Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Donald Margulies still vividly remembers seeing Linney perform during casting sessions for his play Sight Unseen in 1991. “She auditioned along with dozens of ingenues. This lovely blond, bold young woman came in and began reading. Everyone in the room is suddenly leaning forward and saying, ‘Who is she?’ ” Margulies recalls, lauding the actress’s “to-die-for dimples” and “gorgeous vocal quality.” Linney was cast as the young German journalist in the play; 13 years later, in a revival of the show, she played the leading female role, an artist’s former lover and muse, and was nominated for a Tony. She scored another Tony nod this year for her work in Margulies’s Time Stands Still and will return to that play on Broadway this month.
Widely admired by her peers, the hardworking Linney is perceived as a risk taker in her performances, willing to be unattractive, to be nude, to physically contort herself if the part requires it. “She just jumps right in,” says Daniel Sullivan, the director of Time Stands Still. He was worried that Linney might injure herself while wearing the heavy leg brace required for her character, a badly wounded war photographer, but he reports that her reaction was, “Who cares?” Sullivan says, “She’s extremely strong.” Adds Neeson: “She’s like Meryl Streep in that way. She just lets it hang out, no vanity at all.” Of her nude scenes, Linney jokes, “I’m a real tart. I’ve been naked in a lot of movies. If I feel that the nudity in some way will add to the story or the understanding of the character, I’ll do it.”
At an age—46—when many actresses panic at the sight of a wrinkle, Linney professes to be happy with her reflection in the mirror. “I feel like I’m getting better looking as I get older,” she says. “It’s true. I’m sort of trying to be friends with it and say, Look, there’s a little bit of my grandmother there.” Tripplehorn says the two of them have made a pact: “We’re not going under the knife, we’re not going to do Botox. We’re both very committed to approaching life gracefully.”
But for Linney the subject of aging touches something much deeper as well. “I have a lot of friends who’ve died way too young,” she says. “And I’m a little angry about it. It makes me very upset at the whole viewpoint that there’s something wrong with aging when it is a privilege to grow old.”
One good friend she lost was Neeson’s wife, actress Natasha Richardson, who died in a skiing accident last year. “I was just thinking about this, in relation to Tash,” Neeson says, “that Laura would always proffer great advice, of a personal nature or a delicacy in one’s relationship: ‘Have you thought about this?’ She’d never bang you over the head with it.”
Richardson’s tragic accident, says Linney, “changed all of our lives. Those of us who knew and loved her and benefited from her incredible talent, we’ll never be the same.” When Linney got the news, she was in the midst of a self-imposed sabbatical from work, living in Telluride. She and Schauer had set a date to marry, even though she’d been in no rush to make it legal. “The wedding was much more important to Marc than it was to me,” she says. “I was so happy to be engaged. I loved introducing him to people as my fiancé.”
When Richardson died in March 2009, “we actually thought about postponing [the May wedding],” Linney says. “She would have been there. Of all my friends, she was the one who was most annoyed that we were taking so long. She was so happy when we got engaged, and she kept saying, ‘When is this wedding happening?’ We were on the phone a lot about the plans.”