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Laura Linney Tackles Morally Flexible Opportunism In 'Ozark'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Third season of "Ozark" is now on Netflix. The Byrde family, city slickers from Chicago, escape a mob hit by decamping to a small town in the Ozarks of Missouri. Jason Bateman is Marty Byre, the financial adviser who becomes a money launderer. Laura Linney plays his wife, Wendy Byrde, a former political operative who is suddenly busier than ever managing a casino and intimidating a Mexican drug lord on the phone.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "OZARK")

LAURA LINNEY: (As Wendy Byrde) Marty and I are the brand.

FELIX SOLIS: (As Omar Navarro) The brand.

LINNEY: (As Wendy Byrde) That's right. We're your shield, and that shield is your only chance at legitimacy. It is our ability to get those casinos. It is our political contacts. We've even started a charitable foundation to expand our legitimate footprint. If our brand gets damaged, so does your safety net.

SIMON: Laura Linney, the many time nominee for Oscars, Tony Awards, and Golden Globes joins us now from her home. Thanks so much for being with us.

LINNEY: My pleasure, thanks for having me on.

SIMON: Women seem to move to the fore of the story in this season of "Ozark," but it's - I got to tell you, it's hard for me to see drug running as a good example of gender equality.

LINNEY: (Laughter) That's a very good point, but it's certainly nice in the entertainment industry to see it happen.

SIMON: Wendy, in her history, was a political operative in Chicago, worked for both Bobby Rush and State Senator Barack Obama. Is she putting her experience to use now?

LINNEY: Oh, I think so absolutely. She's not, you know, using the best part of that job, but she certainly knows how to talk to people, knows how to frame an argument, knows how to push, and knows how to, you know, influence people.

SIMON: And what appealed to you about this role?

LINNEY: Well, it wasn't so much the part itself as the overall project. I mean "Ozark" is one of those rare situations that comes along where you can actually see a character from the very get go, and see that it has tremendous opportunity all the way through the arc of the series. And good jobs like this don't come along very often, and I just had an instinct that it had tremendous potential and that the people - everyone involved was sort of top of their game, and I am tremendously thankful for it every day.

SIMON: Correct me if I'm wrong, but this season, from what I've seen, is Wendy beginning to like her criminal enterprise a little?

LINNEY: Well, I think Wendy Byrde is a very instinctive, reactive creature. That's where her power is. She reacts quickly without even thinking. Ethically, she's all over the place. She's a terrible parent. She makes, you know, terrible decisions left, right, and center, but she has a survival instinct that is very intense and very astute and there is something exciting about playing someone who's just reactive all the time.

SIMON: She says at one point that they can use some of the money to fund the good progressive causes in which they've always believed. Does she really believe that?

LINNEY: I don't know, I think it depends on the day (laughter). I think she is sort of a prism. You know, you can shine something through her and it goes in a million different directions and it just depends upon, you know, where she is at the moment. I don't think she wants to be a bad person. She wants to be better than she is, but her nature is a little more dubious than she ever knew about herself and she - all of these characters learn a tremendous amount about themselves. They're very different people at the end of every episode.

SIMON: So your mother a nurse at Sloan Kettering, your father, Romulus, a playwright. You grew up hearing a lot of stories?

LINNEY: I did. My parents divorced when I was an infant so their worlds were very separate and I would go back and forth between them. But storytelling is rich in the south, and both of my parents were from - my father's from North Carolina, my mother is from Georgia. So it's within the culture to tell stories and so I think that probably is a little bit in my DNA. You know, I enjoyed being with my mother, I enjoyed being with my father and going back and forth, and then I also enjoyed very much being alone.

SIMON: Speaking of being alone, how are you doing?

LINNEY: Well, you know, very much like everyone else, I think. It's - this is a terrible, terrible, terrible time. And, you know, I'm a little bit all over the place, I think as everyone is. I'm worried about family. I'm concerned for my child. I'm trying to homeschool a kindergarten little boy, you know, so it's a horrible time for everybody. But on the whole I'm fine, my immediate family's fine, although I do have many friends who are very, very ill and so it's, you know, you get through each day as best you can.

SIMON: Without giving anything away do you know the end for the - for Wendy and the Byrde family?

LINNEY: I don't. I really don't. You know, I have no idea. You know, this group of writers surprises me constantly, so I'm not sure where they're all going to end up.

SIMON: I mean, speaking as a viewer who's become a fan, I don't see a good one.

(LAUGHTER)

LINNEY: Yeah, I know. It's hard to imagine. But you never know. I mean, they could make their escape to Australia the way they had planned in the previous season. They could - who knows? But I can't wait to find out.

SIMON: Laura Linney who stars in "Ozark" on Netflix. Thanks so much for being with us.

LINNEY: It is my pleasure. Thank you. Stay safe.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVENINGS' "CHESAPEAKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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