Laura Linney is learning just how dirty the money-laundering business can be on Ozark. The three-time Oscar nominee and four-time Emmy winner stars with Jason Bateman in the tense Netflix drama that follows the peril-packed journey of buttoned-up financial manager Marty (Bateman) who has been laundering money for a Mexican-cartel drug lord, Del (Esai Morales). Marty moves to the Lake of the Ozarks with his wife, Wendy (Linney) and their kids to clean eight million dollars for Del — or else. Wendy has a few tricks — and a secret — up her sleeve as well. Here, Linney, 53, reveals the reason that brought her to the lake, her thoughts on the season finale, and what she’d do with a cool eight mil.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the one detail about Ozark that made you most excited to sign on?
LAURA LINNEY: It’s all about Jason. I’ve known him a little bit socially — we were fond acquaintances — and I’ve always had a pull toward Jason. When he asked me to do this, I wasn’t looking to do television, but we talked it through. I have such respect for him and just instinctively like him and trust him, so I was like, “Yeah, absolutely.” It was so apparent and so obvious how important this project is to him. He’s so incredibly involved in every aspect of it that I wanted to help him as much as I could. And thankfully my instincts were right. We had a fantastic first season. I really felt like I landed in a pot of honey.
What’s the best way to differentiate Jason the actor and Jason the director?
He’s very concentrated when he’s directing. He’s very focused. And time is valuable. He doesn’t rush the time and he doesn’t squander time. He’s just in it. As an actor, when he’s just acting, he’s a little looser, as you have to be. It’s a slightly different energy.
What is Wendy’s greatest asset and greatest liability?
Her greatest asset is her scrappiness. She knows how to survive. Her greatest liability? The same thing, actually. Her field of vision can get very narrow.
What was the most challenging scene that you filmed?
All the scenes on water. Acting on water — it’s a different experience than acting on land. One of the wonderful things that’s happened with television lately are these site-specific shows. All of the sudden, the atmosphere and the location become the character in itself, and there’s such a very intense sense of place. And Ozark has really embraced that, and it’s what sets it apart a little bit.
Which of your previous roles best prepared you for this role?
Probably The Dinner, which is a movie that I’d done right before it. There are some huge differences, but there’s a similar focus. It’s also someone who is smart but dealing with a very primal instinct. It’s that combination —and one can’t overwhelm the other.
What does money mean on this show?
A lot of people have been comparing us to — and it’s a huge compliment — is Breaking Bad, which is the greatest show on the planet. But our show is really about money. The power of money. What money does to you. How it affects your thinking and the choices you make and how it can be a drug in and of itself. It means everything. It’s the reason for everything. It causes the show to happen, it keeps it going. It’s the heartbeat of the show, actually.
What’s the best thing to do with eight million dollars?
I think you save a little. Buy a painting. Tim Curry taught me this, actually: Whenever you have a really big job, you need to buy a piece of art. I’ve tried to follow his lead there. And you give a lot of it away. For me, it would be arts education. You can help other people. There’s my bleeding liberal heart. [Laughs.]
At the end of the season finale, Wendy decides to abandon the unofficial witness protection program with her kids and return to the Ozarks so the family can be together. It’s a feel-good, emotional decision, but dangerous, isn’t it?
It’s not the wisest decision — in line with all of the other decisions that she’s made — but it’s an authentic one. It’s one of those “We’ll live together, we’ll die together” decisions. I don’t think it’s very well thought-out. The way that she’s behaved the series is just instinctive and reactionary. I don’t even think she understands why she’s doing it, but there’s a primal instinct — and she just follows it.
What were your personal feelings on it?
I was impressed with what the writers did, because it brings things to an appropriate close for this season. It doesn’t finish the story, but I also think it’s satisfying. It’s very hard to end something — endings are really hard to write — and I think this one was really good so that if we are able to do a second season, we have a wonderful place to start off from. And if we’re not, then it will be left feeling completed.
The stakes have multiplied, maybe exponentially, with Mary now caught between two cartels. How would you describe the stakes now?
They just get deeper and deeper and deeper and into it, and in some ways, it’s like a Chinese puzzle. They solve one thing, and then it just opens up and leads to many more problems. They’re constantly grasping for shore — and they’re not there yet.
What is the possibility of a second season?
We haven’t been picked up yet; we’re hopeful that we will be. The writers haven’t gotten together yet. I think we’ll be eager and ready to go if we’re given the permission to do so. There are so many good characters all in one place that something fun is going to happen.