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With 'Ozark' and a one-woman show, Laura Linney is still learning and loving it

With 'Ozark' and a one-woman show, Laura Linney is still learning and loving it
"With long-form television," says Laura Linney, who stars in "Ozark," "the challenge for me is ... you have no idea where you're going. The challenge is to make it as detailed and connected to the narrative in a way that has the same richness as if I did know where I was going." (Michael Nagle / For The Times)

Laura Linney is a talented actress who may have gone a bit too far. She costars in Netflix's "Ozark," she's rehearsing for a one-woman show on the London stage ("My Name Is Lucy Barton") and is producing Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City," in which she will reprise the role that put her on the map 25 years ago. "I am stretched a little too thin at the moment," the 54-year-old four-time Emmy winner admits, dimples flashing. But sitting down with The Envelope at her Brooklyn rehearsal studio, the truth was clear: Linney loves all of it.

A one-woman show! How do you memorize all of that material?

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It's not easy. You just do it. There's no way through it but through it. You just have to, sentence by sentence, thought by thought, paragraph by paragraph, page by page. There's no secret.

You once told me that doing a theatrical production gave you time to "sink into a character." How does that compare to doing a TV series like "Ozark" or "The Big C"?

The theater gives you a full story: a beginning, middle and an end. Then it gives you time to fully craft that and let you work on the material and the material work on you. With long-form television, the challenge for me is, because it rolls out, you have no idea where you're going. The challenge is to make it as detailed and connected to the narrative in a way that has the same richness as if I did know where I was going.

What made you decide to return to series TV with "Ozark"?

I had no intention of going back to TV right away [after "The Big C"]. But I'd always liked [costar-director-producer-writer] Jason Bateman. Really liked him.

Laura Linney and Jason Bateman in a scene from Netflix' "Ozark."
Laura Linney and Jason Bateman in a scene from Netflix' "Ozark." (Jackson Davis / Netflix)

Like, as the heartthrob he once was?

Not as a heartthrob for me — he's a little younger than I am — though he is handsome and gorgeous and I love him. But there are some people who stay in their lane of work, and they don't venture outside. They're smart to stay there. And then there are some people who you think, 'Mmm, there's more there.' You can smell it. So I was very excited that he was going to take on such a monumental task. And I thought, why not help him do that?

Is the Wendy we see in the show the same one that was on the page when you signed on?

The part needed some adjustment — it was fine but not something I would want to be with for a long period of time. There was some tailoring that was done. Unless there was something for me to contribute, there was no reason for me to be there.

Both Cathy in "Big C" and Wendy in "Ozark" are surprising women. Do you see a connection in the characters you choose to play?

I'm sure there is one; I don't see it or look for it. I just look for good storytelling. I don't start with character. It's story first. From there, you can develop a great character. Every once in a while you'll hit on something that will carry you through the life of a project. I can't tell you what it is for "Ozark," because it's a bit of a spoiler.

Have you had to struggle against typecasting of any kind?

When I first started. I was "cold but wounded." Someone literally told me that.

Actress Laura Linney poses for a portrait at St Ann's Warehouse.
Actress Laura Linney poses for a portrait at St Ann's Warehouse. (Michael Nagle / For The Times)

You've been at this for over 25 years. What have you learned about yourself and the job in that time?

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The big lesson that I keep learning and relearning — you have to sit in the discomfort of a process. You have to let things feel not good to move through it. Things can't be at the same level all the time. Normally, in about the third week of every rehearsal process, everything feels terrible. Terrible! And if you take the bait of that, you can go down a rabbit hole of “This is awful and my life is over and I'm never going to survive it.” But that's when you have to stick with it and have a little grit and keep working.

Do you ever see a time when you'll slow down?

Not at the moment. I'm still learning, and I still feel like I have so much to learn. As long as that's there, and as long as people will have me, I will keep working.

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