Laura Linney: Having Desserts and Liquor

In recent years, premium cable channel Showtime has provided meatier roles for women than either Hollywood studios or network television offer, especially for actresses in their 40s or 50s.

But Showtime has built its brand on the very idea. The main characters in Weeds, Nurse Jackie, and United States of Tara—all women—are layered, complex personalities that are not clearly good or evil.

It’s newest black comedy, The Big C, stars 45-year-old Laura Linney, who plays a wife, mother, and teacher who has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

In a recent New York Times profile on Linney, Showtime’s Robert Greenblatt is quoted: “For us, it’s more: who are the extraordinary actors whom the critics like and who will garner awards? All of that is good publicity for us. And our audiences respond to so-and-so with an Oscar nomination or an Emmy.”

Greenblatt, formerly president of entertainment, kept a list of actresses over 40, which included the likes of Catherine Keener and Frances McDormand. Until recently, Linney was on the list as well.

Like Keener, Patricia Clarkson or Allison Janney, fellow actresses of her generation, Linney’s career did not start gaining speed until her mid-30s.

Educated at Brown, then Juilliard, and the daughter of playwright Romulus Linney, many probably assume that Linney's career was an easy climb. However, her parents divorced when she was only six months old, and she grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with her mother, who worked as a nurse in New York.

After she completed her graduate studies at Juilliard, she started her acting career in the theatre, with parts in Six Degrees of Separation and The Seagull. She had minor roles in several films, such as Dave, and spent several years acting on public television, in the miniseries Tales of the City. Her performance in The Truman Show as Jim Carrey's hired actress wife caused critics and audiences to notice her.

"What gave us all an additional challenge was that those of us who were cast to play the actors, we were playing an additional role. So we did all this elaborate back-story. So I made up my actress name Hanna Gill, who plays Meryl Burbank, who is married to Truman Burbank. So we did all this double layering of character work not really knowing what was going to come through. I'm glad that some of the people who have seen the movie can say that they can actually see it in all of us,” Linney said of her role.

In 2000, Linney received her first lead role, in the smaller indie film, You Can Count on Me. She played Sammy, a single mom, whose life is complicated by her new boss and her aimless brother's (Mark Ruffalo) arrival in town. She was nominated for her first Academy Award.

Her success over the past decade has not been limited to one medium, however. She returned to the stage for Uncle Vanya and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. She received a Tony Award nomination for the latter as Elizabeth Proctor.

Director Clint Eastwood, who cast her early on in his 1997 thriller Absolute Power, worked with her again in 2003’s Mystic River. Her role in Love Actually is what the majority of pop culture consuming population would remember her as. Recognizable to many, Linney’s diverse career and wide expanse of roles has allowed her to reach a certain level of fame, but not be an A-list star. Linney prefers it that way, saying she’s often mistaken for Helen Hunt or Laura Dern, and citing that theater fans are more likely to recognize her than movie-goers.

“All I wanted was a life in theater. It is the big surprise of my life that I also work in film and television. It is all much bigger than I ever imagined it would be,” Linney said in response to a New York Times reader’s question in June 2010.

A part in Kinsey (2004) garnered her another Academy Award nomination, as did her role in 2007’s The Savages, in which she co-starred with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

But, Linney adds, those nominations have been invaluable. “It’s helped to keep me working, quite frankly.”

Back on the boards, Linney received two more Tony nominations, for Sight Unseen in 2005, and most recently, as a war photographer in Time Stands Still, a role she will reprise in the October at the Cort Theatre.

Reviews are already coming in for Showtime’s The Big C, which premiered Monday night, and many of them praise Linney for being pitch perfect. Not surprising, considering she has three Emmy Awards for her work in Wild Iris, Frasier, and John Adams.

Linney fits well into Showtime’s stable and hopefully by displaying this wealth of great actresses—no matter their age—studios and networks will take note. Showtime’s formula of strong female characters is working.

But Linney says it the best herself: “A lifetime of work, particularly where you get to see an actor grow and change, is better than becoming a rock & roll movie star.” 



The Age of Laura Linney - NY Times
IMDb - Laura Linney
Internet Broadway Database

Patricia Clarkson: Do the work.

It seems like every year when those one or two women-centric films do well, there is an article expressing surprise that *gasp* women will go see movies that feature women. How novel!

The most recent study by the Motion Picture Association of America showed females make up 52% of moviegoers. Two million women over 60 go to the movies once a month or more. Yet roles for women, and thus films for women, are not plentiful. 

In an article written by Stephen Witty of the New Jersey Star-Ledger about the dearth of films that feature women, he quotes Maggie Renzi, John Sayles’ producing partner: “I don’t get it. I’m 50, smack in the middle of the Baby Boom, and everyone’s rushing to sell me cars and insurance and credit cards. Why aren’t they rushing to sell me movies?”

While studios are slow to take notice of this untapped market of women, independent movies seem to be giving women a slightly bigger voice. And it’s all about baby steps, right?

Namely, Cairo Time, which was released in a few cities August 6, is a one-two punch in terms of women and film. Writer-director Ruba Nadda delicately portrays the romance and danger of Cairo as the audience follows Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) through her own physical and emotional journeys there.

Clarkson is a familiar face, a character actress, and at age 50, Cairo Time provides her her first leading role.

Known for her sultry voice, Clarkson was born and bred in New Orleans, where she grew up among four sisters. She studied for two years at Louisiana State before transferring to Fordham University in New York and graduating with a degree in theatre arts. She attended the Yale School of Drama to obtain her MFA.

Her whiskey voice and classic features made it difficult for Clarkson to get cast in her 20s.

“I've always had this deep voice, so I think it was tough sometimes for directors to cast me as the ingĂ©nue. Because I'd walk in and look a certain way, then open my mouth and have this...voice! So I think I sort of grew into my voice, my face, my body as I got older,” Clarkson has said.

She tried out Los Angeles at age 28, earning a role in The Untouchables as wife to Kevin Costner’s Elliott Ness. However, Clarkson returned to New York and spent most of her time in the theater, among smaller roles in TV and film. She acted in several plays, including Eastern Standard, Raised in Captivity, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, Three Days of Rain, and The Maiden’s Prayer, for which she earned an Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk Award.

“Things got weird,” Clarkson, in a recent New York Times profile, has said about a dearth of roles early on. “Things suddenly just became very difficult for me. I had to dig way deep down inside and figure out: Do I have the stamina? Can I withstand this hailstorm of rejection to get what I really want?”

In 1998, Clarkson played Ally Sheedy’s drug-addicted muse, Greta, in the indie film, High Art, director Lisa Cholodenko’s (The Kids Are All Right) directorial debut. Roles in The Green Mile and Far From Heaven kept her visible, before she had perhaps her most prolific year in 2003.

Clarkson had roles in three critically acclaimed movies that year, from a callous cancer victim in Pieces of April, a grieving artist in The Station Agent, to a mom who tells her son how it is in All the Real Girls. Clarkson was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Station Agent, as well as earning a special acting prize for her work in the trio of film at the Sundance Film Festival.

“I was somewhat typecast as suburban "mom" type roles early on,” Clarkson said. “But now I look back and I realize that I really came later in life to a kind of career.”

Returning to her theater roots in 2004, she played the role many would say she’s born to play, Southern belle Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Kennedy Center.

Clarkson also earned two Guest Actress Emmy Awards for her work as Frances Conroy’s sister in HBO’s Six Feet Under.

Writer-directors seem to be especially attracted to Clarkson’s charms, as Woody Allen has recently cast her in two of his films, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and again in 2009’s Whatever Works. And director Martin Scorsese sought her out for a role in his latest film, Shutter Island.

At age 50, when many actresses are struggling to find any roles, much less good ones, Clarkson has carved out a niche for herself, playing emotionally complex women. (And maybe the occasional "mom role". She will play Mila Kunis’ mom in the upcoming film, Friends With Benefits.) But with Clarkson, even the “mom roles" have a bit of an edge to them.

Clarkson was quoted in a recent Salon feature as saying she equates her willingness to do the work with her continued success: “Oddly, I think the stronger you become as an actor, the stronger your self becomes, your confidence in who you are. I think the most seductive part of acting is to act, is to actually do the work. There’s nothing sexier than being on a set and really working your butt off, and taking a journey.”



New Jersey Star-Ledger
The New York Times

This decade of women

There seems to be a whole cache of women in Hollywood who have been designated “character actresses”. Many of these women have the acting chops to be leading ladies. Incidentally, many of these women also fall in the same age range: their 50s.

This blog will center on profiles of these fabulous female actresses of the stage and screen, as well as those behind-the-scenes (writers, editors, cinematographers, etc.)

Even the title of the blog is an homage to one of the women working in the industry. It’s a line from The West Wing episode, “The Supremes”, which was written by Debora Cahn. When Toby asks Josh what he thought of Justice Evelyn Baker, a judge that Josh is vetting as a Supreme Court nominee, Josh says, “I love her. I love her shoes…I love her mind.”