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Linney Mines 'The Big C' For Serious Laughs.

On Showtime's dark comedy series, Laura Linney plays a terminally ill cancer patient. The actress's own father died from lung cancer while the series was being made; her mother was a cancer nurse when Linney was young. These experiences, she says, inform her performance.

37:36

Other segments from the episode on May 6, 2013

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 6, 2013: Interview with Laura Linney; Review of Gail Godwin's novel "Flora"; Review of Caitlin Rose's album "The Stand-In."

Transcript

May 6, 2013

Guest: Laura Linney

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Our guest is actress Laura Linney, who stars in the Showtime series "The Big C," now in its final season. Linney caught the eye of critics and earned an Oscar nomination for her role as a single mom in a small town in the 2000 film "You Can Count On Me."

In the years since, she's steadily built a career of interesting roles and well-received performances in films including "Mystic River," "Kinsey," "The Squid and the Whale," "The Savages" and as Abigail Adams in the HBO miniseries "John Adams." Linney now has three Oscar nominations and three Emmy Awards.

Since 2010, Linney's taken on the challenge of playing a terminally ill cancer patient in the dark comedy series "The Big C" on Showtime." "The Big C" is now in its final season, which consists of four one-hour episodes. Here's a scene from Season One, in which Linney's character, a suburban mom, has learned she has a serious case of melanoma but has decided not to tell her friends or family about it.

Instead she resolves to spend more of her time enjoying life and less worrying about conventions and the demands of others. Here she's in a restaurant with her husband, played by Oliver Platt. Their relationship has been on the rocks, and he's living at his sister's house.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "THE BIG C")

LAURA LINNEY: (As Cathy Jamison) Do you think I'm boring?

OLIVER PLATT: (As Paul Jamison) Just please tell me what I have to do to get back in the house.

LINNEY: (As Cathy) You do. You think I'm boring.

PLATT: (As Paul) I do not. It's just the way that our personalities break down. I like to do certain things that some people might categorize as fun, and you like to do other things that people might consider less than an optimal good time.

LINNEY: (As Cathy) Like what?

PLATT: (As Paul) Well, like organize stuff and clean stuff and put things in containers.

LINNEY: (As Cathy) I wanted to be the fun one. I wanted the house with the pool so I could teach Adam the banana split and dive, but you wanted to be closer to your job so you could Vespa to work.

PLATT: (As Paul) And you said it was a better idea because so many people die in pools.

LINNEY: (As Cathy) People die everywhere. I said it was a better idea because you threw a tantrum in front of the realtor.

PLATT: (As Paul) I made my point in an emotional way.

LINNEY: (As Cathy) You made your point in a childish way.

PLATT: (As Paul) Well, maybe I wouldn't act like such a kid if you didn't ask me if I need to pee every time I leave the house.

LINNEY: (As Cathy) Maybe I wouldn't treat you like such a child if every time I made you a sandwich you didn't ask me to cut the crusts off the bread.

PLATT: (As Paul) Oh sue me, I love a crustless sandwich.

LINNEY: (As Cathy) Well, I love onions. I haven't had an onion in 15 years because you say they're stinky pooh-pooh.

PLATT: (As Paul) They are. Come on, Cathy, are you honestly telling me that I'm sleeping on my sister's couch because you want to start cooking with onions again?

LINNEY: (As Cathy) Yes, Paul, that's it. I want onions to be a major part of my life in the next year.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) Are you ready to order?

LINNEY: (As Cathy) I'm just having desserts and liquor.

DAVIES: Well Laura Linney, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Boy, it's as funny as melanoma's going to get, I guess.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: I mean, what's one of the wonderful things about that scene is that, you know, you're carrying this profound secret, and he's just being himself. I've read that when you get a script, you like to ask why. You go over it carefully and ask why does the story unfold this way, why does this character do that. And you get to the truth of it somehow.

And so an interesting question must have been: Why does your character, Cathy Jamison, not tell the people she's closest to in her life that she has cancer?

LINNEY: Well, I think it's a variety of reasons, but in this situation, I think: A, she's afraid, you know, she's just scared of how it will change her relationship with everyone. She doesn't want her identity to change in that way. I think she wants to grow, and I think she wants her personality to change and the circumstance in which she lives her day-to-day life, but I don't think she wants people to look at her, and I don't think she wants to see on their face, the concern, the fear, the confusion that people have sometimes when they're looking at someone who they love with cancer or with a life-threatening illness.

So I think it's that she wants to improve her life first and then tell people.

DAVIES: Right, I mean, she's a suburban mom and kind of lives a pretty constrained life, as we heard in that scene. She likes to organize things.

LINNEY: Her life has become sort of calcified. She's done all the right things. She's done everything she thought she should do. She's been alive, but she's not living, and she sort of became a function. She functioned really well, but she wasn't living. And, you know, some - unfortunately sometimes it takes the realization that our time is limited to realize that oh, I haven't been taking advantage of what I have to give to the world and what the world has to give to me, that I've somehow gotten myself stuck in a groove that isn't healthy.

DAVIES: Right, and so she orders liquor and desserts when she goes to restaurants, and she's going to do - and that is certainly going to change the way people perceive her, which is what...

LINNEY: Well, I think at this point, at this point in the story she's just acting out. You know, I think it's all been, you know, blown apart. Her whole world is upside-down, and she's trying to figure out what her geography is. So the desserts and liquor are, you know, pacifying more than anything else, I think.

DAVIES: Apart from being the lead in the series, you're an executive producer. Is that a role that you sought?

LINNEY: It was. It was part of the reason why I took the show on and was interested in doing it was to learn that whole area of the business, and I learned a lot. You know, I've been involved and close to a lot of directors who I've worked with in film, and they've been, you know, encouraging to hear my input and maybe suggestions here and there.

And I've always sort of had a mind for the production end of things. I can look at a call sheet, and I can see where they're wasting 20 minutes. I'm good that way. So I was - more than anything, while I knew that I wouldn't have much to do with the overall arc of stories or the writing, which I really left to the experts there, but I did have an influence, I hope anyway, on the set and how the set was run and who was cast and, you know, just wanted to create a nice place for people to work.

DAVIES: You know, I know that your mom was a nurse at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

LINNEY: Yes, yes, so I was aware of cancer from a very, very early age.

DAVIES: And I think as "The Big C" was being made, your father, Romulus Linney, died of cancer, didn't he?

LINNEY: He did, he did.

DAVIES: I mean, and that's a devastating thing for anyone. Did that experience inform your performance in any way, do you think?

LINNEY: You know, I'm sure it did. It was such a blur, and it was so unexpected, and he died very, very quickly from lung cancer. So from, you know, diagnosis to death was I think five weeks. So it was a very tough time, and I'm still, you know, sort of trying to assimilate, you know, all of that.

And it just proves the point that, you know, it's not far away from anybody. And it also proved the point that, you know, it made me feel, you know - I was aware of how absurd so many things were happening around my family while he was dying, just the crazy things that were happening.

(LAUGHTER)

LINNEY: Just you go through something like that, and you're so vulnerable, and you're so scared, and you're dealing with doctors and insurance and just craziness. And absurd, crazy things happen. It becomes very surreal. So it made me realize some of the stuff that people thought were perhaps farfetched on "The Big C" were really not farfetched at all.

DAVIES: I want to move forward and play a clip from the final season. This is from the first episode of the final season, where your condition is now much more serious, and you've decided you're going to stop chemotherapy and let the disease take its course. In this scene we're going to hear, you've decided to finally quit your high school teaching job, and you want to say goodbye to your students.

The principal is not really keen on that. So you make a quick decision and dash into the office where the school PA system is operated, lock the door and turn on the PA and say your goodbye to the school over the PA system. Let's listen. S

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "THE BIG C")

LINNEY: (As Cathy) Good morning, good morning everyone. This is Mrs. Jamison, the history teacher. And I just wanted to say goodbye to my personal students as well as to the enter student body of West Hill at large. Today, today is the day that I say goodbye to teaching.

(As Cathy) Many of you may know that I have cancer, but that's not why I'm leaving. I think much of what we're required to teach you is just a bunch of useless information that you will never use again. But that's not why I'm leaving, either.

(As Cathy) I'm quitting my job today because I recently had a conversation with someone who really loves their job, and I realize I don't love mine. I never even really wanted to be a high school teacher. It's something my dad pushed me into because he thought it was a low bar I could clear, but the truth is it's a high bar, and I'm falling short.

(As Cathy) And you may never remember the battles I told you about, the facts, the dates, the wars, but maybe by my quitting today you will remember to be your best self. You find something you love doing. You do not take the easy route like Mrs. Stanley(ph), who has told me countless times that she only became a teacher to have summers off.

(As Cathy) You know, I've always really cared about my students. I really love you guys. But I'm going home. I'm going to spend more time with the young person whose adorable cheeks I just, I want to squeeze every time I see them, my son. And I'm going to go do things I love. I'm gonna finish learning how to play "The Entertainer" on the piano, which I was doing until my dad stopped paying for lessons because he didn't like to hear me practice.

(As Cathy) And I'm going to eat a lot of my favorite pie from Kowalski's(ph) because life is too short to have weird food rules. And I'm gonna finally finish writing an appropriate epitaph for a lovely dog. Ha, so here I go to do my thing. I think my antidepressants just kicked in.

DAVIES: And that is our guest Laura Linney, starring in the Showtime series "The Big C." It's in its final season, on Monday nights. What a wonderful piece of writing that is.

LINNEY: Yeah, it was fun to do.

DAVIES: We see you change physically this season. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, how you got there?

LINNEY: Well, it was just, it was important to me that you actually see what's happening to her, that you see the cancer and that you can see how it changes people and then consequently how people respond to the change. So I cut my hair, which is something I've wanted to do for a very long time.

(LAUGHTER)

LINNEY: So I liberated myself from my youthful locks. And so I cut my hair, and then I lost a lot of weight. You know, and there is something about what happens to the soul of a person as they are battling with an illness, you know, the days where they're feeling week, the days where they're strong, how that shifts and changes, what happens to the voice, how the body moves, breathing.

And you can see - more than seeing a disease, you see the life that's there and how the life is coping with the challenges that are happening to the body. So it was important to me that we not be afraid of that. Our hair and makeup people were wonderful, and there was a lot of work done there. And then, you know, I had the extreme privilege of washing it off.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Laura Linney. She stars in the Showtime series "The Big C." Its final season is underway. It airs on Monday nights. We'll talk more after a short break; this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This FRESH AIR. Before we get back to our conversation with Laura Linney, let's hear a clip from "The Savages," the 2007 film she starred in with Philip Seymour Hoffman. They played a brother and sister grappling with how to care for their aging father. He'd abandoned them as children and was now suffering from dementia. In this scene, the siblings are arguing in a bar.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE SAVAGES")

LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) Maybe dad didn't abandon us. Maybe he just forgot who we were.

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) I'm going to give Brian Deener(ph) a call.

LINNEY: (As Wendy) Who's that?

HOFFMAN: A friend of mine, teaches in the English department. He just put his mother in a nursing home near campus. Can we get some more nuts?

LINNEY: (As Wendy) Nursing home?

HOFFMAN: (As Jon) Yeah. What?

LINNEY: (As Wendy) I wasn't thinking about putting him in a nursing home.

HOFFMAN: (As Jon) What were you thinking?

LINNEY: (As Wendy) I don't know, but I wasn't thinking that.

HOFFMAN: (As Jon) Where else is he going to live, Wen? I mean, really, what's the alternative? You want to change dad's diapers, wipe his ass?

LINNEY: (As Wendy) He doesn't need diapers.

HOFFMAN: (As Jon) I don't - what do you think that catheter was?

LINNEY: (As Wendy) He's in the hospital.

HOFFMAN: (As Jon) Look, even if they did let dad stay here, we still have to have somebody take care of him. We can't afford that. You heard the nurse. Dad falls. He's disoriented.

LINNEY: (As Wendy) He hasn't fallen once since we've been here.

HOFFMAN: (As Jon) Don't make me out to be the evil brother who's putting away our father against your will. All right, we're doing this together, right? OK?

DAVIES: And that was from the 2007 film "The Savages." Now let's get back to my conversation with Laura Linney, now starring in the Showtime series "The Big C." You know, I recently watched, in getting ready for the interview, "The Savages," the film you did with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

LINNEY: Oh you did? Yeah.

DAVIES: Which is, of course, folks will remember that was where you - he's your brother, and you're dealing with your father, not a lovely guy, but who is getting old and demented and they have to put him into a nursing home. And, you know, you confront mortality.

And then in this, you know, for this long series, you've seen your character deal with this. Does you make you think about your own life and mortality?

LINNEY: Oh of course. I mean, the show came to me during a period of time, when it was first offered to me, when I was, you know, having real existential moments of thinking about time and the time that we have and that it is limited. It just is.

(LAUGHTER)

LINNEY: You know, it's human nature to, you know, thank God not have it be the first thing that you think about every single second, but there is a reality to it, and, you know, as I've been aging, and parents are dying, and I've, you know, unfortunately lost friends who were way too young to go, you know, you realize what a privilege it is to age.

And it's not - that's not a message that we hear a lot in the United States.

DAVIES: You grew up in Manhattan. I know that your parents divorced early, and you lived with your mom. You had a relationship with your dad, who was the playwright and poet, Romulus Linney. And it sounds like you got into acting really early, in school, graduate school at Julliard. Did you always know you wanted to do this?

LINNEY: I did, I always knew, and I actually, you know, started - never professionally. My parents wouldn't let me work professionally, which was - I so appreciate that decision now. And it was something that I really had to earn and respect. But I was always in school plays. It was always my interest. I was a theater history major in college. I went to drama school after that.

So I was in school for a long time, and I loved it. I loved being in school. I mean, I would still be in school if I could be, I think, and in many ways I sort of conduct myself that way. I see work as kind of just a continuation of school. So it's something - I've been very lucky because I had a sense of, you know, not just a profession but a vocation early on, and it's never boring.

DAVIES: Right, I think your first job in theater was actually working in production at a theater in New England that your dad got you.

LINNEY: Yes, the New London Barn Playhouse. I worked there for a few seasons as a very underage technical apprentice. So I worked backstage for, you know, hours. I broke every child labor law there is, I'm sure, and had the time of my life. I loved it.

DAVIES: And your dad thought you would get bored of it. Instead, you couldn't get enough.

LINNEY: Oh yeah, oh yeah. No, I begged him. We were staying in New London, New Hampshire, and he had worked as an apprentice in the early '50s at the New London Barn Playhouse. Norman Ledger(ph), who ran the theater at the time, was an apprentice with my father in the '50s there. So my dad went to him and said look, Norman, my daughter wants to - you know, can you work her really hard for two days, and then she'll - you know, she'll come home.

(LAUGHTER)

LINNEY: And I worked really hard for two days, and I never left.

DAVIES: Did he want to keep you out of a career in the theater?

LINNEY: No, I don't think he wanted to keep me out. I don't think he - you know, they left me alone. Both parents were very, very smart about realizing that they had a child who was just crazy about the theater, and I was, just obsessed and crazy. I was a complete theater nerd. And they were very good about letting me have my own relationship with it and not being - they never discouraged me ever, but they didn't fast-forward my interest into a professional life.

DAVIES: I know you did theater for a long time and then got into film.

LINNEY: Still do.

DAVIES: Right, and I read that one of your early films, "Congo," the Michael Crichton film...

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: That you had a lot of time on location and that you used that time. You said you liked to - you always liked to be in school. You kind of went to school on the movie-making process.

LINNEY: I did. Well, I was - you know, I was always completely intimidated by film. You know, I was not the sort of person who grew up thinking oh, I want to be in the movies. I loved movies, I just didn't think I particularly belonged there, and I didn't understand it. So I was really intimidated.

So when "Congo" came along, you know, as sort of wild and what a crazy adventure movie with a bunch of monkeys, I realized OK, this would be my experience, my, you know, opportunity to be on a film set for six months. You know, the acting was not terrible complicated. Let's face it, it was not a...

(LAUGHTER)

LINNEY: There was not a whole lot to play there. So I thought, you know, I could learn what it is to be on a set. And I spent three weeks sort of with - I rotated from department to department. I was a bit of a pest. But I would go to the sound department and say, you know, can I watch you guys for next three weeks. You know, when I'm not on set, can I sit with you? Can I see what you do? Can I see how this all works?

And then you - and then I went to the camera department, and then I went to special effects, and then I was - so I would have a sense of what arena I was working in. And it made me realize what was my job and what was not my job as an actress and how there was an entire army of people helping me out. And then I could take advantage of that and use - and lean on what they were offering. So it was a terrific experience. I loved it for that.

DAVIES: Laura Linney will be back in the second half of the show. She stars in the Showtime series "The Big C," which is now in its final season. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. Our guest is actress Laura Linney, who stars as a mom with terminal cancer in the Showtime series "The Big C," now in its final season. Linney's earned three Oscar nominations and won three Emmy Awards. She won critical praise playing Abigail Adams in the HBO series "John Adams." Her films include, "You Can Count on Me," "Mystic River," "Kinsey," "The Squid and the Whale," and "The Savages."

I wanted to talk about "The Squid and the Whale"...

LINNEY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...the film but you did in 2005.

LINNEY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: Noah Baumbach was the writer and director. In this we're going to hear scene. You and Jeff Daniels play a couple in New York in a failing marriage. He's sort of a pompous writer and professor and your writing career is taking off, and you have two sons, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline. And in this scene you and your husband have separated, and I guess you're greeting the boys after school. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE SQUID AND THE WHALE")

OWEN KLINE: (as Frank Berkman) Hey, mom.

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman) Hey, honeys.

KLINE: (as Frank Berkman) What are you doing?

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman) Just changing things around a bit.

JESSE EISENBERG: (as Walt Berkman) I've come by to tell you I'm not staying here anymore.

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman) Why?

EISENBERG: (as Walt Berkman) You know why.

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman) No, I don't.

EISENBERG: (as Walt Berkman) Frank, do you know why?

KLINE: (as Frank Berkman) No.

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman) Why don't you tell me, Walt?

EISENBERG: (as Walt Berkman) Because you cheated on dad.

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman) How'd you hear that? Your father told you.

EISENBERG: (as Walt Berkman) Yeah. He told me. Why did you, mom?

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman) I was having a hard time.

EISENBERG: (as Walt Berkman) Where were we during all this? Did you bring men home?

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman) Not while - not - not when your father was in town. You actually met Richard, both you boys. He came over for takeout once. He talked about The Stones.

EISENBERG: (as Walt Berkman) Oh god, under our noses like a brothel, men coming in and out.

KLINE: (as Frank Berkman) Walt, shut up.

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman) If you want me to explain, I will.

EISENBERG: (as Walt Berkman) I want to hear about it.

KLINE: (as Frank Berkman) I do.

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman)Well, Walt doesn't, so I'm not going to say anything.

KLINE: (as Frank Berkman) Walt can leave.

EISENBERG: (as Walt Berkman)You disgust me. You weren't even a writer until recently. You just bailed on dad because he's not as successful as he used to be and hasn't gotten the recognition he deserves.

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman)You sound like your father.

EISENBERG: (as Walt Berkman) Well, I'm glad I sound like him. You disgust me.

LINNEY: (as Joan Berkman)You're being a (bleep) Walt.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: The laughter is not in the film. It is from our guest, Laura Linney, who is listening...

LINNEY: It's just such terrible parenting. It's just...

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: Yeah. Not the way you do want to respond when you hear that kind of thing from your son, is it?

LINNEY: Yeah. No, let's overshare and then let's punish them.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: Well, to remind our audience, that's "The Squid and the Whale," the 2005 film with our guest, Laura Linney. She's there with the kids, Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline. Did you love the script the minute you saw it? This...

LINNEY: I loved it. Oh, I read the script and I, you know, there's a wonderful thing that happens every once in a while where you open a script and three pages in your sort of actor brain turns on and you start working on it and you don't even realize you've started working on it, you're not even just reading it. And it was just so good. But it took a long time to get made. So Noah, who I had known socially, you know, came to me and wanted me to be in it. I was just thrilled that he would want me to be a part of this. And then we had to wait for a long time to find the right partner, and Jeff Daniels, thankfully, came on board. And you know, it was made for the right reasons, it was made very modestly. I mean we were sitting on the sidewalk most of the time. It was during the spring and summer so it was really pleasant. We just had a great time.

DAVIES: Right.

LINNEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: And I think a lot of it was based on Noah Baumbach's own kind of experience with his, a kid of divorced parents, right?

LINNEY: Yes. Part of it was. And Noah's father and my father knew each other and were both - would both go to MacDowell and Yaddo and writers' colonies together, so they were from the same sort of culture and the same world. So we had that. I knew that world pretty well.

When you're growing up in the '70s and you have parents who are artists - and you know how difficult it is for them to be parents and be the sort of artists that were - that they were encouraged to be during that period of time culturally, it was not an easy mix.

DAVIES: Two of the actors in the scene we just heard are kids.

LINNEY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: Did you get surprises from them?

LINNEY: Oh, all the time. You know, someone can show up who is just so fresh. And they're open and they're, you know, smart and they are curious in a way that you can only be at that age. All the young people who I've been able to work with, you know, I've learned a lot from and so appreciate the time that they've given up to work professionally a little bit.

DAVIES: Can you think of something you've learned - particularly with the Jesse Eisenberg character(ph). There's a lot of anger between you.

LINNEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: You slap his face at one point.

LINNEY: Yeah. Yeah. That's never easy. When you have a child actor and you're in situations that are either, there's a scene that, where violence, there's violence or there's sexuality or there's, it's - I feel responsible, you know, for that even though it's, you know, probably not my full responsibility they signed up to do it, but I do feel - my sort of maternal instincts do come out.

(LAUGHTER)

LINNEY: So I just try and make sure that, you know, time is spent and that everyone is comfortable and everyone knows what's happening and when it will happen and how it will happen and - because children want to please. They just want to please, and eventually someone has to step in and be an adult and say OK, I think we can do this in a different way or let's see what's the best way to proceed.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Laura Linney. She stars in "The Big C." It's the series on Showtime that's now in its last season and airs Monday nights.

You played Abigail Adams in the "John Adams" series on HBO - won an Emmy for it. Fascinating relationship and a fascinating woman. How did you prepare for that role?

LINNEY: Oh, I loved it. I had such a good time. Well, there's not, you know, there's, of course there's her writings and the letters that she wrote - you know, the famous letters between her and John Adams - and then there's not a whole lot about her. There are a few biographies which are pretty good and, you know, mentions of her in the biographies of Jefferson and other notables. So I sort of had to go to the sort of universal truths about just the dynamics of certain realities, such as what it's like when you become famous. You know, here was a woman who had grown up on, you know, grown up in Massachusetts and then she and John had their farm and she worked her farm very hard and she grew up in a hard-working, you know, the work ethic was incredibly strong, and then she went to Europe.

(LAUGHTER)

LINNEY: And what happens when you go to Europe for the first time? And then she came back from Europe and she was famous. And when you come off - when she came off that boat, they were famous. And what does that do to a person? How does that change you? And you know, she got a little blood in her mouth and I found that fascinating. I was like, oh, look what's happening there. So while that has never been written about, those are just the things that you can see from history, actually what happened.

DAVIES: And did you identify with that experience - becoming famous?

LINNEY: A little bit. I mean I'm well known. I'm not the sort of person who walks out on the street and people scream...

(LAUGHTER)

LINNEY: ...scream my name. But there is, it's not a, I don't have a purely anonymous life, so I can understand a little bit. And I have some friends who are very, very famous and I certainly see how they - what they encounter on a daily basis, and the moments where you sort of lose reality about your size in the world and how that can change your thinking and then consequently change your behavior. So I was really interested in discovering those dynamics about her and just the reasoning of what her behavior would be like. You know, she had a son who was a terrible alcoholic and died of the disease and he was her favorite child. And there was a scene that we put in that we sort of came up with about the dynamic of how furious she would be with him. She goes to his home and she literally slaps him and says, you know, you get yourself together, in the way that a New England person would. So those were the more, it's asking questions about that kind of behavior and that sort of motivation that I find really interesting.

DAVIES: You know, it's a relationship she - Abigail and John Adams - as you see in the series, I mean she was his intellectual equal and partner, but it was also a real - there was real passion between them.

LINNEY: They loved each other. That was a...

DAVIES: They were truly in love, right.

LINNEY: Well, and they were the best of friends, and I think they trusted each other and grew together, you know. And also, you know, he married up. She was the daughter of a minister and he married up.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: Right.

LINNEY: I think you never really get away from that.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: Right.

LINNEY: I think he always felt grateful to have her. I don't think he ever took her, he probably did take her for granted. It's a marriage, and you know, people, you know, swing in and out of that during the course of a marriage, but she grounded him and he knew it. He was smart enough to know it.

DAVIES: You know, I wanted to recall a moment. Paul Giamatti was on the show and we talked about the series.

LINNEY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: And I hope this doesn't make you uncomfortable. But I asked him about the scene where you and he - that is to say, John and Abigail Adams - had been apart for many months while he was in Europe.

LINNEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: And when you are reunited...

LINNEY: Years.

DAVIES: Yeah.

LINNEY: Years.

DAVIES: Oh, was it years? OK.

LINNEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: And so they're reunited and there's a scene of physical passion.

LINNEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: And I asked him about that.

LINNEY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: You know, you're wearing all these period clothes.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: And asked him what was it like portraying 18th century sex and he said, well, yeah, it was middle-aged 18th century sex.

LINNEY: That's right. That's right.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: And then he went on to explain. So let's listen to what he said.

LINNEY: Oh boy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL GIAMATTI: Yeah, you know, originally that scene, we were supposed to walk in, and it didn't go really beyond us just kind of kissing, and Laura and I talked beforehand about it and said why don't we just kind of keep going, and hopefully they'll keep going. And so we did. And we didn't know what we were going to do, really.

I had sort of talked to one of the - they had sort of historical consultants around, and a lot of those people did have sex with all their clothes on. They didn't remove - I think the French were the people who took all their clothes off, for the most part, but I don't know that Americans did at the time - at least this one person said to me.

So I had that in my back pocket, and I went yeah, we can - we'll keep our clothes on. The toughest thing was, what do you do with the wig? What is - how do you sort of - what's the deal with the wig? And we thought, well, maybe that's a kind of - Laura said maybe, you know, the bald head is a sort of erotic thing for the woman. So she does this kind of wonderful slipping of the wig off and rubbing my bald head.

You know, I don't know, we imagined a lot of it. We kind of made it up. But we really kind of just went for it without telling them we were going to do in the first take of it.

DAVIES: And that's where Giamatti, talking about a scene from the "John Adams" series on HBO, which he did with our guest Laura Linney. So did you come up with a baldy thing on the spot?

(LAUGHTER)

LINNEY: Yeah. We did. You know, that was part of the fun was seeing, you know, even though, I mean what makes historical drama accessible are those moments of what do you do. What would anybody do? And then that connects you very quickly. You know, what do you do with the wig?

(LAUGHTER)

LINNEY: And what happens when people who really love each other have been separated for - you know, you go to bed. I mean you do, that's what people who are passionate do when they've been longing for each other and missing each other and the relief of being in each other's presence, you, you know, jump in the sack. So those sort of things that were truthful to us, that we were then able to work into the story, was, you know, it was terrific.

DAVIES: Yeah. I mean I really love historical characters shown as real people in ways that...

LINNEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: ... that ring true and are believable, and that's one of many...

LINNEY: Well, because they can be terrible.

DAVIES: Right.

LINNEY: I mean those things could be terrible, like the old buckle shoes and the funny speak and, you know, they can be really awful. So it was, you know, and we did a lot of work on the script as the show was evolving and going, so it was a creatively exciting experience, it was adventurous. It was, you know, we had to reach, we had to really reach, you know, and stretch and work quickly and efficiently but creatively and it was, you know, it was really one of the most, you know, satisfying experiences I've had.

DAVIES: Yeah. Well, we've enjoyed having you.

LINNEY: Thank you.

DAVIES: Thanks so much.

LINNEY: My pleasure. Thank you.

DAVIES: Laura Linney stars in the series "The Big C," now in its final season. It airs Monday nights on Showtime.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Gail Godwin has been a three-time finalist for the National Book Award. In addition to her 12 novels, she's also published a two volume collection of her journals, called "The Making of a Writer."

Book critic Maureen Corrigan says that Godwin's latest novel continues her fascination with female-centered households and wise children.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Gail Godwin says that one of the inspirations for her new novel, called "Flora," is Henry James' ghost story, "The Turn of the Screw." Both stories take place in isolated old houses, and both revolve around mental contests between a governess character and her young charge. There are ghosts in Flora too: specters that arise out of what our narrator calls her remorse. Godwin had me at that word, remorse. It's such a great old-fashioned word, and it suggests that there'll be a lot of awful things going on in this novel that will need to be atoned for.

Our narrator here is name Helen Anstruther; now in her 70s and a writer, Helen is looking back to the summer of 1945, when she was 10. Her mother has been dead for a long time, and her grandmother, who has been her main guardian, has just suffered a fatal heart attack while trying on Easter hats in the local department store.

Helen's father, the principal of the high school in their North Carolina town, has decided to accept a summer job at the military plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Though nobody could know it yet, Helen's father will play his own small role in history by overseeing construction workers on the Manhattan Project.

Homefront history, however, rather than military history, is Godwin's territory. And by homefront I really mean that this story is restricted to Helen's house, perched atop a remote mountain. There, we readers are quarantined with Helen and her 22-year-old cousin, Flora, who has come from Alabama to take care of her that summer.

Because there's rumor raging of a polio epidemic in the area, the two girls are forbidden to go into town. Flora herself, as seen through Helen's eyes, is a totally unexpected type of character. She's simple-hearted. Helen goes on to tell us that Flora: was the first older person I felt superior to. She was an instant crier. She possessed the gift of tears.

As far as I could tell, layers had been left out of Flora. All of her seemed to be on the same level, for anyone to see. You'd think that such a compassionate, uncomplicated young woman would be the perfect companion for a lonely girl who has lost so many loved ones in her short life. Think again.

The profound wisdom that animates Godwin's novel is that simple-hearted people can sometimes be incredibly annoying. Helen, who is budding into a disdainful personality, finds herself increasingly vexed by Flora's cheerfully intrusive presence, without exactly understanding why.

Flora's habit of doing housework in bare feet, for instance, drives Helen crazy. She comments: Flora's toenails turned up like they were making too much effort to be friendly. More readily understandable is Helen's anger over a skirt that Flora wears. It's made from one of Helen's mother's old dresses that's too small on top for the busty Flora.

Helen recalls: The awful truncated dress was the worst: the upper half of my mother cut away because Flora's bustline was way too big. Helen, who is more verbally adept than her older cousin, starts lashing out at her, but it's like punching the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Flora just good-naturedly absorbs the shocks and bounces back. Even before that loaded word, remorse, pops up, you just know that things aren't going to turn out well, especially when an affable ex-serviceman-turned-grocery-deliveryman drives up one day and knocks on the door of that smoldering, solitary house.

Children are like bombs that will one day go off. That's a line that Gail Godwin says also served as inspiration for her novel "Flora." Godwin wrote the line in one of her journals, which she started keeping at age 12.

Godwin is still writing in her journals and drawing upon them to explore the more out-of-the-way reaches of women's interior lives. Remorse may be the defining emotion for our narrator, Helen, but Godwin the writer has nothing to regret: "Flora" is an elegant little creeper of a story.

DAVIES: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "Flora" by Gail Godwin.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:"The Stand-In" is Caitlin Rose's second album. Perhaps because she grew up in Texas and spent a lot of time in Nashville, Rose has frequently been categorized as a country singer. But rock critic Ken Tucker says this new collection demonstrates a much wider range.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PINK CHAMPAGNE")

CAITLIN ROSE: (Singing) Look out of the window, babe. See how far it goes. See how all the time does fly when you're staring out of windows. Pictures in the...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: I chose that song, "Pink Champagne," to lead off this review because it presents Caitlin Rose's voice in its most unadorned purity and veiled shrewdness. Rose lofts her voice skyward, the notes as buoyant and light as the bubbles of the pink champagne she's singing about.

Her high trills could, with only a slight shift in tone and attitude, become self-conscious with a Betty Boop coyness, and I'm not saying that doesn't occur once or twice on this album "The Stand-In." But most of the time, Rose keeps her music grounded in the details of yearning, heartache and a welcome sense of gratefulness and enthused energy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MENAGERIE")

ROSE: (Singing) It happened today. Now I'm walking away from this pieces of silver and blue. Say you can why this happens to me when it's really what's happening to you. Now I stepped alone on a pallet of stone till you moved me from where I lay. But I can't sleep on imperial sheets where the bed always has to be made.

(Singing) I saw it clear a new space for me here in your menagerie. But I'm going to dance over broken glass and destroy all of these beautiful things.

TUCKER: That's "Menagerie," in which Caitlin Rose makes breaking up sound not hard to do, but rather like a good housecleaning of the soul. It features a guitar line that wouldn't be out of place on an early George Harrison solo album, which helps to fix the era of pop-rock from which Rose is working.

Although she's been based in Nashville and got pegged as an alt-country singer earlier in her career, Rose sounds on this new album very much a pop vocalist drawing upon everyone from Roy Orbison to Carlene Carter to the reedy, wistful tone of a singer such as Sal Valentino of the Beau Brummels to deliver the plaintive scenario of a song like "Golden Boy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLDEN BOY")

ROSE: (Singing) Doomsday came and you were still around. We watched that china bar burn down. World's been at an end since you can't remember when. But all you know is it's all over now. Golden boy, don't go away. I won't ask you what you're here for if you'll stay. Golden boy, don't make me pay. Just 'cause I try living for today.

TUCKER: As its title suggests, throughout "The Stand-In" Rose assumes various roles in her songs. Actually, they boil down to two: the person who's been wronged and the person who's committed a wrong. She's produced this album with Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson, who also co-wrote much of the material with Rose.

The production of any given song frequently rubs against the mood of its lyric, with downbeat sentiments made tense when strung along a zippy, coursing melody, or a hopeful verse called into question by the downward spiral of guitars, keyboards and drums. You can hear this, for example, in "When I'm Gone."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I'M GONE")

ROSE: (Singing) Come on, you can sleep when I'm gone. I was lying when I said we had plenty of time. Don't need your alibi, baby, 'cause I'm always smiling trying to see my crime. Lying. I've been lying. I've been lying around with the dogs in this town too long. Too long to tell if I've been lying or just another one of those dogs is what I've become. Come on...

TUCKER: Rose tosses off a pun on that song, singing, Lying, I've been lying, I've been lying around with the dogs in this town too long. She's preparing to beat a hasty retreat, yet the force of the music belies the image of Rose as a quitter or an escapee.

Like another apparent influence I hear - the Everly Brothers' sound pops up in some of her layered, multi-tracked harmonies - Rose knows that it takes a strong, assured performer to sell the notion of vulnerability over the long haul. And keeping yourself open to the hurt is what her music is all about.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker reviewed "The Stand-In" by Caitlin Rose.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYWHERE I GO")

ROSE: (Singing) I could sail across the ocean to the shoreline of Japan. Cut through every city and every foreign land. Run away from it all just as fast as I can but no matter where I go, no matter where I go, there I am. There I am.

DAVIES: You can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org. Follow us on Twitter at #nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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