Laura Linney PHOTO BY NINO MUÑOZ/NETFLIX
Laura Linney takes a bow and dives deep to discuss her role as Wendy, a monotonous housewife-turnedambitious antiheroine, in the award-winning Netflix series Ozark. The illustrious star discusses identity, transformation, consequences and the end of the beloved series—we can’t promise there won’t be any spoilers.
While people around the globe are binge watching Netflix’s Ozark before the premiere of its fourth and final season, lead actress Laura Linney reflects on when she started it all.
“I can’t believe it’s over. I’m a little in shock,” she says, empathetically. “I’m a little tender about it being over; I loved it so much. I loved the people who made that show—it was just a great experience. And I’ve been around long enough that I know that they don’t come along very often.” The final season of the drama series—that first aired in 2017—plans to premiere Jan. 21 on Netflix.
Linney knew that the award-winning show was a hit early on after Jason Bateman, who stars in the series as Marty Byrde, came to her with the project. “It had all the elements,” she says. Though the prolific actress wasn’t looking to do a television series when first approached, she trusted her gut instinct. Following a reading of the script and a long talk with showrunner Chris Mundy, she was ready to give it a go. “When you’ve done as much work as I have, you know when things work and when things don’t.” Linney admits that one of the main draws was seeing what co-star Bateman was going to do. “I love watching really talented people branch out, so I was really curious to see that sort of reveal itself,” she says. “I wanted to be a part of that.”
As for working with Bateman, she says, “I think we learned a lot from each other. You know, we came from very different places. He’s an L.A. guy, I’m a New York person; he grew up in television, I grew up in the theater. We come from very different worlds. We work very differently, and yet, it works like crazy.” That it did. From the start, Linney saw the potential of Ozark. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, boy, this could be really good,’ and when we shot the pilot that was probably one of the easiest, [most] fun, [most] terrific shoots I’ve ever had,” she explains. “The crew was laser-focused and… the actors were ready to go. Jason directed that episode. It was [like] that for those first two episodes of that first season, I’ll never forget that.”
The series follows Bateman, a financial planner who relocates his family from Chicago to the Ozarks after a money-laundering scheme with a Mexican drug cartel goes haywire. In an attempt to stay safe, the Byrde family continues to work with the drug lord as they adjust to their uprooted lives alongside their lawless neighbors, the Langmores and the Snells.
Throughout the drama series, Linney’s character transforms significantly. When first discussing the possibilities of her role with Mundy, she got excited. “I latched onto the idea that it’s about identity,” she shares. “Who are we? Who do you want to be? What do you try to be? How does that align with the artistry of who you really are? What [happens] when who you want to be and who you are battle with each other? The inherent nature of that is just in conflict.” It all came together for Linney when her character knew how to twirl and throw a possum to protect her family. “There aren’t many people who know how to do that, unless you come from an area of the country… where handling animals like that is commonplace. And I thought, ‘Oh, she’s not from Chicago, she’s actually the equivalent of a Langmore from another area,’” she says.
Linney’s Wendy tried to get as far away as possible from her roots, even changing her persona to reach another level of status, but ended up right back to an equivalent place from where she came from. “It’s her really stepping back into who she authentically is,” Linney says. Throughout the series, as she tried to get away from her true persona, her character wore many hats—starting from a political adviser, doting mother and languishing housewife to a money launderer-turned-calculative murderer. As she sheds her former conventional mom persona and steps into this more powerful, shrewd and criminal role, she still attempts to be a mom. Through her transformation, she becomes a different type of mother later in the series and even forms partnerships with her children, essentially as colleagues. By the end of the series, Wendy has shed many layers and her main focus seems to be preserving this new life she has created for herself—at all costs.
“She wasn’t a very good mom. She was parented terribly and she became a terrible parent,” Linney says. Even as Wendy becomes a more authentic version of her true self, she and Marty still struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy for their children. “That doesn’t mean she didn’t love her children and didn’t want to be better… but just because someone wants to be a good parent and has the intention of being a good parent, if they’re not a good parent and they don’t act on it, their behavior doesn’t reflect them.” Linney also notes that the Byrdes should never have put their children in danger in the first place.
She is not the only female star of the show though. Ozark depicts the typical crime bosses with more manipulative, conniving female counterparts. “What I think is really unusual for a show of this nature is how the women are depicted,” she says. As a departure from traditional storylines, in Ozark the smart female characters take the lead in the manipulation, violence and criminal activity. “I also love that we were all blonde. There was something kind of turning the stereotype on its head.” The various powerful female characters in Ozark are a result of its dynamic ensemble cast. “We’re all completely different,” Linney adds of the powerhouse women in the show.
Another central theme in the series is survival—how people justify their actions and “justify a code of ethics that are not ethical,” she says. Linney also sees a parallel between the questionable ethics in Ozark and the politics within our country over the years since the series began. “Looking at how the passion with which people defend their own beliefs, regardless of what side you’re on, and how they’re absolutely sure… just because someone is absolutely adamant and believes within the soul of their being that they’re absolutely right doesn’t necessarily make them absolutely right.” To her, the message in the series on ethics is centered on perspective. She compares it to a kaleidoscope. “You can shift a kaleidoscope very slightly and the whole picture changes,” she explains. “Just one tiny little shift. So I just found the perspective of how people survive, and what people tell themselves in an effort to survive, really interesting.”
According to Linney, the cast and crew were lucky to have shot three seasons prior to the one that they had to shoot with COVID-19 protocols in place. “Thank God we all really trust each other,” she says of the difficult and frightening time. “We all knew each other so we knew who was behind the mask, but I can’t imagine starting a show and never really knowing. It goes against exactly what we’re all trying to do, which is to be as connected as we possibly can be.”
As for the ending of the series, which will be released in two parts, Linney says, “I feel good about it.” She adds that the credit is all due to Mundy. “I wanted the person who would put in all of that hard work, who was the architect of this show, I wanted him to have the opportunity to tell it how he wanted to tell it.” She hopes that fans were entertained and had a good time and even a few laughs.
"Just because someone is absolutely adamant and believes within the soul of their being that they’re absolutely right doesn’t necessarily make them absolutely right.” –Laura Linney
And while Wendy Byrde has fully turned her life around—for better or for worse—she has taken her final bow. But Linney is already on to her next act. The megastar will soon join Kathy Bates and Maggie Smith in Ireland to shoot their film The Miracle Club.
Styled by Jeanann Williams Hair by Luca Blandi Makeup by Chris Colbeck PHOTO BY NINO MUÑOZ/NETFLIX