Dialogue: Laura Linney

The award-winning actress offers her take on her career so far, managing fear and why being bad has made her better.

Laura Linney's already managed two Oscar nominations, three Golden Globe nominations and two Emmy wins. It's no wonder that she seemed like a perfect choice for one of AFI Fest's career salutes. On Nov. 9, Linney will be on hand for a special tribute preceding a screening of her latest feature, Fox Searchlight's "The Savages," the story of a brother and sister coming to terms with their father's illness, directed by Tamara Jenkins. The actress recently spoke to Rebecca Ascher-Walsh for The Hollywood Reporter about the honor and her career to date.

The Hollywood Reporter:
How does it feel to be honored by AFI, which typically acknowledges the entirety of an actor's work, when you're still midcareer?
Laura Linney: I honestly haven't taken it in yet. I think, if anything, it makes me feel like I'm on the right track and that I'm doing OK.

THR: There wasn't a moment before this when that dawned on you?
Linney: I think getting into Julliard was a great step, and I think another great step was getting comfortable working in films, and that took a little bit of time. But I still feel like a student and this is midterms.

THR: Do you remember when you first felt comfortable in a role?
Linney: Yes, it was for the first "Tales of the City" (in 1993). I was filming a scene with Parker Posey in a grocery store in San Francisco, and we were rolling our carts up and down the aisles of the frozen food section, and I thought, "This is fun!" All of sudden, something started to make sense. As the roles got larger and the parts got more challenging, I continued having moments of feeling like I'd taken baby steps forward. I've never felt like I've taken a huge stride, but over time it's added up a bit -- clearly more than I'm aware of. There was a moment where I stopped and said, "I've done more movies than I realized!"

THR: Are you ever still nervous you might not be able to pull off a role?
Linney: There are times I feel like I can't do it because the scripts aren't actable, but that's an "Oh God, I don't know how to make this better." Then there's the fear that there's a lot there but I still don't understand it and I hope I can find it. Generally, I feel like I don't know if it'll be any good, but it's worth a go, and I'll throw myself in and see. I've always been pretty game.

THR: What do you think your key has been to landing such great roles?
Linney: I don't know. I think people who hire me know that I'm there 110%. I think I'm fairly easy to get along with. I'm dependable and show up on time. And I hope that people know that for me, it's always about the story first and my character second.

THR: How did "Savages" happen?
Linney: Tamara flew to Telluride to meet with me. Her plane was diverted, and she had to drive three hours through the snow to get to me, but I think she was trying to figure out if I was the right person. I loved it immediately and knew if they wanted me I'd be there. Then it took a while to come together. They had opportunities to get a greenlight instantly with other people, so bless Tamara and all the producers for sticking by me and (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

THR: Is there anything you regret not doing?
Linney: No, I'm extremely happy with the work I've been able to do. I'm not saying it's all good, but I've really valued every experience, whether I've been good or mediocre or downright bad.

THR: When have you been bad?
Linney: Oh, it's there, but I think you've got to be bad to be better. That's how you learn.