‘Ozark’ Star Laura Linney on Pushing Jason Bateman to Flesh Out Her Role: ‘She Was Basically Just a Wife’

TheWrap Emmy magazine: “Well, she needed some work,” actress says of her character in the first draft of the script for the Netflix drama

A version of this interview with Laura Linney first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

In the Netflix series “Ozark,” Laura Linney plays one tough mother — the wife of a Chicago financial adviser (Jason Bateman) who makes a single bad decision that leads him and his family down an increasingly dark and dubious path of Mexican drug cartel money laundering, murder and betrayal in the Ozarks. Linney stands by her man, and her family, at all costs.

The Juilliard-trained, three-time Oscar nominee (for “You Can Count on Me,” “Kinsey” and “Savages”) spoke to TheWrap during a brief break from rehearsing Rona Munro’s “My Name Is Lucy Barton,” which will mark her debut on the London stage.

It’s the complexity of Wendy and Marty Byrde — decent people who have done indecent things and now must do anything to save themselves and their children — that makes them so strong and fully formed.
But let’s be clear: These are not good parents. They may mean well, but the things they put their kids through!

Is that what drew you to the role?
When I first got a call and was asked to read the script, I really liked it, but the character of Wendy — well, she needed some work. She was basically just a wife. So then I met with Jason [Bateman, her co-star, director and executive producer] over coffee in New York, and we talked about the role and where I felt it needed to go. And he said yes, they would do that.

And you believed him?
[Laughs] Of course, you never know when you’re told that if it really will happen, but ultimately I went with my gut, which told me this was something I should do and be involved with. And I’m so glad I did!

It must be gratifying to know you had a hand in shaping the role.
Our showrunner, Chris Mundy, and Jason have created such a collaborative environment. It’s been so liberating. We started with our characters, and then added some Miracle-Gro to see where it would take them.

Clearly, to some pretty dark places: Wendy strays outside her marriage, becomes an active player in money laundering, threatens to kill a few kids who have endangered her teenage daughter … and that’s just for starters.
To me, this show is all about identity: Exploring who these characters are, who they think they are, who they really are, and what they’re capable of.

As a viewer, it’s not knowing what they’re capable of that makes the show so nerve-wracking. Have there been especially challenging or difficult moments to play?
Nothing! We don’t have the special effects and editing that make it what the viewer ultimately sees, so we’re just all there together, on set, having a great time. It’s been such fun.

Read more of TheWrap Emmy magazine’s The Race Begins issue here.

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