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Oscars 2017
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Laura Linney

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Laura Linney’s performance in You Can Count on Me is, like one of Chopin’s preludes, a marvel of tiny gestures. Some of her best moments come during the quiet, microscopic intervals that link one crucial scene with another, and yet it’s those intervals that you can’t seem to forget. An example: Her character, Sammy Prescott, is alone at a steering wheel, driving home after a rash sexual interlude with her boss. She starts to explode with quick blasts of laughter and shame. ”Everybody mentions that scene,” says writer and director Kenneth Lonergan. ”What’s written in the script is: ‘Sammy drives home, shaking her head. She laughs. She sobers up.’ That’s all that’s written. And out of that, Laura gets this little aria of mixed feelings. It’s pretty impressive.”

Sink into your character, the actress says, and such reflexes become second nature. ”You get to a point where, if you know a character well enough, and if you have a good feel for the story, it sort of takes on a life of its own — and consequently nothing that you do is wrong,” says Linney, 37, a first-time nominee. ”Sammy is sort of dormant, and then as the movie goes on she gets into a big roiling boil. That scene is an example of things starting to boil a bit. Like bubbles bursting out.”

Linney has squeezed out plenty of sparks in big-studio ventures like The Truman Show, but paradoxically it took a little movie — and its sly glimmers of revelation — to get America all steamed up over her. Consider the scene where Sammy sees her brother through a window and flutters her hands like an ecstatic flapper. ”My father said, ‘That’s when you fall in love with her,”’ Lonergan says. ”When she’s just jumping up and down and she does that little thing with her hands. It kills me.”

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