Laura Linney Shows Her Savage-ly Comic Side
by Paul Fischer
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Laura Linney continues to take on roles that show off her diversity, and as she prepares to return to Broadway next season, the actress plays a self-obsessed sibling opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in the abrasively funny The Savages. The actress talked exclusively to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: Did this character in The Savages come easily to you?
Laura Linney: Well, it came easily because the writing was so good. When the writing is good, and it’s so richly drawn and there are so many hints and all that, it came easily that way because there was so much direction within the writing. So it did come easily, actually.
PF: Can you identify with her in any way?
LL: Well, of course you identify with her because you play her, but I’m not like her that way. You know, she’s in this state of complete arrested development and she behaves like an eleven-year-old most of the time, so the boundaries of her personality are very far apart. She can be very manic, be very still, she can be extremely narcissistic and she can be very empathetic. So there was an enormous amount to play in between those two polar caps of her personality, and it was fun trying to figure out all the stuff in between that would make the more extreme elements of her personality sort of hit harder.
PF: Do you flex different acting muscles when you do something like that, where you have to search for all of those sorts of things?
LL: Oh, sure. Sure. It’s why we do what we do, it’s just, it’s fun. And when the writing is good and when you’re working with someone like Phil, it’s really exciting.
PF: Now tell me about your relationship with Phil and how important was it for you to sort of discuss your characters and work out the sort of pattern, I suppose, or the beats of your relationship?
LL: Well, we talked a little bit, but we sort of did a lot of separate work, and then we showed up ready to go. Then you just respond and react, and you feed off of each other in a way where one person’s work ends and another’s begins. You’re completely intertwined that way. So we had made some certain, you know, basic decisions about history and all that. And then we went off and did our own work and came back sort of ready to go.
PF: Does doing a movie like this give you a taste of doing more comedic work?
LL: Not really. I didn’t really think of it that way. I try not to sort of characterize it. I mean, it’s obvious when something is a drama and something is a comedy, but I don’t approach them that way. Do you know what I mean?
PF: You’re always so incredibly busy. I wonder if you’re going to reach a point where you think you’re going to slow down, or whether or not you’re going to take more time in deciding what you’re going to do?
LL: Well, who knows? We’ll see where life sort of goes. I think I probably will slow down, which is sort of the inevitability of a life in Hollywood in some ways. I love doing what I’m doing, I love working in the theater, so I’ll just sort of see where it goes. I don’t think I’ll make a decision about it one way or the other. If the work is good, and it’s still there then I’ll keep working. If it’s not good, and I don’t have to make money, then I won’t do it. All of those considerations go into it.
PF: In fact, you clearly don’t take a movie because of the money.
LL: Well occasionally you have to. I think every actor does, occasionally. That’s certainly never the priority.
PF: You seem to find these really amazing parts. Are you kind of surprised that you’re able to get these kinds of, still get these kinds of roles?
LL: I’m very fortunate, but I think there’s something also that, I’ve gotten better at reading material. So I can sort of sense when there’s something that has potential. You know, so I’m lucky that way.
PF: The last time we spoke I don’t think you’d made a decision about going back to the theater. You were looking at things. Is anything changed?
LL: Yes. I’m going into rehearsal in March for a production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
PF: Who’s opposite you?
LL: A British actor named Ben Daniels, who’s going to be making his Broadway debut.
PF: When does that start?
LL: I go into rehearsal in March. I’m not sure when we open. Sometime in May I would think.
PF:I know you finished the work on the HBO miniseries about President John Adams. How much historical liberty is taken with this piece?
LL: Well, liberty is taken, and there are clues from what we know to have happened, and then we have to flesh it out. So we certainly try to make decisions as we imagine it would be, or how they would behave.
PF: You’re not worried about incurring the wrath of historical purists, I take it?
LL: Ah, we probably will. I don’t think that’s avoidable at all.
PF: Are you going anywhere over the holidays?
PF: And I presume that this writer’s strike is not affecting you in any way?
LL: Well I think it’s affecting everybody. It will affect everybody. But it should affect everybody. These are big huge issues that have been on the horizon for a very long time and need to be thoughtfully and carefully negotiated.
PF: Do you think there’s going to be a slow resolution to the strike?
LL: Well, it would be wonderful if they were, if it was negotiated quickly, but I don’t know how that’s possible with issues that are this complex.
PF: It affects you guys, as well.
LL: Yeah, we’ll follow suit, you know?
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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