New York Times project (but I'm totally not affiliated with the NYT!!)

What is this? This year (2010), I wanted to work on a project that helped keep me in the moment.
Each day (or so), while I read the NYTimes on-line, I'll select an article.
Next, I count to the 2010th character, and select a randomly number of characters that come next.
I take this result, and cut it down to a short passage (that may or may not have ANYTHING to do with the original story)
These passages are listed here, by date
See All

08/03/2010

'And yet her sense of wonder endures.'

WITH THREE EMMYS, three Oscar nominations and two Tony nominations to her credit, Laura Linney could have easily been forgiven for treating her third Tony nomination for Time Stands Still, which ran from January to March of this year with a bit of a shrug, especially since she was certain she wouldnt win. The statuette for Best Actress in a Play was expected to go to Viola Davis, for Fences. (And indeed it did.)
But on the mid-June morning of the awards, over a chai latte in a Starbucks near her Manhattan apartment, Linney bubbled with anticipation for the big night. Just to participate in such a grand tradition and join her peers in the gilded splendor of Radio City Music Hall that seemed to be excitement and validation enough for her. Without prompting, she ticked off highlights from Tony ceremonies she had watched over the years, special moments she replays in her head.
Patti LuPone winning for Evita, she said. Jennifer Holliday singing from Dreamgirls. She smiled a goofy smile, which brought out her deep dimples, so that she looked, at 46, like a bedazzled ingnue. Then she finished her drink and grabbed hold of the purse into which she had stuffed a pair of Louis Vuitton pumps, and off we went to a Tonys dress rehearsal. Linney was to be a presenter, and she wanted to test those high heels on the Radio City stage, where she had been before. When youre up there and you look out, she said, its fantastic.
As we entered the auditorium, performers from the musical American Idiot were ripping through a spirited anthem. She stopped dead in her tracks. Its 10 in the morning, she said. They had two shows yesterday. And here they are. But are they phoning it in? No.
She bumped into Antonio Banderas, then Cate Blanchett: hugs all around. Linney has done enough work in enough different media, toggling with unusual fluidity among plays and movies and TV, to have met almost everybody whos anybody. If you need six degrees of Kevin Bacon to connect luminaries in the entertainment world, you need only three or four with Linney.
And yet her sense of wonder endures. Either that or shes a more gifted actress than even her fiercest admirers realize. You just have to see this! she exclaimed at one point, tugging me backstage. Its just too much fun, all the different casts bumping into each other. We wandered amid the chaos, squeezing past Sean Hayes and taking care not to step on the far-flung frontiers of Catherine Zeta-Joness gown. By the time we emerged back into the auditorium, dancers from the musical Memphis had begun a number, and Linney stood rapt while they whirled and tumbled for all they were worth.
It makes me want to cry, she said, watching them. I just love it.
PEOPLE WHO HAVE WORKED with Linney constantly remark on the earnestness of her enthusiasm, usually just before or after they gush about what a humble, decent person she is. The anecdotal evidence piles up high. There is the story of the time on the set of the TV miniseries Tales of the City when she washed and massaged the feet of its director, Alastair Reid, out of concern for his bunions. There is the story of the time on the set of the movie Kinsey when she rushed to the rescue of a crew member whose fingertip had been severed by a fan, helped staunch the flow of blood and applied cold compresses to his fevered brow.
To write about her is to succumb gradually to desperation and hopelessness there just doesnt seem to be any route around the fluffiest of the puffiest of articles and to grovel for even a grain of dirt. Is it possible she doesnt recycle? Files her taxes late? Chews her cuticles?
Linney herself isnt any help. During one conversation I brought up Alicia Silverstone, one of her co-stars in Time Stands Still, figuring that a possible faintness of praise might establish a limit to her generosity of spirit. Linney, after all, came up through Juilliard, Silverstone through Aerosmith videos. Oh, I love her, Linney said, I love her. Because shes engaged in her life. Shes engaged in her life in a way thats so admirable. Then she added, unprompted: And shes a great actress. Being onstage with her shes a really great actress whos not been respected. I scoured those sentences for sarcasm. None present.
So Linneys joyful, even beatific demeanor during the Tonys rehearsal was in large part just an extension of an upbeat personality seemingly bereft of cynicism or guile.
But the magnitude of her delight was informed by something else too. These days her thoughts turn frequently to how lucky she is how lucky anyone is simply to experience the pleasure of being alive. Its a clich, yes, but isnt it true? And isnt it often forgotten? Linneys next big role, in a project as risky as any she has done, asks questions no less essential than these.
In The Big C, a new Showtime cable network series that makes its debut in August, she stars as a dutiful, repressed, 42-year-old teacher, mother and wife in suburban Minneapolis who has advanced, incurable cancer. She decides against treatment, which doesnt offer much hope for her, anyway. More surprising, she waits a long while to tell anybody, though she makes a few bungled stabs at the start. So, as her priorities and behavior change, her tongue growing sharper and a rebelliousness taking hold, the people around her dont know what to make of it, and both her transformation and their bafflement are played for laughs. Have I mentioned that The Big C is a half-hour comedy?
Linney considered the dicey tonal challenges of the material before signing on. She considered the commitment: if the show succeeds and is renewed beyond its initial season of 13 episodes, it will crowd out other opportunities. But she ultimately couldnt turn her back on the part, because she couldnt get away from the questions it raises. The subject matter is important to me personally, she explained over lunch one day. The undertow of it deals with all of the stuff Ive been obsessing about anyway: time. Living. Aging. Mostly, the privilege of aging.
Her voice was suddenly quieter and darker, and that was the clue that these thoughts werent abstract that they had a specific, intimate trigger. But she didnt reveal it right away. It took a bit to get there.
SHOWTIME HAS DEVELOPED a reputation in recent years as a storehouse for twisted, damaged characters who are neither cleanly heroic nor flatly villainous, and its gallery of warped women is especially striking: the pot-peddling mom in Weeds, the fractured head case in The United States of Tara, the naughty Nurse Jackie and now, the good girl gone mad, in both senses of the word, in The Big C.
Is it any wonder, then, that Showtime has also become a haven for performers who crave both the complicated material that network television often avoids and the lead roles that Hollywood reserves for more instantly and internationally bankable (and, usually, younger) types? An actress doesnt have to be able to open a cable series the way Angelina Jolie or Sandra Bullock opens a movie. For example, Weeds, which stars Mary-Louise Parker, and Nurse Jackie, which stars Edie Falco, each draws fewer than four million viewers weekly, and both are deemed hits.
I dont need marquee names, Robert Greenblatt, who until recently was Showtimes president of entertainment, told me. For us, its more: who are the extraordinary actors whom the critics like and who will garner awards? All of that is good publicity for us. And our audiences respond to so-and-so with an Oscar nomination or an Emmy.
Performers like Parker, Falco and Toni Collette, the star of Tara, fit that bill. Greenblatt kept a list of others who might, many of them actresses over 40, a category for whom Hollywood pickings are famously slim. Catherine Keener was on it. Frances McDormand, too. And so for a long time was Linney, who arguably comes closer to marquee-name status than any of Showtimes roster so far. While shes not quite a major star, shes something only slightly shy of that, her face immediately recognizable to almost anyone with any fluency in popular entertainment over the last two decades and her name familiar to most regular moviegoers.
Her path to this privileged point has been an unusual and interesting one. Although an actress with her kind of blond, girl-next-door prettiness would seem best positioned for parts in her 20s and early 30s, Linney really started turning heads around 35, and her trajectory has been ever upward since then. In fact, she has done much of her highest-profile (and best) work since she turned 40.
And what fame she has achieved isnt attributable, as is so often the case, to any one or two roles or, for that matter, to any one medium. Although there have been pronounced growth spurts here and there in her career, Linney has for the most part bloomed in an incremental fashion, part by interesting part. The actor John Benjamin Hickey, a longtime friend who appeared on Broadway with her in The Crucible in 2002 and now plays her characters kookily ascetic brother in The Big C, describes her as a kind of journeyman who accidentally became a star.
In 2007 alone she gave three movie performances that, in aggregate, suggested she was just beginning to explore the full breadth of her range. Only one of them, as a struggling, self-pitying playwright in The Savages, drew significant critical notice and accolades, including an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. But I would argue that the other two were just as fine. Watching Linneys portrait of a brisk F.B.I. supervisor barking orders at an undercover operative in the thriller Breach, I found myself wondering if she should someday take over Bond-bossing chores from Judi Dench. And if The Nanny Diaries had been a better movie, her turn as the comically sadistic Mrs. X might well be talked about in the same breath as Meryl Streeps Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. Theyre birds of a self-consumed feather, inhabiting the same amoral diorama of materialistic Manhattan life.
The following year, Linney showed up in John Adams as Abigail Adams, a more saintly and soulful character, her words ever measured, her wisdom ever palpable, her accent that of a proper Bostonian. And she took home an Emmy for her efforts.
But she played second fiddle in most of those projects: to Paul Giamatti in John Adams, to Ryan Phillippe and Chris Cooper in Breach and to Scarlett Johansson in Nanny. Tellingly, her one true starring role was in The Savages, an independent movie made on a shoestring. She earned little for it.
So even for an actress held in the kind of esteem Linney is, something like The Big C is rare: a lead in a chewy project with a decent payday. And because Linneys currency goes further in cable television than in movies, she was able, as part of her agreement to do The Big C, to be named an executive producer and was given a say in virtually all aspects of the production.
She was present for every audition of other principal cast members. She scouted locations around Stamford, Conn., where the series is being shot. She helped choose paint colors for the building that houses the shows sets, dressing rooms and production offices. She even insisted on a cappuccino machine for the crew and on a vegan section in the cafeteria, just as an alternative. She herself isnt vegan, but says that Silverstones meatless exhortations ping around her conscience.
What she hasnt tinkered with much is the shows story and writing, which are tricky matters above and beyond the search for just the right balance of levity and gravity. The Big C dares to ask viewers to become invested in a main character even as it pledges to snatch her away from them. The shows very premise seems to be a promise that it cant last too long, and that it will break viewers hearts.
That was talked about a lot, says Darlene Hunt, who created The Big C and sold it to Showtime, assuring network executives that they could count on more than, say, a two-year run. Were slowing down time, she explains. Every season is a season. The first episode, for example, starts on what is very clearly flagged as the first day of summer. A second season of the show would take place in autumn, a third season in winter. By that rhythm, a six-year run of The Big C long for a TV series would equal only 18 months in the characters lives. Its entirely plausible that a woman with Stage 4 melanoma, which is the diagnosis Linneys character gets, could last that long; more questionable is whether cast members, especially the 15-year-old actor playing Linneys son, will look as if theyre aging at the same rate as the story is progressing.
And the strategy for getting viewers to give themselves over to someone on an arc toward oblivion? Showtime is betting on Linneys sheer likability as an actress. While she is being surrounded by appealing, quickly recognizable supporting players Oliver Platt as her husband; Gabourey Sidibe, from the movie Precious, as a sassy student in Linneys class; Cynthia Nixon, who shows up midway through the season as a former best friend the show rises and falls with Linney, who is in almost every scene. She is carrying this project as she has carried nothing before it.
At times that petrifies her. The director Bill Condon, who took charge of the first episode of The Big C and directed Linney previously in the movie Kinsey, recalls a day in The Big C production offices when she caught sight of a Weeds poster, made for billboards, buses, subways and the like. It showed Mary-Louise Parker in a Garden of Eden tableau, complete with serpent, apple and exposed flesh.
Suddenly, she had this mild panic attack, he says, explaining that she was reminded of how much of the shows promotion and image hinged on her. Movies come and go, he says, no matter what they are. But TV its such an intimate relationship you have with the audience, and it goes on for years and years. He adds that audiences are being asked, Do you want to spend this evening with Laura Linney?
When I shared his observation with her, her eyes widened, and she emitted a sort of mewling sound that was probably meant as a parody of terror but played like the real thing. She was sitting in a little ball on the couch of her dressing room in Stamford, knees drawn in tight. She drew them in tighter still, the ball shrinking.
Im not someone who likes to have my picture taken, let alone see it plastered all over the place, she said. And I dont know what the reaction will be.
She went on to add, philosophically: I just have to concentrate on doing what I do. I signed up for this.
WHEN PEOPLE MEET Linney, they often peg her as a child of unfettered privilege. The patrician looks and genteel manner suggest as much, and so do the proper nouns: Romulus Linney, her father, a playwright; Upper East Side, where she grew up; Northfield Mount Hermon, the Massachusetts prep school where she boarded as a teenager; Brown University, where she got her undergraduate degree; Juilliard, where she did graduate work. But it wasnt really like that.
Her family life was whats the right word? lets say its deeply textured and leave it at that, says the actor David Eigenberg, best known as Mirandas husband, Steve, in Sex and the City, who worked with Linney in the early 1990s on the Broadway production of Six Degrees of Separation, in which he had a small part and she was an understudy. Linneys father and mother, a transplanted Southerner, divorced when she was still in diapers, and her father went on to marry several more times. Linney, their only child, lived in a one-bedroom apartment with her mother, who worked long shifts as a cancer nurse at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and slept on a pullout in the living room.?She busted her butt to provide, Linney says, the uncharacteristically coarse language underscoring her desire to emphasize the point. She worked really hard to make sure that I would have a good, solid life. Even so, it took additional help from Linneys relatives for her to be able to afford the fancy schools.
Although she was often left on her own in a city filled with temptations, she was careful not to misbehave. She says she didnt want to add to her mothers hardships. Besides, she was content just to wander through museums or accompany friends to plays, treating the city as a wonderland for the arts. She especially adored and revered the theater, which provided a bridge to her dad. She remembers: I could call and say: I dont understand Shaw. Whats going on? And he could tell me. And he loved to tell me. Its what connected us.
Its not easy with divorce, she adds.
Although she dreamed from an early age of being an actress, she was initially reluctant to articulate that. She didnt want to get ahead of herself, didnt want to denigrate the profession by implying that it required anything less than years of preparation. At Brown she majored in theater arts, then continued her studies at Juilliard.
Her sole ambition was to be a member of a repertory company somewhere in the United States and to do roles in plays, one after the other, according to the theater director Daisy Prince, the daughter of Harold Prince and a close friend of Linneys since their time together at Brown. Hickey, her brother on The Big C, knew her at Juilliard, and remembers her as a tomboy, not immediately glamorous, whose only discernible vanity was her alabaster skin, which she carefully protected from the sun. It was so sensitive, he says, that whenever he kissed her on the cheek, shed literally almost be in hives.
LINNEY SAYS SHE ENDED up doing screen work because a veteran stage actor she respected told her she should always say yes to experience. So when she was offered a small part in the 1992 movie Lorenzos Oil, she took it. A bigger role and bigger break came the next year, with Tales of the City, in which she played the central role of Mary Ann Singleton, a blushing Dorothy in the sybaritic Oz of 1970s San Francisco. The first images of her in that miniseries remain indelible: brand new in town and dressed in a red, white and blue outfit seemingly borrowed from a flight attendant, she wheels a periwinkle suitcase with flower decals on it across the street. When she goes to the supermarket and realizes that the cute guy chatting her up in the produce aisle belongs to an even cuter guy a few feet away, shes dumbfounded.
Linney could have easily been typecast from then on as a naf. She didnt have the distinctive beauty of many a leading lady; she didnt have the edge or flagrant sexiness to pull off a femme fatale. A surface reading of her said vanilla or maybe, given the air of Southern graciousness passed down from her mother, butter pecan but nothing more complicated than that.
And to some extent, at least on screen, she was indeed confined to a limited spectrum for a while. The archetypal Linney character had a Pollyanna patina, which made her welling glimmers of unease and her eventual outbursts all the more jolting. Linney played that kind of part in The Truman Show, opposite Jim Carrey; in Primal Fear, opposite Richard Gere; and in You Can Count on Me, opposite Mark Ruffalo, the 2000 movie that elevated her to a whole new level of regard. Several critics circles gave her their best-actress awards for You Can Count on Me, and she received her first Oscar nomination for it.
But it was an extremely difficult period of her life. The shooting of the movie, for which the director Kenneth Lonergan had only a minuscule budget, was a real slog, Ruffalo recalls. We shared an old chicken coop that was our dressing room, he says, referring to the shoots location in upstate New York. We were staying in a musty, moldy hotel: a sort of summer bungalow kind of thing. It was hot, the crew was underpaid, people were underfed, there was always some problem with money going on. And he says that Linney and Lonergan didnt always agree on how she should play her part as the responsible and aggrieved sister of a beloved brother (Ruffalo) who just wont grow up. I could see her getting frustrated about it, he says.
Around the time that Linney was working through this, a house she owned in rural Connecticut burned down, set ablaze when a clump of rags soaked in linseed oil caught fire. And You Can Count on Me was released as her first marriage, to the actor David Adkins, unraveled after five years. The acclaim the movie wound up bringing her was somewhat eclipsed by these and other hardships, including a stalker who for several years sent her photos, letters and gifts, always knowing where to find her. He infiltrated every area of my life, she says. Everywhere I would show up, there would be flowers. I mean everywhere I showed up. I went to Alaska I was teaching and he found out, and there were flowers.
He wrote to her publicist. He wrote to her mother, whose address he figured out. He wrote to the cartoonist Sandra Boynton, one of Linneys close friends. Finally the situation turned threatening enough that the police had cause to intervene and did. Since then, she hasnt heard from him but assumes hes still out there.
Thats a big reason that she is vague about certain personal details and guards her privacy, though her intrinsic nature is to keep many of her thoughts, relationships and joys to, and for, herself. She declared her husband and her family off-limits for interviews. Friends who talked with me about her worried aloud that they might be straying into areas she might not want them to. And while Linney never took offense or balked at any question I asked, she would dispense with some topics like whether she ever wanted, or still wants, children with just a few inconclusive, anodyne words. She clearly meant to be professional and polite, but she just as clearly had no intention of serving up a quivering, tremulous heart on a platter.
LINNEY DIDNT SEEM to hatch or deploy any particular career strategy after the critical hosannas for You Can Count on Me. In fact, she mixed in more stage work, including The Crucible, in which she played Elizabeth Proctor to Liam Neesons John Proctor, than an actress seeking widespread exposure might have. Theater, she says, would be the medium shed choose if she were forced to pick just one. Her intense love and regard for it are reflected in the story of her first Tony nomination, for The Crucible.
I was so happy, she remembers. It really meant something to me. So she walked with a spring in her step to the annual luncheon at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square, where nominees would receive their nomination certificates.
She arrived, she says, to find a grim-faced woman standing with a list of names beside a cardboard box that held the certificates. The woman more or less threw Linneys at her, then directed her to a banquet room filled with reporters. The lunch was a junket, Linney says. The lunch was a media junket. And there was somebody who literally passed around a plate with cheese on sticks on it.
Immediately afterward, she told Tony administrators that while she understood their need to use the award to publicize and build interest in New York theater, there should be just one closed-door moment, before all the interviews and marketing hullabaloo, with real food and a real sense of occasion. And the administrators listened. In subsequent years, reporters werent allowed to attend the luncheon, which moved to the Rainbow Room, then to the Plaza. And each nominee got to hear his or her name called out individually, to applause from peers.
Everyone looks forward to it, says the set designer Scott Pask, a two-time Tony winner and frequent nominee who worked with Linney on a 2008 revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. And it was entirely her idea.
Linneys formal education and training in theater make her more comfortable onstage than most other actresses who spend as much time as she has in front of movie and TV cameras. Unlike many of them, she has the kind of ripe, cultured voice that suits theatrical work. She can project.
That voice, though, makes some screen characters a slightly awkward fit: would the small-town police officer in the supernatural thriller The Mothman Prophecies, a clunker that reunited Linney and Gere, really speak in such a sonorous, mellifluous way? But Linney is otherwise deft at communicating the sort of naturalness the camera likes. She doesnt have the regal air and exaggerated manner that many stage-honed actresses never manage to shed. And shes physically mutable, able to go from sparkling sweetheart to awkward wallflower with a mere brunette dye job or wig.
In part because of that flexibility, she worked feverishly in a hodgepodge of assignments in the years following You Can Count on Me, ranging from the movie Mystic River to the TV sitcom Frasier, in which she played the recurring guest role of the title characters love interest.
But her personal life during that period was unsettled and unsatisfying. Armistead Maupin, the openly gay author who wrote the books on which Tales was based, was her date for the Oscars when she was nominated for You Can Count on Me and served as a sob sister for her during the early 2000s, when he, too, was between relationships. He remembers riding beside Linney in the 2003 gay-pride parade in San Francisco, where she remains an icon, thanks to Mary Ann, whose dippy flight-attendant dress Linney put back on for the occasion.
We were smiling, waving, Maupin recalls. But as they glided along, Linney broke into a sad, made-up song. Under her breath, he says, Laura was singing: Were two lonely people in a car. Were two lonely people wondering where our boyfriends are. Were two lonely people in a car.
Soon after that, Maupin met the man who remains his partner. She couldnt have been happier for me, he says, though at one point she noted the contrast between Maupin and her. He was newly in love. She was taking her mother with her as her date to the 2004 film festival in Telluride, Colo., where Kinsey, in which she appeared opposite Neeson (again), as the wife of the pioneering sexologist Alfred Kinsey, was being unveiled.
When she got there, she was introduced to Marc Schauer, a local real estate agent who helped out with the festival. He was the guy who said, Hi, welcome to Telluride, Linney says. He was a V.I.P. host, a liaison between the town and the festival. He was assigned to me for the weekend.
They got along well. I remember looking at him at one point, Linney says, and going: Am I attracted to this man? Am I attracted to my handler? What is going on?
It was so unlike me, she adds, describing herself as shy in matters of romance. It was a big surprise: Oh, Im feeling something. Thats nice. Im feeling something. Just chill. Just chill. How nice to be feeling something. Somethings waking up. How great.
After the weekend, she e-mailed him a thank-you, and he wrote back. As the e-mail exchanges continued, he asked her what was happening between them and what, if anything, they should do about it.
She recalls telling him, The only thing I know is that I dont want to let it go. She said they needed to find a way to spend time together.
Well, where are you going to be? he responded. She was on a promotional tour for Kinsey and gave him a rundown of the cities.
Ill meet you in Chicago, he said.
Even as she agreed to that, she couldnt believe it: she barely knew him. But at that point I had nothing to lose, she says. She remembers her nervousness as she rode the elevator from her room at the Four Seasons in Chicago to the lobby. Then, she says: I got out of the elevator and I turned and I looked at him and every anxiety just vanished. And I thought, Oh, this is going to be fine. And we fell very hard for each other very quickly.
They seem to be gaga still. When I fetched her at her Manhattan apartment for our lunch, their goodbye hugs went on so long that he reminded her that a reporter was watching. And Maupin says that when Showtime recently resurrected episodes of More Tales of the City, a 1998 miniseries sequel in which Linney also appeared, Schauer noted it on his Facebook page with this comment about his wife: See why grown men get red-faced, cry and generally get apoplectic when they see her.
But her world clearly takes some getting used to. On the afternoon when I shadowed Linney on the set of the The Big C, he showed up unexpectedly and, as she did several takes of a scene, watched on one of the many monitors in whats known as video village, where I and many of the shows crew members were sitting. The scene had Linneys character huddling furtively in the kitchen with her love interest, played by the handsome, strapping actor Idris Elba. Like Elba, the character speaks in a British accent. Some of the women watching the scene remarked on how sexy it was.
I hadnt heard the accent before, Schauer told them. Now its even more emasculating. He laughed, and added: The worst I ever felt was at the Oscar luncheon, when Javier Bardem and George Clooney walked by. It was like: Im not even here.
LINNEYS TRANSFORMATIONS from one role to another arent acrobatic in the manner of, say, Meryl Streeps. Shes less shape-shifter than shape-tweaker. But she pours considerable research into each part, believing that an internalized knowledge of how her character would speak and move and of what sort of milieu her character inhabits will come through.
For Kinsey, she found and listened to tape recordings of Clara McMillen, the scientists wife and intellectual helpmate, who fields what must go down as one of the least romantic marriage proposals in movie history. (Youre the one girl in a million whos as interested in insects as I am, says Kinsey, then an entomologist.)
For John Adams, she read history book after history book. One said that Abigail Adams was pigeon-toed, so Linney played her that way. The camera, she knew, might not pick up on that, but she hoped it would translate somehow. Walking in that fashion, she says: youre not very graceful. You dont feel very elegant. It makes you focus on other things.
She instinctively understood the cancer part of The Big C on account of her mothers work with terminally ill patients. But there was plenty else to delve into. Condon says that when he, Linney and others traveled to Minneapolis for a tour of the area, they picked up books about the history and demography of the city, and on the plane on the way home, she was cross-referencing things in books wed got with lines in the script.
But something much less technical informs Linneys Big C performance: the preoccupation with mortality that came up during our lunch.
As we sat in the new Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant ABC Kitchen, she worked her way through a curious pea-centric lineup of pea soup and pea salad and talked about aging, and about her mystification and frustration with so many peoples rebellion against it. She conceded that sagging skin, waning energy and creaky joints arent fun, but said that the early deaths of beloved friends had opened her eyes to the fact that growing old is the greatest of blessings. A lot of people dont get that privilege, she said. And theres an extreme disrespect toward that thats cuckoo.
I asked her how many friends had died, and who, but she waved the question away: Id crossed into one of those no-fly zones. A lot of people, she said. And I miss them. She added that whenever she realizes that shes about to complain about aging, I imagine them taking me by my shoulders and shaking me: Snap out of it!
Its amazing to me how delicate we are and how strong we are, she continued. What people can survive and what they dont survive is shocking to me. Someone can go to Iraq and be blown to bits and survive. Someone can trip and fall on the street and they die thats that.
Trip. Fall. With those words I suddenly realized what, and whom, she might be talking about. Her connection to Neeson, a co-star in two movies in addition to Kinsey and The Crucible, no doubt meant that shed known his wife, Natasha Richardson. Richardson died at age 45, which is also how old Linney was then in March 2009, after falling on a ski slope and hitting her head in a way that at first seemed innocuous. I asked Linney if the two of them had been close. She nodded. Its been a tough year a huge loss for everybody, she said. But she didnt elaborate.
Only from others did I learn that Neeson and Richardson spent much of their time in the area of Connecticut where Linney, too, has a home, a replacement for the one she lost in the fire. In fact, Linney and Schauer were married in an outdoor ceremony on her property there, and Maupin, who was present, told me that Neeson was the one who gave her away. This was in May 2009, just two months after Richardsons death.
It was an astonishing moment, a celebration of love and loss, being given equal treatment, Maupin said. He added that Linney was so shaken by the suddenness of what happened to Richardson that at one point she sent him a message ending with these words: Please dont die.
Linney was approached about The Big C in the summer of 2009. The first episode the pilot, really was shot in November, long before all the others, and Condon remembers that when she asked him to direct it, she talked about how she felt almost this kind of compulsion to do this, because Natashas death had really, really brought so much into focus for her about the fragility of life, and figuring out what to do with it.
What her character on The Big C does with expressly numbered days is eat more desserts. Sneak cigarettes. Dig the backyard pool she has always wanted. Insist that her son spend time with her. And hammer certain life lessons into him before she loses the opportunity to.
And Linney? How has she adjusted to her keen awareness that time is limited?
She clings to those she cares about, and surrounds herself with them. In fact, theres talk that Neeson will appear in an episode of The Big C late in the season.
Recently, she acted in two small independent movies, neither released yet, that didnt give her especially significant roles or remotely big salaries but allowed her to support two close friends: Ruffalo, who was making his directorial debut, and the actress Jeanne Tripplehorn, whose husband was directing a movie of his own. Ruffalo says that his movie, Sympathy for Delicious, might not have been made without Linneys presence and name. I was probably going to lose financing, he says. She jumped right into the gap.
It is largely at Linneys insistence that The Big C is being shot in Stamford, which puts her within a relatively easy drive of her Connecticut house and allows her and Schauer to spend almost every weekend there, in a cocoon apart from work, from publicity from all of it.
Thats vital to her, in part because the dual acting and production hats she wears on The Big C mean days that stretch to 14, even 16 hours. Her dressing room on the set is a bustling intersection, with people constantly dropping in.
I crave a cone of silence every once in while, she told me as we sat there, but it didnt come across as a complaint. Her smiling expression telegraphed peace, contentment. I said as much.
Yeah, she agreed. Im lucky to be here. Was she referring to her plum role? To production offices painted in a shade she likes? Or to the simple fact that she was on earth, among the living?
She didnt specify. But my guess was that it was all of the above.
Frank Bruni is a staff writer for the magazine. His memoir, Born Round, has just been published in paperba.

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10/13/2010 to appeal the injunction to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to try to keep it from taking effect pending an appeal A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the United Stat...
10/14/2010 at least part of the week to care for her daughters MILWAUKEE Michelle Obama burst back onto the cam...
10/15/2010 gay men and lesbians as too slow and insufficient WASHINGTON Saying it would appeal a ruling strik...
10/16/2010 even in mortal jeopardy In Waiting for Superman, the new education docum...
10/17/2010 Where I come from, we call that bait. ANAHEIM, Calif. What if you held a voter turnout...
10/18/2010 Culture is back on the poverty research For more than 40 years, social scientists investig...
10/19/2010 we had to come out under fire Middle school was the worst, Calvin Stowell says...
10/20/2010 who has ads showing him metaphorically shooting a bullet into the heart of the cap-and-trade bill Rage is not working out. In Delaware, the Republ...
10/21/2010 a gang of homeless street boys Inhale, a shrill, feverish melodrama about illic...
10/22/2010 the law should be overturned WASHINGTON In the growing legal confusion at the...
10/23/2010 the crash rate is three times higher BOULDER CITY, Nev. It is an engineering marvel a...
10/24/2010 the straight-ahead hope and possibility SEATTLE President Obama walked the campaign stag...
10/25/2010 Thats how you build respect WASHINGTON It took President Obama 18 months to ...
10/26/2010 Harassment does not have to include intent to harm In a 10-page letter to be sent on Tuesday to thous...
10/27/2010 Maybe its hard to come to an agreement now, in front of an audience LONG BEACH, Calif. With less than a week until E...
10/28/2010 a psychotherapist and Hickenlooper IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. In his appearances around t...
10/29/2010 and has offered little description of what is planned Jon Stewart insists that his Rally to Restore San...
10/30/2010 to root out violent extremism in all its forms WASHINGTON Officials searched for suspicious pac...
10/31/2010 and fears about packages yet to be discovered WASHINGTON The powerful bombs concealed inside c...
11/01/2010 In nondescript towns MIAMI Two years ago, the University of Miami cou...
11/02/2010 Sarah Palin, who has stumped BECKLEY, W. Va. Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama,...
11/03/2010 bombs might be on cargo flights WASHINGTON American intelligence officials in Se...
11/04/2010 month with contentious issues WASHINGTON President Obama and newly empowered R...
11/05/2010 inherent conflicts WASHINGTON The incoming leadership of the new Ho...
11/06/2010 have harsher side effects WARWICK, R.I. Theyve been telling me since age...
11/07/2010 nation-building in Afghanistan and education reform at home W. never sweated the small stuff. Unfortunately,...
11/08/2010 International concerns LONDON When interest rates soared last week on I...
11/09/2010 equated the move to currency manipulation NEW DELHI By endorsing India for a permanent sea...
11/10/2010 Rents drop SANTA ANA, Calif. A temporary wall slices the An...
11/11/2010 It lays out options WASHINGTON The chairmen of President Obamas bip...
11/12/2010 are increasingly uncertain WASHINGTON By putting deep spending cuts and sub...
11/13/2010 the right to life, liberty and security WINNIPEG, Manitoba As waves of immigrants from t...
11/14/2010 much faster erosion TASIILAQ, Greenland With a tense pilot gripping ...
11/15/2010 resembled the contrails Gil Leyvas has been a photojournalist on board a t...
11/16/2010 started to cover their own turf When Sam Keller, a former quarterback at Arizona S...
11/17/2010 proved crucial to the function After 16 years and $1.5 billion of other peoples ...
11/18/2010 the effect of increasing LOS ANGELES Five weeks after the Legislature pas...
11/19/2010 just like any other run-of-the-mill stray FLORENCE, Ariz. When a suicide bomber entered an...
11/20/2010 removing the glare from eyeglasses Oliver Tracy showed up for his first-grade portrai...
11/21/2010 dismantled as part of an agreement WASHINGTON North Korea showed a visiting America...
11/22/2010 accelerated their use Caught between complaints that airport screening h...
11/23/2010 the war is still to be fought DUBLIN Ireland has formally applied for a rescue...
11/24/2010 will accelerate the prevention revolution Healthy gay men who took an anti-AIDS pill every d...
11/25/2010 three-week trial AUSTIN, Tex. Tom DeLay, one of the most powerful...
11/26/2010 amid the citys fervent embrace of the automobile LOS ANGELES This auto-obsessed city a place wh...
11/27/2010 a tighter stitch and results in a smaller scar WASHINGTON President Obama had to get 12 stitche...
11/28/2010 I thought he was lying Devon Armstrong and Winifred Oldham do not hear th...
11/29/2010 Pentagon, which is the nations single largest employer WASHINGTON Francis Brady enjoys a six-figure sal...
11/30/2010 ce, it feels like a betrayal to our sense of how nature should work. Shouldnt they know better? Or, perha Cerise Mayo expected better of her bees. She had r...
12/01/2010 try to develop profiles of possible terrorists WASHINGTON Nearly a decade after the 2001 terror...
12/02/2010 recasting weight-loss procedures Weight-loss surgery, once a last resort for extrem...
12/03/2010 more competition from emerging rivals LISBON Sara Vale Lima, sales manager at Eical, a...
12/04/2010 boiling down all they do PRINCETON, N.J. In most American schools, teache...
12/05/2010 stumbling through an evolving etiquette Ninth grade was supposed to be a fresh start for M...
12/06/2010 highest unemployment rates in the state SAN FRANCISCO It has been more than two years si...
12/07/2010 getting security clearances or promotions The government warns Americans to closely guard th...
12/08/2010 used the lunch meeting to emphasize provisions WASHINGTON President Obama on Tuesday strongly d...
12/09/2010 raising fears that they and other sources would become more reticent LONDON In a campaign that had some declaring the...
12/10/2010 hoping for a little less caution Christmas will no longer be on credit for many sho...
12/11/2010 if LONDON The British police promised an investigat...
12/12/2010 seeking assets for victims of the scheme Mark Madoff, the older of Bernard L. Madoffs two ...
12/13/2010 departments as unconstitutional WASHINGTON As virtually all of Washington was de...
12/14/2010 30 million people who are uninsured A federal judge in Virginia ruled on Monday that t...
12/15/2010 tried in vain The Dodgers and the Giants did it. Johnny Carson d...
12/16/2010 Some Democrats said they had concluded WASHINGTON The Senate on Wednesday approved the ...
12/17/2010 to reconvene after the holiday WASHINGTON Embattled and left for near dead last...
12/18/2010 The fact that Bob hated Christmas BOB liked to say how much he hated Christmas. This...
12/19/2010 well with my little daughter The sun had barely committed to its Saturday morni...
12/20/2010 Modern medicine has produced new diagnostic tools Marjie Popkin thought she had chemo brain, that fu...
12/21/2010 Such visits peaked in November 2009 and have since slid SAN FRANCISCO Signs youre an old fogey: You sti...
12/22/2010 noting her use of a single name KANSAS CITY, Mo. Christmas hasnt come yet but H...
12/23/2010 The show had more than two months of technical rehearsals The Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dar...
12/24/2010 shes here, you just feel it CHAMPION, Wis. In France, the shrine at Lourdes ...
12/25/2010 You leapfrog over the need for fixed lines, KIPTUSURI, Kenya For Sara Ruto, the desperate ye...
12/26/2010 to the need to protect expensive items like new cellphones The citizens of Lincolnshire, England, were so fed...
12/27/2010 They say, We were only playing with you last time, HARARE, Zimbabwe The warning signs are prolifera...
12/28/2010 director of state affairs for the Michigan Municipal League HAMTRAMCK, Mich. Leaders of this city met for mo...
12/29/2010 who had not previously been homeless FORT PIERCE, Fla. For the three generations of t...
12/30/2010 Paul Simon sang in his 1973 hit Kodachrome, PARSONS, Kan. An unlikely pilgrimage is under wa...
12/31/2010 Officials are not seeking a major confrontation WASHINGTON With the federal government set to re...
(c) 2014 Dan Nelson