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The Exorcism of Laura Linney

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

Laura Linney in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”



by Brad Balfour

Within two years, Oscar nominated Laura Linney has had several remarkable films released such as Kinsey and now supernatural courtroom drama, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Once again, the 40-something actress grapples with lives in profound transition, this time playing a lawyer who defends a priest [Tom Wilkinson) after performing an exorcism gone bad. And though the film has the requisite scare sequences, it’s as much about the struggle a lawyer and client deal with between winning a case and examining the truth.

Do you consider this a horror film?

I never thought of it like that. I tend to go for the scary creature horror films. Like Alien or the real sort of unknown, where you don’t know what you’re dealing with. That sort of segues into this, but I’ve never seen a movie that combined these two genres before – a courtroom drama and a supernatural scary, exorcism movie sort of thing – and I really didn’t know if it was going to work.

You initially said no to this because you were a little concerned?

I was a little concerned. I wanted to make sure that this movie was going to be balanced, that both sides of the argument would be fully represented. I wanted to make sure that it was a movie that was not going to try and tell people what to think, but just have them think in general.

Did the Emily Rose exorcism scenes freak you out?

My role is to freak you guys out because I’m making a movie. This is a movie to freak you guys out for those of us who are making it. I mean, it’s delicious fun when you’re making all of this.

Did you speak to a real exorcist?

I didn’t. The research that I did was more in line with what I felt she would do, the more sort of academic stuff. I went to, I went to Google. There are tons of books and stuff out there. I did the good old basic research stuff.

How do you feel about demons and the supernatural?

I contradict myself about this all of the time and I really don’t feel confident saying one way or the other. I wish that I did, and I know that we’re living in a time where to be certain is to show strength. And I think that it’s okay not to know and not to be sure. I don’t know. Really.

Laura Linney in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”

If there’s a God, does there have to be a Devil?

Well, I don’t know exactly. That’s my thinking. I know that there are some things that I do believe in and I’ve seen a ghost once. And I’m a skeptic. I’m not someone who lives my life by the winds of things that are beyond. Let me just say that I saw a ghost at the Balasco Theater when I was doing a play called On or Off. I’ve spoken about this in the past and I’m not a believer in ghosts, but seeing this ghost was really nice experience. The theater is notoriously haunted. Being a theater person, I’ve heard about the legends for years. They usually show up when the play is about to open and sure enough, we were doing a final run through and I looked up and there in the upper balcony which is a balcony that you can have no access to. It’s locked from the street. There was a woman standing at the balcony, at the edge of balcony which is very, very high up in a very blue satin dress, baby blue satin dress and blonde crimped hair. I saw her and I didn’t stop. It didn’t scare me. I didn’t freeze. I just saw her there and I just thought, “Hello.” And then I turned and took a line to Jane Alexander and I looked back up and the ghost was gone. I didn’t say anything to anyone about it because it didn’t scare me, and it felt like it was sort of special – as if it was my little visitation. I waited a few days and then went to the house manager and I said, “I think that I saw one of the ghosts.” He said, “Male or female?” I said, “Female.” He went, “Blue dress, blonde hair?” I was like, “Yeah.” He was like, “Yeah. You did.” The Balasco is a famously haunted theater. The Con Ed guys will not go in the basement. David Balasco supposedly shows up. This one woman clearly shows up. So, I believe in that and I’ve experienced that. The other stuff is harder for me to grasp for some reason.

And what do you think about the devil?

You know you look at all… I can go round and round on this. I don’t have an answer for it. I think about it and there are times where I think absolutely not and then there are times where I’m like, “Am I open to the possibility of it? Maybe.” When you do the research and you hear about these exorcisms and people’s heads splitting open in front of people, what do you with that information? Then there’s also the sort of thing where, there’s a part of me at least with the good stuff it’s either reality or something that my brain chemistry is creating and if it makes me feel better and helps me in my life I don’t care if it’s real or not.

Emily Rose said, “Let my death serve this purpose.” Was an aim of this movie to bring spirituality into a world that rejects those things?

Yeah… and she might’ve been crazy. There are people who sell grilled cheese sandwiches on eBay that have the Virgin Mary on it. I don’t know. I just think that it’s interesting. I have no agenda as far as promoting or encouraging the religious aspects of this movie. I have deep respect for religion in general. But I am in no means trying to sway anyone in thinking in one way or another, but just to think.

Did anything eerie happen on the set while you were shooting?

On the set in Vancouver, no. My TV at the hotel would go on, on its own which was weird. Not at 3 am. I am always asleep at 3 am. 4 am is my witching hour if I’m going through periods of stress or anything like that. 4 am is always when my eyes will flap open.

Were you bothered by that?

No. You know, it didn’t bother me. It would turn on and I would just start to laugh. It happened once and I thought that it was weird. Then it happened again. It happened three or four times and Jennifer’s [Carpenter] stereo kept turning on. I thought, “Well, okay. Faulty wiring. Who knows?”

Laura Linney in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”

Then when the tape recorder was on and you were walking…

Right, of course. But when we did it there was no tape recorder. They couldn’t run the sound, so I had to pretend.

You suggested Jennifer for this role?

Jennifer and I did The Crucible together on stage with Liam Neeson three years ago. She was Mary Warren. I have never been as impressed with anyone in rehearsal as I was with Jennifer regardless of their age. She was poised. She was brave. She would listen. She would connect. She was extraordinary. And she was extraordinary every single performance of that show. I also love her to bits personally. And then I’ve seen her in a whole bunch of other stuff, smaller theater productions and things like that. We kept in touch and when I signed on to do this, I knew that that part was the most critical piece of casting in the entire film. I knew that they really needed an actress who could attack it from a realistic standpoint who would also attack it and not skip steps. You can just scream, scream, scream and contort and be dramatic in your contorting and not have it rooted to anything. So, I threw her name in the pot and said that they should look at her and she did the rest. She’s just phenomenal. She’s physically capable as well. I mean, she’s an athlete, really. She’s unbelievable. She’s very thin and willowy but is strong and all of that stuff she did on her own. She’s also vocally really an expert. You cannot scream like that without losing your voice for 14 hours a day. You really have to know what you’re doing. I think she’s fantastic and was thrilled they took my suggestion seriously.

When you work with a person like co-star Tom Wilkinson, do you go off without the director and work things out?

Sometimes. Yeah. You talk sometimes. Tom is a wonderful, wonderful man.

Are you playing a real character?

No. I’m fictional. I’m a completely fictionalized character.

Did you research being a lawyer and handling a claim like this one?

Well, I pulled out my file and my diaries that I kept when I was making Primal Fear.

Was that the last time you played a lawyer?

No. In Absolute Power I was also a driven lawyer although there were no courtroom scenes in that. I remembered all the trials that I sat in on when I was making Primal Fear. Then I also watched a lot of trial movies. If you have not seen Inherit the Wind recently, see it. You will do yourself a favor. It is a wonderful movie. The courtroom stuff in that is just fantastic and it’s so hard to do. Courtroom stuff is hard to shoot because it can be really boring or so grandstanding that no one listens. It’s a real balance between trying to expose certain character stuff and yet keep the story and the plot and the logic going and all of that. The strategy of the thought that the two teams are pitting against each other. So that’s what I did.

Primal Fear was really your first big break, right?

Well, I wouldn’t underestimate Congo. [laughs] I wouldn’t underestimate the grand power of the ape.

Laura Linney in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”

When you think back about the ten years in between this movie and that, how have you changed and learned?

Certainly, as you grow, and you have more experience you do sort of learn a little bit and you learn how you can be helpful. I mean, it’s really about how you can be helpful. And you have a first-time director and you realize that you can maybe help them out a bit and really try and encourage them to trust that we can contribute what we can contribute and that they don’t have to do all that sort of stuff. Not so much with the bookends of these two lawyer pieces. Where I really felt that sensation was last year when I did a play called Sight Unseen. I was in the original production of that play twelve years ago in a different role. But that’s really where I had a few moments of feeling a real parenthesis around that chunk of time. I really, really did.

Do you gravitate towards horror movies?

Well, I’ve done two out of 30 films [laughs]. Good try. I do like being in them though.

Are they different from doing other films?

Of course, they’re different because they’re technical. You’re dealing with suspense and in some cases, you’re dealing with special FX. You’re dealing with camera and lighting and timing and is all that much more weaving in I think in a much stronger way. That whole sequence of walking down the hallway that’s just fun. It’s fun to do scary, scary stuff.

What do you look for in a project?

It’s different in each case. Sometimes it can be the character if the role is fantastic. Sometimes it’s the director. Sometimes it’s the script itself. Sometimes it’s the overall movie. Sometimes it’s the location.

You’ve got some more films coming out, right?

I made four films this last year.

So, you’ve had no life recently?

That’s correct.

What about The Squid and the Whale? That was at Sundance…

That’s one of those movies like Kinsey that took four years to get made. You just wait and hope, and it changes and then it’s going to happen and then it’s not going to happen and so on. So, I’m very happy about it.

What are the other films?

There’s a film called Jindabyne which is their tagline for it. I don’t quite understand that as a tagline, but that’s what it is. It’s based on a Ray Carver short story called “So Much Water Too Close to Home.” They’ve taken it and placed it in Australia and Ray Lawrence who directed Lantana is doing that. It’s a large ensemble cast with me and Gabriel Byrne heading it up. I had a great time. We were in the middle of the outback doing that for two months. Then I did a film called Driving Lessons which is with Rupert Grint and Julie Walters. It’s written and directed by Jeremy Brock who wrote Mrs. Brown and that’s a movie that I had fun doing. So, it’s been a very good year.

Is Driving Lessons a comedy?

I would assume that it’s going in that direction. Having just wrapped it one never knows what happens with things in the editing room. There are comic things in it. It’s a sweet, touching, wonderful story. So, I’m very excited about that one.

Are you going to keep balancing between stage and film?

Yes. And that’s not because I’m a Julliard-trained actress. It’s because it’s what I do. I have a rule with myself about doing a play every other season.

Do you live in New York?

I don’t really live anywhere at the moment. I really sort of am the actress gypsy queen.

Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”

Do you get to the theater when in New York?

I try to. I’m very upset that I can’t go this weekend.

Have you seen Doubt?

Yes. I have seen Doubt. I was in a very early play of John Patrick Shanley’s. It’s fantastic and wonderful.

With an actor’s career, though, is the best yet to come in your life?

Yes. But you never know. There’s no guarantee about anything. I know that I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.

Is that because of the work, or where you are personally?

I think that it’s all of it. I think it’s a combination of those things. I’ve worked with amazing people this past year. I’ve had four amazing jobs… five amazing jobs back to back going even further back – Kinsey, Sight Unseen, Squid and the Whale, Exorcism, Jindabyne and Driving Lessons. Nominations up the wazoo. So, work has been more fulfilling beyond my wildest dreams and the people have been fantastic. I think that you get older and don’t worry about certain things. You’re okay about other things and you don’t abandon your own opinions. And people tell you one thing. They go, “You have to do this.” You go, “No. I don’t.” And you’re right. You’re just sort of more comfortable in your own skin and less afraid and it’s all sort of good.

What don’t you worry about anymore?

I’m just easier with it all. There’s one thing about this business that they don’t tell you about. In order to be successful in it you also have to have the disposition to deal with it and fortunately for me I think that I’ve always been pretty good about that. I can get really hot under the collar about certain things and I think that you just learn to let go and it’s not that important and some things like an Oscar nomination can mean absolutely everything and can mean absolutely nothing at all and you just have to enjoy it. It’s a really nice thing and you sort of have to take every experience like that.

Would you give up your career to have a family?

I’m not in that situation, but under the right circumstances I can see that. You get to a point and this life is wonderful, but it is demanding, and it is taxing, and you’re never centered and you’re never in one place and it’s hard to keep relationships and it costs. It gives you an enormous amount and then it costs some in other ways. I can certainly understand people walking away. I’ve thought about it. We’ve all thought about it, of course.

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: September 10, 2005.

Photo Credits:#1 © 2005. Courtesy of Screen Gems. All rights reserved.#2 © 2005. Courtesy of Screen Gems. All rights reserved.#3 © 2005. Courtesy of Screen Gems. All rights reserved.#4 © 2005. Courtesy of Screen Gems. All rights reserved.#5 © 2005. Courtesy of Screen Gems. All rights reserved.

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