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by Jason Matloff
December 12, 2012 5:28 PM
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Highlight Reel: The Sublime Contradictions of Laura Linney

Since her big-screen debut in the 1992 drama “Lorenzo’s Oil,” Laura Linney has earned lavish praise and three Oscar nominations (“You Can Count On Me,” “Kinsey” and “The Savages”) for her sublime ability to bring convincingly to life characters that are rife with contradictions and flaws. In the historical drama “Hyde Park on Hudson,” which opened Friday to the best per-theater specialty box office of the weekend, Linney plays Daisy Suckley, the real-life distant cousin of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) who became his confidante, his close friend and, some speculate, his mistress.

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Suckley is not your run-of-the-mill female role, which makes her a perfect fit for Linney. “It’s really boring to play a quality or an idea of someone,” the New York City native says. “What’s more interesting is to see the many different things that are in each person. Human nature is complicated, unpredictable and at times jarring and awkward. But it’s worth the time to investigate it all.”

"Tales of the City" (1993)
“Tales of the City” (1993)

Linney’s first big break came when she played Mary Ann Singleton in this PBS miniseries adapted from Armistead Maupin’s popular books about the residents of a 1970’s San Francisco apartment building.

“It was the first time that I had ever been involved in filming something from beginning to end, so I learned so much. It was also the first time that I thought maybe I could actually do this and enjoy it, because I really wanted to be a stage actress and didn’t think I would be any good at film and TV. Plus, the people were delicious­ — some of the most important people in my life are from that series.”

"You Can Count on Me" (2000)
“You Can Count on Me” (2000)

In this family drama directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret), Linney and Mark Ruffalo play siblings who lose their parents at a very young age.

“It was bare bones and really done on a shoestring. We were filming in an abandoned house in Margaretville, NY, and there was literally no place for us to change our clothes or sit down. I finally went to the producers and said, ‘We have to have [our own space] somewhere — you can’t just dump us on the lawn.’ There was a chicken coop behind the house, and it felt like the chickens had left just two days earlier. So we all rolled up our sleeves and cleaned out the coop. We divided it into little areas and spent a lot of time inside. It was difficult, but the material being so good helped a lot.”

"Kinsey" (2004)
“Kinsey” (2004)

Linney stars as the wife of the controversial sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) in Bill Condon’s biopic.

“Sex scenes are pretty awkward. The crew is nervous; you are nervous. Everybody is nervous. People are very vulnerable, so you can quickly get filled with doubt. It’s really a day where ultimate kindness is called for. But on this film, the [sex scenes] were weirdly not that uncomfortable, because Liam and I are such good friends, and I feel incredibly safe with him. It took the embarrassment level way down. We had just spent six months doing ‘The Crucible’ together on Broadway, and it was so funny to play the two couples [the Proctors from ‘The Crucible’ and Clara McMillen and Kinsey], because they were completely polar opposite: one was so sexually repressed and the other was so sexually open. We would joke that it was like the Proctors were reincarnated as the Kinseys.”

"The Squid and the Whale" (2005)
“The Squid and the Whale” (2005)

Linney plays the matriarch of a Brooklyn family so fractured that even their games of tennis turn into a dysfunctional mess.

“I called Noah [Baumbach, director and writer] and was like, ‘I don’t play tennis. We might be in real trouble.’ So they set me up with a tennis instructor who was working on the movie, and who was, like, a college-ranked player. I met her at a court in Chelsea, and during the two hours I was with her, it was as if the spirit of a dead tennis champion entered my being. I am rarely delighted with myself — ever — but I could not believe the transformation that was happening. I was serving; my backhand was great. I was becoming a true tennis athlete. But, of course, when we filmed the scene, I wasn’t half as good.”

"The Details" (2012)
The Details” (2012)

In this 2011 Sundance Film Festival black comedy, which was released last month, Linney portrays a whacked-out Seattle cat lover who falls for her neighbor (Tobey Maguire).

“I’m incredibly proud of that character. I love her! She’s absolutely out of her mind. She had been written in a sort of different way — more reclusive, more depressed, and a little darker. I thought she should be much more energized. And Jacob [Aaron Estes, director and writer] was really great about letting me just go nuts, helping with the design of her crazy hair and weird clothing and the bipolar aspect of her. There was something about her that unleashed the craziness in me. But I’m deathly allergic to cats, so every time we were working with the cat, once they called cut, people would run over with a bucket of water and soap and we’d have to instantly wash me down.”

"Hyde Park on Hudson" (2012)
Hyde Park on Hudson” (2012)

“I loved the driving scenes with Bill, because it was so beautiful. The fondest memories I have of making this movie are being kidnapped by Bill in those cars. These were very persnickety automobiles, so people were nervous about whether they were even going to make it through filming. And he and I would be off-roading in these antique cars. A few times, he just floored it and took off like Road Runner. We would just be gone, leaving behind very nervous AD’s. Bill has his own time clock sometimes.”

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