Laura Linney is a busy woman. During the next year, the two-time Oscar nominee (for You Can Count on Me and Kinsey) will be a common sight in multiplexes and on TV. In the dramedy The Savages, she and Philip Seymour Hoffman play siblings taking care of their aging father (Philip Bosco). For the movie adaptation of the best-seller The Nanny Diaries, she stars as spoiled New York wife Mrs. X. And then she goes back in time to appear as Abigail Adams in HBO’s John Adams miniseries, based on David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. The actress was packing her bags for Budapest when EW caught up with her to talk about her artistic heroes, the downside of Los Angeles, and, naturally, Dancing With the Stars.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you were younger, what actress or performance convinced you that you wanted that type of life for yourself?
LAURA LINNEY: It was always a combination of things. My father’s a playwright so I would go to the theater with him a lot, he did a lot of plays in regional theater. I can remember seeing the actresses in those plays — I thought [they] were magical and fantastic. I did summer stock a lot, I was 13, and I was working with actors who were 26 and I thought they were gods. The people who I wasn’t actually seeing in person — Maggie Smith, Jessica Tandy, Meryl Streep, of course, the goddess. You watch Judi Dench, you watch Kate Winslet, the great actors who are around [now], there’s many of them — Phil Hoffman, Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson — I’m still excited, they still sort of move me along.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays your brother in The Savages. How did that movie come about?
Like most of the indies that I’ve been lucky enough to do, it always takes a while for them to get together…. Much to [writer/director] Tamara [Jenkins]’ credit, she stuck by us. Phil hadn’t won the Oscar [for Capote] yet, so there were many production companies that turned us down. But it’s a fantastic ensemble. I can’t say enough about the two Phils in the movie — my two Phils. I just loved being around them both. There was a real ease in which we all worked together. I grew up watching Phil Bosco on stage. Speaking for Phil Hoffman, both of us felt that he’s a legend to us. He’s a legend in the theater: If you grew up in New York, Phil Bosco was a giant. So it was a real thrill to be around him.
Who else have been some of your favorite co-stars?
There are those actors who you looooove going to work with every day, because you completely trust them and you don’t waste time and you can really fly.
Like You Can Count On Me’s Mark Ruffalo?
I always see him and I always tear up. When you have a good working relationship, you don’t even know how to put it into words. It’s just something you treasure. For the rest of my life I will treasure having worked with Phil. I feel that way about Ruffy too. Ruffalo touches me in a way, I don’t know if it was the time when we made the movie, it’s just him. Every time I see him I just tear up.
How was it transitioning from The Savages shoot to The Nanny Diaries?
Going from one piece of work to another isn’t so hard. I had one day after I finished The Savages before going to The Nanny Diaries. That was a long marathon and they were really challenging. So how do you stay healthy? Denial: ”I don’t really need sleep, I don’t really need food.”
Describe your character in The Nanny Diaries.
Mrs. X! I love her because she’s just such a mess. She’s spoiled and she’s rich and she’s blessed and she’s a mess. I grew up in Manhattan, so I saw a lot of those women. There’s something very sad about her. She’s just drowning and she’s ridiculous. She’s mean and bitter. She’s all messed up. She’s just scrambled.
Where do you live now?
Emotionally, I live in New York and always will. I’ll be getting an apartment there soon. I’ve lived in New York my whole life. Over the past two or three years, I haven’t had a physical place there. I go back and forth between Colorado and Connecticut.
Why not Los Angeles?
There’s something about Los Angeles, unfortunately, it’s very tricky — it’s just hard to be in the performing arts in a town that is focused on other things. There’s a crosscurrent going on. It’s just reality and it’s just the way that it is. I think Los Angeles, I don’t care who you are, how beautiful you are, how talented you are, how educated, how rich you are in family blessings, Los Angeles will make you feel like s— about yourself in time. I don’t care who you are, you can have won the Nobel Peace Prize and Los Angeles in time will make you feel not so good about yourself. It is wonderfully seductive, it is beautiful in Los Angeles, and I really enjoy spending time there. [But] for me, I sort of feel like a fish out of water there.
What are you working on now?
I’m in the middle of doing a seven-hour miniseries for HBO on John Adams. I’m on hiatus right now for a week. I leave for Budapest tomorrow. And that’s been enormous. I’m used to doing low-budget movies, so all of a sudden to go to a company that has money and is happy to spend it on actors and sets and costumes is so fun. I feel like I’m a kid in a candy store at the moment.
What books will you take on the plane?
At the moment I’m steeped in books about his wife, Abigail Adams. I’ve read about five of them: There’s the McCullough book and [McCullough’s] 1776 and the Joseph Ellis book American Sphinx, which is about Thomas Jefferson. It’s coming out my pores, all this stuff. American history is wasted on high school sophomores. I remembered not a thing.
What’s your pop culture weakness?
I watch a lot of TV. I’m an American Idol fanatic. The thing that’s been hysterical is I do John Adams all day long, and you go home and you want to watch something that’s fun and light. This past year, that’s where I’ve been. Scary but true. Dancing With the Stars, too. I’m thrilled that Apolo Ohno won! Happy, happy, happy. I called in and voted.