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Laura Linney on why she loves working with Clint Eastwood

The acclaimed actress talks about "Sully," her third time working with the legend.
Laura LinneySully

Laura Linney loves her some Clint Eastwood. Starting with 1997’s “Absolute Power,” they’ve worked together thrice: as Sean Penn’s Lady Macbeth-ian wife in “Mystic River” and, now, as Lorraine, the wife of hero pilot Chesley Sullenberger (played by Tom Hanks) in “Sully.” They’ve all been small but key roles; in “Sully,” she only has a handful of scenes, all of them on the phone with her husband after he’s landed a broken commercial aircraft in New York’s Hudson River, saving everyone on board. Linney, now 52, talks to us about what she learned from the legendary filmmaker/actor and what “Sully” says about experience.

Tell me about the first time you met Clint when you made “Absolute Power” 20 years ago.
I remember it vividly. “Absolute Power” was maybe my third big role in a movie. I had been cast because he had seen an early cut of “Primal Fear.” So I didn’t audition for it. I just got this unbelievable phone call out of the blue. I showed up on set in Baltimore and was taken to meet him. And he turned around and there he was, tall and handsome and kind. On my first day I had to drive a car through a field and then park it at an exact spot, which was stressful. But I somehow managed to get through it OK. But it was a big important day, because I’ve worked with him three times over the last 20 years.

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And you had to deal with his famous habit of only shooting a few takes, which must have been shocking coming from theater.
It’s a skill. When I was doing “Absolute Power” I learned that, “OK, in Rome, do as Romans do. Here’s an opportunity to learn how to work this way.” I learned I had to be as prepared as I could be, so I could be as relaxed as I could be. Then the work can actually happen. Because if you’re stressed and nervous, you’re not going to do your best work. And if you’re not prepared you’re going to be nervous. The human response is to tense up. You have to train yourself to do the opposite. I learned how to deal with my own psychology so I can be ready to go for him. I’ve taken that knowledge with me on every other movie I’ve done. It helps a lot.

The three roles you’ve done for Clint are very different, too.
Well, some of it is just my age. I was very young when I did the first one. And the second one was a small but fantastic part in “Mystic River.” This one was a challenge. You could write her off as just a woman on a phone. It was tricky to do, particularly when you’re isolated from the rest of filming. You’re not there to witness how the rest of the movie’s going, the tone of the film, the timbre of what people are doing. Does your material feather in well? Again, I just had to do as much preparation as I could with what was there and just let Clint do what he does.

Clint has this reputation as a scary, taciturn badass, but when you see the real him he’s very sweet.
He is.

And modest. I remember watching him on Charlie Rose circa "Mystic River," and Rose asked him, when you've got a great cast and great material, what he does. He smiled, shrugged and just said, "Nothing."
[Laughs] It’s not quite true that he does nothing. It can seem as though he’s very hands-off. But he’s just stealth. He trusts the people he works with, so he doesn’t interfere. I mean, if he doesn’t like what you’re doing, he’s certainly going to step in and say no. He doesn’t just accept anything. But there’s a tremendous amount of trust, which is why he tends to work with the same people over and over again, particularly his crew.

I have no idea how he makes so many movies at his age.
It’s impressive that anyone can even make one movie.

And it’s impressive that he made a movie out of this story, which is an event that technically only lasted about an hour, if you count in the rescue mission once the plane had landed. It becomes a movie that explores a lot of Clint’s favorite ideas, including the idea of quiet, professional men who seem to be calm and collected but inside are riddled with doubt and anguish.
And there’s also a confirmation that experience matters. Experience counts — more than a computer simulation, more than an algorithm. Actual human experience is a valuable thing, in a world where it’s not valued right now. It just isn’t. Everybody likes to belittle the advantages of getting older. But experience is pretty good when you’ve got it.

I have some experience.
It’s good, isn’t it? Isn’t it nice?

And then there’s this idea that even if you’re very experienced that you need to change course sometimes, try new things.
Yes. It’s the balance between having a sense of experience and still trying to learn — still wanting to be better. If you’re too knowing, that’s just boring, and you’re stunted and you’re obnoxious. If you’re too open and you negate all of your experience and don’t lie back on it, then you’re not being authentic to who you are and what you’ve been through. It’s an interesting active state to be in.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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