It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen Laura Linney on the big screen, and it’s quite unusual since back when this writer was starting this job, it almost seemed like we would see Linney every week at one press day or another, talking about her latest film. She clearly had become one of the more prolific and in-demand film actresses during the mid-2000s due to her ability to bring the most to every scene, but between her Golden Globe-winning role on the hit Showtime show “The Big C,” a Tony-nominated stint on Broadway with “Time Stands Still” and a key role in HBO’s Emmy-winning mini-series “John Addams,” Linney hasn’t really had the time to make as many movies as she had a few years back.
Linney-maniacs who’ve been waiting to see her back on the big screen should be thrilled by her two offerings coming out in November and December, starting with The Details, written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes, who first got attention for his indie thriller Mean Creek. In that one she plays Lilith “Lila” Wasserman, the literally crazy neighbor of Tobey Maguire’s Dr. Jeffrey Lang, whose bad decisions have gotten him into serious trouble with his wife Nealy (Elizabeth Banks), but Lila knows about some of the bad things the doctor’s done and she starts blackmailing him, making the problems worse.
Then in December, you can see Linney in director Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson playing a slightly more conventional role as Daisy Suckley, a woman from Rhinebeck, New York, and fifth cousin to the President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as played by Bill Murray. She winds up spending a lot of her free time up on the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park and just happens to be there on a pivotal weekend in June 1939, when the King and Queen of England (Samuel West, Olivia Colman) are visiting to try to get the United States’ help in the war in Europe.
ComingSoon.net had a chance to talk to Linney a few weeks back, covering both movies and trying (but failing) to get any information from her about the fourth and last season of “The Big C,” which she began filming a few days after the interview.
ComingSoon.net: It’s nice that you have two movies out this year, one you made a couple of years ago and one more recent, but both very different characters. Laura Linney: Completely different. (Laughs) I mean, I sort of fantasize about the two of them meeting each other, and I can’t imagine what putting those two characters in the same room would be
CS: Well, they do both have a lot of free time, so I guess in theory they could actually meet. Linney: That’s right.
CS: I guess you shot both of them in between seasons of “The Big C” Linney: I shot “The Details” before the first – actually, before the pilot. We shot it about three years ago, and then I shot “Hyde Park on the Hudson” last summer.
CS: So let’s take them one at a time. What was it about Jacob’s script that kind of got you interested in playing Lila Wasserman? Linney: Well, I just loved the part. I thought she was so funny and so so deeply crazy, deeply, deeply crazy, and you know, someone with absolutely no boundaries whatsoever. You know when mental illness gives you absolutely no boundaries at all? She’s completely self-obsessed and a complete drama queen and an agoraphobe and a germaphobe and sexually-entitled.
CS: And she’s a very visual character in terms of her craziness. I was curious how much of her look was obvious on the page. Linney: Well, actually, Jacob was incredibly generous and open to what I was sort of getting from his script about what she should look like visually. We reworked her a little bit and I worked very closely – we redid the design, all of her costume design. The designer, Christie Wittenborn was terrific, and I thought it was important to bring a little Nancy Sinatra to her, you know? Her clothes originally were sort of drab and a little more a woman who was in a house on the verge of being indigent and dark, dark colors. I thought, “I think she needs a little craziness of style.” I was like, “This is a woman who is lonely and alone and what does she do with her spare time? She fixates on her hair. She wears a lot of weird makeup. She buys clothes and waltzes around the house and performs for her cat.” I mean, I think she’s one of those people. So, Jacob was terrific about letting me go sort of hog wild with all of that and let it be just like, really over the top crazy.
CS: Definitely the hair is very apparent. Every scene you had a different hairstyle. Linney: That’s right. There was a little bit of architecture that went on with that. I mean, we thought about all of that. You know, she spent a lot of time, a lot of time. So we had pictures of Raquel Welch and pictures of Nancy Sinatra and pictures of that whole sort of era of what she would do with her hair. She was very proud of her hair.
CS: We don’t really see her interact with too many others besides Tobey’s character, and she seems to be getting dressed up mainly to impress him. Linney: Oh yeah, yeah. You notice when you first meet her she hasn’t done her hair. It’s just sort of like, crazy bed head, just blah. Then, she starts to coif the more she starts to court him.
CS: Yeah, that’s the impression I got. She finally has some attention from someone. Linney: That’s right, yeah, so that’s it. She’s just fixated.
CS: Was this a kind of character you could improvise while shooting or was there some sort of rehearsal to figure out the level of craziness? Linney: Well, no. I mean, I just made a lot of very specific decisions about what she wanted and where – all that good old actor fun homework, and then placed in the situation, it just sort of flew a little bit. She was just great fun to do, you know?
CS: Did you have to do any research for the role? Linney: I do my own sort of weird research. I mean, I re-read “Coffee, Tea or Me?” because I decided that she was a stewardess and that she was from that sort of era. There was something about that era that said “Lila.” I think had weird fantasies that she was going to be a stewardess and then marry some wealthy man and be able to be glamorous and fly all over the world. I think she got herself into a lot of trouble. I think she’s someone who never had any friends. But she’s not unattractive, so people were around her, but I think whatever relationship she had with men were one night stands and then she would become obsessed with them and then she’d get into trouble, you know? (laughs) She’d stalk them and get in trouble.
CS: It’s one of those really great characters and you wonder how much thought was put into making her like that. Linney: Yeah, a lot, actually a lot, but it’s so much fun, you know?
CS: What about working with Tobey? I was reading that he did the scenes with Elizabeth in sequential order. Were you able to do that with him as well? Linney: I think we did do a lot of them in sequential order, yeah. He was such a good sport about letting me maul him, emotionally and physically and every other which way. It was really fun to play someone who had absolutely no boundaries and who was ravenously hungry. She’s a ravenously hungry person for attention, for sex, for romance, for imagination. She’s out of her mind.
CS: Have you ever played a character that crazy before? Linney: No.
CS: But it’s fun doing that kind of thing? Linney: It was really fun. (Laughs) Oh yeah. I’ve played people who’ve had meltdowns before. I’ve had meltdowns, but not someone who is this
CS: Permanent meltdown. Linney: Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s mental illness there. I mean, she’s delusional, you know, and she’s dangerous.
CS: It was funny seeing this again not long after seeing “Hyde Park” because the characters are quite far apart. Linney: Right, yeah. It’s as far apart as you can get, yeah.
CS: It’s interesting that because of the TV show, you have to be pickier about which movies you do, since you have less time. Has it been tougher to make those decisions about where to go? Linney: No, not really. You know, if you’re lucky enough to get the job, then you do the job, but I can’t believe three years have flown by. I mean, I’m just like, what? What do you mean, three years?
CS: And that just comes from doing the TV show? Linney: Yeah, it’s a lot of work, yeah.
CS: So, how did “Hyde Park” come your way? I guess Bill Murray was already involved. Linney: Bill was absolutely already involved. It was very similar. Both movies were the same thing, but I was sent the script. I was told the directors were meeting with a lot of people, that I was going to meet with the directors. I met with both of them and fortunately, you know, I talked to them extensively about how I saw the part and the script and the story and I was lucky enough that they asked me to do it.
CS: Well, at least Daisy is based on a real person. Did you do any of your own research into that? Linney: Oh, I did a lot, yeah. Her home is a museum in Rhinebeck and it’s fantastic. It’s fantastic. The people there were incredibly generous and let me snoop around a little bit. I learned a lot from just seeing her room and what was in her room. She would wake up every morning to a huge lithograph of FDR. (laughs) Literally, she’d wake up and next to that was a vitrine filled with little knick-knacks of things that he had bought her and I saw the suitcase where the letters were in. I saw the books on her shelf, so I could see what she was reading and where her pictures were.
CS: When did she pass away and when did they create the museum? Linney: She died in the early ’90s. I think it was the early ’90s.
CS: Was it fairly well known that she had an ongoing affair with FDR? Linney: Oh no, oh no, and some people do not believe that at all. That’s interpretation from the letters and from the diaries. Some of the letters and stuff from the diaries were destroyed. So, it’s very hard to believe that something didn’t happen. I personally believe that something happened at one point, but it was not the most important thing about their relationship. They were very, very close friends, and he felt completely safe with her. I mean, she didn’t open her mouth. She lived to be 100 years old and she never said a word.
CS: That’s pretty amazing, wow. Linney: And needed no attention and no, but they were very, very close and they meant an enormous amount to each other. How sexual that relationship was is up for interpretation. Our movie takes a certain view on it. You could do another movie and have it be something else. But, so it’s up to interpretation. It’s very difficult to believe that something didn’t happen.
CS: So her family put together the museum? Linney: No, her father built this home. It’s called Wilderstein and it’s there. It’s stunning and she lived in that house until she was 100 years old. And before she died, she turned it over to I don’t know if it was to New York State or to the National Park Service or I don’t know who it was But it’s a wonderful place to go.
CS: The writer lives up there so he must have spent a lot of time there. Linney: Richard Nelson, yes. Oh sure, oh sure.
CS: It’s interesting that the movie involves this meeting between the President and the British royals and it’s made by an American writer and directed by Roger Michell, who is from London. Linney: Yes, yeah. That’s right. That’s right.
CS: And you guys shot the film in England, so was it weird pretending that it was New England? Linney: Not totally weird, wonderful. I mean, any excuse I can get to go to London, I will do it, and I loved working over there. You know, fortunately it’s called New England for a reason. It looks a lot like it, and I’ve talked to people who have seen the movie and think that we filmed it in the Hudson Valley.
CS: Of course, I’m not sure anyone who sees it will realize you didn’t. Linney: That’s right, that’s right, so it really doubled incredibly well, but it was strange because (Hyde Park) is so close-by and then you go to England to make it. (Laughs)
CS: Bill Murray’s had an interesting career, going from “Saturday Night Live” and then becoming known for all these great comedies, but now he’s taken seriously as an actor, so what was it like working with him? Linney: You know, you hear the legendary stories about Bill Murray, so you never know what’s going to walk in the room. There is absolute truth I think to probably all of those stories, and he is an incredibly unique guy and brilliant. Whatever eccentricity that was there during filming isn’t what surprised me. What did surprise me was how hard he worked, how important this movie was to him, and how brave he was to even do it. I mean, who wants to play FDR? I mean, that’s just gutsy. That’s really gutsy to do. This movie’s going to be very, very good for him, I think. I mean, he’s very, very good in it, and it’s not easy to play FDR, I mean, to have those braces on your legs and you’re just physically uncomfortable and there’s all of that stuff. You know, and he’s a unique guy. There is no question about it.
CS: Also, everyone has an impression of FDR, either from reading history books or newspapers, whatever. Linney: Yeah, it’s FDR, you know? (laughs)
CS: One of the scenes which I’m sure people have asked about is the hot dog scene which led to many conversations after the screening I saw. Linney: Right.
CS: When you were doing that scene, was it very much nudge, nudge, wink, wink? Linney: It was just fun. Oh, it was just fun, you know?
CS: It’s such a funny scene, and you watch it and some people say, “Yeah, obviously it’s really sexual.” But some people see it as something bigger, but the debates over that scene were really funny to me. Linney: Well, but it’s a hot dog, which is the most American food. It’s a hot dog, and then weirdly enough, it’s also German, so there’s the German overtone as well, so the fact that you’re serving a hot dog on the brink of World War II. So there’s all sorts of stuff going on there. It is picnic food. I mean, it is what people eat, so yeah it is laced with all sorts of stuff.
CS: I definitely want to talk to Richard about it. I’m speaking with Roger on Monday. Next, you’re going back to “The Big C” for the final season. Linney: Tuesday, yup, the final season, yeah.
CS: Besides cutting your hair, how have you been preparing for that? Linney: (Laughs) You know, just sort of getting ready for some long hours and back to sort of the TV work, which has been terrific, actually. It’s really been good. So, yeah, so there’ll be a lot happening.
CS: As I mentioned earlier, you used to do a lot of movies back to back, so it must be nice to do one thing for an extended period and to really be able to develop a character over time rather than having to do all the work and then it’s over in two hours. Linney: Well, what is really nice is staying on the East coast.
CS: I thought you lived in Telluride now. Linney: Oh, I live there part time, but being on the East coast has been just really because I traveled so intensely for so many years, that just to be in maybe only four places a year as opposed to 12 places a year, it does wear on you. So, it’s been a great break to sort of settle and be home and be able to see my friends and have more of a normal sort of – have a little more room in my life for other things other than just work.
CS: I travel quite a bit for this job, but I can’t imagine it. Linney: It’s hard, but I got to a point where it was was in my own bed 10 nights a year, and it just takes a toll, so it’s been a really nice break.
CS: How far ahead do you know about what happens in the next season of “The Big C”? Linney: No, I know.
CS: You know everything? Okay. Have they actually written all the scripts already? Linney: Hrm the outlines are done.
CS: Do you have any idea of what you want to do after it’s done? Linney: No, I can’t even think that far ahead right now.
CS: But you’ve enjoyed this luxury of being on the East Coast so is another TV show something you might look into? Linney: Yeah, yeah, I don’t know. I really don’t know. Believe me, I’ve thought about it and people have asked me about it and I really have no idea what I want to do, not a clue. I think I’ll have to wait until I get there and then figure it out because I really don’t know.
The Details is now available on VOD and opens in select cities on Friday, November 2. Hyde Park on Hudson opens in select cities on Friday, December 7. Look for our interview with director Roger Michell sometime before then.