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Updated Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 03:40 PM

Laura Linney helps pluck FDR’s confidante from obscurity

By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic

“The friendship was deep and resounding and devoted,” said Laura Linney, of her latest role. In “Hyde Park on Hudson,” opening Friday, the three-time Oscar nominee plays a real-life character: Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, a distant cousin and intimate friend of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (played in the film by Bill Murray). Whether the two were lovers is a story lost to history.

“She never opened her mouth about it,” said Linney, interviewed earlier this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. “Nobody knows. Nobody knew. She was just fine with that.”

Though Linney’s played numerous complex characters on stage and screen (among her notable films: “You Can Count On Me,” “Mystic River,” “Kinsey,” “The Truman Show”), this was a rare opportunity to play a historical figure — and to research a real person. Daisy lived a long, mostly quiet life at her family home in Rhinebeck in New York’s Hudson Valley, dying just months before her 100th birthday in 1991.

That home, Wilderstein, is now a museum, and Linney’s face lights up as she discusses visiting Daisy’s bedroom there and seeing “the books that she would have on her shelf, seeing that every time she woke up in the morning, what she looked at was a huge portrait of FDR, right across her bed.” At Wilderstein, Linney was shown a small suitcase, found under Daisy’s bed after her death, that contained diaries and letters to and from FDR.

These papers don’t definitely state Daisy’s relationship with the president; parts of them, Linney says, were ripped up or burned, and what remains is ambiguous. “Some people think, obviously that was a sexual relationship; other people think, obviously not,” she said. “What is clear to me is that it was emotionally and spiritually — regardless if there was a sexual component — nonplatonic. There was a connection that was significant. ... She was with him until the day he died.” The only pictures of FDR in his wheelchair, Linney said, were taken by Daisy; she also gave him his beloved Scottish terrier, Fala.

Though FDR is known to all, Daisy has stood in history’s shadows, making it a challenge to play her. “There’s a pull between wanting to portray her in the most authentic way, but also knowing that I have a responsibility to the narrative,” said Linney, noting that “Hyde Park on Hudson” is a fictional story using real-life people and events. (The film, told through Daisy’s eyes, takes place during the weekend visit of the king and queen of England to FDR’s Hyde Park home, in June of 1939.) “There’s much more to her story and much more to her than you see in the movie.”

With “Hudson” finished, Linney’s next project is the fourth and final season of her Showtime series, “The Big C,” which will air in early 2013. She’s long moved fluidly among stage, film and television (remember her as the last girlfriend in “Frasier”?). Linney said she’d love to work again with Dan Sullivan (formerly of the Seattle Rep), who recently directed her on Broadway in “Sight Unseen,” but doesn’t know if we’ll next see her on stage or screen. Though it’s difficult to have control over an acting career, she said, it’s the one thing that she’s done consciously over the years — “to be open to good work in all mediums.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Coming up

‘Hyde Park on Hudson’

Opening Friday at the Egyptian and Lincoln Square. Rated R for brief sexuality. For showtimes and a review, go Thursday to seattletimes.com/movies or pick up a copy of Friday’s MovieTimes.


Nicola Dove / Focus Features
Laura Linney as Margaret “Daisy” Suckley and Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt in “Hyde Park on Hudson.” Suckley was a distant cousin and intimate friend of FDR.




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