Laura Linney on Preparing for a Scene and the Importance of Knowing a Character Arc


Actor Laura Linney in Ozark
“In the theater, there’s the expression of: Don’t play the entire play in one scene. Similarly, it goes for television. You can’t play the entire season in one scene — don’t.” – Laura Linney

Before even starting her role on the Netflix drama Ozark, Laura Linney was already a four-time Emmy Award winner, a three-time Oscar nominee, and a two-time Golden Globe Award winner. Her performance on the crime drama has brought her even more acclaim. One reason why she might be receiving so much praise for her performance is her approach to her character, Wendy — and in a conversation with IndieWire, Linney credits the extensive information given to her about her character’s arc as one of the primary reasons for her portrayal of Wendy.

Linney says that one of the reasons why she feels so connected with her character is that she has been given information about her character’s arc ahead of time — and confesses that she doesn’t understand why many shows try to keep actors in the dark about the fate of their characters. She says, “I like to have as much information as I can possibly have… There’s a cultural thing in television not to give out information to actors, for whatever reason, I don’t know, other than they’re afraid an actor might have a comment about it or want them to write it differently. But it never makes any sense to me when you don’t give the actors as much information as you can give them, so they can go do their job and craft their work accordingly.”

As an example, Linney points to her character’s relationship with her brother Ben (portrayed by Tom Pelphrey) over the course of the series to indicate how important it is for her to know about her character’s future. She says, “You’ll be able to see how an individual scene will help move the narrative forward for the entire arc. So, say for example, if I’m looking at a scene between Ben and I early on, that’s an opportunity for me to lay some groundwork in our relationship; how there really is a very deep bond there. I know it’s important for me to land that [emotion]there, so later on it will pay off — so that knowledge is embedded in the audience, and they have that moving forward.”

With that said, Linney does say that knowing a character’s arc doesn’t mean that an actor should incorporate all of that knowledge into the performance of an individual scene. She says, “In the theater, there’s the expression of: Don’t play the entire play in one scene. Similarly, it goes for television. You can’t play the entire season in one scene — don’t. You can’t play the entire episode in one scene — don’t. It might mean you have to be a little patient with yourself, and disciplined with yourself, just to fill the scene and what the scene is asking you to do. Then that scene in combination with a scene maybe 20 minutes later, those two things together will lead you somewhere unexpected.”

Even with all of that knowledge about the character, Linney admits that the pressure to perform can get to her. She reveals, “I like to be alone during [preparation]time. Just to stay calm and not get distracted. People know to let an actor be; that it’s hard work; that it’s something that costs a little bit. And you don’t want it to be bad — moments like that can be so bad, they can really be bad. You so just don’t want to suck. You just don’t want to let anybody down.”

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