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Every successful actor will tell you how lucky they are to do what they get to do; it’s pretty standard actor PR speak, and in most cases, probably true. Still, it’s genuinely refreshing to come across someone who seems to be happier practicing her craft the longer she does it. Linda Cardellini believed her dad when he told her it would be possible to build a rollercoaster in their back yard. Perhaps that’s where she got the “screw-loose optimism” responsible for making her think she could be an actress in the first place, and what led her to L.A. to audition for roles she thought (or was actually told) she wouldn’t get, one being her breakout series Freaks and Geeks. She even managed to find a small moment of pleasure in the rather sudden late-night announcement of its cancellation. And she believes there’s benefit to be found in even the most nerve-racking auditions.
It’s a testament to Freaks and Geeks and Cardellini herself that she’s still best known (and rightfully lauded) for work on a show that was cancelled after just 18 episodes in 1999, not even beating the 10th season of Cops in the ratings. The show was unusual and ahead of its time in ways too numerous to mention, all of which probably boil down to its just being too good for TV at the time. On the bright side, the current streaming, watch-when-you-want age that enabled its phenomenal post-cancellation embrace gives us hope that such honest, sui generis shows and the people who create them will endure. Recalls Freaks writer Paul Feig, “Lindsay Weir was the only character not based on someone I knew, but Linda Cardellini was the exact person I had in my head.” Chalk that up to her innate ability (at 24) to bring an authenticity to a teenage character that completely matched the spirit of the show. “Life is filled with moments where you have to sit alone with yourself, and the show let us do that in a way that wasn’t normal at the time,” she told Vanity Fair. “You don’t know what to say or do, so you have to sit there in that uncomfortableness.”
For a more recent example of her instinct for telling a story through silences and a complete lack of vanity, seek out the extraordinary Return, and you’ll be way ahead of the deprived people who are bound to stumble across and love it years from now. As her career progresses, she’s reflecting the experience and motivations of a widening range of grown-up women with roles in Mad Men, Welcome to Me, 2016’s The Founder and yes, even Avengers: Age of Ultron, which prompted the Washington Post to praise the calmness, clarity and wisdom of her performance – in a superhero movie. It’s a maturity she seems to find satisfying, and one that will likely ensure a long future as an artist.
And the optimism just gets worse from here. As someone whose stated acting ambition is working with as many of her peers as possible to observe their approach, she’s landed in a series of jackpots, the latest of which is Bloodline with Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard. So if you don’t like happy stories, stop here. And definitely don’t see her in the slightly sweet, slightly off-kilter, full-on funny Daddy’s Home this Christmas. But if like Cardellini, you believe the best is still to come, read on.