In Depth

People In Film | Laura Linney

Laura Linney | National Treasure

In Roger Michell’s HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, Laura Linney plays Daisy Suckley, the confidant to FDR who serves as a witness to a history-changing event in 1939, a weekend when the British royalty – King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) – traveled to America for the first time to meet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) at their country home in Hyde Park, NY. Suckley’s story, which was pulled from obscurity by screenwriter Richard Nelson, provided for Linney a fascinating look into American history. “I’ve always had a deep fascination with the Roosevelts, particularly Eleanor, and their era,” recounts Linney. “I’ve visited Hyde Park many times. But I knew nothing about Daisy Suckley. When this script came along, I felt grateful that this movie was getting made at all.” And the filmmakers felt equally thrilled to have Linney on board. Producer David Aukin commented, “Laura brings such positive vibes to a set, such warmth and friendliness, that I would recommend having her around whatever the film.”

Laura Linney | Raised for Theater

Born to a mother who was a nurse at New York City’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and a father who was a professor and a playwright, Laura Linney grew up with both deep empathy and remarkable talent. Describing herself to the Guardian as a “curious, articulate, vivacious, but also cautious” child, Linney adds, “When your father is in the theatre, it's everything and everywhere, from the songs you sing as a little kid to where you spend your downtime.” She mentioned in a later interview that, when the time came, she was attracted to acting “like a homing pigeon. I just went there, like a deep instinct, and I've known it my entire life." After graduating from Northfield Mount Hermon School in 1982, and doing a one-year stint at Northwestern University, Linney eventually ended up at Brown University where she received a BFA in 1986. From there she dove deep into theater by studying acting at New York City’s prestigious Juilliard School. Determined to find her place, Linney got a few commercials and then in 1990 secured the understudy role in Six Degrees of Separation on Broadway, following that up with her first featured part in the 1992 production of Donald Margulies’ Sight Unseen at the Manhattan Theater Club.

Laura Linney | Play Acting

While Linney has been internationally recognized for her work in film and TV, her first love was the theater, to which she regularly returns, often reinterpreting classic works and characters. In 1995, she played the hard-edged upper-class dame, Linda, in the Circle in the Square’s revival of Philip Barry’s Holiday. In 2000, she appeared in a new production of Chekhov’s classic Uncle Vanya. And in 2002, she received a Tony nomination for Best Actress for her work in the Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Highlighting her mesmerizing stagecraft, the New York Times wrote, “Ms. Linney spends much of her performance stock-still, hands clasped, telegraphing a spectrum of feelings with small, amazingly articulate shifts in expression and posture.” But Linney could also remake contemporary works in remarkable new ways. In 2004, she received her second Tony nomination in a production of Donald Margulies’ Sight Unseen, a revival of the play that first got her noticed 12 years earlier. But this time Linney was front and center in the lead role of Patricia. The New York Times’ theater critic Ben Brantley announced that her performance was nothing short of astonishing: “A sorcerer named Laura Linney is performing an act of magic that happens only in live theater. She has rewritten a play without changing a word.” In 2010, Linney shone again, playing an injured war photographer in Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still, and received another Tony nomination in the process. The sometimes caustic critic John Simon had nothing but praise for Linney’s performance: “No actress conveys better than Linney the intellectual and professional woman riven by antithetical needs, wittily pursuing unencumbered freedom while also craving sexual and emotional fulfillment.”

Laura Linney | An Independent Star

While Linney started appearing in film in 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil, not long after graduating from Juilliard, she was an actress who people seemed to continually rediscover. Clint Eastwood handpicked her to play his daughter in his 1997 Absolute Power, and so loved working with her that recruited her for Mystic River six years later. From the start, Linney gave memorable turns in a number of big Hollywood films – as a White House staffer in the 1993 comedy Dave, as an electronics expert fighting her way out of the jungle in the action film Congo, as a prosecutor caught up in a sensational murder case in the 1996 thriller Primal Fear, and as Jim Carrey’s wife in the 1998 sci-fi fable The Truman Show. But it was a small indie Sundance hit, Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me, that seemed to introduce Laura Linney to many as a great talent. Critics were in awe of Linney’s subtle performance as a working mother juggling friends and family. Slate’s David Edelstein wrote, “Linney is marvelous at bringing out the tensions between this woman's firm mask and quivering soul. Her plainness is utterly gorgeous.” Indeed she received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for this role. In 2004, she picked up her second Oscar nom, this time for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, in Bill Condon’s portrait of the famed sex researcher Kinsey. As Alfred Kinsey’s wife, the New York Times wrote, “Ms. Linney meets the challenge with forthrightness, delicacy and a brisk sense of mischief.” In 2007, Linney returned again to the Oscars, this time nominated for Best Actress in Tamara Jenkins’s arthouse breakout The Savages. Playing the sister to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Linney delivered another tour-de-force performance, about which Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers wrote, "Linney is an amazement, showing vulnerability and strength at war for a character's soul.”

Laura Linney | Master of the Mini-Series

Before she was discovered in film, Laura Linney was appearing on TV in a role that helped cement the public’s sense of her as decent person, as well as an extraordinary actor. As Mary Ann Singleton, the open-eyed and open-hearted heroine in Tales of the City, the TV mini-series based on Armistead Maupin's series of novels, Linney won more than a few fans, including the author himself.  Maupin, who became close to the actress during the filming of Tales of the City, told the Guardian, “Laura grew up in New York, but she was raised by southerners, so she has that gentility and courtesy that often comes with a southern upbringing.” Linney’s many appearances as a TV guest star added value to a lot of shows, including the sitcom Frasier, for which she appeared as the final love interest of Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) and won an Emmy for her turn. But her real mark was in longer form TV. In 2001, she won an Emmy for her portrayal of a beat-up alcoholic mom forced to move in with her controlling mother (Gena Rowlands) in Wild Iris. In 2008, as Abigail Adams, the wife to Paul Giamatti’s title character, John Adams, Linney won both a Golden Globe and Emmy for Best Actress in a Mini-series. Critics uniformly acclaimed both Linney and Giamatti, with the New Yorker noting, “Giamatti and Linney brilliantly portray the tenderness, loneliness, and passionate understanding that marked John and Abigail’s half century of marriage.” More recently, her role of Cathy Jamison in the Showtime hit The Big C demonstrated her remarkable range, bringing humor and lightness to a story about a woman suffering with cancer. For PopMatters, the show’s success to a large degree rests on Linney’s mesmerizing performance: “To watch Linney act is to watch an actress who has forgotten all vanity and simply vanishes into her character.”


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