Linda Cardellini interview: Daddy’s Home, Freaks & Geeks

To mark the UK release of hit US comedy Daddy’s Home on DVD, we chatted to actor Linda Cardellini…

Rarely have we rooted for a character as much as we did Lindsay Weir in the peerless Freaks & Geeks. She was played by Linda Cardellini, who since then has built a strong career across the likes of E.R., Mad Men, Avengers: Age Of Ultron and recent box office triumph, Daddy’s Home.

As Daddy’s Home arrives on DVD and Blu-ray, she spared us some time for a chat…

Daddy’s Home seems to be part of a turning trend in broad, male-led comedies of the last decade. Traditionally, the female role has tended towards the nag or the voice of reason, but that seems to be turning in movies like this. Was that important to you when you took on the film?

She was smart. She was not really falling for Dusty’s tricks anymore and she’d matured. She had sort of this wild, bad-boy phase, and had two beautiful children but then matured and wanted to find a loving, more stable home for her kids. I just liked that about her character.

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I feel like a lot of families are blended, and I felt like there was something that was really sweet in the script and in the film, something that was relatable to families today.

Characters like her, and maybe—I don’t know if you saw Rose Byrne in Bad Neighbours or Neighbors as I think it was called in the US?

Oh yeah, yeah.

Those women are given more to do than maybe a female character in a comedy like that would have been, say, ten years ago?

Yeah, she’s present. She’s present in the kids’ lives. She doesn’t just vacate so that the men can get to do some comedy, and I liked that.

Daddy’s Home was a big hit, wasn’t it? But one that perhaps went somewhat unnoticed because of Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming out around the same time.

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[Laughs] We noticed!

How did you feel going through the release? Did you worry about it being crowded out at Christmas?

Christmas was packed with movies. Tonnes of movies that I wanted to see! [Laughs] It was the first time I’d ever had a movie come out on Christmas, which was an interesting thing because there’s something to be said where if people don’t like the film there’s a chance you could have a cloud over your holiday. But it was such a relief when it turned out the audience loved the film.

Tell us a little bit about working with Will Ferrell in Daddy’s Home. Apparently a lot of improvisation made it into the film?

Yeah, and Will’s so brilliant at it. To be part of that is so much fun. The energy that he has, especially with Mark, their energies are so contradictory [laughs] they’re just funny together. Even in the pitch of what the movie was about, it made me laugh to imagine those two playing against each other in those characters. To be in the middle of it was so much fun. Will is as wonderful as a person as he is as an actor and a comedian. That was just a great experience. He’s the producer, he’s in charge and everybody works for him and Chris Henchy and Jessica Elbaum [producers] so all the same type of people are working on that set. And the director was a sweet guy. Working on the set was a really, really nice experience.

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Can you point us towards any specific improvised moments that made it into the final cut?

There are so many that didn’t! I think about those sometimes and I just feel like there could have been a million extras on the DVD. He did this run of improv at the end, in the Daddy-Daughter dance, he did this run of improv where he spoke to the whole crowd about how he cries easily and Will probably tried five or six different things. Each time, it was more and more hilarious. You had about a hundred people, kids included, keeping a straight face, and then as soon as they called cut, everybody was laughing.

At one point, Will Ferrell was down to play the Dusty role, wasn’t he?

I heard that! I think I read that somewhere. I didn’t know that, but you know, once you see him as Brad, you can’t imagine him in any other way.

And the same goes for Mark Wahlberg’s role.

Yeah, he’s perfect for that part. Especially, I like the idea that here comes a supposed deadbeat dad who in turn is awesome at everything. How that would make somebody feel I felt was the funny part of it all.

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You talked about the different options Will gave in Daddy’s Home and it reminded me of something you said about your audition process for Mad Men, that you gave [showrunner] Matthew Weiner lots of different options when auditioning for the role of Sylvia. Was that for him to see your range or was that in order to work out the character through your performance?

I have to imagine it was to see the range, because the character was so specific, now knowing what I know about the character, and I think it was maybe as an exploratory exercise to see what I was capable of.

Once you were on Mad Men, did you discuss the character of Sylvia with Jon Hamm? Did he share any insights?

Oh he’s great to work with. I think, you know, actors rely on each other all the time. You know [laughs] there were some compromising positions that you get into on the show and it was very intimate and he was always very supportive and very kind and very generous as an actor.

As well as your on-screen work, you’ve done a number of voice roles on Nickelodeon shows and others.  

Yeah, I did a few cartoons.

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Going from on-screen to voice-only and back again, does that change your performance in front of camera?

What’s funny is that it made me realise certain things. I started in theatre, moved into film and television and started doing voice work, which is funny because after a long time in film and television, you forget how much you rely on just a simple look on your face. Coming into voice work, it made me have to sort of understand and re-learn something about relying on your voice only. And more and more I realise I have a distinct voice, which I didn’t realise! You know, it’s just my voice. I had no idea. A lot of times people will say now ‘I recognised you from your voice’, which is interesting to me.

Can you talk a little bit about being a genuine casting surprise in Avengers: Age Of Ultron? Nobody knew you were in it until the premiere announcement, how was that secret kept?

They wanted to keep that as a surprise because Hawkeye’s family is such a surprise and so they wanted to keep that whole secret. I thought it would be so much more powerful if that element was kept a secret, so I was really excited about it being a surprise. For the premiere, I was going as a friend’s guest so that it wouldn’t be exposed, but somehow it leaked right before.

And how did that casting come about? Is Joss Whedon a Freaks And Geeks fan, by any chance?

I think he definitely knew and liked me from something I’d done before, I don’t know for sure if it was Freaks And Geeks or what exactly it was. I went in and I read! And you know, I got the part.

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I have to ask while I’ve got you about Lindsay Weir on Freaks And Geeks. It’s hard to think of a TV character I’ve cared about as much as you made me care about Lindsay Weir.

Wow, thank you.

How conscious were you of how stand-out a character she was when you came to her?

I thought, reading the script, that that character was incredibly special in contrast to all the other sort of teenage young female roles, or male, young roles that I was reading. I felt like she was conflicted in a way that was so real and bittersweet. The script was so great. Paul Feig had written this beautiful script. I just really loved the material. I loved it so much that at the time, as a sort of new actress in town, I was considered for two other things and I didn’t go in again for those because I really wanted to try and get Freaks And Geeks and if I didn’t get it… I mean, I had given up a chance for two other shows to try to get Freaks And Geeks and it ended up working out for me, but I just loved it so much. It was special. The script was special.

And then watching people going in for casting and watching how they were casting and who they were seeing, it wasn’t the usual suspects, you know. Then we would go in and improv with each other. That was something that I didn’t see happening a lot in auditions at that point. It was just a unique experience from the beginning.

So many of that group have now gone on to write and direct, themselves. How hard were you encouraged to shape and mould your characters?

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They would ask us if we had personal stories or things that have happened to us in school or… I think as young actors we were all very excited about the opportunity and we were all very passionate about doing what we were doing and we were given an opportunity that was sort of like the first big one for most of us. I’d worked a little before that but nothing on the scale of what that show was.

I remember walking in and seeing the high school set and being on a huge soundstage for a big network that was going to be on primetime and thinking just how overwhelming that seemed, but exciting. The creators and everybody behind the scenes, they always encouraged us to find things. They were excited about what we could find.

In a lot of ways it was ahead of its time for being on primetime NBC. The network didn’t necessarily get it.

They had no idea what to do with it. They had no idea.

If it was made now, maybe… With shows that don’t categorise as easily like Transparent and…

Yeah, if it were today, we might still be hanging around [laughs] that high school.

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The internet and DVDs seem to have kept Freaks And Geeks alive. Do you find people are still discovering it?

Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s fascinating to me and I think it’s a testament that things like Netflix. With great material, people can find shows that were ahead of their own time. People can find shows from the past that were great and watch them as if they were airing on television today. I love that it’s there and that it didn’t just disappear forever. We were afraid of that. That seemed to be what was happening with things that got cancelled, but because of Netflix and DVD and all that kind of stuff, things can find new audiences, decades on.

You’re an actor who heavily researches roles, I’ve read.

Yeah, I try to, yeah.

Not to the extent of method acting, like your co-star James Franco, for instance?

[Laughs] Oh, we always had fun about that!

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You know, everybody does it a little bit I think. I think the majority of actors I know, everybody does it a little bit. It depends on the work you’re doing. The fun thing about working with so many different people throughout my career is watching how—I’ve worked with a lot of really great actors—and they all work in different ways. It’s one of those things that, whatever works for you. Whatever gets you to the most honest portrayal.

Linda Cardellini, thank you very much!

Daddy’s Home is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.