Laura Linney, actress


AWARDS: 2004 National Board of Review Award Best Supporting Actress, "Kinsey"; 2004 Emmy Award Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, "Frasier"; 2000 New York Film Critics Circle Award Best Actress, "You Can Count on Me." CURRENT CREDIT: In Fox Searchlight's "The Savages," which has a limited opening today, Linney plays a single woman drawn back into a relationship with her estranged brother, Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman), after their father's health fails. MEMBERSHIPS: Screen Actors Guild/AFTRA Actors Equity. Academy member since: 2001.

The Hollywood Reporter: OK, let's get it out of the way. "The Savages" features two estranged siblings, both single, brought together by circumstance after years apart. It's hard not to see some similarities to your breakout role in "You Can Count on Me."
Laura Linney: I don't see these movies the way an audience sees them. But I hope there aren't too many similarities, because if there are, then I've failed.

THR: Why is that?
Linney: Well, I see them as different stories about very different phases of life.
If there's a similarity here, it's that there's a connection between a brother and a sister, and the intensity of the emotion they have for each other.
THR: In "The Savages," you're playing a woman trying to make it as a playwright, and your father is Romulus Linney, author of stage works such as "The Sorrows of Frederick." How much did your upbringing color your performance?
Linney: What it gave me was that I knew what it was Wendy so desperately wanted to be a part of because I grew up in that world. I've been in those places that are drafty and dirty, and it's cold and you're in a folding chair that hurts, and yet you can't believe how happy you are to be there.
THR: There are a lot of drafty places in this movie, literally and figuratively, since Wendy isn't quite successful, which makes her act desperately and even dubiously. Was that tricky to pull off without alienating the audience?
Linney: It's fun to play someone who bounces off the walls. The boundaries of Wendy's personality are really far apart. She can be extremely manic but very still. She's unbelievably narcissistic. She can make really poor choices and really good choices. She's not really your typical protagonist because you shouldn't like her. And yet she's empathetic because she's not really a bad person.

THR: The whole movie has that tone, an overarching melancholy with small triumphs underneath.   
Linney: It does. It's very authentic. While the movie is set in the context of eldercare, so much is about these two siblings finding each other -- because they're very independent at the beginning of the movie. But what happens is that they move a little bit. At the end, they look at each other and say, "Oh, you belong to me, and I belong to you." There is
a connection they make by going through all of this.

THR: And yet in making that connection they witness the less seemly aspects of getting old. Did this movie cause you to look differently at the aging process?
Linney: It's pretty scary. (Old age) is already such a difficult thing to deal with, and when you're dealing with it in circumstances that are not ideal,
it's even more brutal. Death and the whole cycle of life is something we're really detached from. That's why I need to go to the country every once in a while. We need to see things born, and we need to see things die, so that we're not in denial about it.   
THR: Certainly the movie projects a message that there's something wrong with the institutions we, as a society, have created to deal with old age. Do you share its criticisms?
Linney: Families are so fractured now. People don't die in their homes anymore, nor are they born in their own homes. I look at communities like Sun City (Ariz.), and I'm sure for some people they're absolutely terrific, but if you stop and think about it, these are people who are isolating themselves. And I don't think that's healthy. But it's a big business, so it's terrific for the business people and bad for pretty much everyone else.

THR: When one looks at the directors you've worked with -- Bill Condon, Clint Eastwood, Peter Weir and now Tamara Jenkins -- it's an amazingly deep and diverse list. Are there particular things you've observed about them or learned from them?   
Linney: They all have their own strengths and their own weaknesses -- although Clint doesn't have any weaknesses (laughs). I think there is a moment when directors have to trust that actors are there to help them. And sometimes for the younger directors it can be difficult for them to let go. And they have to. They have to get to the point where they allow the material to grow a little beyond what they have in their heads.
THR: The awards talk has already begun. Does it get under your skin when you hear people talk Oscars or Golden Globes so early?   
Linney: A little bit, and you just go with it. It's better than hearing, "You suck," or "The movie is terrible."

THR: At the beginning of the awards season last year, Helen Mirren compared it to being pushed down a path by a lot of people, and your main job is to make sure you don't go down that path.   
Linney: I think you just have to put it in its proper place. It's fantastic for a film like this and for the independent films that are attempting material that isn't always embraced by the commercial world. Any boost is great. So you take it as a compliment and then don't take it too seriously. You can't get too caught up in it. You can't go believing your own hype.