After her visit to Harvard last Thursday, FM sat down with Emmy and Golden Globe winning (and Oscar and Tony nominated) actress Laura Linney for a discussion on fame, clarity, and Flava Flav. Guest starring her husband, Marc Schauer.
1. Fifteen Minutes: Your most recent work is on Showtime’s “The Big C,” which you’ve said grapples with “the privilege of aging.” What is the greatest privilege of aging?
Laura Linney: (Chuckles) Not being dead. Mhmm, honestly.
2. FM: Do you have to consciously think about how you will balance your life and your work?
LL: Yeah, of course. This type of work will inhale your life, you know? It just will. It’s very demanding and very time consuming and it requires you to travel a great deal. That kind of pace and that kind of engagement can be addictive. It’s difficult to say no when you’re offered something. It’s very hard to say no. It does cost. It costs a lot. You get to a point when you have to start making decisions so that you can have a relationship (gestures to her husband, Marc Schauer) and have a marriage and discover what that is. You have to do that so that your relationships with your friends don’t dissipate, so that your family still has a sense of who you are. You do have to be very conscious about that.
3. FM: You have said that comedy leads to clarity–who is your favorite comedian and what has he or she clarified for you?
LL: Well, at the moment, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They do exactly that. They are a perfect example of what the skill of comedy can do to a situation; how the clear voice of comedy can come and make everything make sense. And then you realize the role of the jester, what the jester used to do. The jester was someone who was not just there to entertain–the jester put forth truth in a way that was so alarming that it would make people laugh. It’s an inherent thing in the human condition to point things out through comedy–it’s the great illuminator. I thank God for those two guys.
FM: I saw your interview with Jon Stewart–he thanked you for giving his life meaning, for affirming what he does!
LL: He’s fantastic.
4. FM: Do you watch TV otherwise?
LL: Only in my lowest moments.
Marc Schaeur: When I first met you …
LL: Oh, I was in this reality show jag.
MS: She was addicted to “I Love New York.”
LL: Oh, yeah. That was just a train wreck of a TV show. That was really awful. It was a spin-off of “FlavaFlav.” Oh God. It was just the worst example of the train wreck that has happened to our culture.
FM: And you loved it.
MS: (Laughs) Laura watched marathons!
LL: I can’t say I loved it … I just couldn’t believe what I was watching. So yeah, I had my “I Love New York” phase. But we also watch “The Wire,” Stewart and Colbert, of course.
MS: It’s like a cultural spa weekend for us when we get to watch TV and movies.
5. FM: Is there an academic discrimination in Hollywood?
LL: Um, sometimes. Most of the time, people don’t give a shit, to be perfectly honest. They don’t value it, it’s not valued. You can make a shit load of money–that means something. If you have the greatest education in the world, that doesn’t always mean something. And, that’s okay. I got it more when I got out of Julliard, and people would be like, “Show me what Julliard taught you.” I got that more than the Ivy League thing. But people can use their education in obnoxious ways. Unfortunately, people have done that. It’s not the majority of people, but that’s instantly what people are afraid is going to happen.
6. FM: You attended Northwestern for only a year before transferring to Brown. Why did you leave Northwestern?
LL: It wasn’t the school for me. And I missed New England. I was really homesick for New England.
FM: You grew up in Manhattan, right?
LL: I grew up in Manhattan, went to boarding school in Massachusetts for four years. I was really homesick. I was homesick. For the trees, the seasons. [Northwestern] was cold, there was a lake. It was cold, it didn’t look like a lake, you know, it was a lake that looked like an ocean. The buildings were … (Schauer laughs) it just wasn’t my place … My husband is from Chicago, oddly enough. I loved the teachers there, loved them. And I loved the theater program, but it just wasn’t the school for me. I did go back for a summer because one of my professors was so good. But thank God I got into Brown, I don’t know how I got into Brown, but thank God.
FM: And that was the school for you?
LL: Mhmm. The trees!
7. FM: How important is it for you to diversify the types of projects you pursue? You love theater, but would you feel badly doing theater exclusively?
LL: I think at this point I would. I love [film] now. People used to ask me, “Which do you prefer, stage or film?” It was always a very easy answer; it was always theater. And then the more you do film, the more you understand film, the more you see how it’s put together, what the challenges are, what you can actually do in telling a story, the challenge of doing it out of order, all of that stuff, you know, it’s fun. It’s tricky. It doesn’t always work. You’re not always good at it. I really enjoy the challenge of that; I love the demands of that. But, you know, if there was a gun to my head, I’d be very happy just doing theater. I think that when you go through different phases of your life, you have different needs and desires to explore different kinds of work.
8. FM: With whom would you love to work in the future?
LL: Oh, God. Lots of people. Maggie Smith. Oh, I love Meryl. I love Meryl. Meryl and I are friends and I love her so. Alan Rickman. But I could list 25 people.
9. FM: Is it tough to work with friends?
LL: Uh-uh, uh-uh! No, it’s great to work with friends. It’s heaven to work with friends. You start off and you’re already three steps ahead. You know, some of what we do is so ridiculous, it’s so insane. It’s nice to have someone you can turn to and be like, “Can you believe that?” You can turn to someone and have a good old guffaw! Liam Neeson and I have worked together a lot. And I just love working with him, we don’t even have to talk to each other. We know each other so well, we’ve worked together so many times, and we’re dear friends. There’s a huge advantage to working with someone like that.
10. FM: Of all of the fantastic people you have worked with, who taught you something really valuable for your work?
LL: Clint Eastwood. He taught me about how to stay relaxed on set. And how to stay fluid on set. And how to move through a take in a relaxed, easy, open way. That was invaluable. It’s the environment he creates; it’s the way in which he works. He sort of guides you through it in a way. You get on set, it’s a small crew, and he goes, “Okay, you can open the door, you can sit over here, you can sit over there … give it a go, okay.” He doesn’t yell “action,” doesn’t yell “cut,” just “okay.” Then you go through it, and he goes, “Okay, stop. That felt good. Were you happy with that? I was happy with that. Were we in focus? Okay, we’re moving on.” And in order to work with that, you have to stay warm all day long. You have to know how to be in a sort of slight simmer so that when you have that one take, it’s not adrenaline filled. It’s thoughtful and deep. That’s how he works. It’s really so pleasant, it’s good for you.
11. FM: How about non-career advice?
LL: Don’t be addicted to the work. Gabriel Byrne told me that. A lot of people will work back to back to back, and then you don’t deal with your life. You only work. Just as it’s a skill to apply yourself to a vocation, it’s also a skill to apply yourself to living and to life. If you don’t give it the time, it doesn’t happen.
12. FM: How do you feel about the longevity of your work? Do you think you’ve contributed to products that can transcend generations?
LL: Oh no, I don’t make products. I hope I never make a product.
13. FM: Do you consider yourself famous?
LL: I consider myself well-known, but not famous. I don’t even know what that means anymore, really. Fame. Most people don’t know who I am. Within a certain group of people, I’m well known. Another group will have no idea who I am.
14. FM: Well, Askmen.com knows who you are.
LL: Oh, my.
FM: They say you have an “understated sex appeal.” How do you feel about that? Or (gesturing to Schauer), how do you feel about that?
MS: (Laughs.) They’re right. And thankfully, it was “understated” enough up until the time I met her!
LL: Yep, I’m fine with that. I’ll take it. Thanks, guys!
15. FM: So, back to “The Big C.” Harvard is currently making a 375th birthday cake for itself in the form of a big H. Do you bake?
LL: A big H, huh? I guess you have to make something like that in sections. I make cookies, sometimes. I experiment. I’m a terrible cook, but I try. I made amazing cupcakes last year—black forest cupcakes with a chocolate ganache. Delicious.