"The first season was really about her being in denial. This season is about her getting angry."
So says Laura Linney in resuming her Golden Globe Award-winning portrayal of wife, mother, teacher and cancer patient Cathy Jamison as the Showtime comedy-drama series "The Big C" launches its second season Monday, June 27. Indeed, Cathy is now fighting mad as she tackles her illness by undergoing the treatment she previously resisted -- resulting in a sort of "hyper-Cathy," with an even stronger will than before.
That also means challenges for those closest to her, including husband Paul (Oliver Platt), son Adam (Gabriel Basso), brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey, a recent Tony Award winner for "The Normal Heart") and student Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious"). Sean has even more to consider: Cathy's friend Rebecca ("Sex and the City" alumna Cynthia Nixon) is expecting his child, and he has vowed to stick by her, likely meaning his altering his long-noncommittal lifestyle.
"It's tricky, because everybody changes with the knowledge of her cancer," Linney confirms, since many others became aware of Cathy's situation only in last season's finale. "Her being open about it and really dealing with it changes her attitude toward things, and it changes all of her relationships. As happens when someone has a disease of this nature, everyone who knows the person is affected."
As a result, Linney deems the second round of "The Big C" to be "fantastically ripe with opportunities for the writers and the actors. There's nothing like having time with people, working together on a project. It's nice to take a break, then reassemble; everybody knows everybody a little bit more and feels more comfortable, and you can go forth and be a little more ambitious. That's the gift television gives you that other mediums don't."
And Linney should know. Also an executive producer of "The Big C," she also has maintained careers in film and onstage, but her home-screen work has rewarded her with three Emmys thus far for "Wild Iris," "John Adams" and a guest role on "Frasier" as the woman for whom the title character left Seattle (and, essentially, the series).
A television sensibility also helped Linney and her "Big C" colleagues, including fellow executive producers Darlene Hunt (also the show's creator) and Jenny Bicks (another "Sex and the City" veteran) determine the degree of Cathy's condition for purposes of the series.
"Cathy is very sick, but she's still feeling OK," Linney notes. "It's sort of the silent cancer that she has. That's why we chose melanoma, because we knew it would give us the time we needed to have. The character could be active and function."
Such an approach let Cathy have the stamina last season to get furious at Rebecca over the latter's affair with Sean -- and with a baby on the way for the couple, the sailing isn't likely to get smoother.
"Obviously, Rebecca has a lot to learn," Nixon says in stacking her current character up against Miranda, her "Sex and the City" alter ego who earned the actress an Emmy Award.
"One thing about Miranda was that she had a lot of ambivalence about being a mother. In some ways, she was very suited for it and in others, not so much. She was very lucky that the dad of the baby was kind of an ideal father and, perhaps, made up for what she lacked. He was cuddly and easy in the same way she was prickly and driven.
"That was a nice balance, whereas with Sean and Rebecca, neither of their profiles seems like parent material," Nixon adds with a knowing laugh. "I think they have some big hurdles in front of them."
Nixon also is keeping up a busy career, having appeared in the recent HBO drama "Too Big to Fail" and about to go to Budapest to make the Starz miniseries of Ken Follett's novel "World Without End." She's happy with the development of her "Big C" role, recalling she had an early "indication of where they were going with the character," and she also likes whom she's teamed with.
"Laura Linney and I have known each other for more than 20 years, and I did Oliver Platt's very first show in New York with him," she says. "It felt like such a collection of people I love and admire, it was like, 'They're asking me to come to their party? Absolutely! Thanks for inviting me.' "
Among others invited to "The Big C" for guest stints of varying lengths this season are Alan Alda, Parker Posey and Hugh Dancy.
Soon to start filming the movie "Hyde Park on the Hudson" opposite Bill Murray as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Linney -- who also continues as host of PBS' "Masterpiece Classic" -- has maintained from the start that "The Big C" is not a comedy about cancer but about one person who has it.
"It's not so much about the illness itself," she says, "but what knowing that a life is going to end does. All of our lives are going to end, but when you're really aware that your time is less than you thought it was going to be, what does that do?"Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times