Linda Cardellini can hang with the clowns. In her breakthrough role as Lindsay Weir on “Freaks and Geeks,” she played the ordinary girl-next-door who gets subsumed into a crowd of misfits, played by future comedic stars of the Apatow-verse.Since then, the 40-year-old actress has taken on more serious roles: a long stint on “ER;” “Brokeback Mountain;” playing self-destructive types on “New Girl” and “Mad Men.”
But with “Daddy’s Home” she’s back to playing the straight center of a dark comedy. As Sarah, she has to deal with both her current, more uptight husband Brad (Will Ferrell), and the father of her children, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), a badboy who wants to reconnect with their kids, and maybe rekindle thier relationship too. But Cardellini's Sarah — to the actress' delight — is over him.
Given how long you’ve been acting alongside funny people, even as the “straight man,” do you still blow takes by cracking up?
For sure. I think it’s hard for everybody. Sometimes it wasn’t even in front of the camera. Someone behind the camera, even the director, would occasionally have a hard time keeping it together.
I wouldn’t say your character is just a killjoy — the classic shrewish wife who wants the boys to behave.
Sean [Anders, the director] and I talked a lot about this. We wanted to make sure she had more dimensions than a stereotypical wife character. I have no problem, playing the wife, because women are wives and daughters and sisters. I loved how she evolved from her younger days, that she isn’t falling for [Dusty’s] ridiculous badboy charm anymore. And he and Brad were always talking about how wonderful my character is. [Laughs] That made me very happy.
I read you said you used to get people coming up to you, confusing you with the character you played briefly on “Boy Meets World,” back in the ’90s, who almost broke up Cory and Topanga…
I still get comments about that!
But that was so long ago.
I know, but I feel like people grew up on that show. They haven’t forgotten.
Did you have similar experiences with people angry you were playing Sylvia, one of Don Draper’s last mistresses on “Mad Men”?
I did. People had a complex reaction to her relationship with Don, though. Some people were angry because it’s the first time his affairs are found out by his daughter. But people had varied reactions to it.
Was there one that in particular was weird for you?
My mom called me and said my dad had to cover his eyes while he was watching. [Laughs] My mother was asking if I’d ever get out of bed with that man. It was the biggest part of my role, so I hoped not.
I have a “Freaks and Geeks’ question. I know you get these questions all the time, so I apologize…
No! I never, ever mind. I’m so proud of that show. Don’t feel bad.
OK. Did you identify more with Lindsay or Samantha on “ER”? Or is there another character closer to the real you?
I always find something to relate to, then you start building. You have to have something to grab you, even if the character is the polar opposite of you. But I think I was a lot like Lindsay growing up. She wanted to assert her independence in some way but she still felt very tied to her family. I loved that character. She had a big heart and she was trying to be rebellious. But it wasn’t very easy for her to rebel.
Have you watched it since becoming a mother?
No, I haven’t. It would be strange to watch it now as a parent. I always related to it from the child’s point-of-view, from Lindsay’s point-of-view. Now I would probably relate more to the parents and be terrified if Lindsay was my daughter. [Laughs] I’d be so proud of her for being a good person, but less so that she goes over to the freaks, especially when she gets on that bus.
I’m sure you wouldn’t think, “Oh, it’s cool that my daughter’s following The Dead!”
No way. I would have the police on the phone immediately.