Laura Linney on Her Next Big Roles
BY AIMEE MANN
For my new album Charmer and the video of the title track, I asked Laura Linney to play my robot double. I had met her at a Christmas show of mine in New York a few years ago, so I just took a huge chance and got in touch with her. It is very hard to ask someone so talented to be a part of something so ridiculous. The miracle was that she was not only willing to do it, she was available and in New York City. It goes without saying that she was terrific, but that she could put up with the sort of no-budget, 100-degree-heat, shooting-in-filthywarehouses shenanigans we put her through with such good humor practically qualifies her for sainthood. For Gotham, I caught up with Laura to see what her life is like juggling the upcoming releases of her two films Hyde Park on Hudson and The Details and the fourth and final season of her Showtime series The Big C next year.
AIMEE MANN: When we filmed the video for my song “Charmer,” I was asking for your advice because I was “acting” in this movie, Pleased to Meet Me. I was just trying not to look as if I were a fourth grader reading something off the page, but then I found when I would achieve this natural delivery, every time I said anything in real life it felt like I was acting. For Hyde Park on Hudson, what was your process for embodying Daisy?
LAURA LINNEY: My character, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, was a real person and fortunately for me, she lived to be [almost] 100 years old and her family home, Wilderstein, is a museum on the Hudson River. There are all these letters that she and Franklin D. Roosevelt exchanged, so you can certainly learn a lot from the letters and their back-and-forth, but more than anything, really what helped me was being able to go into her bedroom and see what she surrounded herself by. She woke up every morning to a lithograph portrait of FDR across from her bed. She slept in a little single bed, and next to that was a vitrine filled with little knickknack-y things that he had bought for her from around the world. Then on her bookshelf, there were a lot of books about health, mysticism, and largerthan- life characters like Napoleon. She was the one who gave FDR (his Scottish Terrier) Fala, which, for some reason, that blew my mind more than anything. AM: Honestly, just describing that room, well, of course she made FDR her higher power.
LL: She had something to offer that he wanted. I think she found a place of meaning being his confidant that she couldn’t find anywhere else. With her, it was the proximity of their two homes together, what she surrounded herself by—I had all that in my back pocket when I went to London to make the movie, and then I applied all of that knowledge to the script.
AM: You shot it in England?
LL: We had to go all the way to London to film something that takes place 45 minutes from where I l ive. But it’s so beautifully shot. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a movie that’s as cinematic as Hyde Park on Hudson.
AM: I was really surprised at how great Bill Murray was at inhabiting that character of FDR.
LL: Bill comes with a cloud of reputation, but the guy who I encountered was someone who was, quite frankly, appropriately terrified to play FDR, as anybody in his right mind would be. He was very focused on the work; As you always do whenever you’re the lead in the movie, you feel pressure and then to feel the pressure of playing FDR on top of it is enormous. It takes guts to play FDR; it takes a whole lot of bravery.
AM: I’m sure you’ve done an amazing amount of reading and research about FDR and Daisy; I’m curious as to what your impressions are about how Daisy fit into that whole group of women he had around him?
LL: FDR was surrounded by this constellation of women who all idolized him and my instinct is that he got different things from each of them. And, from Daisy, who knows really how sexual that relationship was? I think something happened—that’s just my own personal belief. But I think what she gave him was a real sense of safety. She was the most trustworthy person on the planet. The woman lived to be 100 years old, and no one had any idea how close they were until the day she died, when they found that box of letters under her bed. And she needed nothing. She needed no acknowledgment, no public recognition, no recognition from any of the other people in his life; she was completely satisfied, it seems, with the relationship that she had with him.
AM: So then how did you apply your research to your character in The Details, Lila? When I saw you and the way your hair and makeup was done, I was like, this is creepy because craziness under a layer of control is way scarier.
LL: Between Daisy and Lila, they could not be from more different planets. Lila is a whack-a-doodle-doodle-doo; she is really out of her mind. That was fun, to play someone who was so crazy. It was interesting because the director, Jacob Aaron Estes, was really generous and open to some of the ideas I had when I first read the script. The original design concept was to make Lila look more like a bag lady, and I just thought we’d get more out of it if we changed her quality a little bit. And so I came up with the idea that she was a former stewardess who was locked in a kind of strange Nancy Sinatra sort of aesthetic. It made her a little more dangerous and unpredictable.
AM: Do you ever take souvenirs from any of your movie sets?
LL: I do try to take one little thing. I have a tea cup from one movie…. Whenever I go to London, which is one of my favorite places to work, actually, I always go to the Buckingham Palace gift shop and buy one of those commemorative mugs, so I have my crazy collection, which I am very fond of. I do try and save a button or a piece of fabric, or every once in a while there’s a painting on the set that I take a shine to, and I’ll ask the production department if I can buy it. I have the ring that I wore in The Savages. You do want to be able to hold something because even though you can look at film and hold a piece of it in your hand, it’s not tangible. It’s the experience that you want to keep a little bit with you.
AM: Are you ever self-conscious about people confusing you for the characters you play?
LL: There’s really not much you can do about that. I can either do my job and interpret the material as it needs to be interpreted, or I can think about what other people think about me. You sure can’t do both. It’s interesting because I have so many people coming up to me, and they say, “You’re so much better looking in person.” My heart sinks a little bit sometimes, but then I think, Well, no, wait a minute. I guess I did my job, and I need to take that as a compliment. There’s nothing you can do; people are going to think how they think, and as long as the work is good, then that’s fine by me.
AM: Are you traveling?
LL: I am, I’m all over the place. I’m on a press circuit, so I was in Telluride and Toronto then I went to North Carolina. My father [playwright Romulus Linney] passed away a year and a half ago, and his archive was opened at Appalachian State University; I went down and helped celebrate that. Then I go to Boston to do the intros to Masterpiece Classic, and then I start filming The Big C right after that.
AM: Somehow, I forget that there are all these other responsibilities connected with movies.
LL: There’s a lot of negotiation about where you can be, and t rying to let people share you as far as really, completely finishing up a project. But these are high-class problems to have.
AM: Do you film in New York?
LL: I have filmed in New York, and I’m thrilled to see that there’s so much filming going on in New York right now. It’s just fantastic and, quite frankly, as it should be—there’s so much talent on this island and in the boroughs surrounding it that it’s silly not to use it. It’s nice that there’s more and more work coming here, not only for the actors, but for the crews and the designers. It’s really exciting and the city is changing so much—the outer boroughs are becoming snazzier and snazzier and more intriguing, so the city is broadening out in a way. I film The Big C in Stamford, Connecticut, which is a little far out, but we still use the New York crowd.
AM: Manhattan always struck me as a lot of very diverse little neighborhoods, all crammed close together, yet very distinct.
LL: There’s a huge difference between all of the areas here. For someone who has spent her entire life in and around Manhattan, there’s so much of, say, Brooklyn that I don’t know. The biggest change with New York, I think, is the reclaiming of the water. There’s a sense now that Manhattan really is an island, and there’s a waterway that is beautiful, that people can go look at it and feel safe. It’s a big difference from when I was little.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRIAN BOWEN SMITH