Movie star

By Cullen Wheeler, Fortune editorial assistant

(Fortune Magazine) -- Leave your ego at home.

Laura Linney, actor

There's good reason parents tell their children not to go into acting. The ratio of success to failure is daunting. But the need to perform often outweighs rational thinking. Even if you do get a lucky break, surviving the highs and lows of the profession requires the right set of skills. Laura Linney, star of "Man of the Year," "Mystic River" and "The Nanny Diaries," is part of the rarified strata of thespians who move effortlessly from Broadway to television to film. We asked Linney what it takes to be a great actor.

"Buckle up for a wild ride. You have to have a certain personality to deal with the demands of the lifestyle. The craziness that may come with some sense of recognition - it changes your life and your identity, and every relationship you have. You're moving around, living like a gypsy, dealing with rejection, success, failure, embarrassment, pride. It is a roller coaster, and you have to have the right disposition to stay healthy and clear and be able to work.

"It's not about you. Never, never focus on yourself. I always try to focus on the work. It is about the concentration on the task at hand. [You can't succeed] if you're too self-conscious or too worried about what other people think of you.

"Getting into character. There's a difference between working inside out and outside in. First, there is the physical side of things: the toughness of a character, the dress, the accent, where she comes from. You think about all of that, and it informs a lot of what you do. Then there are other characters that are far more delicate, and you go the opposite way to draw them out. You go inside out. There is an event that's happened in their life and the emotional impact of that dictates everything they do from that point on. It affects absolutely every move they make, how they see everything, how they respond to everything. It's my job to bring that out.

"Stick with the script. My job is to connect my physical, intellectual, and emotional being to this material, not the other way around. I go to the material, the material does not come to me. I'm not using my own life, I am using their life. I make sure I don't do that, because whatever I feel and whatever other baggage I have, that's going to bleed through anyway. My stuff doesn't belong there."  Top of page