Tw o-time Os­car nom­i­nee and in­die scene fave tu rns in h er most sav­age per­for­mance y et By G LENN SUM I

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a twist. Con­sider those dim­ples. On­screen, they sug­gest perky ami­a­bil­ity, but look care­fully and you can see they might hide anx­i­ety, frus­tra­tion, even a touch of ar­ro­gance.

Be­neath that ap­ple-pie whole­some­ness there’s some­thing slightly messed-up go­ing on. Lin­ney’s char­ac­ters seem to have it all to­gether, but like the rest of us, they some­times make bad choices. They sleep with that mar­ried man. They get so ab­sorbed in their work that they ig­nore their kids. You can’t al­ways, to mess with the ti­tle of her 2000 break­out film role, count on them.

In one of the strong­est post-Streep ca­reers around, Lin­ney’s cre­ated a gallery of fas­ci­nat­ing, fucked-up sis­ters, moms and wives. Free-think­ing Mrs. Kin­sey. The Squid And The Whale’s self-ob­sessed poet mom. The heart­break­ingly vul­ner­a­ble sin­gle­ton from Love Ac­tu­ally.

Black-and-white isn’t in her reper­toire; she spe­cial­izes in shades of grey.

“I love those char­ac­ters be­cause they’re not just one thing,” says Lin­ney, on the phone from Man­hat­tan. “They’re like a big puz­zle. You have to trans­late what’s on a page to re­la­tion­ships, char­ac­ter, all of that. That’s why I love what I do.”

Her latest com­pli­cated char­ac­ter – yet another twisted sis­ter – is a doozy, and it might just earn her a third Os­car nom­i­na­tion.

In Ta­mara Jenk­ins’s The Sav­ages, Lin­ney plays Wendy Sav­age, an as­pir­ing Man­hat­tan play­wright floun­der­ing in a se­ries of mean­ing­less temp jobs and half-heart­edly sleep­ing with a mar­ried neigh­bour.

When Wendy’s es­tranged fa­ther (Philip Bosco) falls ill in an Ari­zona re­tire­ment home, she and her shaggy Buf­falo-based theatre prof brother (Philip Seymour Hoff­man) visit him, only to dis­cover they’ve got to find him another home up north, closer to them. Forced to live to­gether and con­front their ab­sen­tee dad and his de­men­tia, the Sav­ages – that ti­tle gets pretty lit­eral – ri­fle through ev­ery last piece of fam­ily bag­gage.

“Wendy’s sort of like an eight-year-old who’s out of con­trol,” says Lin­ney with a know­ing chuckle. “She’s child­ish, nar­cis­sis­tic and she lies and fights the way a child does. She doesn’t have bound­aries for her­self or any­one else, and she’s got this weird sense of en­ti­tle­ment.

“But what’s great is that there’s a lot of hu­mour in all that. Plus, there’s the un­der­tow of her history, which is darker and gives ev­ery­thing a bit of a kick. She feels aban­doned, has iden­tity is­sues and is try­ing to fig­ure out who the hell she is.”

Lin­ney, on the other hand, seems to know ex­actly who she is. It’s there in her con­fi­dent voice and de­ter­mined lit­tle chin. She con­fesses that she and Os­car-win­ner Hoff­man did no spe­cial work to ap­pear be­liev­able as screen sib­lings. Both trained in the theatre, so they know the script is king.

“Also, we’ve got sim­i­lar tem­per­a­ments,” she says. “There was a real kin­ship from the start. He’d even call me on days I wasn’t film­ing, just to leave sup­port­ive mes­sages.”

It also wasn’t dif­fi­cult to con­front head-on is­sues like death, ill­ness and per­sonal fail­ure.

“You know what’s more dif­fi­cult, what they don’t teach you in drama school?” she laughs. “How to act at 4:30 in the morn­ing in the freez­ing cold or boiling heat. That’s more chal­leng­ing than any sort of emo­tional work. And it’s like child­birth. You for­get about it once a movie’s fin­ished and you’re on to the next.”

Not that she takes any of the is­sues in the film lightly.

“Think­ing about the death of a par­ent af­fects ev­ery­body when they get to a cer­tain age,” she says. “It’s in­evitable. Hope­fully, you have the priv­i­lege of be­ing with a par­ent when they go. I’m for­tu­nate be­cause both my par­ents are still alive, but many of my friends have lost par­ents, and you can see the shift that hap­pens in them. It’s a rite of pas­sage, a defin­ing thing.”

On the sub­ject of get­ting older, ev­ery jour­nal­ist who’s in­ter­viewed Lin­ney lately has brought up the dreaded 40-some­thing fe­male ac­tor curse. She’s amused by it all.

“It’s like ev­ery­one feels doom’s around the cor­ner!” she laughs. “Their at­ti­tude is, ‘I know it’s good for you now, but just you wait!’ Do peo­ple that to hap­pen to me?” She pauses, let­ting that thought sink in. “Who knows what will hap­pen? I’ve been ex­tremely for­tu­nate, and I hope I’ll be able to con­tinue to work. Maybe if you want to be an A-list movie star and make $5 mil­lion each film, that’s go­ing to be hard to pull off as you get older. But that’s not me. I have a ca­reer in theatre, I work in TV, I’ll do a ra­dio play.”

When Lin­ney tells me she loves get­ting older, she’s com­pletely con­vinc­ing. No act­ing.

“It’s tremen­dously lib­er­at­ing,” she says. “I’ve been through a whole bunch of things, and I know what to take se­ri­ously – or not. I have a bet­ter sense of my­self, so I’m much more able to en­joy things.”

Lin­ney could ride out that the­o­ret­i­cal mid-40s slump bet­ter than most. Af­ter all, she’s never coasted on glam­our or courted ro­man­tic lead parts. Like Toni Col­lette, she’s un­afraid of look­ing plain on­screen. Con­sider the 20 pounds she gained to play Mrs. Kin­sey. Or the ratty hairdo she sports in The Sav­ages.

“It would be to­tally in­ap­pro­pri­ate for me to look good in cer­tain movies,” she says. “Lu­di­crous. It would be self­ish to want to twist a char­ac­ter into some­thing else.”

Although she started out in stu­dio pics like Pri­mal Fear, The Tru­man Show and Ab­so­lute Power, di­rected by her men­tor, Clint East­wood (“A spec­tac­u­lar hu­man be­ing”), it’s Lin­ney’s in­die films, be­gin­ning with You Can Count On Me, that stick.

“The indies give me more in­ter­est­ing work, for sure,” says Lin­ney. “But at the same time, they take an aw­fully long time to get made. The Squid And The Whale took, I think, four years. Kin­sey took another four years. This film was a rough road for a while. Many com­pa­nies passed on the movie, and said they wouldn’t make it with me and Phil.

“The in­die world isn’t the ide­al­is­tic world it used to be, or that peo­ple want it to be. But it’s still a place where writ­ers can pro­duce scripts that are re­ally actable and three-di­men­sional.”

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