Linda Cardellini – Miss Versatality
by Jay S. Jacobs
Originally posted on December 27, 2005.
Most actors have a very specific zone in which they are comfortable. There are wonderful dramatic actors, for example, who could not deliver a punch line to save their lives. On the other hand, many comic actors have trouble projecting pathos and tragedy.
Linda Cardellini does not have this problem. In fact, her career has been very specifically divided between those two different worlds – the yin and yang of styles which make up acting.
She has done her share of light, frothy comic roles. Cardellini played the uptight, mystery-loving, book-reading, clue-solving, glasses-losing, ghost-hunting Mystery Inc. member Velma in the Scooby-Doo! movies. She was the evil step-daughter on an eternal bad-hair day in Legally Blonde. Now, she plays the only truly adult character in the farce Grandma’s Boy from Adam Sandler’s production company.
Cardellini has also done more than her share of dramatic heavy lifting. Her first breakout role was playing the brainy, beautiful but conflicted Lindsay Weir in the cult favorite TV series Freaks and Geeks. In recent years, she has toiled in the long-running series ER, playing Samantha Taggart, a nurse who has to balance her career, a troubled son, a ne’er-do-well ex-husband and an ultimately doomed relationship with hunky Dr. Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic). Now she is playing a devastating supporting role in one of the most rave-reviewed films of the season – celebrated director Ang Lee’s (Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) moody modern western love story Brokeback Mountain with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.
This diversity comes naturally to Cardellini, though she does recognize that it is a rare thing in Hollywood. However, for her the opportunity to mix it up with both types of roles keeps her career fresh and exciting.
“That definitely keeps me more interested,” Cardellini explains, “when I get to do things that are different than the last, or different from what people may expect. I love both sides of it. I think that’s what makes it challenging. That’s what makes it fun… They both have their challenges. But I think sometimes comedy is a little bit more specific and more hit or miss. Drama has a lot more leeway, I think.”
Early on in her career, as any actress, Cardellini took widely divergent roles – playing a victim in StrangeLand, former rock star Dee Snider’s (of Twisted Sister) stab at horror movies and appearing in such lightweight teen confections like Dead Man On Campus and Good Burger.
So what does it say about Linda Cardellini’s body of work that she is probably the only actress in Hollywood who has worked with both Ang Lee and Dee Snider? She just laughs heartily when the idea is brought up. “I don’t know, but it’s been fun, that’s for sure.”
She could have never known that her career would come together as it has when she was a little kid. In school, one of her teachers picked her out to be in a play. Cardellini had never even considered anything like that – she was a shy girl and the idea was attractive to her but miles away from anything she thought she could do. But her teacher had liked her voice and had an intuition about her, pushing the young actress to later do a Christmas play and work in Community Theater. By then the fever had caught, and when she went to Loyola-MarymountUniversity in LA, Cardellini knew what she wanted to do with her life. Her parents were supportive of her plans to be a theater major – Cardellini laughingly recalls that as long as she was in college they were happy. She did the typical young actress deal, searching for good roles by “ripping things off telephone poles, all that kind of stuff.”
Television and movie roles came to her quickly, but it was Freaks and Geeks that really made people take notice. Created by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin) and Paul Feig (Arrested Development and The Office), the series was about losers, brains and burn-outs in an early 80s high school. The show debuted in 1999 and did not quite last an entire season; however it was critically acclaimed and has spawned a rabid cult following in the years since the series faded away.
“I’m just happy about [the series eventually finding its audience], really,” Cardellini says. “I love the show. I’m so proud of it. It was really one of those moments in your life that can’t be repeated. It just was one of those special times, you know? It was a really great experience, although it had a tragic ending.” She chuckles. “But basically it was like an incredible, magical experience. And the reason why the DVD even exists is because the fans asked for it. We really owe a lot of it to people just responding to the show, which I think is the greatest compliment. Although, I wish it would have been able to stay on the air. It has yet to die because people have really responded to it, which is sort of the most important thing.”