Awesome actress Linda Cardellini reveals how the awkward teen from Freaks and Geeks grew up to be one of TV’s most charismatic chameleons.
“Does this look natural?” Linda Cardellini asks in a jokingly strained voice, while trying to pose in a pair of insanely tight, high-waisted jeans. We’re on a rooftop in Santa Monica at the 41-year-old’s BUST photo shoot, and despite the fact that many of her recent roles have been dramatic—Don Draper’s next door mistress on Mad Men, Meg Rayburn on Netflix’s family drama Bloodline, and now, as Joan Smith, wife of McDonald’s mogul Ray Kroc, in The Founder—I’m reminded that Cardellini is funny. She flexed that talent in her breakout role on Freaks and Geeks (1999 to 2000), as honor student–turned–wannabe burnout Lindsay Weir. Since then, Cardellini has chameleon-ed from TV (six seasons on ER) to movies (Legally Blonde, Brokeback Mountain) to voiceover (Robot Chicken), often playing women who are flawed and complicated. In real life, Cardellini has a warm smile and a grounded, if a bit guarded, nature. Her makeup artist Steven Rodriguez is also her fiancé (they met in junior high in the Bay Area and reconnected in L.A. 10 years ago) and they banter sweetly about the shenanigans of their four-year-old daughter, Lilah-Rose. When I sit down with Cardellini after the shoot, we talk motherhood, Madonna, and what it was like to play everyone’s favorite mathlete.
Your character on Freaks and Geeks has become a girl culture icon. Every episode I watched, I was like, “That’s so me.” Do you hear that from a lot of women?
I like hearing that, thank you. I do hear a lot of love for the show. All the characters were so great! I was very lucky, that was a wonderful role for a young woman. And to have one of the central characters in a high school dramedy be that character who was smart yet still struggling; and she loved her parents, she wasn’t just a petulant jerk. I remember reading it at the time and it felt very real and it reminded me of myself at the time, too. I’m very proud of having been able to play her.
Now that it’s been a while since you played her, do you look at Lindsay Weir differently?
One of the things that’s amazing is, I meet people who are showing [Freaks and Geeks] to their daughters, because Lindsay was a girl going though real problems. She was smart, capable, emotional, sometimes confused, and had her convictions. She was a really special character.
Did you keep her army jacket?
I did! They didn’t want to give it to me at first, but I got it. I brought it to the Vanity Fair [Freaks and Geeks reunion] shoot we did, and had everyone sign the inside.
How did you get into acting?
I was always doing shows in my living room—no one cared, my brothers would tell me to shut up—and making my mom videotape them. There are all these videos of me singing to Prince and the Bangles and doing talk shows with my friends. I was obsessed with boobs; I would wear these big stuffed bras. But then in sixth grade, a teacher who ran the community theater put me in The Music Man as a little old lady. I sang “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little” and I got a lot of laughs…that hooked me.
In The Founder, you play Ray Kroc’s wife. Even when you’re playing “the girlfriend” or “the wife,” your roles tend to be complex. Is Joan that way too?
Joan was a really incredible person by everybody’s accounts. She gave a lot of money to charity and people really remember her beautifully. They didn’t have an affair—she waited until she was divorced—but they always knew they loved each other. They really lit a fire in each other.
Does being a mother to a daughter change the way you view roles now?
It changes a lot of things. You don’t think it’s going to and then you realize, I’m not really into listening to this song where they talk about bitches and hoes anymore. I want to make sure that the things I put in front of her are not damaging or somehow putting ideas into her head about what’s expected of women. And 90 percent of the music on the radio is inappropriate. When I listen to songs I loved back in the day, and imagine my tiny self, singing along to “Like a Virgin,” it must have been terrifying for my parents.
By Lisa Butterworth
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2016 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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