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Out of the Shadows

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Laura Linney had just flown home to New York City after an all-night shoot in Pittsburgh for the upcoming thriller The Moth-man Prophecies. So even though Oscar nominations were to be announced the next morning—and Linney was a contender for her role as a struggling single mother in You Can Count on Me—the actress went to bed without setting her alarm. “If the phone was ringing in the morning, that would be a good thing,” she explains. “If it didn’t, I’d have a few more hours sleep.”

Her rest would have to wait. Just after 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 13, actress and friend Gena Rowlands woke Linney with the news that she was up for a Best Actress statuette, and the calls rolled in. “I’d be on the phone with one person and would segue into another,” Linney says. Those unable to get through—like actress pal Jeanne Tripplehorn—left messages (“She sang a song on my answering machine,” Linney says), and Linney’s mother, retired nurse Ann Perse, at her home in Connecticut was similarly swamped. “She’d been answering the phone, ‘Mother of the nominee,’ ” Linney says. “It was really a day of hilarity.”

And one that was a long time coming. Throughout her 10-year career, Linney, 37, has been overshadowed onscreen by gorillas (1995’s Congo) and male leads (Clint Eastwood in 1997’s Absolute Power and Jim Carrey in 1998’s The Truman Show). But her turn in Count as Sammy, a woman whose carefully constructed world is shaken when her troubled brother (played by Mark Ruffalo) returns home, has proved to be “her breakthrough part,” says friend Richard Gere, who met Linney on 1996’s Primal Fear and again costars with her in Moth-man. “This is Laura’s moment.” Adds Mothman director Mark Pellington: “She’s a strong leading lady coming into her prime.”

The only child of Obie-winning playwright Romulus Linney (Childe Byron) and Perse, Linney shuttled between her parents in Manhattan after the couple split when she was 6 months old. But culture proved a constant of her childhood, as Linney’s parents “would go out of their way to take me to the theater or to a museum or show me old movies,” she says.

In 1986 Linney graduated from Brown University, then spent four years studying acting at Manhattan’s Juilliard before landing her first professional gig in the Tony-winning 1990 play Six Degrees of Separation. “She does wonderful things onstage—she has great authority and command and intelligence,” raves her father.

But Linney, who first appeared on the big screen as a teacher in 1992’s Lorenzo’s Oil, has enjoyed moving between theater, film and television roles. In addition to Count, over the past year she has starred in a Broadway revival of Uncle Vanya, played a political aide in the TNT cable movie Running Mates and transformed herself into a big-screen vil-lainess in The House of Mirth. “Besides being brilliant,” Gere notes, “she’s a real worker bee.”

That professional drive endears the actress to her costars (“I would love to work with her anytime,” says Count’s Matthew Broderick). But it has also taken its toll on her personal life. In 1999 she split from her husband of five years, actor David Adkins, 38, and moved into a one-bedroom on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “It wasn’t because we didn’t love each other,” she says. “And it wasn’t because we didn’t try.”

Spending time with friends like Mirth costar Eric Stoltz, Linney says she is “sort of emerging into being single.” For the moment, however, there are more pressing concerns. “I don’t know what I’m wearing yet,” Linney says of Oscar night. Though designers like Prada, Vera Wang and Randolph Duke are lining up to dress her, Linney hasn’t committed to a couturier. “I feel terrible saying no to people,” she says, “because as an actor you’re so accustomed to being turned down.” That’s a feeling she may have to overcome.

Galina Espinoza

Sue Miller in Pittsburgh