Laura Linney stands by her man again in 'Hyde Park'
Posted December 7, 2012
TORONTO - They say that behind every great man is a great woman.
And, sometimes, behind that great woman is a talented actress.
When not starring as a caustic cancer patient on Showtime's The Big C, which returns for a fourth and final season next year, Laura Linney has been making a habit out of portraying historical ladies of note.
She offered sage counsel as first lady to Paul Giamatti's Founding Father and won an Emmy for HBO's John Adams miniseries in 2008. And she inspired her controversial sex-researcher husband played by Liam Neeson in 2004's Kinsey and earned her second of three Oscar nominations.
In Hyde Park on Hudson, opening Friday, she assumes a more subdued role as the spinsterish Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (pronounced "sook-lee"), who was a sixth cousin, devoted confidant, personal archivist and - as the film suggests - one of several mistresses of Bill Murray's polio-afflicted Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Don't dare even hint to Linney that Suckley might be of lesser stature than previous real-life figures despite her bystander nature.
"This is not a woman who needs attention or wants it," says Linney, 48, sticking up for her plain-Jane middle-ager, who has the honor of narrating the story behind the momentous 1939 visit by England's King George VI and wife Elizabeth to FDR's bucolic upstate New York retreat as World War II looms. "Nor does she need acknowledgement. She has no ambition to be recognized by anyone but her friend, the president."
That Daisy has become a key part of Roosevelt lore is mainly due to a stash of correspondence between her and FDR that was found under her bed after she died at age 99 in 1991. "They showed how extensive their relationship was -– on a non-physical basis," Linney says. "How sexually active they were with each other is really up to interpretation. But what isn't up to interpretation is how close they were. They relied on each for an intimacy that was clearly there."
It was Suckley who gave the president his beloved terrier, Fala, and she was one of four woman at his bedside when he died of cerebral hemorrhage in 1945.
Doing research, the actress became fascinated by Suckley and her side of the clan. "There could be a miniseries just on Daisy and her family. She was shy, reserved and somewhat cloistered. But she was game - very game."
Still, her demure Daisy is worlds apart from such roles as Linney's acclaimed Lady Macbeth of a wife in 2003'sMystic River, who seductively encourages Sean Penn's vengeful impulses.
Professionally, this Ivy Leaguer and Broadway regular who exudes a Tina Fey-like smart-girl allure does not share her character's low profile - at least among those who value consistently fine talent.
That includes Hyde Park director Roger Michell, who put his trust in Linney to bring Suckley to life. "Daisy is on the shelf," says the British filmmaker behind Notting Hill. "She is not some sexualized being. She called herself a little mud wren."
He thought Linney would add poignancy to a love affair that could easily come off as lurid, especially when Daisy and the president engage in behavior more common to lusty teens during one of their private automobile rides.
"I saw a lot of special actresses for the part," he says. "Some were much younger and more sexually obvious than Laura. Imagine how grotesque that scene in the car would have been. We dodged a bullet by casting her."
But the actress is just about as discreet about her own private matters as Daisy was. You won't find Linney caught in any boldfaced misconduct in gossip columns. A simple semi-personal question - what is her favorite play - leaves her struggling to choose a lone title.
Instead, Tom Hanks, an executive producer on John Adams, steps in to fill in a few blanks.
"I heard Laura on the radio doing Fresh Air. She was talking about a movie she had done and a TV thing and that she had just started doing a play," he recalls. The host Terry Gross ''asked, 'Why do you work so much?' She said, 'I just love acting.' That's pretty much it. She has the chops and the love for doing it."
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