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Linney
Laura Linney teaches a master class at Cinema505 on Friday, April 28. COURTESY NEIL GRABOWSKY

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Four pairs of lucky Montclair State University students took a master class from Laura Linney on Friday, April 28, at the new headquarters of Montclair Film, Cinema 505.

Linney is performing with Cynthia Nixon in “The Little Foxes” on Broadway, and stars, with Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, and Rebecca Hall, in “The Dinner,” which screens at The Wellmont Theater, 5 Seymour St., on Saturday, April 29, at 3 p.m. as part of the Montclair Film Festival.

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” she told the students, and warned them she would interrupt them a lot. To the actors performing a scene from Clifford Odets’ 1935 play, “Golden Boy,” she asked where they were, what time of year it was, were there people around.

“Because my father was a playwright, I’m big on text, what the playwright has given you. I’m big on asking why why why. Details affect the way you look at something, see something.”

Linney is the daughter of award-winning playwright Romulus Linney, founding playwright of Signature Theatre.

She asked the actors to pretend it was late spring, a little warmer. “Pick one smell you both like,” she said. And, she suggested, “I want you to choose one thing about her physically that you love, that you desperately want to be nobly intimate with.”

When the scene went beyond the allotted 20 minutes and it was suggested that she might have to skip teaching the alternates, she said she would definitely teach the alternates.

In the next scene, from Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Between Riverside and Crazy,” Linney zeroed in on the female character’s pregnancy. “How pregnant are you?” she asked. The other scenes performed were from “The Flick” by Annie Baker and from the short play “Sick” by Bekah Brunstetter.

In each scene, she coached the actors to think of “text first, story first.” She said, “It’s interesting what happens to language when you’re not specific. There’s a generic quality to the voice. I can hear it.” And when it’s specified, when an actor has a specific image in their head for a name or a place, you hear that too. “There’s something about that human thing,” she said. “That’s what’s so great about us.”

Linney is on the board of trustees at the Juilliard School, where she studied acting. In 2009, she delivered Juilliard’s commencement address and received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.