Laura Linney keeps finding new ways to play one of her greatest roles
My Name Is Lucy Barton could win Linney a Tony Award. And maybe a Grammy, too.
Lucy Barton is a woman of many lives. A writer reeling from a traumatic childhood, she emerged in Elizabeth Strout’s Booker Prize-nominated 2016 novel My Name Is Lucy Barton. In 2018, Rona Munro adapted the book into a one-person show that debuted in London, starring Laura Linney; in 2020, the star has become the narrator of an audiobook, based on Munro’s script, and also recently brought Lucy Barton to Broadway. She’s already generating Tony buzz: EW’s Allison Adato wrote in her rave review, “In an enthralling performance, Linney embodies both memoirist and memory.”
Shortly before beginning performances, EW spoke to Linney about reprising the part — for both projects.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Had you read the novel before you took on the role?
LAURA LINNEY: I’d read it, and then the show came along. Then I read it again, and I read it again. When something is adapted [for theater], it has to come up and off the page. You have to give yourself permission to let that happen.
What were the big differences between the book and what the play became?
An adaptation is just that — an adaptation — so it’s edited down, it’s rearranged, the narrative is changed. The actual sentences are all Liz’s, but the actual sequence of the writing has been changed. It’s a different experience than reading the book, that’s for sure.
This Broadway show is co-produced by Penguin Random House Audio. How did you feel about performing an audiobook?
Theater needs all the help it can get, quite frankly, and so does literature. Hopefully it’s a mutually beneficial give-and-take. And again, doing the audiobook, I had to let it be a totally different thing. I couldn’t do the audiobook the way I do the play. And yet I wasn’t reading the book!
How did you find the experience?
It was tricky. I had been away from the play for a year when I did the recording, and in some ways that was probably a good thing. There’s a part of me that wishes I could’ve done it when I was further into the run, [when] I’m more facile with the language. But maybe it was better that I did it when I was a little far away from that. You just have to pitch things differently. You can’t perform it; you have to gently give it. You have to get more intimate with it, I think. I’m whispering in someone’s ear. I’m not talking to them as if they’re in the back row.
Did you have your director, Richard Eyre, in the booth with you?
Nope. I just went in and did it. [Laughs] There was a producer who was there, certainly…who had me go back. If there was a click or a sound wasn’t quite perfect. But I wouldn’t say it was directed. She was certainly there to answer questions — and I had questions! How should I do this? How do I do this? I have no idea how it turned out. I have no idea, if I listened to it, if I’d like it or not. I really don’t know.
Do you have any history with the form? Is it one you enjoy?
I grew up on spoken-word albums. My father had a ton of them. I listened to all of the great British actors. I loved those albums, just loved them. There was a record of Basil Rathbone reading Poe, which I loved. And there was an As You Like It with a young Maggie Smith.
But were you resistant to doing this, since it’s not in front of an audience?
I was nervous since I’d been away from it for so long. That made me uncomfortable. I wish I’d been able to record it after the run was over. But it’s a great thing for people to have. Just like me as a little kid, thinking about those great actors in London, people [all over] will hear these recordings.
What is it about this character that is so adaptable?
With material as good as this, and writing as beautiful and interconnected as it is — it takes time to unearth it all. There are things that I’m discovering now, a year and a half after I first read it, that I didn’t see during the first go. There are things that I discovered during the second go that I didn’t know about. And now there are things I’m discovering now. That’s the thing that theater gives you that other mediums don’t: time. It’s an ingredient you can’t force, you can’t generate. You have to earn it. If you have the patience, it will really reward you.
So what did you discover about Lucy, doing the audiobook, headed into the Broadway production?
Oh, I’m not going to tell you! [Laughs] No, no, no.
The My Name Is Lucy Barton audiobook will be released Feb. 4, and is available for pre-order.