Panic, Disillusionment Mark Linney's Latest

TORONTO--Laura Linney is having a good week at the Toronto International Film Festival. She's promoting p.s.--a romantic drama that's drawn praise for her performance--while taking a break from boosting one of the other hot tickets at the fest, Kinsey (in which she stars as the wife of the controversial sex researcher). The night before this interview, Linney collected an Emmy (her second) for her guest-starring role in the final season of the sitcom Frasier.

In p.s. (which opens on Friday [February 4]), Linney plays Louise Harrington, an admissions officer for the fine-arts program at Columbia University who's coming to grips with aging parents, her ex-husband (Gabriel Byrne), a brother "in recovery" (Paul Rudd), an ultracompetitive best friend (Marcia Gay Harden), and her attraction to a mysterious young student with an uncanny--and possibly supernatural--resemblance to the long-dead love of her life.

Topher Grace plays the student--the portentously named F. Scott Feinstadt--and he seems almost starstruck when talking about Linney to a small group of journalists at a table in a hotel ballroom. "To work opposite Laura is, like, insane," Grace says. "She's probably one of the best actors alive. And I was so close with her every scene. It was like a master class in acting."

Linney is equally complimentary about Grace when she arrives at the table. "Topher's a fantastic actor," Linney says before tossing out three consecutive wonderfuls to describe his performance. She laughs when asked about the age difference, which is clearly a recurring theme in her interviews.

"I know everyone's sort of fascinated by that," Linney says. "They immediately go to that. But it's not that unusual." She laughs again, then continues. "I think those types of relationships have existed in the past, exist now, and will exist in the future."

Linney, who has had her pick of projects since scoring an Oscar nomination for You Can Count on Me in 2000, explains that the appeal of p.s. was simple. "It was good," she says. "It's actable. A lot of scripts aren't actable. There are times that I'll read things and they might be witty and great and this and that but it's not actable. Or you have to pound it into the ground to make it actable. But there are a lot of things that are just in there, so it was ripe with possibilities."

So what does she get to act? "Life panic and disillusionment," Linney says. "Here's a woman who's sort of in the middle of life panic--who's just looking back all the time--just history, history, history, history. She has a lot of baggage. She's upset with how her life has gone. She doesn't understand why her life is the way that it is. And it's a turning point."

The film's director, Dylan Kidd, who also adapted Helen Schulman's novel p.s. for the screen, says there was never a second choice for the role of Louise. Linney was friends with one of the stars of Roger Dodger--Kidd's first film--and he met her at a rough-cut screening. "She came with another actor friend and I talked to her for about five minutes and I just thought, 'God, I love this woman. She's always so great. I've got to write something for her,' " Kidd says. "And so when I read the book, by page 40 I was like, 'I wanna make the movie and I wanna make it with Laura.' So there was never anybody else."

Linney laughs again when asked about the pressures of having the novel adapted with her in mind. "I wasn't completely aware of that when we were making the movie or else it would have put just way too much pressure on everybody. But it's always nice when someone wants to work with you, and certainly better than being shoved down someone's throat when they really don't want you there and they'd rather have someone else. So I was extremely flattered."

In addition to hopping between film and TV, Linney has continued to act on the stage. Two years ago she received a Tony nomination for her performance in The Crucible. She has no particular preference for any one of the mediums.

"I've been doing theatre much longer than I've been doing film. I'm the daughter of a playwright. I grew up in the theatre--not professionally, but around it--and was theatre-trained and went to Juilliard. So my relationship with the theatre is just much longer than my relationship to film. I love going back and forth. The more film I do, the more I enjoy it, but I really do enjoy going back and forth between the two. I think it's good for me. It's very good for me."

p.s.: it seems to be good for audiences, too.