For Oscar nominee, 'it's the best of times'

Laura Linney recalls a cold wind blowing through Greenwich Village as she stopped for a coffee-to-go, and hurried to the subway to get to Midtown.

Ms. Linney, one of the front-runners for this year's Academy Award as Best Actress for the movie "You Can Count on Me," and already a winner for the same film by the New York Film Critics, was just one of the group of morning subway riders.

"That's what I love about this city," says Linney, a native New Yorker, "the riders pay attention to nothing but their morning paper."

A New Yorker to the core of the Big Apple, fame hasn't altered her lifestyle. But that might change when she co-stars with Richard Gere in the sci-fi "The Mothman Prophecies," to be released later this year. Linney will also be seen this summer with Gena Rowlands in "Black Iris" on Showtime.

"Right now," she says with a smile, "it's the best of times. Things are changing by degrees. When I'm on the subway, I can sense there's an awareness that people are beginning to recognize me. It's more like they're saying to themselves, 'I don't know quite who you are.' You can feel eyes on you once in a while. It hasn't been a problem, so I'll just keep living my life."

When Linney received the news of her Oscar nomination, she "turned into a puddle."

She says that the film was a dream of writer-director Ken Lonergan; they filmed it in 24 days on location in New York State's Catskills region.

"It was very, very by-the-seat-of-your-pants. We had a slim budget, so we had to get down to business quickly.... Makingan independent film on a shoestring budget, you just hope people will enjoy it and actually see it, but you don't expect it to reach a wide audience. When it won at the Sundance Film Festival [last year], we were all thrilled out of our minds."

The brother-sister relationship in "You Can Count On Me" "isn't explored much in films," she says. "Working with Mark Ruffalo, who played the brother, was a wonderful experience."

Acting has always been Linney's goal. Her mother was a nurse who enjoyed the arts, and her dad, Romulus Linney, was an Off-Broadway playwright. They divorced when Laura was young, but she says that both influenced her love of the theater. Linney graduated from Brown University in Providence, R.I., and the Julliard School of Dramatic Art.

"I really expected one day [that] I'd be a company member in a regional theater," she says. "I never anticipated having the opportunities of working in stage, films, and television."

Like many struggling actors, Linney paid the rent by acting in TV commercials. "My first commercial was what they refer to as a cattle call. Several hundred actors showed up to audition. It was getting late in the day and the casting director looked out and saw an elderly man, a teenage boy, and me still waiting."

When all three of them walked into his office, the casting director turned on the music and asked them to dance around the room and pretend to be chickens. It was a commercial for a new chicken sauce.

"When that music started, I flapped my arms, craned my neck, and jerked my knees, and got added attention with a robust cock-a-doodle-doo. I used part of the paycheck from that job to buy a winter coat."

Fortunately things improved. A big stepping stone was being selected as the understudy for Stockard Channing in "Six Degrees of Separation."

"The play started Off-Broadway and then went to Broadway. I did the lead a few times, so I made my starring debut off and on Broadway in the same play."

She smiles. "I think the reason I'm pale is that I grew up in the theater. My entire youth and early adulthood was inside. Then I got a small role in the movie "Lorenzo's Oil," and it was the first time I acted outdoors in my entire life. It was a big step forward."

Her breakthrough film came in 1996 when she played a lawyer with Richard Gere in "Primal Fear." From there, she appeared as an attorney with Clint Eastwood in "Absolute Power" and as Jim Carrey's wife in "The Truman Show."

Linney already has had her share of rewards, including the Calloway Award for her Broadway performance in "Hedda Gabler." She's also had her share of tough reviews, she says. "The one that crushed me deeply read 'Laura Linney acted like a screaming gym teacher as she thumped around the stage.' "

Then there was a New York Times critic who glowingly reviewed her in a small Off-Broadway production of "The Seagull." "I remember thinking, 'I will never get a review this good again the rest of my life.' It was a Chekhov play, it was a famed reviewer, and it was New Year's Eve. It was magical!"

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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