Laura Linney: “I Favor Whistleblowers” – Interview by Julide Tanriverdi

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Laura Linney is clearly in a good mood and ready to chat about The Fifth Estate, the new film in which she co-stars with Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl. Read on…

Linney has been a fixture in movies for the last two decades, garnering high acclaim for diverse roles in The Truman Show, Hyde Park on Hudson, Kinsey and Love Actually, to just name a few, alternating movies with leading turns in theatre and on television.

During this interview, she confesses to being in favor of whistleblowers, talks about The Fifth Estate‘s controversial subject, Julian Assange, and how it came to be that she never actually met Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Assange in the film.

Tanriverdi: You have worked with Bill Condon before. It is correct to assume that he just called you up for this role and asked you to be part of it?

Linney: I have actually worked twice with Bill. Kinsey – which is probably one of my favorite working experiences ever. I loved making that movie. I loved everything about it. And when I did the television show The Big C, I asked Bill to direct the pilot. We have become friends over the years. And he is one of my favorite people to work with. And I have been lucky enough to be in this business for a while – so you learn that if certain people ask you to do something, you just do it. Bill is one of those people. He can whisper my name and I will show up. (laughs)

Tanriverdi: That’s nice to have a relationship like this in this business.

Linney: Absolutely. You know each other and you are comfortable with each other. And that makes it really fun – fun to work! I was thrilled that he asked and happy to help in any way that I could.

Tanriverdi: Your cast members Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruehl were in Toronto where…

Linney: You know, it’s funny. Neither of whom I have met! (laughs)

Tanriverdi: You have no scenes with them!

Linney: It is funny. The way the movie was shot, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie and I came in after everyone else had wrapped. We filmed for 5 days at the very end of the movie. So we had our own little experience, the three of us.

Tanriverdi: Benedict Cumberbatch said he admires Assange and that he did something remarkable with WikiLeaks. Where do you stand on this polarizing issue?

Linney: He certainly did something remarkable. There is no question about that. It is not an easy topic. There are things about what he has done that are vitally important and also a real sign of the time. Because beyond Julian Assange and beyond WikiLeaks is this bigger issue of what the internet has done and how the world functions. And that is to me what has turned everyone upside down and that’s what makes everybody crazy. And it is not just within the world of information, it’s in entertainment, it’s everywhere. It has turned every business upside down. It’s like a runaway horse and no one knows how to tame it. And you can’t tame it and that’s the point.

Tanriverdi: You see a danger in there?

Linney: There are things that Assange stands for which I am complete in agreement of, but then there are percussions which make me very uncomfortable. And I wished it would not affect the world and people as it does. I don’t have a clear stand on that. But I think information is power. There are issues of what is private and what is not private. Where does it apply and where is it not applicable? What is the public entitled to and what are they not entitled to? Basically what are the ethics behind it? When there is a whistleblower, particularly on an international scale, what is more important – the information getting out or people’s lives being in danger? It’s such a kaleidoscope of issues that I get very confused within it. But I am certainly for whistleblowing.

Tanriverdi: Really?

Linney: Absolutely, I am. I am not a supporter of corruption. At the same time, I am aware of the repercussions, the danger when people, for instance informants are exposed. It is just not as simple as I want it to be. I want it to be very simple but it’s not. There is a lot of it I don’t understand. And there is a lot I will never understand. I think I grasp it the way like most people do.

Tanriverdi: You do sound very political. Would you even go so far to say you are an activist?

Linney: I think the theater and the arts are inherently political. They were created in response to politics. So actors tend to… we look at the human condition all the time. I would not consider myself an overly active political person. But I am probably political by nature whether I want to or not. I have done a lot of work for gay rights.

Tanriverdi: Julian Assange publicly called The Fifth Estate “irresponsible, counterproductive, harmful.” What do you think about him being so angry at this movie?

Linney: Oh, you know… I don’t know him. But I guess nobody likes it when there is a movie made about them where they are not seen as purely a hero. So of course he would be uncomfortable… like most people.

Tanriverdi: Did you learn anything about Assange that you did not know before making this movie?

Linney: For some reason it was all information I had already known. He is a fascinating man. His whole life is interesting and he had a fascinating journey. I think what he put in place is amazing. Not only the actual events that took place but also how those events were exposed. The power of the internet, the power of the people. There is a lot of good there and there is a lot of controversy – but I am not an expert on Julian Assange, or on WikiLeaks and I am certainly not an expert on the repercussions of how it has affected politics. Thankfully I am not someone who works at the State department. (laughs)

Tanriverdi: You just play one — named Sarah Shaw. Unlike most characters in this movie, all the White House representatives, your included, are fictional. How did you approach the role?

Linney: I have encountered people who work for the government before. Our characters were there to represent the other side of the argument, to counterbalance the story. That was far more important than deep character work. We are not in it that much. (laughs)

Tanriverdi: You have a remarkable and very long career and have been working every single year. The Fifth Estate is like many movies male centric – only two actresses are in the entire movie. Do you think it got better for actresses in the movie industry or is it as bad as always?

Linney: The business is set up for male consumers, for more male consumers to go to the movies. And it is assumed they like watching men. It will always been less women. It used to be men playing women, so at least now we are playing our own parts! (laughs) It has always been that way. Hopefully it will change but who knows? And there is progress. It’s all business. It dictates who is hired and what parts are done. It is constantly frustrating, for all of us.

Tanriverdi: In an interview with The Guardian you said you don’t understand why people don’t embrace aging. Do you think that is the secret to a long career – accept who you are and stay away from plastic surgery?

Linney: I think your life cannot be entirely about your career. I think if your life, your identity is only about your career, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. A career should compliment your life not the other way around. I just try to take a bigger perspective of it.

Tanriverdi: Is that the secret to your long career?

Linney: (laughs) I don’t know. I have been very, very lucky and I love what I do. And I am inherently curious about looking into different mediums. I don’t have to be the lead in everything I do. And I am excited about working with different people in different circumstances. And that helps. I have a theater career and a TV career. I am a little under the radar most of the time. And that’s more than enough for me.

Tanriverdi: Speaking of being under the radar. You are not on any social network like Facebook or twitter. Since Assange doesn’t like The Fifth Estate – how can he find something to expose about you? Any worries about it?

Linney: (laughs) Assange finding something out about me? That would not be very typical of him. (can’t stop laughing) He can probably hack anything he wanted to and find anything he wanted to. But I doubt he would look into my life.

Tanriverdi: It was already a challenge to find out what project you are doing next?!

Linney: That’s because I am taking a little time off! I am trying to enhance my life so that it complements my career! (laughs)

Tanriverdi: What will you do? Read books? Attend to hobbies?

Linney: All of it! I am enjoying the seasons for now. I had a real summer and I am looking at a real fall. It’s the first time in 20… actually the first time ever I have time off like this. Since I was a student I don’t remember experiencing the seasons like this. And there is something very unnatural about that. I am going to take a little breather. And when I feel like I am itching to get back to work, I try to go back to work. It’s been wonderful and I love it so far.

Tanriverdi: So there is no time table to this time off?

Linney: No. Just how I feel like. (laughs)

Tanriverdi: Enjoy your time off. And don’t stay away too long since we love your work.

Linney: Thank you. You are being very kind. Have a lovely day.

Tanriverdi: Thank you for your time, Laura Linney.

The Fifth Estate opened October 18th.

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Julide Tanriverdi

Julide Tanriverdi is a Turkish-German journalist residing in New York City. In September 1996 she left Berlin to become a New York correspondent for Axel Springer, the prominent German publishing conglomerate. She has contributed during that time to national papers such as Bild, Bild am Sonntag, Die Welt, Berliner Morgenpost and Hamburger Abendblatt. In 2002, she left Axel Springer to become the New York Bureau Chief for Germany’s popular weekly entertainment magazine Gala, a position she held for 12 years. She has covered film festivals (including the Berlinale, Sundance, Toronto Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival as well as the New York Film Festival) on a regular basis, interviewed countless Hollywood stars and filmmakers and has reported from film sets. She is a freelance correspondent for leading international magazines, including Germany’s Geek!, GQ, Glamour, Freundin, Austria’s Die Wienerin and Canada’s Cineplex magazine. She is also a freelance broadcast news producer. Her great interest in film had her venture into filmmaking as well: She is the executive producer of Cathryne Czubek's documentary A Girl and A Gun and the screenwriter of the short film Hotel Terminus by Dorthe Wølner-Hanssen. She is currently working on two feature films called 10 Fucking Days and Bulldog. She serves as Vice President and board member of the AWFJ.