11 Laura Linney Roles We Love (Actually)

Actresses often (correctly) protest the lack of decent parts for women over a certain age; actresses except Laura Linney, that is. The Juilliard-trained New York theater actress has carved out a niche for herself on film playing tense, textured and sometimes deeply unglamorous characters.

Her latest role is in Ozark, a new 10-part crime drama that launches on Netflix today (July 21). She plays Wendy, who suddenly has to relocate her family when her husband Marty Bird (Jason Bateman) gets involved in some shady dealings that go sour.

Except this is Laura Linney here, so rest assured there’ll be a lot more to her character than simply “wife.” To celebrate one of our favorite actors, we’ve compiled a list of her finest moments.

1. That scene in Love, Actually (2003)

We have to start with Love, Actually, Richard Curtis‘s sprawling, multi-storied rom-com that saw the Manhattan native transformed into an honorary Brit. Laura played Sarah, whose story didn’t have the happy ending you’d expect from a film like this (though this year’s Comic Relief follow-up more than made up for that).

Before it all went pear-shaped, however, there was a moment when her crush on colleague Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) was finally requited, and her obvious delight — something she was at pains to hide from the object of her affections — was charmingly infectious.

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(Image: Universal Pictures)

2. You Can Count On Me (2000)

Before that though, Laura’s breakthrough role was arguably Sammy, Mark Ruffalo‘s uptight older sister in this sleeper hit by Manchester by The Sea director Kenneth Lonergan. In it, she subtly conveys a mix of affection for and resentment towards her younger, more wayward brother. She finds an outlet for her frustration by having an affair with her new pernickety boss (Matthew Broderick). It’s a performance that resulted in the first of three Oscar nominations (the others being for 2004’s Kinsey and 2008’s The Savages, see below), and led to a slew of nuanced, older female roles in indie films.

3. The Savages (2007)

Laura played an older sister again in this film by director Tamara Jenkins, this time to Philip Seymour Hoffman. The siblings are forced to come together when their father (Philip Bosco), who treated them badly as children, is dying from dementia. Laura’s character is more than just a sister, though: she’s also a frustrated playwright, not to mention something of an irritating, self-absorbed fantasist. This performance won her a third Oscar nomination, but she lost out to Marion Cotillard for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose.

4. The Big C (2010 – 2013)

With her Golden Globe-winning performance on The Big C, Laura took on a seemingly impossible feat: making cancer funny. And she succeeded — sort of. The humor was dark, and the lighter moments riddled with sadness, as Minneapolis teacher Cathy Jamison’s disease ran its unstoppable course. By the finale of the fourth season, the inevitable happened, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It took an actor as deft as Laura to get us there, though.

5. Tales of the City (1993 – 1998)

As a fresh-faced girl next door from Ohio, Laura’s character in this landmark adaptation of Armistead Maupin‘s series of novels is the archetypal fish out of water, and, as such, she’s perfectly cast. Laura inhabits the wide eyed innocence of Mary Ann as she navigates 1970s San Francisco – and then subtly evolves her into a more worldly soul and a well-intentioned friend.

6. The Truman Show (1998)

Laura’s role is once again much more than “wife” in this tale of a man (Jim Carrey) unknowingly living in a TV show. And we mean that in its most literal sense. She plays a woman, Hannah Gill, who is in turn playing Truman’s wife Meryl, and whose job it is to slot ads for various household products into their marriage. Laura’s performance manages to capture every level of this subterfuge, sometimes in the very same scene.

7. The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Laura plays a wife stepping out of her academic husband’s (Jeff Daniels) shadow in this autobiographical dramedy from director Noah Baumbach. As ever, Laura’s performance is perfectly pitched, capturing Joan’s wonderful appallingness, as she sits her kids down to explain her infidelities; her fury, as she slaps her teenage son (Jesse Eisenberg) across the face after one insult too many; and her vulnerability, flinching as she admits to contacting her father-in-law.

8. Primal Fear (1996)

The most memorable performance in this film is unquestionably Edward Norton‘s, who at the age of 27 was making his film debut. It’s Laura’s role, however, as unyielding prosecutor Janet Venable that’s the most pivotal. She appears at first glance to have an “unloseable” case, until self-satisfied defense attorney (and her former lover) Martin Vail (Richard Gere) gets his hands on it, that is.

9. Mystic River (2003)

Up until the final scene of this Boston crime noir from director Clint Eastwood, Laura’s character Annabeth Markum has been notable only for her stoic reserve, as her husband Jimmy (Sean Penn) sets out to avenge his daughter’s murder. In it, she reveals herself to be as bloodthirsty and culpable as Lady Macbeth.

10. John Adams (2008)

Surprise, surprise! Laura plays someone’s wife in this seven-part HBO miniseries, but not just any wife: the second First Lady, to be exact. Abigail Smith was the long-suffering but loving wife of founding father John Adams, played here by the equally magnificent Paul Giamatti, and their unusually close marriage plays a central role in this drama covering a tumultuous 50-year period in America’s history.

11. This sketch with Stephen Colbert (2015)

Laura’s knack for playing “glassy-eyed wife teetering on the edge of an existential crisis” was put to good use in this spoof commercial with Late Show host Stephen Colbert. Initially, as they talk glowingly about a time-saving beverage called “Yesterday’s Coffee,” they exhibit the kind of vigorous marital bliss typical of the coffee-commercial genre, but, like the marriages in many of Laura’s movies, it quickly turns to despair.

Which is your favorite Laura Linney role?

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