot of women responded to your character and that wonderful scene where she talks about being a such a workaholic that she doesn't even having a cat. For some reason, that typified for a lot of working women that I know.
LL: Yeah. "I don’t even have a cat. I can’t even be the Cat Lady."
CAPONE: Your character kind of stands apart from a lot of what’s going on in the film, even though she’s integral to the story. Did you realize that when you read it at first?
LL: No, I had a sense of the character, and actually, I sort of made a lot of decisions on how to shape her. I asked questions to myself that weren’t really on the page. That’s one of the situations that I was sort of surprised at how much the work really paid off. The tiny little decisions that I make--and honestly, I don’t think anybody else will ever know, all the work that I do that no one knows about, nor do they need to know about, and, most of the time you never see it. In that situation, it really paid off there. A lot of those decisions about her personally don’t belong in the script, don’t belong in the story, there’s no room for it in the story. It would distract and take away from the narrative. But, the stuff that sort of bled through from all the work that I had done really helped.
CAPONE: Are you talking about stuff that you did just on your own…
CAPONE: Are you someone who comes up with backstories for your characters?
LL: Sometimes, yeah. It just starts to cook. Your mind just starts to go. You just start to sort of fantasize about that life, that person’s life and every aspect of it.
CAPONE: I should also mention that what you did in THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE…I know you don’t do a lot of genre stuff, but you make a really great Scream Queen. That was a really interesting take on that sort of story.
LL: Oh, good. We worked hard at that, not to make it a typical horror movie. We tried to make it work. [laughs]
CAPONE: It worked. Thank you so much.
[And with that, the publicist poked her head in the room and had us wrap things up.]