Laura Linney in Love

The star of The Big C on her second-chance romance.

By Meryl Gordon
Photograph: Photo by: Noe DeWitt

“That horrible phrase—‘It will happen when you least expect it’—people mean so well, but my impulse was to stick a fork in my eye,” says Laura Linney, who is feistier than her fine-boned beauty would suggest. Sitting in a Manhattan restaurant, nibbling edamame, she is thinking back to a time when her career was skyrocketing but her personal life was in a slump. Divorced in 2001 after a five-year marriage to actor David Adkins, she was nominated that year for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for You Can Count on Me. Suddenly she was landing roles in prestige movies (Mystic River, Kinsey) and winning both Emmy awards (Wild Iris, Frasier) and her first Tony nomination (The Crucible). But she discovered that her newfound prominence came at a price. “It was weirdly isolating,” she says. “The more successful I became, everyone took a slight step back. I didn’t know what to make of it. I was brokenhearted.”

By the time she flew to Colorado to promote Kinsey at the 2004 Telluride Film Festival, accompanied by her mother, she was resigned to being self-sufficiently single. “I had given up,” she recalls. Greeted at the airport by a VIP host—local real estate broker Marc Schauer—she was relieved to discover that he was not “a painfully awkward, strange chap, as some of them can be.” Later that day, she had a second, startling reaction. “I was alone with Marc. I remember turning and looking at him—Oh my God, am I attracted to my handler? I thought, Calm down,” she recalls. “But there was a part of me that was very relieved. I felt like something was waking up. I thought, How wonderful that I can feel this again.”

Linney is laughing as she tells this story, looking forward later in the week to the first anniversary of her wedding to Schauer. “Marc has been a gift,” says the actress, who is wearing black jeans, a black sweater and a black jacket, her blond hair flowing loosely around her animated face. “I’m learning a lot from him about joie de vivre. I know really well how to work; the life part is harder for me, and he pushes me to live a bit. We laugh a lot.”

Her recent domestic bliss is welcome news to her friends. “I had been telling her for a long time, ‘You need to date out of your species,’ ” says Jeanne Tripplehorn, a Juilliard classmate in the 1980s. “She had been with other actors, and it hadn’t gone so well. Marc adores her, she adores him.” Says Liam Neeson, who costarred with Linney in Kinsey and The Crucible and has a country home near the actress’s Connecticut refuge: “We all fell in love with Marc because he is so supportive of her. He’ll sit there and listen to all our boring actor stories and guffaw louder than anyone. She seems very, very happy, which is terrific to see.”

Now that Linney has settled one of the big personal questions, she is focusing on another: how to get the most meaning and pleasure out of life. It’s a theme that extends to her new project, the Showtime series The Big C, in which she portrays a married schoolteacher who is told she has stage 4 melanoma and only one year to live. The pilot for this unusual show has genuinely funny moments in which Linney’s cautious character breaks out by playing a mischievous trick on her son, doing cartwheels in her school’s hallway and standing up to her comically childish husband, played by Oliver Platt. Yet even as she tries to reconnect in more meaningful ways with her loved ones, she keeps her devastating news a secret. “She has a husband who is a baby, a son who is a brat, a brother who is eccentric and homeless, and there is no real intimacy anywhere,” Linney says. “If she tells any of them, they couldn’t handle it.”

Linney was drawn to the show because “I’ve been really thinking about my life, where I’ve come from and what I need, what’s good for me,” she says. “At my age—midforties—time and living take on deeper meaning. All this stuff was percolating in my brain, and I thought, Oh, this could be interesting. If you knew you only had a year to live, how would you spend that time?”

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