Bigscreen actresses adjust to TV fame

Road to the Emmys: The Actress

While the migration of feature-film actresses to television continues to accelerate, the question is whether these thesps had made such long-range plans all along? In this year’s Emmy races, indie film darling Laura Linney is vying for top comedy honors in Showtime’s “The Big C” while Kate Winslet and Diane Lane are carrying the HBO brand in the movies/miniseries category with “Mildred Pierce” and “Cinema Verite,” respectively.

“I don’t think Laura had any master plan to come to TV,” says “The Big C” exec producer Jenny Bicks, of her skein’s lead, who plays a mother and wife with aggressive stage three malignant melanoma. “She doesn’t choose her material based on the medium, but rather how interested she is in the role. This is a case where the material spoke to her very specifically and she felt it was a really interesting time to explore this particular character. When it comes to her career choices, Laura has really smart reasoning.”

Where once TV was stigmatized as the terrain of “lesser” actors biding time until more glamorous and rewarding work on the silver screen came along, TV critic Rob Owen says that perception is changing.

“Television, especially cable TV, has become a more attractive medium for actresses over time,” says Owen, a scribe for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Scripps Howard News Service. “With cable, there’s a shorter production schedule than network, which means it’s less of a commitment. If there is any lingering concern that one could damage one’s credentials by doing TV, doing a show on a premium cable channel like HBO or Showtime — where there are shows of high quality getting all the awards — helps ease those fears.”

It was Linney’s confidence in then- Showtime topper Bob Greenblatt that prompted her to accept the “Big C” part.

“Laura had a lot of conversations with Bob about what the experience would be like, and he did a great job of making her feel at home,” Bicks says. “I think anybody who hasn’t done TV before hears about its horror stories — the long hours, bad network notes, the changes in the script. A lot of actors want to be assured that the show they sign up to do is the show that’s going to get on the air. Laura wanted to make sure she could trust Showtime and she did.”

David E. Kelley says Kathy Bates, the Oscar-winning protagonist (“Misery”) in his skein “Harry’s Law,” “makes career decisions based on wanting to play certain roles. While TV is a rich haven for character development, I don’t think she looks at or judges her work based on the medium.”

Kelley further points out that one of TV’s potential upsides for an actress is the opportunity to embody a character for much longer than one would during a six- or eight-week film shoot.

“If you really fall in love with playing your character, you hopefully get to stick what that character for a while,” says Kelley. “Right now we’re just hoping to keep making a show that as good as Kathy Bates.”

For Linney, who’s regarded for her precise, nuanced performances in such well-reviewed films as “Savages” and “You Can Count on Me,” her newfound TV fame has come as a bit of a shock.

“Being a celebrity is somewhat of a new thing for Laura,” Bicks says. “She was used to flying under the radar. Suddenly, her picture is on the side of every bus stop in Manhattan. People are coming up to her wanting to be her best friend. It’s been really freaky for her, but in a good way.”

Bigscreen actresses adjust to TV fame
Drama | Comedy | Miniseries

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