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Return – Linda Cardellini interview

Return, Linda Cardellini

Interview by Rob Carnevale

LINDA Cardellini talks about some of the challenges of playing a US soldier suffering from detachment in Liza Johnson’s Return.

She also talks about researching the role thoroughly and talking to veterans, as well as working closely with her director and being able to fill a lot of her scenes silently.

Q. How was working with Liza Johnson, your director? I gather you worked really closely on this?
Linda Cardellini: It was really one of the favourite relationships I’ve had. I was so happy that Liza trusted me with a role that huge and I couldn’t have done it unless I trusted everything she had to say. And so it was really great for me. It was about the closest relationship I’ve had working with somebody and I also think she’s an extraordinary artist and person. She really managed to become one of my favourite people in the world.

Q. How easy was a character like Kelli to access? And how important was it for you to talk to ex-military or currently serving military?
Linda Cardellini: It was very important to me. I think it’s a subject that should be handled with respect. Regardless of how you feel about war and peace those people are doing a duty for the rest of us and they’re protecting a way of life that they sometimes come back to and it’s not close to them. I think that, to me, it was also fascinating because it’s a subject that you hear about every day on the news and if you don’t have a personal connection to it, people can easily go about their lives and not consider it part of their world. And I don’t think that that’s paying enough respect to what is happening.

And so it was very important to me and it was fascinating to me and it was heartbreaking to me and it was inspiring to me. I don’t think I could have ever learned enough. Even as we were shooting I was still reading blogs in-between because there are so many different stories. And that’s one thing that we really came across… that no person’s story was exactly the same but they had a lot of common threads. Some people came back and adjusted well and some people came back and couldn’t adjust at all; others came back and wanted to go back and some people came back and didn’t ever want to go there again.

Even putting the uniform on for the first time, for the first and the last scene… you think you’ll feel like a GI Joe or a GI Jane when I put this on, I’ll feel very tough, but when I put it on it was a simple, symbolic thing where I realised what a responsibility that is and how many people are putting on that uniform and going somewhere that they know nothing about and going and experiencing things that are more extreme than any of us at home will even ever be able to imagine. To me, it was really important to get her to seem like a real human being who, even though she’s going through something that maybe a lot of people can’t relate to, they could at least relate to her on a human level.

Q. What made you opt to look at the issue through the eyes of detachment as opposed to post traumatic stress disorder?
Linda Cardellini: That to me was what I thought was most fascinating. I think when things happen in our lives that we can’t truly understand why they destroy us, it’s because we can’t truly understand or communicate it to anyone else. And that is what is destructive – you can’t communicate it to the people that you love and it makes things deteriorate. Or you’re hiding from yourself, or you’re hiding from somebody else, and that was really fascinating to me… that life isn’t like the movies and you can’t always point to one thing and explain why you did things that ended up hurting you. I think that was one of the intimate and human things that I liked about the script.

Q. How demanding was it for you to be the sole focus of attention because you’re in every scene?
Linda Cardellini: I know [laughs]! Number one, it was really exciting. If you think too much about it it’s terrifying I guess. But to me it was such an unbelievable role to be able to play and I thank Liza all the time for taking the chance on me to be able to play it. It’s something I was waiting to do and I found and just have loved every second of before, during and after this film. I think that it was so demanding that you couldn’t think of doing anything else. There was no time for anything else. We worked very fast and very furiously and very closely. But because there were so many people who had… in film or TV actors and actresses get a lot of credit for many, many people’s work and there were so many people who worked so hard for so little because they loved the project or they loved Liza.

People just wanted to be part of it because they became involved somehow by reading the script. It was so powerful on the set that I never felt alone. I felt entirely supported by people who were so talented. On camera, for instance, there was Michael Shannon and John Slattery. But behind the camera there was Liza and our cinematographer, Anne Etheridge… she’s amazing. She makes that film look beautiful with all natural light. It was just an amazing group of talented people.

Q. When you say shooting fast and furiously, how does that differ from other smaller, independent films you’ve worked on or a TV series like ER?
Linda Cardellini: There wasn’t even pausing for a make-up touch up!

Q. Do you think it helped you to erase any doubt from the process?
Linda Cardellini: I think it probably plays into it but there’s always time for fear if you allow it. I think that also we had so much time to gear up for it that it wasn’t as if we jumped into something and didn’t know what we were doing. We really had a concrete plan for how we wanted to do it. We didn’t know what was going to happen but I think that helped a lot.

Q. Does that help inform scenes where you’re alone and not communicating? There’s a lot of scenes where you’re just going about your daily routine. Is that demanding?
Linda Cardellini: That’s some of my favourite stuff. We did so many things before we shot the film because we had the luxury of time, which didn’t seem like a luxury all of the time. But because we had that time we filled our minds and our diaries somehow of the story… we filled in the blanks of the story with so many different things. We went to Liza’s home-town and stayed there, we went to football games, or we learned how to clean rifles or things that the people in the story would know but you would never actually see on-screen.

So, I always had something to think about or draw from, which as an actor is a gift. The beautiful thing about film is that it gets so much closer than stage. I love stage and that’s what I started doing and it’s a beautiful art form in of itself, but film can actually… you can move your eyes to the side and somehow the audience can fill in the blanks of what you’re thinking. I’m really fortunate that there were so many silences because that’s some of my favourite stuff to do. I think some of the most important things we read about other people occurs from being able to read their faces and their eyes and their body [language] and those kinds of things.

Q. You’re concentrating on writing a little more…
Linda Cardellini: A little bit, yeah! I’m also producing a human so there’s less time for me to be on-screen [laughs].

Q. How invaluable though was it to be able to hang out so closely with a filmmaker such as Liza who also writes and directs her own material? How much did you learn from that point of view?
Linda Cardellini: I learned from Liza that you can be a woman in charge of a production and still be generous and kind and insightful and decisive without being considered a butch in any way. Also, the way she handled everybody was honestly, decently and humbly while still having a really confident approach to what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it. It was unyielding in some ways but never unforgiving.

Read our interview with director Liza Johnson