Laura Linney on Hyde Park on Hudson | Interview
Laura Linney reflects on the life she’s chosen—and the one she hasn’t.
Laura Linney is in a hurricane, laughing. She calls from Brooklyn the day of Hurricane Sandy, during a storm-induced break from her Showtime series, The Big C. She laughs often: As on camera, her light lilt can belie her serious intent. In Hyde Park on Hudson, the 48-year-old New Yorker plays Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, a cousin and confidant to FDR (Bill Murray). The film traces their budding romance around the 1939 weekend when the king and queen of England visited FDR’s home in upstate New York.
You traveled to Daisy’s house and read letters between her and FDR. How did the research inform your take on her?
Right across from her bed was a large lithograph of FDR. She woke up every morning looking at him. So there was a devotion that I found very innocent and extremely dedicated.
Some reviews say Daisy seems incidental here since she doesn’t play a part in the film’s key historical events.
I don’t read that stuff, so this is news to me. I think that’s something that should be taken up with the writer [Laughs], not with me.
But you’re a thoughtful person, you think about these things.
I think it’s a very poetic movie. It’s a very delicate movie. It’s about very public people in a very private place. I don’t think it’s trying to make a political statement about anything.
So you don’t read your reviews?
No. No. No. No. Why? [Laughs] I mean, why? Why do that to myself? The good is just as dangerous as the bad. That’s not my job.
You’ve said that “no one is one thing,” which is true of Daisy, who’s both naive and savvy, and of another recent role, The Details’ Lila, who’s both whacked-out and caring. Do you look for that contradictory quality?
I don’t know if I look for it as it seems to look for me. [Laughs] The thing that’s interesting and compelling about people is their lighter sides, their darker sides, the undertow to a personality.
How has your relationship with The Big C changed since your own father passed away from cancer in January 2011? Small question.
Yeah, small question. [Pauses] It’s too big to even go into. But it’s just another indication that cancer is not far from anybody. That’s life, you know. I’m certainly not the only person on the planet who has lived through a parent dying of cancer.
As a kid, you were friendly with the terminally ill patients your mom saw as a nurse. Have you spoken with her about that since The Big C?
We haven’t talked about it, but I carry all of that with me. I’m sure it’s informed me in ways that I don’t even understand. But if I dwelled on it [Laughs], you wouldn’t get through a day.
Has your approach to the show’s theme of life’s brevity changed in your late forties?
It’s just gratitude to be the age I am. No one’s entitled to grow old. It’s a real privilege. And I get very irritated when I hear people complain about getting older. I’m not saying it’s easy or it’s fun. It’s not. I know that. The generation ahead of you starts to go, the culture’s changing in ways that confuse you, your body is changing in ways that are surprising. But, but—it’s a real privilege.
Daisy speaks of a time when people could have secrets, like her relationship with FDR, which of course is not our time. You don’t divulge a lot personally. Why is that?
I just think it’s such a pretty self-evident question. I do my work and I love what I do, and I just want to have my own life. I feel like I give a lot. And there’s some things that I’d just rather keep to myself. It’s a way of my keeping intimate with my own self. You can’t be intimate if you give everything away. The intimacy of relationships, the intimacy of daily activity, the intimacy in relationship to your work—if everything is exposed, then everything has equal weight, and I don’t want to live a life that way. That seems to me like a fairly dull life.
You say it’s self-evident, but your take isn’t common among actors.
Maybe not. Actors are a people-pleasing group of people. And if people ask, they’ll give away. And then it really is: Why do people ask? It’s certainly not how I was raised.… Journalists care because they’re trying to write a story. Nobody cares, honestly. Who cares, like, what we eat for breakfast? Nobody. Nor should they.
Your dislike of being photographed is a remarkable thing for a movie actor. What is it about cameras?
I don’t know. I don’t like them. [Laughs] It was a big surprise when I started working in film—I mean, a really big surprise. And it took me a while to get used to it. Once I began to know the crew around the camera, then I calmed down a little bit. It made it not be just this mechanical thing that was focused at me. You know when they say they’re gonna shoot the camera? That’s just scary. It is. “We’re gonna shoot you. Let’s shoot it. Shoot the camera!” [Laughs] It’s just frightening.
A Chicago question: You weren’t too thrilled with Northwestern as an undergrad and studied hard to transfer to Brown. Why?
Northwestern is a great school, but it just wasn’t the school for me. It was a Big Ten school. I’d been to a high school in Massachusetts which was very liberal-arts based. And I was really cold.
Hyde Park on Hudson opens December 14.