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Broadway Q&A: Laura Linney of ‘Tales of the City’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

Linney on Broadway: “I was instantly in love with the theater.”

Laura Linney has played a variety of delicious roles on stage, in film and on TV. A Broadway veteran, she has been nominated for four Tony Awards for standout performances in The Little Foxes, The Crucible, Sight Unseen and Time Stands Still. Other Broadway credits includes Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Uncle Vanya, Honour, Holiday, Hedda Gabler and Six Degrees of Separation. A three-time Oscar nominee, she has starred in Primal Fear, The Savages, Kinsey and You Can Count on Me. An Emmy winner for her portrayal of Cathy Jamison in The Big C, she is reprising her role as Mary Ann Singleton in the updated Tales of the City coming out on Netflix. She originally played the role in the 1993 miniseries. This past spring, Linney was honored by MCC Theater for her exceptional body of work.

Laura Linney at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards (Photo: Bruce Glikas/WireImage)

Laura Linney at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards (Photo: Bruce Glikas/WireImage)

MCC Theater and you have a special bond. What do you love about the theater company?  
Laura Linney
: I love theaters that have been around my entire professional life. When I got out of school, one of my first jobs was at MCC. They have been working consistently and developing great work for a long time now. It’s not easy to sustain. So my hat is off to them. And they're getting better and better and better.

You have spoken so eloquently about your experience being in Hedda Gabler.
: The play was almost four hours…The reviews were appropriately brutal. One leading paper said “Off with her Hedda.” A more passive aggressive statement was “Ibsen himself would be severely disappointed.” It was a comedy of errors. Our Ludwig was fired the night before opening. Not his fault. But in the long run he was spared and I was jealous. Every single night people in the audience got up and left. In my despair, realizing I had months of this to live through, I sought my mentor Joanne Woodward. I asked her to please, if she wouldn't mind, come witness this fiasco and give me pearls of wisdom to turn this around. I was right out of Juilliard and had no idea what to do. Surely, this goddess would point me in the right direction.

(After seeing the play), Joanne looked me the straight in the eye, and leaned in with a clarity I will never forget. She said, “Dear heart, there is nothing you can do.” She shrugged kindly. She gave me an encouraging – and I suspect now, a very knowing – smile. She knew through experience what she was talking about. Then a small voice inside of me said, “Go back to school. Let this hopelessness give you some freedom. Don’t waste the time…Go back to basics. Reevaluate what we believe. Know what you know and stand there. Even if it's all going to hell around you.”

At the end of the day, I was thankful that I was at least in theater. Even if I was suffering in a miscast production, I was in the place where I always felt most at home. And to me, even in the worst of circumstances, it has always been, until I had my own family, where life made the most sense. I learned that failure is one of the most painful and valuable lessons of all. That we have to be kind, and forgive ourselves and forgive others. No one sets out to do bad work. Hopefully you can laugh about it afterwards.

What was your Broadway debut?
LL: I was the understudy for the original production of Six Degrees of Separation. One of the actresses went off to do another job, and I moved up to replace her while she was gone for six weeks. When I was hired to be the understudy, I had not graduated from Juilliard yet. It was a week before graduation.

What was one of the first Broadway shows you ever saw?
LL: Pippin. I was just in love. I was instantly in love with the theater.

For more of the best of Broadway this season, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in July 2019

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