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Laura Linney, Keeping History Hush-Hush In 'Hyde Park'

Linney's Daisy was on hand, along with Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams), to support the president on the weekend of a momentous visit by the king and queen of England in June of 1939, as Europe teetered on the brink of World War II. (Focus Features)

For presidential-film buffs, this holiday season has some high-profile offerings. First, there was Steven Spielberg's biopic Lincoln. And out now, there's Hyde Park on Hudson, a peek behind the curtain and into the life of America's longest-serving president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Starring Bill Murray as FDR and Laura Linney as his distant cousin — and love interest — the drama centers on the visit of the British king and queen to the Roosevelts' country estate in the Hudson Valley just before the outbreak of World War II. NPR's David Greene talks with Linney about her role in the film — and what it was like playing a character who lived largely on the fringes of momentous events.


Interview Highlights

On Daisy's relatively unknown status as a historical figure

"Unless you live or grew up around Rhinebeck, N.Y., I guarantee you most people don't know who Daisy Suckley is. And I'm very interested, and always have been, in the Roosevelts, and I had never heard of Daisy. ...

"The more I learned about Daisy, the more I sort of deeply admired her. She was very quiet, she was — she needed no attention, which in this day and age is so rare, and culturally so in direct opposition to the time we're living in, where everything seems to be — every emotion, action, thought — seems to be advertised. She was someone who was very self-contained."

On why FDR found Daisy appealing

"Oh, she was safe. Yeah, I think — he called her 'the vault.' Literally, anything he said to her would stay within her. She was solid as a rock. And I can't imagine what it is to have the singular life of a president, particularly that president, who not only faced the political obstacles that he did, living in the time that he was serving in, but then also [being] someone who was stricken so severely with polio. ... No one really understood just how difficult that was. And the thing that was the most exciting to find out — she's the one who gave him Fala, the dog — the Scottie who is so associated with FDR. At the FDR memorial in D.C., there's Fala, sitting. ... Daisy gave him Fala; Daisy did that. So the closeness and the sense of safety I think was profound."

On playing a character who was so often quiet and holding back

"It was fun. And also, knowing that she was a photographer helped me a lot. So she wasn't just staring, she was actually seeing a lot. And it's sort of a relief not to be overly verbal. It's nice to be able just to sit and ... witness, you know — and she was very much a witness."

On dealing with negative reviews from critics who thought Daisy should be a more dynamic character

"You know, well, it certainly doesn't feel great, particularly when people don't see it as a choice. However, it would have been completely inappropriate for her to have been any other way. That's how a woman of that time, of her disposition, would have been. And maybe it's, it's puzzling and difficult to sort of comprehend how someone would be that way, particularly from all of us sitting in today's world, with ... a sense of women's liberation ... and communication flying, you know, in technological ways that are so beyond anything that happened at that time. But I think it was part of what she has to offer — is that she is quiet, and she is modest."

On her connection with Daisy's introversion

"You know, I think there's something about it that I understand, that I know puzzles a lot of people. But there is something about it that I understand. You can't give away everything."

On the historical significance of the visit by the king and queen to the Roosevelt estate

"The royals coming — for the first time ever stepping foot on American soil — in a time when the relations between America and the British kingdom were still quite chilly. The phrase 'special relationship' came from that weekend ... over hot dogs, over a picnic, which Eleanor and Franklin very shrewdly planned in a PR move that would ingratiate the royals to the American public, so that when FDR made the move to support them in the war effort, he was not chastised for it."

On keeping secret her early aspirations to be an actress

"It took me a very long time to admit it. ... I just didn't think it was something I should go around saying. I don't know why. And I really felt like I had to earn it before I could say it. It took really until I was deep into my training at Juilliard [before] I began to feel like I could say, 'I'm studying to be an actress.' But it did — it took me a while. I just didn't feel right about it."

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

For presidential-film buffs, this holiday season has some high-profile offerings. First, there was Steven Spielberg's biopic "Lincoln." And out now, there's a look into our more recent past "Hyde Park on Hudson," a peek behind the curtain into the life and romances of America's longest-serving president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Starring Bill Murray as FDR and Laura Linney as his distant cousin - and love interest, Daisy - the drama centers on the visit of the British king and queen to the Roosevelts' country estate in New York's Hudson Valley just before the outbreak of World War II.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HYDE PARK ON HUDSON")

LAURA LINNEY: (as Daisy) He's definitely younger than I'd imagined. For a king, you know?

BILL MURRAY: (as FDR) Is he?

LINNEY: (as Daisy) They both seemed nervous. That surprised me.

MURRAY: (as FDR) Without some help from us, Daisy, there soon might not be an England to be king of. So I'd be nervous too. That's why they're here.

GREENE: That was Bill Murray as FDR with Laura Linney in "Hyde Park on Hudson." And Laura Linney joins us from our bureau in New York. Laura, welcome to the program and thanks for being here.

LINNEY: My pleasure. Thank you.

GREENE: So can you tell us a bit about your character, Daisy Suckley? This is, you know, what turns out to be real historical figure that I think most people out there will have never heard about.

LINNEY: Unless you live or grew up around Rhinebeck, New York, I guarantee you most people don't know who Daisy Suckley is. And I'm very interested, and always have been, in the Roosevelts, and I had never heard of Daisy.

GREENE: And we should say what we do know about her wasn't really clear until the real Daisy died at almost 100 and her diaries and letters were discovered under her bed. What really surprised you about her?

LINNEY: The more I learned about Daisy, the more I deeply admired her. She was very quiet. She needed no attention, which in this day and age is so rare, and culturally so in direct opposition to the time we're living in, where every emotion, action, thought seems to be advertised. She was someone who was very self-contained.

GREENE: Did you find yourself at any point, being angry, thinking about, you know, a president and a huge historical figure you could argue taking advantage of someone who sounds so vulnerable in many ways?

LINNEY: You know, that's a good question and something that I have thought about but she was certainly a willing participant. And I think it was the main relationship in her life. So I don't think she would feel that way. By today's standards, certainly that case could be made but I think at the end of the day people make their individual choices about how they spend their time and who they spend their time with when they're adults.

And Daisy was very much in mid-life when she began her time with him. It really was primarily a friendship, a profound friendship.

GREENE: What do you think FDR saw in her?

LINNEY: Oh, she was safe. Yeah, I think - he called her the vault. Literally, anything he said to her would stay within her. She was solid as a rock. And the thing that was the most exciting to find out - she's the one who gave him Fala, the dog - the Scottie who is so associated with FDR. And actually at the FDR memorial in D.C., there's...

GREENE: Yeah. There's the little dog.

LINNEY: There is Fala, sitting.

GREENE: ...gave president the dog.

LINNEY: Daisy gave him Fala. Daisy did that. So the closeness and the sense of safety, I think, was profound.

GREENE: Well, I want to play one more scene from the movie, and it's actually three women romantically involved with the president.

LINNEY: Mm-hmm.

GREENE: His wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, his secretary Missy, and then your character Daisy.

LINNEY: Mm-hmm.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HYDE PARK ON HUDSON")

OLIVIA WILLIAMS: (as Eleanor) Your mother has now told me for the 10th time not to call Her Royal Highness Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH MARVEL: (as Missy) Oh, she told me that too. I mean, please. What country is this? Daisy? Daisy?

LINNEY: (as Daisy) What? Oh, yes. She told me the same thing.

WILLIAMS: (as Eleanor) I told her, who did she think I was?

MURRAY: (as FDR) Well, I think she knows.

WILLIAMS: (as Eleanor) Daisy. Hello. You're just staring.

LINNEY: (as Daisy) I'm not.

GREENE: And Laura Linney, just staring was this character, so often quiet, so often on the fringes of the events and holding back. I mean, was that challenging?

LINNEY: No, it was fun.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Really?

LINNEY: It was fun. Well, and also knowing that she was a photographer helped me a lot. So she wasn't just staring. She was actually seeing a lot. And it's sort of a relief not to be overly verbal. It's nice to be able just to sit and witness. And, you know, she was very much a witness.

GREENE: That part of the character brought some criticism from the reviewers.

LINNEY: Mm-hmm.

GREENE: They wanted a more dynamic character. And I guess I, kind of, wonder how you kind of dealt with those comments.

LINNEY: You know, well, it certainly doesn't feel great, particularly when people don't see it as a choice. However, it would have been completely inappropriate for her to have been any other way. That's how a woman of that time, of her disposition, would have been.

And maybe it's puzzling and difficult to sort of comprehend how someone would be that way, particularly from all of us sitting in today's world, with a sense of women's liberation that has happened and communication, you know, flying in technological ways that are so beyond anything that happened at that time. But, I think it was part of what she has to offer - is that she is quiet, and she is modest.

GREENE: One thing that struck me is it was easy to forget sometimes what an important moment in history this was.

LINNEY: Oh, absolutely.

GREENE: The visit by the king and queen, because it just brought you into the quirkiness, you know, of the Roosevelt estate that you sort of forgot that these were really historic moments.

LINNEY: Oh, Absolutely. The royals coming - for the first time ever stepping foot on American soil - in a time when the relations between America and the British kingdom were still quite chilly. The phrase special relationship came from that weekend.

GREENE: Over hot dogs at Roosevelt estate.

LINNEY: Over hot dogs, over a picnic, which Eleanor and Franklin very shrewdly planned in a PR move that would ingratiate the royals to the American public. So that when FDR made the move to support them in the war effort, he was not chastised for it.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you a bit, if I can, about your career. You've had so many diverse roles on film, on stage, but I want to reach back to the beginning because as a child you were a little sheepish about telling anyone that you were dreaming of becoming an actress.

LINNEY: That's very true. It took me a very long time to admit it.

GREENE: Why?

LINNEY: I just didn't think it was something I should go around saying. I don't know why. And I really felt like I had to earn it before I could say it. It took really, you know, until I was deep into my training at Juilliard where I began to feel like I could sort of say, you know, I could say then I'm studying to be an actress.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Before then...

LINNEY: But it did - it took me a while. I just didn't feel right about it.

GREENE: Keeping this to yourself for so long and being quiet about it, it makes me wonder if that helped you have a connection to Daisy's character.

LINNEY: You know, probably. You know, I think there's something about it that I understand that I know puzzles a lot of people. But there is something about it that I understand. You can't give away everything.

GREENE: Well, Laura Linney, thanks for giving us a little of your time.

LINNEY: My pleasure.

GREENE: I really appreciate it.

LINNEY: Nice speaking with you.

GREENE: Laura Linney stars with Bill Murray in "Hyde Park on Hudson" that's out in theaters now.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renée Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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