A Julliard graduate who trained in the New York theater, Linney's breakthrough came with a starring role in the 1993 cable mini-series Tales of the City. Although she subsequently landed roles in a couple of bona fide Hollywood blockbusters (Primal Fear, The Truman Show), Linney never got so big for her britches that she couldn't return to cable TV for the sequel More Tales of the City.
When she opted to follow up those mainstream box-office hits with a starring role in the low-budget family drama You Can Count on Me, Linney recalls, "All of my agents and managers thought I was crazy." Her performance earned her an Oscar nomination -- and still, she went back to TV for last year's Further Tales of the City. "Hey, whether it's something for cable, or a full-blown studio movie, or a play in New York, I just go where the good work is. It wasn't that long ago I couldn't find any acting job at all, you know? So I'm like, 'Bring it all on,'" she says with a laugh.
No kidding. Coming up for Linney, 37: She appears in an all-star HBO version of The Laramie Project about the murder of gay college student Matthew Sheppard; she recently finished shooting Alan Parker's death-penalty drama The Life of David Gale; and she opens next month in a Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, opposite Liam Neeson.
In the meantime, there is the supernatural thriller The Mothman Prophecies (opening Jan. 25). Frenetically directed by Mark Pellington, the movie reunites Linney with her Primal Fear co-star, Richard Gere. He's a Washington Post reporter investigating paranormal goings-on in a rural West Virginia town, and she's the local law enforcement officer whose help he enlists.
CL: It's that time of year again when there's Oscar buzz everywhere. Now that you've had almost a year to reflect on it, what did your own Oscar experience mean to you?
Laura Linney: You know, I don't have anything especially profound to say about it. I've noticed a definite shift in the number and the type of scripts I'm reading now, but it didn't change my life on any grand scale. It probably sounds trite, but it's just such a really nice thing to happen.
Did it diminish any of the fun or excitement, hearing everyone say Julia Roberts had a lock on it?
No, no, no. People kept asking me if I was upset I lost, and I thought they must be insane. I didn't lose anything. It's not like the award was mine and then I lost it, you know? ... All you can do is laugh and enjoy the ride, particularly when you're not expecting anything to happen. The whole experience was a huge giggle. I mean, just the courting for the gown was a mind-blowing experience. It was surreal. I was filming The Mothman Prophecies at the time, playing this sort of small-town police officer who isn't glamorous or even especially feminine, and I was living out of a tiny little hotel room in Pittsburgh that was overflowing with all these $50,000 gowns. You just can't believe it.
What appealed to you about The Mothman Prophecies? I made this movie for two reasons: One, I wanted to work with Richard Gere again; and, two, I knew with Mark Pellington directing that it was going to be a very visual and technically proficient film. I'd never been in a movie like this before, and I wanted that experience. It's not Shakespeare, but nor should it be. I just wanted to learn how to pitch a performance when the performances, while an important element to the movie, aren't the most important element of the movie.
I was in New York over New Year's weekend, and your Crucible billboards are everywhere.
Aren't they huge? I was there and saw one a couple of weeks ago, and I couldn't get over how big it was. I'm heading back there tonight for our first rehearsal, and I'm really excited about it.
How important is it to maintain a balance between movies and theater? What do you get out of one that you don't get out of the other?
I've been doing theater my whole life, so the idea of not doing it just isn't acceptable to me. You hope that the stage work makes the film work stronger, and vice versa, but it's just about having as many different experiences as you can, and trying to get a little better each time you do something. Frankly, what's also great about doing the play is just being in one place for the next six months, waking up in my own bed every morning, surrounded by things that I'm actually connected to, that actually belong to me. Little things like that are really important to me, especially after traveling around between movie locations for the last couple of years.