Actress Laura Linney ’86 addressed a lively audience of students during an Ivy Film Festival event last night in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. The Herald sat down with Linney afterward to talk about her experience at Brown and changes in the movie industry.
The Herald: You mentioned the Brown experience today is a version of what you went through. How do you think Brown has changed over the years?
Laura Linney: I can certainly say from the time I was here, all of Providence has changed drastically. It is a different city – it looks fantastic, and the school looks better … It has a vibrancy that was always there but seems unleashed now. It’s very positive here. It just seems like everyone’s very happy – but not in a saccharine happy way, but in a grounded satisfied way. And that’s just encouraging for anyone returning to their school to see. And I think the administration is more involved with the students themselves. When I was here, I had no contact or awareness of who the president was or what they were like … I think just (the Granoff Center) is a perfect example of the change, of how everyone is encouraged to share knowledge and experience each other’s interests. It seems like it’s a much more open, fluid place than when I was here. But then the great stuff that makes it great is still here – the philosophy of education, the standards of admission, the wild, wonderful classes that you can take that you can’t take anywhere else, the appreciation of unique study.
Were there any “wild and wonderful” classes in particular you remember taking and loving?
I was a history of theater person, so all my history of the lyric stage, and theater history and theory. All of that stuff, which to me was the most fascinating stuff on the planet … Maybe I shared that with a few other people – not many, but it was there for me.
You mentioned (in the lecture) you think curiosity is a really important thing to foster. Is there something either in the film industry or outside of it that you’re still really curious to explore or to know?
As far as just the acting is concerned … I still approach it like I’m still a student. There’s always something to work on. It’s sort of like a Chinese puzzle – you work and work and work and work, and then something will unlock … And there’s another long corridor to go through … I feel like there’s still so much to learn, and I’ll never be able to learn it in one lifetime. But I’ll have a good time while trying.
Is there any advice you would give to your former self at Brown?
I wouldn’t give myself such a hard time. I was so hard on myself … I never felt like I did anything really right, and I was just fine, you know? I just wouldn’t have worried so much – I was a bit of a worrywart. I think I would have just told myself to breathe a little deeper.
You speak from a very collected place – is there anything you do regularly to escape?
I try and have the time that I work be that … like the script work that I do quietly on my own. I try to use that as a time to center and to let my mind move – and not just function, but explore.
People who have graduated from schools like Brown have said they feel the fashion industry is not a field where there’s a lot of intellectual stimulation, and it’s frustrating to them. Does that translate to the film industry?
It can. If you isolate yourself, it can. Some of that is up to you to keep it going. I know how to go to the library. I know how to do research. I know if I have a thought that I’m curious and interested in, I know how to follow through on that and not expect to have that come from someone else … That’s part of what you learn how to do here. You learn how to think, and you learn how to take care of yourself. You learn how to take care of your thoughts and your mind and follow through an argument or pursue something that’s interesting, or question until you get to the answer.
What do you think about the kinds of films that are being made now versus when you got started?
I started making movies in the early ’90s, which was just the tail end of that ’80s boom of the big budget, where there was lots of money and big stars … I very quickly got myself where I really belonged, which is in the independent film world. And then now, we’re in a very weird – it’s a very transitional time – and everyone’s going to T.V. The big budget movies are … largely franchised films, you know, adventure franchise films. They’re not character-driven dramas being made – rarely. Independent movies are harder and harder to get done. They can still get done, but it’s a strange time right now.
What is gained or lost in that transition?
In order to do character-driven movies, you need to have people who know how to make them and when they’re not put to work, skills aren’t encouraged. But people find a place to go. I’m just so grateful that I (can) just run back to the theater, and I’m perfectly happy there. But it’s a strange time … the business and the quality of things are sort of at odds with each other.
Maybe that’s something we see across industries?
All over, everywhere. Not just in film. It’s what’s considered valuable. Good is not valuable unless it makes someone some money. It’s hard.
Is there an intellectual experience or an adventure that was totally unexpected –
Oh, it all is! It all is.
– that you never expected to have?
Travel, more than anything else … I never thought I would travel the way I did, the way I have. I really didn’t think I’d travel and I’ve been all over the world now, and that does … it changes a person.
Any particular place or trip that sticks out as especially meaningful?
Argentina, Japan. I love London – I love being in London.
Love Actually, which takes place in London, has topped my list.
It’s a sweet, sweet movie.
But your part was so sad.
Yes, but I got the best kiss. I did. I got the best kiss. I love that movie.
You mentioned that you’re still close with some friends you made at Brown.
It will (happen), like it or not! Then there’ll be the obvious people you’ll stay in touch with, and then
there’ll be the people who will surprise you, who maybe weren’t within your inner circle but somehow stay in your orbit – just over time, you become very close to them, just because of the power of time … The friends who I made here – they’re family to me. They’re the people who I want to talk to first. They are – they’re the people who I miss the most, they’re the ones who I feel the safest around. Because they’ve known me so long, and because we’ve seen each other grow up. It’s amazing what will happen to people … You’ll see people bloom, and you’ll see people struggle – the ones you didn’t think would struggle, you’ll see them really struggle … It’s a big, long, vast life and a lot happens. A lot happens … It’s unimaginable when you’re doing so much here … It’s like trying to put a watermelon in your ear – it just doesn’t make any sense that life could be bigger or fuller or more exciting than it is here.
What is something that those best friends know about you that few other people know?
That I now want to tell to the entire Brown population?
They knew that I wore the geekiest purple glasses in college. Yeah, really geeky. And that I wore nothing but sweatpants and purple glasses for four years.
Large purple glasses?
Yes. The lenses changed, when you go inside and outside – transition lenses – I love them. They worked for me. It was weirdly cool in 1986. I bought them right on Thayer Street.
Did you read The Herald during those days?
Of course I did! Of course I did!
You do a lot of interviews. What is the best question you’ve ever been asked?
There’s sort of nothing about being interviewed that I enjoy. It has nothing to do with the people doing it. It’s hard not to feel awkward and silly, and I hear the sound of my own voice, and I just say, “Shut up, just be quiet.” “Just be quiet.” It’s an inherently awkward thing to do. I have no idea.
What about the worst question?
I was standing in the line for the opening of Kinsey … a movie about sex education, the sexual revolution in the United States and gay rights and all sorts of stuff. And a woman – all she wanted to ask about was where did I get my pedicure … You’re hit with that a lot.
Do you have any advice for aspiring Brown actors and actresses?
Don’t rush. I think more than anything, it’s don’t rush. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Don’t feel like you’re missing something that’s not here. It will be there, and this is precious time. It will only help you. But don’t rush.
– Lucy Feldman and Alison Silver