© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
NPR Arts & Life

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

In <em>Hyde Park on Hudson</em>, Laura Linney plays one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (Bill Murray) distant cousins — a reserved, self-contained woman with whom he carried on a quiet affair.
In <em>Hyde Park on Hudson</em>, Laura Linney plays one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (Bill Murray) distant cousins — a reserved, self-contained woman with whom he carried on a quiet affair.

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."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.