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The Emmy-winning star (she just earned her fourth for her role in "The Big C" last month) has had a varied, decades-long career, with award-worthy roles in theater, film, and television. Her latest movie, "The Fifth Estate," which chronicles the rise of divisive free-speech activist Julian Assange and his website, WikiLeaks, opens this Friday. When we spoke to Linney recently, we learned that she's been enjoying some deliberate down time.
So what does Laura Linney do when she's doing nothing? Like the rest of us, she binge-watches "Breaking Bad." And when she's not immersed in Walter White's crystal meth-cooking drama, she's talking to us about taking on the WikiLeaks story, changing a pivotal moment in "Love Actually," and the gender-bending role she'd love to play.
Bill Condon said he felt an initial pang of "terror" when he took on "The Fifth Estate." What was your initial feeling when getting involved?
Originally, Bill called and asked if I would do it and I said yes. He said, "Well, read it first." I said, "I don't need to." Because I'll work with Bill Condon on anything he wants me to do. Really, that's the entire reason I did the movie, was just to be around Bill. And the fact that it was about this very complicated issue is always fun to play and jump into a little bit. We filmed for five days. It was a very short, short shoot. Anthony Mackie and Stanley Tucci and I came in after Daniel [Bruhl] and Benedict [Cumberbatch] had already wrapped, so we were the addendum to the movie. We did our own little independent film at the end of the movie. It was really about, "How do I help Bill tell this story?"
You sounded a little sad when you said Benedict and Daniel had already wrapped. Did you feel left out of that party?
Oh no, no, no. It was just fun to be included. We just had a great time. We really had fun. Stanley and I just laughed through the five days of filming. And really, I couldn't see what Bill was doing. In some ways it made it simple for us because we had no exposure to what had been filmed with Daniel or Benedict. Or how wonderfully complicated visually the movie is. You know, we just had no clue of that.
Condon, Cumberbatch, and Bruhl dove deep into the WikiLeaks story. What kind of research did you do for your role?
Not a lot, to be honest with you. I've made a lot of movies that deal with the government in the past, so I certainly had that wealth of information. And I knew what I knew about WikiLeaks -- you know, what you can get on the Internet as a layman like myself. So I'd certainly read all of that. I shouldn't say I did nothing; that's not true. I didn't approach it from a character-driven standpoint; I really approached it from a storytelling standpoint and what Bill needed for the movie.
Not to go completely off course, but have you seen "House of Cards"?
Yes, I have seen "House of Cards."
A couple of people have said to me "What did you think of Laura Linney's look? She's like the long-lost cousin of Robin Wright's character in 'House of Cards.'"
Oh! That's just the greatest compliment I could ever get. That's the most fantastic compliment ever. I think she's one of the most beautiful women alive. I'll take the "cousin-three-times-removed" for Robin Wright. I'm happy to do that. [Laughs]
Do you binge-watch TV shows?
I do. I have been because I've been taking a little time off. And since I've had the time, I've watched "House of Cards" in, like, two days. I did all of "Breaking Bad" in the past few months. I watched "Top of the Lake" in one sitting. It's fantastic. It's really fun.
Have you watched "Orange Is the New Black"?
Not yet. That's next.
Okay, back to "Fifth Estate." When WikiLeaks threatens to expose thousands of diplomatic cables, your character regrets some of the things she's said. If you had the chance to go back and change a decision that one of your characters made, what would it be?
Oh, easy. "Love Actually" -- don't pick up the phone.
I'm one of those people who has to watch "Love Actually" every Christmas.
It's such a sweet movie.
Are you surprised that it's gained this big following?
I love that it has. I loved making it. I love the people who made it. I love the spirit behind it. So it just makes me happy. The whole thing makes me happy.
When fans walk up to you in the street or introduce themselves to you, is that what gets mentioned most? What do they talk about?
It's different. I'm fortunately not known for one thing. I never know what someone is going to say. It sort of comes from all over the place. There's either "Tales of the City" fans, or theater fans, or an obscure movie, or an indie, or a big budget movie -- it's always different.
Is there a role or a movie that you've done that you're surprised has a big fan base?
"Life of David Gale" has a small fan base, but a fervent one.
What role -- past or present -- in the history of movies (or theater or TV) do you wish you'd played?
That's so hard, because the reason you like it so much is because the person who did it did it. You know what I mean? I don't know that I would be as good as the people who did it. I love "Dodsworth." I think Ruth Chatterton in "Dodsworth" is just one of the great performances. And if I could ever do something that good, I'd be thrilled.
Oh, I know! I wouldn't mind being Sabu in "Thief of Baghdad." [Laughs]
That's an unexpected answer.
I love him in that. I'd love to be Sabu.
So what's up next for you, after your time off?
Who knows? We'll see. I have no idea. I have no plans. I'm not making plans. I'm trying to clear the slate and give myself a little time to breathe and then we'll see. And then it's the life of an actor -- you never know.
Is that relaxing for you, to have an open calendar?
I've never done it before, so I'll let you know. [Laughs] So far, so good.
"The Fifth Estate" opens Friday, October 18.
Tim Hayne (@tim_hayne) is Editor in Chief of Moviefone.